Author: Troy Williams

Troy Williams is a technology and science fiction nerd. The Fundamentals, was his first work of science fiction and there are many more stories in The Fundamental’s Universe. At his day job, he is a web and application developer experienced at coding and managing projects as small as an individual’s website to large enterprise integrations.

Keith Hobson’s -126th Birthday

I do not celebrate birthdays. Despite the convention, you have only one. All days after that are living days. The particular orbit of our planet around the sun has nothing to do with age. Age is biological. If our planet orbited at the distance of Uranus, most of us would never celebrate a birthday. Worse than the birthday celebration for the living is the need to celebrate a birthday for someone dead. As an orbital celebration shouldn’t it be their deathday we celebrate?

Social custom is social custom. For this April Fool’s day, I decided to play along and celebrate the -126-year birthday of Keith Hobson. You read that right, the minus 126-year birthday of Keith Hobson. To be born on April 1, 2145 Keith will witness humanities devastation and play an important role in its revival.

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The following short story was not cut from The Fundamentals, but it is missing. This is Keith’s and Erin’s first meeting told from Keith’s point of view. When editing the final version of The Fundamentals I found that I had a few chapters told from minor character viewpoints. That was important for me to understand the story; I had to get inside their heads, but it was not important to telling the story. The result was that below scene was altered to Erin’s viewpoint. This is an interesting look into story development. Reading it two years after it was written, I am surprised how well the scene survived my final edits.

The Fundamentals Universe

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Evacuate!

The Living Fire, Orahi in space

A fire consumed the ship. A fire that burned like fire on Earth. It billowed black and white smoke that stretched up, or at least away, from the ship. Tongues of orange and black flame whipped around as if caught in a strong wind, but when they stretched away from the ship they didn’t extinguish from lack of atmosphere, they bent in, clawed downward like hands to grab the Santa Maria’s hull. It looked as though the fire was eating the Santa Maria like a snake swallowing a kill.

Robert Lanigan didn’t have time for another emergency. As the Santa Maria’s Cost Engineer for the Economic Comptroller, his responsibility was to tag and track every component in the Santa Maria’s blockchain, and she had suffered enough damage. The First Expedition Crossing was supposed to be mankind's greatest accomplishment, instead it had become one long disaster.

The Fundamentals Universe

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The One Tree

Have you been locked in an emotion or a feeling for weeks while ignoring events around you? Have you looked up to find that it is a fresh spring day, the birds are chirping, and the air is crisp against your skin, then wonder how you missed it? That is what reading The One Tree is like. It is a deep dive into the character of Linden Avery, a character who never sees the spring day, or understands the events around her because the bitterness of her past consumes her.

The One Tree—more so than the books that went before it—shows the flaw in Stephen R. Donaldson's writing. Here, at last, I can agree with those that say there is never anything good about Donaldson's characters. Seen primarily through the eyes of Linden Avery, her miserable past, her inability to experience joy, weighs down this epic tale.

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Chaos and Order and Theme and Madness

Chaos and Order science fiction book cover

Those real-people reviews on Amazon and Goodreads have difficulty finding themes in The Gap Cycle; imagining a more clueless lot is difficult for me. At the end of The Real Story Stephen R. Donaldson summarized his intent, his themes and—in broad strokes—outlined the story he prepared. The Gap Cycle is not an attempt to mimic the Wagnerian epic of Der Ring des Nibelungen, but it is about the moral conflict between humanity’s desire to survive as an individual or as a group. From The Real Story:

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Mother’s Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is an American holiday. Other cultures have harvest celebrations, but the tone of an American Thanksgiving is unique to history. I drafted this essay after the September 11 terrorist attack, while the Iraq war was still young, and the Afghanistan conflict had failed to capture or kill the 911 masterminds. I meant to publish it once, on my blog, then took it down when the theme felt tired.

I have edited this work for exposition, tone, and theme annually hoping I would capture the mood of our nation as we endure this extended weekend. I rejected my work every year till this. The result is that the angst I felt over the undoing of civility the 911 attack ushered in is gone. Missing is a paragraph lamenting the loss American, Afghanistan, and Iraqi mothers must feel at wars fought over theological ideals that lack humanity. Some angst of separation is still here, hints that modern connected society lacks connection. Cleared of those old notions, the result is short, simple, and heartwarming.

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The Collected Works of Arthur C. Clarke

The Collected Stories of Arthur C. Clarke science fiction book cover

2001: A Space Odyssey was boring. There I said it. I know you were thinking it. After the chimpanzees smash bones to Thus Spoke Zarathustra there is about a hundred minutes of nothing until we get to, "Open the pod bay doors," followed by a light show that requires the high of psychedelics to be appreciated.

That 2001 was boring did not stop it from becoming the most influential film made in my lifetime. The accurate (1968 accurate) depiction of space flight with ships matching rotation and a Pan Am stewardesses clomping along in gravity boots were a needed reality check to Star Trek's Enterprise and Lost in Space's Styrofoam sets.

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The Nature of Evil, or The Wounded Land

Cover image to The Wounded Land

What is Evil? Does it exist? When you speak about the world, do you define an act, a person, or a group as evil? I have called Donald Trump Lord Foul since the 2016 Republican National Convention, by association am I calling him evil? If evil does not exist, then what is that quality we identify as evil? Is evil a treatable sickness, disease, or mental condition? The question of evil is a foundation for good fiction. Science fiction and fantasy fiction settings provide a rich playground to study the question. Is a race of mammals that eats other mammals evil? Orc eats human, human eats pig; evil depends on your perspective.

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Cover image A Dark and Hungry God Arises

How much can humanity consume? Earth is a solitary realm. She has a long past, most of it devoid of humanity. Thanks to plate tectonics and the unique chemical ability of sediment and stone to record images of Earth's past, we know that other creatures once roamed the plains and forests, or swam the deep oceans of our world. The Kansas prairie is full of fossils from the Permian geologic period. This was a key time in our evolutionary history. The diversification of amniotes into mammals, turtles, lepidosaurs, and archosaurs was a key to our evolution. But 250 million years ago, something happened—a runaway greenhouse effect caused by an explosion of methane in the atmosphere—that caused nearly all life on Earth to vanish. It took 30 million years for Earth's ecosystems to recover.

In A Dark and Hungry God Arises the third book in Stephen R. Donaldson's The Gap Cycle humanity stands at the door of an extinction event that comes from the deep dark of space. In this book we get closer to the real story promised us in the first book of The Gap Cycle. Morn Hyland's crisis aboard Captain's Fancy becomes an existential fear of genetic mutilation by the Amnion. A personal horror that all of humanity faces if the UMCP cannot prevent it.

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Cover image The Power that Preserves

A few dramatic scenes are etched onto the consciousness of the collected public. From cinema there is Indiana Jones running from a boulder only to land at the feet of his rival, or Lawrence crossing a desert on a camel. From television there is the intro to MASH, or Kramer entering Seinfeld’s apartment. “Neuman!” From literature there is the white whale sinking the Pequod, or Gandalf standing on the Bridge of Khazad-dum declaring that the Balrog “shall not pass!”

When I took a date to The Lord of the Rings movie, I discovered that last one was not yet etched into everyone’s consciousness. For my generation, Gandalf, Frodo, and Samwise were reserved for the nerds. So, when I said, “you shall not pass,” to someone who cut me off at the snack line, she didn’t get it. When I whispered, “Balrog” at the beginning of the most dramatic scene in The Lord of the Rings, she was clueless. But when we left the movie, and I was opening her car door, she raised her hands as if holding a staff and exclaimed, “You shall not pass!”

Another dramatic scene etched into the collective nerd brain of my generation is the most dramatic, most heroic, chapter of my childhood: Lord Mhoram’s Victory.

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First-Person Fail: The Extraditionist

The Extraditionist fiction book cover

I grabbed The Extraditionist as a Prime Early Access Deal. I was looking for something outside my diet of science-fiction and fantasy. I figured a good crime novel was the way to go. I might have been right, this was just the wrong novel.

This is supposed to be a novel about a drug lawyer—they call them Extraditionist south of the equator—that is all slime but is looking for a way out. He needs one more score, and he will stop with his murdering, drug dealing, clients to live on a beach somewhere. A standard criminal wants out storyline.

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Reviews, Rape, and Forbidden Knowledge

Cover for Forbidden Knowledge

Before the Internet, I did not read book reviews. Professional reviewers—those paid to churn out a weekly summary of the latest media—tend toward promotional hype – when the product is from their corporate overloads – to sanctimony – when the product is from a competitor. For science fiction, professional reviewers are especially complicit. The dullest, drawn out, un-stories get five-stars while the exciting, mind-bending stuff is never reviewed. The Internet has magnified the disease to a condition as accepted as pimples.

I used to choose books by their dust jacket summary and scanning the first, middle, and last chapters. A “New York Times Bestseller” sticker never swayed me to read a book. Most of the “sold” copies required to get such a sticker are sitting at the bottom of bargain-bins, unread.

Book Review

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Hile Troy! The Illearth War

Cover for The Illearth War

Hile Troy! Just kidding. Hile Troy, the character introduced in Stephen R. Donaldson’s The Illearth War is one of my favorite fantasy fiction characters. Sure, the name helps, but it’s his story arc that fascinates me.

Hile Troy, like Covenant, is summoned to the Land through the same magic that started the story. But his arrival was a mistake. Atiaran, (the woman that led Covenant to Revelstone in Lord Foul’s Bane) in an act of despair, attempted to call Covenenat to the Land. Whether to get revenge for the rape of her daughter, or to save the Land is unclear because she is consumed by the power of the summoning.

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The Modern Martial Art Student is not a fighter

Modern martial art students separate their martial art training from the rest of their life. Compartmentalizing it as an activity that they share with people they barely know. They go to work, watch television, attend events and family outings without integrating or considering their martial art practice, it is just another activity on a full schedule.

This was not the way for students in the past. Martial art training was one aspect of an individual’s education. Reading, writing, studying the classics of philosophy, history, and medicine were all taught with the martial forms.

Those times were different. Institutions resembling modern police were rare and were often worse than the criminals. Hospitals were rarer still; the notion of an ambulance coming to carry you to a doctor after an injury wasn’t even a dream.

Mindfulness

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The Real Story

Cover image for The Real Story

The first time I finished The Real Story I was tired from a stressful day at work. I had curled myself against a stack of pillows with my dog sleeping in the crook behind my legs. The plan was to read a couple of chapters, then turn-in early. The thirteenth chapter spoiled my plans.

In this short, tightly written, novella Donaldson illustrates what science fiction can look like when you throw away the exposition and speculation about science and focus on characters. Ships spin for gravity, space stations are home, mining the belt for ore is a way of life, the gap-drive allows ships to cross vast distances in the blink of an eye. These are facts accepted by the characters inhabiting the world. Donaldson doesn't waste ink on how those things became. They simply are.

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The Crisis of Lord Foul’s Bane

Cover Image for Lord Foul's Bane

I come to this review in a crisis. While chasing my dream of writing science fiction, I forgot my age. Stephen R. Donaldson's Chronicles of Thomas Covenant lit my desire to write. I found Lord Foul's Bane in the school library, a paperback fantasy on a shelf full of dusty, hard-covered tombs. Lord Foul's Bane entered my world at another crisis point; high school. The story of a man rejected by his world was the life of every thin high school nerd in the early eighties.

I devoured The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. Donaldson's writing was a revelation. He ignored that tired advice of the simple word is better. Lord Foul's Bane forced me to read with a dictionary nearby. I loved it. With every beat of a sentence I thought to myself, I want to write like this.

I tried, but divorce and households emptied of joy marred my transition from childhood to independence. A journey made more difficult by parents that were unable or unwilling to help. American culture is fertile ground for such stories. My story spans thirty years before I sat down to finish my fist science fiction novel.

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Children (Spiders) of Time

Children of Time book cover

Spiders and ants and human beings, Oh My! Adrian Tchaikovsky massive work of science fiction won the 2016 Arthur C. Clarke award for Best Novel. An award it deserved. This book is an important work for science fiction fans missing the fanciful, yet probable, speculation Arthur C. Clarke made famous. Children of Time both accepts the hard science of space travel and challenges your understanding of intelligence and awareness.

Reviews of Children of Time put it in the hard SF genre. I am not a fan of hard SF. I find it boring. The endless speculation of characters turns into pages of exposition to support the fanciful ideas of the author. Clouded story arcs vanish beneath the weight.

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First Person and The Good Girl

Here is another book I would have skimmed over or missed because the story is told with first-person narration. Lucky for me, Audible was giving it away as part of their Twentieth Anniversary Celebration.

By lucky, I mean lucky-ish. By the end of the fourth or fifth chapter I knew how the story would end. It might have gone differently, I might have been kept in suspense, but once again a good author hoisted her story on its petard with the first-person narrative style.

I know, I bitch about this all the time. I promise, when I write a review about The Handmaid's Tale, or Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, I will praise their expert use of the first-person, until then we have tropes, cliché’s, and The Good Girl.

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Ryan Jameson's The Terra Channel Logo

The first week of January, 2018 I sat down to write a short story about Ryan Jameson, the reporter from The Fundamentals. It quickly grew into a larger project than I expected. The result is Special Correspondents Lottery, a novella length tale of how Ryan Jameson found his way to the Santa Maria and in the center of the biggest event in human history. I have published it in five parts in the Short Story section of this website. Enjoy.

Notes

My First Martial Art Training Rant

Rant Over inside a red circle

I was digging through old notes, making a list of things to do, when I found an early rant about my martial art practice. With mass shootings a monthly occurrence, and Russian troll farms influencing American thought, it is time to revisit my steadfast belief in non-violence and skepticism.

Before the last century internal martial art–or neijia–masters taught their students orally. Students who practiced hard and served the master well passed the art to the next generation. At the start of the last century, some masters published books about taijiquan, baguazhang, and xingyiquan. Publishing this knowledge was expensive, so only a few tried. Those that succeeded grew their schools, and their lineage survives to this day.

Mindfulness

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Special Correspondents Lottery Ticket

When he found his dead parents, he had wished that he had been there earlier. He wished that he would have skipped school that day, would have come home earlier, not spent that extra five minutes flirting with the girls in homeroom. Ever since that day, he felt like he was just missing out, just a minute late, just a second too slow to make a difference.

Now he wished that he had missed it all. He folded the plastic bag between his fingers, so it formed a rigid edge, then used the bag to gather the red and white space dust into a pile. Making the lines were part of the ritual. His face grew flush. He shouldn’t do this.

The Fundamentals Universe

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Ryan Jameson's The Terra Channel Logo

Emily smacked her lips, fresh lipstick, an invitation to something that had to wait. Ryan groaned. They shouldn’t have done that, but at that moment he was glad they did. He thought that Emily would leave Kitty and she would come back to Austin. Now, he knew otherwise.

He snatched the bag of space dust from the pillow, opened it. Part of Rainbows charm was the fragrance, sweet, like candy. Emily smelled the same He poured the contents of the bag onto the nightstand. The red and white powder sparkled against the dark wood. It reminded him of the parking lot where they met Marcus.

Marcus's fire engine red minivan was two parking spaces away. He leaned against the van, brushing his horseshoe mustache. “Bomboncita,” he lifted Emily and spun her. She kissed his cheeks until he put her down.

“What is this?” Emily said, looking in the windows of the minivan.

The Fundamentals Universe

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If he had missed that train, he wouldn’t have seen Kitty again, wouldn’t have hooked-up with Emily, wouldn’t have witnessed a man cut in two with a laser scalpel. If he had missed that train, he wouldn’t have been there to carry Emily away from the carnage at the lottery, and The Viking wouldn’t be trying to frame him for that carnage.

He should have missed the train, should have been excluded from the lottery because he was late to Earth Channel One’s tower. But once through the security line, a woman in a skintight white jumpsuit asked if he needed help finding his party.

“I am here for the Special Correspondents Lottery,” he said, showing her his ticket.

“They are boarding a train to the spaceport. If you hurry, you should catch it,” she said, pointing to the far end of the tower.

The Fundamentals Universe

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Ryan Jameson's The Terra Channel Logo

The Terra Channel’s office was in Education Corporation’s downtown Austin campus. The campus had a short running trail looping its perimeter. Most mornings Ryan lapped the other joggers on the trail, his tall frame and long legs gave him the edge. At one in the morning the trail was empty. The space dust dealer worked the trail near the interchange. He turned off the running trail for a sidewalk that cut through the heart of the empty campus. Best to avoid temptation.

Not so easy when a bag of Rainbows is lying in front of you like a mint on a hotel’s pillow. The Viking knew he was a junkie. But how? He didn’t have a record. He limited his public profile to the work he did at TTC. But, here was a bag of Rainbows.

The Fundamentals Universe

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