Dan Melson: August 2019 Archives

Let's try to do this as spoiler-free as possible.

A gutpunch is pretty much the opposite of a cliffhanger. It's a one-liner or short action in a story that turns the entire thing on its head. Many science fiction shorts are built on gutpunches - Arthur C. Clarke's classic two pager "Reunion" being one where the final line turns everything we know on its head.

Some gutpunches can be humorous. There's a classic Isaac Asimov short story where you never see the ending pun coming - until too late, and it's all too obvious in retrospect, as even the title becomes an obvious warning ("Shah Guido G", or 'shaggy dog.') Arthur C. Clarke did another two pager where the ending is a truly atrocious pun in British English ("Neutron Tide").

The very best gutpunches, however, are straight drama that reframe everything. Poul Anderson's "The Gods Laughed" may be my very favorite, as it turns everything about the story and our background assumptions completely upside down. The ending of "Dune Messiah" by Frank Herbert is a comparatively mild gutpunch, as the Emperor of the Known Universe walks off saying, "Now I am free."

The climax of "The Empire Strikes Back", where Darth Vader utters his most famous line, is probably one of the best media gutpunches.

Sudden betrayals, new information, failed plans and failed plots, all of these are the stuff of which gutpunches are made.

I've been having some issues with comments here, but I'll put a link to another post on my FB author page for those who have difficulty So what are the best gutpunches you've encountered?

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I had to do something almost as scary as fighting the basileus - tell Papi the truth, and convince him it was the truth. Did I mention he's a high school math teacher with forty years of experience? He's heard it all, many times before, and Occam's Razor is something he was so used to applying I'd learned it by osmosis so early I couldn't remember. Mama was pretty sharp, too, but she'd believe me if Papi did. I had to carefully consider what hard evidence I had.

Item: one Mindsword, no longer "alive". I could maybe buy a live mouse at the pet store to demonstrate its killer cancellation effect, or use it to cut something. In fact, the brand new sweatshirt it was wrapped in was halfway shredded already, despite how careful I'd been. Not exactly impressive evidence, and dangerous to handle as well. It might be good supporting evidence, but Aurora by itself would never convince Papi. Not unless I was so irresponsible as to let someone touch it, which wasn't going to happen. ScOsh, wherever his soul had gone, would never forgive me.

Item: one small hand blaster. I checked it and the charge level was back to orange. I remembered that ScOsh had told me to dial it up, so I dialed it back down, and the meter cycled through colors back to blue. According to what ScOsh had told me, it should have recharged itself completely in about eight hours, so I figured the power per shot was about comparable to the original setting. I considered turning it off for safety, then decided against. ScOsh had been pretty certain he'd gotten all the stons, but he hadn't even tried for whatever minions they might have, and I had no way of knowing how many demons were wandering loose around Earth, and I had no way of knowing either group hadn't been given information that would lead to my parents. I left it on, and put it back in my bag. Not only self-defense, but good hard evidence as well. Earth had nothing like it.

Item: about thirty thousand dollars in cash. ScOsh had destroyed the rest. Also, what appeared to be a numbered Swiss account with a balance of just shy of six million Swiss francs, as well as various other financial instruments that I might or might not be able to access somehow. Not evidence; too many less outlandish and more morally questionable ways of acquiring it. It would be useful to the extent I could tap into it, which would have to be done carefully, but it wouldn't do anything to convince Papi.

Item: one "logbook" that ScOsh had handed me with Aurora. Problem was, it didn't look like anything more than a small case of some indeterminate material. No display, no readouts I could access. Not impressive. It might be a miracle device for all I knew, but for all I could demonstrate to Papi, it might as well be a paperweight.

Item: one "pocket". I unfolded it. Jackpot! I could actually see into it, and there was not only ScOsh's other sword, which could be handled a lot more safely than Aurora even if it was less unearthly, there were side pockets of a more mundane nature inside holding other stuff. Some if it was mundane Earth stuff (including more cash), other items were nothing I could identify. Nothing I was going to fool with, but what looked like the "gun" he'd used on the gangbangers and another similarly styled device, probably a different gun. I didn't know how to handle them, but they weren't Earth made, that was for certain. Half a dozen items like nothing I could identify. I didn't know for certain they were Imperial, but it seemed likely. I wasn't going to handle any of it more than was necessary, and I certainly wasn't going to fool with trying to use them, but the pocket by itself was probably going to convince Papi. Imagine your kitchen trash can. Now imagine all that you could see was the mouth of the trash can, with no apparent "trash container" attached, but that still held whatever you had put into it. The "mouth" was a cloth-like material about the size of a scarf or bandanna on one side with a 'lip' around the edges, but you could reach into the other and pull stuff out, or put it into for storage, without apparent care for what the pocket was resting on. A three dimensional space, carried around like a two dimensional piece of cloth, and with only the apparent mass of the cloth. Kind of like the hole that the Roadrunner was able to pick up and move like a physical object, whenever doing so would frustrate Wile E. Coyote. I thought about putting Aurora inside the "pocket", and decided ScOsh hadn't done it despite obvious opportunity, so that might not be a good idea somehow. Still, while the hand blaster might conceivably be not be too far beyond Earth's technology, and I knew even less about the other pieces of hardware I had been given custody of, this was demonstrably so far beyond anything Earth could do that Occam's Razor would tell Papi that the least complex explanation was that I was telling the truth - at least as well as I knew it.

Finally, item: Graciela Juarez, newly operant but without much practice and only the most basic level of training. I decided against telling them anything I didn't have to about the changes I'd been through. I'd last been home on Sunday, so it had been less than a week. They had to know that I'd been through a change of some sort because of the difference in my appearance, but I wasn't going to tell them their baby girl was now a bruja. Papi was only one generation removed from Mexican farmworkers who might as well have been medieval peasants. Abuelo had been a wonderful warmhearted man who got his two sons through college through incredible hard work and saving, and educated his three daughters at least through high school, but some of the superstitions I remember him having when I was a little girl were more than enough to persuade me to keep my mouth shut. Abuela, who'd only died a couple years ago, had been sweet and cheerful and happy, tough as nails beneath, and even more superstitious. Mama's family wasn't that much different. No, Graciela Juarez was not going to say one word about the marvelous things she might be able to do someday.

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Setting The Board, Book Three of Preparations for War, is now available!

Thumbnail image for STB book cover.jpg

Joe and his wife Asina were coming home to Hell.

Calmena was a primitive planet where descendants of abductees were enslaved by enemies of humanity, hoping to breed docile servants. It hadn't gone well for anyone.

A century ago, the Empire found the planet and began using it to trace the fractal demons back to their home. Joe and Asina's role has been helping the human slaves throw off the demonic yoke, always careful to camouflage their help as native ingenuity. In that century, Calmena has gone from isolated villages at the demons' mercy to independent towns and cities.

But the real power of the fractal demons was never on Calmena. When the fractal demons prepare to strike at the Empire, the Imperial missionaries must blunt or divert the blow, lest it completely crush the nascent Calmenan freedom.

PS: If you missed it, Book One, Preparing The Ground is on sale for 99 cents in e-book.

PPS: I do apologize that Setting The Board is Amazon exclusive for the moment. The plan (subject to change) is for it to go wide in a couple months.

Setting The Board

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I'm waiting for one more beta reader at this point to finalize the manuscript, but I have a deadline to meet, so I will have Setting The Board uploaded and available at by Tuesday (the 20th) at the latest.

Calmena was Hell.

It was a primitive planet where descendants of abductees were enslaved by enemies of humanity, hoping to breed docile servants. It hadn't gone well for anyone.

A century ago, the Empire found the planet and began using it to trace the fractal demons back to their home. But they also began helping the human slaves throw off the demonic yoke, always careful to camouflage their help as native ingenuity. In that century, Calmena has gone from isolated villages at the demon's mercy to independent towns and cities.

But the real power of the fractal demons was never on Calmena. When the fractal demons prepare to strike at the Empire, the Imperial missionaries must blunt or divert the blow, lest it completely crush the nascent Calmenan freedom.

1. Go ahead and introduce yourself.

I am Alexan, Jarl of Ygg in Treemount, on Migurd.

2.Tell us where and when were you born.

I was 'born' in the Empire of Humanity as a splinter of an ultsi. I became an independent entity when he made a mistake that ended up severing his soul from himself.

3. How would you describe yourself?

My physical description changes as I wish it. Mentally, I am inquisitive. But the most salient feature to most people is that I have become an Eternal. Think of me as equal to one of the gods of Olympus or the Aesir of Valhalla.

4. Tell us about where you grew up.

I suppose you could say I grew up where the attitudes of my original were formed, as an ultsi of the Fifteen Families in the Empire of Humanity. The competition for mastery and power is fierce and Darwinian, and the death rate is high. You must always be on your guard, and doom can strike without warning at any moment. There are limits, honored by those who play the Game of Houses as in the best interest of all, but all of its players are driven to achieve.

5. How old are you?

You could argue that I'm about one year old. Or you could argue that I am several 3600s, as I have the generic memories and skills of my original.

6. Did you have a happy childhood? Why/why not?

I didn't have a childhood at all as most people use the term. I was born adult. My original's was happy enough in the way of the Fifteen Families, but childhood to them is a precious time to learn as much as you can. There is not a lot of leisure. But he was loved by his family and taught well.

7. Past/ present relationships? How did they affect you?

I know my original was married and had many lovers, but those were soul-bound memories that I did not inherit. I have looked up the names of his wife and descendants, his parents and siblings, but I have no actual memories of them or of the times he spent with them.

I have bound myself to a fellow Eternal, the Lady Petra. We have one daughter Catharin, born roughly a year into our marriage. I have another child, a clone that became infused with a soul, in spak stasis waiting upon the right time to bring him into the universe.

8. What do you value above all else in life?

The life and happiness of the Lady Petra, my wife. She has had more than enough pain and hurt for a lifetime of any length. The well-being of my daughter Catharin.

9. What are you obsessed with?

Learning. Preparations for likely threats.

10.How do your beliefs make life better for yourself and the people you care about?

I believe in cooperation out of mutual interest. I believe that facts must be the basis for all decisions, so evidence must be ruthlessly examined. I believe skills must be shared. As a result, Petra and Catharin are learning what I know. We are wealthy as such things go, secure as is reasonable, and by all evidence, happy.

11. Biggest fear?

That something will cause pain to the Lady Petra.

12. What line will you never cross?

In the mold of my original, I can never go against the interests of humanity as a species, or the Empire of Humanity as a whole.

13. What is the best thing that ever happened to you?

The Lady Petra deciding I could somehow help her escape her curse. It became so much more.

The worst?

The moment the Lady Petra informed me that others from the Empire of Humanity had been to the realm of Aescalon.

14. Most embarrassing thing that ever happened to you?

When I realized what the situation was with my original, and that I had to leave the Empire as a result of him dying.

15. Biggest secret?

If I told you what sort of thing it was, I'd have to destroy you utterly.

16. What is the one word you would use to define yourself?

Driven, as are all ultsi. Even though I am not technically ultsi.

17. What is your current goal?

As the second novel of Connected Realms opens, I am most concerned with understanding the divine ecosystem that the Lady Petra and I have become part of.

I now have a cover for Setting The Board (Book Three of Preparations For War)

Some people have said it's too busy, but that's combat. I have only two minor complaints, and one of them is a virtue from an artistic standpoint. The other is that a rifle that features prominently is too modern, but everything else is true to a scene about a third of the way through the book.

STB book cover.jpg


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Setting The Board

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This page is a archive of recent entries written by Dan Melson in August 2019.

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