Magical Ways to Die: Sentics

Note: In this series, we look at the different types of magic found in the Lincoln, Fox and the Bad Dog universe, talk about the limits and bounding effects for them, then figure out the most efficient ways to use those to kill. A lot of books tend to just let magic be magic, but it appeals to my engineering brain to apply some actual rules to it.

In the Lincoln, Fox and the Bad Dog universe, Sentics is the magic of mind reading and pushing. Sometimes it’s called “sentistry” but that sounds a little too close to “dentistry” in my opinion, and since it’s my universe, we’ll call it “sentics.”

Just like the previous entry in this series on kinetics, the sentics in LFBD follow normal power rules like other electromagnetic phenomenon. In this case, I’m treating them like radio waves. The closer you get, the better it’s going to work. A stronger source of “mental energy” will be discernible at a great distance. Tightly focused equipment (i.e. a well-crafted spell) will be able to detect things at a greater distance or push a focused message further.

The sentics in LFBD are very personal. Much like the healing magic (vulnistry), it must be carefully directed and tightly controlled by the user. Everyone’s psychology is different, so things are going to be stored at different logical locales in your brain. Digging around with a magical mind probe requires skill and thought.

So what’s the best way to kill someone with sentics? It depends on what you think of as “best” I supposed. In Lincoln, Fox and the Bad Dog, Dan kills an opponent in a really gruesome fashion, mind controlling her so that her muscles spasm and contract hard enough to break her own bones. It’s not nice. As you can see from this, sentics aren’t just “mind reading” powers or the ability to make someone act like a dog. Although they can do that too.

Done well, it can drive the brain to manipulate things that are below the conscious level of thought.

To me, this makes the ultimate method of killing someone else as someone well versed in sentics pretty obvious. The right spell, wielded by the right spell caster, could simply shut down another person’s brain. Cut off all activity. The person drops like an abandoned marionette. So what’s to prevent that from happening, like, all the time? Why don’t sentists rule the world?

We need some balance.

Let’s make it that sentics require intelligence to be effective. You can’t just broadcast a “brain blast” and take out everyone around you. The spell caster must use the magic to feel out the other mind, dig around, figure it out, and only then can they have an effect. This means that you could craft a spell (or just sling enough power) to get you entry, and then you have to do a lot of work and need time to have your effect. You can see this when Dan is wiping memories and digging around for the location of his stolen jacket. He needs time and close contact to make it work.

However, if you had prep time and were a clever spell caster/writer, you could craft something that had a bit on intelligence to it. It would let you get at what you’re after much more quickly, doing the “heavy lifting” for you. This is how Dan is able to take control of his opponent so quickly in the bone-spanning scenario. It’s a pre-hung spell that’s built to specifically quickly figure out how to provide that kind of control.

So if an assassin who was well versed in sentics really wanted you dead, they would have to hang around you for a little while, subtly picking your brain to get to know it. Then, they could pretty easily craft a spell specific to your brain’s structure, get close enough to you and let it fly.

It’s a good guess that anyone in the magic-using Praecant community who makes enemies has some kind of standing defense against this type of attack.

If you find the idea of fictional magic systems that try (ha) to follow some kind of rules appealing, check out Lincoln, Fox and the Bad Dog on Amazon!

Buy Lincoln, Fox and the Bad Dog on right now, or get the first half for free right here if you're still on the fence (.epub download to read in iBooks, Google Play Books, etc.)

Technical Self-Publishing Pipeline: Part 3

In which we obtain an editor/editors.

You’re writing and writing. Maybe you have a couple of chapters done, following your synopsis (see my series on writing a novel). Maybe you’re halfway through your book. When you go for editing help, and how?

If you’re using Google Docs per my earlier suggestion, sending a book out for edit is really simple. In Drive, multi-select all the chapters that you’re ready to have edited, right click on them and choose Share. In the dialog that pops up, enter the email addresses of the people who will be editing your work.


Change the widget on the right from Can Edit to Can Comment. This will let your editor add comments as well as to suggest inline edits, which is the way that the pros do it.

Add a little message so the person knows what they’re getting, hit Send and off you go. You can communicate with your editor entirely through the comments system within docs.

But how do you find an editor? That’s going to be tough. There are plenty of web communities that let you source freelance help, but I’ve found results to be mixed, even for people who are well reviewed. In the self-publishing scene, a lot of people aren’t able to actually evaluated quality and will leave a review for a good experience even though the actual work itself might not be the greatest.

The best way to edit is to get yourself some beta readers and ask them specifically to flag typos, wrong-words, etc. Make sure a couple of your beta readers are the ridiculously detailed-oriented type. This will help a lot.

Don’t expect this to happen all in one pass.

A number of people read LFBD during the writing process, and flagged a bunch of stuff for me, yet each time I re-read it, I found more. It’s hard to get this right.

What I did (and we’re not there yet in the process, so you can’t do this yet) is to let the book “soak” for a while. In my case, this was about six weeks. I’d finished it and put it out of my mind so I could focus on other things. Near the end of that time, I had a cheap-o print edition made ( and read it like I’d read anyone else’s book. Even after multiple rounds of edits, including from a copy editor whom I had hired, I found one typo/dropped word/etc for about every five pages. I marked up the physical copy and dog-eared the pages with edits.

It was extensive.

The point is that ultimately the final edit depends on you, and you and your betas are going to have to read the book multiple times. I’ve read mine ten times since it was “finished.” Sounds tedious, but you know what? It’s your name on the cover.

In the next installment, we’ll look taking all of your edited chapter docs and putting them together into a single .epub, followed by a .mobi.

(Parts 1 and 2 of this series)

Buy Lincoln, Fox and the Bad Dog on right now, or get the first half for free right here if you're still on the fence (.epub download to read in iBooks, Google Play Books, etc.)

How lethal is the .22 LR round?

This video is a little long-winded, so I’ll summarize. They first shoot .22 shorts at a 1/2 inch pine board at close range. The old military standard is that if a round can cleanly penetrate the board, it’s considered potentially lethal at that distance. The .22 short — an extremely low-powered round — easily penetrates at 10′, and again at 40′. They move onto .22 LR, and end up going out to 440 yards (yes, a quarter mile). That’s far past the effective accuracy of the round. It still cleanly penetrated. I was expecting it to fall off by that distance.

The best bit for me is in the last two minutes when the gentlemen are discussing the conclusions of the tests. The older fellow says that when medical care isn’t readily available: “If you get a hole in you that you weren’t born with, you’re probably going to die.” I love his delivery.

Buy Lincoln, Fox and the Bad Dog on right now, or get the first half for free right here if you're still on the fence (.epub download to read in iBooks, Google Play Books, etc.)

Technical Self-Publishing Pipeline: Part 2

You need to choose your writing tool. It has to satisfy certain requirements:

  1. Accessible from anywhere so you’re not tied to single location or device on which to write
  2. Version control, for recovering older stuff that maybe was better than the newer stuff
  3. Revision pipeline for editors
  4. Compatibility with later becoming an eBook

To meet all of these, I chose Google Docs. You can pick something else, but the rest of the articles in this series will use Docs as the writing environment of choice.

Don’t just start with a Doc though. You need to organize first.

Within Drive (which is where your Docs live), make a new folder that’s called the title of your book. I have a folder in my Drive called “lincoln fox and bad dog”. Inside there, make a couple more folders: manuscriptnotescoverpublicpublished.

Then, go inside the manuscript folder and make a new Doc called something like Your Title: Chapter 01. For my book, I abbreviated it as LFBD: Chapter 01. Make sure to put the leading “0” on the chapter number so that the filenames sort properly when alphabetized. If you don’t, you’ll find that Chapter 2 comes after Chapter 10 in drive. It doesn’t hurt anything, but it’s annoying.

Open that first doc, but don’t just start writing.

The fonts and styles that you choose won’t matter all that much once your book is in Kindle format, but here are tips that will save you grief down the line:

  1. Don’t use TAB for indents at the beginning of a paragraph. Set the first-line margin to something like 0.625″ or 0.5″. This will give you a nice indent. Using TAB may look good in your doc, but can get crushed when converting to ebook.
  2. If you want to include bigger text for something like a chapter heading, use a Style instead of just changing the font and size “by hand”. This will work better when you move to ebook/Kindle.
  3. Remember that things like multiple blank lines (i.e. hitting Enter Enter Enter), various fancy spacing and effects you apply probably won’t show up in Kindle.

The Kindle likes to manage the flow of text by itself. If your book is going to depend on very careful typesetting, then these instructions are not for you.

So set a first line indent, pick a style you don’t mind reading, and start working.

Personally, I prefer Georgia at 11pt in my docs. It becomes the regular Kindle serif font once it’s converted, and looks “right” to me on my screen while I’m working.

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Double Barreled 1911

This is ridiculous. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a double barreled 1911 pistol. Is it practical? Clearly not. But here’s an older gentleman wielding two of them at once and unloading 20 .45 rounds into a metal plate in under 2 seconds. These things only cost ~$5,000. That’s a bargain!

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Lincoln, Fox and the Bad Dog available on Nook

I didn’t think anyone even had a Nook, let alone actively used it for buying and reading ebooks. I was wrong.

As there have been several requests from Nook owners to get the book this way, I registered with Nook Press and made it happen.

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Influences: Roger Zelazny

When I was in high school and then college, it was kind of a thing to have a Favorite Author. I ended up picking Roger Zelazny. I always liked how he would blend tech and magic in his stories. The tech usually had fantasy aspects, and when he’d go for magic it followed rigid technical constraints. In college (Creative Writing program at UPenn) I did my senior thesis on him and his work and received an A+ on it from Nebula and Hugo award finalist Judith Moffett, my writing advisor. I didn’t realize how much of an influence his work was on me until I’d finished LFBD.

All of the hallmarks of Zelazny are there:

  • Technical magic
  • First person storytelling
  • Deities taking unexpected forms
  • Trippy sections that take place in altered or different worlds, told in a stream-of-consciousness manner
  • Blending the “low/physical” with the high/mental

The only thing I didn’t incorporate was his major theme of world hopping. In Zelazny, you gain power by crossing worlds. Those who live in one world are okay, but the true power lies in the ability to move between worlds. It held for almost all of his books.

I think that’s right, though. He’s an influence in style and image, but I have my own themes. The biology/behavior loop. How we act in a world of insufficient information. How external influences change our behaviors without our knowledge.

That’s the stuff that I’m working with, and I’m sometimes using his toolset to do it.

There’s a bit at the end of his Isle of the Dead that I think about when I’m writing. It’s not his greatest work, but one of my personal favorites. The main character has fought all the battles, etc., and has returned to spirit-walk his old friend and mentor through what is basically the Valley of the Shadow of Death. It scares the shit out of him, but it’s his duty so he does it. The characters in the story are sort of person-gods who use a combination of technology and raw spiritual power to terraform planets.

As he does this in a kind of despair, he sees a parade of his worlds before him…

…I stared into that blackness, sans stars, comets, meteors, anything.

But suddenly there was something there.

New Indiana hung in the void. It seemed a million miles away, all its features distinct, cameo-cut, glowing. It moved slowly to the right, until the rock blocked it from my view. By then, however, Cocytus had come into sight. It crossed, was followed by all the others: St. Martin, Buningrad, Dismal, M-2, Honkeytonk, Mercy, Summit, Tangia, Illyria, Roden’s Folly, Homefree, Castor, Pollux, Centralia, Dandy, and so on.

For some stupid reason my eyes filled with tears at this passage. Every world I had designed and built moved by me…

…Where there had been darkness, I had hung my worlds. They were my answer. When I finally walked the Valley, they would remain after me. Whatever the Bay claimed, I had mode some replacements, to thumb my nose at it.

I always think of that, and it is good.

Cheers, Mr. Zelazny.


Buy Lincoln, Fox and the Bad Dog on right now, or get the first half for free right here if you're still on the fence (.epub download to read in iBooks, Google Play Books, etc.)