Monday, December 31, 2012

Revisiting the Classics -- The Magician's Nephew

I first read C.S. Lewis' The Magician's Nephew back in college, and it remains my favorite book of the Narnia series (Aslan got to be kind of a hardass by Prince Caspian).

The protagonists of The Magician's Nephew are Digory Kirke (the Professor from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe) and his neighbor Polly. They live next door to each other in pre-war London, and in fact their houses are connected to each other by an attic. They spend some time exploring the rafters and one day  find that it leads to the study of Digory's Uncle Andrew, a morally questionable self-proclaimed magician who is letting Digory's sick mother live with him. Uncle Andrew proceeds to put slip a strange ring on Polly's finger and she instantly disappears into the Wood between the Worlds, an inter-dimensional nexus. Digory, although angry at Uncle Andrew, grudgingly goes after her, and they end up in the dead world of Charn. There they meet the evil Jadis and accidentally bring her to London, and later they are all present for the birth of Narnia.

I've always liked The Magician's Nephew because it answers a lot of questions one might have about Narnia. Why does Professor Kirke's wardrobe lead there? Why is there a lamp post in the middle of nowhere? Where did the Witch come from and why is she so ill-tempered? How did the Professor know about Narnia in the first book? Also, Lewis had a knack for wonder and whimsy that few others possess.

One caveat, though: People who aren't Christians might not appreciate the Biblical allegory of Narnia's creation. The whole thing parallels Genesis. In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe Aslan represents Christ, but here there are a lot more Bible metaphors. Of course, this is par for the course when it comes to C.S. Lewis.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Revisiting the Classics -- The Songs of Distant Earth

Recently I decided to start a new feature on this blog, where I take a look back at great sci-fi books of yesteryear. First up is Arthur C. Clarke's The Songs of Distant Earth. First published in 1986, this book remains relevant today.

At the beginning of the 21st century, mankind discovered our sun was dying. In response, the human race built seed ships to colonize other worlds in far-off star systems before doomsday. The planet this story takes place on is called Thalassa, a peaceful, almost entirely aquatic world with only three islands for its inhabitants to live on. One day the colony ship Magellan arrives at Thalassa, and its crew informs them that Magellan was the last ship to leave Earth, and they need the Lassans' (what the people of Thalassa are called) help in building a new ice shield to protect the ship for its final journey to distant planet Sagan 2. The Lassans agree to help their space brothers, but not everyone on Magellan wants to continue on to Sagan 2 when they have already found paradise on Thalassa. Friendships are made, secrets are uncovered, and loyalties are tested as the Lassans and their new space-faring friends work to secure the future of the human race.

To me, the best aspect of The Songs of Distant Earth is the fact that, even today, the story is grounded in real science. Clarke goes on at length explaining the difficulties of interstellar travel, and I found it particularly interesting that the hardest part of going close to the speed of light is not just getting to that speed, but stopping once you've reached your destination. According to Clarke, it takes an ungodly amount of energy to brake at sub-light speeds. I also liked his explanation of neutrinos and how they could one day allow us to anticipate the death of our sun.

However, The Songs of Distant Earth isn't for everyone. If you demand a lot of action with your sci-fi, you may want to look elsewhere. Most of the conflicts in the story are resolved rather peacefully, and there's only a hint at future violence in the epilogue. Also, people of faith may not like what a few of Clarke's characters have to say about religion. They tend to view it as a negative influence, although at least one of them keeps an open mind about it.

Nevertheless, this book is an important piece of science fiction, and most sci-fi fans would do well to read it at least once in their lives.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Kindle Spotlight -- Moonlight and Mechanicals (The Gaslight Chronicles)

Today I'm bringing you my review of Cindy Spencer Pape's Moonlight and Mechanicals, part of her Gaslight Chronicles series. I'm actually not sure which book in the series it is since the Amazon page doesn't say and the story contains numerous references to the characters' previous adventures, so I'm just going to treat this as a stand-alone story.

The protagonist is Winifred "Wink" Hadrian, 24-year-old adopted daughter of the Hadrian family. The Hadrians, a motley crew of orphans and stepchildren, are part of the Order of the Knights of the Round, descendants of King Arthur's legendary group. The Order fights threats to England, whether those threats are supernatural or technological. Wink makes numerous mentions of having fought vampires in the past, but only one shows up in the story and is quickly dispatched.

Getting back on track--Wink has always been in love with Liam McCullough, Scotland Yard inspector and reluctant werewolf. Because of his bestial nature and the abuse he suffered at the hands of his father (and far worse beast), he is firmly convinced he would make a horrible husband and father, and so does his best to see Wink married off to eliminate the temptation to bed her. Meanwhile, the heroes investigate a series of bizarre and seemingly random disappearances and whether or not they have anything to do with a group of angry young men supposedly seeking revolution in England.

Moonlight and Mechanicals is a good story featuring compelling and likable characters, and excellent formatting and editing. While most of the book deals with Wink and Liam trying to come to terms with their feelings for one another, when they finally do the story really picks up steam (pun intended). A word of warning, however: This one's not for kids. It contains the most detailed sex scenes I've ever read, so parents be warned. If, however, you're not bashful about this sort of thing, this book is well worth a read.

You can buy it here:

Monday, November 19, 2012

Kindle Spotlight -- Hunted (The Flash Gold Chronicles #2)

In another first for my blog, I'm reviewing a sequel: Lindsay Buroker's Hunted. It is the second book in her Flash Gold Chronicles series.

Since we last saw Kali McAlister, she has moved to another town in the Yukon and gone into the bounty hunting business with mysterious tough guy Cedar. She dreams of making enough money to build her own airship and finally leaving the frigid region. Cedar has his own goal: Taking down the nefarious Cudgel. Doing that will grant him satisfaction and money to fulfill Kali's wish. In order to do this, though, they have to cozy up with Kali's slimy ex, Sebastian. Sebastian has his own agenda, but he may not be the biggest threat to Kali. A shadowy woman is stalking them, but I won't spoil that.

My biggest problem with the first book in the series, Flash Gold, was that I felt the big sled race didn't live up to its potential (see the full review elsewhere on this blog). Hunted has no such problem. It's a fast-paced adventure which builds upon Flash Gold in meaningful ways. We get to see Kali and Cedar's relationship grow further, more of Kali's secret heritage is revealed, more newfangled steam-powered contraptions are introduced, and we learn Cedar's real name! This is truly how a sequel should be. There are a few typos, but nothing that even begins to bring down the story. Lindsay Buroker is a talented writer, and you should definitely start reading this series.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Kindle Spotlight -- Sliding Void

Stephen Hunt recently made the first book in his space series, Sliding Void, free on Kindle. Since I particularly enjoyed his Jackelian series, picking this up was a no-brainer, and so here we are.

Prince Calder Durk is having a pretty rough week. Betrayed by those closest to him, he finds himself on the run from an enemy army. A disreputable sorcerer, however, gives him one option for salvation: Exile. As it turns out, exile lies in a world previously unknown to Calder--as crew member on the starship Gravity Rose, captained by the foul-mouthed Lana Fiveworlds. For those of you who--like me--had only read Hunt's Jackelian series, this book may be a shock to you. In space, no one can hear you scream, but they can sure hear you swear, something the characters in this book do a lot of. Unlike the Jackelian books, the Sliding Void series was written for an audience of adult sci-fi fans. Aliens, robots and technical jargon abound, ensuring trekkies will feel right at home. The massive, city-sized Gravity Rose, along with the funny yet cute robots, reminded me especially of the old sci-fi series Red Dwarf (no smeg-heads here, sadly).

There isn't a whole lot of plot progression in the first volume, as it focuses more on character development. We get to meet the characters and feel them out, especially Calder. In the world of Sliding Void, learning is done via VR headsets which download information into people's minds Matrix-style. Once this is done to Calder, it's interesting to watch his newfound technological prowess clash with his medieval upbringing.

Sliding Void has an engaging narrative (barring the occasional formatting issue) and likable characters. That being said, I still prefer the Jackelian series, at least at this point. That steampunk world overflows with magic and wonder, while Sliding Void is pure science fiction. I guess it just depends on your personal preferences, really.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Kindle Spotlight -- Cameo the Assassin (Trilogy of Shadows Book One)

Today, in a first for Mirror Slide Junction, I am reviewing this blog's first fantasy novel, Dawn McCullough-White's Cameo the Assassin.

The story revolves around the titular Cameo, a mysterious woman with a shadowy past, milky white eyes, and strange powers. As you can probably guess, her job is to kill people for the infamous assassin's guild, the Association. Predictably, a twist of fate quickly forces her to sever all ties with the murderous organization, and thus she becomes their target. A few people become caught up in her plight throughout the course of the story, the most interesting being Black Opal, who is basically a more effeminate version of Jack Sparrow from the Pirates movies with a bit of Han Solo thrown in for good measure.

Cameo has an interesting story and a few compelling characters, but a number of problems bring it down. First--the dialogue is frequently awkward. Second--the pacing is bad. There are too many scenes in taverns that go on for too long and don't contribute enough to the story. Also, characters have a habit of going on and on about mundane things and, as I already stated, the dialogue is awkward (not to mention the fact that new paragraphs begin even if the same character is still speaking). Third--the revelation concerning what exactly Cameo is, which should have been a bombshell, is casually mentioned, as if the reader was supposed to already have guessed it.

While this series has definite potential, I'm just not too keen on the first book.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

What's Wrong with Editing?

The last two books I reviewed on this blog suffered from a lack of editing. Bad punctuation; wrong grammar; poor spelling, etc. This is a big problem with indie novels and it serves to give them a bad name. I really don't understand why indie authors don't take the time to polish their work. Self-publishing as a whole would gain a substantial amount of respect if they did. If you want the world to take your work seriously, then you have to be the first.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Kindle Spotlight -- Building Beauty

This week I decided to read Rachel Eliason's novella Building Beauty because the setting and plot are different from other steampunk stories.

Taking place during World War I, the protagonist is a young man named Alejandro (although the Amazon page says "Alexander") serving in the Russian army who is sent to Siberia for a special assignment. When he arrives he is quickly taken to a factory that builds automatons. The officer in charge explains that there is a "social disease" of Russian soldiers frequenting brothels. Things would be so much better, he says, if the troops could be....err....serviced by an automaton in the form of a common prostitute. In short, Alejandro's job is to build a sex robot. He is not thrilled with the assignment. "Of all the men in Mother Russia I must be the most ill equipped for this assignment." Why does he feel so little confidence in his ability to do the job? You might be able to guess that before it is revealed, but it becomes obvious towards the end of the story.  And when the Russian Revolution begins, his job becomes dangerous as well as uncomfortable.

Building Beauty has an interesting story but could definitely have been edited better. Punctuation is a problem in this ebook, and I'm not sure why the main character is named Alexander in the synopsis but called Alejandro in the story. Also,  I'm torn on the subject matter, but I won't say why because of spoilers. Suffice to say, the protagonist won't appeal to everyone. If you want a different type of steampunk, you could do worse than to pick up Building Beauty for $0.99.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Kindle Spotlight -- The Soul Schematic

Today I'm reviewing Lisa Degerstrom's The Soul Schematic. The story seems to take place in America during the late 19th century, although the characters have cell phones and other modern devices. The protagonist is a young woman of high society named Clovis Palmer who possesses a brilliant mind. She secretly builds a sophisticated robot in the form of a man. This is very risky because 1.) Women are forbidden from being inventors in her close-minded society and 2.) Creating artificial life in the image of man is a capital offense. During a party hosted by her father and stepmother, the mechanical man is awakened and freed by unknown persons. He/It finds himself in a nearby city where he is attacked by a pimp and has to kill the violent man in self-defense. Clovis is soon faced with the knowledge that something she created has taken human life, and the person she looks up to is charged with the crime. She sets out to recover her creation and clear the man's good name, but along the way she has to deal with the dreaded Lazure, AKA the Dark Contable, a man hellbent on upholding his own idea of justice.

The story is interesting but unfortunately suffers from a painful lack of editing. Punctuation errors abound, characters are confused with one another, and things happen with absolutely no transition. This kind of shoddy work is inexcusable. It's a shame, really, because the story reels you in and the characters are intriguing (and few of them are what they appear to be). This could have been a really good book; Degerstrom definitely has the potential to be a stellar author if she only puts in the effort to polish her work.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Kindle Spotlight -- Hell's Gate: A Steampunk Lovecraft Adventure

This week we have a recent release by Brent Nichols, Hell's Gate: A Steampunk Lovecraft Adventure. As the title suggests, it is an H.P. Lovecraft-inspired steampunk tale.

The story takes place during the roaring '20s around Washington, D.C. Colleen, the protagonist, is a young woman who works for a top secret government agency dedicated to investigating the occult (think Hell Boy). Said agency just happens to be in possession of a mystic stone sought by the evil Cult of Katharsis. They waste little time attacking the agency's HQ to get the stone so they can open a portal to the realm of the dark god Katharsis. With the help of her friends and her gorilla-esque automaton Woody, Colleen sets out to save her mentor and thwart the cult's attempts to release Katharsis into the world.

Like many of the Kindle books I review on this site, Hell's Gate is really just a novella at around 75 pages. However, it is well-written with likeable characters. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Dirk, the former member of the team who had to be institutionalized because of his experiences with the realm of Katharsis and the monsters that dwell within it. Dirk's plight is described so well that I had no trouble believing his mind has been severely damaged by his experiences.

At $2.99, this book is well worth a read, and I'd like to see more steampunk stories take advantage of the rich culture of 1920s America.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Kindle Spotlight -- The Last Man on Earth Club

It's been a while since the last Kindle Spotlight. What have I been doing during that time? Reading a beast of a book (and I mean that in the best possible way): Paul R. Hardy's The Last Man on Earth Club.

The story takes place on a version of earth whose inhabitants were wiped out by an asteroid strike. An organization called the Interversal Union (basically the Federation from Star Trek, except they're made up of universes instead of just planets) has since come in an designated the planet Hub. In other words, it's a hub world for other universes. On Hub the IU has established a center which is home to a support group consisting of a handful of people who have nothing in common except the fact that each of them is the last survivor of an apocalypse.

The story is told from the point of view of the group's therapist, Dr. Asha Singhe. She has the Herculean task of getting each member of the group to both come to terms with what happened to them and open up to one another. Most of them are angry with the various people they blame for the annihilation of their species, and are slow to trust Asha and each other. Just like real therapy, it takes a considerable amount of time for them to reveal their secrets (not all of them are what they seem). Progress is made, but so are setbacks, and you can't help but wonder if there is any hope for this group of emotionally crippled people.

This is a very powerful and heart-wrenching story. As each member of the group gradually reveals what trauma they've experienced, you begin to sympathize with them more and more, and a number of important questions are raised. Who should be held responsible for the destruction of an entire race, and how should they be punished? When does a search for justice become mere vengeance? If you don't think anyone's going to help you, is it OK to take matters into your own hands, and if so, how far should you go?

This is not a light-hearted story by any stretch of the imagination. The horrors of what the characters have experienced are revealed in tragic detail, and more than suicide attempt is made as they try to deal with what happened to them. But even so, this is one of the most important books I have ever read. If you've got the stomach to follow along with these poor souls, I strongly recommend character-driven story. As someone who has contemplated suicide himself, I just cannot heap enough praise onto this book. Mr. Hardy has done a great service to humanity by writing it.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Martian Successor Nadesico Complete Collection DVD

Right Stuf just re-released all of the anime Martian Successor Nadesico with a bunch of extras not present in the 2000's DVDs. This is the first anime series I ever got on DVD, and it's just as fun today as it was a decade ago. The action, off-the-wall humor and occasional hard-hitting somber moments still keep me coming back after all these years. If you like anime, you absolutely MUST give this a try.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Kindle Spotlight-- Aladdin and His Wonderfully Infernal Device

Today we're going into Arabia with Aladdin and His Wonderfully Infernal Device by Tee Morris. If you've ever read the story of Aladdin or seen the Disney movies, this will be very familiar to you.

It starts off with young thief Aladdin as he steals a gear from a vendor on the streets on Arabia. He is soon embraced by a famous magician claiming to be his long-lost uncle. Aladdin takes the man home to meet his mother. Although Aladdin's mother takes the lad aside and reveals that in fact his father had no brothers, she still tells him to go with the imposter to find his destiny (despite their mutual belief that Uncle Jaha is up to no good). Aladdin grabs his mechanical flying carpet and sets off into the desert with his faux relative (who--surprise, surprise--soon betrays him). Can the young hero unravel the steampunk trappings of the story and save his own hide in the process? You'll just have to read to find out.

I'm torn on this one. Normally I'm more than fine with sending steampunk to settings it hasn't been to before, but in this case I don't think it does enough to advance or enhance the Aladdin story. It's preytty much the same story you remember, just with a little bit of steampunk thrown in. Also, I didn't particularly care what happened to Aladdin. He and his mother show remarkably bad judgment in regards to the obvious imposter uncle. Granted, the same thing happens in Japanese RPGs, but at least with them you get a 60-hour journey filled with interesting characters that you become attached to. With Aladdin and His Wonderfully Infernal Device, you just get a novella with only a few characters. If Morris had taken the Aladdin story as the foundation, added a lot more colorful characters and sent the story off into other directions, we could have had a hit here. As it stands, though, I give it 2 1/2 stars.

Friday, August 31, 2012

The Game Called Revolution has received its first review


I say! What a ride! A very different steampunk novel, there are plenty of heroic characters and villains that I felt involved with and I particularly liked the way the author used Enlightenment-era inventions.
A thoroughly ripping yarn with a different take on Steampunk. To be honest I feel that there may be a few too many fog-bound London adventures, so it's exciting to get out into Paris and revolution-torn Europe.
Well worth a read.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Game Called Revolution 2nd Edition

I took the feedback I received from the free download of The Game Called Revolution and have published the 2nd edition. The story itself has not changed; mostly I just corrected the problems with the French language that were present in the first edition. In addition, the Kindle and paperback versions have been merged into one Amazon page (, and I have lowered the price of the paperback version a little bit to $11.25.

You can still download the 1st edition for free until 09/13.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Expendables 2 is Epic

Just saw The Expendables 2 this past Saturday. I enjoyed the first one, but part two blows it out of the water, something I don't get to say about a sequel very often. Stallone once again leads a star-studded cast of badasses, and thankfully Bruce Willis and Arnold have bigger roles this time around. Conversely, a few characters are minimized (don't get too attached to Jet Li) or left out entirely (I didn't see any of Micky Rourke in this one, which is a bit tragic since he was the best actor in The Expendables).

This one is also a lot funnier than the first, with the actors throwing constant jabs at each others' hit movies. Arnold, to no one's surprise, has the best lines, like "My shoe is bigger than this car!" and "I'm back!" No doubt about it: this movie caters to fans of these action stars who remember their heroes' best moments and want to relive them.

In addition to the returning cast, several new faces are along for the ride. Chris Hemsworth's brother Liam joins the team, but as with Jet Li, don't get too attached to him either. Also, for the first time in the series a woman joins the team. Maggie Chan (played by Nan Yu) is able to hold her own among the testosterone-fueled cast. Chuck Norris has a few scenes that play off his legendary mystique, and Jean-Claude Van Damme does a very good job as the villain (you really want to see him die a painful death at the end). Speaking of Van Damme--I was a huge fan of his back in the 90's (even started a Van Damme fan club), and I'm glad to see he can still kick the crap out of someone if given the chance. He and Stallone have a slug--and kick--fest in the movie's climax.

Go see this movie. Then go to Stallone's house and bow to him and say "We're not worthy! We're not worthy!"

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Kindle Spotlight -- Flash Gold

I recently finished reading Lindsay Buroker's novella, Flash Gold, and I'd like to share my thoughts on the book if I may.

Flash Gold is the story of Kali McAlister, an 18-year-old girl living in the Yukon. She's an inventor of sorts, making advanced mechanical devices that utilize a mysterious power source called flash gold. Her inventions are so revolutionary that people have started calling her a witch. As you can probably imagine, this causes her to lead the life of an isolated outcast.

One day a rugged stranger calling himself Cedar arrives in time to save Kali from thugs trying to learn the secret of flash gold. Cedar claims he has come to protect her for the duration of a sled race she is about to compete in with her newest achievement, a steam-powered sled. Despite her reservations at the idea of accepting the help of a mysterious stranger, Kali agrees to let him protect her in exchange for a cut of the prize money from the race (should they win). Together they set out to win the race and thwart the various evildoers who want to either kidnap Kali or sabotage her advanced sled.

At around 80 pages, the story didn't take me long to finish. It's by no means poorly written; Buroker certainly knows how to tell an engaging story with likeable characters. However, I can't help but think there is wasted potential here. The story's main hook--at least, to me--was the sled race. Would Kali and Cedar be able to win it while fighting off the bad guys? Suffice to say, the race itself ends up being irrelevant and seems like mostly an interesting backdrop in which the heroes could battle the villains. If Buroker had placed more focus on the race itself, she could have ended up giving us a more satisfying rollercoaster of a story (although one particular battle on a frozen lake is pretty cool).

As it stands, I liked Flash Gold but I think it could have been much better. This particular novella is obviously just the setup to more adventures with Kali and Cedar (which Buroker has already written). But at the low price of free, it's definitely worth checking out.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Game Called Revolution -- Download it Free for One Month

From now until 09/13, you can download TGCR in its entirety, absolutely free, by going to [no longer available].

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Kindle Spotlight - The Angel of the Revolution

Today's Kindle pick is George Griffith's steampunk epic, The Angel of the Revolution, A Tale of the Coming Terror. At around 446 pages, it's a story you can sink many hours into.

The plot concerns Richard Arnold, a young man in England at the beginning of the 20th century who devotes his life to creating the world's first fully functional airship. After years of effort, he finally succeeds, but at the expense of everything else in his life, to the point that he finds himself broke and about to be thrown out of his home. Fortunately, his invention comes to the attention of the Brotherhood--or as they are more commonly known, the Terrorists--a revolutionary group dedicated to nothing less than the complete breaking down of society in order to rebuild it according to the will of their leader, the mysterious Natas. Arnold soon agrees to join the Terrorists and build airships for them in order to achieve their common dream of peace on earth through military intervention. You see, they are determined to bring overwhelming force to bear against the nations of the world to make them play nice (this should be familiar to anyone who has seen the anime Gundam 00).

The Terrorists are aptly named, as they use the brutal power of Arnold's weaponry to make a very blunt point about the nature of war. Even though their main nemesis is the ruthless Tsar of Russia, who is waging a vicious war for control of Europe and Great Britain and to whom they show very little mercy, I often found myself wondering just who was the lesser evil. As the Terrorists rain horrendous death and destruction upon their despotic enemies, you start to question who you want to see win the war.

Speaking of war, the strange thing about this story is just how little actual conflict Arnold and his friends face. Once he builds the airship fleet for the Terrorists, there is rarely any doubt as to their chances of victory. They frequently storm the battlefield with such overwhelming firepower that you know they're going to win every time. The only real conflict for Arnold is his desire to win the hand of the fair Natasha (Natas' daughter), whose hand seems unatainable at first but the problem actually resolves itself without too much trouble.

Nevertheless, George Griffith has painstakingly crafted a believable story of war. In fact, he spends a great deal of time detailing the movements and military strengths of the various sides of the war. Despite the lack of challenge the protagonist faces in his journey from penniless genius to undisputed master of the skies, the book becomes harder and harder to put down as it goes along. You want to find out the secret of Natas and his strange power, and how the Terrorists came to be, and so you keep reading. Also, there are numerous detailed pictures that help bring Griffith's world into sharper focus.

All in all, I recommend all steampunk fans read The Angel of the Revolution. I just hope the second book in the series has more conflict.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

I am now a member of NAIWE

That's the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors. If you are interested in joining, click the ad to the right of this post.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Depression and Asperger's Video

This is a video I made to bring awareness to the plight of people living with mental illness. In addition to writing, this is also something I am passionate about. Use the Full Screen option for best viewing.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Untitled Story

This is an idea for a story I've been batting around in my head, which I may or may not do once I finish the Infini Calendar series. Basically all I have so far is the setting, but I think it's a cool setting.

            The year: 2532. The city: Oasis, the only city on the dark side of the moon.

            The city was a neon metropolis, a beacon of light in a sea of darkness. The only other city on the big rock was Oasis’ sister, New Philadelphia, located on the happy, sunny side of the moon. The people of New Philadelphia got to enjoy the gorgeous view of the Earth every day.

            The city was built in the shape of a hexagram, and each side was a separate district. The buildings rose hundreds of feet into the dark lunar sky. A glass dome covered the city, separating it from the chilling vacuum of space. Building the dome had not been an easy process; accidental breaches had sent a number of workers flying off to their cold deaths early on during the city’s construction.


            Internal systems supplied an artificial atmosphere with oxygen and mild temperatures. Some buildings had special windows that projected fake sunlight, but it was always night outside on the streets.

            Speaking of the streets—freeways ran through the city and accommodated all manner of traffic. Air cars were also used frequently by those who could afford them. Due to strict population control, the populace of Oasis remained relatively constant. This discouraged continued manufacturing of air cars, so most of them were imported from either Earth or an automated factory that built them on-demand at a location a few miles outside the city.

            Many of the inhabitants of Oasis had lived in the city their entire life. Many of them had never even seen the planet of mankind’s dawn. This glittering burg was the only home they had ever known.

            Laws were much more relaxed in Oasis. The city had been built to cater to those people who were fed up with the stern rules of New Philadelphia. For instance, anyone in Oasis could own a gun—though the caliber had to be low enough so as to be incapable of putting holes in the dome—and almost all of them did. A few massive corporations also set up shop in Oasis to avoid the stricter regulations and oversights of New Philadelphia. Being out the Earth’s sight definitely had its advantages.

            However, there were also disadvantages. For one, the mortality rate in Oasis was far higher than New Philadelphia. This was largely attributed to the lack of gun control. Of course, there were also stabbings, stranglings, bludgeonings, poisonings and other homicides that had nothing to do with firearms.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Blu-ray Spotlight -- Metropolis

Today I would like to highlight Fritz Lang's 1927 sci-fi opus, Metropolis. While this movie is very hold--hell, it's positively ancient--it is also one no self-respecting science fiction fan should miss. I recently picked it up at Barnes & Noble, and I heartily recomend every sci-fi fan see it at least once in their life.

The story deals with the titular city Metropolis, a glittering massive paradise--at least, for those priviledged few who live in the upper part. The lower class citizens who live below the surface must toil day and light to keep the city running. Freder, the son of Joh Fredersen, the, uh....I guess he's the mayor of Metropolis...Freder one day discovers the horrible reality of the conditions in which the workers must work. Freder quickly sides with the workers, much to the chargrin of his father, and meets Maria, the beautiful prophetess who gives hope to the workers by preaching the arrival of a mediator who will bring peace to Metropolis. Rotwang, a local inventor, has created a humanoid automaton, and Joh Fredersen tells him to make his Machine-Man look like Maria so the doppelganger can destroy the hopes of the workers once and for all. Rotwang agrees to the order, but secretly has his own agenda to crush Joh Fredersen; apparently they were once rivals for the affections of Hel, Fredersen's wife and Freder's mother. Freder discovers the android double and races to prevent the destruction of Metropolis.

Since it was made in 1927, it is a silent movie and therefore uses dialogue cards to convey what the characters are saying. The problem is that there is so much talking in the movie and most of the characters' speech does not have accompanying text, so you have to infer what is being said based on the context. Also, much of the plot is merely hinted at, so we can only guess what happened in the past between Joh Fredersen and Rotwang the inventor. This may have to do with the fact that parts of the original reel were lost long ago.

The visual aspect of the movie is hit-or-miss due to the degraded parts of the original film. Parts of the movie look really good, and other parts are really grainy. Fortunately, the movie is very up-front about this, so you know what you're getting into beforehand. On the plus side, the artwork within the movie has easily stood the test of time. The pictures of Metropolis shown within the movie are highly detailed and fantastic. I'd love to hang them on my wall.

The one thing that is excellent all the way through is the music. The original orchestral score has been faithfully recreated and is top-notch. In fact, this is the kind of movie you'd want to buy the soundtrack to.

All in all, Metropolis is a little confusing, very weird and pretty awesome.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Kindle Spotlight -- The 19 Dragons

This is the first in an ongoing series in which I highlight Kindle books that catch my eye. I recently picked up SM Reine's The 19 Dragons for 99 cents. The synopsis was very interesting and I figured, for 99 cents, what the hell. I'm glad I did, because this ended up being a very good read. The whole thing is only about 100 pages (including intentionally blank pages) but that doesn't diminish the experience at all.

The plot revolves around the titular 19 Dragons who inhabit Reine's gothic steampunk world. One day they decide to become human in order to live among the mortals who hate them. They live happily until they are betrayed by one of their own who steals the source of their immortality and starts hunting them for unknown reasons. After surviving an attempt on her suddenly mortal life, the 2nd Dragon takes it upon herself to track down the traitor. She is easily my favorite of the Dragons as she has both the most interesting personality and the most unique appearance, though that isn't to say the others aren't also interesting.

The story is told from the point of view of each of the Dragons as they try to deal with a murderous traitor and a world that is literally falling apart. Reine fills the story with rich imagery and fantastic prose. The story clips along at a good pace and Reine's characters come alive. The only downside to the book is that it wasn't edited quite as well as it should have been; Reine sometimes confuses one Dragon for another. Also, 100 pages isn't enough to fully flesh out 19 protagonists (and one antagonist). However, I still thoroughly enjoyed the story and look forward to reading more from SM Reine.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Secrets of the New World

Taking place two years after The Game Called Revolution, this new story brings us to Austria. Leopold II, seeing the technological advancements of the Americans, decides to form an alliance with the United States in the hopes of securing new technology. To that end, he plans to undertake a voyage to America to negotiate with them personally.
The only problem? His little sister Farahilde. Not wanting to leave the unpredictable young woman unsupervised, he orders her to come along, and together they set out for the new world. What dangers await along the way, and what dangers await when they finally arrive in Washington?

Chapter I: Pack Your Bags

 Vienna, Austria, November 1, 1792 (Infini Calendar), 10:00 a.m.

           One leg was under the covers, while another leg and arm dangled off the bed. This was how she usually slept, face-down and in a manner most others would find awkward or just plain uncomfortable.

            The rattling of her wind-up alarm clock on the table next to her bed was just enough to rouse her from sleep. She turned over onto her back and took in the warm sunlight beaming down from the window above her. She then sat up in bed, her eyes still closed. She sluggishly felt for the alarm clock, and after a few futile moments managed to find it. She shut it off and rubbed her eyes. For a few more moments she just sat there staring forward and sending mental commands to her brain to wake up, damn it.

            Like the rest of her family, her room in the Hofburg imperial palace was lavish with priceless paintings on the walls, a crystal chandelier hanging from the ceiling, massive curtains hanging from the windows, an armoire big enough to be its own room, and a solid oak table in the center.

            Once she was sufficiently aware of her surroundings, she got up out of bed. Naked, she picked up the clothes she had thoughtlessly tossed onto the fine red carpet upon going to bed last night (even though there was a leather receptacle just a few feet away). Again, this was just how she was, and she thought little of it.

            Her name: Farahilde Johanna.

            At the age of twenty-six, she was the youngest (and most unruly) member of the Austrian royal family. No one would ever describe her as elegant or high-class, but neither could they deny what she had done for her country. She was an accomplished general in the Austrian army, but even more than that, she had fought to save Vienna during the French Revolution.

            OK, some could argue she went too far with the latter because, even after it was over, she—technically—had ended up killing that murderous bastard Maximilien Robespierre, an incident which had not gone over well with her older brother and emperor of Austria, Leopold II. Despite the fact that Robespierre had arranged the execution of their sister Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna (or as the French worms called her, their queen Marie Antoinette), Leopold had forbidden her from going to France in the first place for fear she would jeopardize Austria’s fragile peace with France. Farahilde argued that Antonia should be avenged, but Leopold was in a purely political mindset, and didn’t want to risk going to war again so soon, particularly since their airship fleet had been destroyed by those French knights of the Ordre de la Tradition.

            But, of course, she went anyway; saved two different countries and avenged Antonia. And what was her reward? A month of house arrest and being demoted to captain. Leopold said he would have done even more to her if her actions had not been sanctioned by France’s new self-proclaimed emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte. Robespierre had been sentenced to death anyway for his Reign of Terror, and when the guillotine just happened to fail to drop, she stepped in and offered her “assistance.” Napoleon simply wanted to get it over with, so he allowed her to kill Robespierre herself. She would never forget the look on Robespierre’s face when he realized just how much she was going to enjoy ending his miserable existence. One couldn’t put a price on that.

            She walked into her exquisitely furnished bathroom and spent a few moments turning a crank to the wall a few inches to the right of the doorway, causing the globes on either side of the large mirror to light up. This gave her enough illumination to see herself in the mirror. She frowned as she examined her unkempt black hair which fell to her shoulders, although she was honestly sometimes tempted to wear it like that. It made her twin cowlicks (once referred to as “cat ears”) not stand out as much.

            She applied tooth cleaning paste to her wooden brush and proceeded to rub her teeth with it. The paste was an invention she felt she could do without, but it kept her form having to go to the local tooth doctor so often.

            When she was done in the bathroom, she went to her armoire to pick out her clothes for the day. The top shelf was filled with bladed gauntlets of various colors. Below that was her selection of everyday clothing. She chose a brown corset, blue jacket and black leggings. She got dressed and made for the door of her room.

            She paused momentarily to look at a pair of black-and-white photographs sitting on a table next to the door. One was of her beloved sister, Antonia, smiling. Farahilde examined the photo with a mixture of nostalgia and melancholy. She would never see Antonia again, and that pained her.

            The other photograph was that of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, a Vienna citizen who had made a name for himself as a brilliant composer. During a concert for the Austrian royal family, he had signed the photo for Farahilde. She held a great deal of respect for the man; he had achieved much in his short life. It was too bad he had died the previous year of illness. Who knew what else he could have accomplished.

            As she made her way through the lavish central hallway of the palace, she looked upon the giant portraits of her ancestors which hung from both walls. One of them was of her mother, Maria Theresa, the first (and only) female head of the Hapsburg family. The queen may have died twelve years earlier, but Farahilde still remembered her as a woman who was both strong and kind. When Farahilde thought of herself and Antonia, it was obvious which of them had taken after their mother.

            She eventually arrived at the emperor’s audience chamber, where she vaguely recalled she was scheduled to have a meeting with her brother. At least, she thought she was; the brandy from last night made it somewhat hard to remember.

            Leopold was wrapping up a meeting with his advisors. He wore one of his usual outfits, a black coat embroidered in red over a yellow shirt, with beige leggings. In between the shirt and the coat was a sash with a white bar amid two red bars (in other words, the colors of the Vienna flag). He also wore the traditional white wig of their kind. Farahilde hated those things; they were so damn ugly.

            When the advisors left, he said with slight annoyance, “You are late, my sister.”

            She scoffed. “A minute at most. Cut me some slack, Leo.”

            “I am nineteen years older than you. You will show me the proper respect. And anyway, I’ve been ‘cutting you slack’ for far too long.”

            She sighed. If she continued to try his patience, she knew he would lecture her all day. “Point taken, I’ll try to keep that in mind,” she said. “What did you want to talk about?”

            He seemed to forget about his minor grievances with her as he recalled more important matters. “It’s about the relatively new country of America. You are familiar with it, are you not?”

            She shrugged. “A little. It’s pretty much a babe at this point. Why should we be concerned with it?”

            “Because,” he said as he raised a finger (an action which occurred whenever he wanted to both enlighten her and emphasize a point), “in the past few years they have made great technological progress. They were the ones who originally developed the electricity we used in our airship fleet.”

            She had to fight to stifle a laugh. “And didn’t we steal that from them?”

            “Technically, it was the Prussians who stole it. Although they did share it with us when we organized a coalition against France.”

            She shrugged and said, “So we’re going to steal more of their technology? I thought we were better than thieves prowling the shadows.”

            “Watch your tone,” he warned her. “We are better than that. We represent the House of Hapsburg, and we are not going to disgrace it.”

            “So what, then?”

            “Next week I am embarking on a journey to America to forge an alliance with them in person.”

            This wasn’t what she had been expecting. “An alliance? With an unknown country halfway across the world?”

            “It’s not quite that far. With our newest steam technology we will be there in a week or so.”

            She prayed she hadn’t heard that right. “We?”

            “Yes, we. You’re coming with me. I don’t trust you here by yourself. Who knows what trouble you’d get into.”

            Like hell. “Absolutely not! I’m not going on a boat ride to some place I know nothing about. Besides, you need me here to run things.”

            He responded with a sharp laugh. “You? Running things? You may be an effective asset in war, but you only cause trouble during peace time. You give no thought to your own actions.”

            “What could possibly go wrong with me here?” she protested.

            He ignored her. “My wife is more than capable of managing affairs here while we’re gone.” He was referring to Maria Luisa, daughter of Charles III of Spain, and Grand Duchess of Tuscany.

            “Forget it! I’m not going.”

            He brought his face mere inches from hers and gave her a penetrating stare which would have terrified the devil himself. “You are going, and that’s that. Do—I—make— myself—clear?”

            Gulp. “Perfectly clear, my brother.”

            She turned to leave, thinking the meeting was over. However, he suddenly said, “Oh, there’s one other thing.”

            She turned back around. “What’s that?”

            “Do you remember Prince Frederick William III of Prussia?”

            She didn’t know where this was going, but after the previous topic she really didn’t want to know. “Uh…yes? He’s set to become king in a few years, isn’t he?”

            “Correct. He is of the House of Hohenzollern.” Leopold then rather quickly added, “And you’re going to marry him to keep our ties with Prussia secure.”

            She suddenly felt very sick.

Chapter II: Nice to Meet You (I Guess)

Vienna, Austria, March 2, 1792 (Infini Calendar), 1:05 p.m.

            Vienna was Austria’s capital and largest city. Located in northeast part of the country, the city was near the Slovakian border. Vienna also had the great river Danube flowing through the eastern part of the city.

            In the center of the city was the Hofburg, a former modest-sized fortress which was continually built upon until it became the imperial court, the core of Austrian supremacy. The oldest area of the Hofburg is the Schweizerhof, a four-tower structure and the historical beginning of the fortress.

            Farahilde put on her goggles and left the Hofburg via her motorized bicycle and proceeded north through the city to the area where she was to meet their ‘guest.’ As she drove through the city and saw all the people going about their business (including Hanz Freud, who always wanted to talk about his theories on the workings of the human brain which he planned to compile and pass on to his descendents), she was again struck by the greatness of Austria. The country had a staggering amount of beauty; whether one looked upon the snow-capped Austrian Alps, the lush green valleys, or the medieval castles which dotted the country, there could be no lack of admiration for the country’s splendor.

            The average person might have been content with Austria’s aesthetics, but as a student of history, Farahilde Johanna’s adoration for her country went even deeper. The biggest reason she was proud to be an Austrian was the country’s history. In the ninth century, Charlemagne acquired the land that would eventually become Austria and gave his new citizens (the native inhabitants) the job of defending his Holy Roman Empire against attacks from the east. In other words, the Austrians were the first line of defense. Farahilde took pride in the fact that her ancestors were defenders and warriors. It naturally followed, then, that when the French invaded a few years ago, she sprang into action to defend her country. So what if that involved torturing some French worms and playing sick games with them; they deserved it.

            The puttering rumble of her motor bike, with its constant blowing of exhaust, announced her presence to everyone around as she drove through the farmland that made up the outer edge of Vienna. She was still one of the few people in Austria to own such a contraption. As royalty, she had been able to easily acquire one of the first of these vehicles. She thoroughly enjoyed riding it; it was, after all, a very convenient way to get around. It wasn’t slow and bulky like a steam carriage.

            Eventually she arrived at the northernmost edge of the city. It was largely forest beyond this point. She killed the engine and pulled out her pocket watch. According to it, she was early. A rare occasion.

            What the hell was Leo thinking, sending her out to meet their ‘guest’ with so little notice? Knowing how he felt about her, he probably did such things just to anger her. Lord knew she was this close to gutting him when he suddenly dumped the marriage news on her.

            Although, she’d be lying if she said she hadn’t been expecting this day for quite some time. She had fought it as long as she could, but she was, after all, a member of a royal family, and as such she had a responsibility to one day marry for political reasons. At least, that was what her whole family had been telling her throughout her entire life.

            Please, God, don’t let him be anything like Louis XVI. Antonia’s husband had ended up being a spineless coward who let his subjects push him around. He wasn’t even strong enough to protect his own wife when they both got hauled off to the guillotine. Farahilde felt her eyes welling up as she recalled the fate of her favorite sister. She would never forgive the French people for what they had done to her and her family.

            Her melancholy was broken by the sound of horses coming up the road from the north. It looked like just a regular carriage (no steam involved), but she knew better. It was, she thought, a good way to travel without attracting attention; just one nondescript horse-driven carriage, and no escort to speak of.

            It stopped a few yards in front of her. From either side two men in brown civilian suits and matching derby hats disembarked. They surveyed the area for several moments before turning their attention to her.

            The one on the right—a fiftyish man with salt-and-pepper hair—said to her in German, “Only the strong survive.”

            “Weakness breeds cruelty,” she replied.

            Although seemingly satisfied that she had delivered the correct half of the password, they nonetheless kept their guard up. The one on the left—perhaps in his late thirties with dark hair—said, “We still need to see your eyes.”

            “Watch how you speak to me,” she warned him.

            “We mean no offense, ma’am,” Salt-and-Pepper said. “While you match the description given to us for the most part, we need to verify your eye color.”

            She pulled up her goggles and let them rest on the tip of her forehead. “Satisfied?”

            Salt-and-Pepper examined her closely for a moment. “Brown,” he confirmed to his partner who then nodded and knocked softly on the door of the carriage.

            A young man with dark brown hair and a thin mustache on his upper lip stepped out cautiously. He looked, at least to Farahilde, like a small child brought into the big city for the first time. At least he doesn’t wear a powdered wig, she thought somewhat optimistically. Nor did he wear extravagant robes or any of that sort of thing; like his guardians, he was dressed in dull civilian clothing. He was already distinguishing himself from Louis XVI.

            He approached the motor bike (which she had not gotten off of) and stared at her. He looked terrified, as if he had not idea what it was he was supposed to do next. “M-M-M-M-M…” He tried to speak, but couldn’t get any words out.

            She, likewise, was at a loss for words. “Um…”

            However, he suddenly bowed and blurted out in German, “My name is Frederick William III! It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance!”

            Lord, if you get me out of this now, I will atone for every bad thing I’ve ever done.

            Unfortunately for her, no salvation arrived. Instead, he remained bowed, evidently expecting some sort of response. She gave the only one she could: A sigh. “All right, all right; you can stand up now.” He did so. “I am Farahilde Johanna, as you probably know. We are to be wedded at some point in the coming months.”

            He nodded nervously. “It…will be a pleasure getting to know you.”

            She said to his aides, “I can take it from here. I’ll get him to the Hofburg in one piece.”

            They exchanged dubious glances. “We were expecting the prince to ride in something…a little larger,” Salt-and-Pepper said.

            “It’ll be fine.” She then addressed Frederick. “Hop in.”

            He looked at the side car attached to the motor bike. “I-In that?”

            She furrowed her brow. “Don’t get any funny ideas. You’re not riding behind me on this thing. The side car.”

            He haphazardly maneuvered himself into the metal attachment. His aides both gave defeated shrugs, and then handed Frederick two suitcases she assumed were his. There wasn’t quite enough room in the side car for both, so Frederick simply stacked them on his lap and held the top one with both hands.

            When she was satisfied that he was as ready as he was going to be, she said to the aides, “Farewell, then.” Without another word, she brought down her goggles and started up the motor bike. It rumbled and chugged to life, and Farahilde swiftly turned the whole thing around one hundred and eighty degrees. The motor bike took off in the direction she had come from, back to the Hofburg.

            On the return trip, she decided she needed to know something about Frederick William III if she was going to marry him. “So,” she yelled over the wind and the rumbling of the bike, trying to come up with something. “You are younger than me, yes?”

            “Twenty-two years old,” he replied.

            Well, the age difference wasn’t so bad, she supposed. “And your father has sent you down here so we can get acquainted?”

            “Yes. As he explained it, this is to be a sort of grace period for us. If there are obstacles to our compatibility, hopefully we can address them before the wedding.”

            She could think of a few issues off the top of her head. “What have you heard about me?”

            He seemed reluctant to answer. “Well…”

            “Out with it.”

            She couldn’t hear him sigh with the noise around them, but she was pretty sure he did. “They say…that you are…” He seemed to choke back a lump of fear in his throat. “Undisciplined, rebellious, lacking in social graces. One rumor even has it you nearly started a war with France by murdering its last king.”

            There was really only one thing she could say to that. “That’s mostly true. But let’s get one thing straight: I didn’t murder him. I killed him with the OK of the provincial government that had just taken power. And, I might add, that so-called king had just been convicted of treason.”

            “You have nothing to worry about,” he assured her. “It doesn’t matter what you’ve done. This marriage must happen for the good of both our countries.”

            Did he seriously just say that? For that matter, did he really believe his own statement? “Aren’t you worried I’ll end up killing you horribly? I’ve been known to do that.”

            “Well, there is some…trepidation,” he conceded. “But I have served in the Prussian army. That experience provided both the discipline to obey orders without question, and the fighting skills needed for defense.”

            Farahilde was beginning to understand the situation. This boy would eventually ascend the throne of his country, and so he chooses to prepare for that with military service. He does this for several years, and then one day his father, the current king, tells him it’s time to take a break and get married. It was a fairly common occurrence for royalty.

            Still, if he thought that was enough to prepare him for a life with Farahilde Johanna, he was sorely mistaken. She could lunge at him right now and his naïveté would make a poor shield. He definitely had a lot of growing up to do if he ever hoped to become worthy of her.

            Something suddenly occurred to her. Something encouraging. “You know, I just remembered that I’m going with my brother on a trip next week. It’s a shame, but we won’t have a lot of time to spend together.” She hadn’t expected being dragged along to America to actually benefit her, yet it was now doing just that. The less time she was forced to spend with this boy, the better.

            His response, though, wasn’t what she was expecting. “Yes, Father said as much. He has commanded me to accompany you.”

            “What?” she bellowed.

            The scared look returned to his face. “He said visiting unfamiliar countries broadens horizons and is important for one’s growth,” he hastily explained.

            This was not happening. This could not be happening. “So…we’re going to be spending all that time together?” While I’m forced against my will to travel to some backwoods country that hasn’t even had time to develop?

            “We probably won’t share a bedroom or do anything sordid.”

            “Thanks. That helps a lot.” I wonder if we can stop by my old fort in the Austrian Netherlands before we go. Either this boy or my brother—it doesn’t matter which, but I’m dying to leave one of them down in those torture chambers.


They returned to the Hofburg where Frederick was introduced to Leopold. The boy bowed respectfully to the Austrian emperor just as he had done with Farahilde, although he didn’t seem to have nearly as much trouble introducing himself. Probably he was just intimidated by her, and rightfully so. “My name is Frederick William III. It is an honor to meet you, your Excellency.”

            “Hold your head up high, young prince,” Leopold said. “You are heir to the Prussian throne, and in a few years we will be on even footing.” There was none of the annoyance he usually displayed when addressing Farahilde. “I would like to establish an amicable relationship with you while we have the time.”

            “So you just want to lick his boots,” Farahilde said casually, without meeting her brother’s gaze.

            “Hold your tongue, sister, or instead of going to America with us, you will spend the trip in a dark cell somewhere.”

            “All right, all right,” she conceded. She still had no desire to go on the voyage, but it was much better than the alternative he had just proposed. She had little doubt it he would carry out his threat if she continued to provoke him.

            Leopold returned his attention to Frederick. “I apologize for my younger sister. She is greatly in need of manners. Perhaps you will be the one to tame her.”

            Like hell.

            “Not at all,” Frederick said, surprising her somewhat. “Farahilde’s free spirit is, in fact, refreshing. She is certainly more interesting than myself.”

            She wasn’t sure if she had just received a compliment or an insult. She supposed it all depended on Frederick’s definition of interesting. Leopold, for his part, had already formed an opinion on the matter, and said, “Being interesting is not necessary for a ruler. To lead a country, you need and discipline and flexibility, both of which my sister completely lacks. But having just met you, Frederick, I can already see that you are well on your way to become a fine ruler.”

            “Thank you.”

            “Farahilde, show the young prince to his room.”

            Frederick bowed again to Leopold, and he left the room with Farahilde. As they walked through the grand hallway, he said, “Your brother has great air about him.”

            “What’s that supposed to mean?” she asked.

            “Well, it’s just…he projects authority and years of experience leading his country. I hope to one day be like him.”

            “If you ever become like him, I will kill you.”

            “Do you dislike him that much?” The level of fear and surprise he was showing at her remarks was becoming increasingly low. Was he already getting used to her personality?

            “He treats me like a child. He refuses to acknowledge all I’ve done for this country.”

            He looked at the paintings along the wall. “My father has often said there are right things to do, and right ways to do them. This is just speculation on my part, but perhaps your brother disapproves of the methods you employed to serve Austria.”

            She suddenly stopped and stared him down. “Look, boy,” she said angrily. “Sometimes you don’t have the luxury of knocking at a despot’s front door and politely asking him to not to invade your country or fire lightning bolts at it. You have a decision to make, and you make it quickly. Regardless of what my brother says, that is the most important quality a leader must have.”

            The fear was back in full force, and it showed prominently on his face. “I-I understand.”

            “Do you?” she asked skeptically.

            He nodded slowly. “I wasn’t trying to judge you. As I said, it doesn’t matter what you’ve done. I was simply speculating on how your brother might view your actions. A ruler thinks very differently than his subordinates.”

            “Hmph. Just as long as we’re clear.” She continued walking, with Frederick lagging a few feet behind.”

            She thought about all the time she was going to have to spend with him, and her spirits sank to the bottom of the sea. Welcome to Hell, she told herself.

Chapter III: Leaving Home

The port of Vienna, November 6, 1792 (Infini Calendar), 8:00 a.m.

            Farahilde, Leopold, Frederick, and a full contingent of guards gathered at the port in preparation to leave for America.

            They were to take the royal ship, the Hapsburg Pride. Since they no longer had any airships, they had to sail a conventional ship to America. However, that didn’t mean the Hapsburg Pride was just any old vessel. Although the ship was built of wood, its hull was lined with irodium, a lightweight metal able to shrug off most attacks. Furthermore, while the vessel still possessed traditional masts and sails, it was also equipped with an electric engine based off those that were used in the Austrian airship fleet. A few years ago it wouldn’t have worked on a water-bound ship, but after Farahilde’s airship Blitzkrieg Rache went down as a result of contact with water, the importance of proper insulation became obvious, and so the Hapsburg Pride was now outfitted to carry an electric engine.

            Most of the guards boarded the ship ahead of everyone else. A few remained behind to flank the members of royalty who were present. Not that Farahilde needed protection from anyone.

            Although she was supposed to be getting to know Frederick, she had spent the last several days generally avoiding him. She didn’t want anything to do with him. There were times, though, such as at dinner, when Leopold compelled her into sitting down with him and making small talk. Nevertheless, she failed to learn anything meaningful about her intended husband from those conversations. She revealed even less about herself.

            On a purely intellectual level, she knew she needed to find out all she could about him. But she just couldn’t bring herself to commit to anything at this point. She found absolutely nothing appealing about Frederick William III, so found very little motivation to get to know him.

            While she was reflecting on this, Maria Luisa, Leopold’s wife, came up to her husband and embraced him. “Do take care on your voyage, my love.” The forty-seven-year-old Grand Duchess had aged gracefully; she still possessed beautiful, smooth alabaster skin. On this day she was wearing a lime-green dress which complemented her eyes.

            “Rest assured, I will return without fail. And when I do, we will have entered into an alliance with America that shall sow the seeds of Austria’s future prosperity,” Leopold said.

            Apparently content with her husband’s assurances, Maria Luisa then turned her attention to Farahilde. “My Dear Fara, please look after Leopold for me.”

            Farahilde never liked that pet name Maria Luisa had given her, but she generally got along with her brother’s wife (at least, more so than Leopold himself). “He’ll be all right,” she said apathetically. She had no intention of letting any harm come to him, but she wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of hearing her say so.

            Maria Luisa hugged her tight. Farahilde remembered hearing a proverb somewhere that basically said love was strength. With her sister-in-law, she didn’t doubt it. Maria Luisa put everything she had into her embraces. “You’re such a good sister.”

            Farahilde thought she heard her brother scoff, but she chose to ignore it. “Thank you, Maria,” she replied. “Would you mind letting go now, while I can still breathe?”

            Maria Luisa laughed and ended the embrace. She turned to bow to her husband. “Very well then; I will manage the affairs of the state until you return. Rest assured you will be fondly thought of every day.”

            Leopold nodded. “As I will equally think of you.”

            Farahilde noted the warmth in his voice. She couldn’t remember the last time he had spoken to her with such affection. He must really have loved Maria Luisa. Yet with his youngest sister there was always anger in his disposition. Couldn’t he be nice to her at least once?

            Deep down inside, she knew the answer to that question. They didn’t get along because Farahilde made no attempt towards that end. She secretly resented her brother because she believed he had failed Antonia. When he learned she had been taken prisoner in France by her own subjects, he was furious and made no secret his determination to save her. Both he and Farahilde believed their burgeoning airship fleet would enable them to achieve that in no time.

            However, one of those airships ended up being shot down by its French counterpart over the Austrian Netherlands, and the rest were destroyed by those same Frenchmen in a later battle. The Austrian air fleet was annihilated, and with it Leopold’s resolve to save Antonia. This was due in large part to the fact that it had taken a coalition with Prussia to pool the resources necessary to build the fleet in the first place. The coalition fell apart shortly after the battle of Mt. Erfunden, and so Austria could no longer manufacture air ships. Leopold argued that without the massive advantage they would have given their country, a prolonged war with France would be too costly.

            “Just like that—you’re giving up on our sister?” Farahilde had asked, incredulous.

            He replied, “The coalition is no more. We can’t produce airships. If we continue this war, many of our people will die. We can’t risk so many lives for one person.”

            “One person!” she roared. “This is Antonia we’re talking about! I would give the world to save her, and it would be a fair bargain!”

            But he would not be swayed, and as a result of his cowardice Antonia was killed in the violence of the French Revolution. Farahilde could not forget that. She tried to bury her anger for the good of Austria, but it continued to smolder in her heart.

           While she was looking back on this, she suddenly noticed two guards coming forward, carrying an iron chest. They proceeded to carry it onto the ship. “That chest looks familiar,” she said to Leopold. “What’s in it?”

            Without even looking at her, he said off-handedly, “Something which will secure our alliance with the Americans. That’s all you need to know for now.”

            She muttered under her breath, “Condescending bastard.”

            “What was that?” he said sharply.


            “I thought so.” He finished saying goodbye to his wife and boarded the ship.

            Frederick, who had been standing next to her, leaned in to offer advice. “It’s probably not a good idea to risk upsetting him. Don’t forget what he threatened to do last time you, ah, criticized him.”

            She whirled around and grabbed him by the collar. “If you want that tongue to remain in your mouth, you’ll keep it in check. Do you understand?”

            “Yes, of course,” he replied just as fast as he could get the words out.

            Satisfied, she turned around to look up the boarding ramp of the ship and momentarily forgot about Frederick. “I know I’ve seen that chest before. But where?”

            “I didn’t see it in my time at the Hofburg,” Frederick offered. Lost in thought, she didn’t hear him.

            “I get the feeling it’s been a long time since I’ve seen it,” she said.

            She was unable to come up with the answer, so she shrugged and boarded the ship with Frederick right behind her. She soon found her cabin and was thankful she wouldn’t have to share it with Frederick since he had his own.


When everyone was aboard, the Hapsburg Pride set sail and was on its way. They would sail southeast down the Danube, travelling across Europe. They would eventually have to head northeast until they exited into the Black Sea. From there they would travel south through the strait of the Bosphorus into the Sea of Marmara. They would travel southwest through the Sea of Marmara until they reached the strait of the Dardanelles, which would lead them into the Aegean Sea. At this point they would be between Turkey and Greece. All they would have to do then would head south into the Mediterranean, navigating around the various islands of the Aegean Sea, and travel west out of Europe.


The White House, Washington, D.C., November 6, 1792 (Infini Calendar), 9:08 a.m.

            She knocked at the door. A voice called out, “Come in.”

            She entered the Oval Office. “You called for me, Mr. President?”

            The president of the United States stood up to greet his assistant and confidant. “Yes, Mary. Thank you for coming. The reason I’ve called you in here concerns an upcoming visit from the emperor of Austria.”

            Austria? I thought it was a French delegation that was coming.”

            “There is. However, an Austrian delegation will also be arriving here around the same time.”

            She could guess as to why. “For the same reason, sir?”

            He nodded. “Yes. They’ve seen our technological advances and they wish to partake. I’ve agreed to negotiate a treaty with them.”

            The blonde woman fumbled with her glasses to keep them from slipping off her face. She thought she might never get used to the things. “Have you given the Austrians the same condition as the French?”

            “That’s right,” he said. “And Leopold II has agreed to the terms. It seems both Austria and France have pieces they are willing to give us.”

            Mary, however, had her doubts. “We still don’t know if the pieces will even do anything when assembled.”

            He sighed and said, “You’re right; we don’t. But Ben believed it. And that is good enough for me.”

            “A pity Mr. Franklin is no longer with us. He was a true visionary.”

            “You are correct in that regard. However, I fear we have gotten off topic. I would like you to make the proper preparations for the arrival of our guests. Perhaps you can give them a tour of the city.”

            “I would be happy to.”

            “And the Austrians in particular would likely enjoy one of your violin sonatas.”

            “Rest assured, I will endeavor to make their visit a pleasurable one,” she agreed.

            “Thank you, Mary. I can always count on your hospitality.” Despite the fact that his wooden dentures made it difficult for him to smile, she could hear the warmth in his voice. “That will be all, for now.”

            She bowed and left the Oval Office. As soon as she closed the door behind her, though, she was struck with a thought she hadn’t been able to entertain while engaged in conversation with the President. This thought filled her with both excitement and unease. If Leopold II is coming to Washington, does that mean she is coming as well?

            This could be trouble. The President may have conquered Great Britain, but he had never seen the likes of that unpredictable Austrian. Mary decided she would have to take steps to prepare for the possibility of her arrival.

            Her glasses suddenly fell to the floor, and she sighed and bent down to pick them up.

Coming in 2013