Star Runners: a New Book by Clayton J. Callahan

I have always loved the short story, once the foundation of a SF author’s career, it is still a beautiful art form that could use a little more room to breathe in this modern age. And I especially like when short stories share a connection such as in H. Beam Piper’s Federation or Keith Laumer’s Bolos: The Honor of The Regiment, and last but not least David Drake’s Space Dreadnoughts.

So, what the heck, I decided to write one myself.

Having written three novels in the Star Run setting, I decided to use that for the connection. After all, in each novel, I presented the reader with a fully formed universe much of which I only had the chance to refer to obliquely. In Star Runners I gave myself the opportunity to expand on those references in a way that is adventurous, humorous, dramatic, and fun.

I hope you appreciate this exploration of the universe and enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Clayton J. Callahan

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My Niece in The Orvil!

I am totally geeking out because my niece got a bit part on The Orvil! I’ve been a fan of the show since it came out on DVD, and am looking forward to owning the next season when it’s available.

I think the show qualifies as a mediocre comedy but a rather decent space opera, and I enjoy its light sense of fun and adventure. Also, Seth MacFarlane seems intent on making the show do what science fiction used to do a lot more frequently; make comments on our modern society.

Gender issues, our relation to social media, religion, and sexuality are artfully covered in many of the better episodes and are more than worth a viewing for that reason alone. If you haven’t checked out The Orvil yet, I recommend you do–If for no other reason than to see Hollywood’s newest female star!

By Clayton J. Callahan

Dark Stars and Good Times

Have you ever watched a movie so bad it’s good?

My answer is, “yes,” and I’m not too proud to admit it. And of all the bad movies I’ve seen, one will always have a special place in my heart, John Carpenter’s Dark Star. Yes…that John Carpenter. The guy who gave us Halloween, The Thing, and Escape From New York was once a lowly film student, and back in the ancient days of 1974, he made Dark Star as a student film project.

The story revolves around a half dozen hippie astronauts on a never-ending journey, not to explore space and discover its mysteries. Nope. Their job is to seek out “unstable planets” and blow them the hell up. To do this they have a hyperspace capable ship called the Dark Star with a bomb bay full of self-aware planet-busting bombs.

Fun right?

I first encountered this little gem of a film on late-night TV back in the early 1980s. This was back in the days when local stations would shut down for the day at about 3:00am, play the national anthem, and then go dark until 6:00am. Dark Star, if it showed at all, would always be shown just before the anthem.

Later, I re-discovered it at science fiction conventions in the late 80s and earily90s. In those days, conventions always featured a “movie room” where classic SF films would be shown round the clock. I always found the movie rooms to be a great retreat from the hustle and bustle of the con. Tired of your friend’s drama? Kick back in the movie room for a few hours and eat some popcorn. I often found myself doing just that after midnight, and Dark Star was always shown after midnight.

I suppose lawsuits ended the movie room tradition as I haven’t seen a con feature one in decades. For this reason, I doubt if many young fans have ever heard of Dark Star. Still, it’s a movie that deserves to be remembered.

For a student film it was pretty darn good and for that reason, Carpenter managed to get it distributed professionally. Upon release, it mostly was shown at second run theaters and at drive-ins. Considering its shoestring budget, I’m pretty sure it made a profit after the first hundred or so ticket sales. I highly recommend it for your late night viewing. It’s silly, stupid, irreverent and has one of the best endings I’ve ever seen. No really, when your film’s climax is an astronaut debating phenomenology with an artificially intelligent, planet-destroying bomb you just can’t lose.

Besides, whoever said science fiction was supposed to be serious anyway?

The Matrix Is Twenty Years Older- And I’m Not Feeling That Young Myself

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So, I’ve just discovered that it’s been two decades since Neo first said, “Whoa.” To be sure The Matrix was a big deal at the time and a bit of a game changer for Hollywood. The slow motion, CGI fight choreography were copied in by other movies for years to come and its special effects were revolutionary for the time. However, looking back twenty years, you have to ask does The Matrix stand the test of time?

My answer; well sort of.

Oddly, in a story about what it means to be human in a cybernetic world the character, I found most compelling was the program known as Agent Smith. Hugo Weaving’s performance of a frustrated cybernetic being showed the true frustration of one trapped in an online reality. But perhaps the reason I identify with Agent Smith so much because I too have often felt frustrated with the new online world.

You see, I was born in 1967 when the internet wasn’t even making an appearance in science fiction. In the mid-90s it started to invade our lives but only to a limited extent and it could be safely ignored if one wished. Now, it is impossible to exist in modern life without internet access and even a troglodyte like me finds it impossible to escape. And like The Matrix suggested, people now live double lives through this new tech. Online, we can be these well dressed, cool, and sexy heroes who can do amazing things. Meanwhile, in reality, most of us are living paycheck to paycheck in as bleak an environment as Zion.

I never believed that science fiction is a purely predictive endeavor.  What passes for prophecy in SF is more often a matter of modern people superimposing current trends over the wistful dreams of past writers. That being said, stories like The Matrix can give context for our conversations about the present and the problems we now face. As such, The Matrix, for all its cheesy goodness is a great cultural reference and I applaud the Wachowskis for their achievement.

Clayton J. Callahan

 

H. Beam Piper’s Federation

The short story is perhaps a dying art in science fiction. Once, it was the number one venue for new authors to cut their teeth on. Giants like Heinline, Asimov, and Clark all got their start writing fiction for some of the many short story mags of the mid 20th century. In those earlier times, commuters would hit up the magazine stand at their local bus stop or train station for a copy of Weird Tales, Science Fiction Analog, or Galaxy magazine so they could pass the time with a quick yard during the ride home. It was a lucrative business, and many a novel that would go on to win Hugo Awards had its genesis as a pulp story.

H. Beam Piper was no exception of course. Now, I freely admit that Piper is one of my influences. Despite his occasional militarism and misogyny, I appreciate his craftsmanship and storytelling. He created a fully formed and believable future, warts and all, and I cut my teeth as a reader on his Little Fuzzy books when I was but a lad. Sadly, his career was cut short by his suicide in 1964, bringing his story to a rather abrupt conclusion.

However, he had friends and one of them, a guy named Jerry Pournelle, took the pains to collect his short stories and bind them together into one volume. The title of this posthumous pice is Federation, and I must say it’s one of my absolute favorite books of all time.

The stories all take place in Piper’s future interstellar federation, and it’s the same universe that Pappy Jack and the Space Vikings inhabit. Pournelle has taken pains to organize Piper’s stories chronologically so we can see the future unfolding through snippets and venues. My personal favorite has to be Piper’s Graveyard of Dreams, wherein a young man returns from college to a junkyard planet that was once the hub of an interstellar war. Now, possing advanced scientific knowledge, he hasn’t the heart to tell his father’s friends that their dreams of finding a lost military supercomputer are not going to come true and thus their world will forever be in the economic doldrums of the galaxy…unless he can spin a lie of gossamer that will take them to the stars!

If your a fan of Piper’s and haven’t read this amazing book yet, it is still available on Amazon. If your not a fan of pipers, however, the book is still available on Amazon so what are you waiting for?

Happy reading.

Clayton J. Callahan

What’s New

Well, it’s been a while since I checked in so I figured I’d let everybody know what’s up. Right now I’m about 80% done with a project called Star Runners. It’s an anthology of short stories that spun off of my other science fiction works. Fans of Tales of The Screaming Eagle will get to find out how Ms. Coleen took the barracks that Kilroy and Burt left on Tarkan and turned it into the best damn bar in the galaxy. Also, questions like, “how did the Yang-He become a ghost ship,” and “How did Jack Galloway come to lose the Sundancer to the Public Protectors on Isis” will be answered.

Even if you haven’t read The Adventures of Crazy Liddy or Crazy Lucky a Space Romance, these stories should amaze and entertain. I hope to have this book available on Amazon by the end of February 2019.

Here’s a sample:

To Reach The Unreachable Star

 

Although taken for granted today, it is worth reflecting upon the miraculous speed at which Earth’s various nations recovered from the Doom War. In the space of a single generation, survivors came together and organized themselves into thriving communities and soon reclaimed much of what was lost.

Of particular note is the amazing speed at which North America jumped from a collection of subsistence farming villages to a spacefaring nation-state in a mere hundred years.

Excerpt from Gordon’s History of The Spacelanes

 ***

All the indicator lights read green.

Naomi took in a deep breath and closed her eyes. After fifteen months in the bunker, this was it. Air quality: acceptable, temperature: seventy-eight degrees Fahrenheit, radiation level: safe. She looked down and to her right to see little Benjamin chewing on his finger like he always did when he got fidgety.  Fifteen months is a long time for anybody, but to a six-year-old, it was an eternity, and the bunker’s confinement probably felt as safe as the womb to him.

The stuffy bunker had been home, school, and playground to him. “Mom, do we have to go outside?” He asked.

She nodded, and the child went back to chewing his finger. They had been lucky. The only house she could afford when they moved to the area was an old two story that dated back to the 1950s and included a bomb shelter. When things got bad in the news, Naomi cleared out the raccoon nests and stocked up on canned food and other supplies. It proved to be a good move, but the bunker would not sustain them forever.

And besides, she longed for sunshine.

But Naomi also understood how her son felt; she’d been the same way twenty odd years ago when her family left Uganda for the States. She was only twelve at the time, and everything was new and scary to her then. Now, she’d been an American so long that going back to Uganda was simply unimaginable. Just like she couldn’t imagine what waited for her beyond the sealed airlock door.

Partly to buck up the boy’s courage and partly to buck up her own, she said, “It’s all right, Benjamin. We’re going to do this together, okay?”

The child nodded nervously, and she hit the release lever. With a hiss and a rush of air the door parted and the sun shown down upon her face for the first time since the bombs fell. For a moment, she just stood there, still as a statue, basking in the sunlight. Looking down, she saw Benjamin shielding his eyes from the glare but did not recoil from the light. She always knew her son was brave.

Together, mother and son took their first, hesitant, steps into the new world. It was not, however, an improved world by any stretch. The shattered remains of Atlanta, Georgia stretched out far as the eye could see, and her heart sank. The once gleaming towers of the Buckhead skyline now blackened and bent by atomic fire glowered at them in the distance. Closer to hand; their once pleasant suburban neighborhood now consisted of concrete foundations overgrown with Kudzu. Naomi marveled at how fast that wily weed had recovered from the apocalypse. Twisted pipes reached up for the sky like the arms of penitent men at the foot of some unforgiving deity. And the towers of man’s communications arrays? All were half melted and resembled hunchbacked giants lumbering for the grave. Even if anyone could hear them, calling for help was not an option.

The mother sighed. “Well, it’s more or less what I expected.” She reached for Benjamin’s hand. “Let’s take a walk, sweetie.”

Feet following the path of a broken sidewalk, they took in the fresh, unfiltered air and watched the birds flitter about. Benjamin’s eyes were wide, his face wearing the expression he wore when she took him to the zoo two years ago.

Naomi’s feelings warred within her. She wasn’t sure whether she should be happy or sad. The elation of finally being free of the bunker battled with the depression that arose upon seeing her world ruined by short-sighted and stupid men. Men, whose imaginations looked no farther ahead than the next election cycle, and whose stewardship of the world was eclipsed by the next quarter’s profits. Why people followed such-stuffed shirts always puzzled her. But they did, perhaps because believing the golden promises of blowhards was preferable to them at election time than facing the hard truths of a world in crisis. And now, there were no profits, no elections, and no hopes—just the current crisis of simple human survival as faced by the cavemen of millennia ago.

The world was dead, and she wept for it.

Naturally, she didn’t intend to. After all, Benjamin was watching. “What’s wrong, mom?” the child asked.

“Nothing, I’m fine,” she lied through her tears.

Benjamin squeezed her hand and then moved in front of her to block her stride. “Mom, what’s wrong?”

She could never successfully lie to her son, and she knew it. The kid was unnaturally bright for his age and approached life in a very measured and rational way. He’d spent the last fifteen months taking apart and putting back together every tool and device in the bunker, determined to discover what principals made them work. He read books two and three grade levels above his age group. And he knew how his mom worked, inside and out.

Benjamin was an extremely smart boy.

“This is…was the monorail stop where I used to wait for the number fifty to take me to work at the Hartsfield Space Center. You remember? I used to wear a blue uniform to work every day?”

“Yes, you were a nurse with the flight surgeon’s office. I remember you liked Dr. Bill a lot. He was your boss.”

“That’s right, Sweetie. He came here from Texas after they succeeded from the US. He helped transfer the NASA clinic from Huston to Atlanta when our spaceport was just starting up. Anyway,” she sighed, “it looks like I won’t have to worry about missing the monorail again. Funny, I used to hate getting out of my nice warm bed and rushing off to work. Now, I’m sad I’ll never do that again.”

Benjamin looked at the twisted metal and burned over concrete that had once been a transit stop. “You could go to work again. It will just be different.”

She fought back her anger, the child didn’t mean to be insensitive, and she knew it. But hard reality left her little room for parental finesse. “Honey, look around. There’s not going to be any work at the Space Center ever again.” She shook her head. “I just hope the colony on Mars survived. They may have enough infrastructure up there to carry on without support from Earth. But we’re not going to be sending any more ships into space. And all the sleeper ships are going to be arriving at distant stars soon. But when they wake up from cryo, their transmissions home will fall on deaf ears. There will be nobody to answer the phone if the phones are all dead, right?”

Benjamin sat down on the stairs that lead up to the monorail station. He chewed his finger, and his eyebrows scrunched together. Naomi knew he was concentrating but had no idea about what. This was a problem well beyond any six-year-old child and certainly beyond a grown woman of thirty-five. The stars be dammed, she had more immediate problems to deal with. Back in the bunker they still had enough food and such for a few more months, but by winter she’d need a new source of sustenance for herself and her boy.

She cast her eyes about, hoping to find something that would aid in their survival. In the distance, she saw a dozen or so wooden shacks. Structures like those would never have survived the blast that leveled Atlanta. Therefore, she reasoned, they must be new. Obviously, somebody else had survived the Doom War and that somebody or somebodies could probably use a nurse. It’d be a long walk, but she and Benjamin might make it to the shacks by nightfall. Looking closer, Naomi saw a man step out of one of those shacks. He looked in their direction and waved, and she dared to feel hope in her heart.

“Mom, we can do it. We can go to space and tell them we’re still here and everything’s will be all right.”

“What?” Naomi couldn’t help but laugh. “Child, see those shacks over there?”

“Yes,” Benjamin replied. Then he looked where his mother was pointing and said, “What about them?”

“Those shacks might have people who can help us. See the man waving now? But it’s a long way off. It will take maybe a couple of hours to walk there. Mars and the star colonies are a lot farther off than that, child; millions and millions of miles away. We can’t get there, Benjamin.” She let a smirk cross her lips. “It’s much too far for anybody to walk.”

Then Benjamin smiled. “Then we’ll just have to run.”

 

The End

 

A Pilot’s Guide

In the early days of the science fiction RPG Traveller, the universe was not so fleshed out. All we really had were the three little books GDW put out that contained a lot of information on how to play the game but scant information about the universe the game was played in.

In a way, that was good. Players and referees alike had a lot of latitudes to invent their own worlds and settings. And invent we did. The rules of Traveller were not conducive to simply cut and paste Star Trek or Star Wars motifs so one was forced to get creative. However, as cool as that was it was also a lot of work and sometimes you just want to throw down and roll some dice. Enter: Gamelords LTD’s “A Pilot’s Guide To The Drexilthar Subsector.”

Gamelords LTD  was one of the many small publishing houses that created supplements under license for GDW. A Pilot’s Guide To The Drexilthar Subsector was one such effort. Within this 48 page booklet, were the details of a single subsector just on the edge of Imperium space. Each of the 27 worlds within was detailed with enough information to form an adventure but still left lots for the imaginative Referee to do his/her own thing.

Personally, I found it the ideal setting for numerous Traveller campaigns. In fact, my well-worn copy is still in my possession after 30+ years of gaming. You can still get a copy today at Drive Through RPG at: https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/60313/CTG-A-Pilots-Guide-to-the-Drexilthar-Subsector

Traveller has inspired me for decades and I don’t apologize for the similarities one might find to it in my own science fiction writing. I hope you enjoy.