Wednesday, September 3, 2008


ORDOBAT'S FOLLY, by Joel Sparks

Faced with bankruptcy, tavern owner and master brewer Mellinick ORDOBAT flies to a dangerous jungle, hoping to sell his ales at gold-rush prices to the thousands of glossy-skinned offworld workers called SHINERS. Sabra DEMIFERA, a half-breed woman, teaches him that the Shiners are gene-engineered labor indentured to the COMPANY, and have no money for beer. She agrees to help him establish a place free from Company surveillance. Ordobat sets up a bar in a run-down inn. In payment, he accepts the Shiners' ration of watery Company beer, then returns the cans for a cash deposit. The Company sends two THUGS to burn down the inn; Ordobat intercepts them but gets beaten up. The Company stops providing beer in cans.

With Demifera's help, he sets up his own tavern, Ordobat's Folly. The effort puts him even further in debt, but he hopes to attract a buyout from rich hosteller Sleena STENNER. Before the Folly can open, the thugs kidnap Ordobat and drop him deep in the jungle. He fights his way back and finds that Demifera opened the tavern without him, collecting enough cash to keep the business alive. They become lovers.

Ordobat acquires a SHOCKBELT, a powerful self-defense device. He reopens the Folly with a play: Othello as a white-skinned Shiner among normal humans. On opening night, Demifera is missing. Ordobat finds her captured by the thugs. A peaceful man, he can no longer avoid violence. With Demifera's help and his knowledge of the jungle, he tricks the men into attacking him at the same instant. Ordobat's shockbelt detonates and kills them both.

Ordobat concludes a deal with Stenner, saving his livelihood. Demifera becomes a planetary citizen and sues the Company, but they don't cooperate until Ordobat gives evidence about the thugs. The ruling Council establishes a rate of exchange between cash and Company scrip: a key to the Shiners' eventual freedom. In time, Demifera may have to pursue her quest on other worlds, but they are together for now.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Chapter One

Ordobat's Folly
By Joel Sparks

...You too, Folly, — you?
I know that you will lay me low at last;
Let be! Yet I fall fighting, fighting still!
Cyrano de Bergerac, Edmund Rostand, SY 6610


Ordobat awoke with a start, shaking off tendrils of nightmare. In the dream, one of his towering brew-vats had been heating over a maximum flame, but with nothing inside; helplessly he had awaited the explosion. He threw off his light sheets, damp with sweat, and cursed quietly to himself.

On the wall, an orange light flashed: An alert from his datasphere agent. He sat up, rubbed his head, shivered. If the alert had been critical, it would have come with a sound alarm, so he had time for coffee.

Mellinick Ordobat, master brewer and part owner of two taverns in the city of Recht, was not as young as he had once been. His mother was ten years gone; his father, a tutor, maintained his own existence around on the weather side of the Hill and they seldom spoke. Ordobat had no recent lovers, no compatriots except business associates. For years, he had countered such considerations with the peacefulness of his existence, with his skill in the arts of brewing, and with a sufficient if modest income. But bringing truly fine ale to the palates of his fellow Rechtians turned out to be more philanthropy than business. If finances did not change soon, he and his partner Max would have to close the Blue Bell Tavern, and even the original Blue Spoon could not last.

So the datasphere alert, annoying though it was, was only responding to Ordobat's frequent searching for ways to make the Blue Tavern Group turn a profit. Returning late from the Spoon the night before, he'd set the agent to combing the 'sphere, and apparently it had found something that matched his criteria.

Having secured a mug of fresh black brew, seasoned with anise from coastal Thrumbar, he settled in his only comfortable chair and snapped his fingers at the display wall, which flickered from its gentle topiary video to his personal data-home. A small sphere in one corner glowed mostly green, indicating the state of the planetary datasphere, a trivial network by Galactic standards. Larger icons illustrated partnership finances in the way most intuitive for Ordobat: capital as a fluid, moving between notional vessels. A slow trickle of luminous income dripped into the general fund, a shallow pool, its faded glow showing the age of its diminishing contents. Thus the empty vat of his dream, he realized. Thin pipes led from the central vat-icon: payments to himself and Max Kinnon, each made only when the total rose to those outlets. A certain amount of liquid boiled away over time as well: inevitable costs of doing business, such as rent on the taverns and the warehouse where he brewed; bulk purchases of barley and spices from the Elemar lowlands; staff wages. A separate bottle, a bit over half-full, represented his personal savings. A single weary glance told Ordobat the overall state, and the picture was grim.

Once more he rang the changes, looking for a break point, an unexploited geometry. An insistent finger thrust at the small group of icons blew them up into a three-dimensional maze of translucent plumbing. The Blue Tavern Group, at the center, split into two beakers, one for each tavern. He jerked his thumb to the right and the flow sped up, projecting into the future; faint lines whipped by to demarcate the first day, then the traditional seven-day weeks, the inconvenient 108-day Tisker seasons. By the Standard Year mark, and long before the local 433-day year, the Blue Bell vat was a dark, hollow shell and the Blue Spoon was swiftly emptying itself. The display doubled, to show what happened if he kept his own savings sealed (the whole apparatus going dark) versus dipping into that bottle and siphoning off its contents (the same result, slightly delayed). Little meters measured the reliability of the results: not perfect, of course, but high.

Thumb left, and the display collapsed into one, rewinding to the present. A chopping gesture severed the Bell from the network. Running forward again, the abandoned tavern's architecture rapidly decayed and vanished, while the Blue Spoon sucked income into itself. Reliability wavered; Ordobat wanted to know best and worst case scenarios, and the liquid levels separated into an opaque base of certainty and a transparent layer of hope. He spun the view, observing the box of the brewery operation and its connection to the tavern. He squeezed the brewery down a quantum to its minimal size, and drew the Blue Spoon's tanklike shape to the fore again. One by one, the thin pipettes of discretionary outputs broke off: firing some staff, reducing the menu, opening for fewer hours. The siphons of personal profit for himself and Max slid higher and higher on the vat; to one side, his personal savings shrank. Still, the income could not match the outflow.

Zooming out, he saw the entire city of Recht displayed in terms of alcohol consumption, the streets appearing as a system of dikes and channels funneling drinkers to their favored establishments. Forward through time, long, slow waves showed variation in seasonal consumption, with periodic surges when a shipload of offworld tourists was expected. Spiked into the flow were nine tiny umbrellas, each the center of a whirlpool sucking down far too much traffic, leaving a thin wash to barely wet the street around the little blue spoon-icon.

A fist paused the simulation; an irritable hand-wipe erased it from view. Simple facts: The Bell should be closed as soon as possible, for the Spoon to have even a slim chance. And realistically, barring miraculously improbable events, they were out of business within a year. Then Ordobat, who had done nothing but perfect his brewing for fifteen Standard Years, would have to seek work, possibly even with the hated Parasol swill-mills, where he would be junior to younger, clumsier folks... Unacceptable! There had to be a way.

To the agent's results, instead: a package patiently waiting at the top of his display. At a finger-poke it expanded, text headers first.

NEWSLINE (planetary/local)
POSTED FROM: Sector D14 Thrumbar Interior
PRECIS: Gold-rush economy surrounds mineral mud deposits deep in the jungles of Thrumbar
AGENT FLAG CONTEXT: ...extremely high prices for such goods as medicines, water purifiers, communications gear, preserved food, beer, and insect repellent....

Ordobat grunted in recognition. High prices for beer: That would be enough to snag his agent's attention. He triggered the report, and words rolled up the display as the datalink spoke them in the jovial tones of the Basic User level.

"Offworld laborers of peculiar roots stream into the sweltering shadows of dense foliage known as the Jungles of Thrumbar. Here they subsist on the barest of amenities and suffer the lash of their cruel overseers, the Mineral Mud Lords. Hard souls whose eyes always reflect golden credit disks, these taskmasters can hardly see the misery they cause." The video showed a muddy field and a great many muscular, strangely pale men digging in it with primitive hand-tools.

"Yet the laborers do not complain. Here, shoveling up river mud, they can earn more caps in a day's backbreaking toil than they might win in a week or a month back home, in the galaxy's cruelest slums and wastes. Even the fraction of the mud's value that trickles down to the shoveler is a trickle of gold to such a hopeless lot.

"What makes mere mud so valuable? Time! Yes, millennia of time, undisturbed by Humanity and its shovels and lasers... eons for the unique life-forms of Thrumbar to evolve and die and lay down layer upon layer of earth enriched by their special chemical natures. So that now, the very soil itself is packed with wild and useful veins of virtues unseen in the larger galaxy."

Here Ordobat, wincing, paused the readout with a raised palm and pointed to the link for supporting statistical data. Colorful pie charts erupted. As he pointed to each, explanatory text appeared. Time stamps indicated that the data was very recent. A team of geologists had entered Thrumbar just seventy days ago with plans to chart a large-scale history of tectonic changes. To their surprise, soil samples in certain areas had revealed high levels of ductile mineral content – elemental aluminum, to be precise, quite valuable deposits in washes of silt and mud untouched by the continent's excavation-style ore-mining. The peculiar essences of Thrumbar life forms indeed played a role, as well as geological action and the salts of the ocean swept in by floods. Preliminary results, published in scientific journals, stimulated an instant rush of interest in Thrumbar's previously obscure mining companies. Such was the pace of business in the galaxy, as sophisticated economics software analyzed the enormous volume of news data and calculated costs and benefits to a frighteningly precise degree. Profit went to those with the resources to respond quickly to changing opportunities – the huge, wealthy conglomerates, those who had applicable expertise, and those who were on the spot. Millions across the galaxy read about such opportunities with mingled fascination and envy. Ordobat hardly counted himself a market-news aficionado, yet he did feel an unreasonable disappointment whenever another boomlet came and went without him. And now to have one appear on his own planet, and to hear about it only by chance! It was a shame he hadn't bought into a mining concerns years ago.

A thought arrested Ordobat with his cup at his lips. Certainly, the Thrumbar mining companies were best positioned to profit from this boom: They were on the spot, familiar with the land and its exigencies. With interstellar speeds limited to about sixty thousand seconds per light-year, news and equipment could only travel so fast. The Galactic concerns would be first to purchase data from incoming ships, then prepare and launch their expeditions in a few days, or less. The more equipment and personnel that could be used locally, the better... Ordobat pointed his way through another layer of analysis. Yes, the necessary capital had come to Tisker's World in the form of partnerships, great distant conglomerates joining with local mining companies to extract the minerals as rapidly as possible. Ordobat opened a projection: high profits in the next standard year, then a little lower each year – and then nothing, barely a cap to be extracted once four years had passed. Text explained:

(1) Probable depletion of major deposits [see projection based on similar riparian silt deposit histories in wet ecologies]
(2) Tendency of market strength to increase efforts at production and distribution of Al by traditional high-energy methods [see comparison with similar market cycles]
(3) Local, Council-based government is unarmed but highly legitimate under original planetary charter. Potential stranglehold over import/export activities. Probability of legal stricture crippling to market rises each year, based on analysis of these main factors:
(+) Tenets of local moral code opposing forced labor and environmental exploitation
(+) Likelihood of eventual Galactic-level enforcement based on planetary charter
(-) Profit pressure applied via planet-local mining companies [see moving sum of forces projection]
(4) Internal unrest of offworld labor [see précis of historical activism]

So: A brief window of fantastic profits, while competition and the Council struggled to bring it to an end. Those in a position to make money were, as always, the Galactic conglomerates and their partners on the scene. The mining companies would welcome this chance; most had spent decades scraping out wet, shallow mines of bauxite, sparse petrochemicals, and petrified wood, for little profit.

Thoughtfully, Ordobat examined the article. A "gold-mine economy," to use the ancient term, with factors working to shut it down even before the gold — in this case, aluminum compounds — became exhausted. Local moral pressure he understood well; a Tisker born and raised, he knew by reputation that few Galactics came up to the proper standards of behavior required by the council. Forced labor, for example, was surely impermissible. He saw a video tag on the fourth point, "Internal unrest of offworld labor," and flicked an expanding gesture that way. A full-motion screen bloomed: ranks of those strange workers, their skin and hair a stark white like bleached paper and their expressions equally blank. Subtitles indicated the date — a few standard years past — and the availability of statistical analyses. The men shuffled along an industrial corridor, each picking up a pack of gear, and ignoring a firm female voice that harangued them in accented Galactic: "Don't risk your life for a few minims! When you see the red nodes, leave them alone! Let the robots get burned!" The point of view rotated to show a smaller figure, dimly lit. It seemed to be a woman, standing on a crate and shouting through an improvised megaphone of rolled plastic; just as she lowered the cone, the video ended and looped back to the beginning. Ordobat paused the playback, bemused. Who were these strange-looking folk, colorless and morose? Some breed of albinos from an odd corner of the galaxy? He pulled up the supporting data, but he was no expert on sociometrics, and the charts meant little to him. From the summary, both history and probable future held only a low, steady level of discontent, with little chance of any serious unrest. That could mean harsh suppression, but the Council would never allow outright slavery on Tisker's World. Perhaps it meant a small number of malcontents or troublemakers, ignored by their fellows; perhaps only one. Ordobat flicked back to the video, rolled it to the end, and froze the last image. A few complex but habitual gestures enhanced the light and zoomed in on the face: a woman's face, snow-pale like the others, but with her white hand stopped in the act of brushing back coal-black, disorderly hair. Somehow the motionless image conveyed exasperation, anger, determination, and pride at once, in the set of her jaw, in the twist of her mouth, boldly red by contrast with the white skin, and in her surprising, ice-blue eyes.

There was nothing in the data about the peculiar workers, and nothing about the black-haired woman, though Ordobat looked carefully.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Query letter

Ms. / Mr. Agent --

Mellinick Ordobat, peaceful brewer on a backwater planet, has no idea that trying to make the perfect ale will lead him to blood, death and love. But when competition from cheap, flavorless beer threatens him with bankruptcy, he flies to a dangerous jungle and tries to make customers of the glossy-skinned offworlders called Shiners. Unfortunately the Shiners work for a ruthless Galactic corporation that doesn't care for outsiders. Allying with Sabra, a beautiful half-breed woman who's obsessed with freeing the Shiners from servitude, Mel comes to fight for something more than his beers and bars. The Company has no qualms about using violence to get their way, because their computers predict that Mel and Sabra will be easy to intimidate. They're wrong.

I've written professionally since 1999, reviewing food and drink, covering the DC music scene, working in PR and advertising, and writing supplements for roleplaying games. ORDOBAT'S FOLLY, complete at 72,000 words, is available for your review. You can also see the first chapter and some background information at

Thank you for your time and consideration.

-- Joel Sparks

Many thanks to Janet Reid of Query Shark for her input!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Back cover text

Now, like many of you, I often end up shaking my head at the brief descriptions on the back covers of my favorite books. Seems like either the cover-writer never read the book, or else a marketing assistant was tasked with making a philosophical odyssey sound sexy. With that grain of salt firmly under your tongue, take a look at what the back cover of Ordobat's Folly might say:


In a strict and peaceful society on a far-flung world, Mel just wants to be left alone with his obsession: to brew the perfect ale. But harsh competition from cheap, inferior beer threatens to drive him out of business unless he and his bartending partner Max do something drastic. So Mel finds himself flying off to a dangerous jungle, where he gets entangled in an ugly dispute between a ruthless Galactic corporation and their strangely inhuman workers, led by a tough, beautiful half-breed. Unlike the civilized locals, the Company has no qualms about using violence to get their way — and all Mel wanted to do was sell some beer!

About the Author 4: Publications

WorldWorks Games:
"Dinas Ffordd: The Seeds of War" Adventure Module
"Coins of the Realm", "A Maiden's 20", "Citizens of Himmelveil" gaming supplements

Steve Jackson Games:
"General George Armstrong Custer" — GURPS Who’s Who
“A Long, Strange Trip: Scenes from the Life of a Weirdness Magnet” — Pyramid Magazine

Shark Bytes/Shark Nibbles Magazine:
“Casting Without the Cape: Spells from Superpowers”
“On Bows: Savage-style Bows and Arrows”
“No Dumping: Interesting Charisma Effects for Savage Worlds”
“Savage Traps” (co-author)

Inside Mac Games:
“A Spoiler-Free Cure for Fear of MYST”
“A Beginner's Guide to Tony Hawk 2”

Fan work:
Advanced Dungeons & Savages: AD&D in Savage form

The Onion
“Hook Brings It Back” – Interview with Chef Barton Seaver
Capsule dining reviews: Dino, Jackie’s, Le Paradou, Minibar at Café Atlantico

Washington Life Magazine
“The Complexity of Spike Lee” – July 2008

The Washington Times
Party Lines society column:
  • "Brass, Beauty Celebrate Youth Program Graduates" – February 2008
  • "Jeté Society Shakes & Stirs" – January 2008
  • “Best Buddies Celebrate at Shriver Estate” – October 2007
  • “Curtain Rises on Long-Awaited Bethesda Theatre” – October 2007
  • “Goals Accomplished at Smithsonian Polo Match” –September 2007
  • “NFL Gala honors players for off-field behavior” –April 2007
CD review: Velvet Revolver, Libertad – July 2007

DC STYLE Magazine
“Anthony Bourdain on How I Learned to Cook” – Special interview
“Spring Harvest: Restaurant Openings You Shouldn’t Miss” – Web special, 2007
“DC’s Ten Hottest Chefs” – Cover article, Winter 2006
“Sonic Secrets: DC’s specialty record stores stock hard-to-find music” – Winter 2006
“Be Your Own Brewmaster” – Winter 2006
“Listen Locally: Washington bands to watch” – Spring 2006
“Live Dives: Where to get your rock up close and personal” – Spring 2006
“Places We Drink: Domku” – Spring 2006
"Dining Guide" restaurant reviews

Mr. Joel's DC Shows List – Bimonthly list of recommended small-club concerts to see in the DC area, June 2002 through January 2008. 12,500+ hits monthly.

Creator and booking agent, "Music Underground" concert series, 2006 – present

CD reviewer, Big Yawn, 2004 – 2007

Contributing Editor, On Tap Magazine, 2005-2008. Selected articles:
  • Mr. Joel’s Music Picks – December 2004 to present
  • Four Play: Local artists that should be on your radar – December 2006 to present
  • Venue Spotlight – January 2006 to January 2007
  • “A Dam Good Time: The District’s Awake! Music Festival” – October 2007
  • Neighborhood Focus: Silver Spring – July 2007
  • “Slick with a Brush: A Rock n Roll Survivor Turns Visual Artist” (Grace Slick) – January 2007
  • “Mountain of Fun: Local TV Show Celebrates Rock’s Next Generation” – January 2007
  • “The Homes of Rock: House concerts in DC” – August 2006
  • “Women of DC Music” – Profiles of Jenny Toomey, Alice Despard, Beth Baldwin and Amy Domingues, July 2006
  • Interview: The Old Ceremony – January 2006
  • Interview: Andrew Bird – November 2005 (music issue)
  • Interview: Karl Straub – November 2005
  • Interview: Pagoda – November 2005
  • Quickie: The Evens – November 2005
  • Quickie: Exit Clov – November 2005
  • On the Spot with OK Go – August 2005

Freelance writer, Cenarios Public Relations, 2003-2007
Freelance writer, 3I Ltd., 2005
Contract web author, National Institutes of Health, 2001-2005
Senior Consultant, Reingold Public Relations, 2002-2003
Freelance writer, Fahey-Davidson Advertising, 1999-2002

“Toppling the Information Monopolies” — Keynote for James Burke of Connections

Government Computer News Magazine (VeriSign)

About the Author 3: Dicemonkey!

I had some friends from England who were always bringing new nerdly things into my life, like Doctor Who, Flanders & Swann, and those little coloring books where every page was covered with tiny interlocking diamonds. In about 1977 they introduced me to a generic version of Dungeons & Dragons, played entirely without books or dice. The "Dungeon Master" drew up a series of traps and treasures, and each player had a penciled sheet that looked something like this:
Sword, Shield
That was all you got, and a game took maybe half an hour, with a high casualty rate.

In '79 I joined an after-school "D&D Club" and bought my own Player's Handbook. I was 12 and not a serious player. But when I got my mitts on the Dungeon Masters Guide, it was all over. The idea that I could codify my own world, and other people would then sit down and enjoy it, instantly became the most powerful addictive experience of my young life.

The amount of time that I've sunk into gaming in the intervening decades dazzles me. As the answer to a Fermi question, I'd say 10,000 hours; the actual number is probably more. Even when I'm not actively gaming, it seems to be kind of like herpes, in that it could break out again at any time. And for me it's been, always, a writerly experience: immersive, expressive, personal, obsessive, and narrative.

In my late 20s I finally got around to writing some gaming material for actual payment, starting with a big fat $50 check from PYRAMID, the Steve Jackson Games newsletter, and most recently with my module and other writing for WorldWorks Games. It's nice to be a pro, but for me, gaming is really just part of being a writer.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

About the Author 2: Crazy from the start

Long before writing novels or creating game worlds, let alone blogs, I still had that unfortunate kink of personality that requires me to make something, and worse, to direct my creation at someone and elicit a response. On many a show-and-tell day, the teacher had to turn off the lights so I could display a shoebox robot studded with glowing Lite-Brite pegs; Hallowe'en always meant another homemade, last second costume that required explanation at every door.

My poor younger brothers naturally qualified as the handiest captive audience. For our otherwise normal games running around the backyard or in the neighborhood, I had to make a book of rules and blueprints, secret hand signs, a logo, and a system of fireworks for emergency signaling. The middle brother, JT, lost his eyebrows to a slow-burning flare, his unenviable task being to alert the rest of us to dinnertime. He also had to drink water with batteries soaked in it, which I was sure would give us superpowers. Our father was not happy to find us adding that "secret formula" to the car's gas tank. Likewise when the water bucket trap on the door to the garage caught him instead of my brother; that was a mistake. Somehow I escaped most of the blame when I told JT that pickle juice would burn, gave him a huge glass jar of pickles and some matches, and was far away by the time he dropped the jar and covered the garage floor with pickles and shards.

The youngest brother was the real gift: a blank mind that I could manipulate at will. Together with a friend I built a table-sized UFO from scrap paneling, paint, a Battleship set and a flashlight. We told the five-year-old that we'd heard about UFO sightings on the radio, then together we "discovered" the glowing ship in the yard. I think he was truly awed. Many times we put him in a cardboard box "spaceship" which would take off (we shook the box and roared), fly to the moon, orbit, and return. Once, to better simulate takeoff, I decided to use fireworks. I taped a large "screamer" rocket to some BBQ tongs and lit the thing. As we were set up in the basement, the noise and smoke were considerable. JT ran away -- maybe he learned more than I did from the eyebrow incident.

I also figured out a way to turn sparklers into fireballs, but I don't want this to become a how-to for the risk-prone child of today.

Trash-can robots, "special reports" recorded on cassette and supposedly playing on the radio, secret doors cut through the drywall -- I suppose other kids were playing sports or learning to talk to the opposite sex, but for me every free day was a chance to weave a fantasy story out of the props of real life. With a pillow under my shirt, a giant PP logo taped on the front, a towel for a cape, and a wig and sunglasses, I became the Phantom Phatty, a superhero who swooped into view, posed and declaimed, then fled to keep his identity hidden from his little-kid fans.

I painted one wall of my bedroom with an eight-by-ten foot mural of the moon landing, complete with unlikely mountain peaks and metallic gold paint on the parts of the LEM that I knew to be covered in foil. I touched up the stars with glow-in-the-dark paint; soon the constellations spread to the plain walls and ceiling as well. When my parents had adult friends over, I'd offer to show them my room, then I'd prep the walls by shining a black light bulb directly on the stars for a few minutes. My poor mother would have to lead her friends in with their eyes closed; once I got the door shut and all the lights off, we had the big "reveal". Maybe they were just being nice, but I think it was actually impressive, if perhaps in an eccentric way.

JT got an undersea mural on his bedroom wall, so I nabbed some of the leftover paint to camouflage my "spy camera": a plastic box with a fake lens made from a model car's hubcap. I'd sneak in and stick that high on his wall with double-sided tape. He'd find it, yank it down, and throw it at me while I explained how we'd been monitoring his activities. Later I'd sneak it back into a new spot.

A friend and I wrote long sci-fi "radio shows" and recorded them; made comic books about computers and aliens; worked our way through the library. (Greatest short story title ever: "Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones"!) I'd been writing poems and micro-stories since about age 5; in adolescence I expanded to short stories and started various longer works, all science fiction in imitation of what I read.

I got into model rockets, and quickly lost patience with the finicky balsawood fins, let alone paint and decals. Instead I experimented with ways to ignite the little gunpowder engines, then inserted them into any number of inappropriate objects that, who knows, might possibly fly. My favorite trick was to put an engine in the socket of a flex-neck lamp, which could then be aimed with some precision; I'd launch by flipping on a wall switch, and the missile flew in a very satisfying arc of smoke into our much-abused yard. Attaching engines to a big styrofoam glider met with less success, as did tying a small rocket to a spool of thread so we could be sure to find it later. That one went up a good ten feet before the thread got snagged, whereupon the still-firing rocket whipped around on its tether like the tentacle of a dying sea-monster.

The old neighborhood spy games evolved into a nightly ritual: a neighbor kid and I had to take a particular path through various yards and cut-throughs, up to the elementary school flagpole and back, all without being seen. Crouched in the bushes we observed, or imagined, peculiar patterns in the traffic, and inferred the existence of some kind of neighborhood watch patrol. If there was one, it probably started because people saw our shadowy forms darting through the undergrowth at night.

About the Author 1: Background

I was 10 when "Star Wars" came out, and unlike many fans I had already consumed as much science fiction as I could find: the three holy names quoted by Martin Prince on the Simpsons ("Asimov, Heinlein, and Clarke!"), plus whatever the local library had, and even the Tom Swift books. (Greatest book title ever: Tom Swift and his Triphibian Atomicar!) In the wake of the adrenaline speed rush of "Episode IV", I ate up everything in reach: John Christopher, Andrea Norton, Doctor Who and Star Trek, and all the TV junk food like Buck Rogers and Battlestar Galactica.

I was an early subscriber to StarLog and Omni, later followed by Analog, home of some great short stories in those days; I also scoured through collections of Hugo and Nebula winners. In my early teens, Larry Niven opened my eyes to a new, ambitious vision of hard sci-fi, followed by high adventure with Edgar Rice Burroughs and Philip Jose Farmer. Right on schedule I flipped out about Hitchhiker's, worked through brief flirtations with Piers Anthony and Robert Aspirin, slogged through Stephen R. Donaldson, read and re-read John Varley, and dabbled on the dark, sticky shores of Philip K. Dick's fevered mind. In college I watched "Blade Runner" about 15 times, and found Vernor Vinge, the great Tim Powers, and finally the true master, Jack Vance, lord of the language. Neuromancer may have changed a lot of rules, and I still read everything Gibson writes, but for readers who love words, Vance remains the master.

In adulthood I've read more widely outside F/SF, but I continue to believe in the power of genre fiction. To me, sharp observations concisely inserted into an exciting narrative can have not only a reach, but an intensity, often lacking from the dilated musings of more "serious" works. That's what I try to do in my own writing, including Ordobat's Folly.