The Next Big Thing

With National-Novel-Writing-Month drawing to a close, many writers have their attention locked securely on current projects. Those masochistic enough to succeed with their 50,000 have my sincerest — congratulations. I’m very proud of you guys. Witnessing your progress over the month has been more than a little inspiring. You all deserve a round in celebration: alcohol or applause, your choice.

I found this the perfect time to strike out with my own round of The Next Big Thing. I’d love to learn a little more about what you guys have in store for the future. This is, after all, when things start getting interesting. Edits upon edits, peer reviews. Shining stories are hammered out of the laborious molds you’ve crafted in November.

What better time than the present?

I wasn’t brave enough to undertake the rigors of Na-No-Wri-Mo this year; but in true writerly style, I’ve got my own ongoing project knocking around. I need to put something up here in order to get the ball rolling after all.

So lets see what we’ve got.

1.)    What is the working title of your next book/short story/project?

Yoan ex Novo.

2.)    Where did the idea come from for the book?

Sparks of inspiration trace back well into my childhood. I could try to pin it down to some philosophical fascination I have with the unknowable and the fathomless depths of time… but it’s more likely that I’ve always had a thing for monsters. I always found myself identifying with the stop-motion beasts or poorly hidden men in furry suits. They were my protagonists. They captured my imagination. The original germ of the idea arose a long time ago. I’d always wondered how different things might be if beings like them were running the show.

3.)    What genre does your book fall under?

Solid Science Fiction, if you wanted to paint with heavy brushstrokes. Probably Anthropological SF if you wanted detail.

4.)    What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

What was that I said about guys in suits earlier? I would probably have a seizure if an effects company like Jim Henson Studio or Stan Winston Studio to tackle some creatures portrayed in the story. Though knowing how far motion capture has come, I’d absolutely love if Andy Serkis were involved in any kind of iteration. Gotta have your pipe dreams, you know?

5.)    Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I’ve always imagined Yoan being picked up by an agent, but as I am currently amid the throng of the unpublished, it shall remain in the aforementioned pipe dream category. I do have goals for future self-publishing schemes as well.

6.)    What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

A human consciousness from the 21st century is cloned by the next dominant species of a future earth. Bonus sentence: shenanigans ensue.

7.)    How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

How can I answer this without sounding more like an amateur? I can’t? Oh. Well – I’ll tell you when it’s finished.

8.)    What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Yoan ex Novo would draw its strongest parallel with Jurassic Park. I’d go as far as to say that it’s a parabolic retelling. The ‘once rulers’ of the planet find themselves miraculously resurrected only to butt heads with the new head honchos; though it isn’t meant to be a Crichtonian cautionary tale about scientific hubris. Yoan aims to ask more questions than it answers. Who has the intrinsic ‘right to exist’ in a situation like that, etc?

I’d also compare it to William Golding’s The Inheritors, as it chiefly features a nonhuman intelligence and its means of coping with a very human threat.

9.)    Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Once again, I can’t really narrow it down to a singular cause. Not one person in particular inspired me to buckle down and pull my head out of the clouds. There’s an amalgam of motivation, from my love of sweeping Attenborough documentaries to deeply paranoid Science Fiction about the human condition. Ultimately, it’s a story that I’ve kept bottled up for so long, I feel a bit guilty keeping it out of the sunlight.

 

10.)     What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

It’s an adventurous coming of age story about a single person who becomes the focal point that decides the fate of two terrestrial alien cultures. It’s got giant talking neo-monkeys and imprinting corvids that could ace an IQ test. There’s love, genocide, extinction and climate change – long-spanning and epic travails seen through a modern day lens.

I’ll nominate a couple very talented writers to take it from here. Chris J. Randolph, Jeff Ellis, and Scott Zachary (whose teasers for a post-apocalyptic thriller look plain awesome). These are three guys we all need to read a lot more of.

Keep writing everyone. Never stop creating.

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Ape Pulp: Never Enough Guns

Complements: Devilpig

They’re all over the damn place. Saved on DVR’s, hidden as graffiti in video games, and lurking between the pages of comic books… It seems that monkeys packing arms are something of a trend. As niche as the concept may be… there must be something to the phenomenon.

Is it self-projection?

Is it the sheer comedic spectacle?

Some find it ridiculous, while others can hardly imagine anything cooler. It’s true; nothing straddles the line of sheer lunacy and utmost awesomeness quite like the sight of a primate with a .45. Something about the promise of impending chaos, mixed with that clownish ineptitude. It’s hard to describe. (As much as I support the right for our primate cousins to bear arms — in fiction, IN FICTION! — I veer dangerously into cynicism whenever I see the stereotypical “infant chimp” with weapons. Call it a pet peeve.)

To some, monkeys and weapons go together like peanut butter and chocolate; or bacon and eggs; or potassium nitrate, charcoal and sulfur. You have a potent yet very volatile mix. It’s so easy to get the cocktail wrong, and end up sinking into a realm of absurdity from which there can be no redemption.

Thankfully this hasn’t stopped writers and directors from taking the risk and putting some very satisfying creations out there for all of us to enjoy. From the iconic Planet of the Apes gorillas with rifles to Chim Chim and his slingshot, it’s hard to refute ape entertainment value. And with that argument, I claim that as a genre, the aptly called Ape Pulp has something to offer that you might not find anywhere else. Ape pulp is great. We need more of it. And thankfully, all you really need to do is look.

Weaponized primates have been around for a surprisingly long time. And they’re still going strong today. Ape pulp is a ‘backwoods’ genre, but its surprising versatility; science fiction, fantasy, thriller, even western applications throw it right across the board. You can be scared by them, or you can laugh at them (Hell, you might even learn from them i.e those damn dirty apes). As long as you are entertained by them, what else could you ask for.

Here are two pieces of literature that have surfaced recently. The first, an older example of the genre. If they’re still alive, the author probably didn’t ask for the reminder.. but the rest of us should thank the internet gods for the millionth time. Gotta love when gems like this emerge.

O’Neil the ‘cowboy’ gorilla.

First off, we have a typical western tale fleshed out with the unlikeliest of heroes. Six-Gun Gorilla appeared in the British paper Wizard, and was published in 1939. It featured a vengeance driven (you guessed it) gorilla named O’Neil, complete with six-shooter, bandolier and holster as he terrorized the men who killed his master; adventuring across the old west.

Recently, Jess Nevins has published the entire saga on his website as the property became public domain. Click here after you pick your jaw off the floor/stop laughing hysterically.

Next we have a comparative newcomer on the ape pulp scene. Ack-Ack Macaque was a work of short fiction by Gareth L Powell. Published in Interzone, the story was quickly voted as reader’s choice story in 2007. The story was about a (right again) spunky one-eyed, cigar chewing macaque. It was set in a divergent future full of zeppelins and automatic weapons.

A fully realized novelization is currently being written by Powell, and should appear early next year thanks to Solaris Books.

Ack-Ack and friends.

Whittlesey is an asshole but we need more douchebag monsters

So recently I was going through one of my favorite monster stories. It’s called Relic and it’s by the thriller genre’s very own dynamic duo, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child.

Going back through the years, I’ve probably read the thing half a dozen times. What can I say? I was one of those kids raised on Godzilla, Jurassic Park, and any other abnormally sized or scaly monstrosities put to film. Novels are a great time sink for kids who can’t get enough of the stuff. Actually, it was probably that Jurassic Park benchmark blurb of Booklist’s on Relic’s cover that hooked me in the first place.

Relic

I would literally read the thing summer after summer. There was a large swath of my young life dedicated to these books. If it wasn’t Crichton’s two stories, it was Relic. The book is insanely readable, so it isn’t a surprise that after catching a viewing of the movie adaptation on Netflix (I’ll just hurry past that subject for now…), I found myself refreshing my familiarity with the novelization. (I needed to get the taste of the movie out of my mouth! …Moving on…) Once I peered in, there was no going back. It turns out those old shackles that held me so firmly back in ’96 were still in place.

I couldn’t put it down.

It’s always fun to see what you remember, or just let that nostalgic wave wash over you. You can usually get more out of a book you’ve read as a kid by reading it again. I did all of those things. I devoured the thing in three or four days, and I found myself coming away with something I didn’t expect. Warning: Here there be spoilers.

Whittlesey, the novel’s main antagonist, is a complete and total fuck. If you haven’t read the story (how dare you) seen the film (can’t blame you) and decided to plow through my meager warning above (can’t blame you there either), let me explain. In the story, Whittlesey’s an anthropologist with the single minded drive to discover a South American tribe that was thought to be extinct called the Kothoga. As you might imagine, he was dead right, and the Kothoga aren’t really up on public relations with the outside. I’ll brush over the particulars and tell you that Whittlesey ends up getting captured after attempting to rescue one of his colleagues. Well, the rescue plan was secondary. The man’s a jerk, remember?

So Whittlesey ends up being transformed into a bloodthirsty beast after being fed this virus-laden genetics-mutating lily pad plant. The infamous mbwun monster is born! The reasoning behind this is left mostly in the dark, but wherein the mystery lies the heart of the book’s coolness factor.

Whittlesey/mbwun becomes a super huge, super strong gorilla/lizard/bear on crank. We’re talking about a very strong addiction. One that impels him to commit hideous acts when his fix is taken away. He needs the plant fibers to produce the necessary hormones to keep his diabolical internal workings humming. If he can’t have it, his only substitute is lodged securely within the craniums of many would be victims.

It would be a bad day to meet this dude in a dark alley. Don’t even bring up cold turkey..

But! It turns out his first murders weren’t even brought on by his junkie’s relapse from hell. The mbwun’s first victim is early on in the book. A poor chump whose alias is Ven. Poor Ven. Ven is a thief who decides to tag a shipment of archeological discoveries bound for the Museum of Natural History in New York. This displays some very poor judgment on Ven’s part. It turns out that the bulk of the stuff in the crate trace back to Whittlesey’s expedition. And Whittlesey isn’t happy to let his blood, sweat, tears, and humanity all go to waste. And sadly for Ven, Whittlesey never strays far from that crate. I’m sure we’re clear about what happened to Ven.

Some might argue that Whittlesey was protecting his last supply of the plant. I call bull. If Whittlesey wasn’t jonesing for the green stuff at the time of Ven’s untimely end, I’ll call him on the evil shit that he does.

Our favorite anthropologist mutant goes on to kill a bunch of sailors in New Orleans, an old colleague of his that (once again) got too close to his ‘precious’, a couple kids, some security guards, some members of a SWAT team, his former boss, and a whole mess of party-goers.

I know I know, you think I’m giving the dude too much credit. He is, after all, just a monster. Why do I condemn a beast who probably doesn’t know any better?

Here’s my case. Whittlesey shows plenty of pre-meditated behavior throughout the entire tale. He builds on previous murders. He gets bolder; maybe even a little drunk on his animalistic rage. He lets some people live (case in point, his once-friend, Dr. Cuthbert), while apparently going out of his way to kill others ( the museum’s Director, Winston Wright) when he clearly doesn’t need to.

Be it revenge, spite, self-pity, or whatever, Whittlesey goes on a rampage. And the thing that makes it memorable and endlessly entertaining, is the fact that the monster was once one of us. Just some dude with goals an foibles. Friends and shit bosses.

At one point after escaping a close shave with death, Ian Cuthbert relays a chilling message. He’s miraculously avoided getting his brain scooped out the back of his head and is barely holding onto his sanity. He rattles on about how “It knows,” and that “It hates us.” The most telling part for me was when he mentions its eyes. About how they showed “infinite sadness.”

It’s creepy, chilling, and great. It’s the many layered aspect of the museum beast that really stays with me. And has so for years. While I want to punch him in his grotesque face (for the love of god, he ate a damn puppy!), there’s an almost pitiable side to his character as well.

Whittlesey. Photo props go to helloqueen

Although his isotopes have been twisted and he’s expressing WAY too many latent or alien genes, Whittlesey is still just a twisted reflection of ourselves.

It’s always terrifying to know just how far we can fall. Given the same circumstances, could anyone do any better?

Here’s several other douchey monsters that were human once:

The Pak Protectors in Larry Niven’s Known Space series of books. If you hate pretentious supergeniuses with narrow aspirations, these guys should be at the top of your list.

Frankenstein’s monster from Mary Shelley’s timeless novel. Kind of obvious, I know. There are so many great versions, but a recent play production by Danny Boyle has Benedict Cumberbatch as the creature. This here is the granddaddy of monster pity/hate. Bring a tissue… or a punching bag.