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The Razor’s Edge

The Razor’s Edge

by Brandon Black

 

I was not born on Samirah.

I was not raised here.

But if I am not careful, very careful, I will die here, and I will not die alone.

I cannot allow that to happen.

I must survive.

I must kill other men, spill their blood upon the ground, end their lives.

I cannot allow myself to die.

It is the will of Allah.

My brother called his ship and his crew the Hunters of the Sky. He is dead. His crew is dead. And I and mine are now the hunted.

The Pan-Africans call us pirates but we are not. We are Mujahideen; we are the soldiers of Allah. They do not, cannot, understand. The Sultan of New Madinah is an evil man, a corrupt man. He surrounds himself with painted whores and merchant sycophants. In his court, women shamelessly parade around in colored silks with their faces and midriffs bare. The so-called music of the infidels echoes in his palace halls. He and his family eat the finest delicacies off old world china while the faithful go hungry. But his worst fault is that he plays at being a pious man. He is no pious man. His true god is Mammon, for he serves only his greed. He is a corrupt man and we will destroy him and restore sharia to the people. It is the will of Allah.

But to do this, we must have many things, weapons, ships, technology, resources, things we do not have. And being righteous men called to jihad, what we do not have, we must take. So we raid the ships of the Sultan, and often too, the Pan-Africans. We hit their freighters and their liners. We take their weapons and their cargoes; ransom their women and their children. We do what we must to prepare an army to face the Sultan’s regiments and restore true Islam to the people. And for that, the Sultanate calls us traitors. The Pan-Africans call us pirates. For that, they hunt us.

The wind changes. The grass moves differently and Tariq, at the front of the column, gestures for us to halt. We crouch down and wait, listening intently. Tariq is our best scout. Without him, I doubt we would still be alive. He points to his left and I nod. We follow his lead.

Sifting through the high grass, brushing the pale brown cords of alien foliage out of the way, we see them. Young men and women carrying gauss weapons and pulse rifles, in camouflage battle dress and HUD helmets. Pan-African Pathfinders. They have developed whole new methods of fighting just to counter us. They comb every little borderlands planet and frontier moon, every asteroid and comet in No Man’s Land it seems with long range reconnaissance patrols. Behind this advance team is a support team, out there, hiding somewhere in the bush. They have multiple grenade launchers and short-range missiles. To either side of the support team will be soldiers guarding their flanks, looking for our patrols. But it is these men, the small squad in the lead that is the real threat, the razor which cuts men’s throats. They crawl through the grass, silent as death and when they find one of our bases, anyone who sees them, anyone who might see them will be cut down by sniper fire. Lasers will paint our tents and prefabricated domes and our ships. Comm signals will transmit our coordinates to their ships in orbit and fire will come out of the sky. Grenades will fall and missiles will slam into our ships and the faithful will die.

As my brother did.

But we will not.

Without a word, I direct my men to the left and to the right. We form a semi-circle before the advancing Pan-African troopers. I look to Tariq, the question rising in my bowels: are we laying the trap or are they? But Tariq gives me no sign that we have been spotted. I let the men set up the gauss squad automatic weapon in front of me and when they are ready, I give the signal to open fire.

The false peace of this little backwoods moon is shattered by the staccato of gunfire. Grenades are thrown and burst into blazing glory around our enemies. They die. It is as simple as that. They manage a few shots in our direction but we cut them down easily. The razor is in my hands now and I use it without hesitation to cut down the enemies of the faithful. But time now is of the essence, for now the Pan-Africans know that we have discovered them.

I look to the azure sky, striped with thin wisps of clouds. There is no sign of hostile action above, yet. But it will be coming.

We tear down the gauss SAW and fade back into the grass, scattering small grenade-sized anti-personnel mines and thermal decoys in our wake. We race back to our ship, starting and stopping, moving in twos and threes, some move while the others keep watch. We reach the camp. Already our little makeshift base is abuzz with activity. Men activate jammers and decoys launch riding high into the sky on twisting curls of flame. Booted feet kick up the dust as we race aboard our raider and begin the launch sequence. Outside, men strip off the ship’s camouflage netting and small canisters of anti-laser aerosols lift free of the ship’s hull and burst open in the air above the camp. Hopefully we have missed no other Pan-African soldiers. If we are being targeted, we will all die. But I have faith.

Every man makes it aboard and we lift off, rising towards the night sky. We look to the ground, for the rising plumes of flame that mean short-range missiles have locked on to us, but they do not come. The ground thunders away from us and we hurtle on into the upper atmosphere. What ships the Pan-Africans have in orbit, I cannot say. But we will make it past them, past their blockade and reach the open stars.

It is the will of Allah.

END

***

A new voice in the field of steampunk and gaslamp fantasy fiction, New Orleans-based fantasy and science fiction author Brandon Black has a Bachelor’s in Military and Political Journalism and a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. His most recent story, “The Night Mississippi Declared War on the Moon,” was published in Dark Oak Press’ Capes and Clockwork II, edited by Alan Lewis. His short fiction has appeared in Dark Oak Press’ Dreams of Steam III and Seventh Star Press’ A Chimerical World: Tales of the Seelie Court. Brandon lives with his guardian and protector, Battle-cat Princess Kaleidoscope, in his home town of New Orleans, Louisiana. Find out more about Brandon’s work at http://www.brandonblackonline.com.
All original text copyright Brandon Black 2018.
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Black Tome Books Update

Both The Other World and Paris By Gaslight will be published in 2017 some time about the middle of the year. They will definitely be on the shelves before this year’s CONtraflow. No final decisions have been made yet as to which stories and poems will be included but everyone selected will be informed when the time comes.

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A new voice in the field of steampunk and gaslamp fantasy fiction, New Orleans-based fantasy and science fiction author Brandon Black has a Bachelor’s in Military and Political Journalism and a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. His most recent story, “The Night Mississippi Declared War on the Moon,” was published in Dark Oak Press’ Capes and Clockwork II, edited by Alan Lewis. His short fiction has appeared in Dark Oak Press’ Dreams of Steam III and Seventh Star Press’ A Chimerical World: Tales of the Seelie Court. Brandon lives with his guardian and protector, Battle-cat Princess Kaleidoscope, in his home town of New Orleans, Louisiana. Find out more about Brandon’s work at http://www.brandonblackonline.com.
All text copyright Brandon Black 2017.

 


CONtraflow Panels

I will be attending the CONtraflow convention this weekend, Friday, September 30th, through Sunday, October 2nd at the Airport Hilton.

My panels:

Getting Started As an Editor. Learn how to get into the profession of bringing out the best in writers’ work.
Ben Bova, Toni Weisskopf, Brandon Black (moderator)
Friday, 7pm, Panel Room 4

The Five Colors of Mana as a Philosophical System. A look at the five colors of mana in the game Magic: The Gathering as a philosophical system replacing the D&D alignment system as a means of describing a character’s personality, ideology and goals.
Brandon Black
Saturday, 11am, Panel Room 3

Making the Move from Fan Fiction to Original Fiction. Panelists discuss how to go from cover artist to writing stories based on your own ideas.
Brandon Black, Jim Gavin, Chris Hayes
Saturday, 7pm, Panel Room 1

Cultural Appropriation or Building Diversity: An Exploration Of Issues Involving Real World Cultures In Fantasy and Science Fiction. Panelists take an extended look at the challenges of promoting diversity. (80 Minutes)
Kirsten Corby, Chris Hayes, Louise Herring-Jones, Kimberly Richardson, Eris Walsh, Vas
Littlecrow Wotjanowicz, Brandon Black (moderator)
Sunday, 11am, Event One

So You’ve Written A Novel, Now What? The panelists discuss how to find to prepare your manuscript for submission, whether an agent is right for you, and how to find the right publisher.
Trisha Baker, John Hartness, Toni Weisskopf, Brandon Black (moderator)
Sunday, 3pm, Panel Room 1

Steampunk panels:

How Can Steampunk Grow As A Genre? The term “steampunk” first appeared in the late 1980’s, although of course the precursors of the sub-genre go back much further. With the steam explosion in the 21st Century, the panelists discuss where it can from here.
J L Mulvihill, Stephanie Osborn, Kimberly Richardson
Friday, 7pm, Panel Room 2

I, Steampunk. An introduction on the wide and wacky world of Steampunk involving the literary,
cinematic and cultural sources of the movement. In addition the crew of the Adventurers League of G.E.A.R.S. Will attempt to dispel many long standing rumors and myths about steampunk and the culture that surrounds it.
League of GEARS
Friday 4pm, Panel Room 4

Quack Medicine. A discussion of the continuing profession of quackery and pseudo-science in the medical field, from its early routes with snake oil salesmen to more modern issues.
League of GEARS
Saturday, 9pm, Panel Room 1

Steampunk Props and Costumes. Members of the Adventurers League of G.E.A.R.S. will regal you with tales of daring do deep within thrift shops, trash bins and strange basement shops as they inform you just how reasonably you can assemble your first Steampunk costume. Topics will include upcycling, custom fabrication and thrift store treasure mining, even if you’re not a Steampunk some of the techniques and concepts discussed here are useful to the generalized costuming trade.
League of GEARS
Saturday, 11am, Panel Room 4

Victorian Dance Class. If you’ve ever wondered what the appropriate dances would be for a Steampunk Cotillion, concert or tea dance, your curiosity will be satisfied here.
Rebecca Smith
Saturday, 8pm, Panel Room 2

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New Orleans-based fantasy and science fiction author Brandon Black is the editor of the By Gaslight steampunk anthology series. He has a Bachelor’s in Military and Political Journalism and a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. His short fiction has appeared in Dark Oak Press’ Dreams of Steam III and Seventh Star Press’ A Chimerical World: Tales of the Seelie Court. Brandon has just published a short anthology of steampunk and gaslamp fiction short stories entitled Mechanical Tales and is working on completing his first novel. His most recent story “The Night Mississippi Declared War on the Moon,” has been published in Capes and Clockwork 2.
All text copyright Brandon Black 2016.

Updates

The copies of Cairo By Gaslight for the May 18th Book Signing/Book Reading have been ordered and are on the way to the library. Contributing authors present at the ceremony will receive their contributor’s copies then and the rest will receive theirs in the mail shortly after.

We have two new calls for submissions. Our next steampunk/gaslamp fantasy anthology, Paris By Gaslight, is being opened to submissions of poetry and fiction. The Other World is being re-opened in the hopes of fleshing the book out more. Submissions of urban fantasy (19th – 21st centuries) involving the Fey are requested, both poetry and fiction.

Projected date of publication for both books is January 2017.

* * *

New Orleans-based fantasy and science fiction author Brandon Black is the editor of the By Gaslight steampunk anthology series. He has a Bachelor’s in Military and Political Journalism and a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. His short fiction has appeared in Dark Oak Press’ Dreams of Steam III and Seventh Star Press’ A Chimerical World: Tales of the Seelie Court. Brandon has just published a short anthology of steampunk and gaslamp fiction short stories entitled Mechanical Tales and is working on completing his first novel, I Was A Teenage Air Pirate.
All text copyright Brandon Black 2016.

In Praise Of Flash Fiction, Sort Of

I don’t care for flash fiction most of the time. The shorter the story, the harder it is to do world-building.

But that’s one of the reasons why from time to time, I try my hand at flash fiction. Flash fiction requires you to imply a lot of your world-building, to find the key details that may not directly spell out the history and politics of your world but do at least convey something of the core vibe of the fictional setting in question.

Writing a story of less than fifteen hundred words, forces a writer to identify what the core idea of the story is and what’s at the heart of what you want to convey to the reader. To put it simply, it’s very good practice. I may not ever be the best flash fiction author in the world but I’ll make use of the limitations of flash fiction to hone my work.

I think it’s also why I hear from time to time that the best form for science fiction is the novella, not the short story. The novella gives the author more time, more room to develop a setting and for that setting to have its interactions with plot and character. I also suspect that involved, intricate worldbuilding is behind fantasy’s penchant for multi-book series of epic novels.

Speculative fiction is the genre of ideas. The idea is the thing. And an immersive setting allows for an idea or a set of ideas to work their way through everything, the plot, the characters, it enables a branching interlocking network of ideas to be developed and interact with one another, an alternate world with an alternate perspective to look upon our own reality. Is the way we’ve been doing things all the time the only way? Are there better ways to do things? Worse ways? What would be some of the circumstances if society functioned differently?

Any tool that helps you to explore and develop those ideas better is worthwhile to the emerging speculative fiction author and so I wholeheartedly advocate the occasional foray into writing flash fiction even if the stories produced aren’t one’s best work.

* * *

New Orleans-based fantasy and science fiction author Brandon Black is the editor of the By Gaslight steampunk anthology series. He has a Bachelor’s in Military and Political Journalism and a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. His short fiction has appeared in Dark Oak Press’ Dreams of Steam III and Seventh Star Press’ A Chimerical World: Tales of the Seelie Court. Brandon has just published a short anthology of steampunk and gaslamp fiction short stories entitled Mechanical Tales and is working on completing his first novel, I Was A Teenage Air Pirate.

 


More interviews! More articles!

Press coverage of New Orleans By Gaslight and Cairo By Gaslight has been very favorable! I’ve only just now uploaded links to all the different interviews and articles covering the anthologies.

Check it out!

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New Orleans-based fantasy and science fiction author Brandon Black is the editor of the By Gaslight steampunk anthology series. He has a Bachelor’s in Military and Political Journalism and a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. His short fiction has appeared in Dark Oak Press’ Dreams of Steam III and Seventh Star Press’ A Chimerical World: Tales of the Seelie Court. Brandon has just published a short anthology of steampunk and gaslamp fiction short stories entitled Mechanical Tales and is working on completing his first novel, I Was A Teenage Air Pirate. You can find out more about Brandon and his work at his website at brandonblackonline.com.

Introduction to Cairo By Gaslight

Introduction

by Brandon Black

Let us begin with the matter of why an editor living in New Orleans should commission an anthology of stories set in Cairo, Egypt.

At thirty degrees North latitude, Cairo is, if not a twin of New Orleans, She is at least a sister city. Like New Orleans, She is a major international port, an exotic destination for travellers from the world over and a cultural centre for all the many varied peoples around Her. She is a hinge, a nexus, a centre for trade and communication connecting Europe and Africa with Judea and Arabia, the Mediterranean and Turkey. If New Orleans is the City of Sensual Delights, then Cairo is the City of Intrigues, although She certainly isn’t any slouch in the sensual delights department Herself. As New Orleans is fed by the winding waters of the Mississippi, the longest river in North America, so is Cairo watered by the sacred flow of the Nile, longest river in the world. And like New Orleans, Cairo is a city called home by many people of varied and different complexions.

Cairo is a city of minarets and mysteries, of travellers and their tales and of journeys begun and journeys ended. Cairo sings of a fabled past where Pharaohs built magnificent edifices such as the Great Pyramids, unmatched statuary like the Great Sphinx and one of the first advanced civilizations on Earth at a time when Western Europeans had not yet managed the written word. Egyptian civilization was literally made fertile by the Nile, nurtured and nursed by it, its sacred waters providing the agricultural foundation that would lead to empire. And like New Orleans, Cairo is a gate and home to powerful gods and ancient spirits birthed in Mother Africa. Founded with the planet Mars rising, the oldest name for Cairo is Khere-Ohe, “the Place of Combat,” as legend proclaims it the site for a cataclysmic battle between Horus, God of the Sun and Sutekh the Destroyer.

But all that is in the world we know. This Cairo is different. This City of a Thousand Minarets dwells in a world where Napoleon led his troops through Her streets mounted on a clockwork steed and the Battle of the Nile was fought between airships. This Cairo is one of an infinite progression of Cairos, all seen through the lens of steampunk fiction. Steampunk makes an ancient and exotic locale all the more ancient, and certainly, all the more exotic. Floating temples drift lazily overhead, exchanging places throughout the city in an architectural ballet. Elaborate palaces filled with untold riches are populated by the rulers of the city, be they Sultans, Ottoman governors, British Lords, Mohammedan caliphs or French airship admirals. This Cairo is not only home and port of call to steamships travelling up and down the Nile’s waters, but her towers are home or at least, a temporary roost, for airships travelling to and from India, Ethiopia, Capetown, Cameroon, Singapore and far Cathay.

Muskets fire and scimitars clash with swords as Muslims and Crusaders battle in the streets. Cannons bellow and blaze as airships barrage one another in the skies. Filigreed brass men, forged in the coal-fired furnaces of Ottoman Turkey, prove their worth on the battlefield as noble houses clash to see who will rule the Sultanate, and Imams struggle desperately to regain lost power after a resurgent cult of Bast sweeps the ancient Goddess back into favour. Egyptian mechanical cavalry ride out to do battle with Ethiopian steam oliphaunts in a clash between the two growing empires.

Among these infinite alternate Cairos are ones where the Khedive of Egypt threw off the yokes of Britain, France and the Ottoman Empire to join with the great air pirate tribes of North Africa and turn Cairo in a Mecca for air piracy. Sky smugglers traffic both in the new mechanised wonders of the Age of Steam and in talismans and artefacts of unknown and unfathomable mystic power from antiquity. Other Cairos see a long and bitter cold war between Britain and France turn Egypt into the front line of a European proxy war. Further afield lay Cairos that witness the struggles between Carthage and Rome reach all the way into the nineteenth century.

The streets and alleyways are thick with spies and secrets abound, though their veracity cannot be proven. Darkling whispers and shadowed cries of passion are as much Her traffic and Her trade as any pallet of Egyptian cotton or sack of sugared dates. The City of Intrigues stands as She always has, a monument steeped in secrecy and sin, and to all who walk Her streets, encountering Her wonders and delights, Her dangers and Her heartaches, in time, She provides answers to queries both spoken aloud and unuttered, but makes no promises as to whether or not one will find the answers satisfying or even if they will lead one only deeper into mystery.

Cheers,

Brandon Black

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New Orleans-based fantasy and science fiction author Brandon Black is the editor of the By Gaslight steampunk anthology series. He has a Bachelor’s in Military and Political Journalism and a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. His short fiction has appeared in Dark Oak Press’ Dreams of Steam III and Seventh Star Press’ A Chimerical World: Tales of the Seelie Court. Brandon has just published a short anthology of steampunk and gaslamp fiction short stories entitled Mechanical Tales and is working on completing his first novel, I Was A Teenage Air Pirate.