Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Grad-ical!



I'll make this update quick--because odds are I'm currently job hunting.

As of this past weekend, I have graduated college with my English major! I'll likely post which college it was someday, but I'm a little busy at the moment, so that may have to wait.

On a more somber note, I have--for now--discontinued my webcomic Lab Rules. It's going to be hard letting them fall to the side, but there are more than a few hundred comics in their archives that you can read, and who knows? Maybe with enough support, ideas, and time, the laboratory suicide squad will make a comeback.

See you again soon! Thanks for your support.



Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Short Story Short Story




Weird things keep happening when my short stories get published.

So last weekend Daily Science Fiction published the second short story they’ve accepted from me:  “The DSF Rejection Ceremony”. The origins of this story and its process unto acceptance were strange enough; I’ve written about it here already.

(That’s a lot of links for an opening paragraph. Let’s see if I can’t tone it down a little.)

Maybe a strange environment is just the natural state in which my short stories are published. Now that I think about it, that was the theme for my previous full post.

(OK, there went another link. I’ve got to knock it off now.)

Heck, when my last DSF story got published, it happened when I was studying abroad in Europe.

(NO. STOPPIT.)

It doesn’t help that DSF does not tell its accepted contributors when their stories will be published. After we sign our contracts, there’s not much else to do but wait and keep an eye on our email inbox. I do not criticize DSF for this informational gap—as long as there’s a good reason for it, such as shuffling schedules or something like that. At any rate, the point of all this is to say that I had no idea that “The DSF Rejection Ceremony” was coming out last weekend, which made things that much more interesting.

On that Friday morning, the first issue was that I needed more sleep.

I’m graduating college this month (yay), so as a decently-performing member of higher education my sleep schedule naturally gets pretty wacked out. I thought I was in for a treat when I woke up, looked at my watch, and saw that it was only 6:30 a.m. My first class on MWF starts at 9 a.m. “Great,” I thought. “I can get some more sleep.” So I did.

Then at 7:30 I figured, as long as the spring hours were brightening up my room this early, I might as well get up and get stuff done. Breakfast and Viking literature sounded pretty good. Rolling over, I looked at another clock in the room.

Which read 8:30.

Huh.

I double-checked my watch. After a moment’s observation and reflection, I began to regret three things: one, that I use my watch’s stopwatch function to time how long I need to brush my teeth before I go to bed; two, that my absent-mindedness sometimes forgets to turn off that stopwatch after I’m done brushing; and three, that my watch’s stopwatch looks way too much like my regular time display.

There would have been much more swearing if this had happened any earlier in the morning, I tell you.

After some quick prayers, I launched myself from my bed to my phone…where I noticed there was a little more activity than usual. The urgent folder of my email had two messages instead of one. One was the normal DSF story, and the second was that same story again—only forwarded to me by my older brother (also a writer). He’d attached a message to that email too. One word.

“Nice.”

Then I began to realize why Twitter and Facebook notifications were popping up.

But Our Hero had no time to meditate on—or even read—all of his phone’s activity. He had to book it up the hill to a journalism class, which he did just in time. Breakfast got postponed a little, and before I got any Viking Lit reading done I responded to the kind messages I’d received from readers. There were some good ones too. Here are a few examples:



And finally, one of the highest pieces of writing praise I’ve ever received…


Overall, in spite of the weird start…Friday was a pretty good day.

Thanks for reading!



Friday, April 27, 2018

Hello!

My story "The DSF Rejection Ceremony" just got published by Daily Science Fiction this morning! If you are a visitor from DSF, welcome to this page--I hope you enjoyed the story!

- Ben




Monday, April 16, 2018

New Stories Are Out!




So, if you visit my Published Works page, you may notice that it has expanded a little recently. That’s because my college’s annual arts magazine and Sonder Midwest’s first-ever issue have published, combined, THREE of my short stories! Sonder published “Important Transmission” (probably my most comical presentation of a sci-fi concept to date), while the arts magazine took “Plumber” and “To Write a Story”. I thought I’d discuss those latter two stories here, though, because…the circumstances of their publication were rather interesting.

Here are three of those peculiarities.

First, the fact that my college’s arts magazine took two of my stories is new on me. Normally they only take one—but last year I did get one story and one photo accepted. Other than that, it’s just been one story at a time. I hope this is a good sign for my writing skills and not a bad sign for submission quantity, but whatever the case may be, it’s rather flattering.

…Except that I submitted three stories, and to be honest, the one that didn’t get published was probably my favorite. Oh well. That means I’ll feel better when I submit it elsewhere.

Second, one of the published short stories, specifically “To Write a Story”, won for me my third Short Fiction Award. I didn’t think that was allowed. I’d won it before with “URCARU” in 2015 and “The Longest Three Days” last year, so I was expecting—and OK with—not acquiring it this year. But I guess it is possible. So to all those who may be attending any academic institution with such an arts award (I’ll tell you my college someday, probably after I’ve graduated), I offer this advice: shoot for the fiction award every single year. Don’t expect it every year maybe, but trying for it will at least get you some good stories in your stories folder.

The weirdest detail, though, is probably Detail Number Three.

Third, and I don’t think I’ve mentioned this before, but this semester I’m also a reporter for the college newspaper (but you may never see those articles in “Published Works”—believe it or not, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t writing fiction). I was attending the arts magazine not only to see if any of my stories had made it in, but also to cover the story of the magazine’s release. It was a pretty big anniversary edition, and I volunteered to take the story because I was pretty confident that I wouldn’t have to worry about getting an award.

And then I did. Which was awesome, make no mistake. But what am I supposed to write for my article? I’ll probably have to close it out something like this:

“Even though this reporter won the Short Fiction Award, he would like to reassure you that everything in this article is absolutely true and he didn’t make up any of this.”



Sunday, April 1, 2018

Subscriptions and Scientists



Hello, loyal and disloyal readers! Happy Easter, Happy April, Happy whatever-you-happen-to-be-celebrating-at-this-moment (maybe the arrival of this blog post, I don't know). Anyway, I thought I'd kick off this month with a few updates.
First is this font size. I think it's more readable, but as I'm writing this it's causing me some formatting headaches. We'll see if it works.
Second, off to the left of this page, you may have noticed a couple of extra features on the “SIDEBAR OF MANY THINGS.” That’s right; after nearly TWO YEARS of blog authorship, I have finally added a “Blog Search” gadget and—probably more importantly—a Subscribe-By-Email gadget. Now you can receive blog update notifications directly to your email address, and in return I promise to spam your account. Again, these posts are published merely twice a month, and I tend to hold all important news until those posts come out.
Third, according to sources I found after a brief Google search, April is the National Month of Inventors, Humor, and Pets. What better way to celebrate that than with Lab Rules, my Monday-Wednesday-Friday cartoon blog that features inventors, humor, and…sort-of pets? Plus, I’m looking into finally installing a “Subscribe” gadget on there as well (and that blog has been online for nearly SIX years). Bit of an oversight on the part of my editor.
Also, as long as you’re checking out Lab Rules, be sure to admire the new poster I’ve put on my blog’s page. Its predecessor was getting kind of old.
That’s all I have for now. Tune in next time for…well, I don’t know really. We’ll find out. You will definitely find out if you subscribe.



Friday, March 16, 2018

#SuperShortScifiStory, Upcoming Publications, and More Stuff




News Item the First: I’m trying this new format where I add an extra space under each paragraph to divide everything up a little better. Just thought you should know that.

News Item the Second: For some reason, I now have a Twitter account. You may have seen it already; the handle is “@ultrasonnek”. Anyway, to give myself something to do with this form of social media, I’m starting a new hashtag: “#SuperShortScifiStory”; under this tag, I encourage everyone to post tweet-sized works of science fiction. I’ve done the first, and I also plan to contribute weekly. If you are so inclined, feel free to follow me at @ultrasonnek, and odds are I’ll be more than happy to return the favor. I’m looking for people to follow too.

News Item the Third: This is mostly a reminder, really; I’ve got a couple of science fiction short stories that are soon to be published. Sonder Midwest is coming out in April, and my story “Important Transmission” will be somewhere inside. It’s a flash fiction piece I had fun writing, and I hope it will entertain you as well. Next, my story for Daily Science Fiction is in their publication queue…but I’m not 100 percent sure when the story will get out there. If my last story with them indicates the norm, I will not know when the story will be published until it has already been published. Keep an eye out for it. Once again, signing up for Daily Science Fiction is free, and for that low price you get a short sci-fi story in your inbox every morning.

News Item the Fourth: Wait…dagnabbit, this is more of a review than a news item. At any rate, I recently bought the movie Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. I’d seen it once before in theaters, and I’m hopeless when it comes to resisting good sci-fi.

But when I say “good sci-fi”, I’ve got to be honest—I didn’t buy Valerian for the movie’s story. To put it bluntly, it started out OK but then turned into Avatar; you know, a peaceful and unnaturally idyllic alien race is being persecuted by an old white military dude and the aliens need the heroes’ help to go back to living their unnaturally idyllic lives. I might write a more detailed review about all that later. But the reason I did buy Valerian was because 1) It’s got some of the best sci-fi settings I’ve ever seen, and 2) it included the Doghan Daguis, leathery-winged armadillo aliens who peddle information. Some may call them the Plot-Convenient Aliens, but never has helpful exposition been so much fun.

News Item the Fifth, and This Time I Swear It’s Actual News: Short of the #SuperShortScifiStory project, I’ve been taking a break from writing short stories. My most recent project is a field guide for my book project (although “Field Guide” is honestly not a perfectly accurate term). That’s right; I’m writing nonfiction about fiction, and it’s more fun than it really should be. I’ll probably get back into submitting soon…at some point…in the near future…but until then, publications can breathe a sigh of relief.

News Item the Sixth: There is no News Item the Sixth. I’m out of here.


Thursday, March 1, 2018

Life in the Background


Some of you may be wondering, “What exactly does a science fiction writer do in his off hours?”
I personally cannot speak for all of us, but I can certainly tell you one of my favorite non-writing projects: making a background for my laptop.
I’m not content with stock images, to say the least. It’s hard to believe that Microsoft seldom considers its cyberpunk market when designing their interfaces. I suppose I could just go online to find and download a more suitable computational backdrop, but where’s the fun in that?
Good thing computer games come with screenshot capacities.
The whole point of video game design is to be interesting, after all, and I chose to take advantage of this. For a while, my favorite backgrounds came from Portal 2 and its related workshop mods. Here are a few examples: 




But then I came across the game Empyrion: Galactic Survival. For those of you unfamiliar and who did not follow the helpful link I provided, Empyrion is an in-development game that is something like a cross between Star Trek and Minecraft. Empyrion allows the players to build their own planetary and orbital bases, as well as vehicles of all sizes and capacities. For example, here’s a capitol vehicle that I built:


In survival mode, your job is to struggle to gather enough resources to build these bases and vehicles, all while fending off alien hordes—then, when your creations are complete, YOU WREAK A BLAZING TRAIL OF DESTRUCTION ACROSS THE GALAXY, LEVELLING EVERY OUTPOST EVEN REMOTELY AFFILIATED WITH THE ALIENS WHO HARRIED YOU WHEN YOU WERE BUT A DEFENSELESS BEGINNER. YOU WILL MAKE THEM PAY! HA HA HA HA—
*ahem* At least, that’s my approach.
There is also a creative mode, in which you can build whatever you want regardless of resources. This mode was how I built my laptop background.
Oh, and one more thing: for my background, I wanted something a little more interesting than just one background. I was after a sci-fi-library aesthetic, but to make it even better I wanted the library to seemingly shift locations. When transitioning from one background to another, the only thing that would change would be the outside scenery. And I did it! This was the result:






This isn’t even the latest iteration of my background. My current “library” has balconies, more holographic stuff, and a classy asymmetrical design for a better outdoor view. Set the background slideshow to 10 seconds, and it gets really distracting.
So here is the simple process of creating a moving-sci-fi-library laptop background like mine, using screenshots from the game Empyrion: Galactic Survival:
1)      Set up a Creative game.
2)      Learn the finer points of Empyrion construction. You might want to experiment by building some vehicles and stuff first.
3)      Build the background building!
4)      In the ideal vantage point, be sure to build ONE SPECIFIC SPOT where your in-game character can wedge himself, like a sloping block in an otherwise smooth floor. This ensures you get the same shot every time.
5)      Paint and furnish the building to your preferences.
6)      Once everything looks a little less hideous, save the building blueprint in your in-game blueprints.
7)      Wedge yourself into that ONE SPECIFIC SPOT in your building.
8)      Focus your character’s HUD crosshairs on ONE SPECIFIC POINT across the room. Remember that point.
9)      Deactivate the HUD.
10)  Take the picture!
11)  Reactivate your HUD.
12)  Go into your blueprints and spawn one of those vehicles you built for practice, preferably one with a long-range warp drive. If you didn’t built a ship use one of the ship blueprints already there.
13)  Fly the ship to a new planet.
14)  Spawn your background building in the new picturesque location.
15)  Wedge your game character into that ONE SPECIFIC SPOT.
16)  Repeat steps 7-11.
17)  NOTE: If you spawn your building in space, be sure to attach a gravity generator or you won’t be able to wedge yourself into that O.S.S.
18)  Realize that your first effort didn’t look so hot. Repeat steps 1-17.
Complicated? You have no idea. I omitted a lot of the early fine-tuning trial and error to figure out what interior configuration was ideal for a background. When you couple that to the fact that I have a custom desktop to arrange around said background…
I like writing. It’s much easier in some ways.