Reading: Living In Infamy, a Carbon Run story

skullAs I mentioned in a previous post, I wrote two Carbon Run short stories, Zillah Harmonia, and Living in Infamy. I’ve recorded the second story and posted it on SoundCloud. In a future when fossil fuels are banned, the captain of a US Navy destroyer, plagued by guilt over a friendly-fire incident, hunts a dangerous carbon smuggler and gets help from a disgraced, dead relative.

Let me know what you think.

Reading: Zillah Harmonia, a Carbon Run Story

RoseThis spring, I took a short story writing class through Hugo House, a Seattle non-profit dedicated to teaching and promoting poetry and literature. I wrote two stories during the eight-week class, and I’ve produced an audio version of one of them, “Zillah Harmonia“. In a future decade when fixing the environment is the world’s top priority, an elderly homeowner must decide whether to fight a citation that might mean the loss of her home. The story is told in the Carbon Run world, which I’ve created in three yet-to-be-published novels. Let me know what you think.

BTW, I’ll publish an audio version of the second story, titled “Living in Infamy,” later this summer.

Poll: What genre does my current novel project belong in?


Genres? Genres? We don’t need no stinkin’ genres!

Writers of a certain stripe hate fiction genres. Committed writers focus on character and plot, and the fact that a story takes place in space or another historical era is secondary. Writers can live with basic genres, such as science fiction or mystery, but when things get fine-grained, such as paranormal romance (the Twilight series, for example), they have a tendency to go ape-shit. The labels are too constraining, too arbitrary, they complain. And when you bring up the newest sub-genres, such as “solarpunk” or “climate fiction,” you get strange looks or outright hostility, pure and simple.

I once thought I wrote science fiction, but my editor on Carbon Run convinced me that it’s a dystopian thriller, more in line with Hunger Games than Star Trek. In truth, only booksellers care about genre, apart from the readers they’ve trained. Genres are simply conveniences that writers have to live with. Put another way, genres are the old solution to the discoverability problem: How do writers find readers and vice versa? You want sci-fi, you look on the sci-fi shelf, or enter “sci-fi” in the Amazon search box. Continue reading

What is the role of a writer as climate change creeps up on us?


People in suits gather in Paris to decide the fate of a climate-change world.

It’s a ripe scene for satire. Twenty-five thousand bureaucrats and another 25,000 hangers-on are gathered in Paris at COP21 to exchange climate change jargon over sustainable wine and cheese. It’s hard, however, to ignore the seriousness of their effort, especially as a pall lingers over the city three weeks after the November 13 terror attacks. The spectacle of so many people in sensible shoes working as one reminds me that most problems are solvable with elbow grease and cooperation. Best to leave them alone to do their jobs.

Maybe I’m a little jealous. It must be exciting to be part of an effort that could save the planet while exchanging tips on the best places in France for glamping. Instead, my head is buried in my laptop as I try to tell stories about survival in a future that no one can predict with any certainty. Even if COP21 is wildly successful, the planet will still warm by a couple of degrees, and millions of mostly poor people will have to cope with the changes. Continue reading

Excerpt: Extinction’s Kapitan Gore tells his story

Tiger in the Jungle

A detail from Tiger in the Jungle, by Yuri Kravchenko.

As the corsair sub Extinction cruises the open waters of the Arctic Ocean, a cooling system on its ancient nuclear reactor fails. Brother Martin Scribb, kidnapped and made one of the crew, saves the boat with some quick thinking. He is invited to the cabin of Kapitan Gore, the boat’s commander. The monstrous master of Extinction reveals his story in this excerpt from chapter 21 of Carbon Run.

Martin Scribb sat in the captain’s great cabin, sweating. Extinction’s air was kept at a low humidity to resist corrosion, but here in Gore’s living space, the humidity had to be 90 to 100 percent, Martin thought. Tropical plants lined the walls, some with huge flowers with exotic scents that matched the thickness of the air. Mixed with the moisture and perfume was a whiff of decaying leaf litter. It was the smell of slow death. The only thing missing was the cacophony of insects mating, killing, and dying in a true jungle. The metal walls and deck were clear of the rust Martin would’ve expected in a humid environment. A special paint or coating fought off the inevitable oxidation.

Gore tapped at a tablet keyboard, his fingers dexterous despite their thickness and covering of tawny hair. The curved claws that the creature showed on Martin’s arrival were retracted, much like a real cat’s. Gore’s green-yellow eyes bored into Martin. “Well, Mr. Scribb. It seems you have saved Extinction.”

“Please, sir.” Martin picked up on the military forms of address favored on the sub. “I’m a brother of the Penitents of Saint Francis.”

“I see… Brother Scribb.” Gore grimaced, which Martin took as a kind of smile, though the teeth were that of a carnivore, not an omnivore. “Allow me to say thank-you. You are the hero of the hour.”

Martin, like most people who act quickly in an emergency, did not feel himself a hero. “If I had not acted, everyone on board might’ve died, myself included.”

“Indeed. And you are responsible for enough death, aren’t you?” Continue reading

Excerpt: Extinction and Kapitan Gore find a target

Image taken through a periscope

Kapitan Gore and Extinction find a victim.

In chapter 20 of Carbon Run, Brother Martin Scribb of the Penitents of Saint Francis is rising in the ranks of the corsair submarine Extinction. The sub prowls the Arctic Ocean, searching for ships carrying a valuable, illegal cargo. In this excerpt, Kapitan Gore finds what he’s looking for.

The decision to accept Kapitan Gore’s offer of “freedom and wealth” came easily to Martin. He had known plenty of the alternative since his disidentification, and although he still held hope of finding Molly Bain and the possibility of redemption in the eyes of the larger society, Martin saw Extinction as a way to hedge his bets. Gore would extract some sort of price for his generosity, though Martin had no idea what that price was.

One day, the captain invited Martin to the control room, where every officer, male and female, greeted him with contempt. Martin recognized Nelson, whom Gore introduced as his executive officer. Lurking near a holo-console was Reason, Gore’s tactical officer and well as chief thug. Continue reading

Carbon Run II: Does Antarctica rise?

Antarctica without ice

Antarctica without ice as envisioned by the British Antarctic Survey

I’m planning a second novel with a climate change theme under the Carbon Run title. The new project doesn’t have a working title yet, although it’s definitely a Carbon Run II. Let’s call it CRII for short. It’s not a sequel, in that I’m not interested in following most of the character’s lives after Carbon Run ends. I’d rather start with a fresh set of characters. I’m not averse, however, to having a Carbon Run character show up in CRII.

Here’s the basic premise of CRII: Around the year 2100, global warming has gotten so far out of control that only the lands above 60° north latitude and below 60° south latitude are friendly to humans. In the north, that leaves the Arctic Ocean surrounded by the extreme northern lands of North America and the Eurasian continent. In the south, the only land below 60° south is Antarctica. All the earth in between, where almost all the human population lives today, no longer supports humanity. It’s either too hot or the weather is too extreme for agriculture on a large scale, although the vagaries of the climate allow small pockets of people to survive. Continue reading

Excerpt: The truth about Anne Penn’s mother

Lauren Carr photo

Image courtesy Lauren Carr.

In chapter 18 of Carbon Run, Deputy Inspector Janine Kilel of the Bureau of Environmental Security visits the Penn Ranch, which is next to a wildlife refuge destroyed by a fire. Kilel believes Anne Penn’s father, Bill, sparked the blaze caused the extinction of an endangered bird. But her suspect has escaped, and Kilel hopes Anne will help her locate the suspect. But Anne is hostile, as is her friend, Gary Schmidt. During her visit, Kilel picks through belongings Anne salvaged from the fire, which also destroyed Anne’s home.

Kilel studied the holo-pic. The image was familiar. But it was faded and grainy. “Who is this?”

Anne cooled down. “My mother.”

Kilel tried to place the woman’s face. “What’s her name?”

“Molly. She died when I was very young.”

Molly! “She’s dead?”

“Yes! Why are you asking me about her?”

“What was her name?”

“Molly Penn.” Anne said the name as if Kilel were dense as stone.

“No, her maiden name.”


A shock went up Kilel’s spine. She had to check against something objective. She called up the BES database in her minds-eye and the answer came back almost before she finished composing the query. The photo in the database wasn’t the same as the holo-pic. But it was an image of the same person taken a few years later. Kilel addressed Anne. “Your mother is Molly Bain.”

“That’s what I said. What are you getting at?”

“Molly Bain is an environmental criminal. She was convicted of crimes related to the Spike. She escaped disidentification by turning state’s evidence against Martin Scribb.”

Anne looked as if Kilel had told the young woman that her mother was alive. “You’re wrong!” Anne said. “She died after the Spike! Because of the Spike. That’s what my dad told me. It was a flood or something.”

“Molly Bain, formerly Mrs. William Penn, with one child, Anne Penn, was an AI researcher who programmed the drilling robots that failed on all the Algid Project methyl hydrate sites, causing a massive release of methane. The release started a cascading failure of the entire methyl hydrate bed in the Barents Sea, releasing millions of metric tons into the atmosphere, doubling its capacity to retain atmospheric heat for nearly a decade. Your mother killed 20 percent of the wild species on the planet. Your mother caused the worst mass extinction in 65 million years.”

“Stop it!” Mike stepped in front of Anne, blocking her from Kilel’s view.

The inspector shook with anger. She looked away from Anne and Mike, fearful she might lash out with her fist. A primal part of her wanted to strike Anne for the part of Molly Bain in the young woman, even if it was only a strand of DNA. She wanted to visit punishment on Anne for the sins of the mother for her environmental genocide.

“Stop it!” Mike repeated. “Anne was a baby. She had nothing to do with the Spike or what her mother did.”

Kilel breathed in and closed her eyes, fighting to regain control of herself. “You’re correct, Mr. Schmidt. Anne had nothing to do with the Spike or her mother’s crimes. And unlike her father, she’s not responsible for the fire that wiped out a species. But she is her mother’s daughter, and her father’s daughter.” Kilel glanced at the snag with the magpie nest. “That much is clear.”

Kilel turned on her heel and returned to the car. I can’t be here. I can’t control myself when I think of what that family represents. Sweat trickled down her neck and back, soaking the blouse under her tunic. She punched in the unlock code and the car came on. A blast of hot air blew out of the vent, before the artificial breeze cooled it to an office-like temperature. She ordered the car back to the highway and it kicked up dust from the unpaved driveway, leaving a cloud that obscured Kilel’s view of Anne Penn and Mike Schmidt in the rear view monitor.

Read more excerpts from Carbon Run. What do you think?

Excerpt: Churchill, Manitoba in the 22nd Century

Polar bear sculpture in Churchill, Manitoba

Churchill, Manitoba is one of the settings in Carbon Run. I mention this sculpture, though it’s not in the best condition in the mid-22nd century.

In this excerpt from the beginning of chapter 17 in Carbon Run, Martin Scribb, a disidentified man, has reached Churchill, Manitoba. Today, the community is a tiny port on the west shore of Hudson Bay. After the Warming in the 22nd century, I imagine the port as one of the important gateways to the newly opened north shore of Eurasia, now that ships can sail through the Northwest Passage and cross an ice-free Arctic Ocean.

The bartender was a huge, barrel-chested man with greasy hair and thick arms that tapered to fingers so delicate that Martin Scribb wondered if he was a jeweler or watchmaker in his spare time. He glanced at the brand on Martin’s forehead, and the message delivered by his scowl was clear: You are not welcome here. Get out. Patrons at the bar watched the faceoff, some leaning forward, expecting, or hoping, the bartender would lay Martin on the floor like a cheap carpet. Martin never argued with men or women like the bartender. Even if the attacker punched first, cops automatically took the attacker’s side, and the law backed them up. Continue reading

What’s for breakfast on the corsair sub ‘Extinction’?

Cockroaches eating a sandwich

Cockroaches are a unplanned protein supplement aboard Extinction.

In this excerpt from chapter 16 of my novel-in-progress Carbon Run, Martin Scribb, a brother in the Penitents of St. Francis, eats breakfast aboard the corsair submarine Extinction. The crew of Extinction call themselves “the damned.” Martin points to one character’s “brand,” which is a raised marking on the forehead indicating the planet’s worst criminals. Reason is one of the submarine’s petty officers, or “bosses.”

Reason herded Martin’s group into the crew mess, a narrow cabin with a long aluminum table. Benches lined each side of the table, which was covered with stains of all colors and crawling with cockroaches. The shit-colored insects were fearless, running up to each bowl of cornmeal mush placed in front of the damned as if they were puppies eager for scraps from their masters. Through his years of privation as a monk with the Penitents of Saint Francis, Martin learned to ignore crawling visitors, brushing away the submariner roaches with his hand. New crew refused to eat the gruel. Eventually, hunger forced them to dip their unwashed spoons into their food, which varied in consistency from watery chunks covered with an oily sheen to thin papier-mâché. Experienced crew valued the insects as protein, and they swallowed the unlucky bugs who slipped into the gruel and drowned. Some were eaten before their legs stopped wriggling.

Martin savored his meals, remembering the days in the hot sun of the eastern reaches of Pacific West when a drink of water was all he could expect for days on end. He relished chewing on a piece of gristle or a sliver of carrot. On some days, moldy crusts of bread appeared, which the damned devoured in seconds. The scraps came from the bosses’ mess, or the captain’s cabin. As he sized up his shipmates, he noted that none were starving, though none were thriving. The cook–an unseen psychopath–was adding nutritional supplements to the gruel, possibly antibiotics as well. Ranchers once did such things to cattle and sheep. Why not do the same thing to the damned? Continue reading