Newsletter August 20, 2021
Story Seeds. Plus Book Reviews, Promotions and more.
The Lampworks Lamplighter SF & Fantasy News & Reviews
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In this issue
Dan has hit me with several intriguing story ideas lately. When he told me where they came from, I thought it would make a good newsletter column. He wrote it up and here it is:
What is a clockmaker doing in a spaceport? This particular clockmaker is unassuming but innovative, crafting ornate atomic timepieces of exquisite quality. He has become aware of a conspiracy to steal an ancient prototype of a small nuclear reactor of immense power. He is part of a daring plan to prevent the theft of this artifact but the result will disrupt the flow of time on the station and make it impossible for him to ever make reliable clocks here again.
This “Story Seed” was generated by a deck of cards called The Story Engine, a system of story telling prompts designed by Peter Chiykowski. The unembellished draw of cards is pictured above, a jumping-off point to start spinning the story.
The Story Engine deck helps writers, roleplaying gamemasters, and anyone looking for ideas to unlock their creativity for a plot, scene, encounter, adventure, backstory, etc. Although several of these products are out there, this one is particularly easy to use and remarkably flexible. It has a range of ways to use the cards and several expansion packs to tailor the outcomes to different genres. For instance, the previous sample was generated using a combination of the core set plus the science fiction and steampunk add-ons.
The deck isn’t designed to write for you, but it can generate ideas that may help get you started, break through writer’s block, or help you consider directions that might not have otherwise occurred to you.
Another example with the same configuration yielded:
A haunted cartographer and a fortune-telling automaton want to change the past by using a miraculous key to a dormant mechanism, but first they must reconcile with an old enemy, a government-backed artifact dealer.
The core deck includes 180 cards, divided into five types of 36 each, all of which have multiple words that can be selected from, yielding an immense number of possibilities. There are:
- Agents – People who can be characters
- Engines – Motivations and relationships
- Anchors – Items, places, and other foci
- Conflicts – Statements that throw a wrench in things, or that give characters challenges to surmount
- Aspects – Descriptive words to apply to other cards, used by tucking them partially under their target cards
The Agent and Anchor cards also include interesting artwork that provides yet more opportunities for inspiration.
The guide that comes with the deck suggests that you can use the cards as a straightforward story seed, a character concept, an item- or setting-driven story, a clash of wills where two characters are facing off against each other, or even as a collaborative storytelling experience with a group. You can draw multiple times and choose the set of cards from all those drawn that best fits the needs. The main point of using the deck is to CREATE something. You could also start with certain cards if you want to seed the card draw with a pre-defined situation.
Expansion decks for Horror, Fantasy, and Science Fiction, and smaller “boosters” include Cyberpunk, Dystopian, Eldritch Horror, Mythology, Post-Apocalyptic, and Steampunk. I would draw cards from one or more decks, and choose the combinations that worked best.
Ultimately my clockmaker didn’t end up saving an ancient nuclear reactor, but that story seed did send me on a mental journey that has vastly improved a completely different story idea, set very far from any spaceport!
For more information, check out The Story Engine site, which includes videos of the deck in action: https://storyenginedeck.myshopify.com/
Sellenria: The Starship and the Citadel
Chuck Boeheim, Daniel Elswit
… this story bolstered my faith that someone can still write decent sci-fi.
Sellenria brings you back to a timeless quest on an alien world. Archaeologist Stenn Gremm was following the trail of an ancestor who had vanished hundreds of years ago. It lead to a world where legends came to life and ancient evils threatened everyone who lived there.
This book delighted on so many levels. It‘s smart, insightful, and wise. The many passages I highlighted are to remind myself how to be a better person.
Stenn came to realize that he had more strength than he knew, and that he still needed his friends to succeed.
This story contains all you expect from SciFi: alien creatures, epic battles, and strange worlds; but even more it‘s a story about the best in people, whether human or otherwise.
Join Stenn‘s trek to the Citadel in the desert and find out for yourself what it takes.
Do you have Kindle Unlimited? You can read it for free on Amazon!
Buy on amazon Bookshop.org
What We‘re Reading
Visit our archive of reviews and recommendations on the Books We Like page of our website. You‘ll find over one hundred recommendations in Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Non Fiction.
The Devil You Know
K. J. Parker
As an old man, Saloninus summons a devil to make a deal: give him 20 more years of life and serve his every wish, in exchange for Saloninus’s mortal soul. Since Saloninus is the world’s foremost playwright and inventor, the devil thinks this a good deal. But Saloninus is also the world’s foremost con artist. As the twenty years drag on, the devil becomes more and more worried about the things Saloninus is asking for.
The book is full of Parker’s biting humor and signature tricksy protagonist. If Saloninus seems full of himself and too good to be true, remember that he’s the ultimate unreliable narrator – a playwright. In his own words, “I can write the most profound things without actually meaning them. I can persuade people of things I don’t believe myself, or (more usually) simply don’t care about.”
Amazon and Goodreads disagree on the order of the series of three novellas that this is part of, but it doesn’t matter. They’re all quite independent.
Buy on Bookshop.org amazon
The Big Score
K. J. Parker
Saloninus has a problem. He faked his own death to escape his creditors, and suddenly his plays are worth far more than when he was alive. How to cash in?
He’s neither as dead nor untraceable as he had hoped when an old colleague finds him. She’s a forger and sometime romantic interest (who doesn’t appear to have a romantic bone in her rapacious soul). She enlists (coerces) him into her scheme that will make them that one spectacular score that will allow them to retire forever, despite the failure of their previous scores to live up to their equally high bidding. Saloninus’s main worry – how is she going to betray him this time?
Delightfully witty, sarcastic, and satirical, this short novella is a good way to spend an evening or two.
Buy on amazon
A rescue craft responding to a distress beacon finds a generation ship in flight. Something has built ad-hoc cryopods and frozen the entire crew. The ship’s AI is degraded and not very helpful. Back at the base when the passengers are thawed, things begin to get really strange.
I would categorize this as space opera, not hard sci-fi (due to the Star Trek level of physics errors). But it’s also an adventure, a psychodrama, a detective story, a conspiracy plot, and hopeful vision of the future. If it seems a little preachy on the surface about all the enlightened cultural values that the future holds, don’t fail to notice the dark shadows in the corner that indicates things aren’t quite as rosy as our unreliable narrator tells you.
Buy on Bookshop.org amazon
The Long Earth
Terry PratchettStephen Baxter
A genius has invented a simple device that anyone can build, powered by a potato. When activated, the holder can step into alternate earths, all of them completely empty of humanity. An explosion of settlement, exploration, or simply escape follows, disrupting every facet of life on the base earth.
The story focuses on Joshua, who hides that he can step between earths even though his device is broken, and Lobsang, a Tibetan motorcycle repairman, reincarnated as a supercomputer. Between the cutscenes of people settling the new earths and those left at home dealing with the aftermath (very much Baxter-style), the duo set off on a cross-multiverse journey to find the meaning of it all. (If the motorcycle repairman didn’t clue you in, this is Pratchett spoofing a book from the sixties.) I don’t if it was intended, but I got a 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea vibe from their voyage, with Lobsang in the role of the driven and slightly deranged Nemo.
Of course, there were the Pratchettisms scattered throughout, stamping it as one of his:
This apocalypse had four horsemen of its own, their names being Greed, Failing to Follow the Rules, Confusion, and Miscellaneous Abrasions.
The central Australian sky was so full of stars that some had to wait their turn to twinkle.
I waited this long to read it because of a few negative reviews that this was neither Discworld nor Moonseed. I think it’s something different and better, a melding of the two.
Buy on Bookshop.org amazon
You may also enjoy…
Meet Ashira. She can heal with a touch and command the dead. And she would like her kingdom back.
After all, she is the reincarnation of the legendary pharaoh Nephtet-Ka. It’s hers by rights. The prophecy said so after all.But she will find that an empire won’t just hand over power, even if she unleashes an army of reanimated corpses on those who stand in her way.
Buy via StoryOrigin
Ashes & Blood
You can travel the same path countless times, but it can sometimes lead to another realm.
A mystical tree captures the attention of Megan and her friends, morphing the surrounding environment, transferring them to an exotic planet with bloodthirsty creatures. Saved from the deadly beasts by hunters, Megan finds herself stuck in a rural town still maimed by the plague. A chance encounter with a familiar face gives Megan and her friends some security during their adjustment to this new world. While settling into promising lives, they are attacked and stalked by planet Dalya’s humanoid inhabitants, who focus solely on Megan.
One dark night, after a magical attack, the Fae King’s knight is sent to fetch Megan for a reason she can’t possibly guess. When she wakes up a prisoner, she learns that there is much more to this strange place, and it is oddly more like home than she ever would have expected.
The more Megan learns about the strange world of Dalya, the more she realizes that finding a way home is insignificant compared to everything else at stake.
Buy via StoryOrigin
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