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Once upon a time the mainstream culture was conservative and the so-called counterculture was left wing. Today the situation is reversed and a new counterculture has arisen, one that boldly challenges the cynicism, nihilism, and stifling political correctness of popular culture today. Our mission is to support this raw and untamed counterculture by gathering its creators in one place and providing the tools and resources they need to succeed. Here they can present their latest works, interact with colleagues, and connect with a likeminded audience. At Liberty Island, readers of a conservative or libertarian bent can find fiction, music, video and graphics that reflect their social values and political beliefs -- and readers of all persuasions can find new voices and undiscovered talent. Writers and creators you've never heard of, and won't find anywhere else, because their views have been excluded from the mainstream popular culture. Think of Liberty Island as a rallying point for a revolt against conformity and groupthink. We aim to be the missing link in a cultural feeder system that has systematically marginalized those who did not go to the right schools, attend the proper writing programs, or toe the correct ideological line. At Liberty Island, good still triumphs over evil, hope still overcomes despair, and America is still a noble experiment and a beacon to the rest of the world. What is Liberty Island? An imaginative colony. A playground for the mind. A place where your right brain is allowed to run free. Join us! Like Plymouth, Jamestown, or Ellis Island in its heyday, Liberty Island is open for business.
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‘You Are Now Wanted For Murder On 762 Planets… I Conclude That You Are Evil. Is This Correct?’

Thursday, March 19th, 2015 - by Liberty Island

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The ship shot upward, and then I hit The Button. I never cared much for ship-to-ship battles — they’re computerized and very predictable and neither interest nor challenge me. So I had previously studied data on likely patterns in airborne fights and written a macro for my ship’s weapons systems connected to a big button on the ship’s console. I’d painted the button red because that seemed like the right color for such a button.

There were some explosions behind me, followed by silence, but I had also reached space, and space is always silent. The ship jumped, and we were in empty space light years away from the nearest star. There was no way they could track us, so that was that. Another successful mission.

“You are now wanted for murder on 762 planets,” Dip informed me. “Am I correct in saying that is quite a lot of planets, Rico?”

Though I very much prefer to work alone, I’d decided it was good to have some kind of backup just in case. So I had purchased an AI core that I’d installed on my ship. I also had some sensors implanted in my body so Dip can monitor and communicate with me at all times, though I’d taught him to be somewhat sparing with that. You see, Dip is basically a huge algorithm that continually takes in data to improve its AI. So to further that quest, he asks me lots of annoying questions.

“So, Dip, what percentage of planets in the known universe now wants me for murder?”

My theory is that he’s more likely to develop actual intelligence if I never give him a straight answer and just frustrate him into figuring things out on his own. Or maybe I just don’t like answering in absolutes.

“Approximately one times ten to the negative six percent of the planets in my database want you for murder.”

“Does that seem like a large percentage?”

“It is my understanding that most sentients would consider that number to be extremely small.”

“That’s the great thing about the universe, Dip. You can massacre an entire planet and still find a nearly infinite number of places to go where no one has ever heard of you.”

“Are there any other great things about the universe you could give me as input?”

I looked out the window. “It’s mainly black.” That’s my favorite color. I always wondered if I traveled far enough in one direction, whether all existence would be one tiny little speck behind me and there would be nothing but black all around. Something to look into one day.

“I have processed this new data and reached a number of conclusions. May I run those conclusions by you, Rico, and get your feedback?”

“In a minute, Dip. Get me Vito. Let’s finish this up.” Vito was my current handler. He was kind of an idiot, but since his job only required him to pass information back and forth between Nystrom’s executives and me, he didn’t have to be a genius.

“Certainly.” I waited while Dip made the interstellar connection. “He’s on the line.”

I hate talking to people — all the little rules I have to keep track of to sound normal — but I have no need to be personable with Vito, so that at least made talking to him easy. “It’s done, Vito.”

“You didn’t kill him, right?”

I made my voice slightly more intense to convey annoyance. “The instructions were to not kill him, and I know how to not kill people. I only shot off his hand.” I lost a hand once. It wasn’t pleasant, but I got better.

“So everything worked out–”

“Just get me my money.” I have more money than I ever plan on spending, but it looks weird if you don’t at least appear to care about it. Actually, with career criminal types, it creeps them out if they think you’re doing this for reasons other than power and financial gain.

“Okay, I’ll get it into one of your accounts.”

“So what am I looking at next, Vito?”

“Um… I don’t have anything for you.”

“Excuse me?”

“I don’t have a new job for you yet.”

It took a moment to process that. Nystrom was usually involved in a million things in multiple galaxies, and they could always use my brand of force somewhere. Plus, I think they feared what would happen if they left me unoccupied. Actually, I kind of feared what would happen if I was left unoccupied. “So what am I supposed to do?” I had to make myself not sound too distressed; time off is normal for most people.

“They want you to lie low for a bit, and then they’ll get in contact with you.”

“When?”

“That’s all they told me.”

“Okay, I’ll… wait.” I ended the communication and tried to figure out what to do. I’ve spent time by myself before, but always in prep for the next job. I hadn’t had an unfocused stretch of time in years.

“May I run my conclusions by you now, Rico?” Dip asked.

I was kind of up for a distraction. “Sure. What have you got?”

“I conclude that you are evil. Is this correct?”

He’s been concluding that for quite some time. It’s getting hard to come up with new answers to that one. “Ever think that maybe you’re evil, and your views on things are skewed by that?”

“I conclude that you are not mentally well. Is this correct?”

“How can you say that? Can you really take all the mental states of all the sentients out there and determine a norm? And even if you could, wouldn’t that just be the normal mental state selected by the vagaries of evolution and thus not necessarily the best?”

“I conclude that you don’t like me. Is this correct?”

“Well, do you like me?”

“Furthermore, my original programming had given me the conclusion that ‘crime doesn’t pay.’ Yet, you are often paid for crime with no discernible retribution. Should I amend that preprogrammed conclusion, Rico?”

“The key word is ‘discernible.’ Some believe there are cosmic forces that equalize the universe, and so I will eventually be punished for these ‘crimes,’ as you call them… if those people are correct, I mean.” Me, I don’t “believe” in things. I basically just deal with the input given me… like Dip in a way.

“I shall process your answers. What do you want to do now?”

“I guess we should go somewhere.”

“Where?”

“A settlement… somewhere I haven’t been before.”

“A human settlement?”

A human settlement meant it would be easier to find food and supplies compatible with my species, but it also meant I would have to work harder to appear normal, since humans would be much quicker to notice my oddities. I did need to work on that, though; maybe if I were more personable I wouldn’t be left out of the loop. I usually didn’t care what the syndicate was up to, but that was as long as they kept me occupied. “Human settlement.”

“Okay, I’ve chosen a destination. Prepare to jump.”

So I was off to relax for a bit. That made me nervous. But it wasn’t just the idea of having unstructured free time. The Nystrom syndicate’s slight changes in behavior gave me the beginning of a suspicion that something big was going on. In retrospect, I might call that prescience.

*****

This concludes our series of excerpts from Superego and the first phase of Frank J. Fleming and the Liberty Island team’s discussions of it. In the coming weeks we’ll use these initial essays and the ideas of Superego and Liberty Island’s second novel The Big Bang by Roy M. to continue discussions and debates about the future.

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‘I Shot Off His Gun Hand. He Fell To The Ground Screaming, Clutching His Stump, and Holding Back the Flow of Orange Blood’

Friday, March 13th, 2015 - by Liberty Island

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I plugged the microgenerator into the wall, and the power surge instantly blew out all the lights. The dark was ruined by two blaster shots, and two thuds confirmed I had correctly remembered where Naus’s guards were standing. A backup generator soon kicked in, and when the lights returned, Naus could see that I was now standing beside him.

I shot off his gun hand. He fell to the ground screaming, clutching his stump, and holding back the flow of orange blood. “Now, I wouldn’t say we demanded anything.” I stood over him but didn’t bother pointing the gun at him. “But as a representative of the Nystrom syndicate, which you’ve done business with for so long, I would expect a little hospitality. At no point did anyone offer me so much as a beverage; I felt very unwelcome. And why? What personally had I ever done to you? We have an expression on my home world about not shooting the messenger. Do you know what it is?”

He stared at me in shock.

“It’s ‘Don’t shoot the messenger.’” I thought about that for a moment. “That’s really only half an expression, isn’t it? ‘Don’t shoot the messenger…’ or what? I guess ‘Don’t shoot the messenger, or he’ll flip out and start killing everybody.’ Anyhoo, can I read you my message now?”

“Don’t kill me! The Veethood–”

“Your talking right now is not required or appreciated… and considering the trouble you put me through, you should try and pay attention. Please.” I reached into my inside jacket pocket and pulled out a paper note. I unfolded it and read it to him. “Chal Naus, we’ve heard about your new business arrangements. This is upsetting, as you’ve been a valuable partner, and we hope you’ll reconsider. Whatever you decide, though, we wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors.” I folded the note back up and placed it on the table. “You don’t need to sign for it. I’ll show myself out. Enjoy the rest of your evening.”

I headed to the nearest exit, leaving Naus moaning in pain on the floor behind me. Things had turned out pretty well. My biggest fear on this job was that he would have politely agreed to see me, since that would have made the whole message delivery thing rather anticlimactic. It’s kind of pointless for me to do a job somewhere and not shoot people.

As I left the bar I heard sirens coming my way. It’s kinda funny, because I’m really not someone you want to loudly announce your presence to. “Dip, exit plan alpha.”

“I’ve noticed a correlation between increased traffic on police communications channels and your wanting to be picked up. In the future, should I just assume that–”

“Exit plan alpha, Dip.”

The police vehicles were almost on me, and I figured there would be some ground resistance between me and my exit. The natural human instinct in a situation like this would be to run, but I don’t like the tradeoffs faster movement brings. It makes aiming harder, it makes observing your surroundings harder, and it makes you look scared. I’m not the one who is supposed to be scared.

I shot two more purple guys I saw running toward me instead of away. I also took out of my jacket a pocket-rocket — also illegal on any planet that’s heard of them — and tossed it into the air. It immediately took flight and targeted the nearest large heat signature. I heard a siren nearly overhead, then an explosion, then no more siren. Fiery debris landed around me, which was nice, since it was a bit chilly out.

The other vehicles backed off a little as their drivers tried to understand this new threat. This gave Dip a window to land my ship in an open plaza just in front of me. Again, I like to make a calm exit in full view of everyone. Nystrom is untouchable, and everyone needs to know that.

I came in through the side door of my ship just as I heard the sirens coming my way again.

“There are a number of options. We can–”

“Up, Dip! Up!”

Artificial intelligence is annoying, but it’s better than working with an actual person.

I got into the pilot seat, and the ship quickly but smoothly lifted upward. It then moved forward and soon cleared the edge of the city. Chal Naus’s resort was on top of a mile-high plateau with steep cliffs on all sides. It was the only substantial development on the planet, so beyond the plateau I only saw unspoiled, rocky landscape dotted with a few green plants. People like having views of that sort of thing. They like modern conveniences, but they don’t like looking at them. I can sympathize; I feel a certain peacefulness when I’m far away from the annoyance of sentient species.

A blast rocked the ship. “Are they shooting at me?”

“That they are,” Dip answered.

“That’s stupid of them.” They hadn’t determined exactly how serious a threat I was and were still coming right at me. “Take us into orbit, Dip.”

*****

Join us again next week for another excerpt from SuperEgo and more provocative essays from Frank J. Fleming and the Liberty Island team.

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Will The Future of Religion Mean More Pointless Murder?

Thursday, March 5th, 2015 - by Liberty Island

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“You said you needed to speak to me,” Naus said.

“I was told by Nystrom to speak to you personally, and this is rather impersonal. So just tell me where you are, and I’ll head on over.”

“Don’t bother; I don’t have anything to say to you people. I’m supported by the Veethood now, and I don’t intend to have any more business with Nystrom.”

Dip spoke up. “The Veethood are a local cartel–”

“Never heard of them. Don’t care about them,” I told both Naus and Dip. The six guys around me started to stir.

“You go tell Nystrom–”

“I was not told that Nystrom cares what you have to say.” I used my firm voice, hoping that meant something to his species. “And certainly don’t care. My job is to give you a message, and then I am done.”

Naus’s eyes narrowed. Anger? “Perhaps I can tell them all I need to by sending back your corpse.”

I relaxed back in my chair. “I wouldn’t recommend it. Nystrom is known for being very dogged. You kill me, they send two people. You kill them, they send three people. Then four people. Then five people. And they’ll keep going until they get what they want.” I unfolded my arms. “Know how many I think it will take, though?” I leaned toward the screen. “I think one will be more than enough.”

I should mention that my brain is altered in more ways than one. First, my reflexes are much better than a regular man’s, but more importantly, I can actually process and perform two separate actions at once as long as one of them doesn’t require higher-level functions like speech processing. For instance, I have never had any trouble patting my head and rubbing my tummy at the same time. More practically, I can wield two guns, acquiring and eliminating a separate target with each hand simultaneously. That’s very useful when I have to quickly gun down six people — which I did as I stood from the chair. I immediately assessed the threat level of each of the six and then shot them in order. I had shot them all before any had successfully drawn a weapon.

It was a little pathetic, but the rest of the bodies Naus would throw at me would be a little more prepared and might actually present a challenge. Their blood is orange, by the way.

Naus was shouting something at me through the screen, but I didn’t pay attention and instead walked over to the receptionist, who was cowering behind her desk. “So where is Chal Naus?”

“Down the hallway in the bar!” she cried. My translator program had some trouble with her stuttered delivery.

“I know this must be stressful for you, but thank you for your help,” I said before turning away. I want to be better socially, so I try to work at it whenever I have an opportunity. It’s hard for me to analyze in which situations I actually gain something by being polite, but it usually doesn’t hurt. I really have to remember to be polite, though, because of my intense disdain for pretty much every sentient creature.

Two more purple guys came running at me, guns pointed forward, but I still shot both of them before they could fire. I stepped over them and continued to the bar.

Now you might be thinking there are smarter ways to go about this sort of thing, but then you’d be missing the point. Sure, I could sneak in and take out my targets surreptitiously, and a skilled assassin certainly is a threat to be feared. But I am a hitman, not an assassin. And there’s a good reason for that. Hiding shows weakness. When representing the Nystrom syndicate, one of the most powerful forces in the universe, one should never show weakness. That’s why I always use the front door. I let my marks know I’m coming. I walk calmly. I give them time to prepare to defend themselves. And I show them that whatever they do doesn’t matter. Because Nystrom always gets what it wants. Always. It is larger and more powerful than most people can even comprehend, and I am the human representation of that power.

Yes, one of these days that philosophy will earn me a hole burned right through my face. But everyone will have to admit that right up to that point I was extremely intimidating. Years ago, there was once a sensationalist piece in the works at the Laverk Times calling me the “Universe’s Deadliest Man.” Funny story: the day before it would have appeared, I killed the entire editorial staff in a completely unrelated matter.

Well, it was funny to me. Maybe you had to have been there.

Anyway, I met no one else on the short walk to the bar and could hear people panicking inside. I assumed security had fortified around Naus, and that would work nicely for me, because I’d rather they all just stayed put.

Bars make nice places for hits. They’re public, so there are plenty of witnesses, but they usually lack many windows and are out of the way, so too many people aren’t alerted too quickly. I’ve never liked hanging out in such places for fun, as I don’t drink; I only go to bars when I’m killing people.

I go to a lot of bars.

I stepped through the front door and started firing. The non-threats were presumably smart enough to flee through the exits, so I took aim at anyone facing my direction. It’s not like there’s a penalty for shooting innocent bystanders (besides the legal ones, but that’s always been a non-issue for me). I aimed quickly while moving in a zigzag pattern (they were expecting me, so they would inevitably get some shots off) and took them down two by two. There were nine threats by first glance, then seven, then five, then three, then… still three.

I fired again, and the shots terminated in some sort of energy field. I had heard of these but had yet to encounter one. Naus was behind the shield, sitting at the far end of the bar at his own table with a gun in hand and two armed guards standing next to him. “Really impressive,” Naus said, “but now I guess we’ll find out how many men it takes to bring you down.”

The rest of the bar’s patrons continued fleeing, and I shot two running past me who made motions that could have been reaching for guns. I didn’t know if I was right, but in the past few seconds I had developed a deep-seated prejudice against purple aliens with tentacles coming out of their heads and thus didn’t really care. In a few seconds, all that remained were me and the three behind the barrier, but more guards or police were coming, and I was out in the open with multiple entrances to watch. I probably would not last long in that situation — but, who knows? Maybe I would. Today was not the day to find out, though. I looked at Naus. “Fleeing might have been a better idea than trapping yourself.”

“If Nystrom wants to waste time sending me people to kill, then I’ll happily oblige.” Naus looked like he felt pretty invincible behind the shielding. I had noticed the lights dimming a bit when I’d shot the shield, which meant it was on the same grid as the rest of the bar. That gave me an obvious line of attack. “Nystrom doesn’t have a presence in this system — certainly not enough for the cut they’ve been demanding. Plus, I do have some standards, and I don’t want to be associated with what Nystrom has been doing on Zaldia. So I’m going to send you back to them in pieces as a little message that they should devote their time and resources elsewhere.”

He was talking about the politics behind this job as if it meant anything to me. The why was never important — that’s big picture stuff and it all gets rather pointless in the larger scheme. It’s all just power struggles that creatures have had since the first two single-celled organisms competed for the same food source.

Pointless. Never-ending.

So I don’t care about the why — just the what. And the what right now was to get past the energy shield, and quickly. I put away one gun and took out a little device that was normally a useful diversion. It was a miniature generator capable of enough power output to keep a small city running for about a second. It was pretty easy to reengineer into a nasty explosion capable of taking out a few city blocks, which made it illegal for civilian possession pretty much everywhere — something to note if you care about that sort of thing.

“Are you listening? Did you really think you could come to my home and demand anything of me?”

*****

Join us again next week for another excerpt from SuperEgo and more provocative essays from Frank J. Fleming and the Liberty Island team.

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What is the Future of Assassination? Meet Rico, A Genetically-Enhanced Hitman

Thursday, February 26th, 2015 - by Liberty Island

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Killing is ugly. A living body is designed to survive; killing opposes its entire purpose. Nothing dies in an artful manner — a body is just damaged until it fails to sustain itself anymore. Put enough holes in something, and it will eventually stop moving, stop functioning. And often a living creature’s last moments are spent in a pointless struggle, twisting and writhing in a vain attempt to continue its existence. I’ve seen it many times. I’ve known it myself.

But that’s just an aesthetic quibble. The ugliness of death aside, I always enjoyed the challenge of being a hitman.

The receptionist was ignoring me. She (I wasn’t familiar with the species — purplish with tentacley things on her head — but she appeared to be the childbearing variety) was talking on the phone in a clearly non-work-related manner while I waited. We were in a spacious lobby with walls and floors of glass and ivory. Everything was curved, not many hard angles where surfaces met. Several bunches of flowers and other potted plants decorated the walls and otherwise empty floor space. I noted one exit to my right and a hallway leading further into the building to my left — so I only had two directions to be wary of.

I knocked on the hard white top of her desk. She finished her call and looked at me with gray eyes. “I’m sorry for the wait, but I don’t think this resort is able to accommodate your species.”

“That’s okay. I’m actually here on business. My name is Rico, and I am here to see Chal Naus.”

“He didn’t say he was expecting anyone, and he doesn’t see anyone without an appointment. And business hours ended half an hour ago.”

“No, he is not expecting me, but I do need to see him personally. And I specifically came after business hours because I wanted to be polite and not interrupt whatever it is he does here.”

Her face tensed. I had no idea what that meant — and didn’t care. “I can’t help you. I think you need to leave.” Her tenor had changed — I think she was threatening me. She wasn’t very good at it. Perhaps I could teach her something.

The job of a hitman is always changing, always invigorating, and it often requires that I perform at my best. Plus, it makes me get out and interact with people — which is good, since I’m basically anti-social. I have trouble seeing that as my fault, though; I rarely encounter an individual worth talking to. Everyone seems so pointless, coasting through drab, rote lives. They have nothing useful to say, nothing useful to do. They just are.

I partly blame civilization for that. It allows people to get through life with so little effort. Take this receptionist. Most animals exist in a daily life-and-death struggle, and if they don’t give it everything they’ve got, they end up with that messy death I just described. The receptionist, on other hand, just had to sit at a desk and smile… and she couldn’t even be bothered to put much effort into that. I can’t imagine why someone would waste her life going to a job she doesn’t care to do. I can’t imagine such a person would have anything to say that might be worth listening to. So I’m anti-social.

But I’m working on it.

Sure, I find pretty much all sentients boring in their normal lives, but that doesn’t mean they lack the potential to be interesting. It’s just a matter of focus. No matter how lazy or unmotivated a person is, if he feels his life is on the line, he will devote every available resource to not being killed. Civilization goes out the door, and pure survival kicks in. When people are that awake and that focused, they intrigue me. So you can say I have a job that brings out the best in people.

“Are you familiar with the Nystrom syndicate? I am here on their behalf, so one way or another I will speak to your boss. In person.”

Her eyes grew wider. I could have guessed at the meaning of that but, again, I didn’t care. “Is he aware you are coming?”

I thought I’d covered that. Sometimes — due to my lack of social skills — I’m not as clear as I think I am. So I tried again. “I’ll make this simple: You tell Chal Naus that I am going to speak to him personally and that I will kill anyone who stands in my way, starting with you.” I didn’t think she was actually going to get in my way, but as I said, people can be quite focused when they feel their lives are on the line. “I’m going to go sit down while I wait for a response.” I smiled politely, wondering what color her species bled; you can never tell by skin color.

I sat down in one of the odd circular chairs across from the desk. The purple, tentacle-headed receptionist was back on the phone, talking much more frantically than she had before. Soon six other creatures entered the lobby: larger tentacle-headed things I assumed were male. I think they were supposed to intimidate me, and the tense faces they wore were probably their angry expressions.

I remained seated and relaxed, arms folded. There is little in body language that is universal between species, but ignoring someone is a good way to assert dominance; it communicates that I do not find an individual or group to be threatening or even worth my time.

A screen appeared on one of the walls. On the screen was the image of another creature of the same species, and admittedly able to judge by only a small sample, he seemed obese. That wasn’t necessarily a weakness — it could be a cultural thing.

“That is Chal Naus,” Dip, my “partner,” chimed in my ear.

*****

Join us again next week for another excerpt from SuperEgo and more provocative essays from Frank J. Fleming and the Liberty Island team.

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10 Fantastic Christmas Stories From Creative Writers

Thursday, December 25th, 2014 - by Liberty Island

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Editor’s Note: Since March, PJ Lifestyle has been highlighting some of the most innovative fiction writers at the recently-launched new media publishing platform Liberty Island, featuring interviews and story excerpts. Click here to see our collection of 33 so far. To learn more check out this interview Sarah Hoyt conducted with CEO Adam Bellow: “It also has a unique mission: to serve as the platform and gathering-place for the new right-of-center counterculture.” Also see COO David S. Bernstein’s recent essay here in which he defines Liberty Island as, “an imaginative playground where brilliant and creative people can test their ideas without being harassed or threatened by the new breed of ‘community activists’ who police thought and speech in the media.” Also see Bellow’s cover story at National Review: “Let Your Right Brain Run Free.” 

The Grand Prize Winner in the Holiday Writing Contest:

Who Won The Grand Prize in the Holiday Writing Contest? Read an excerpt of “The 1011000-100110110000011010011 Truce” by Thomas A. Mays here.

Four Honorable Mentions, also excerpted at PJ Lifestyle over the past week:

Get the Greek – A Chrismukkah Tale

Turkey Legs Boned & Rolled Like Veal, Just as Tender but Tastier

‘I Don’t Want to See a Trail of Bodies, Unless They’re the Bodies I’ve Blessed for Destruction.’

Have a Very Martian Christmas…

And here are links to the five runners up:

Lunar Christmas by Leigh Kimmel

ELFILTRATED – A Tale of Deception by Susan Ouellette

An “Out”-standing Chanukah by Marina Fontaine

Water Like A Stone by Elisabeth Wolfe

Festive by Adan Ramie

*****

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Have a Very Martian Christmas…

Wednesday, December 24th, 2014 - by Liberty Island

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Editor’s Note: Since March, PJ Lifestyle has been highlighting some of the most innovative fiction writers at the recently-launched new media publishing platform Liberty Island, featuring interviews and story excerpts. Click here to see our collection of 33 so far. To learn more check out this interview Sarah Hoyt conducted with CEO Adam Bellow: “It also has a unique mission: to serve as the platform and gathering-place for the new right-of-center counterculture.” Also see COO David S. Bernstein’s recent essay here in which he defines Liberty Island as, “an imaginative playground where brilliant and creative people can test their ideas without being harassed or threatened by the new breed of ‘community activists’ who police thought and speech in the media.” Also see Bellow’s cover story at National Review: “Let Your Right Brain Run Free.” 

Check out the Grand Prize Winner in the Holiday contest,  “The 1011000-100110110000011010011 Truce” by Thomas A. Mays,  excerpted here. And also the first Honorable mention is here: “Get the Greek – A Chrismukkah Tale” and the second here: “Turkey Legs Boned & Rolled Like Veal, Just as Tender but Tastier,” and the third here: ‘I Don’t Want to See a Trail of Bodies, Unless They’re the Bodies I’ve Blessed for Destruction.’

Here’s an excerpt from “Better or Worse” by Mary Madigan, the fourth runner up in the Holiday Writing Contest:

“Live the Martian adventure” the ads said. “Mars has jobs.” Amy said. So Joe packed their bags and they left their hometown in Northern Great Lakestan, convinced that this new life would be better.

It wasn’t. There were jobs and the pay was good, but they were mostly desk jobs–the kind of work that you learn in an hour and wash/rinse/repeat for the rest of your life.

In every other way, Mars was the same as Wisconsin –eleven months of winter and one month of black flies. There were the same stores stocking the same junk–ice fishing supplies, hydroponic marijuana, buffalo algaesnaps and pasties (not the fun kind). There only way he could tell that he was not still in Wisconsin was when the snow melted. The mud that slimed the streets was red, not brown.

They even kept their Wisconsin routine. Weekends were spent repairing stuff in the house. Then they’d trudge outside for groceries and their weekly flu shot. Then they’d go back home, nuke dinner, turn on the TV and shiver under blankets until it was time to go to bed. Wash/rinse/repeat.

They were headed to the grocery store now, wobbling over ice, snow whirling around their feet like wisps of smoke. Christmas decorations added a little bit of color, but they’d already transported their presents months ago, to a family that was much too far away. There was no one to shop for but themselves.

As they passed the Port Tharsis Yacht club, Amy glanced longingly at the ships. They had met in pilot training. They both had high hopes of working on a transport and living on a space station, maybe Caprica. But low salaries, few job openings for pilots and ridiculous hours had changed those plans. They could live together and have desk jobs or they could follow their dreams and live apart. So they chose to be together. For better or worse.

Joe glanced into the Yacht Club window. Behind the fogged windows the guys inside were laughing. One guy turned and saw him, gave him a look that said. “I have a ship and I can leave this sad Martian rock anytime I please. And you, you pathetic little groundling–you can’t.”

Some ships were covered for the season, snow floating a few centimeters over their energy shields. Others were uncovered, still steaming after a quick descent through the atmosphere. One ship, pockmarked by rubble strikes but freshly cleaned, had a piece of paper laying on the ground beside it. Joe picked it up. “For Sale.”

The want, no, the need to own this ship, to be that guy in that Club hit him like a rogue wave. He had to convince Amy, right here and right now to buy this ship. As Yoda said. “Do… or do not. There is no try.”

Amy was already walking away, her boots crunching into the distance. He had to think fast, and of course the first thought in his head was more wisdom from Star Wars. This time, it was reverse psychology.

“What a piece of junk,” he said.

“Yeah.” she said. Her boots crunched towards him. “But imagine how nice it would be if we could just wormhole away on the weekends. To Fhloston pleasure planet …”

“Or Kepler-16b.” he said. “Two suns and a tiki bar on every corner.”

“Hmm…” she said, and his heart skipped a beat. Then he overplayed his hand. “It would make a great Christmas present. We haven’t spent my bonus check yet.”

“But…” she said “…we were going to use that for a new couch.”

Click here to read the rest at Liberty Island

*****

image illustration via shutterstock / 

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‘I Don’t Want to See a Trail of Bodies, Unless They’re the Bodies I’ve Blessed for Destruction.’

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2014 - by Liberty Island

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Editor’s Note: Since March, PJ Lifestyle has been highlighting some of the most innovative fiction writers at the recently-launched new media publishing platform Liberty Island, featuring interviews and story excerpts. Click here to see our collection of 33 so far. To learn more check out this interview Sarah Hoyt conducted with CEO Adam Bellow: “It also has a unique mission: to serve as the platform and gathering-place for the new right-of-center counterculture.” Also see COO David S. Bernstein’s recent essay here in which he defines Liberty Island as, “an imaginative playground where brilliant and creative people can test their ideas without being harassed or threatened by the new breed of ‘community activists’ who police thought and speech in the media.” Also see Bellow’s cover story at National Review: “Let Your Right Brain Run Free.” 

Check out the Grand Prize Winner in the Holiday contest,  “The 1011000-100110110000011010011 Truce” by Thomas A. Mays,  excerpted here. And also the first Honorable mention is here: “Get the Greek – A Chrismukkah Tale” and the second here: “Turkey Legs Boned & Rolled Like Veal, Just as Tender but Tastier

Here’s an excerpt from the beginning of “Christmas Hits,” the third runner up in the Holiday contest:

Not waiting for the storm to let up, seventy-year old Caesar Vincenzo ran stiff legged, head down, from the car into the store. Soaked, he stood proudly inside his twelve-year-old business, Rex Appliances. With his fingers he combed back wet hair and noticed a young couple transfixed before three large plasma screens, two roaring with action movies and a third showing White Christmas, a holiday favorite that he planned on watching soon. He was smiling when the couple turned and withered at the sight of Caesar. Hair dyed black, barrel-chested with thick arms filling out his sport jacket, Caesar’s large chin gave his meaty face a menacing look, the look of a hit man, not a successful business owner, which only depressed him. He shook his head and lost the smile as the young couple scooted toward the appliances lining the back wall.

The five-thousand-square-foot store carried mostly televisions and audio gear and a few brands of washers and dryers, but it was the new plasma technology that Caesar loved. The clamor of hyenas taking out a wounded lion, the automatic-weapons fire of a shoot-’em-up, and the Haynes girls singing “Sisters” carried the formative sounds of the Big Bang.

The store provided economic cover for Caesar’s cash business. Averaging a half million a year, he mostly stashed it in off-shore accounts and safety deposit boxes. For trips to the Bahamas he used receipts from modest hotels and restaurants, making business vacations appear as reasonable expenses to the IRS, who had audited him twice in the nineties. In Nassau his actual time and cash money was spent on Paradise Island in thousand-dollar-a-night penthouses, hookers galore. Planning retirement someday on the southern tip of the Baja, he had built a beach house in Del Cabo under an entirely new identity.

The bobbing head of Jeff Montgomery caught his eye. His manager for five years, Jeff ran a tight ship: hired and fired, kept immaculate books, and had a record of strong sales. He should have been an employer’s dream except that he routinely challenged Caesar’s authority and his inadequate knowledge of the store’s products. However, this Christmas season, in the spirit of one-upmanship, Caesar had insisted they carry a few holiday items. Jeff reluctantly purchased a half dozen three-foot tall artificial trees that now crowded the floor in front of the checkout and an open box of four-inch tall white-tipped pines that covered most of the counter.

One night Caesar dreamt that Jeff appeared out of the sky, riding a cloud, looking down on him with his familiar smirk. Like a nightmare where the dreamer is stuck, unable to move, Caesar had to listen to an endless barrage of exotic knowledge from his employee with the occasional work-related, sarcastic dig aimed at the boss.

Occasionally, Caesar had fantasies of slitting Jeff’s throat and throwing him in the dumpster out back, but ignored the impulse. Years ago, Frank Laconti, his lifelong boss, had impressed upon Caesar that his skills and efficiency would tempt him to eliminate people that made him jealous, angry, or simply got under his skin. “Keep your cool,” Laconti had cautioned. “You’ve got a code of honor to follow. I don’t want to see a trail of bodies, unless they’re the bodies I’ve blessed for destruction.”

He had maintained that code for decades as he watched Little Tony, Caesar’s contact and mentor, walk into Rex’s carrying his briefcase, looking more like a seedy Sony rep with time to kill than the most ruthless of Laconti’s hit men. Little Tony had a big, formless nose, narrow face and playful eyes. Ten years Caesar’s junior, he enjoyed bragging about family business with a long-standing employee like Caesar Vincenzo, and took delight in teasing him, not only about his height, but Caesar’s pride in making clean kills.

“Still using taxis? Caesar said, watching the boxy red and yellow cab leave the parking lot.

“You bet. That way a couple of paisans like us can have a little taste, and I don’t have to worry about getting pulled over for something stupid like speeding and the cops finding a hundred grand on me and a necklace of thumbs–just kidding … about the money. Hey, taxis keep me foot-loose and fancy free … just some old guy being driven to the grocery store, a nobody.”

Little Tony pointed with his chin in the direction of Caesar’s office and two men walked in shutting the door.

Tony took Caesar’s chair and Caesar stood, unsmiling, hands clasped in front, a predator’s still moment before nailing something running through the brush. Tony stretched his long legs far under the desk and leaned back, making himself comfortable. Tilting his head right, glancing down, he grinned as if admiring a pair of severed heads fashioned into a footstool.

“Caesar, you’ve got another nice deal comin’ up. Right in your own backyard. ‘Tis the Season…. After Mass he drops off the wife and tells her he’s going to the cemetery to visit the parents; then runs off to the girlfriend’s. Seems like you got it all figured out.”

“I did my preliminary work a few weeks ago. Wherever he goes he leaves a trail of crumbs a mile wide. Same routines.” Caesar kept it simple with Little Tony. The slightest weakness, lack of knowledge about the mark, and Little Tony would laugh in his face, level another ‘short’ dig, or wipe his feet on Caesar’s code of honor.

Little Tony pointed to the envelope.

“Everything’s there, including your money for Sunday’s job. Boss really liked your last hit, very smooth; eliminated a real problem child. So, he told me to pay you in advance and said to relax for a while. He’s sentimental about Christmas and the start of the New Year is quiet anyway. Besides, he’d like you to keep the decks clear in case he decides to wack Ruth Cassano. Now that would be a Holiday Special.”

Caesar stared, expressionless, blindsided.

Tony said, “Hey, I’m just busting your balls. She’s not down for house-cleaning.”

Caesar didn’t flinch even though his insides tumbled.

“C’mon,” Tony said, opening his arms wide, a moment of truth. “I’m only teasing ya. Everyone knows you had the hots for that witch. The best thing you ever did was stay away from that voodoo snatch. Hey, no firsthand experience, but the boss says she’s on fire down there.” Hand raised, ready for his oath, Tony added, “That’s what I hear–just sayin’.” He made a lopsided shrug. “Frank still likes her. I guess she helped him out with some personal matters, read his fortune, even warned his son might die soon.” He chuckled deeply, a lower register used for moments of wisdom. “Me, I’d never let that witch get anywhere near my joint.”

Caesar hadn’t known about Laconti’s affair with Ruth and now his anger was aimed at his lifelong boss, a downpour of rage, a West Palm Beach storm that clobbers you late afternoon.

Caesar nodded his head and even smiled a few times as they moved on to other topics. He decided Sunday’s hit would be his last. And just as swiftly, a plan surfaced. If Ruth had been privy to Laconti’s business she might be led to believe she was a target. Caesar decided to go after her. It felt right, like the perfect hit. He would bring Ruth terrible knowledge, but also her chance to be saved by the one man who had always loved her.

A short knock and Jeff popped his head in. “I need to make a deposit. Can you watch the store for a few? That couple left. The place is quiet.”

“Sure, and pick up some sandwiches for us,” Caesar said.

Once Jeff was gone, Little Tony rose slowly from his seat and towered over Caesar, leaning close, a wide smile cutting his face in half. Caesar always thought he looked goofy when he smiled like that.

“I gotta tell ya,” Tony said, “it’s now official–heard it on the news.” He yelled like someone winning the lottery–”Ceez, you’re short!” He laughed in spurts, a jagged bark that infuriated Caesar. “The average height in the good old US of A is now five-ten, anything less–like five-eight–is Mr. Short. You remember that song about short people?”

“Are you gonna finally buy something today?”

“I want something big, at least fifty-five inches. And it’s gotta be Panasonic.”

“In the back,” Caesar said. “We got some in this morning. Go take a look. I need to keep an eye on things.” Caesar hustled to the front door, locked it, and flipped the sign from “Open” to “Sorry, We’re Closed.” Returning to the counter, he pulled a smooth piece of rope from a side drawer, stuck it in his pocket and walked stiff with rage toward the stockroom. Barehanded, Tony was ripping open the end of a large box.

“Hey, Shorty, help me out here,” were Tony’s last words as Caesar pulled the rope from his pocket with the flourish of a magician and brought it over Little Tony’s head, crossing his hands, yanking mightily. With a shout he stomped the back of Tony’s leg sending him to the floor, shoving his knee against his back and strangling him. With his face twisted toward Caesar’s, Tony’s eyes seemed to grasp something important and then dimmed.

Caesar wondered if Little Tony heard his words of victory and scorn before he broke his neck for good measure. Later that night Caesar would return, retrieve the body, and feed Tony to the Everglades’ finest.

He felt no remorse for the killing, but felt bad that he had ignored Frank Laconti’s most sage advice from years ago: “Caesar, you have a job to do, do it well, be professional, and clean up after yourself. Don’t make it personal–like, ‘This’ll be easy, I hate this guy’s mug,’ or, even worse, ‘I feel sorry for this guy, he’s just a working stiff with a family.’”

The boss’s warning not to kill for personal reasons kept Caesar from murdering everyone around Ruth, including her husband, and claiming her as his own. Strengthening that attitude was a documentary he had caught late one night, a reenactment of some mad Indian–maybe an Eskimo–blasting away a woman’s entire family and then walking into the house and claiming her. “That lucky Indian lives in a very small world. Not possible in mine.”

Read the rest at Liberty Island here.

****

image via Liberty Island

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Turkey Legs Boned & Rolled Like Veal, Just as Tender but Tastier

Monday, December 22nd, 2014 - by Liberty Island

turkeylegs

Editor’s Note: Since March, PJ Lifestyle has been highlighting some of the most innovative fiction writers at the recently-launched new media publishing platform Liberty Island, featuring interviews and story excerpts. Click here to see our collection of 33 so far. To learn more check out this interview Sarah Hoyt conducted with CEO Adam Bellow: “It also has a unique mission: to serve as the platform and gathering-place for the new right-of-center counterculture.” Also see COO David S. Bernstein’s recent essay here in which he defines Liberty Island as, “an imaginative playground where brilliant and creative people can test their ideas without being harassed or threatened by the new breed of ‘community activists’ who police thought and speech in the media.” Also see Bellow’s cover story at National Review: “Let Your Right Brain Run Free.” 

Check out the Grand Prize Winner in the Holiday contest,  “The 1011000-100110110000011010011 Truce” by Thomas A. Mays,  excerpted here. And also the first Honorable mention: “Get the Greek – A Chrismukkah Tale

Here’s an excerpt from “Wild Turkey“:

“You won’t snooker me twice,” said Chili.

James Riggio gave his mouthful of Copper Bottom ale the attention it deserved before he swallowed and said, “I haven’t snookered you once.”

“Who owns the Hubbub Pub, you or me?” Before James could say word one, Chili bulled on. “And who has the recipe for Hubbub Chili, you or me?”

“Who owns the recipe,” James corrected. “You never even asked me for it until folks started calling you Chili. That’s when you decided you had hindsight squatter’s rights.”

He watched Chili in the mirror that lined the Pub’s long bar. Bone-thin, always moving–even now he polished an already gleaming bar as he complained. A rusty Fu Manchu mustache, hair to match, face almost as red. An added watch-your-step about him tonight. As though what he wanted from James had little to do with what he said.

“You even worked it the same,” Chili said. “Hauling in your damn wild turkey roasts last Christmas the same way you did that first vat of chili–two years ago?”

“About.” A few months after James had looked around Copper Falls, Montana, bagged his deer, tried out the ski hill, and decided to sink his savings into a big old house near Main Street he was restoring by inches, kitchen first. The house was zoned commercial, he could use it for Game Chef, his catering business. James delivered a vat of chili to the Pub Monday and Thursday year round. It paid almost half his mortgage.

“If your customers were satisfied,” he said, “what’s the problem?”

“This Wednesday is the damn problem. Christmas. Everybody knows why young’uns get the turkey legs, they got stronger teeth. Wild turkey is twice as tough. Your roasts–”

Turkey legs boned and rolled like veal, just as tender but–in James’ not so humble opinion–tastier: Chili made that sound like an insult.

James kept his mouth shut, except for sipping ale.

“You won’t snooker me twice,” Chili said again. “I want the recipe up-front, and it belongs to the Hubbub Pub.”

No way in hell would James share a recipe with Chili.

He said mildly, “We thrashed this out before hunting season, Chili. I said I’d show Seth what to do, but he couldn’t write it down. Why the trip down Memory Lane?”

Chili refilled James’ mug and pulled one for himself. A warning all by itself: Chili never drank in his own bar, even after closing.

This time he drained his mug–in swallows, not that fast–avoiding James’ eyes.

James studied him openly now, sipping his ale, running through possibilities. Only one fit.

“Merry hell,” said James. “Seth’s gone.”

Chili pulled himself another mug. “Bull’s-eye.”

“I thought the kitchen ran ragged tonight. You’re telling me Seth walked out on you the Sunday before Christmas? Who hired him away?”

Now that James had reached his real grievance, Chili seemed to go back to normal, turning his mug just to busy his hands.

“Near as I can make out, nobody,” he said. “Seth left here Friday night and hasn’t been seen since.”

As often as James saw Seth in the Hub’s kitchen, it should have been easy to picture him. It wasn’t. Flyaway dun-colored hair tamed by a bandana, gray eyes, stubble, a good half a head shorter than James. Quiet. A watcher. James couldn’t call anything else to mind.

“He didn’t strike me as the kind to walk away,” James said. “I’d never have trusted him with the turkey recipe.”

“Me, neither. Although I guess you wouldn’t know unless a guy, you know, walked away.”

“He live with his parents?” He could be young enough.

“Has a trailer up by the tracks.”

Once Copper Falls had been a railroad stop. Shabby trailers now filled the yards on either side of the abandoned tracks. Squatters.

“You checked?” James asked.

“Since I didn’t take it serious till the middle of lunch today–” Chili sighed. “I drove up about four. His truck wasn’t there. Nobody in his trailer.”

“Seth’s a grown man. The police wouldn’t be interested after only–what, a day and a half?”

“Why I didn’t bother them.”

“They’d just say he’ll turn up. They’re probably right.” James straightened to leave. “There’s always next year.”

Chili’s stare was unpleasant. “You don’t read the paper, James?”

In winter? Between hunting and cooking and skiing, even sleep was an afterthought.

Chili reached under the bar for a section of the Mirror, stared down at it, folded it. Presented it to James. A quarter-page ad. The top line read like always, The Hubbub at the Pub. This time the copy continued: Why cook on Christmas? Game Chef’s famous wild turkey roasts for Christmas dinner. Chef James Riggio guarantees the first hundred servings, after that you’ll have to fight for one.

“So if Seth don’t come back, you’re stuck, boyo,” Chili said with relish. “Same as me.”

“For Christ’s sake, Chili, I have my own customers. Seth is not my problem.”

Chili stabbed the paper with a forefinger. “Maybe you didn’t see where it saysJames Riggio?”

“You never even asked me.”

“This here is Saturday’s paper. It’s in this morning, too. I’m running it right up through Wednesday.”

Or lay there on the air. Redheads liked ultimatums and they didn’t like backing down. Unstable combination. James didn’t need a confrontation with his best customer.

“Worst comes to worst,” he said like surrender, “I might have a few roasts left over from my customers.”

“Worst comes to worst,” Chili said right back, “you cook them roasts in my kitchen, same as Seth would have.”

When James stared without answering, Chili added, “Lots of chili recipes out there, James.”

Not an or, then, an or else: cancel your business and tend to mine, or you’ll have a lot less business to tend.

James thought of his slowly lengthening list of regulars. Christmas would be his biggest day ever. By far. If he cancelled on them without warning, how many would come back? He thought of the Hubbub Pub, packed to the walls seven nights a week with noise to match. Most nights some of that noise was about James’ chili. Steady free good publicity for Game Chef. If the Pub had no wild turkey to serve Christmas Day, Chili would badmouth James every chance he got.

He thought of the Pub’s Seth-less kitchen.

“I’ll take door number three, Chili.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I’ll find Seth.”

Read the rest at Liberty Island here.

****
image illustration via Shutterstock / 

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Get the Greek – A Chrismukkah Tale

Sunday, December 21st, 2014 - by Liberty Island

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Yesterday featured an excerpt from the grand prize winner here.

Today check out the first runner-up with a smart fantasy approach to the angelic world:

Judah Maccabee spat a curse, reached out to slam the laptop shut, and threw both hands in the air instead. Rivka kept telling him it was a waste of time watching World Jews Tonight. Why do you want to raise your blood pressure with all that bad news, she would ask. Earth’s a billion miles away on a whole other plane of existence, for cat’s sake.

“Because it matters,” he grumbled in response to her imaginary carping. “I didn’t die watching my own guts spill out on the hills of Elasa so Jews could put up Hanukkah bushes in December. They might as well burn offerings to Apollo.”

Rivka called out from the kitchen, “Did you say something, dear?”

Shaking his head as much to clear it as deny he’d spoken, he replied, “Ah, no, honey. Just watching the news.”

“Well, dinner’s almost ready. Florence and Chaim’ll be here in five minutes.”

He fumbled around the surface of the desk, frowning. Where did I–

“Your sunglasses’re in the top right drawer,” Rivka supplied helpfully.

*

As Judah helped himself to another square of kugel, Rivka said, “So, Chaim, I hear you’re in for a promotion. Moving into, what did your uncle call it? Qantas tunnels? So you’ll be stopping plane crashes?”

“Quantum tunneling,” Chaim said with a smile. “I’ll be an assistant project manager on Heisenberg’s team.”

“Excuse me. Quantum tunneling.” Rivka winked at Judah, who had dipped his kugel into the last remnants of brisket gravy on his plate. “Why assistant? Shouldn’t you be a full manager by now?”

Chaim turned to smile at Florence. “I could, but then I’d have to go up the Ladder. Take on a new form. Florence and I talked about it, and I’d rather stay here for another century.”

Beaming quite literally, Florence squeezed Chaim’s arm. She taught souls in the Guf everything they needed to know before conception, and the joy of her work manifested itself in a glow that rivaled the Sun.

“Ach. Such lovebirds,” Rivka said, somewhat wistfully.

It occurred to Judah that in his life and youth, he might have given Rivka a mouth-bruising kiss at this point, something promising a night of lovemaking that would make Solomon himself add a Parental Advisory sticker to his Song of Songs had it been described therein. He still could; after all, they were both in youthful, beautiful bodies of spirit made flesh, and the way she’d bent over to take the brisket out of the oven had reminded him why he’d married her 1093 years ago.

But he was still so damned mad.

What in Sheol is happening down there? Is it the fat guy with the beard? A realHanukkah celebration would have a ceremonial Greek getting his head caved in with a hammer–

“What’s wrong, Judah? You’re a million miles away,” Rivka said.

“Sorry,” he muttered, put a fake smile on his face, and asked Chaim, “How did you celebrate Hanukkah? In your life. It’s getting to be that time of year down there.”

Grimacing thoughtfully, Chaim replied, “Well, I didn’t spend a lot of time alive, but from what I remember, we lit the menorah, ate latkes, and got presents every day for eight days. Water pistols, action figures, that kind of thing.” Something in Judah’s expression must have concerned him, because he added, quickly, “We said the brucha, of course, Uncle Judah. If you want, I can bring over the DVDs. Most of them are still in the packaging.”

Judah shook his head. Chaim was a nice kid, but he’d been part of the problem.

*

Rivka waited until the credits rolled on The Will & Oscar Comedy Hour to say, “So. Are you going to tell me what’s wrong, or are we playing Twenty Questions?” She put the TV on mute.

Judah started to shrug, thought better of it, and said, “Just the time of year. You know.”

“Ach. Every year we do this,” she said. “Does Mattathias brood every Hanukkah? No.”

Scowling, he leaned toward her in his Barcalounger and said, “Mattathias doesn’t care about what happens to our people anymore. He’s up in Tiferet somewhere making cat souls.”

“Exactly!” she exclaimed. “He’s moved on. Like you should.”

“So you want to go up the Ladder? Move out and start, I don’t know, as thought-forms in some crystal matrix in an antimatter galaxy? Or making cat souls with my brother?”

“It’s better than this…this sulking!” she flared.

God, she was beautiful, with her dark, angry eyes and her brown hands fisted in her lap. Without another word, he rose, pulled her into his arms, and carried her to the bedroom.

But it wasn’t as good as he’d hoped. His mind was still elsewhere.

*****

Read the rest at Liberty Island

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Who Won The Grand Prize in the Holiday Writing Contest?

Saturday, December 20th, 2014 - by Liberty Island

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Liberty Island has announced one grand prize winner, four runners up, and five honorable mentions in this year’s Holiday Writing Contest. They’ll each be excerpted here at PJ Lifestyle through the week.

Start your holidays with a bang. Here’s an excerpt from the Grand Prize Winner, check out “The 1011000-100110110000011010011 Truce” by Thomas A. Mays:

“Merry freakin’ Christmas, boys. It don’t get no better than this.” Staff Sergeant Malcolm Riddell glared at the snowy, broken battlefield before him and took another long pull from the glass bottle in his hand. The amber liquid within burned harshly going down, but that pleasant pain was a welcome distraction from the monotony the Keystone War had devolved into.

“Pardon, SSGT,” a nearby Jarhead buzzed, “recommend you return to the bunker immediately. Your exposure may constitute an acceptable target upon which the enemy can expend resources.” The vaguely humanoid robot remained prone with its weapon, squelched into the battlefield’s half-frozen mud, but it had oriented its stereoscopic targeting head toward him. Riddell figured that meant it “cared,” at least a little.

“Well, hell, I wouldn’t want to upset anybody’s combat calculus, would I?” He turned around and staggered back to the open hatch leading to his own deep shelter. At the utmost limit of his hearing he could perceive the growing whistle of artillery, so he staggered a bit faster. By the time he had both of the surface airlock’s hatches dogged and started down the ladder, the screaming whumps of exploding laser-guided shells shook his access trunk and tore apart the Canadian border soil of the ground overhead. He briefly wondered if the poor Jarhead model on watch would survive intact.

At the bottom of the trunk, deeper than even hyper-velocity orbital bombardment bunker busters could reach, a much more humanoid Elite command bot awaited him, surrounded by a baker’s dozen of the short, many-limbed Grunt models, tidying up where they could. His own slovenly state seemed to be gaining ground despite their best efforts, however. The Elite passed its unblinking nest of red and black eyes over their efforts and then focused on Riddell. “You should not take such needless chances, SSGT. Where would the war effort be if you perished?”

Riddell smiled. “I imagine the ‘war effort’ would suddenly have a large surplus of bad bourbon to go along with its slight decrease in personnel. Don’t imagine for a second that I’m vital to this fight, ‘Leet. I am the very definition of expendable, not that I’ll be expended any time soon given the current stalemate.”

“Combat operations are not permitted in complete autonomy. If you were to be killed, we would be barred from any offensive actions until a new human overseer reported on station. This would unacceptably give the Canadian drone forces a distinct tactical and strategic advantage through a reevaluation of the risk/resource balance.”

“Oh no! You mean you finally might start shooting at one another? What a terrible thing to happen in your shooting war.” Riddell’s sarcasm was deep enough that even the bot could appreciate it.

The Elite’s hard drive whirred for a moment in its chest before the bot responded. “SSGT, you have made your feelings regarding combat calculus and autonomous drone warfare well known. We need not rehash old arguments.”

“Ha! Like I have anything better to do!” His laugh contained little humor. Riddell plopped into a threadbare chair in front of his dusty operations console. “‘Leet, the whole reason everyone started using autonomous combat drones and bots was to shorten conflicts, reduce errors, and save lives when war could not be avoided. The problem is, you machines are completely beholden to this combat calculus, refusing to make a move or expend resources unless you perceive a decisive tactical advantage. And the other side does the exact same thing, with the end result being we’ve all maneuvered ourselves into a worldwide standoff, everyone poised for combat on a dozen different fronts, but nobody actually shooting unless somebody makes a mistake or shifts the calculus. Thus, I am stuck here, watching over fighting robots that DON’T FIGHT, instead of going home and ENJOYING CHRISTMAS!”

The Elite’s hard drive whirred even longer this time. “Please explain the operational significance of Christmas.”

Riddell laughed again, but at least his braying contained some actual humor this time. “Christmas has no operational significance, which is what makes it so significant. Let that one burn up your logic circuits.” The humor did not last, however. Bitterness returned and Riddell leaned forward, elbows on knees, his face in his hands.

He continued. “War is a terrible thing: achieving sociopolitical goals through the complicated process of killing the people who disagree with you until they concede your side of the argument. But there were moments of grace–distinctly human moments–that made it less awful. Christmas was one of those.” He looked up from his hands. “Did you know that back in World War One both sides actually stopped fighting for Christmas? They came out of their trenches and foxholes and celebrated the holiday together, exchanging gifts and uniforms, playing soccer. It was called the Christmas Truce. Look it up.”

Read the Rest at Liberty Island

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image illustration via Liberty Island

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Write a Messed-Up Holiday Short Story and Win Prizes

Friday, November 28th, 2014 - by Liberty Island

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Holiday-themed fiction has become sadly predictable: ‘Tis the Season for Santa, reindeer, and family reconciliation. Not that we don’t love tradition and feel-good endings; but it feels like it’s time for something a bit…different.

So for Liberty Island’s first annual Holiday Fiction Contest, we’re asking for you to surprise us. Pick your favorite genre–sci fi, fantasy, mystery, military, what have you–and, using the basic conventions of that genre, tell an interesting and compelling story with a Christmas or Chanukkah backdrop.

The best entries will be featured in Liberty Island’s end-of-the-year blockbuster release, and may be collected in a themed anthology in the future — so be sure to send us your best stuff. And something new: we’ll pick one overall best story and the winning author will receive a gift package of Liberty Island swag.

Entries are due Monday, December 8th. Length should be between 1,000 and 5,000 words. Email entries to to submissions@libertyislandmag.com; please put “Holiday Fiction Contest” in the subject line.

We look forward to reading a dozen stories about killer android reindeer!

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How To Join This Unique Team of 33 Creative Writers

Saturday, November 22nd, 2014 - by Liberty Island

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Editor’s Note: This is the ninth collection of interviews and story excerpts spotlighting some of the most innovative fiction writers at the recently-launched new media publishing platform Liberty Island. Please check out this interview Sarah Hoyt conducted with CEO Adam Bellow here to learn more: “It also has a unique mission: to serve as the platform and gathering-place for the new right-of-center counterculture.”

Also see COO David S. Bernstein’s recent essay here in which he defines Liberty Island as, “an imaginative playground where brilliant and creative people can test their ideas without being harassed or threatened by the new breed of ‘community activists’ who police thought and speech in the media.”  See Liberty Island’s writers also answer the question “What Is the New Counterculture?” Part 1: Michael Sheldon, Part 2: Stephen McDonald, and Part 3 with Roy “Griff” Griffis on “How To Speak Truth to Power and Stick It To the Man Today

Want to Join? Enter Liberty Island’s Non-Traditional Holiday Fiction Writing Contest

Click to jump to the author of your choice in this collection for interviews and story excerpts:

1. Mike Baron: Swimming in Scrooge’s Money Bin With Ayn Rand and Andrew Klavan

2. Steve Poling: Is Cthulhu Tastier Fried or Barbecued?

3. Will Collier: What If the Soviets Had Succeeded in Capturing a Supernatural Creature?

4. Ray Zacek: The Secret Knowledge Vs. A Lethal Elvis Cult in North Florida

5. Keith Korman: ‘I Have No Friends: I Make My Mind My Friend.

6. Abbey Clarke: A Demon’s Heart: Can Evil Incarnate Ever Find Salvation?

7. Jamie Wilson: A Gen-X Gandalf Mom Casting Thomas Sowell Spells

8. Clay Waters: ‘You Obviously Feel This Ocean Mythos Deep In Your DNA…’

9. Todd Seavey: ‘It Was Star Wars That Taught Me to Love Science, Fantasy, Music, and Capitalism Simultaneously’

10. Stephen McDonald: ‘Long-Term, I’d Like to Hire Others to Produce More Content Set in This Shared Universe…’

11. Pierre V. Comtois: Golfing on the Moon

12. Aaron Smith: ‘I Spell ‘Magicks’ With a ‘K’ to Both Confound Proofreaders and to Signify It’s Not a White-Bunny-Being-Pulled-Out-of-The-Hat Kind of Magic.’

13. Ken Lizzi: A Pulp Writer Disguised as a Lawyer Embedded in the People’s Republic of Portland

14. Ted Elrick: ‘When a Guy’s Got That Kind of Control, You Gotta Admire It.’

15. Frank J. Fleming: Who Murdered the Dinosaurs?

16. R.K. Delka: ‘I’m the Constitution, Dammit!’

17. Kurt Duncan: ‘It’s All Compulsion-To-Create Via Mathematics and Engineering. Fun Stuff.’

18. Roy Griffis: ‘An Antidote to the Nihilistic Crap That Is Being Peddled’

19. David Churchill Barrow: ‘The Smoking, Dirty, Jagged Line of Rocks on that Ridge Seemed to Mock God Himself…’

20. Michael Sheldon: What Could Be Better Than Fresh Apricots?

21. Sabrina Chase: Women Can Be Mad Scientists Too

22. Paul Clayton: ‘I Think These 3 Works Should Be Required Reading For All Young Americans…’

23. Erich Forschler: The Road Might Be His Best Work, But My Favorite is No Country for Old Men.’

24. Tom Weiss: In the Ashes: A War Screenplay

25. Karina Fabian: ‘No Woman of Mine is Going to Work! Your Job is to Stay Home, Cook My Dinner and Have my Babies!’

26. Anne Eckart: How to Apply to MFA Programs

27. Mark Ellis: ‘Scarf Intercepts an Imperious Beagle Who Wanders Close’

28. Carol Kean: ‘Comrade Cruise will Cure Your Blues! And Teach You a Vital Thing or Two!’

29. Joseph Magrisso: ‘But in the Movie it Said if You Rub the Lamp a Genie Comes Out…’

30. S.D. Tortorice ‘A Good Video Game Sparks my Imagination in the Same Fashion as a Good Book.’

31. New Novel Released Today: Wreathed By Curtis Edmonds

32. Audie Cockings: ‘Can You Call In Something to Help With Her Pain?’

33. Leigh Kimmel: The Angry Astronaut Affair

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The Angry Astronaut Affair

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014 - by Liberty Island

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Editor’s Note: Since March, PJ Lifestyle has been highlighting some of the most innovative fiction writers at the recently-launched new media publishing platform Liberty Island, featuring interviews and story excerpts. Click here to see our collection of 27 so far. To learn more check out this interview Sarah Hoyt conducted with CEO Adam Bellow: “It also has a unique mission: to serve as the platform and gathering-place for the new right-of-center counterculture.” Also see COO David S. Bernstein’s recent essay here in which he defines Liberty Island as, “an imaginative playground where brilliant and creative people can test their ideas without being harassed or threatened by the new breed of ‘community activists’ who police thought and speech in the media.” Also see Bellow’s cover story at National Review: “Let Your Right Brain Run Free.” 

See Liberty Island’s new contest: Enter Liberty Island’s Non-Traditional Holiday Fiction Writing Contest

Check out this new release at Liberty Island:

By the time Reginald Waite returned home, the darkness of night covered the Houston metropolitan area, a perfect close for a perfectly rotten day. It was supposed to be a routine trip to Pasadena to discuss the specifics of a new model of satellite Antares was taking up next month, but he’d no more than started preflight checks on his T-38 Talon when he started finding maintenance errors. By the time he got everything corrected and in the air, he was running late enough that he’d had to use every trick to eke enough speed out of the plane to arrive on time.

Ten minutes after he walked through the door at JPL, some idiot made a crack about Shepard clones always being hot to trot in more ways than one. God, but he’d wanted to punch that jerk, and wouldn’t that be a scene, a scheduled shuttle commander decking an engineer. It’d be as bad as the Great Astronaut Catfight a couple of years ago, when Melinda Bates came home after a six-month hitch at Luna Station to discover this little payload specialist hooking up with her husband and had driven cross-country to confront the Other Woman.

No, it’d be worse, thanks to a certain former senator pulling in all his markers to get one of his own clones installed as NASA Administrator. No way could Aiden McAllister look the other way about a disciplinary infraction by a clone of the man his own ur-brother had condemned as insubordinate, insouciant and immoral.

It had taken all the discipline of a career naval aviator to force the anger aside enough to get business done and fly back to Ellington. Now Reggie was finally home, sitting at his own computer, and he could let that icy wall of control melt away. Go on the Lovecraft Country game and burn off his anger dispelling shoggoths and Cthulhu-spawn, imagine they were everyone at JPL that he’d overheard making snarky remarks about clones taking over the astronaut corps.

As he woke his computer, he noticed that the forum window was in front of the gameplay window. A new post caught his attention:

From: Weeping_Willow

Subj: My Culture is NOT Your Cool Character

Date: Wednesday, January 14, 2009, 1508 MST (GMT+7) 

I don’t want to get into identity policing, but it really bothers me to see Native American characters being played by people who are obviously white. The sheer level of ignorance being displayed is offensive, especially when you consider what your ancestors did to us. You ought to be ashamed of yourselves. Show some respect and keep your games to your own cultures.

Reggie could feel his blood pressure rising, just like back at JPL. Except this time he didn’t have to take it in silence, not now that he was using his own Internet connection, his own computer, and a screen name that would disconnect his online persona from his official identity as an astronaut.

From: Major_Tom

Subj: Re: My Culture Is NOT Your Cool Character

Date: Thursday, January 15, 2009, 2249 CST(GMT+6)

I get sick and tired of this “your ancestors did my ancestors wrong, so you owe me” song and dance. That’s just a license for perpetual bellyaching instead of actually solving the problems you’re having. I’m not responsible for my ur-brother’s failings, and I share 100% of my nuclear DNA with him, so neither are Naturals who only have a fraction of any given forebears’ genes.

Most people around here play to get away from our daily lives, not extend them into gamespace. When I first started playing I created a white male character. He was even an astronaut, although he was based more on Scott Carpenter than my actual ur-brother. Man, did that got old fast — I felt like I was working all day and coming home to work some more. So I created a new character who was completely different — not because I wanted to diss your culture, but because I want to have a game life that doesn’t remind me of my real one of hand-me-down genes and the reputation of a man a decade dead that follows me everywhere I go.

Reggie became acutely aware of moonlight shining into the room. The Moon was a few days past opposition, enough that the terminator had moved beyond Mare Tranquillitatis and the landing lights of Slayton Field blazed bright as an impossible star.

Good God, but he wished he were back up there, where your competence was the only thing that mattered, not who you were a clone of or who your ancestors were. But no, as long as the third-generation orbiters were new he was stuck on shuttle duty, up to Freedom Station and back down, no further. He’d even gone to the Chief Astronaut, saying, “Shelly, can’t you get me back to the Moon?” Michelle Grimwald had told him until those problems were resolved, NASA needed him here.

Might as well play Jerry Ironeagle until he wound down enough to get to sleep. Tomorrow he had meetings and he didn’t want the flight directors to think he wasn’t up to the job.

*

The meetings turned out better than Reggie had expected. But at Johnson Space Center anybody who couldn’t deal with clones didn’t last very long.

No, they head out west to hang out with all the other soreheads.

So he was in a markedly better mood when he got home that evening, more inclined to hang out with some of the other Lovecraft Country players instead of splatting eldritch nasties into thin sheets of slime. It’d be almost as fun as late-night bull sessions with his fellow lander pilots at the Roosa Barracks back on Slayton Field, or weekend liberties in Grissom City. God, I wish I were back up there.

Might as well wish Trofim Lysenko had outmaneuvered Andrei Zhdanov and killed Soviet genetics in its cradle so that human cloning would proceed slowly and publicly instead of in super-secret Cold War projects, without oversight or restraint on either side of the former Iron Curtain. Secrets that became all too public when the Soviet Union imploded in the 80′s and President Reagan went on national TV to announce that yes, the US had its own cloning program as well.

Reggie had no more than gotten online when he found a private message from a friend, Stephanie Roderick, screen name Sailor_Yuggoth: Looks like you’ve kicked a hornets’ nest down in the forum.

Steffi was right. In a single day he’d gotten over fifty responses, variations on the theme of You’re Rude and Need to Apologize, adorned with the politically correct jargon he’d had to endure at that sensitivity training workshop NASA had required everybody attend a few months ago.

OK, you want an apology so damn bad, I’ll give you one. I hope you choke on it.

From: Major_Tom

Subj: Re: My Culture Is NOT Your Cool Character

Date: Thursday, January 15, 2009, 1922 CST(GMT+6)

Sorry if I’ve hurt your feelings. I’ll admit it was a mistake posting when I was still steamed after a very bad visit to JPL, but this stuff hit some sore spots of mine that got rubbed real tender.

Still, some people need to lighten up. I don’t go bitching about how most of the people playing astronaut characters must’ve learned their astrodynamics out of a bad movie, and don’t know Max Q from Solar Max, or translunar injection from orbital insertion. It’s not like they’re going to auger in an actual spacecraft and get people killed, so I just stay away from where they’re playing. That way we all have fun.

Continue Reading at Liberty Island

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image via Liberty Island

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Enter Liberty Island’s Non-Traditional Holiday Fiction Writing Contest

Friday, November 14th, 2014 - by Liberty Island

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Holiday-themed fiction has become sadly predictable: ‘Tis the Season for Santa, reindeer, and family reconciliation. Not that we don’t love tradition and feel-good endings; but it feels like it’s time for something a bit…different.

So for Liberty Island’s first annual Holiday Fiction Contest, we’re asking for you to surprise us. Pick your favorite genre–sci fi, fantasy, mystery, military, what have you–and, using the basic conventions of that genre, tell an interesting and compelling story with a Christmas or Chanukkah backdrop.

The best entries will be featured in Liberty Island’s end-of-the-year blockbuster release, and may be collected in a themed anthology in the future — so be sure to send us your best stuff. And something new: we’ll pick one overall best story and the winning author will receive a gift package of Liberty Island swag.

Entries are due Monday, December 8th. Length should be between 1,000 and 5,000 words. Email entries to to submissions@libertyislandmag.com; please put “Holiday Fiction Contest” in the subject line.

We look forward to reading a dozen stories about killer android reindeer!

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4 New Short Stories for Veterans Day

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014 - by Liberty Island

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Here’s the beginning of “Armistice Day

Thirty-eight year old Col. Tyler Stowell surveyed the dry grass of the springtime Kansas plain in his 50X field glasses. The plain stretched forever but for clumps of still-barren trees visible now and then in the long distance. He could see the tan Fascist tanks and troop trucks two miles away sheltered among the unfinished skeletons of suburban houses in the section outside Wichita. The cease-fire had been arranged through the MSM and local news outlets. The Fascist convoy had arrived this morning.

Stowell and his regiment had arrived yesterday afternoon.

“You see them, Colonel?” asked Stowell’s aid, Captain Munoz.

“Just the same ones; no more.”

“You think it’s a trap, sir?” That was the hip phrase ever since the Fascists asked for the truce; everyone held suspect anything the Fascists said.

That’s what they do–hit you with your guard down.

“Of course it’s a trap. If a Socialist’s lips are moving–” Stowell didn’t bother to finish. He’d made the point. Every citizen and soldier knew how it ended.

So far, over thirty-one million people killed. In all the battles and skirmishes and vendettas across the country. Not including the Second Flu Pandemic. Reports said five million died on the Socialist side. The American side barely felt it. The Fascist vendettas were the most violent and bloody. Tommy Evans had gathered up all the millionaires, even the ones that donated to the Party, and murdered them. Taking all their money for himself. It was just like “The Battle for Spain” that all the troops were reading. Whenever the Socialist Fascists declared “peace”, or disarmed the public, they went on a murder spree. Rumors and snippets of intel said that it was the old Occupy Wall Street goons doing it. So, the unlucky idiots in the Red States had paid a high price for being duped.

Thirty-one million murdered and the economy wrecked in the Red States.

No wonder they wanted a truce.

The Blue States, the American states, were doing rather well economically, with their tax rates cut well below Singapore levels to attract international business. The Reds could plainly see all that. They had to destroy the comparison. Tyranny never looked good standing next to freedom. Tyler couldn’t help but think that was the driving reason behind them wanting a truce.

To go back to the same old shit they did before. Sending their tentacles into the Blue States and Blue Cities, poisoning the youth all over again.

Just like in the old days when the MSM called the American states the Red States, until the American states said, “No, we’re the Blue States.”

The long-range cancer plan.

What would the future hold?

What land would Audrey and Quentin grow up in?

“If all our men are in place, Munoz, call ‘em up and let’s get this party started.”

“Yes, sir.” Munoz dialed the number Command Kans-O-Neb had given them. The Fascists had wanted to set this truce meeting for the Northern Prairie at a location just outside of Chicago, which the Fascists had held fairly well now for all of the past four years of the war. At first, Command had been suspicious. The Blues had learned the history of Socialism-Communism that the MSM and the schools had hidden from the kids for over sixty years, and they had seen over the past decade and the Civil War how the Reds would say any lie that popped into their heads, or was crafted by their top brass, to get you to drop your guard, to relax you, while they went on creeping their war plans and sneak attack. In war, just as in politics and media. They probably didn’t think they had a chance at assassinating Braham or others at Command. But why not roll the dice? The way the Civil War was going at this point, a truce could only help them in their “Revolution”. The Chicago call was more likely just intimidation.

“We’re ready to roll, sir.”

“Let’s go see what bullcrap they have to say.”

Which Tyler just didn’t understand. How was that supposed to work? At this late point in the Civil War? The Fascists weren’t fooling anyone.

Almost an hour later, eight heavy trucks with the canvas tops stripped back drove down the unpaved light dirt road toward the outpost. Their heavy chevron-patterned tires pulled up brown-white dust that glared in the sun. The canvas tops were yanked down on the trucks, as agreed, so no machine weapons could be hidden under them. The Fascists had told Command that they would be the first to arrive at the outpost.

The three lead trucks roared up to the outpost where Stowell, Munoz and Reicherstown waited for them outside the big field tent. Tyler surveyed the people in the cab of each of the three trucks. A guy he picked out as the general for the Fascists was high in the cab of the last truck. He had a civilian with him, besides the driver. The second to last truck had more guys that had the arrogant air of Socialist brass and One Percenters. The lorries rolled up, lifting silt dust into the drought-blue Kansas sky. The general stood up in the open truck door, appraising Tyler as he did so, then climbed down to the ground where his aide-de-camp met him, carrying a satchel maybe filled with papers for the ceasefire. The three Fascist civilians, another officer, and the general approached with a stiff, angry air. After a pause, the general almost made as if to alter his posture to reach forward for a handshake, then thought better of it.

They don’t think we’re human, after all.

Tyler wished he had. The man probably knew better.

“You were supposed to wait until after we got here,” the general said sternly.

Tyler shrugged. “I was never much for following Socialist demands.”

Read the Rest at Liberty Island

And check out three more new stories:

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image via Liberty Island

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‘How Could They Have Seen Me? I Am Well Concealed. Did They Smell Me?’

Monday, November 10th, 2014 - by Liberty Island

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Here’s the beginning of the third story in a collection of war stories. (See the first and second here and and here.)

February 1943 Journal entry: The sound of agitated parrots screeching from the jungle below startles me to a wide-eyed awakening. The morning sun is just above the horizon. I pause for a moment to get re-oriented to the surroundings that have been home for the last six months. Living on top of a mountain in the Solomon Islands may seem like paradise, but in these times, I must live like a reptile, below detection, going about my business, which is also the business of Her Majesty.

My vigil is on a tiny island of the Solomons known as “the Slot.” This island makes for the perfect ammunitions and refueling depot for the enemy, which also makes it the perfect outpost to warn the allies of the approaching enemy fleet.

My camp is high on an overgrown plateau, two miles from the bay. Each day I trek along a ridge where I can look northward, out over the south pacific. If an advance comes, it will come from out there, from the north, from Japan.

I travel light, and as far as I know, never leave a trace. I always take a slightly different route so as not to create a path. I also stage my movements to avoid a Zero who flies over on a routine patrol four times a day. As dangerous as this is and as insect-infested and uncomfortable as it is, I much prefer it to the desk job back in Auckland, where the pests are of the two-legged variety. Here I can make a difference.

There is one pest, however, who was always welcome at my desk: Kathleen O’Hara. She has crystal blue eyes, auburn hair, a face-load of freckles, and her uniform is always pressed to perfection. Oh Kathleen, if you were only here now, we would not get a darn thing done for the war effort. On the other hand, if you were here, I would worry.

But now, I need to investigate those parrots; parrots don’t just go loudly flying about the forest without being disturbed by something or someone. They are better watchdogs than watchdogs.

My camp is accessible only by scaling a vertical wall of rock. When I go out on patrol, I leave a knotted rope hanging over the edge; neatly tucked it into a crevice. The rope makes my return climb easier.

Down on my chest, I crawl to the edge of the drop-off, lie low, and peer over the edge. I look for movement and listen for the singsong of Japanese voices.

My best defense is camouflage. I have not had a real fire for weeks. To keep smoke down, I do all my cooking in a tin over a kerosene lamp and stay well sheltered under the cover of dense foliage where it is not possible for me even to stand. Still, you can never tell what a Zero passing overhead might see.

I would never be able to hold off a full-fledged assault if they discover my location. My carbine, grenades and a few well placed booby-traps would only tend to make them more vengeful if and when they did overtake me.

Well, I do have another weapon, a cyanide capsule. Actually, it was more of an order than a weapon. I keep it as close as my carbine. I figure I’ll take out as many of them as I can, set off the booby-traps, then take the pill.

Hello! Something is moving through the palmettos and along the ledge just below.

I pull some fallen palm fronds over my head and leave just enough opening to see out. Suddenly, I hear that approaching Zero, off schedule. It passes over, low and banking. Confirmation: a search party is on the prowl. They’re onto me.

How could they have seen me? I am well concealed. Did they smell me?

I don’t have the luxury of bathing often; they, on the other hand, are obsessed with it. Every evening they go to a makeshift bathhouse in their camp. They marinate themselves inside and out, all in the same effort. They are either clean or drunk or both half the time. That will change when the lads of 3-Divisionland on the south side of this rock.

It doesn’t matter though, if I am fragrance-free or not; something has stirred them up and they are going to keep searching until they find something.

Maybe HQ will call me in, now that I am compromised.

My only escape from the island is by way of one of the Yank subs in the area. I don’t know exactly where they are, but I have seen three Japanese transports explode as they approach the island.

It must be the Yanks out there stirring things up; that’s gotta be why Tojo is searching now. If I can make it through this day, I will radio for help tonight while the Japs are busy with their compulsive bathing.

What was that?

Something just came up hard against my foot. This is it, Jesus save me and God, save the Queen.

Read the Rest at Liberty Island….

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Blessed Are the Peacemakers

Sunday, November 9th, 2014 - by Liberty Island

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Here’s an excerpt from “Blessed Are the Peacemakers.” Also check out the new Liberty Island story featured on Friday, “Woody” by Audie Cockings, excerpted here.

Clack-CLACK, Clack-CLACK… The corporal lifted the bolt of his rifle, pulled it back, then pushed it forward and down again, ejecting the empty casing and putting another round in the chamber. This is too easy… he thought, as he scanned the top of the trench works about twenty five yards away for another German helmet to pop up. Was God testing him? Was he doing His will, or failing the test? He hadn’t really meant to be exactly where he was, doing what he was doing; it just sorta happened. “Thou shalt not kill…” his mind whispered every few minutes, and he couldn’t stop it. Another helmet came up on his right; he sighted and squeezed the trigger. He heard the death grunt, saw the blood vapor, and heard that high pitched foreign yelling from the other men. He didn’t know what they were yelling, but they was powerful scared.

Clack-CLACK, Clack-CLACK… He thought about exactly where he was; lying prone, where he could clearly see all the trenches and the pits for about a dozen machine guns, all chattering away. But they had to keep looking over the top to get the drop on him; and they couldn’t just start spraying them guns every which way, else they’d get some of the prisoners he and the boys had just captured right before all this shooting started that were behind him on his right. What made him land just here in this perfect spot when everybody that wasn’t hit took cover? He didn’t rightly know. He saw another part of a helmet and one eye appear on the side of a sandbag next to one of the guns… and again he squeezed the trigger.

Clack-CLACK, Clack-CLACK… He looked for a second at the rifle breach just ahead of the bolt that was getting too hot to touch with a bare hand. “U.S. Model of 1917 Eddystone” it read. He never did figure who, what or where Eddystone was, but it was a right smart rifle. Much better than the .303 Lee-Enfield he had for a while when they was training with the British after they got to Le Havre. The .30-06 bullet had more punch, and the longer barrel meant better accuracy. It wasn’t nothin’ like the homemade muzzle-loaders back home, but he got good with it right quick back at Camp Gordon, so they asked him to help out some of the city boys with their shootin’. He’d have felt pretty poorly about himself if he hadn’t – shootin’ was about the only thing he could do that he was right proud of, even though pride could be a sin. Some of the boys complained the rifle was too heavy – about eleven pounds with the strap, kit, bayonet and all. But he was a big fella, and being heavy like that meant the rifle didn’t kick so much. He stroked the smooth wood encasing the barrel with his callused hand, licked his thumb to wet the far site to cut down on the haze, spotted a target, and fired. Another poor German boy was sent to his maker.

Continue Reading at Liberty Island

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image via Liberty Island

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‘Can You Call In Something to Help With Her Pain?’

Friday, November 7th, 2014 - by Liberty Island

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Here’s an excerpt from the debut story by Audie Cockings, the author of Little Red Rider, a fiction thriller available on Amazon. She holds a Master’s Degree in Adulthood and Aging with an emphasis in Health Care Administration and has been published previously in health care.

Woody couldn’t sleep. “Damn eye drops,” he thought. The clinic nurse said the eye drops would help his glaucoma but that beta blockers sometimes have noticeable side effects–like sleep apnea. Woody remembered putting the eye drops back in the fridge after his Hungry Man dinner, but didn’t actually recall administering them.

Woody’s a retired Marine. And like other honed soldiers, shut-eye came as soon as he shut his eyes. The crazy shit that came after his eyes shut is another matter, but initially getting to sleep was never an issue for him. Woody got to sleep just fine, medicines or not, until last month. He just couldn’t sleep well without her. At eighty-two, Woody’s calm had left him.

He yawned as he rubbed his palm over the closely shorn hair of his youth. Despite his age, Woody’s flat top was thick and taut, his deep brunette hair now bunatti gray.

Naomi’s face was the most beautiful he’d laid eyes on. Not the sallow bearing she left behind. He first spied her bewitching profile illuminated in the light of the film screen. She was a peculiar beauty, one that warranted his full attention. Woody looked away when she first caught his gaze, but by intermission he’d managed to muster up enough stones to shoot her an all-out brazen stare. One to make her know that he meant business.

She had a natural look to her. Not all that Marilyn Monroe bleach blonde, heavy eyeliner, and red lips that the other girls imitated. Naomi’s beauty was subtle and her sweetness appealed to the young man who had boxes full of distant girls on paper at the barracks. Woody desired a nice girl. One that he might actually touch.

Naomi was petite. Short wavy cinnamon hair, blue eyes with flecks of gray, a freckled nose, and a full pout. Perfection. He watched her gloved fingers curl around that tub of popcorn as if it were Lana Turner doing a strip tease. Woody had waited months for High Noon to get to his neighborhood theatre, yet his eyes were fixed on the girl across the aisle and three seats down.

*

He closed his eyes and quietly moved his arm under the sheets to her side of the bed. He imagined scooping her up around the waist and pulling her in closer. It was routine after fifty-five years together. She’d laugh and push him away, then change her mind and giggle after a little convincing.

His arm twitched. Protesting its emptiness. Every part of him missed her.

He opened his eyes to inspect her pillow. A perfect rectangle. It hadn’t been touched except for a laundering every Tuesday, just as she would have done if she were still alive. The linens remained as crisply ironed as the day Naomi went to the hospital and didn’t come home.

She shared Woody’s disciplined nature. Their home was immaculate, even with her stage four cancer. But when evening came that day she was different. Pained and seemingly feeble. Her words came slowly and she shuffled about the house nervously, unlike the strong seasoned wife of a decorated Marine.

Her heightened confusion agonized him. The capable woman he loved had been broken down little by little, in increments that only he would notice. Her smile, from one of joy to one of consolation. She was embarrassed to need him so much. The medicines keeping her body from relentless pain were causing her to forget. Her faculties were slipping and she knew it.

That evening it took Naomi several minutes to ease into her nightgown and into bed. Woody sat down beside her and tucked an unruly curl behind her ear, then kissed her gently. He stroked her cheek until her breathing softened. When she nodded off, he picked up the bedside phone.

Upon hearing the receiver, her eyes opened. “Don’t call,” she asked in a childlike voice.

“Mimi, honey, it’s been a bad day. I’m worried.”

“I’m fine. Just tired, Chief. Tomorrow will be better.”

“Can you feel it?”

“Just a little,” she replied. But her admitting to it upset him. The woman never complained about anything. Maybe they could give her something stronger this time. He bowed his head and pleaded for less pain and more time for his bride.

Woody called the Medicare Emergency Hotline. He was transferred to a physician. He voiced his concerns then asked, “Can you call in something to help with her pain?”

“I’m sorry, but I can’t call in narcotics. She’ll need to go to the nearest hospital.”

Woody confirmed their address with the national ambulance service as Naomi slowly got back out of bed and redressed. She couldn’t stand the thought of the ambulance staff seeing her in a nightgown. She then headed to the kitchen, picked up a sponge and spray bottle full of diluted vinegar and looked for something to clean. She didn’t want the EMT to think that she had an untidy home.

Woody asked his wife to sit down and relax, knowing full well that she considered sitting down in idleness a complete waste of time.

From the front bay window they watched the ambulance kick up dirt in the drive. Naomi and Woody looked at each other as they had many years prior. The look of a loving couple who would be separated. The same uncertain gaze they shared when his plane left for multiple tours abroad. Woody was barely twenty when he signed up. No one in town knew what Woody had accomplished in his years of service. Naomi was his last living confidant, and she would never tell.

Read the Rest at Liberty Island…

****

image via Liberty Island

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New Novel Released Today: Wreathed By Curtis Edmonds

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014 - by Liberty Island

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Wreathed by Curtis Edmonds available on Kindle and paperback

1. Who are some of your favorite writers, books, movies, and intellectual influences?

The novels of Larry McMurtry have been a huge influence on me. McMurtry was born in Archer City, Texas, and I must have passed through Archer City a thousand times over the years, going back and forth to my grandparents’ house in Wichita Falls in the back seat of my dad’s old Chevy. I picked up Lonesome Dove on the recommendation of my high-school English teacher, and my paperback copy disintegrated a long time ago from re-reading. McMurtry’s cowboys aren’t stainless heroes–they’re low characters, for the most part, but they are capable of great things when the need arises.

Lonesome Dove and its sequels made McMurtry’s reputation, but my favorite of his novels is a little-known gem called Some Can Whistle, about a depressive Texan sitcom writer living in a giant house on the outskirts of Wichita Falls and slowly deteriorating. He is forced into reconnecting to the world around him when his estranged daughter calls him out of the blue one fine day. (I would later steal this scene for the first chapter of my debut novel, Rain on Your Wedding Day.) Some Can Whistle is about what McMurtry calls the “war of life,” and it’s a war with significant casualties.

My reading tastes tend to go in several different directions at once. I will go through phases where I’m reading a lot of genre fiction; I’m in one of those now. I started reading the Lois McMaster Bujold sci-fi Vorkosigan novels last year, and I speed-read through Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files last summer. I will probably circle back to historical fiction at some point (there’s a new Bernard Cromwell book coming out this fall) and if I ever get some extra bonus reading time, maybe some real history. (I have had the book by Winston Groom about Vicksburg sitting on my nightstand for at least a year and a half and haven’t picked it up, for which I am embarrassed.)

2. How do you describe yourself ideologically?

I am a Texan, and a conservative largely because conservatism aligns with Texas values – strength, independence, faith, and courage. America is still a strong country, and still independent–but it’s clear that faith is on the decline, and (at least in a political sense) so is courage.That’s what drew me, ideologically, to Phil Gramm, who left the Democratic Party, resigned from the House, and ran again as a Republican and won under the slogan, “Common Sense, Uncommon Courage.”

When I was in college, I was lucky enough to intern for Senator Gramm, in his Dallas office. I went back to work for him for a semester in law school, and once I got out of law school I went to work for Senator Gramm full-time. I was working in his office during his disastrous 1996 Presidential campaign, and I think the Republic is much worse off for Phil Gramm never having been President.

I’ve attached a video where Senator Gramm spoke recently to the Texas Public Policy Foundation — it’s a bit long, but it’s worth your time to hear it. Senator Gramm says that courage is contagious, and I wish that were more true than it appears to be these days. Anyway, take a listen and ask yourself what might have happened if, say, Mitt Romney had the courage to say some of the things that Senator Gramm says here about Obamacare.

3. Which thinkers/commentators have influenced you?

When I was more involved and interested in politics than I am now, I used to watch The McLaughlin Group, mostly because it was on TV right before the NFL pregame shows started. (McLaughlin is now 87, and still doing the show, and good for him.) You could watch a solid week of The McLaughlin Group from pretty much any era and not find a single original thought. That’s not a criticism, really. What commentators do is mostly entertainment. Thinking would ruin it.

So what I try to do is focus on commentators who at least try to think. Glenn Reynolds is a must-read for me every day, as he is for so many people. Sean Trende combines analytics with analysis in a way that I’d like to see more of in conservative opinion pieces. And I always try to read Ramesh Ponnuru, because I met him once at a bar in Washington, and he’d had a few too many beers, and I ended up driving him home, and he was nice enough not to throw up in my car. True story.

4. What are your writing goals?

This is going to sound weird, and I can’t help that, but my main goal as a writer is modesty. This does not, granted, sound like a very high goal, until you consider that the default setting for most self-published authors is obscurity. Modesty is something of a step up from that.

I’ve got a new novel coming out today, called Wreathed, and it’s funny and sharp and you should read it. But I am not going to tell you that it’s going to revolutionize world literature, or that it’s going to vault me to literary celebrity, because neither of these things are true. I am hopeful that people find it and read it, but the only recognition I am probably going to get is if my wife’s uncle says something nice about it at Passover next year.

You have to promote yourself as a self-published author, because no one will do it for you. “He who tooteth not his own horn, the same shall not be tooted,” Damon Runyan said, and he was right. But it’s important not to lose sight of what your place is in the publishing universe, which is sort of like serfdom, without all the manual labor and disfiguring facial growths. It’s important to keep things in perspective.

5. Where can people find/follow you online?

I do Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/blueduck – and Twitter at @Curtis_Edmonds – please take note of the underscore, because if you leave it out you get some cross-eyed slacker in rural Michigan who has the same name as me. All my short fiction and book reviews are collected at my non-award-winning website, curtisedmonds.com.

6. What’s your craziest hobby/pastime/interest?

I am the world’s leading expert on such diverse topics as depressing country songs, peach cobbler, PowerPoint, and what to do when you find out your wife is going to have twins.

*****

Also Check Out “Making A Difference: The Diary of Justin Trudeau-Fairchild, Intern” about an overly idealistic and naive liberal intern. Week One is here.

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‘A Good Video Game Sparks my Imagination in the Same Fashion as a Good Book.’

Thursday, September 25th, 2014 - by Liberty Island

Editor’s Note: Since March, PJ Lifestyle has been highlighting some of the most innovative fiction writers at the recently-launched new media publishing platform Liberty Island, featuring interviews and story excerpts. Click here to see our collection of 27 so far. To learn more check out this interview Sarah Hoyt conducted with CEO Adam Bellow: “It also has a unique mission: to serve as the platform and gathering-place for the new right-of-center counterculture.” Also see COO David S. Bernstein’s recent essay here in which he defines Liberty Island as, “an imaginative playground where brilliant and creative people can test their ideas without being harassed or threatened by the new breed of ‘community activists’ who police thought and speech in the media.” Also see Bellow’s cover story at National Review: “Let Your Right Brain Run Free.” 

Who are some of your favorite writers, books, movies, and intellectual influences?

I always find it difficult to come up with a list of my favorite anything because I am very much a man of “feasts and seasons.” One day I will find myself raving about a certain book or movie, and the next day I am off in a completely different direction.  I don’t know what that precisely says about me, but there you go.  However, having said that, there are certain constants in my entertainment life.  For movies, I would have to say the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings trilogy is definitely near the topFrankly, this surprises me because I never was much of a fan of the fantasy genre (until I saw this movie franchise, anyway!), and I certainly wasn’t a “ringer”. However, after watching the first movie, The Fellowship of the Ring, I completely fell in love with Tolkien’s vision as had so many others before me.  It is just a wonderful tale about faith, friendship, and the importance of perseverance during difficult times. So that is definitely near that top.  Second, I guess would be the masterful war movie, Gettysburg.  In many ways, Gettysburg truly delivered on the idea that the American Civil War was “America’s Illiad.”  It is a suitably larger than life, sweeping, and almost mythical account of the most pivotal battle in that conflict, with the key historical figures wonderfully realized by their respective actors (most notably Tom Berenger, Jeff Daniels, and Martin Sheen).  It also helped that my family and I just happened to visit the actual battlefield a mere week or two after shooting for the film had wrapped up!

Lastly, I would have to say I always enjoy the dark science fiction of Ridley Scott, particularly his two masterpieces: Alien and Blade Runner. In this day and age of theaters being filled with farcical science fiction, both movies are reminders that the genre can provide a mature, sober experience as well.

As for books – wow, that would be a long list.  I don’t really stick with any one writer anymore; the world of e-publishing has so opened the literary world that there isn’t time to just stick with one author or series when so many others are out there deserving of equal attention (Liberty Island is proof of that!).  Having said that, I do have ever increasing respect for the great works of mankind, be it the Bible (I prefer the Douay-Rheims translation), or the great philosophical and theological works like Plato’s The Republic, or Augustine’s City of God (currently slugging my way through the latter!).  Of course, I am always on the hunt for some good science fiction.  I particularly like some of the sci-fi novelizations and anthologies that have grown up around popular games, such as the Warhammer 40K or Shadowrun universes.  Such settings can be really refreshing because of their “getting back to basics” style of just plain fun storytelling in refreshingly dark and gritty settings.

As for intellectual influences, well, certainly my parents.  Our many kitchen table discussions about the issues of the day was what really awakened an intellectual curiosity in me.  I was also fortunate to have some very good political science professors who emphasized the classics, such as the aforementioned titles, as well as Hume, Locke, Aquinas, et cetera, and always reminded me that there was “nothing new under the sun” when it came to politics, advice that has served me well over the years.  And, of course, talk radio has served as a type of continuing education.  In many ways Mark Levin sounds just like some of my professors – his Ameritopia might as well be a Poli Sci 101 textbook!

How do you describe yourself ideologically?

Lifelong conservative.  Even before I really knew what that meant I instinctively knew it was my political philosophy.  I am old enough to have experienced the transition from the Carter years to the Reagan years, and even as a young man I could see the profound difference in the governing philosophy, and the resultant outcomes, of the two men.  As soon as I heard Reagan describe himself as a conservative, I knew that I was that too – despite the scorn of my high school teachers.

Which thinkers/commentators have influenced you?

Certainly William F. Buckley, especially via his National Review.  Remember that television ad he used to run where you could sample an issue for free, and if you didn’t like it you could “burn it” (that ad always made me laugh!)?  Well, my parents got me the free issue after I expressed interest in that funny commercial.  I opened it one day and started reading it, really just out of curiosity.  Well, it was one of those moments where the heavens opened and a choir of angels started singing.  I was just so instantly impressed with the quality of NR!  Not just because of how it was addressing a side of the news that I had never encountered before – that was my wake-up call concerning the bias of the media – but also because the quality of the writing was so superlative. It was that magazine that helped me understand that good writing was truly a form of art, and I have been attempting to measure up to that standard ever since…usually unsuccessfully.

In addition to Buckley, certainly the great talk radio commentators like Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, and Laura Ingraham have been a continual influence.

What are your writing goals?

To always be a contrarian writer.  I instinctively dislike trends or market-tested “group think”.  I want my writing to always be its own thing, if you will.  Those books, those articles that have always stuck in my mind are the ones that got me to see something in a very different light, or to experience something new, or to visit a familiar setting but in a completely different fashion.  I never want to write something that is “by the numbers,” or that could serve as the next script for a Michael Bay film, if you will pardon my sarcasm.  That will always be my personal goal as a writer.

Where can people find/follow you online?

My primary online presence in the somewhat irregularly kept blog I have on video game news and views called Burke’s Joystick.  Sadly, as of late there is a leftward push in the video game journalism world, so my blog tries to cover video games from a conservative angle, as well as serving as a way to expose new people to the hobby, especially those who wrongly dismiss video games as mere “kid stuff.”   You can visit it here:  http://burkesjoystick.blogspot.com/

What’s your craziest hobby/pastime/interest?

Well, I am pretty sedate by nature, and not much of a lover of the outside world, so you aren’t going to get me to confess to anything truly crazy like cliff diving, or some other extreme sport.  For me, a thrilling evening is a good book and a glass of fine port!  So, I guess my “craziest” hobby would be games, any and all types, but in particular video games because the computer does all the work!  As with my experience with National Review, the clouds also opened for me when I received one of the original Atari 2600s as a gift.  Even as a child I could see the possibility for this new medium of entertainment.  While it has had its ups and downs, the video game industry has been more than a little successful in delivering on that promise.  A good video game sparks my imagination in the same fashion as a good book.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that video games have delivered far more original and entertaining stories and settings than anything I have seen come out of Hollywood in a long time. Even more interestingly, I have seen more than a few video games expose some fantastic if obscure science fiction and fantasy books to a larger audience.

For example, the Strugatsky brothers’ Roadside Picnic was adapted into the popular Stalker series of video games, and Andrzej Sapkowski’s dark fantasy The Last Wish became the beloved Witcher video game franchise.  In many ways, the video game industry has been far more adventurous in finding fresh material for their medium than Hollywood or television has been, which is why I continue to find it such a rewarding hobby. And, of course, you have had the reverse where a popular game has spawned a popular book series of its own, such as the aforementioned Warhammer 40K – some of its novelizations have already graced the New York Times bestsellers list.  Gaming is long past the days of Pac-Man and Space Invaders! 

Read S.D. Tortorice’s essay, “That’s No Moon, That’s a Free Market” at Liberty Island. Here’s the start:

I am a gray pixel. That is, I am a middle aged video gamer who has been playing games for quite a few decades now, really, all the way back to the early days of the Atari 2600. And I have seen a lot of gaming trends over those years. A lot. But there is one aspect of the video game culture that has remained constant, a guiding “North Star” of the hobby if you will, that has always intrigued me. Simply, it would be the burning love exhibited by the gaming community for space games. And not just any type of space game–I am not talking Space Invaders here–but for games where the player is permitted to enjoy the limitless freedom that outer space provides, particularly economic freedom. Really, when it comes to video games, space simulations have proven to be the hobby’s monument to Milton Friedman.

Huh? What is that? You thought video games were decidedly anti-conservative, like the rest of the pop culture? Actually, no. As someone who has not only been a long-time gamer but has also done my fair share of gaming journalism, I can assure you that a lot of the themes in the world of gaming are actually conservative in temperament. So conservative, in fact, that as of late a number of progressive developers have been attempting to pull the industry leftward. For example, Red Redemption released Fate of the World in which the player is made global dictator and charged with “protecting the Earth’s resources and climate versus the needs of an ever-growing world population.” Molleindustria, a publisher that calls for the “radicalization of popular culture,” offers Phone Story, a mobile game that “attempts to provoke a critical reflection on its own technological platform” by making the player “symbolically complicit in coltan extraction in Congo, outsourced labor in China, e-waste in Pakistan and gadget consumerism in the West.” Video games have now entered the realm of political propaganda.

Despite such progressive forays into gaming, most video games remain rather conservative in their outlook. And none more so than open world, colloquially known as “sandbox” space games in which the player is challenged to make a living by trading and mission-running out on what Gene Roddenberry so appropriately termed “the final frontier”. This idea of a game built around the roguish space trader preceded even such iconic space smugglers as Star Wars‘ Han Solo or Firefly‘s Malcolm Reynolds. And David Kaufman coded Space Trader back in 1974. But it wouldn’t be until 1984 when David Braben releasedElite on the BBC Micro that the a space trading game genre would really hit the big time. That game is often considered to be the one of the greatest ever made. Its success was followed by other popular titles, such as Christopher Roberts’ Freelancer, a 2003 mega-hit in the world of would-be space entrepreneurs. The genre had definitely found an audience.

Regardless of the specific title, the theme always remained the same when it came to such economically oriented space sims. Rarely did the player need to acquire a spaceship just to pick up his government cheese at the nearest space welfare office. Rather, gameplay always revolved around the player setting out on a daring new life, free from the nanny state hassles of Hillary Clinton’s “It Takes a Village” manifesto, where the player could pursue fame and fortune as he saw fit. This theme continues to be a mainstay of the genre, as evidenced by the latter-day offspring of Braben’s and Roberts’ classic titles. For example, read this official description of EVE Online, one of the more popular contemporary “sandbox” space games:

“Economic power and industrial might are as crucial to the capsuleers of EVE as to any other society that has sought to impose its will on history. The space-industrial economy of New Eden is increasingly controlled by the capsuleers, who produce and use a large proportion of its vast output. Capsuleers mine asteroid belts and moons for vital resources. They exploit planets through their colonies and build starbases and outposts, in order to refine minerals and create exotic new materials. These pilots research their own creations and construct them in nanoforges controlled by sophisticated blueprints. The capsuleer market sees trillions of ISK in transactions every day, with goods ranging from ore to battleships changing hands in vast quanities. This economy is the engine that drives EVE’s never-ending cycle of creation and destruction.”

EVE Online, like many space games, is built upon the notion of a free market–albeit, a sometimes violent, brass knuckles-enforced free market–that serves as the driving engine of a future civilization. The community wouldn’t have had it any other way. Indeed, international gamers, which number somewhere well over 400,000, have so embraced this laissez-faire environment over the game’s eleven year existence that the developer, CCP, needed to hire Dr. Eyjolfur Gudmundsson, an economist, to help keep the game’s economy under control. Dr. Gudmundsson, a newcomer to the world of video gaming, was stunned by the game’s complex economic model. He would write:

“EVE Online is emerging to become a true economic system which is self-sufficient in providing the goods and services required for its own universe, which has several categories of pilots and thousands

of items. The fact that EVE Online is a single universe in which all pilots can trade and share items directly with each other makes it one of the most complex virtual economic systems today.”

This title is not just capitalistic in gameplay, either. More than a few players have declared (in the game’s active forum community) that, having been exposed to EVE Online‘s thrilling free market environment, they chose to pursue real world entrepreneurial undertakings, or even a degree in business as a result. The game is what once might have been referred to as free market “edu-tainment”.

Yet another space game that exemplifies this laissez-faire attitude is the forthcoming title, Elite: Dangerous, the official sequel to Braben’s Elite from 1984 (a BBC Micro is no longer required, fortunately). Here is its description:

“You can trade for profit between systems, ruthlessly pillage and pilfer at any given opportunity, take part in alliances to bring down planetary economies, tipping the balance of power, or simply explore the open world wonders of the galaxy, together or alone….Your first trade is much more than merely padding your bank account – it puts you in the driving seat of your own story. Your choices can make you wealthy, can make you powerful, and can make you knowledgeable, but can also make you the target of every Elite-wannabe from here to the edge of the galaxy.”

Again, is this not the essence of a free market economy in game form? Although Elite: Dangerous may never attain the lofty economic heights of Eve Online as the game is still under development (but eager space traders can buy into the beta program now), it is again heartening to see such free market principles at the core of the experience. Indeed, this game owes its very existence to capitalism, as Elite: Dangerous was the beneficiary of a crowd-sourced funding effort that reached the sizable sum of 1.7 million pounds (around $2.8 million dollars). That’s gamers using capitalism to finance a game about space capitalism. How appropriate.

 Read the rest at Liberty Island here.

image illustration via shutterstock / Mari Carmen G. Dugo

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‘But in the Movie it Said if You Rub the Lamp a Genie Comes Out…’

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014 - by Liberty Island

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Editor’s Note: Since March, PJ Lifestyle has been highlighting some of the most innovative fiction writers at the recently-launched new media publishing platform Liberty Island, featuring interviews and story excerpts. Click here to see our collection of 27 so far. To learn more check out this interview Sarah Hoyt conducted with CEO Adam Bellow: “It also has a unique mission: to serve as the platform and gathering-place for the new right-of-center counterculture.” Also see COO David S. Bernstein’s recent essay here in which he defines Liberty Island as, “an imaginative playground where brilliant and creative people can test their ideas without being harassed or threatened by the new breed of ‘community activists’ who police thought and speech in the media.” Also see Bellow’s cover story at National Review: “Let Your Right Brain Run Free.” 

1. Who are some of your favorite writers, books, movies, and intellectual influences?

My tastes are old-fashioned.  Some of my favorite authors are Cervantes, Swift, Boccaccio, Pope, Doyle, Poe, and Orwell.  Some of my favorite books (as one might expect from the preceding list) include Don QuixoteGulliver’s TravelsThe Decameron, and 1984.  And some of my favorite films are The SearchersCasablancaVertigoBringing Up BabySingin’ in the RainIt’s a Wonderful Life, and a number of Buster Keaton comedies.

2. How do you describe yourself ideologically?

Conservative.

3. Which thinkers/commentators have influenced you?

Aristophanes, Machiavelli, Jonathan Swift, Edmund Burke, Adam Smith, The Federalist, Alexis de Tocqueville, Russell Kirk, Thomas Sowell, and Antonin Scalia, among others.

4.  What are your writing goals?

To persuade my contemporaries, and if I cannot persuade them, then to leave a record so that future generations perhaps may be persuaded.

5. Where can people find/follow you online?

Nowhere, yet.

6. What’s your craziest hobby/pastime/interest?

All of them seem sane to me.

Check Out Joseph Magrisso’s ”The Liberal Genie” at Liberty Island:

Many, many generations ago there existed a happy, colorful land named San Francisco. In a tranquil corner of this land–adjacent to a coffeehouse specializing in hashish confections–was an old secondhand bookshop. It was unassuming, yet beguiling, with its euphonious chimes that greeted the patrons at the door, its atmosphere of sweet incense, and its soft couches, which offered many coffeehouse patrons a comfortable place to slumber as they dreamed of revolution. It was a charming shop–quite literally, since The Proprietress had decorated it with charms and artifacts collected from peoples among whom she had traveled to witness firsthand the evils of cultural imperialism.

Ah, The Proprietress! She was a pleasant lady. Though she was getting on in years, she was still as free a spirit as she had been in her youth, allowing her long, long hair, liberated and unrestrained, to fall to her waist, just like her breasts. It was on one summer evening in 1968, when she was raising her consciousness, that she had first conjured the vision of her bookshop. It was to be a pansophic oasis–a home of all learning and wisdom, where those who craved Enlightenment could congregate, and, together, imbibe knowledge and herbal beverages.

And so it turned out to be. In her quest to collect all of the world’s knowledge, The Proprietress had traveled far and wide, experiencing all that was to be experienced, and collecting as many books as she could, as well as the artifacts with which she decorated her shop. In the interests of free inquiry, this admirable bibliophile had made sure to assemble works that ran the philosophical gamut, from Adorno to Zizek. This veritable Solomon’s House gave the inquisitive mind access to all those thinkers who were worth reading, including Brecht, Dewey, Heidegger, and Althusser; and Marx, Foucault, Fanon, and Marcuse. And Lenin and Benjamin; Mead and Said; Bhabha and Derrida; Sartre and Barthes; and Gramsci, Trotsky, and Chomsky. And let’s not forget the ladies: Luxemburg, Beauvoir, Friedan, Sontag, Franken. This was all that the truly educated individual ever needed. For decades, the bookshop fulfilled its purpose of fostering Enlightenment, and all was well in this quiet corner of San Fran.

Yet, gradually, things changed. As the years rolled by, fewer and fewer people patronized the humble shop. Eventually, even The Students–who had once been its most loyal patrons–stopped coming. What had happened? Scholars have reached the consensus that the patrons, all of whom were specimens of the political animal known as The Liberal, had evolved beyond their fellow human beings, and, indeed, had grown so superior–had reached such an advanced stage of Enlightenment–that one could, without exaggeration, declare them to be practically perfect in every way, like Mary Poppins. As the fully Enlightened, they no longer needed to read. After all, why read when you already know everything?

This development left our poor Proprietress in a terrible mess. She was heavily in debt, and she had no income, so–sad but stoical–she determined that she would sell her beloved shop. Alas, because the demand for books had disappeared, no one wanted to buy a bookshop. In fact, the only potential buyer was a bizarre middle-aged Dutchman who wanted to put up a novelty shop, for which there was plenty of demand. And so the bookshop was sold. Because The Proprietress had no space in her home to store all of the books and artifacts, she decided that, in the last weeks of her shop’s existence, she would sell them; and, if no one wanted to buy her treasures, so be it–she would just give them away.

There were few takers. But just a few days before the poor shop’s liquidation, a man and his daughter sauntered inside–which had grave implications for the future of the human race.

As the man stood at the checkout counter, paying for a Michael Moore romance novel, he asked his daughter–a cute little cherub who had just turned four–if she would like to have any of the exotic, mysterious objects that the kind old lady was selling. He picked up his daughter and sat her on the counter, so that she could more closely examine those on the shelf, and choose the one she wanted. The Little Girl scanned the collection for only a few seconds when her eyes encountered an object that she had recently seen in a cartoon that she came to hold in very high esteem. She pointed at it and exclaimed, “Genie!”

The Proprietress and her customer laughed heartily.

“No, no, sweetie,” said The Proprietress, “that’s just an old oil lamp. There’s no genie inside.”

“But in the movie it said if you rub the lamp a genie comes out,” protested the child.

“Oh, but that was just a movie,” The Proprietress replied with a chuckle. “It wasn’t real. We can’t have such superstitions, not in the modern world we can’t. We must be rational.”

“Ma’am,” interjected the equally amused father, “you mean to tell me that you’ve never even tried to rub it yourself–I mean, just for kicks?”

“Oh, goodness, no!”

“Not even once, just to get it off your chest? You must’ve thought about it.”

“Certainly not!”

“Not even just to clean it?”

“No, I’ve never, ever rubbed it!”

“Well, then we’ll just have to find out for ourselves, won’t we pumpkin?”

The man then bought the lamp, and handed it to his overjoyed daughter, who feverishly rubbed it until her diminutive palm grew red and began to sting. Nothing emanated from the dingy old lamp–nothing at all, not even a puff of smoke.

“I guess that’s that,” The Proprietress said.

For the father and daughter, the rest of the afternoon was entirely unexceptional. They went back home, where the parents had a nice laugh about the episode with the lamp–”The genie might just be very shy, hon,” the mother posited–but The Little Girl was not the slightest bit amused. She was sullen even during dinner, when she barely touched Daddy’s signature tofu sushi. She even volunteered to go to bed early that night, so upset was she about how the day had unfolded.

As she lay on her bed, cozily wrapped in her Inconvenient Truth sheets, and on the verge of a most peaceful and refreshing slumber, The Little Girl heard a strange whistling sound, and–more out of curiosity than of fear–she sat up and looked around her room, searching for the source of the strange sound. Her head turned toward her nightstand, and there she saw a man–a somewhat skinny and awkward bronze-complexioned man, crowned with a snow-flecked buzz cut, and wearing a long-sleeved shirt, his collar unbuttoned and his sleeves rolled up–just quietly standing there, with his hands in his pockets and his head tilted up toward the ceiling, as if contemplating the mysteries of the universe.

“Are you a genie?” asked The Little Girl.

The man, startled out of his reverie, looked down upon the child, smiled benevolently, and said, “Even better. I am The Liberal Genie.”

The Little Girl was slightly confused, so, for a moment, she just sat in her bed and stared at the genie, until she finally said, “Why didn’t you come when I rubbed the lamp?”

“Ah, good question. The reason is that I must be alone with my beneficiary in order to appear to him or her. No one else but you can see me, until your three wishes are used and you pass me on to my next beneficiary. Oh yeah, I forget to go into that other stuff.” The genie cleared his throat and furrowed his brow. “Let me be perfectly clear: you have three, and only three wishes. I promise to grant you whatever you desire, for I have great power, and nothing is beyond my reach. There is but one caveat: choose your wishes wisely, for once you have used all three, this opportunity will never arise again. Now, what do you desire?”

“Candy,” The Little Girl immediately answered.

“Candy?!” exclaimed the flabbergasted genie. “Candy?! Don’t you know what that stuff will do to you? Why, it’ll give you cavities, and make you overweight, and later in life you’ll get all sorts of terrible diseases, like hypertension and diabetes. You’ll become a burden on society, as the wonderful, compassionate government will have to foot the bill for treatment of these totally preventable diseases. I can’t just let you, y’know, slake your selfish whims and passions at the expense of The Community! Come on, I know you can make selfless wishes; why, you’re a child, and The Children are pure–society hasn’t corrupted them yet–and they’re natural Liberals. So you want to change your wish, don’t you?”

“No.”

“What is wrong with you? Didn’t your parents tell you that you shouldn’t eat candy?”

Read the Rest at Liberty Island

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image illustration via shutterstock / chrisbrignell

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‘Comrade Cruise will Cure Your Blues! And Teach You a Vital Thing or Two!’

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014 - by Liberty Island

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Editor’s Note: Since March, PJ Lifestyle has been highlighting some of the most innovative fiction writers at the recently-launched new media publishing platform Liberty Island, featuring interviews and story excerpts. Click here to see our collection of 27 so far. To learn more check out this interview Sarah Hoyt conducted with CEO Adam Bellow: “It also has a unique mission: to serve as the platform and gathering-place for the new right-of-center counterculture.” Also see COO David S. Bernstein’s recent essay here in which he defines Liberty Island as, “an imaginative playground where brilliant and creative people can test their ideas without being harassed or threatened by the new breed of ‘community activists’ who police thought and speech in the media.” Also see Bellow’s cover story at National Review: “Let Your Right Brain Run Free.” 

1. Who are some of your favorite writers, books, movies, and intellectual influences?

Westerns (Clint Eastwood! Rawhide! Ennio Marconi & Sergio Leone), Zane Gray in my formative years, The Secret Garden (I love happy endings); Spinoza, Catholic mystics, John of the Cross, St Catherine of Sienna, Carl Sagan (I know; I know)

2. How do you describe yourself ideologically?

Neanderthal (pragmatic? A defender, not a pacifist?)

3. Which thinkers/commentators have influenced you?

Paul Harvey, Charles Krauthammer, Jonah Goldberg

4. What are your writing goals?

To promote authors who tell a good story with an uplifting message, and to tell such stories myself.

5. Where can people find/follow you online?

6. What’s your craziest hobby/pastime/interest?

polka, schottisches, Yiddish tango (ssh, no one ever sees!)

Read “Comrade Cruises” at Liberty Island:

The prequel to this story, Wherever You Go, can be read here.

The cruise ship was so much bigger than Emmy expected, she couldn’t even think of a word for it. Gargantuan was one, but that sounded like a giant tarantula. Titanic was downright terrifying, for a girl about to set sail.

“Colossal,” she decided, saying it out loud but not too loud. Emmy was learning not to sound smarter than other seven-year-olds. It wasn’t fair to them.

Her foster mother gripped her hand. “You lucky girl, Emmy. Think of the memories you’re about to make!” Leaning toward foster Dad, “FM” (Fake Mom) half-whispered out the side of her mouth, “If this doesn’t make her glad we saved her from those terrible people, nothing will.”

She got that right. Nothing would.

An old man wearing a hat with a feather in it stared at Emma as if he could read her wicked thoughts. His quirk of a smile might mean he was ready to get her in a lot more trouble. Then again, his eyes sparkled at her as if he might be on her side. She stared back, daring him to listen in. Nothing would ever make her glad the Department of Health and Human Services “rescued” her from home-schooling parents who let her run wild in the woods, eat dangerous foods and paddle a canoe all by herself to Grandma’s house. If the DNR agents hadn’t spotted her and “saved” her from the river, from “dangerously negligent” parents, she’d be safe from stupid rules and regulations…and the stranger who was still staring at her.

Emmy held her breath, waiting for him to frown or blow a whistle on her, but he tipped his hat to her and smiled, leaning on his cane. She let out a sigh of relief. Of course the cute little old man wasn’t a mind reader. Homeland Security wasn’t that good. At least, she hoped not. The man winked out of sight so fast, he could have been a spy or a freaking hologram.

“A cruise is good only if you come back new,” came a gooey-cheerful from the loudspeakers, with drippy, happy music. “Comrade Cruise will cure your blues! And teach you a vital thing or two!”

Cruises used to have names like Princess, but it was bad for little girls to think of themselves as royalty. The Ninety-Nine Percent were fighting for justice and equality for all. Hail to the Ninety-Nines!

“Stop grinding your teeth, Emmy, dear,” her foster mom said. “Emmy! Do you hear me? I said STOP IT with the teeth.”

The line of people finally started moving, and Emmy drew close enough to hear the slap of waves against the Colossus of Boats. So big! How could something the size of an entire small town even stay afloat?

“KIDS WILL LOVE IT,” chirped that loudspeaker again. “Our staff of experienced counselors are here to ensure your kids stay happy all day long. Art projects! Games! Enriching scientific activities!”

The recorded happy-voice kept cycling the same messages over and over again. Emmy tried to focus instead on the sounds of talking and laughter mixed with seagulls grawking overhead. She loved the smell of the sea, a fishy, salty scent that made Foster Mom wrinkle her nose. Emmy tipped her head back, taking it all in: the warm, wet breeze, sunny blue skies, and a hurry-scurry sense of excitement. They were going somewhere! Soon a whole city’s worth of people would be dancing, dining and meeting new comrades while sailing the deep blue sea.

Inside the ship, huge rooms with bright lights made her blink. A single buffet table was bigger than Grandma’s entire house, and everything on it was hidden under shiny silver domes. An ice sculpture of a dolphin stood in the middle.

“SAVOR EVERY MOMENT!” the happy voice reminded everyone. Emmy knew the canned words by heart, whether she wanted to or not. “We don’t know how you’ll choose from the variety of tempting fare, lovingly made from scratch. Fresh-baked twelve-grain bread, our signature whole-wheat pastas, cooked-to-order steaks and regional specialties made with fresh local ingredients! You can truly taste it all!”

The steak wouldn’t be as good as Dad’s. Real Dad didn’t trim the fat or spare any butter for the baked potatoes. But any steak at all would be better than the tofu and tof-urkey she’d been eating since her “rescue.” Emmy’s fists clenched at the thought of her mom and dad in prison. It could happen. If not for raising their child all wrong, then for breaking some other rule.

After getting settled into their cabin, Emmy returned to the food fest with FM and FAD, aka Effing Awful Dad. Fake Mom turned lots of heads with her model-thin figure and porcelain white skin. No harmful UV rays ever touched that body! At forty, she looked younger than Emmy’s real mom, who had crow’s feet, laugh lines, ruddy skin and no hope of fitting into size 4 jeans.

“Remember,’ FM said, “just two bites. No matter how it looks or smells, give it two bites, and you’re sure to discover how delicious lentils and lima beans can be. Oh, I can’t wait to try the seaweed souffle!”

The servers began lifting the silver domes away, and Emmy raced for the steak line. As the lid lifted, her heart sank. That was not steak. That was grilled… Something-Else.

“Now, Emmy,” FAD scolded her. “No sad faces on this ship! Meatless Monday is a great thing. It goes all the way back to World War I, when Americans did their part to reduce consumption here and help feed war-ravaged Europe. It’s only recently that we’ve blah, blah, blarg.”

Emmy managed a smile for him. Unless they decided to combine Meatless Monday and Wheatless Wednesday, she might survive the new food rules.

Then it hit her. This was Sunday.

Would real steak ever again be served, any day of the week?

The old man with the cane popped into sight at the dessert table. Emmy jumped up without permission and rushed over to greet him. He looked like the sort of guy who’d understand the horror of fake steak.

A beautiful woman appeared beside him. Emmy gasped. She’d have sworn it was her Aunt Ruth, but her aunt was a college student, not a well-dressed business woman like this lady, whose silky skirt and jacket draped like the designer clothing of the One Percent. Still… If this was her aunt, Emmy might escape FM and FAD.

She hesitated. The man and woman seemed seriously deep in conversation. Emmy’s gaze shifted to the dessert table, and just that fast, she lost sight of the cute little man in the hat and the elegant lady.

That night, the “fun movies” turned out to be documentaries on Global Warming. Grandma had said there was an Ice Age coming, all right, but not because people were burning fossil fuels. The movie urged everyone to wear sweaters, crank down the heat when winter comes, and walk, don’t drive. Don’t paddle a canoe, either, if the DNR is watching, Emmy thought miserably.

In the morning, Emmy managed exactly two bites of whole-wheat pancakes, two sips of GreenGalore veggie smoothie, and all the strawberries she could get her hands on.

Most of the kids were troublemakers like her, and on the cruise to learn the right way to think and be. A chubby girl named Hannah had smuggled mints and cashews from the buffet table, and sneaked them from her pockets one bite at a time. Emmy shook her head when offered some. A skinny boy named Marco acted like he forgot his attention-deficit meds. He couldn’t sit still. He swapped some contraband M&Ms for Hannah’s stash.

The counselors helped them make introductions. “Marco, tell everyone why you’re here,” the blonde counselor said sweetly. He drummed the table with his fingertips, he hummed, he smiled back at the blonde. “Tell them how your parents let you ride the subway all by yourself, in New York City.”

At the word parents, he held still. Very still. For about five seconds.

“It takes a village to raise a child,” the other counselor said. “When parents don’t guard their own blah, blah, blarg…”

Marco’s eyes shifted, and for a moment he and Emmy shared a look that told her they were in the same boat.

“Okay, Comrades,” Blondie was saying. “I’m so excited to share with you all the things we’ll learn this week! Our Monday Meditation is Food for thought for hungry minds.” She laser-pointed at a screen, and a food pyramid came up. The old one, with lots of bread and hardly any fats. Emmy tried not to think about Grandma’s batter-fried catfish and raspberry pie. What about all the cookbooks, all the restaurants, all the fabulous food people weren’t supposed to eat anymore?

Finish the rest at Liberty Island here.

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image illustration via shutterstock / : NAN728

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Get To Know These 27 Extraordinary Fiction Writers At Liberty Island

Saturday, September 20th, 2014 - by Liberty Island

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Editor’s Note: This is the eighth collection of interviews and story excerpts spotlighting some of the most innovative fiction writers at the recently-launched new media publishing platform Liberty IslandAn index of 8 newly-released stories can be found here. Please check out this interview Sarah Hoyt conducted with CEO Adam Bellow here to learn more: “It also has a unique mission: to serve as the platform and gathering-place for the new right-of-center counterculture.” Also see COO David S. Bernstein’s recent essay here in which he defines Liberty Island as, “an imaginative playground where brilliant and creative people can test their ideas without being harassed or threatened by the new breed of ‘community activists’ who police thought and speech in the media.” 

Click to jump to the author of your choice in this collection:

1. Mike Baron: Swimming in Scrooge’s Money Bin With Ayn Rand and Andrew Klavan

2. Steve Poling: Is Cthulhu Tastier Fried or Barbecued?

3. Will Collier: What If the Soviets Had Succeeded in Capturing a Supernatural Creature?

4. Ray Zacek: The Secret Knowledge Vs. A Lethal Elvis Cult in North Florida

5. Keith Korman: ‘I Have No Friends: I Make My Mind My Friend.

6. Abbey Clarke: A Demon’s Heart: Can Evil Incarnate Ever Find Salvation?

7. Jamie Wilson: A Gen-X Gandalf Mom Casting Thomas Sowell Spells

8. Clay Waters: ‘You Obviously Feel This Ocean Mythos Deep In Your DNA…’

9. Todd Seavey: ‘It Was Star Wars That Taught Me to Love Science, Fantasy, Music, and Capitalism Simultaneously’

10. Stephen McDonald: ‘Long-Term, I’d Like to Hire Others to Produce More Content Set in This Shared Universe…’

11. Pierre V. Comtois: Golfing on the Moon

12. Aaron Smith: ‘I Spell ‘Magicks’ With a ‘K’ to Both Confound Proofreaders and to Signify It’s Not a White-Bunny-Being-Pulled-Out-of-The-Hat Kind of Magic.’

13. Ken Lizzi: A Pulp Writer Disguised as a Lawyer Embedded in the People’s Republic of Portland

14. Ted Elrick: ‘When a Guy’s Got That Kind of Control, You Gotta Admire It.’

15. Frank J. Fleming: Who Murdered the Dinosaurs?

16. R.K. Delka: ‘I’m the Constitution, Dammit!’

17. Kurt Duncan: ‘It’s All Compulsion-To-Create Via Mathematics and Engineering. Fun Stuff.’

18. Roy Griffis: ‘An Antidote to the Nihilistic Crap That Is Being Peddled’

19. David Churchill Barrow: ‘The Smoking, Dirty, Jagged Line of Rocks on that Ridge Seemed to Mock God Himself…’

20. Michael Sheldon: What Could Be Better Than Fresh Apricots?

21. Sabrina Chase: Women Can Be Mad Scientists Too

22. Paul Clayton: ‘I Think These 3 Works Should Be Required Reading For All Young Americans…’

23. Erich Forschler: The Road Might Be His Best Work, But My Favorite is No Country for Old Men.’

24. Tom Weiss: In the Ashes: A War Screenplay

25. Karina Fabian: ‘No Woman of Mine is Going to Work! Your Job is to Stay Home, Cook My Dinner and Have my Babies!’

26. Anne Eckart: How to Apply to MFA Programs

27. Mark Ellis: ‘Scarf Intercepts an Imperious Beagle Who Wanders Close’

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‘Scarf Intercepts an Imperious Beagle Who Wanders Close’

Friday, September 19th, 2014 - by Liberty Island

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Editor’s Note: Since March, PJ Lifestyle has been highlighting some of the most innovative fiction writers at the recently-launched new media publishing platform Liberty Island, featuring interviews and story excerpts. Click here to see our collection of 24 so far. To learn more check out this interview Sarah Hoyt conducted with CEO Adam Bellow: “It also has a unique mission: to serve as the platform and gathering-place for the new right-of-center counterculture.” Also see COO David S. Bernstein’s recent essay here in which he defines Liberty Island as, “an imaginative playground where brilliant and creative people can test their ideas without being harassed or threatened by the new breed of ‘community activists’ who police thought and speech in the media.” Also see Bellow’s recent cover story at National Review: “Let Your Right Brain Run Free.” 

1. Who are some of your favorite writers, books, movies, and intellectual influences?

I was very much into monsters and horror as a youngster, a predilection probably as compensation for the fact that I was rather an unpopular kid. It’s tough being a mama’s boy and the teacher’s pet. I related to the outcast monsters, the classic, relatively humanistic monsters of old, and was able to parlay that interest into the first thing I ever did that impressed my classmates.

I remember standing at the front of my sixth grade class, awkward and gaunt, holding them rapt with my spoken-word version of the kind of tales I read in EC Comics. A cultural gear-shift occurred when my father–doubtless noticing my obsession and hoping to elevate it–brought Shelly’s Frankenstein, Stoker’s Dracula, and a collection of Poe home from the library.

I became an inveterate reader, and though I would eventually leave the horror genre to others, I know that when trouble comes into my stories, it often comes by way of those early, scarified sensibilities. Literary fiction is my highest aspiration as a writer.

Turning to journalism in high school, I became the rock columnist, and later a community college whiz kid, promoted to managing editor at Chabot College, winning a statewide editorial contest, all while keeping my readers up to date on Grand Funk Railroad.  To this day, I am regularly inspired to write about my favorite music.

2. How do you describe yourself ideologically?

As to my ideological influences, aside from Vincent Price, my departure from the long 60s-70s party was concurrent with the election and presidential terms of Ronald Reagan. For all my suburban hedonism, I’d never really bought into the progressive lifestyle or value system, and now, then, I suddenly needed to distance myself from it. Reagan was the road back.

Other influences include Rush Limbaugh. I am a charter subscriber to the Limbaugh Letter, and still have my 1989 copy of the very first issue. Make no mistake. I learned how to write for Republicans (the kind of writing that far and away has been most lucrative for me) by absorbing the LL’s style. Later, I subscribed to the Weekly Standard, and devoured the viewpoints and arguments therein.

The advent of Fox News was a watershed event in my perception of the news media  industry. I watched Fox from the jump, digging the Factor, getting Hannitized, harboring a grudging respect for Alan Colmes. I haven’t paid attention to the major network news since 1996.

3. Which thinkers/commentators have influenced you?

As far as what’s been on my nightstand politically, I’ve read lots of Patrick Buchanan, most of O’Reilly’s books, two of Ann Coulter’s books, and many single volumes by conservative writers. I recently read Charles Krauthammer’s Things That Matter and realized I’d already read many of the columns in my hometown Oregonian.

Otherwise I’m reading historical and general nonfiction, literary fiction, and, any intriguing title that comes my way. I recently read Sam Keen’s Fire in the Belly, 22 years too late for it to do me any good.

Some of my favorite movies are Schindler’s List, Terms of Endearment, the Exorcist (did I mention I’m Catholic?), Psycho, and On Golden Pond. I’m nonplussed by the zombie plague, and still consider Failsafe with Henry Fonda one of the scariest movies ever made. Despite my hard rock and metal roots, I am known to sit for periods of time in front of Lady GaGa videos.

4. What’s your craziest hobby/pastime/interest?

My craziest hobby, pastime, interest etc. would have to be my real job, the only real job I’ve ever had, as a painting contractor. My self-published memoir, Ladder Memory, Stories from the Painting Trade, offers a glimpse of how crazy the world of a housepainter can get. Though sales have been modest, my business has improved considerably. I often have the sense that customers are Googling me and finding “Death Penalty Now” while I’m outside painting the house.

5. Where can people find/follow you online?

I’ve avoided having a website for two reasons. First, I’m old school, and am used to contributing work in the context of a larger entity. In the second place, there’s nothing sadder than a middle-aged-man whose website gets a total of 34 hits in its first six months. I’ll take my chances on the open market.

I’ve been a features writer for the now-defunct Brainstorm NW Magazine, a reporter for the Multnomah Village Post, and an advertorial writer for Pamplin Media. I am currently a reporter/content writer for the web-print combo, the Northwest Connection, and a contributing writer at the conservative UChoose Education Forum

I did get talked into a Twitter account for Ladder Memory, which I use to send out tweets of my various screeds, which only occasionally have anything to do with applying paint.

6. What are your writing goals?

As far as my writing goals, I’ve extolled the virtues of Honey-Baked Ham, offered perspective, attempted analysis, and covered the gatherings of fed-up Republicans.

Now I have two novels-in-progress, and in the process of being professionally edited.

Check out Mark Ellis’s ”Temblor” at Liberty Island. Here’s an excerpt:

The bed shakes, the window rattles in its sash.

By the time Andrew fully wakes, the low rumble has stopped. He rises from the bed and walks to the pine-paneled kitchen for a glass of water tapped from Cambrian sources beneath the soil and duff of the Redwood Empire. Returning down the small hall of the cottage, his weight creaks the wood-planked floor.

He looks in on Ellie, asleep, undisturbed by the earthquake. Scarf looks up from the foot of her bed, the rattle of a growl beginning low in his chest, as if he’s returned to the litter, the cold canine night, the lair. It’s common knowledge that animals sense imminent earthquakes.

“Good dog,” Andrew whispers to the Jack Russell terrier he purchased for his daughter from a farmer out on Cutback Road. Three months now, and Scarf has tuned into Ellie deeply, territorially–the farmer said he’d do that. Ellie sighs in her sleep and turns slightly toward the wall. Her Wendigo Elementary School backpack is ready, a sad note for the transplant kid still intent on belonging after just over one full year. Her sixth-grade classmates have been mostly kind, she says, though one accused her of being a “Bay Area person.”

Andrew finds the charcoal shadow of his own bedroom door.

There was a big earthquake here once. It knocked over the marquee at Wendigo Theater. It is something he will wait to tell Ellie.

He lies back down, knowing that if he heard certain songs right now, or thought certain thoughts, he would weep, but hears instead the cry of a raven for which the night has been mixed in its blessings, and thinks nothing.

The off-leash area is set near a low rock cliff at the base of which two mature elms take divergent paths upward from the stone. Dry whacks of a tennis game on a nearby court counterpoint the listlessness of the sun-drenched giants, which predate Columbus, even Jesus. This first October in Wendigo is profoundly hushed, the weight of ages heavy and warm on yet another one-strip redwood gateway. A forested crossroads morphed from a trapper settlement and is now home to retirees who can afford it, service people driving fuel-efficient cars, and a complement of pot growers who zealously guard their crops, some of them hardcases. Count the tourists too, always, but especially in summer.

Ellie’s swim lesson leaves Andrew alone with Scarf at Muir Park.

His cell phone throbs, and the natives glance disapprovingly. It’s Carol, Jana’s old best friend

“Can’t wait to see the redwoods,” she says.

“But you’ve been here before,” Andrew reminds her.

“Yeah, ages ago, as a kid.”

Jana and Carol met at Devon Hill County Club, philanthropic division, Carol newly divorced, but the combination of happily married and just divorced somehow melded. They became an almost everyday thing, the kind of hip-joined women friends who would have been thirtyish stay-at-home moms in another era. Andrew theorized that Carol represented some free bird of a woman to Jana, and to Carol, Jana was a proximity of marriage to cling to…but what did he know? They shared in their relative affluence a calling to give back to the community.

You could call Andrew close to Carol too, fraternally, as befits a happily married husband. They became a trio on Saturday nights, with occasional guest appearances by Carol’s dates.

Her voice is dry and revved up, the connection clear from Orinda.

“How do you think it will be for Ellie, me coming?” Carol asks.

“We’ve gotten a dog, Scarf.”

“You’re a good dad, Andy. See you tomorrow afternoon.”

Scarf intercepts an imperious beagle who wanders close, and they sniff. He’s always more volatile in Ellie’s absence. It’s like the dog knows she is regenerating somehow and wants his part of it. With Andrew it’s just the opposite. There’s this distinct impression that Scarf wishes the apparent leader of the pack would snap out of it, do something exuberant or adamant, or even show fury. Like Scarf feels an instinctual aversion to a disgraced alpha, a being untrustworthy for its aura of collapse.

The cell phone throbs again, and the natives are mulling the newcomer’s sense of propriety.

Alarmingly, it’s the director of the community swim center.

“We’ve had a little incident here, but Ellie’s fine.”

She does seem fine, sitting up in the director’s office.

“What happened, honey?”

“I don’t know–I just got a cramp.”

“Our lifeguard got to her within seconds,” says the director, with a perfect blend of concern and legal awareness.

On the ride home she’s quiet, but that’s not unusual. Andrew can smell the chlorine in her drying brown hair.

*

That night Ellie talks about a boy named Sean, a member of Wendigo Junior High School’s swim team.

“He has a dog, Delta,” she announces from the wood-framed couch. Such talk has never been big between them. She has taken Jana’s cue, who had seemed to think men needed a lot of quiet time, and that a mother was the one for talking. The best times at Devon Hill were when they’d take on a task together, rounding up some Christmas decorations at the mall or turning a flower bed for one of Jana’s plantings.

“Delta?”

“His family came here from Antioch.”

“How old is Sean?”

“Fourteen.”

“What does he want to be when he grows up?”

“Dad.”

It figures the first boyfriend would come now. It had to happen someday.

Jana was like that, one for the boys. It makes sense her little girl would find her bearings with a boyfriend. Andrew wraps his mind around Ellie coming of age, how time registers differently in the Redwood Empire, the childhood vacation that is now his life. He has forgotten when Wendigo resonated in his search and Devon Hill was only resonant with grief, that his redwood memory sprang from the deepest of all summers on earth. It is different living every week, every month, every somnambulant minute of the year–and now their first autumn–under the ancient trees. Down deep where he almost won’t admit, he hopes they intercede. Work a miracle cure, like the opposite of headstones. He hopes they have some capacity only to be found here. He has the strangest feeling the trees will be there for him when he is ready.

Scarf senses something, looks up and licks Ellie’s face unexpectedly. For that brief second it’s like Jana is still alive, perhaps folding clothes in the back bedroom.

It is just over a year since Loma Prieta, the rumble that left them bereft.

Click here to finish reading at Liberty Island

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image illustration via shutterstock / Ross Stevenso

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