Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Remember The Maelstrom by Josh Sinason

Conan Crushes Cynical Storytelling
Josh Sinason

I wrote a story where nothing happens.  I knew that going on but I thought it worked anyway.  It worked the first time with A Linger In The Echo a story I wrote that takes place entirely inside someone’s head…maybe.  But when I turned in the first draft of Remember The Maelstrom I got an immediate email back telling me that nothing happens in this story.  I disagreed but I looked at it objectively and made some changes for the better but I fought for my original ending a bit.  But as I kept arguing for it I realized I was committing what I always said ws the cardinal sin of science fiction.  I was writing a cynical story.

It wasn’t overtly cynical but the undercurrent was there as everything faded to black.  So I made some changes for the better.  I’ve always been against cynical storytelling, particularly in science fiction and fantasy where we are open to a world of possibilities.  So I looked at it objectively and realized what I was really trying to say wasn’t cynical. I speaking to the infinite possibilities of love set against the entire unkown of unexplored space.  I just needed a little push in another direction, a small change, it’s really only a paragraph or two in the entire story but it makes it so much better.    

Mainstream science fiction has had an inferiority complex.  Stemming from a time when people dismissed science fiction as being “just for kids” so you see a lot of writers compensate by being overtly dark and gritty, it’s how we get things like the Game of Thrones, but some of the worst offenders conflate dark and gritty with cynical.  Most of the time it’s the one with the bad Frank Frazetta imitation crossed with a bad heavy metal band album cover on the front.  You know the one with the girls in the metal pasties and sprays of blood everywhere that just screams “We’re not for kids anymore.”

In an effort to show they’re “mature” they’ve confused dark with cynical and worst of all, they’re being cynical for the sake of being cynical.   You can be dark, you can be grim, but if you’re doing it from a place that’s bitter it’s like reading a story written by a jaded teenager in a high school writing class.

To me, the ultimate example of a writer being dark and gritty without being cynical is Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories.  Howard created a world with some of the most gruesome barbaric images in all of fiction, a world where enemies are crucified and people bite the heads off of ravens to survive, and our hero makes no apologies as he stands in the middle of it, sometimes even doing the crucifying.  

The larger story of Conan is that of an explorer, someone who is too smart and too curious to be content with being just a nomad looking from plunder to pillage. (The movies are way more Kull than Conan) The world Conan inhabits is a world in which good and evil are very real, very black and white, and anybody who wants power has to choose a side but Conan doesn’t see that in a negative.

Conan doesn’t choose a side outright; he rejects authority when thrust upon him either way but will always do the right thing.  But to him, since the world has both tangible good and tangible evil it means the world is one-hundred percent equitable.  He’s unwavering in his belief that everything should be balanced.  The good people get their reward and the bad guys get what’s coming to them, by his hand or by someone else’s, he really doesn’t care.   Whether it's raiding a temple to retrieve a jewel from a demon wizard’s cave only to give that jewel to a beggar when he finds out the princess is lying to him or leaving an enemy to be crucified like he did to Conan earlier in the story, Conan's sense of justice borders on the obsessive but it's never without merit in the story. 

When Conan eventually becomes a king it’s not a upbeat moment.  It’s a tragic end to a life as an explorer and adventurer.  The man who set out to leave his world is thrust back into it based on his own sense of duty and justice.  But it’s still never presented as a cynical end.  Conan never lets go of the notion that the world is equitable even if it’s forced him to be the hand that guides it.

One of the later stories involved Conan fighting a gorilla who thinks he’s a wizard.  Read that sentence again because yes, it’s that awesome.  But the story is more than an un-apologetically silly story about a man fighting a gorilla…in a cape…that thinks it’s a wizard. (c’mon, that’s cool)  It’s a story about Conan returning to his roots and finding a balance of justice and meaning of life against something like him.  Someone fighting against a world that made him into something he never meant to be and his primal sense of nature which, like Conan, is in the end peaceful.

Lots of fantasy and sci-fi authors have been inspired by Conan.  But they also lose sight of what made those stories special.  They look at those Frank Frazetta paintings and think that fans want guys with swords covered in blood and hanging out with wenches in metal swimwear.  It misses the point, they miss the sense of adventure, the character with an outlook that’s unapologetically simple, and they miss the brazen sense of fun. 

Remember The Maelstrom
Josh Sinason

Genre: Sci-fi Romance

Publisher: TWB Press

Number of pages: 40
Word Count: 10,000

Book Description:

A botched investigation into the past triggers a domino effect, thrusting T.I. Agent Amanda West into a race to get home to the man she loves in a future that may no longer exist. 

Available at Amazon    Smashwords     TWB Press


“Let’s go, rookie.” I set my blaster on stun. “I want to be home in time for dinner.”
Corporal Winger nodded and drew his gun.
I noticed his hand shake. That should have been my first cue something was wrong. He clutched his gun so tense his knuckles turned white. This was his first op, and it already went way far south way too soon. This was just supposed to be a routine run: bring back a fugitive who had bolted through an unauthorized time portal. We were the closest ship to it. He was just one guy, but he had a gun. Who would have thought things could’ve gone so wrong?
I kissed the scar on my right hand before we chased him through Central Park in the year 2014. It was a silly ritual, but when I found myself far from home, I started to get superstitious. On cold nights, when time, space, and a universe kept me away, I’d look at that scar and think about Parker.
Winger was a hair faster than me catching up with our time jumper. Maybe if I’d been there a second or two sooner I could have stopped him, but I arrived just in time to watch him aim his gun. I was just within view when our jumper pulled in a hostage, a little girl, something that would’ve made any experienced agent hold his fire.
Winger was just reacting on instinct.  He didn’t pull back in time, and the guy held the kid in front of him. The scene played out in slow motion. Maybe Winger thought he could make a head-shot on the perp, or maybe he just fired in the heat of the moment; we were both tired. All I knew was, as the girl and our jumper fell to the ground, the look of horror on Winger’s face didn’t last long.
I’d never seen a person fade from existence before, not until that moment. The theory, according to Temporal Investigations, was that one dies before actually disappearing completely. Sheer shock and horror was the killer, like falling off a tall building. But Winger looked me in the eyes the entire time, silently pleading for help as he faded right in front of me. I reached out to grab his hand, but it vanished, and that’s when I noticed my scar begin to ghost.
I didn’t know who that little girl was. Maybe she had invented something that made the Galactic Conferences possible, or maybe she was the grandmother of the grandmother of someone who assigned cores in the Academy, and because she no longer existed in the future, Parker and I may have ended up in different course plans. Or maybe she did something at just the right moment, a move in one direction or another, a decade from now, and things just fell into place for us. It was impossible to tell what could happen without her influence, but I feared something was wrong. I could have lost Parker already without even knowing it.
When I saw that scar on my hand ghost, I knew it was a sign that the time stream was starting to realign. We were briefed on ghosting at the Academy. They told us to run; they said always run back to the ship, flat out as fast as we could. But we all knew the truth. We couldn’t outrun a time realignment. It would be like outrunning the hand of the universe.
The moment I saw that scar flicker, I took off in a dead sprint back to the ship and leaped into the captain’s chair. As the controls came on around me I felt the hum of the hyperspace time bubble curling around the ship like a warm blanket. Then, when I tried to catch my breath, I felt a hot sting in my gut. Our jumper had managed to get off a shot, and as luck would have it, his blaster charge went straight through Winger’s ghosting body and hit me in the stomach. I did my best to breathe slowly, but each inhale felt like razor blades slicing through my chest. I winced and put pressure on the singed and bloody wound then throttled up the engines.
“Well today just sucked, didn’t it.” I looked at the picture of Parker I kept on my dashboard. We had our pictures taken when we were assigned to The Bartlett. Knowing this meant I hadn’t forgotten about least not yet. Then I looked to make sure the hyperspace time bubble had restored the scar on my hand. Yes. I gave it another kiss for luck. Just lifting my arm sent shooting pains through my stomach, but I figured I needed a fair amount of luck right about then, so the pain was worth the effort.
“Just make it home for dinner.” I clutched the steering yoke tightly. “Just one more trip.” I forced a breath. “Let me see that everything is all right with Parker. Then let whatever changes I’ve made to the future do what they will to me.”
“Some time cop I turned out to be.”
I slammed on the thrusters hard and gunned the engine boosters through the time jump, but the inertia field didn’t have time to boot up, so I felt my ribs crack as my chest slammed against the crash belt and the back of my head bounced off the top of my chair.
I screamed in pain.
In flight school I had experienced what happened without an inertia field. Senior cadets would watch Parker and I train in the flight deck sim. We’d shoot to hyperspace without any problems. But every once in a while the cadets would program in an inertia field glitch just to see how we’d respond to the stress, at least that’s what they told the instructors. It was really a rite of passage made worse by the fact that the simulator didn’t have crash belts, so the only way to go was flying backwards. If it wasn’t for the crash helmets, our brains would’ve splattered against the cold metal exit door.
“Stupid prank,” I said, spitting blood. I was bleeding internally. The scar on my hand ghosted again. The time bubble was weakening already, so I started going over my past, wondering just how much of it I would forget.
I decide to listen to my personal logs and make sure everything was just as I remembered. Hopefully that last ghosting wasn’t a sign that I was too late. The computer accessed my files, starting with my first week studying for the Academy mid-terms.
I remembered that day by the lake on the Academy grounds, fresh in my mind no matter what time jump I was in. The lake was clear blue enough that I could see the incoming spaceships reflected in the surface. I had sat there so often over that first month I could tell how low the ships were flying by the ripples their wakes made in the water.
I sat near a tree, hoping to keep my mind on my introductory engineering midterm studies. Sometimes the Academy felt like a monster looking to swallow cadets whole, but out there, under the shuttles flying by and the transport ships jumping to hyperspace like little daylight shooting stars, the Academy grounds felt peaceful. That day the transports lit up the clouds like purple and red lightning. I listened to the low rumble of the shuttles as I skipped a rock across the water. Then I cracked open a book.

About the Author:

Josh Sinason grew up in DeKalb, Illinois, and has been featured in the Two With Water reading series and at

In addition he has won the Creativity in Media award for his work on  

His work has been recently featured in Burroughs Publishing Lunchbox Romance Line and Eternal Press’ young adult fiction line.

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