John Birmingham’s sandbox

Merton Richard Johnson

So John Birmingham, the author of many cool books, has decided to create an apocalyptic universe. Writing about the apocalypse is not unique. There are many very good books that cover the subject, such as On The Beach, Alas, Babylon and The Stand. The approach that Birmingham has taken, though, is unique.

He has decided to make his book a shared experience with his readers through a pay-to-play format on Patreon. Here’s a thumbnail sketch of how it works. There are graduated paid tiers that allow readers more and more access to the inner workings of the writing- readers get to see the book as it is written, the raw manuscript. They get to comment on the plot and characters, become part of the process.

For an aspiring writer or avid fan of sci-fi, it really doesn’t get any better than this. JB is offering his acolytes a chance to become the beast at the very low price of two bucks a month for the starter tier. Let’s get real- you spend more than that on gas picking up junk food at the grocery store.

Click on this link and get started. There is nothing cooler than watching a book being born. And that is exactly what JB is giving people a chance to do.

BTW, I signed up (hell yes, of course) and contributed a short story to his universe based upon a tale I heard often while growing up- the death of my uncle in Korea, 1952.

Below is a teaser for the short I submitted to JB. It depicts heavy combat in Korea as the world comes apart at the seams.

The leaden sky promised more rain, but the thunder in Rick Johnson’s ears wasn’t a function of the weather. He walked northeast along Route Sword with his drenched companions; his heavy equipment weighed him down and choked him. An unidentifiable foul smell arose from the rice paddies on both sides of the road, and another smell wafted from the windows and wrecked chassis of smashed cars along the freeway.

In the short time that he had been in Korea, mortal corruption was the most common stink of all. Rick had smelled it when he stepped off the C-17 that landed at an improvised highway airfield, and it was so strong now that he felt his gorge rise. A half-burned corpse hung out of a small blue car’s window, liquids dripped onto the pavement below. He stepped on a Hello Kitty purse, he shrugged and pulled out some smokes. Artfully juggling his little machine gun so that it didn’t slip from its perch on his chest, he jammed a butt between his teeth and lit up. As he did so, the linked 5.56 in its plastic drum rattled like a snake.

More follows, but not on this page. The full short story is on his website.

By all means, join JB’s site. It’s not every day that a bestselling author gives his readers a chance like this.


Moon Cave!


Hey readers. As you all know, I try to keep up with what’s happening with scientific developments, sci-fi lit and movies, etc. So I was pretty excited when I came across a cool article about a Japanese scientific team who discovered a huge cave on the moon. By all means click on the article and read more.

This is a big deal. A large cave of this type could form as a habitat for a manned lunar base- a goal that people like Elon Musk are working on as we speak.

It looks as if the way forward in space will be blazed by private concerns, as opposed to the big government programs of the past. There are a lot of things happening in this regard right now, from Space X to SpaceShipOne.

Most excellent.

Maybe we will see significant advances in space exploration and technology within our lifetimes. Dreamers are dreaming, and putting their visions into reality. It’s what humans do.

Writers imagined the future through science fiction, and fans who also turned out to be engineers, aerospace techs, physicists, billionaires and the like are turning the works into reality.

Super cool stuff.

The Sea Peoples, review.


I have been a fan of S.M. Stirling’s work for quite some time. I discovered his novels in a tent library in the Middle East somewhere around the start of our current wars- I would go there to relax between work and missions. The libraries were populated by donations from the USO and other organizations; there would always be the latest books on offer.

One day I found a hardcover first edition of “Dies the Fire,” I read the back cover, liked the premise, and was hooked thereafter. I still have that book; I brought it home in my duffel. It occupies a place of honor on my bookshelf to this day.

“Dies the Fire” was the first book in the Change series, and “The Sea Peoples” is the latest offering. For years Stirling has released a new book in the series at about this time every year, and I’ve looked forward to them each time. This year was no exception.

Let’s talk about “The Sea Peoples.” First, this book should not be read as a standalone. I think if you try that you’ll be lost as all the characters are grown through the preceding works. So by all means read the Change, or Emberverse, series from beginning to end. Stirling’s latest offering will make sense if you do so. In addition, I would recommend that you read the “Nantucket” series first, as they are linked on the flip side of the Change series. I know, it’s a lot of reading, but in my opinion it’s well worth it.

I will attempt to do this review without significant spoilers. First off, the book is a bit esoteric as it uses the switchback technique between events that happen in the “real” world, and events that happen in the dream sequence of Prince John and companions. Both are linked to each other in a way that makes sense, and the two halves come together at the conclusion. The finale is open-ended, of course, as befits a book that is meant as a bridge in a series.

The writing bears all of Stirling’s hallmarks. There is a lot of action, vividly described. There are feasts, recreated in loving detail. Then there are various stages and settings for the scenes, strikingly described. His universe, while wholly fictional, is immersive, detailed, and believable. The “good” guys are likable, and the “bad” guys are repulsive. I find myself cheering for the heroes, and wanting to run a sword through the villains. This is success on the part of the writer.

One needs an imagination to enjoy his latest work, and the ability to suspend disbelief. Of course, Stirling writes about a future where gods walk the earth once more and demons fill the black voids left behind by modern society’s death. If you can put yourself in a universe where cities are desolate, rotten deathtraps and sources of salvage and survivors attempt to recreate civilization in the ruins, then this series and his latest offering are for you.

The author casts us into a near-to-far future where danger is omnipresent, ghosts are real, and the stakes for humanity are high. Recommend this book as an installment on an excellent series.

Movie night, Blade Runner 2049


I’ve been eagerly awaiting the release of Blade Runner 2049 since I first heard of it. Last night, I went and saw it on opening night with my daughter.

Before we went, we both watched the original movie. Turns out that that’s really a requirement for seeing the new one, which may serve to hamper sales in this stunningly beautiful sequel.

What can I say? The film was faithful to the feel of the original, and like the original it examined what it means to be human through the eyes of our manufactured servants, “replicants.”

The bad guys were truly bad, the good guys were flawed, vulnerable. All struggled in a future Earth where everyone who could left to “off world,” humanity’s expanding interstellar diaspora.

I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. It was a thoughtful, intricate tale with stunning visuals and a well-constructed soundtrack. To the last moment, I was sucked up in the film and the ending made me want more. Ah, the ending. I won’t do spoilers, but the ending was no ending. It was another beginning.

Now, my daughter thought the original was better than 2049. She agreed that the visuals were excellent, and that the movie was well made. However, she was somewhat turned off by the length, and by the slow build-up of tension. Also, some of the plot twists left her scratching her head and served as a distractor.

Her opinion may be more typical of the average younger movie goer, and if so, then 2049 will have a rough road at the box office.

That would be a real shame, as this movie begs for another to follow on its heels.

Blade Runner 2049 is an excellent tale of a future where the line between man and machine is blurred, and our better natures might be expressed best through our creations.

Recommend. Do go see it.