Pittsburgh Pic of the Week: Schenley Park

The big battle in the middle of LFBD takes place in Schenley Park. It’s a fantastic urban park with all kinds of areas, and I’ve included a few pictures below to help you visualize it.

Here’s one with a dog. I’m pretending it’s Babd:

and finally…

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Magical Ways to Die: Kinetics

I think that what ended up becoming Kinetics in the LFBD universe was the discipline that really led me down the path of “But! But! But! If the wizard could do this then they could easily do that!!” Basically, the fact that magic using (or super powered) characters in fiction could move things remotely, either with a spell or some kind of brain powers, but they never really leveraged that stuff to its full capacity.

Look. If you can pick up a penny and fling it around with some kind of telekinetic force, why can’t you grab a penny-sized portion of someone’s brain and fling it around inside their skull? Any telekinetic character (or one who exhibits similar magical abilities) who gets captured/in a tough spot/whatever in which their life is in danger and they just don’t activate a remotely-operated TK blender inside their opponents’ skull is an idiot and deserves to die.

Sure, you can come up with reasons it wouldn’t work. But I don’t want to hear them.

That said, there has to be some kind of constraint, otherwise a trained praecant with a Jones for Kinetics would be unstoppable. Let’s first apply the normal power laws, because magic in LFBD is an actual natural force. Just like sentics, you obey the laws of physics. You need less energy to generate a narrow effect, and assume a falloff that’s the square of the distance. Note in LFBD how Lincoln calls for the kinetic force to be wide spread from Fox and at something like a two foot range it pushes a person into the dirt and breaks bones in their face, but when operating on a more narrow band, it’s the equivalent of a horse kick. Also, on a sufficiently narrow band, we see it cut like a blade.

What we don’t see Lincoln do with Fox though, is move something remotely. It’s just linear projection of force. So, it makes sense that it’s harder, maybe a lot harder, to use kinetics at a distance but not have it affect the things between the source (the praecant) and the subject. How much? I’m not sure. That’s where we get to make some kind of judgment call that helps us to limit this.

Let’s posit that to generate force remotely, we have to have some kind of atomic or even quantum trail from the caster to the subject. In order to not really affect anything in between, you have to keep it ridiculously narrow — say, one qbit. But to get enough energy to your destination to make the effect you want, you need to pump that much energy — enough to act on the whole mass you want to move — through the pathway that’s only a single qbit at any given spot. That’s hard.

And (I’m obviously not a quantum physicist) there will be some kind of resistance or back pressure.

If you want to move something remotely without affecting anything in line of site, it’s hard and requires a bunch of energy or a ton of finesse. That goes up with the square of the distance.

With the kind of energy Fox has available, that’s not going to be an option.

However, a trained Kineticist with good reserves and some hanging spells will be able to, say, puree someone’s brain from a hundred yards, as long as they’re still. Make it a moving target, and it’s even harder.

As you can see, when you introduce some physical laws into the mix, things become a lot more balanced. A praecant with a major in kinetics doesn’t necessarily rule the world, or become the most amazing assassin ever, although they could with the right preparation.

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Influences: Jim Butcher

In 2014, I was laid up for a week with the flu. I spent a lot of time on the couch, and ended up binge watching the decent-but-not-great Canadian TV series The Dresden Files. It only lasted a single season, but it entertained me for a couple of days. A few months later, I was looking for something to read, and found out that the TV show was a loose adaptation of a series of novels by Jim Butcher.

The first book of the series was on sale on Amazon for something like $1.99. In fact, the first several books were on sale. I shot through them, then ended up buying the rest at the “regular” price of $7.99 a piece. So, nice job Mr. Butcher. You deserve every penny.

What did I like about the books? Obviously, the writing is engaging. It’s an interesting story, well told. I think what I really liked though was that it was a pure adventure story. There was no pretension. It wasn’t exactly pulp, but it certainly had pulp elements. I was tired of reading heavier stuff. Plus, it was just cool.

Over time, it was able to evolve and do some of things with character and format that only long-form serial television has been able to do. Things that stick out in my mind are Harry managing to convert the mental image of Lasciel instead of her converting him (if you’ve read it, you’ll know what I mean) and Karen drawing one of the Swords during the assault in Mexico. Shivers. Awesome stuff, and it’s stuff that you have to build up to over years and years.

I had some gripes with the series, but they went away the longer it ran. The first several books there were some elements and turns of phrase that I’d rather an editor had stomped on a bit more. But overall, the whole vibe was great.

It’s what got me thinking about the urban fantasy genre, and, if you’ve read the post on the origins of LFBD, it was around this time that I wondered if the genre would be a good fit for my ideas.

Unlike looking back on Roger Zelazny as an influence, where I see more and more elements of his work popping up in mine, I tried hard to differentiate LFBD from Butcher’s universe. Within urban fantasy, there are some natural problems that crop up,  and there are really only a handful of ways to handle them. Because LFBD and Dresden were in the same sub-genre, and because my original ideas had some similarities baked in (a gun-toting hero with a dog) I wanted to make sure that the similarities ended there.

So, thanks to Jim Butcher for opening my eyes to the genre that ended up being a great landing site for my own work.

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Magical ways to die: Vulnistry

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.

Vulnists are the healers. As we learn in Lincoln, Fox and the Bad Dog the magic has to be carefully directed. It’s far more hands-on than some of the other disciplines where normalized spells work well. The magic becomes an extension of the praecant’s senses inside someone’s body, where they can then affect changes. This can be used to repair physical damage, like Lincoln’s broken leg. What we don’t investigate in the book, but would seem a logical extension from the way things are described there, is the notion of doing body modifications with the power.

Briget uses her abilities to create a matrix around the broken portion of Lincoln’s bone, then pumps power into it to cause the bone and accompanying to grow. There is no rule that mandated that she had to simply knit the bone together. Want a set of real bony horns growing out of your head in the LFBD universe? Find yourself a vulnist.

Of course, the opportunities for  damage are obvious. If you can make the tissues of the body flow together, you can make them flow apart or worse. To take things in a horrible direction, a malicious vulnist could cause someone’s tissues to grow rapidly, giving them a kind of magical tumor. More directly though, we have an indication in LFBD that Briget used her abilities to open then reseal a horrible wound on one character’s neck, leaving both physical and psychological scars.

It would be trivially simple for a vulnist to kill someone who wasn’t properly protected. If they can touch you, even in Pittsburgh, there is nothing stopping them from, say, causing your aorta to seal itself shut. In an area where magical energy is more useful, we could allow vulnists to operate (ha) from a distance. However, because their powers require concentration and focus, the further they get from their subject the harder it is going to be to do. Imagine that you are a foot away from someone and tasked with keeping a laser pointer dot on their chest. That’s simple to do.

Move ten feet away, and it’s not so easy. Ten years? A hundred yards? You would need to maintain the focus of your magical sensing and power to make it work.

A vulnist who could really sling power could probably project a large arc of generic “unknit yourself” kind of effect. That would be messy, and once again subject to normal laws of broadcasting on the EM spectrum. In the iron-rich confines of Pittsburgh, projecting this at any distance becomes impossible based on the amounts of energy required.

Put simply, vulnists would do their best (and worst) work where they could actually lay hands on you.

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 Amazon.com 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.)

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 Amazon.com 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.)

Lincoln, Fox and the Bad Dog is live on Amazon!

LFBD is now live on Amazon.com! You can get the first half of the book for free as an .epub directly from me if $2.99 is too for you to stomach for the best Urban Fantasy you’ve read in your life 😉

Links for both are below in the post signature and in the blog header.

LFBD Free Edition 1 Cover

Go get it — now!

Buy Lincoln, Fox and the Bad Dog on Amazon.com 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.)

Gender politics in Lincoln, Fox and the Bad Dog

I’m not into post-modernism when it comes to literature. Yes, I was an English major at an Ivy League school so I got the same indoctrination in that whole methodology that all good future progressive activists do. But for me, once I heard it and learned that I could jokingly simulate the points and vocab of it to the sincere appreciation of my peers and professors, I really lost respect for it. It was so easy to say ridiculous things and have people who had dedicated their life to this stuff sagely nod and say “That’s a brilliant insight. You’ve really dug into the text.” It’s hard to value that.

But, um, if you’re into that kind of analysis, then… I’m sure it looks good on you!

Anyway. One thing that it’s hard not to be aware of in literature because of both my education and the current frenzy about it is gender and/or minority politics in writing. How does that fit into the universe of LFBD?

I’ll say that while I was aware of it while writing, I tried not to let it influence me.

Ultimately, this is a first person story, and the protagonist is a guy. He’s a white, upper-middle class, highly educated guy. Who likes girls. So this book isn’t going to be falling into the hands of anyone who is trying, for example, to read fewer books by and about hetero white dudes. Well, maybe it will, but they’ll just read it and like it and not tell anyone. I’m cool with that 😉

But I did think about the gender politics as the story was coming together. About how the characters acted, the choices that they made, and ultimately what happens to them. In the end, I didn’t want to short-change what I saw as reality of reaction on the parts of the characters just to fulfill some kind of gender balancing rubric. For example, Gwen handles the action stuff completely differently than Lincoln. Some people might say that it makes her weaker. From a character perspective though, I wanted to draw a contrast between someone who had suffered real psychological/emotional damage (and possibly physical brain trauma) and how they potentially dealt with violence and horror versus someone who had not. Lincoln even makes the point to her that some of the stuff he is doing, he’s taking on himself because he feels like he is less of a whole person than she is.

So to me, that’s not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of reality. It’s also a statement on genre that I was purposefully trying to make. Characters deal with terrible things differently in adventure versus horror. In horror, terrible things scare you, and you react that way. In adventure, you kind of tend to blow it off. I wanted the book to skirt the boundary between the two, and you can’t have your point-of-view character refusing to fight, so…

And then there’s Brigit. She has a bunch of story that never made it into the book. Her subjective story line in LFBD is really at the tail end of her objective one. There’s no indication in the book, but in my mind because she’s a Vulnist (healer/manipulator of flesh), she’s actually been alive for a very long time. She always looks exactly like she wants to look. What would that do to a person? Obviously, different people would handle it differently. But for her, she’s become jaded. Like, the most jaded person ever. Things are not what she thought they would be, and I think that for her, the world around her just isn’t real.

If you’ve read the book and are paying attention, you know that there are other characters who have flashes of those same thoughts too, and that might indicate some future directions for them.

Anyway, to bring this back to the gender politics, let’s break it down. We have Lincoln and Dan as our male main characters, and maybe Fox too. On the other side we have Gwen, Brigit and Babd. Charlotte shows up at the end too, and she will turn out to be a major character in the continuing story. I think that between all of the characters, the good and bad traits are pretty evenly distributed. And objective (not subjective) outcomes ended up pretty well distributed as well, although Brigit’s end is probably the nastiest one in the book.

Fun tidbit: because this is a first person story told by a man, I was curious about ways to get close to the Bechdel test. I don’t think that the stories told by Babd count, even when they phase into first person from her perspective. There’s a place in the story where Lincoln leaves Gwen and Babd together to get some stuff, and when he comes back, they are laughing. When he asks why, they just say “girl stuff”. It doesn’t strictly count, but in my mind the objective story has Gwen and Babd having a discussion that has nothing to do with guys, or Lincoln. They’re just checking in on each other and getting to know each other. So, while it doesn’t pass the test in the subjective story line, I threw that in there to imply that something like that was going on.

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Lincoln, Fox and the Bad Dog – what the heck is it?

So what is this book about? The promo copy reads:

Lincoln Baker can’t do magic, but he’s figured out how it works. When he and his friends make a few bad decisions, they end up on the hit list of some very bad, very magical people. Now, along with the tech he’s built and a mysterious entity that seems to be following him, Lincoln needs to stay alive long enough to figure out what’s going on, take the fight to the people really in charge, and maybe enforce some order on the encroaching chaos. Computer systems based on magic, soul-eating creatures from beyond our plane of existence, deadly ancient artifacts and a metric shit-ton of strangeness come together in this urban fantasy set in the Pittsburgh Neutral Territory.

And that’s… promo copy. Here’s a little more.

The story is told by Lincoln Baker, a youngish (30 is young, right? Right!?) man who flamed out on the way to a brilliant career in computer science research due to a bunch of pretty bad circumstances. He meets some people who can do actual magic, and realizes he has some incentives to figure out how it all works. He applies his prodigious knowledge of biochemistry, materials science and comp sci, as well as a liberal dose of the scientific method, to the magic he begins to encounter and manages to not only figure out how it works, but to build some tech based on these very predictable new principles he’s discovered.

The story itself begins with Lincoln’s friends making a pretty bad impression on some unsavory characters in the magical community, and those kinds of people seem to have only one way that they deal with problems: turn you into a smoking pile of cinders. The only thing preventing that from immediately happening is the fact that this is taking place in Pittsburgh, or as the magic users call it, the Pittsburgh Neutral Territory. For almost 150 years, Pittsburgh had been one of the prime steel producing locations in the world, and the massive amounts of pollution generated over that time suffused the entire region with trace amounts of elemental iron. Subtle and low powered spells work just fine there, but if a magic user tries to really crank up the wattage, the pervasive iron cancels it out.

It turns out that it’s a great place for magic users to meet if they want to have any kind of negotiation, because big bad spells don’t work. Holding your talks or other very important magic user business in Pittsburgh is the equivalent of a meeting space with metal detectors to us non-magical folks. You might be able to sneak in a small ceramic knife, but you’re not bringing your machine gun.

So now, Lincoln has to use the tech he’s built — an artificial intelligence and a special gun named Fox, both of which use low powered magical principles to operate, to try to even the scales against a bunch of people who are used to being able to fry you with a lightening bolt at thirty yards, but who have to settle for getting up close and personal while they’re in town. On top of that, Lincoln is battling his own problems that were kicked off by the aforementioned “bad circumstances” that ruined his career and life.

If you haven’t picked it up yet, you can buy the whole thing on Amazon (link) for $2.99, or get the first half (yes the entire first half) here for free.

Buy Lincoln, Fox and the Bad Dog on Amazon.com 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.)

Magical Ways to Die: Kinetics

One of the things that always bothered me about movies where someone was telekinetic was the way that they would fight. If you could actually move things with your mind and if you were trying to fight/kill someone, why would you waste a bunch of energy picking them up and throwing them throw a wall or window or glass coffee table? Obviously, it looks good on camera, but it seems really inefficient.

I always wondered why the telekinetic person didn’t, say, move about 1 cubic centimeter of the other person’s brain matter an inch to the right. Instant death. No coroner is going to find anything traceable.

And I get it. It’s not good fiction. The fight is over instantly, and the viewer doesn’t see anything other than the person dropping dead. Yay.

But if you posit a world where that kind of thing is a possibility, you then have to build some stuff around it. Like, if you’re not a Kinetist, how do you keep one of them from doing this to you? What other interesting ways could someone that could wield kinetic force at a distance use to kill you? Or, if you’re universe-building, what kinds of constraints do you need to put no Kinetics so that they don’t immediately take over the world?

I’m going to be looking at this question for all of the major magical divisions in the LFBD universe (Diabolics, Theurgistics, Elementalism, Necrism, Zundenistics, Poppistry, Metrism and Sentism) because I think it’s a fun thought exercise and if done correctly can help to build a universe where the use of magic isn’t confined to lightning bolts and fireballs.

So for Kinetics, my preferred method is the equivalent of running a magical micro-blender inside the target’s skull. The effect would be instantaneous and largely untraceable.

What kind of constraints do you need to have in place to make this not a god-power though? One way to do it would be to say that Kinetics follows some kind of power rule for granularity, like a linear (10x) falloff or something. At, say, 1 cm away from the area you are trying to effect, you can have that kind of control (1 mm). But get a meter away instead (100x) and your granularity drops dramatically to 1 m. And if you posit that the amount of work the kinetics can do is constant, you’ve just seriously diffused your ability to do anything. So it becomes a type of magic that only works when you are very, very close or when you can generate enough power to do a massive amount of work at distance.

This isn’t necessarily how it works in the book, but I think these kinds of exercises are both cool and fundamental to building a sustainable, working fantasy universe.

Buy Lincoln, Fox and the Bad Dog on Amazon.com 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.)