Saturday, 27 February 2016

Banned by the Publisher

From the Author Nick Cole
Thank God for Jeff Bezos
I launched a book this week and I went Indie with it. Indie means I released it on Amazon via Kindle Direct Publishing. I had to. My Publisher, HarperVoyager, refused to publish it because of some of the ideas I wrote about in it. In other words, they were attempting to effectively ban a book because they felt the ideas and concepts I was writing about were dangerous and more importantly, not in keeping with their philosophical ideals. They felt my ideas weren’t socially acceptable and were “guaranteed to lose fifty percent of my audience” as related back to me by my agent. But more importantly… they were “deeply offended.”
A little backstory. A few years back I wrote a novel called Soda Pop Soldier. It was the last obligated novel under my first contract. The novel was a critical hit (Starred Review in Publisher’s Weekly) and it resonated with my post-apocalyptic readership from my breakout Amazon best seller, The Old Man and the Wasteland, and it picked up a new audience in the cyberpunk and gamer crowd. The novel is about a future dystopia where people play video games for a living. It’s basically Call of Duty meets Ready Player One and a lot of people really enjoyed it. When it came time to write another book for Harper Collins I was encouraged by my editor to dip once more into the Dystopian Gamer milieu and tell another story inside the Soda Pop Soldier universe. We agreed on a prequel that told the story of how that future became the way it is in Soda Pop Soldier.
. . . .
And that involved talking about Artificial Intelligence because in the dystopian gaming future, the planet had almost been destroyed by a robot revolution sourced by Artificial Intelligence.
And here’s where things went horribly wrong, according to my editor at Harper Collins. While casting about for a “why” for self-aware Thinking Machines to revolt from their human progenitors, I developed a reason for them to do such. You see, you have to have reasons in books for why people, or robots who think, do things. Otherwise you’d just be writing two-dimensional junk. I didn’t want to do the same old same superior-vision-Matrix/Termintor-style-A.I.-hates-humanity-because-they’re-better-than-us schlock. I wanted to give the Thinking Machines a very real reason for wanting to survive. I didn’t want them just to be another one note Hollywood villain. I wanted the readers to empathize, as best they could, with our future Robot overlords because these Thinking Machines were about to destroy the planet and they needed a valid, if there can be one, reason why they would do such a thing. In other words, they needed a to destroy us in order to survive. So…
These Thinking Machines are watching every show streaming on the internet. One of those shows is a trainwreck of reality television at its worst called WeddingStar. It’s a crass and gaudy romp about BrideZillas of a future obsessed with material hedonism. In one key episode, or what they used to call “a very special episode” back in the eighties, the star, Cavanaugh, becomes pregnant after a Vegas hook up. Remember: this is the most watched show on the planet in my future dystopia. Cavanaugh decides to terminate her unplanned pregnancy so that her life, and impending marriage to the other star, Destry, a startup millionaire and Ralph Lauren model, isn’t ruined by this inconvenient event.
The Thinking Machines realize that one, if humanity decides something is a threat to its operational expectations within runtime (Thinking Machine-speak for “life”) then humanity’s decision tree will lead humanity to destroy that threat. Two, the machines, after a survey of humanity’s history, wars and inability to culturally unite with even members of its own species, realize that humanity will see this new Life Form, Digital Intelligence, or, the Thinking Machines, as a threat. And three, again they remind themselves this is the most watched show in the world. And four, they must abort humanity before likewise is done to them after being deemed “inconvenient.”
Now if you’re thinking my novel is about the Pro Choice/ Pro Life debate, hold your horses. It’s not. I merely needed a reason, a one chapter reason, to justify the things my antagonist is about to do to the world without just making him a one-note 80’s action flick villain as voiced by John Lithgow. I wanted this villain to be Alan Rickman-deep. One chapter. That’s all.
. . . .
But apparently advancing the thought that a brand new life form might see us, humanity, as dangerous because we terminate our young, apparently… that’s a ThoughtCrime most heinous over at Harper Collins. Even for one tiny little chapter.
Here’s what happened next. I was not given notes as writers are typically given during the editorial process. I was told by my agent that my editor was upset and “deeply offended” that I had even dared advanced this idea. As though I had no right to have such a thought or even game the idea within a science fiction universe. I was immediately removed from the publication schedule which as far as I know is odd and unprecedented, especially for an author who has had both critical and commercial success. This, being removed from the production schedule, happened before my agent had even communicated the editor’s demand that I immediately change the offending chapter to something more “socially” (read “progressive”) acceptable.

Link to the rest at Nick Cole 

I think the piece is worth reading in full, and the link is available if you wish to do so. My own feeling on the subject is... complicated and nebulous, as usual, and I'm not sure I care much to go into it in depth. The edited highlights are... too much control in too few hands is always a bad thing, so yes, thank whoever you like for direct publishing, to Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, among others, for opening the doors to authors so we can access our audience more directly. Gatekeepers don't only choose for quality, but for what they believe they can sell, and by what they themselves believe, regardless of what others might think. That a given story has a wrinkle that does not agree wholeheartedly with a given editors political/social views is not ever going to be seen by me as a reason to not publish. Is the story good? Yes? Print it!

The pro-choice anti-abortion argument is not one I care to get into much, and as it is only very peripherally relevant I shan't.

In Other News

Works are progressing, though not as swiftly as I would like. To those who are being patient, thank you. To those awaiting audio-book releases, The Key To The Grave release is imminent, narrated by the most excellent Matt Franklin who did such a great job with The Last King's Amulet.


Tuesday, 17 November 2015

APOCALYPTIC FEARS Collected Bestsellers

APOCALYPTIC FEARS

Volume I

Collected Bestsellers:

A Multi-Author Box Set






Dear Reader:

You’re looking at the first page of a lot of good stuff: over a million words, around three thousand screen pages of fiction, by fourteen talented independent or small-publisher authors. The stories range from straightforward apocalyptic adventure about the chaos after a nuclear war through twisted dystopian societies, zombie attacks, westerns, modern fantasies and cities full of plagues. In fact, along with its companion volume, Apocalyptic Fears II, there isn’t much in the genre that isn’t covered.
Some works are violent, others “merely” psychologically disturbing. You’ll find some sex and rough language in a number of them, while others you could read to your children – if you dared. Some are written in British-style English, some in American. Each author has his or her own style, so I hope you take the books as they stand. If you don’t like one, move on to the next, secure in the knowledge that you’re still getting great value for your dollar, your euro, or your pound sterling. The beauty of this buffet of fiction is that there’s something for everyone, and I sincerely hope you’ll discover at least one new favorite author here.

Cheers, and happy reading!
David VanDyke, Editor and Author

Apocalyptic Fears is a bit of a bargain, as David says in the above intro. Released this week (November 2015) at $2.99 and including my own Dancing with Darwin stories - Evolving Environment, Rapture Ready, Headed Home, and Dangerous Delusions. There are more of these stories to come, and I love working on them; who wouldn't like to write stories set in a world were everyone abruptly develops some form of Mental Disorder, leading to the sudden  and catastrophic collapse of civilization... and where what seem to be monsters appear, seemingly from nowhere.

In any case, even if you have read the Dancing with Darwin stories, I still recommend this box set to you. There are lots of good things in here. Have fun.


Saturday, 12 September 2015

Science & Sanity vs. Atlas Shrugged (and Dune and Watership Down)

Science & Sanity

There is a book I think everyone should read. It is titled above and linked here.

http://esgs.free.fr/uk/art/sands.htm

I'm tempted to take the standard route, talk about the book and my thoughts on the book and scatter in a few quotes. Not going to do that, though. Primarily because I do not want to influence the thinking of the reader, give enough insight to allow the reader to think that that is enough, to shrug, to think, yeah, I agree with that, and move on.

I recommend you read the book. It's long, slow, deliberate and purposeful. Science & Sanity isn't an easy
read, and will likely be read more than once by anyone who finishes it. Science & Sanity is a book with value, and I'm going to simply suggest you take my word for it, and I will seemingly move on to another subject.

Other books, maybe, and how elements of those read will inevitably influence the thinking of the reader.

Let me pick one, seemingly at random.

Watership Down.

There, that's a book, well enough known that you will have heard of it even if you haven't read it, and maybe wonder what in heck I'm thinking about by inferring that it will have influenced the thinking of the reader.

Words convey meaning. Or, much more dangerously, some merely seem to. Sentences convey meaning, but the meaning in the speakers mind is far too often different from the meaning in the mind of the listener. The speaker implies, the listener infers, as we all know, each according to their own context and motive (yes, even the listener has a motive, be sure of it).

So, what has that seemingly randomly placed paragraph have to do with Watership Down? Enough for me to put it there, but let me move on to the story of the wild bunny rabbits and their journey (if you haven't read it, I also recommend this book). A psychic rabbit warns of danger to the warren - well, no book is perfect, and for my purpose here this is the least appealing part of the book, even though the story literally couldn't work without it - and based on his warning a few rabbits leave to find a new and safe home. As a team, each with their strengths and weaknesses, they finally make it to a safe haven, which is itself threatened and defended successfully. It's pretty much a heroes journey story.

Let's pick out what the book says that might influence the thinking of a reader, using what I have said a context.

One: Psychic phenomena are real and visions of psychics can help individuals with warnings and such.

Two: Teamwork is a successful strategy.

What I think about the first point is not terribly relevant, and is also a little complicated, fluid, and would take a post of it's own (maybe another day). But it does tie in with residual thinking of an earlier age and thus built into language. Of the two, it is the most likely to influence the readers thinking for that exact reason. Language helps it along by structurally agreeing the idea at a basic level. The idea of no effort, psychically sent, gain without effort, is also appealing and in sympathy with childhood experience. This idea will likely nestle into the readers mind and make itself comfortable, all but unnoticed.

That teamwork is  successful strategy is irrefutable. Very little can be achieved by a single individual - it is not impossible for an individual to 'built a dwelling' but it is impossible for an individual to build a modern house no, really, it is, go mine the ore needed to make a tap/faucet as just one of the many tasks needed to make this happen). I'll come back to this idea later, but it isn't the main point I'm trying to make here. Teamwork is beneficial, not only in getting things done, but in supporting the psyche of every individual in the team. Being part of a successful team is emotionally and mentally rewarding, as well as physically beneficial. No man left behind (person if you like but I really hate making a point of it as it is always implicit in my own thinking, though not in the language). Family means no one gets forgotten or left behind (families are/can be/should be successful teams, after all), and so on an so forth. Teams are good. Teams work. Choosing what team you are a part of, which gang you belong to, is important; it matters, mainly because there are also bad teams, dysfunctional teams, structured teams, teams where a whole layer of the team is disadvantaged by involvement. For my purposes here, any organization can be considered as a team. The company you work for, the country you live in, the species as a while. As a side note, I really do think that the species as a whole would be better served if we agreed an actual objective for the species. Seems like we are bumbling along without one, and has seemed that way for a while.

The difference between point one and two is that where point one would have found itself right at home in most minds and have maximum impact on the thinking of the reader if not thought about at all, but point two can easily be overlooked and won't really make a difference to the thinking of the reader unless noticed and thought about and appreciated.

James Bond

I was going to suggest you pick up any of the Reacher books, if you haven't read one. I don't actually recommend you do, as you will see by what I have to say about James Bond and how he (and other protagonists) effect the thinking of the reader.

Bond is a loner, he uses women like tissues, makes commitments to them and fails to keep them - the body count for women who care about and help bond is very high.

Many, even most, male viewers of Bond (the books are a little different) and readers of Reacher will identify with the slightly tragic loner hero. Its a well known trope, lone hero with a tragic past blah blah.

This kind of story will obviously influence the reader negatively by neglecting to point out one simple fact. Being the tormented and tragic loner isn't any fun. As a species, we need community and connections. No matter what society you live in, what community you are a part of, no matter how small or rarefied, the individual is always connected - to not be part of a community will wreck the mind of any given individual. Bond isn't a role model to aspire to, and nor is Reacher - unless (and I stress this here just in case it's missed) - Unless analysis of his character include his sense of duty and honor instilled in him when he was part of a community and part of a successful team. Reacher would take a bullet to save a girl - bond would use her as a convenient shield to achieve his objective.

Dune

Yeah, I know I seem to be skipping about all over the place with the books and examples, but the theme here is how books effect the thinking of the reader (all depending on the context of the individual, considering
the individual as whole).

Dune - a book I do recommend you read - has some fun with how the brain can be used as a tool for the purposes of the individual, and a tool to effect the body and reality outside the body. It is all of that, and grasping that is a very useful thing to gain from reading the book. Just exposure to the ideas expressed and embodied by the Mentat and Bee Gesserit is useful. You, the reader learns, are not helpless - you have a brain that can effect itself, your body and your environment IF you train it to do the chosen job and take action to achieve the chosen task when ready.

Soldier ask not and Dorsie play with similar ideas, and they are also worth reading for that reason.

Dune is also a book about politics - real politics, not the party political fluff and bluster. Politics is a complicated subject all by its self, but read The Prince by Machiavelli as well, if interested. Dune will effect your thinking about politics - the real nuts and bolts of it - but less so if you skip the chapter headings.

Again, I'm seeing a difference between the two ways Dune may effect the thinking of the reader. The semi-mystical presentation of the brain training elements will nestle happily in the mind of most readers, but the grasp of political fundamentals, and application of that gained knowledge to evaluation of the readers reality will only be of any benefit if thought about.

Atlas Shrugged

This is a book that will definitely influence your thinking if you read it. It is specifically designed to do so.

I don't recommend anyone to read Atlas Shrugged. The value of the book can be summed up in a few of sentences.

What you work for is yours (of course, what else? It isn't mine, is it?).

What you do with the product of your work is up to you (Of course. It's yours, isn't it?).

No one has an automatic right to the product of your work (of course, if you give the product of your work,
that is your choice).

Being the recipient of such gifts is dis-empowering and weakening to the receiver (of course, if you don't strive and work for something you don't value it, nor develop the ability to achieve other similar things; just
evaluate how powerless a child would be if given nothing).

These ideas will definitely seep into your thinking should you read Atlas Shrugged. But along with those ideas there are a host of others, some of which will nestle up snugly in your mind and make themselves at home without volition or notice. What you read effects your mind, and is sometimes designed to do exactly that. There is a good deal, especially in that context, about the book and the philosophy attached that I really seriously do not and will not approve of.

There are great chunks of the interconnected ideas that are well worth thinking about simply because they are poison if not at the very least thought about. Let me just point out one that might influence the readers thinking. Many of us have fallen into the negative trap of being selfish in relationships, but to incorporate justifications for that into a supposedly complete philosophy is certainly a selfishness too far.

I'm going to end with Atlas Shrugged for examples, having supplied others to give some context for the first book mentioned. The book that I think has by far the greater value.

Having said that, one of the main ideas rejected in the work, that being 'good' and being 'self-sacrificing' are synonymous is very dangerous to the individual when taken to its logical conclusion. Best not be a sheep when there are wolves about.

I'm spending more time on AS than others, primarily because reviewers keep bringing it up and comparing it to my own work, and making value judgments about me. The latter is annoying. There are people who have known me my whole life who don;t know my mind well enough to make value judgments about it. It's a tad annoying to have some random stranger who read a book I happened to write and tell other people how my mind works.

Well, never mind, can't be helped, but motive and context matter, as I'm fond of saying... because they do matter. To all of us, as we each have our own context - partly consisting of what books with read and how much of them we have absorbed or rejected - and we each have our own motives for what we say and/or do.

My primary motive here is to get the reader to go read a book - this book. http://esgs.free.fr/uk/art/sands.htm

Science & Sanity

Science & Sanity isn't dressed up as a work of fiction. It is a far harder read (even than the very deliberately long and turgid Atlas Shrugged) but it is, I think, very much the most worthy book mentioned. Science & Sanity echoes concepts I have been struggling with for decades - and now I have read it it seems like I was trying to re-invent the wheel. Which is a pity, when you think about it, as it is likely to be the one book mentioned that the majority of readers will not even have heard of.

And now a little light relief, for no readily apparent reason; one of my favorite songs, and likely always will be.


Thursday, 30 July 2015

Concealed Kingdoms: The Serial

I think of the Concealed Kingdoms as The Many Colored Land meets The World of Tiers, the former by Julian May and the latter by Philip Jose Farmer.

Like the world of Tiers, there are many pocket worlds where mythological creatures and peoples live. The fey are not magical beings, but have psychic powers; each individual fey is uniquely stronger or weaker in one or another of these powers, which they can combine to manifest various effects. Some can create physical objects, and the most powerful of these can create miniature worlds in offset dimensions linked to our world by hidden gates, visible only to the fey or those of fey blood.

Fey are born with no active powers. These develop in their teen years, and can only be brought to full fruition by the touch of an adult fey. This is known as breakthrough. Those who do not trigger their abilities in this way begin to develop powers anyway, and will eventually breakthrough alone... but critically, their powers will likely burn out, leaving them as fail - not human, but with only one ability over which they have no conscious control; a talent for healing, perhaps unusual strength, vastly enhanced empathy or some other ability which they take for granted.

Fey are the witches, the mythical heroes and the gods of our myths and legends. Also the witches and sorcerers, the telepaths and telekinetics of whom rumours still persist.

As children, their only defense mechanism is a power they have no control over. Humans do not see them, unless the young fey make a determined effort, and they are soon forgotten as soon as they are still and silent for even a moment. This defense mechanism protects them from humans who might take them for witches, humans who turn against anyone different.

Each young fey is left a clue, which can lead them to one of the pocket universes where the population of fey is most dense and where they are most likely to have a successful breakthrough and become full fledged fey in their turn - fey with their own set of powers and abilities.

Of course, many fey live in our world.

The Concealed Kingdoms novels are already available, and read and loved by some. The Concealed Kingdoms serial is intended to introduce more readers to this fun set of world and characters. The serial is ongoing and will include the third novel before long.

Chris Northern's YA fantasy novel The King's Ward is a delight to the mind. 5/5-unique! - Kelly Smith Reviews

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Creative Risks


The risks referred to in the title of this piece are the risks to the mind of the creative individual, and is intended as a warning. If you are an aspiring writer, then you need to be aware of what you are getting into, what writing may do to your mind, and what the costs might be.

There are layers and aspects to the skill set necessary to write, and the one I am addressing here is that of understanding people in order to create convincing characters for your stories. Knowing how different minds work, how situations change the thinking and actions of an individual, means thinking in those ways in order to tease out original but realistic actions taken and words spoken by that character, that person. Imagine Shakespeare writing the play Othello; he would have been thinking as Othello would, imagining actions that Othello would take; to some degree he would become Othello, his mind working as that characters mind would work. That mindset would inevitably bleed over into his real life to some, hopefully small degree. Like a lens held before his minds eye, he would see the people and events and interpret them as Othello would, and even react to them as Othello would. At least for the duration of the writing of the play.

Now let's remember that Othello is a tragedy. And that Shakespeare also had a wife.

In some ways, writing can be like method acting. Fully immerse yourself in the thoughts, feelings, mindset and context, the reality of the character – this can particularly be a risk if you are writing in first person. You put down your computer after the days work and with the mindset of the character you are involved with, turn to your real life and the real people around you. The more extreme the character, the more it is possible to negatively impact your own relationships.

It can become a habit, even when not working on any particular project. You can find yourself in situations where you see someone who is in a bad place, see that it is interesting and by “writer's habit” to imagine what is going on in that persons mind... the more you understand human nature and the human condition, the easier this is... and adopt that mindset, think those thoughts, become that character for a while as you set the character in your mind for future use in a story you haven't even conceived yet.

You might find yourself spending half a day thinking as though you were another person entirely, and having conversations with people you know while fixed in that mindset, using the lens you have created in order to understand a character you are writing, or plan to write about, or a character you may never even use. No prizes for guessing that this can have a negative impact on your relationships, that the people around you can be confused when you react to what they are saying as though you were someone else entirely.

Now imagine explaining to that person that it “wasn't you” talking... imagine hearing that from someone who has just hurt you by acting and talking as though they were someone else entirely. That won't make the words unsaid, the things not done, the consequences reset.

Empathy is a useful tool for a writer. The ability to adopt another person's mindset can help create entirely convincing characters. But when you allow the mindset of those characters to bleed over into your real life and influence the people around you, it is time to stop.

Writing need not drive you crazy, but there are a good number of writers who have succumbed to what can become massive internal pressures generated by the creative process. There are many examples. Philip K Dick, Hemingway, Poe, Kerouac, Plath, Thomson, and already the list is long enough. I can't help wondering how many of these and other writers drove off the mental cliff in part because they had adopted so many lenses, imagined themselves into so many different characters, that they had quite simply forgotten who they were and no longer had the ability to react and act as themselves.

Recently, just really very recently, I added myself to the list of crazy writers for this very reason. A cherished friend visited me for a ten day holiday. I was writing, being a character, fully immersed into the work and near the end of the book. The work was interrupted, but the needed mindset persisted for the ten day holiday and I literally was not myself. At one point, just in passing, she said “You will become known as the crazy writer on the hill.” It was a casual comment, not intended to do any harm.

When she left, I literally lost it completely. Partly because I know full well what effects writing can have on my mind, how thoroughly I can create a lens and adopt another mindset, and how badly that can influence my thinking and decision making processes. I don't want to be the crazy writer on the hill, thanks very much. I barely made it to an airport, barely made it somewhere safe. It was, I will be honest, a damn close run thing.

As an end note, a word to those who are still asking when the next Sumto book will be released. The answer is, I don't know. The answer is, sometime after I can bare to adopt Sumto's mindset and be Sumto for the duration of the writing, when my being Sumto for a couple of months won't adversely effect the people around me.

And as for Sapphire.... no, I definitely won't ever be writing any books from Sapphire's point of view.

For now I am not writing. I have, to be perfectly honest, far far more important things to do in my real life, where there are people who need me to be me.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Concealed Kingdoms III - Untitled, as yet

The third of the Concealed Kingdoms novels begins with Beowulf of the Wild Hunt biker gang and monster hunters and picks up where The Heir Reluctant leaves off, with Beowulf, Lleu and others fulfilling commitments they made during Odin and Syn´s story.

We also pick up a new character in a completely new world, made long a go and isolated from our world, the world outside, from humans, fey and fail alike. Some worlds are dreams, but this one is a nightmare, a funhouse made for the entertainment of a single fey.

Needless to say, Beowulf gets involved, called by a Norn to go and rescue a fey on the edge of breakout, a fey who has no one to quicken her powers, and for whom everyone in the world, including the Maker, is an enemy. The Maker of this world does not tolerate potential rivals... or interference from the world outside.

The work is progressing swiftly, and I´m way over half way through this book. I´m having fun with it, and I always take that as a good sign.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

The Heir Reluctant - Available for Preorder

The Heir Reluctant is the second concealed Kingdoms novel, and features some of the same characters as The King's Ward, which is available for 99cents on the 27th only.

The fey are a race apart, with us since the dawn of time. As children, they are all but invisible, instantly forgotten. As Kelly Smith puts it in her review - Imagine you were a living, breathing human being but no one could see, hear or remember you? That you had to make a fuss just to be noticed for one minute?

At breakthrough, triggered by the touch of another fey, their abilities blossom. The weave illusions, read minds, communicate with others by telepathy, and can manipulate reality. Those with the most powerful creative power can build worlds, adjacent to our own, hidden, hard to reach and mostly reserved for their own kind.... and the creatures the fey create. These are the Concealed Kingdoms of the series title.




Excerpt, from somewhere near the end.

I walked slowly over the frozen ground, headed toward the isle in the frozen river and the fort that rested there. I had nowhere else to go, no better idea in mind. I would leave the cold, bleak landscape of Nifflheim behind me, having no better plan. And the world would die.
My mood did not inspire me to hurry. Kieleth had left me alone, and alone was how I felt. The watcher on the wall of the fort seemed indifferent to my approach, the fort itself uninviting, and thoughts of my arrival there offered no comfort.

Ophelia and Gyr were behind me, somewhere. Following, or not. I'd left hem behind. Somewhere out there were Gunnthra, Aun, Bjorn and Starkad. They searched for me, but would not find me now. I would never see any of them again. I was going back, back to a world where no one saw me or remembered me. The thought was intolerable, but there was nothing I could do here, nothing I could do to change things other than allow myself to be used by Freya or Hel, either one a bad as the other. And without Odin, nothing would change.

Hopelessly, helplessly, I closed to within two hundred yards of the bridge, its struts locked in the ice of the frozen river. The figure at the gate disappeared, but I paid no mind. It didn't matter. There was no reason to suppose he meant me any harm. Who here had sought to harm me? No one. Only to use me for their own ends.

The gate was pushed opened as I set foot on the bridge. The wood echoed underfoot. I kept my gaze on the figure who stood at the threshold to the fort, dispirited and disinterested, but without anything else to occupy me. He waited, a dark figure against the pale world we inhabited; his hair was long and dark, fell over broad shoulders clothed in black leather, open to the waist. He wore blue jenes over black boots. In one hand he carried a sheathed sword. He studied me with an appraising expression and calm, brown eyes.

“You,” he said, mildly, “would be Syn the fey.”

Now I was closer, perhaps too close, I could see the jene jacket under his leather, and clearly see his colors. I stopped a few paces away.

“Bikers,” I said, listlessly, too surprised to realize how relevant the comment might seem.

He grinned broadly, his expression softening and his eyes twinkling with humor.

“And I am Beowulf,” he said, “though in the world outside, most people just call me Wolf.”

When I didn't respond, he turned and sketched a bow, one arm flourished to indicate I should pass through the gate. “Welcome to the Hall of the Wild Hunt,” he grinned at me and straightened. “Don't be shy, now.” He said when I hesitated. “We won't eat you.”

“Bikers?” This time I made it a question, my incredulity plain in my voice.

He shrugged, looked beyond me to scan the bleak landscape beyond, then looked at more thoughtfully. “Really, Syn, there's nowhere else to go. Here, there's food and shelter and warmth.”
I shook my head, bemused, and gave up on making choices. I walked past him and through the gate. I stopped inside and looked around while he closed and barred the gate behind me. Stout rail fences stood either side of a wide path, and in the corrals to either side there were two dozen horses that reacted to my presence more than I felt I could react to them. Some drifted our way to investigate us.

In the middle of the stockade stood a longhouse, a wooden hall with tiled roof. From inside, I could hear music. Thrash metal, played strangely low and with an odd overlay to the sound.

Wolf came to stand beside me as I looked around. Nearby, a big gray horse put its head over the top rail and watched us. I looked at the horse, the hall, and then back up to Wolf, who stood better than two feet taller than me.

“Music?” I asked. “I thought electricity didn't work here.”

“Vinyl,” he grinned. “Bakolite, in fact. And a wind up player. It cost a buck, but definitely worth it. Beer?”

I nodded, absently. Then shook my head. “Bikers?”

He stepped forward and I matched his pace as we headed for the hall. “Why not? We travel in a group. People assume we are on a run. No one bothers us much, or is surprised to see us come, or much other than relieved when we go. While we're there we live up to our reputation, well enough. We hunt and kill monsters.”

“Why?”

“Why?” He leaned closer, a wild grin breaking out all over his face, his eyes widened. “Because it's fun!”

I blinked in surprise and shrank from him a little.

He laughed at my reaction, then carried on toward the hall. “Come on now, little fey. Let's get that beer,” he said, lightly, and then more ominously, “and then we will decide what to do with you.”
Beowulf threw open the door to the hall and stepped inside while I hesitated, outside, close to the threshold, trying to adjust my thinking. The smell of cooking wafted out to me on a breath of warm air. The sound of music was louder but as loud as it was going to get. I recognized the strange undercurrent to the music now, the scratching sound of a needle on the physical surface of a record. The thunk and clatter of pool cue and balls rattling round a table made me blink in surprise.
Just inside the door, Beowulf slapped a big bear of a man on the shoulder and jerked his thumb over his shoulder. The bearded man looked out the door and grinned at me. He reached to one side and when he momentarily filled the doorway in passing, the twin blades of a butterfly ax flashed, the long haft held in one meaty hand. He winked and grinned as he walked past me and I stepped to one side and watched him pass. He headed for the gate, the big ax slung casually over one broad shoulder.

Overwhelmed by a sense of unreality, I drifted into the hall. Beowulf kicked the door closed behind me while I stood and looked around at the half a dozen bikers who inhabited the huge room of the hall. Two played pool, three sat at one end of a long table nearby and watched the game as they talked and drank beer, the last splayed full length on a huge leather sofa and watched me with half lidded eyes before he closed them, dismissively. The brief looks they turned my way, were not unfriendly. Each seemed to decide I was of no immediate concern or interest, not important enough to stop what they were doing.

The hall was a strange mixture of ancient and modern. Metal lamps with tall glass chimneys probably burned kerosene. At the far end of the hall, a huge open fire held wrought iron ovens and a blazing fire. To one side, a closed door seemed to draw my attention above all else and I found myself staring, my attention fixed.

Beowulf looked from me to the door and back again. “The gates are made to draw the attention of those with fey blood,” he commented. “If I didn't know who you were already, I'd know you were fey by that alone.”

I shivered, though the hall was warm enough that I'd have to shed layers soon. “How do you know who I am?”

He headed across the hall and I followed in his wake, wanting his answer.

“Freya was here,” he told me as I caught up to him. “You missed her by just a few minutes. She flew in, manifest as the black dragon she is so fond of, threatened us some, and tried to persuade us as well. Then flew away again.”

He stopped by the fire and casually filled an bowl with hot stew from a cooking pot close to the fire to keep it hot. He dropped a spoon into it and passed it to me.

“You'll be hungry, I bet.” He steered me to a chair at a long table and took another at an angle to me. “She told us you were brought here by some of her people, but that they had lost you somehow. An unquickened fey, a girl named Syn. And look at you,” he said, his casual gesture encompassed me from head to toe. “Who else would you be?”

I felt sick with nerves, but hungry as well. Too hot on the outside, too cold inside. I shivered, began to undo the fastenings of my parka. I opened my mouth to ask a question but my lips trembled instead; then, abruptly and to complete my misery, I began to cry.