Story Review: Black Amazon of Mars by Leigh Brackett

I can’t use the cover used in Planet Stories. However, this is the cover used for the story collection in Fantasy Masterworks.

I get this story recommended to me often. In truth, the circles I run in love older stories, and they seem to always extol Black Amazon of Mars as one of the better tales from the past.

Leigh Brackett was once called the “Queen of Space Opera”, and I have to admit that this story lives up to the hype.

Black Amazon of Mars has vivid storytelling, a fast pace, interesting action and characters, and twists and turns I didn’t see coming.

The story follows Eric John Stark, a recurring character in Brackett’s work. First published in 1951, it was originally in PLanet Stories, but subsequent publications used either the changed version or the original (depending). I read the original.

In this story, Eric is with his friend Camar, who is dying. Camar held in his possession a lens of some type that has some powerful abilities. As Camar dies, he Eric volunteers to take the lens back to his Martian people. However, a band of marauders, lead by the mysterious Lord Ciaran, are planning an attack on the city Camar comes from.

Stark is a good character, though he felt pretty generic. His “wandering rogue” aesthetic held pretty standard for a pulp story, but the real shining stars were the other characters. Lord Ciaran, in particular, was fascinating. There are a lot of martians in the city that interested me, but mostly by that part of the story, Ciaran’s uniqueness eclipsed the other characters.

All in all, I’d recommend this for anyone who likes science fiction or fantasy. It’s only about 70 pages, so I think it’s worth it. It’s fantastic.

You may like some of my other reviews:

Book Review: The High Crusade by Poul Anderson

Book Review: The Ship of Ishtar by A. Merritt

Book Review: The Dragon Masters by Jack Vance

You may also like some of my other work:

Writing with Inspiration

How to Tell if Your Writing is Improving

Poetry: “Rusted Theme Park from My Childhood”

Make sure to follow me on Twitter and Instagram!


Should I Write a Short Story or a Novel?

This question has vexed me since I’ve started writing. The first novel-length work I ever wrote was effectively a lengthened short story by throwing contrived plot twists into the story.

It was terrible.

However, the question is a valid one: What should the length of my story be?

To be honest, there’s more options than just short story or novel. You could write a novella (and I am currently working on one) or any other length of work. So I brainstormed and came up with a few pointers for people, like me, who struggle to decide which way to go with their fiction:

  • The length of the work should depend on the work itself and your own style.

I spent some time working on a short story. I really liked where it was going. A deep lore, interesting fantasy elements, and even a geography. I think you can see the problem already. This work was not meant to be a short story. It was meant to be a longer format.

If your story involves a deeply entrenched history and other worldbuilding elements, you may want to go with a longer format. Short stories are designed to tell a tale quickly and effectively. It’s hard to get as detailed as you’d like with a short story, but not impossible.

  • A longer format allows for mistakes.

Novels can be messy. By that I mean they should be well-written, plotted, and designed to have a story with characters. But, you can make “mistakes” that you can’t make with short stories.

Due to the word constraints in a short story, there’s less space to experiment with different scenes, or beats, in a story. You have to setup and pay off within the same 3000 words, for example. In a novel, you can set things up that suggest something, then have a reversal of those expectations later in the story. However, it may be 30,000 words between setup and pay off. You have the room to experiment with it.

If your style is more attuned to adding new plot threads, suggestions of further depth, or hidden secrets, then a longer length may be preferable.

If the story contains those elements in your outlining, then you may want to think about going for the longer length, as well.

  • Short fiction has the benefit of brevity.

If “brevity is the soul of wit”, then I’d argue that a short story helps writers become witty with their choices.

Short fiction helps a writer develop plotting and endings far better than any novel. However, once a writer has developed as a short story writer, most will make the move to novels. The character development, dialogue, and worldbuilding that you can do in a novel is just plain fun. Conventional wisdom has always held that a writer should work on short stories first, then work on novels. I’m not sure I’d go as far as saying that’s required in all cases, but I see the benefits.

All in all, think about it. You and your story may benefit from a different format.

You might like some of my book reviews:

Book Review: The King of Elfland’s Daughter by Lord Dunsany

Book Review: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Book Review: The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe

You may also like my other work on writing:

Finding Your Writing Style

Dodging Derivatives

Make sure to follow me on Twitter and Instagram!

5 Suggestions for Creating Interesting Characters

Writing a character who comes off as “interesting” is a feat for any new writer. Characters are the actors in a story, and if they don’t feel real or interesting then the story is half-formed and stilted. So how can you create interesting characters for your story? Below I have 5 suggestions to help you:

  1. Give Them Flaws. Characters need to have flaws because they are people. Whether this is Pip’s ignorance in Great Expectations, or Romeo and Juliet’s brash actions, characters must make mistakes and do things wrong. It isn’t interesting to read about a perfect person, because that person is unrelatable.
  2. Give Them Challenges. Characters need to overcome something in order to proceed. This thing can be a person, an obstacle to their goals, or even something like getting ready in the morning for work. Challenges define a human being, and overcoming them defines a character.
  3. Give Them Likes and Dislikes. Things you like or dislike don’t necessarily have moral weight. You can dislike a type of food or music and not think of that thing as inherently bad. Characters should have these as well, and not specifically to indicate when something is immoral. It’s very easy to make a character dislike another because that character is the “bad guy”. Instead, give them things they dislike for no real reason. These can be interesting quirks or fascinating character elements.
  4. Give Them Fears. People have things they fear that are unrelated to their goals. Yes, giving a character fears related to their goals is a good idea, like Dorothy fearing she’ll never see Kansas again. However fears can be simply and unrelated to goals specifically, like Holden Caufield fearing the repercussions of being kicked out of school.
  5. Give Them Questions. People often wonder why things are the way they are. Allow your character to explore the world their in, and figure out why their reality is the way it is. This allows greater world-building in your speculative fiction, but there are other options as well. You could also have them directly confront plot elements by questioning the political climate in the world, or maybe the relationship between characters.

These things make a character interesting. Consider them carefully, and also consider how you can make your characters more fleshed out. If you have any suggestions, please leave me a comment below. Thanks!

Writer’s Burn Out and Getting Over It


“Burn out” can happen to anyone. NaNoWriMo was that way for me. It was my first year doing it, but because of the stress and strain of everything during November it was extremely difficult.

As a result I didn’t feel like writing anything after that. I’ve played with some concepts, writing little bits down here and there and ultimately outlining a short story. But the novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo has just been sitting there, untouched, since I finished.

I wanted to add a little more to it; it doesn’t feel complete or even good for that matter.

But I’m back at it. I’m sitting here working on the blog and on that novel. Once I’m done with it I’ll use what I learned to focus my efforts on a novel I’m exceedingly excited about. A novel I won’t be forced to complete in one month! I’m more excited about that than anything.

As a result I’ve learned a few things about getting over burn out:

1. Take a Break.

You have to take a break from these things or risk losing your excitement for them in general. I almost lost any desire to write, but gained it by stepping away for a few weeks from solid writing of any kind. I played some video games, read some books, and really stepped away from “writing” as a discipline for two complete weeks. Then…

2. Ease Yourself Back In.

It’s important to start getting back into it. Most likely you read, or else why would you want to write? Find something you enjoy reading and read it during this time. Make minor writing efforts, like working on a short story or poetry. Something creative that you can do without too much effort. We’re not looking for short stories from Mike Resnick, here, just simple things you may not even want to submit in the future. This is for you.

3. Find a Project You Can Be Excited About

This is the big takeaway for me. Find something that brings back that old excitement that got you into writing in the first place. Something that pushes you into doing what you love because you love the idea. I’m very excited for my newest science fiction novel idea, and it pushes me to want to write it this year.

I’ve found what works for me. If this helps you, then I’m glad. I just hope you can also learn how to get over writer’s burn out. Who knows, you  may suffer a similar fate come November 2017?

Finding a Home for Your Writing

once-upon-a-time-719174_960_720Submissions can be nerve-racking, tedious work. Even when you think you’ve done everything right you’ll get a rejection letter (or email as is more common these days) telling you that your story wasn’t published.

It’s frustrating, especially when you look up to the places you submit to.

But don’t despair! Being a writer means having to deal with critique and rejection. These elements of the path of writing are required before success.

A suggestion would be to find a place for your writing. Where would what you’ve written fit? Where would readers benefit from your perspective?

You wouldn’t submit a horror story to a high fantasy magazine, so why would you submit something about grand war strategy to a publication known for individual emotions?

Know where you’re submitting to before you submit. Find a home for your tales; there’s a place!

Short Story: “The First Robot President”

This story was an exercise to play with the format of short stories. It helps to push your boundaries to play with elements creatively. This wasn’t the best story, and in fact was rejected from everywhere I submitted it, but it’s a nice one so I think it deserves a home on my site.

It’s rough and formatted weird, but I like it still.



The First Robot President – Rough Draft

A Short Term Paper by Jonathan Simmons

For Ms. Geary’s History class

15 August 2503

[Jon, consider changing the title to something more interesting for the final paper – Ms. G]

About Tom Bellows

In 2454 Tom Bellows was the first machine-person to be elected President. He won in a landslide victory after two hundred years of machine-people being thought of as less than human.  Because of his victory, machine-people came to be seen as complete equals to humans, and live and work beside humans on a daily basis.

[The previous sentence is awkward, try to shorten it]

In 2232 the first artificially intelligent machine identified itself [“himself”] as a machine-person, and began to peacefully struggle for acceptance. This machine-person was Rudy the Peaceful, an activist who used video and social media to bring attention to the struggle of robots.

[The term “robot” is useful in the title, but it can be a little offensive if overused; try a term like “android” instead]

Tom Bellows himself was an interesting figure. In 2405, he was a factory worker, building aerospace ships in Missouri. One day he heard his friend talking on the job. This friend was yelled at by their human operators; talking was distracting and could lead to accidents. After continuing to talk, Tom’s friend was damaged by a wrench in his neck.  Under the law, this was not considered assault, since machines were considered property. Tom decided to commit his life to bringing robots together in peaceful unity, like Rudy the Peaceful would have wanted.

[Jon, avoid words like “damaged” when talking about machine-people, it can sound dehumanizing; also stop using the term “robot” and consider using active voice instead of passive. If you need help with that, see me after class]

During the Machine March in 2430, Tom Bellows received recognition for refusing to back away when confronted by police. He peacefully resisted their order to disperse, and the picture of him being arrested with a peaceful look on his android face would go onto [“on to”] be a symbol for the machine rights movement.

After he was released on bail, the Machine Rights Act was passed. It is argued that this act was a response to the fear of machine rebellion, but the machines seemed to be peacefully protesting. The act granted machine-people the status of “people” if they have intelligence. However, the word “intelligence” came to be a [“an”] area of dispute, so the Supreme Court took up the challenge in Welder v. State of Illinois six years later, which determined that intelligence would mean any form of independent reasoning. This meant most machines were protected under the Machine Rights Act, including appliances and vehicles with artificial intelligence.

[Acts of congress always have their years associated. In this case, “Machine Rights Act (2434)”]

Tom Bellows came to be elected into the Missouri state house, the first machine-person in that state to be elected to the legislature.  After one term there, he went on to run for senate but lost. However, he received national attention for that senate run, so when he was appointed as Secretary of Machine Affairs, it was no surprise.

After the Machine Voting Act in 2450, Tom Bellows accepted an appointment as Secretary of State, the first machine-person to hold such an important position. It brought up discussions in the media of what would happen if he had to take over as president.

In 2454, he successfully ran for President under the newly formed MPP, the Mechanized Persons Party. Two things lead to his swift election: the human vote was split between the Founder’s Party and the People’s Progress Party, and the large amount of robots who could vote. He became president with 65% of the popular vote.

[Again, please don’t use the term “robot”, and some of your sentences are running a little long]

A side effect of his presidency was that the machine vote splintered between the two historically human parties and the MPP. This was because President Bellows broke away from the MPP one year into his term. This is important because he said machines deserved to have differing opinions on governance, and found himself agreeing with a lot of the FP platform.

[This is a debatable statement, and switches tenses awkwardly. Also, don’t start a sentence with “this” by itself]

In conclusion, Tom Bellows is an inspiration, and a fascinating figure in human-machine relations. President Bellows’ legacy is one of peaceful progress, and I want to grow up to bring people together like he did. Not only was he a machine rights leader, but a historical figure that was well known for being calm and peaceful. He rejected warfare as a means of keeping control, and attempted to move the country away from violence. Machine-people are all over the country, working beside humans and living their lives with us. Tom Bellows helped this world become a reality.

[This conclusion could use some work, but all in all, good job. I would say this was a solid B paper. Since this is the optional rough draft, clean it up a little and you should be set for an A when I grade it. – Ms. Geary, teaching unit #0012024]