Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Altered Europa Interview: Ryan McCall

Hello, and welcome to our latest series of author interviews.  The long anticipated anthology "Altered Europa" will be coming out on April 2, 2017!  (Pre-order Altered Europa Here!In preparation for this grand release we'll be running interviews of various contributors.

MTI:  Today I'm interviewing Ryan McCall, who contributed Shaken, Shot, and Stirred, to the collection as well as Megali Hellas.

It has been 3 years since we did an interview.  Let's start off by telling our readers a little bit about yourself.

RYAN MCCALL:  I’ve been writing for a few years just as a part time thing. I had written one novel and sat on it for a few years until I decided to self-publish it on Amazon. After that initial book I made sure that I kept writing as a continual hobby.

MTI:  Your first story to appear in this collection is Shaken Shot and Stirred.  Tell us a little bit more about this contribution, particularly, how does it deviate from known history?

RM:  Essentially it’s a James Bond inspired spy story in a Soviet dominated Europe. I don’t state it in the story but the point of divergence is the Allies having a disaster on D-Day. This eventually led to the Soviets conquering everything the Germans had all the way to France. Thus the UK now sends spies to France in this different Cold War.

MTI:  Tell us a little bit about your other contribution, Megali Hellas.  What's the premise behind it?

RM:  In the simplest of words, a Greater Greece. I was inspired by a scenario I read about for Avalanche Press’s Third Reich board game where someone had asked about adding in a Byzantine Empire. Instead Avalanche Press created an enlarged Greek state that could be used. I was intrigued by the idea that a monkey bite had changed history so profoundly, so I removed that and allowed Alexander I of Greece to survive and win against the Turks and create a greater Greek state. The long term outcomes for the rest of the region are greatly affected as a result.

MTI:  Before Altered Europa, there was Altered America.  You had a story in that collection called Guns of the Green Mountains...

RM:  That one was quite fun to write. Of all the alternate history scenarios for America I think a divided America is the most interesting. Guns of the Green Mountains is a small scale story in what could be a fascinating world.

MTI:  If you could go back in time and change any historical element, which one would you alter?

RM:  Go back and have a conversation with Marx, get him to make it more about people than worshipping the idea of working class and revolution. I’m in favour of equality for everyone but his ideas were abused radically in the twentieth century.

MTI:  For further pondering, if a wormhole leading to an alternate reality suddenly appeared in front of you, would you dare to take the plunge and discover what awaits on the other side?

RM:  I’m too much of a pragmatist for that. I’d certainly love to study it and see what we can find out form a safe distance via robots or drones being sent through but I have too much of a life here to just drop at a whim.

MTI:  Shifting back to your writing, can you tell us a little about what you're working on right now?

RM:  I’m very slowly plodding through the early chapters of an Arthurian tale. I decided that most Arthurian stories I see keep the magic and supernatural out of it so I’m adding more in. In addition I’ve reversed the roles, so Arthur is a brutal tyrant and the Knights of the Round Table his overlord thugs.

MTI:  Intriguing.  Other than your work appearing in Altered Europa, do you have any other stories being published in the near future?

RM:  I self-published another alternate history, Cutting the Deck, last year. It’s more of a non-fiction style alternate history and shows what would happen if the roles of the communists and nationalists were reversed in the Chinese Civil War.

I have a few stories for some monster hunting anthologies waiting to be published but they are well overdue. Word is Amazon has upset the cart for anthologies for small presses due to the payment by page counts.

MTI:  I'm not sure about this payment by page count thing, but I'll be sure to look into it.  Rest assured, Martinus Publishing gets paid for every kindle or print copy actually sold.

On a lighter note, have you watched any good tv lately?

RM:  The Man in the High Castle is quite simply the best non-literate alternate history I have ever seen. They captured an alternate world so perfectly in this show. I also really like the TV adaption of The Expanse, based on the novels by James SA Corey.

MTI:  How about music?

RM:  Can’t say I follow any particular music. I just listen to whatever is on the radio usually.

MTI:  Can you name three movies that you've enjoyed watching in the past year?

Taken. I know it’s getting on, but for some reason I had never watched until recently. As for new films I liked, Captain America: Civil War and Sausage Party.

MTI:  Readers love samples.  Do you happen to have a story excerpt you'd like to share with us today?

RM:  This is an excerpt from Tyrants of the Round Table (working title for my Arthurian novel)

A quick and sharp whistle echoed through the trees. Mordred released the arrow he had been holding steady in his bow. It whizzed through the air with a remarkable accuracy and pierced the chest of the large buck he had been aiming at.

The deer went down in a crumpled heap. The sound of footsteps indicated his friend’s approach. Drest emerged from a thick clump of dark green bushes. He was in green and brown clothing that blended in with the forest colors. “Good shot” he said to Mordred as he walked over and clapped him on the back. Drest was a Pict and he had a thick accent, though Mordred had grown accustomed to it by now. He had lived all of his nineteen years in northern Lothian, along the border with Pictland and he had been friends with Drest since they had been ten years old.

Mordred had encountered him in the () Forest when he had gotten lost there. He had been scared and crying and had no idea where to go when Dress had found him. Despite his initial amusement at Mordred’s fear of being alone in the forest, he had helped him find his way back home. The had met up several more times in the forest and quickly become friends. Drest had eventually revealed that his father was none other than Talorc the current King of the Picts. He explained that the Pictish royalty didn’t coddle their young gently the way those in the south did. King’s didn’t inherit the right to rule, they had to win in it by displaying strength, courage and leadership. If Drest wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps he would have to do the same. So he developed his skills of tracking and hunting in the forest from a young age.

“Thanks” replied Mordred. The two teenage hunters moved towards their downed prey. They were of a similar height, but while Drest had blazing red hair, left to grow long, Mordred had short black hair. Drest was fat and thick-muscled all over his body; Mordred was thin, with lean muscle only in certain places.

Drest pulled the arrow out of the deer and inspected it. Deciding it was still usable he wiped the blood off on the ground and returned it to his quiver. It was actually quite ingenious-animal hides that had been stretched and hardened, then sewed together with hair, to form a cylindrical shape.

Mordred didn’t have a quiver or a bow. His mother wouldn’t allow him to have one, though she had let him train under a local smith in the use of a short sword, for self-defense. She always fusses too much thought Mordred. Maybe she needs to get out more.

“Come on help me with this” said Drest, snapping Mordred out of his thoughts. The Pict boy had broken a thin branch off a nearby tree and wanted to tie it to the deer’s feet so they could carry it.

Mordred bent down to help him. “You and your mother will be eating well for the next few days” said Drest.

“Don’t you want any?” asked Mordred. The buck was far too large for just him and his mother. Even if they shared it with the nearby village, there still enough that the meat would likely spoil before it could be finished.

“Aye. I’ll cut off some when we get back to your home. All’s I meant was that, you probably not used to eating as fine fare as this.” For the Picts, eating meat from a hunt was the finest way one could dine. Of course they didn’t have much in the way of farming, herbs or spices, so Mordred didn’t blame Drest for thinking this way. He didn’t bother correcting his friend. Once he had gotten him to sample taste of southern style-food and Drest had almost choked trying to spit out the taste.

Once the branch was attached they hoisted to their shoulders and started walking south through the forest. It was heavy, but not overtly so and they soon found a good pace.

As the sun started to set, the lowlight glinting between the tree-lines, they were almost halfway to the southern edge of the forest. The forest around them was quickly growing dark, so Drest lit up a torch. There were wolves in the forest and although both of them had swords to defend themselves, the fire from the torch would deter most animals from them. The wolves here did not roam in very large packs and Mordred was more worried about slipping while carrying the deer and injuring his foot.

He heard several howls from the east. That had definitely been wolves. They sounded to be a good distance off however, so Mordred and Drest didn’t try to move any faster. Then another howl split the air. This one was nothing like that of a wolf. It was deep and monstrous, Mordred had never heard anything like it before. The wolves could be heard giving off quick high-pitched yips and then the howl rang out again. The wolves were suddenly silent. One more monstrous howl rang out.

Mordred felt Drest stop and he had no choice but to stop as well, or drop the carcass. He looked back at his friend “What’s wrong?”

Drest’s face had a look Mordred had never seen on it before, not in all the time he had known him. He was afraid. Drest dropped his end of the carrying branch and put his hand on his sword hilt. “The Cù Sith” and he pulled his sword out of its sheathe.

Picts and their superstitions. Mordred had, of course heard of the Cù Sith. It was a legend that popped all over Britannia with small differences. The Barghest, the Black Shuck and the Gytrash. All of them centered around unnatural black dogs that would chase down, kill and devour anyone in their vicinity. The Pictish legend portrayed Cù Sith as a hound as large as a bull and a species of fey.

“Drest there’s no such thing as black dogs. There about as real as mermaids or trolls” replied Mordred. He wanted to get home. “It was probably just an alpha wolf or a bear.” Even as he said it, Mordred didn’t believe it. No wolf or bear could have made the noise they had heard.

Either way it didn’t convince Drest. He refused to pick up the carcass. “Three howls. Three howls it gives off. As the Cù Sith gets close its prey become overwhelmed with fear and cannot fight it off.” He looked at Mordred. “We must run as fast as we can. It will be headed this way.” He was completely serious.

Mordred didn’t move until Drest started pushing him. “Run Mordred. Now!” he insisted. Another terrible howl rang out, this time it was much closer. Mordred started running with Drest following close behind him.

The howl let out again. Whatever beast was making the noise was very close. The sound of the two of them running through the low-lying bushes and fallen logs made it hard to tell which direction exactly. Mordred ran as fast as he could. He may not have believed in the Cù Sith, but he knew the sound of a violent animal when he heard one.

The light from Drest’s torch gave him just enough vision to see where he was going, though he could easily miss a sudden slope in the ground. A long black log loomed in front of them. They didn’t have time to go around; Mordred could hear the sounds of the beast not far behind them.

MTI:  An excellent sample.  Thank you for sharing it!  People interested in reading Ryan's latest alternate history shorts can pick up Altered Europa!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Postcards of Tokyo's Imperial Hotel, Circa 1910

It has been years since I shared any of my old postcards, and it's about time I let a few more out there for public view.  Today, I'm giving you a glimpse of 4 cards I have of the Imperial Hotel, in Tokyo, Japan:

They're all black and white, unpainted.  The first one has a stain on it.

I'm not sure if there were any more than these 4 in the set, though this envelope might have contained a few more.

I'll start sharing more historical postcards soon.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Altered Europa Interview: Dave D'Alessio

Hello, and welcome to our latest series of author interviews.  The long anticipated anthology "Altered Europa" will be coming out on April 2, 2017.  (Read story tag-lines and pre-order the collection right here!).  In preparation for this grand release we'll be running interviews of various contributors.

MTI:  Today I'm interviewing Dave D'Alessio, who contributed The Twenty Year Reich.  It's been a while since we did an interview... 

DAVE D'ALESSIO:  Yeah. Hi, again!

MTI:  Indeed, I think the last time we did an interview was for the Veterans of the Future Wars anthology.  For those of our readers who haven't read our previous encounter, why not start off by telling us a little bit about yourself?

DD:  My bio says I’m an ex-industrial chemist, ex-TV engineer, and an ex-award-winning animator currently masquerading as a social scientist. Readers might remember me from The Prince Who Went Up a Hill, in VFW: Veterans of Future Wars. I’ve been in Daily Science Fiction and (evil laugh) Mad Scientist Journal, too.

MTI:  Your story, The Twenty Year Reich, appears in Altered Europa, an anthology devoted to alternate history and altered reality.  Tell us a little bit more about this contribution, particularly, how does it deviate from known history?

DD:  Well, it starts with Nazi Germany winning (for the most part) World War II. They’ve conquered the United Kingdom and pushed the Soviets back to the Urals. Then I rolled time forward to 1953. It’s my vision of what would have gone on about then.

MTI:  Were you at all inspired by Philip K. Dick's "The Man in the High Castle," which  imagines an alternate history where Nazi Germany was victorious in WWII?

DD:  I hate to say it, but no. I’ve read The Man in High Castle but haven’t seen the TV series yet, although my friends really like it. It’s a great story at a couple levels, not just for its alternative history but also for its deep game psychologically, but I don’t see the Axis countries as having the wherewithal to pull off conquering America.

I was more inspired by these conspiracy theories about Hitler escaping at the end of the war, and going to live in South America. I think they’re a crock. My original idea – readers can have this one for free – was about Hitler in the U-Boat, underwater with the crew for months on end as they try to sneak through to Argentina. Let’s see: he was a vegetarian they’d have to feed, and his stomach problems made him chronically flatulent. He was a junkie who needed a shot of speed to get started in the morning and a downer to get his head down at night (and there was a lot of coke in his other meds), so he probably would have been going through about three kinds of withdrawal. And his Parkinson’s was coming out. It would have been a psycho-horror situation, and not my cup of tea as a writer. So instead I just let him win the war.

MTI:  I believe you made the right writing choice (though that crazy, drug-deprived Hitler under the sea could be something to explore someday).

Moving on, if you could go back to any point in time and change any historical event to create an "altered" world, what would you choose to change?

DD:  I don’t think I want to touch that one. I think changing the past falls under the Law of Unintended Consequences…the unintended consequences tend to be worse than what you meant to do. I’m heavily influenced by Bradbury’s A Sound of Thunder and William Tenn’s Brooklyn Project on the topic of changing the past. They got chaos theory before chaos theory was cool.

That’s not to say that I think this is the best of all possible worlds. I can imagine better worlds…that’s my job as a writer. But what I don’t know is how to make them come about by changing some historical event.

MTI:  For further pondering, if a wormhole leading to an alternate reality suddenly appeared in front of you, would you dare to take the plunge and discover what awaits on the other side?

DD:  Probably not. I’d be the schlub that John Carter, Warlord of Mars, throws to the Tharks so he can make a getaway with Dejah Thoris.

MTI:  Gotta love a good Edgar Rice Burroughs reference!  Shifting back to your writing, can you tell us a little about what you're working on right now?

DD:  I’m looking for a publisher for my pair of space light operas, The Curse of the Rhubidium Rhuby and The Royal High Inquisitor. I call them space light operas because they were very loosely inspired by Gilbert and Sullivan. That’s not really writing, but as many of my mentors have pointed out, these days marketing is half the writing business, so that’s the half taking priority for me right now.

Writing-wise, I’m focusing more on short fiction for the moment. I like to work on shorter things in between novels because they force me to focus my thinking more. I’ll get back to novels in the summer, with a third space light opera getting ready to pop out of the keyboard.

MTI:  Other than your work appearing in Altered Europa, do you have any other stories being published in the near future?

DD:  I’m not sure when it’s coming out, but the next issue of Phobos will have my story One Grand Day in it. It’s alt-history, too. I’ve written a number of stories set in a world where Cornwallis put down the American Rebellion in 1777, and as a consequence the major European empires never fell, and this is one of them. Here’s the plot: Albert Einstein saves the day with a well-placed foot.

I also self-published a novel, The Yak Butter Diaries, on Amazon’s Kindle Direct Program. It’s a humorous fantasy, not like what I usually write, so I figured it could stand alone.

MTI:  On a lighter note, have you watched any good tv lately?

DD:  One of my friends put me onto Cowboy Bebop. That was pretty darned cool, so I’ve been watching a lot of anime recently. The neat thing about anime is that they tend to be made in short runs of around twelve or twenty-four episodes, so there’s a lot of variety between them.

I just finished a popular series called Kill la Kill, which to me read as very subversive. It started out with a lot of the usual silliness of scantily clad school girls and rotten jokes, but across the run they slowly took it darker and deeper, and twisted the plot completely out of shape. Very clever. As an old animator myself it was clear that the director had studied Tex Avery’s films, too. Great timing.

I have Samurai Champloo, by the same team as Bebop, in the DVD player right now, rewatching it.

MTI:  How about music?

DD:  Got the new Stones CD. Stones plus blues? What’s not to like?

MTI:  Indeed, and can you name three movies that you could watch over and over again and not be bored?

DD:  I’ll go four, the three of Sergio Leone’s Man With No Name trilogy (A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly) plus the film that Leone based Fistful on, Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo. I’ve seen them all at least a dozen times. There’s something about the balance of good and evil in them, where it seems that the “good” guys aren’t good so much as least bad, that makes them seem more real than even really good older westerns like She Wore a Yellow Ribbon.

The basic concept of Yojimbo/Fistful, the “good” guy playing two bad sides against one another, was remade again as Last Man Standing. There’s got to be a good space opera in it, too.

MTI:  Readers love samples.  Do you happen to have a story excerpt you'd like to share with us today?

DD:  From The Yak Butter Diaries:

Our hero, Tamosan Acorn, has found himself at the top of the world, where lives a little old man who believes that he makes the sun go around.

"Know what's happening?" the old man said. "Half the world in light and half in dark." He spread his arms wide, toward the sunrise in one direction and the sunset in the other. "Everyone back there," he jerked his head toward the dark side, "all they know is they get a few more minutes of sleep afore the cock crows, hee hee! But them as is in light, they're saying, 'What's wrong with the sun? Have the gods forsaken us? Has the chariot stopped running? Has the burning ball stopped flapping its wings?"

Tamosan looked carefully at the line he had drawn in the dirt. It seemed to him as though it was still pointing precisely at where they thought the sun was.

"Wailing and lamentations, hee hee," the old man said. "They will be rending their clothes and making sacrifices! They will be running to their priests and wisemen and shamans and begging for answers, hee hee!"

It still looked to Tamosan as though the sun had not moved. "Is this wise?" he asked the old man. But 'wise' was not the word he was looking for. "Is this kind?"

The old man put the pan back on the fire. Tamosan was sure of it now; the pan was no emptier. "'Kind'?" the old man asked. "Where have you learned that life is kind? What fool would tell you that, hee hee?"

Tamosan shook his head. "It is not life that is kind," he said. "I think that it is people who choose to be kind." 

MTI: Fantastic excerpt.  So, that just about does it for our interview today.  Thank you, Dave, for yet another fine talk!  Readers who want to check out more of his work can order a copy of Altered Europa.