Down on the Rio Grande

Friday, 11 April 2014 • with 2 comments

Altered AmericaMy story “Rio Grande” appears in the new alternate-history anthology, Altered America. Gambling gunfighter Lorenzo seeks vengeance against a card sharp in the Republic of the Rio Grande, an independent country based on the economic principles of Frederic Bastiat:

“When the Republicans defeated the Mexican army at Morales, everyone knew it was only a matter of time before Mexico tried again. They realized our little breakaway estado could only be held by force. Force means men. So they encouraged homesteading to grow the population. They tried various policies for a few years but nothing worked. Everyone wanted to go to California instead. Finally President Jordan discovered the writings of a French philosopher named Bastiat. This philosopher advocated free exchange. No taxes. No tariffs. No customs. A strictly confined government. ‘Law is organized justice,’ said the philosopher — anything beyond that is perversion. So they scrapped everything and started over with a new constitution based on his writings and principles. They advertised it in all the eastern newspapers. Cheap land. Live tariff free. Women can vote. And where there are women, there are men and soon enough children who grow up to defend against Mexico. Then there weren’t enough branches in the trees to beat back the settlers.”

“But how do you pay for the judges and the marshals? Who builds the courthouses?”

“The philosopher wasn’t against taxes so much as their unfair and arbitrary application,” said Valasquez. “So to keep everyone honest, there are none to begin with. Citizens can make donations. But that’s exactly how Jordan managed to convince his caudillo supporters to agree to the constitution. It meant only self-sufficient people could afford to be judges and marshals.”

“Only the wealthy, you mean.”

“How is that worse than America?”

Alien Space Bats maybe, but I’ve often wondered why banana-republic rebellions usually take such a distinctly left-hand turn. The answer, I suppose, is Marxism’s empty pledge to eliminate the elite classes, a mistake based on the assumption that class derives from economic systems rather than being a natural by-product of state-level civilization.

In any event, “Rio Grande” isn’t for or against libertarianism so much as it is a stab at that most pernicious of modern ideologies, utopianism. Earlier this week at, author Anne Fortier noted the power of historical fiction:

To the freedom-friendly novelist, one further advantage of historical fiction is that the entire history of mankind is jam-packed with tragic examples of what Hayek called “the fatal conceit” and the corrupting effects of power — especially state power.

It’s worth reading her whole essay, though I’m not sure what business Fortier has throwing speculative fiction under the bus after writing a whole book about a mythological matriarchy (for all of her self-satisfaction, it seems Fortier hasn’t learned that genre — the difference of where you’re shelved in the bookstore — is simply packaging). But she’s right: history shows that power disparities are inevitable once a certain complexity of social organization is reached, and the key is not a false promise of eradicating those disparities but rather blunting power so that it does the least harm.

You can purchase the whole anthology here — I’m happy to report the Kindle edition has seen a steady burn of sales since its release — or read my complete story for free here. And if you enjoyed the antho, please leave a review at Amazon or Goodreads!


Samuel Smedley: Man of Fairfield!

Thursday, 3 April 2014 • 0 comments

Samuel Smedley, Connecticut PrivateerSaturday I’ll be at the downtown Fairfield University Bookstore to present about Fairfield’s Revolutionary past. Along with Rita Papazian — two for the price of free! — I’ll be discussing Samuel Smedley, Caleb Brewster, and the 1779 burning of Fairfield. The talk runs from 1-3pm on the second floor.

And if you’re a fan of Caleb Brewster, the first episode of Turn debuts this Sunday night on AMC. The five-part series dramatizes the events of the Culper spy ring, the famous Patriot intelligence network that developed in New York and Long Island after the city’s fall to British troops and Loyalists. Brewster, a native of Setauket before decamping across the Sound to Fairfield, was a crucial link in the ring, ferrying information about British goings-on from Long Island to Connecticut and thence to General Washington. And as if he wasn’t enough of a bad-ass already, Brewster was also handy in a fight. The Journal of the American Revolution has seen early episodes and given it eight Huzzahs.

Solar Scuffle at Seaside Park

Friday, 7 March 2014 • 0 comments

Today at National Geographic’s Energy Blog, I have a story about Bridgeport’s environmentalist-on-environmentalist dog pile over a plan to situate a 9,000-panel solar array atop the landfill in Seaside Park:

Torres believes the solar project should be sited elsewhere in the city. “It does not belong in a park. It belongs on any of the countless, countless unused or massively underutilized land owned by the city.”

According to the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), Bridgeport has 17 brownfield sites totaling more than 185 acres. This doesn’t include any number of non-polluted but abandoned lots and buildings in Bridgeport, a phenomenon so ubiquitous that Connecticut Yankee Seth MacFarlane once used it to zing the city on Family Guy.

Anybody who’s ever driven through Little-Detroit-on-the-Sound knows the city does not lack space for projects such as this. The real issue, of course, is that Bport doesn’t own any of those brownfields or derelict factories, so they’d have to lay some currency on the countertop before they could even think about siting the array anywhere but on park land. UIL sure as hell isn’t going to buy real estate for renewables.

I’m surprised Finch doesn’t want to put the panels on Pleasure Beach — it’s not like citizens will ever see a return on the $1.9 million appropriation to run ferries out there.

Haiku Out of the Blue

Friday, 28 February 2014 • 0 comments

Frost first thing.

My friend and Ithaca College writing professor Cory Brown wrote to me about a new project of his, wicked haiku: a devil’s dictionary, wherein he posts cynical verse daily. Some of my favorites:


the gift from two holes
the ass who lent it to you
and the one you’re in


the little cabin
in the woods you built before
it all fell apart


a sometimes lethal
virus that you wish happy
people would contract

Every one of them is a sharp little piece of glass; Cory tells me he has over 700 more waiting to be scattered across the city sidewalk. And if it turns out you like poetry but didn’t even know it-tree, Cory also has a book you might enjoy.

The Gao of Bill

Sunday, 19 January 2014 • 0 comments

Heartless Gao Walks Number Nine Hell.Never heard of Bill Ward? It’s your loss, though understandable. Despite having appeared in such pubs as Howard Andrew Jones’s Flashing Swords, Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, Kaleidotrope, and enough anthologies to burst an equort’s saddlebags, Ward remains shamefully underrated and unknown in the genre community.

Part of the handicap lies in the fact that as a short-story writer much of his work has appeared on paper rather than Paperwhite, which in modern times cockblocks discovery. Recently though, Bill collected and re-published his fiction as five e-books, each affordably priced at $3.99. Such value!

Interestingly my short story backlist sort of naturally fell into 30k-ish sized chunks of themed stories. There are two collections that are mostly heroic fantasy, sword & sorcery, or dark fantasy, those being ‘The Last of His Kind and Other Stories’ and ‘Mightier Than the Sword and Other Stories.’ ‘Heartless Gao Walks Number Nine Hell and Other Stories’ collects mostly ‘mythic’ type pieces, stories that are written in a style more akin to fables or legends. I also had enough for two science fiction collections, divided roughly into ‘naughty’ and ‘nice.’ On the naughty side we have ‘Named in Blood and Other Stories’ which is darker, grimmer stuff; ’20,000 Light Years to Lilliput and Other Stories’ is a funnier collection, less serious, and a bit more all over the place genre-wise.

Having previously purchased a copy of Heartless Gao (which at that point only contained the titular story), Bill sent me a copy of the expanded Heartless Gao Walks Number Nine Hell and Other Stories. Included are nine fantasies set in days of yore. Lust for wealth and the daughters of oracles drowns whole Hyperborean landscapes in “The Wroeth’s Grinding Bowl” and “The Old Man and the Mountain of Fire,” while Irish legends echo in “The Midnight Maiden” and “When They Come to Murder Me.” The Aesopic “How Antkind Lost Its Soul” satirizes corporate cubicle-copia; likewise, the repentant soldier-turned-monk Heartless Gao takes on the bureaucracy of a Chinese afterlife in the very clever and very worthwhile namesake tale. My favorites are the collection’s two bookends, “Gandolo of the Watchful Eye” and “Crow: A Triptych,” the first a rich sardonicism combining the best of Clark Ashton Smith and Fritz Leiber’s Lankhmar, the other an arc reaching from classical Greece to post-apocalypticism.

I wish Bill would write more, especially in the “Gandolo” style. His dry humor is rare among fantasists (you can hear the laugh track when most writers combine labyrinths and levity) and his stories are almost always whole narratives — you know, those things with beginnings and middles and conclusions — rather than the pretty scenes strung together in literary ostentation seen so commonly in the pro markets. Please consider this humble recommendation when spending your Christmas Kindle gift cards.

Everything Old Is New

Wednesday, 1 January 2014 • 0 comments


O Jackson, where art thou? you may ask yourself while stopping by this blog only to see it hasn’t been updated, like, again.

My absence from this blog, from writing, from even my own life has been due to my greatest historical project ever. In June, Mrs. Kuhl was out for a walk when she saw a For Sale By Owner sign. Next thing I knew, we were buying and restoring a dilapidated 1899 Dutch colonial revival. It was a horror movie from the beginning — most banks didn’t want to touch it. So we spent the summer assembling the financing while simultaneously evicting the then-current residents, a tenacious family of raccoons. Only after three months of hair-pulling and tooth-grinding did the real renovation begin. Applications for historical appropriateness. Demolition. Tree removal. Wallpaper removal. New kitchens and baths and windows and doors. Repair of rot and gaping holes in walls. Conversion to natural gas from oil, which had replaced the original natural gas. Painting and trim work. Landscaping and clean-up. And we still have about three months to go.

There aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything needing doing. But at least when I jump out of bed running, I land in a nice house.