The Writer’s Block: Ursula Wong on Strong Women




This month, author Ursula Wong reflects on strong women in science fiction, and how they’ve inspired her writing.

I love strong women and write about them, so on a quest to meet more, I sought out Katniss from Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games, Nyx from God’s War by Kameron Hurley, and the brilliant Trillian from Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Frankly, all three women made me swoon with admiration for their courage, pluck, grit, and brains, despite their vastly different stories. Katniss survives in a weird world of reality TV gone mad; Nyx fights in a war-torn desert; and Trillian shines somewhere out there in the galaxy. I like women who get the job done, but those who use the strength of their convictions to overcome a bad situation, inspire me.

All three women inspire me.

Katniss is courageous and young. She saves her sister by entering the insane game. She doesn’t flinch during the hunts. She focuses on her humanity, or at least tries to. Nyx is a paid assassin. She is violent, shocking, and fabulous. Killing is what she does for a living, and she has no shame or remorse. She just strives to be good at it. Trillian, a mathematician/scientist, outshines everyone with her brilliance, despite Adams’s choice to make many of his men flaky. Both Katniss and Nyx let nothing stop them and never accept the status quo. Also, like Trillian, they are smart.

With these three beauties in mind, I went back to my WWII thriller, Amber Wolf. Its main character, Ludmelia, a twenty-something in 1944, spends most of her time out in the woods fighting Russians. But her characteristics remind me of the three sci-fi wonder women. Like Katniss, Ludmelia becomes a warrior because she has no choice, despite her protective nature. Killing haunts her. Witnessing horrible acts shake her. She remains emphatically focused in the conflict and confusion of war, and like Nyx, is able to gut out a fight until she wins. And she has Trillian’s marvelous creativity and confidence.

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Maybe it’s strong characteristics that lure us to these women, regardless of whether the genre is sci-fi, historical fiction or, dare I say it, romance. But as women, I don’t think we should doubt our ability to live with the gusto of a last day, even if we have to fight our way through it. After all, maybe we love the strong women we read about because they live inside us.

Amber Wolf is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords

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Ursula Wong is a retired engineer who writes gripping stories about strong women struggling against impossible odds to achieve their dreams. Her work has appeared in Everyday Fiction, Spinetingler Magazine, and the popular Insanity Tales anthologies.

Her award-winning novel, Purple Trees, exposes a stark side of rural New England life in the experiences of a young woman who struggles for normalcy despite a vicious and hidden past. 

Ursula taps her Eastern European heritage in her WW II novel, Amber Wolf. Destitute after her parents are taken by Russian soldiers, young Ludmelia Kudirka joins the farmers who trade pitchforks for guns in a David-and-Goliath struggle against the mighty Soviet war machine. 

For more about Ursula and her prize-winning flash fiction stories, visit her Reaching Readers Blog on http://ursulawong.wordpress.com.

TalkCast 332 – The Many Projects of Vivek Tiwary




It’s an epic night with Vivek Tiwary returns to SFSN and brings some and friends to talk about asha-ascendingtwo of his many new projects.

 

Project one is with SFSN’s friend Sara Richard. It’s an YA illustrated novel called Asha Ascending. Per usual, Vivek does nothing in an ordinary fashion and in this case, the novel is being serialized on the web so readers can become part of the evolving storyline. Check out the first chapters here.astronaut-academy

 

 

 

For the second project we’re joined by Dave Roman to talk about Astronaut Academy,which began as a web comic, evolved into a graphic novel and with Vivek’s participation is hoping to become a television project.

(Part three is to be continued to talk about The Harvey Awards, The Fifth Beatle and all the other rabbits Vivek can pull out of his hat.)

Enjoy the conversation. We sure did.

 

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Keeping It Ghastly: Blame! Vol 1-3




Keeping It Ghastly” is a bi weekly article on Japanese horror comics which have English print editions. Some are from famous authors, others are from unknowns and underground artist circles. In any case, it’s going to be to a terrifying/awesome ride exploring the horror manga on our bookshelves!

*Ssssssnifffff* Smell that? That reek of sweat, urine, fetid organic material, steel, blood and adrenaline? That’s the smell of Blame! by Tsutomu Nihei, the H. R. Giger of Japanese industrial cyber-punk.

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Finally, an intense sci-fi horror manga. Blame! vol 1-3 is a fast read despite the slowest burn of slow-burn stories, but my god does it have something going for it. Killy, our “protagonist” is a man of few words and industrial-survivalist fashion who is looking for the rarest of humans – net gene carriers – the only humans who are able to bridge the gap between the physical and the digital without dying. In his journey he encounters cyborgs, humanoids of every height and breeding, silicon beings, and humans of every evolutionary level. Machine and man live by every method of madness in the world of Blame!, and they all either want something of Killy. From robbing to allying to killing him, Killy must persevere in his journey despite the impossible odds stacked against him.

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As Keith Johnson states in his essay, “Nihei Tsutomu and the Poetics of Space: Notes Toward a Cyberpunk Ecology”, “Architecture is (quite literally) a concretization of thought. What then, are we to make of Nihei’s architecture… [but the] mounting sense of architecture as profoundly inhuman”.1 This inhuman atmosphere of Blame! is central to the series’ appeal. Each page is populated with industrial scenery and angles so complex that it puts Akira and Metropolis to shame. This passion for architecture is in every panel of Nihei’s manga. The endless cityscapes, jointed and segmented “silicon lifeforms”, and bulky weaponry befits a Bladerunner spin-off, or a more serious Fifth Element sequel. Buried under thousands of stories of concrete, steel and wires the reader gets a sense of Killy’s confinement in his world. It is both claustrophobic and sprawling like a concrete version of the 2005 movie The Descent.

The world of Blame! works off of the inevitability of transhumanism, thus creating a meandering story that is both bleak, frightening and fascinating. Humanity will become the prey/power source of human-roboticism, which in turn will become the building blocks of silicon creatures, who in turn will becomes purely digital entities. The Net, as the internet is referred to in Blame!, is a higher realm that has built itself into a self-contained biosphere with its own ecosystem and life. Humanity has been outpaced by the evolutionary force of self-perpetuating machines, and now barely clings onto existence. It’s a bleak world that Blame! presents, but one in which humanity is too stubborn and angry to abandon.

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Nihei clearly values the world he is creating over story structure since, in terms of plot, there isn’t much there. Drama is generated in Blame! when characters and creatures bump into each other. The dialogue is very sparse, and what words do occupy page space serve only to communicate only the most necessary information i.e. names, level numbers, directions to human colonies, etc. The episodic chapters of Blame! vol 1-3 could be read in any order without consequence. Really the only reason to read the books in chronological order is to keep track of Killy’s traveling companions and to create a linear time line as he travels farther and farther up the vertically stacked world-wide city. If you’re looking for the context of why Earth is now covered in an ever expanding, semi-sentient city or how the rift appeared between organic life and artificial then you had better be ready to invest in the whole series as well as the spin-offs. What little backstory is given is scattered in little pieces throughout Nihei’s works.

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Blame! is the ground floor of Nihei’s cyberpunk skyscraper. From the intense and grimy world building of Blame! come a number of successive titles starting with Noise, the origin of the silicon creatures, then Biomega, which explores the zombie-esque transformation of humans into primitive silicon creatures. But wait, want to hear a real mind f**k? Nihei created a wolverine comic that takes place in a possible future Marvel universe that collides with Blame!. Yeah, in an AU timeline Wolverine battles cyborgs alongside the last bastion of humanity!

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At present the now semi-defunct publisher Toykopop holds the rights to Blame!. As such the quality of the English printed version of Blame!, as well the availability of all 11 volumes, is suspect. Thankfully there is some hope, as omnibus versions of Blame! are available via Vertical Comics.

1 Johnson, Keith Leslie. “Southeast Review of Asian Studies”. Volume 35 (2013): 190-203.

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TalkCast 331 – GraniteCon and The Secret Identity Podcast




granite-state-comic-conOur guests tonight are our old friend Chris Proulx from Double Midnight Comics and the guy in charge of Granite State Comic Con. We spend some moments previewing the upcoming even which will include everything from Cosplay to food trucks. This   incredible New England Event takes place on September 17 & 18 in Manchester, NH.

 

Matt HerringThen we spent some time talking with Matt Herring about the life and times of The Secret Identity Podcast, his writing career and why he does what he does. Matman is an interesting fixture in the geek community.

 

In This Weeks News:

Enjoy The show!

 

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TalkCast 330 – Daniel White with Hardcore and Lethal




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Our guest tonight is Daniel White He is the artist and creator on the HB Comics new Comic project, Hardcore and Lethal. He has a Kickstarter for this project, which he is started as a web comic. We spend some time talking about his process and why he chose to resurrect this web comic. Check out his Kickstarter.

In This Weeks News:

 

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Keeping It Ghastly: The Tarot Cafe




Keeping It Ghastly” is a bi weekly article on Japanese horror comics which have English print editions. Some are from famous authors, others are from unknowns and underground artist circles. In any case, it’s going to be to a terrifying/awesome ride exploring the horror manga on our bookshelves!

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In taking a break from Japanese horror to peruse some of the plentiful Korean horror available in print in English, I came across a series I had long forgotten. Deep in my attic I uncovered a box containing one of Tokyopop’s signature manwha series – The Tarot Cafe. This series of seven books is a magnificently written and rendered story about a Scottish born fortune teller named Pamela. A plucky and fashionable lady, Pamela makes a living in modern England selling tarot card readings at her cafe. During the day she entertains the human world, but at night her clientele shifts to more mysterious patrons. Wish granting cats, vampires, werewolves, alchemists, and many other immortals find their way to her doorstep through one mishap or another. Each carries their own burden, and every one is lost. Pamela, with her knack for accurate readings and her compassionate heart, helps them uncover what it is they are looking for or running from. In return she asks for beads from something called “Berial’s necklace”. Her purpose in this request is a mystery known only to her.

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The Tarot Cafe is a supernatural drama with LGBTQ elements from South Korean writer and artist Sang-Sun Park, creator of Ark Angels and artist of Les Bijoux. Each chapter begins with a full page drawing of a tarot card customized for the character or mood of the chapter. Some are better executed than others, but each is still a splendid edition to the eye candy that is Sang-Sun Park’s illustrations. I really can’t say enough about the artwork in this series. There’s a wonderful mix of minimalist tones which really bring the pages to life, especially given the use of stark black and white backgrounds.

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Often times Sang-Sun Park will use tone sheets to create a sort of haze, or softness, just in one small area of the art. Eyes, lips and the slight contours of the face predominantly receive this treatment. It works to accentuate the ethereal beauty of the characters, making the art unique and eye catching.

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When heavier application of tones is utilized the art becomes even more dramatic, working well with the climax of each chapter.

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In terms of story The Tarot Cafe volumes one and two start off pretty standardly with the tried and true monster-of-the-week formula. Characters are introduced, settings are established, and the larger plot behind our protagonists begins to unfold. Stories in the first two volumes can unfortunately suffer from a severe case of melodrama that bleeds into the dialogue and plots. For instance the first volume focuses a lot on the story of a vampire who is looking for the reincarnation of his love, only to tragically make the same mistake that separated them in the first place. The reader is able to see the ending from a mile away. A similar kind of predictable ending befalls a werewolf in another chapter of volume one.

Despite the shortcomings of these beginning episodic stories, there is a consistent rhythm that makes them enjoyable. The continuous connection to fairy tales and the symbolism of the tarot cards gives The Tarot Cafe the same feeling as a Wes Anderson or Laika movie. It’s a story out of time, where semi-mystical things and geography exist right alongside the more mundane world. Apparently unnoticed or at least uncommented upon. This can be disorienting if the reader is not able to suspend their disbelief that such things as alchemists and witch hunters exist at the same time as our normal, everyday London. But once you get your bearings the predictability of the early stories starts to make sense. This is a world where cliches come to be for a reason – fate and magic are the guiding forces, and come with their own logic.

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Tokyopop courted North American readers with works by Sang-Sun Park for nearly all of the first decade of the 21st century. During Tokyopop’s life they published all three volumes of Ark Angels from 2005 to 2007, all five volumes of Les Bijoux in 2004 alone, and of course the seven volumes of The Tarot Cafe hit North American bookshelves from 2005 to 2008. After a major company shakeup in 2013 Tokyopop lost the licensing rights to many, many of their titles. Fortunately digital rights to the series were licensed to Comixology. Even now Comixology is where the series and many other titles still licensed by Tokyopop are primarily found. For the die hard print edition lovers like myself Tokyopop print editions of The Tarot Cafe are still readily available on amazon and ebay. Despite having gone on to create more josei horror titles like Gangnam, there has been no news of any other Sang-Sun Park’s other stories being picked up for North American distribution. It’s a sad reality, but there’s always hope that even if her works do not make it into print they will at least become available via digital comics. In short, The Tarot Cafe is one series for LGBTQ friendly YA audiences and gothic shojo fans that you don’t want to miss out on.

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The Writer’s Block: In Twain’s Shadow




I live in Connecticut. As you might imagine, we have to scramble to find things to brag about. We have two impressive casinos, the best women’s college basketball team in the nation, and a failed hockey team. It was in Bristol, CT, in 1989 that Milli Vanilli’s scam started to unravel. That about sums up everything we’re known for.

Oh, except one more thing: we’re also the former home of one Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain.

As a writer, being from the same place as the guy that William Faulkner once called “the father of American literature” can be intimidating. (Don’t get me wrong—I’d rather be a horror writer from Mark Twain’s home state, than, say, Maine, where a much bigger horror author’s reputation looms.) In elementary school, it was guaranteed that one field trip every year would be to the Mark Twain House. (As a kid, the highlight of this tour was seeing the bedroom in which one of Twain’s daughters actually died. As an adult, I was quite disappointed to find they’d roped off that room from the tour.) Everybody knew who this Twain guy was. No worries, though: I wrote horror. I didn’t have to worry about this long-dead literary legacy overshadowing me. After all, he wrote adventure stories and humorous essays and stuff about Yankees in King Arthur’s court.

Fast-forward to 2016. I found myself in charge of an anthology that I wanted to use to showcase some of Connecticut’s finest authors. And really, you can’t do an anthology like that without including Sam Clemens.

But what to use? Did I not just mention adventures and essays and Yankees? None of that really fit into a collection of spooky stories. I started perusing Twain’s essays, despondent that I’d be putting out a book of celebrated Connecticut authors without including Connecticut’s most celebrated author.

And then I found it.

Back in 1902, Harper’s Bazaar had published a story by the great Twain. “The Californian” was . . . a ghost story. Thank you, Mr. Clemens, for saving my neck from beyond the grave.

Tricks and Treats: A Collection of Spooky Stories by Connecticut Authors contains a fantastic array of tales from past Nutmeggers Twain, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and John G.C. Brainard. It also features impressive entries by contemporary writers John Valeri, Ryanne Strong, G. Elmer Munson, Melissa Crandall, Dan Foley, Kristi Petersen Schoonover, and me. It debuts September 1 from Books & Boos Press, and you can find it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and select retail outlets. You can view the book trailer here.

I can only hope Mr. Twain would approve.

(And in case you missed it, Sci-Fi Saturday Night’s anthology, My Peculiar Family, is also available now!)

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Keeping It Ghastly: Time and Again Vol 1




“Keeping It Ghastly” is a bi weekly article on Japanese horror comics which have English print editions. Some are from famous authors, others are from unknowns and underground artist circles. Either way, it’s going to be to a terrifying/awesome ride exploring the horror manga on our bookshelves!

We will now take a break from our regular “Keeping It Ghastly” made-in-Japan-horror-comics-with-print-publications-in-english program to talk about two books from South Korea. This week it will be one the topic of Time and Again vol 1, a horror historical fiction manwha from JiUn Yun, author of Cynical Orange.

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Time and Again is the story of ghost and demon exorcists-for-hire who travel South Korea during the reign of Chinese Emperor Xaunzong of the Tang Dynasty. Our protagonists consist of the arrogant and often drunk master exorcist Baek-On, his mysterious aid Ho-Yeon, and the beautiful sentient sword Shin-Wol. The pacing of the first volume of Time and Again is odd, with only 3 of the 5 chapters focusing on the adventures of our protagonists. The other 2 chapters are seemingly unrelated stories that occur in the world of Time and Again. The 3 chapters that do feature Baek-on and Ho-yeon as active members of the cast also vary wildly in length. Chapter 5, for instance, is only 5 pages long while the first chapter is 36 pages in length. Read More »

TalkCast 329 – Cory Levine




Cory Levine Our guest tonight is Cory Levine, writer and creator of of The Bowery Boys, a very unique and interesting web-comic. We spend the interview talking about the genesis of the comic, his work with artists Ian Bertram and Brent McKee in putting the comic together and the subsequent graphic novel on Dark Horse Comics. This is his first Boston Comic Con.

Here is the link to the web comic of The Bowery Boys.The Bowery Boys

 

 

 

In This Weeks News:

 

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TalkCast 328 – George is Back




George O'ConnorSo whenever George O’Connor is here, we talk. Tonight, we talked about some of his new projects including Baby, 664 The Comic (or as I call in 664 Season 3) with his collaborators Harley Bean and Lesley Atlansky, Healed, The Movie (to be shown at the Mass Indy Film Festival), Boston Comic Con, and the current state of the Import/Export Trade Imbalance in Paraguay.

 

664 CoverAs promised during the show, here is the free download of 664 Episode 0.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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