Monday, October 05, 2009

A novel approach

Just a reminder: all this sf/fantasy goodness is now available in electronic format at Amazon's Kindle store.

It's 1983 in New Sparta, NY, and Warren Dawson is beloved by everyone... his friends, his family, even random strangers on the street. Everybody loves Warren and wants to make him happy. The TVs only show his favorite programs, the radios only play his favorite songs, the movie theaters always have his favorite movies. And, naturally, all the women are beautiful, and all of them love Warren unreservedly and uninhibitedly...

When Warren's best friend Jimmy starts to notice just how strange the reality he and all his friends inhabit truly is, he becomes a threat to the odd, timelost Utopia that Warren has so carefully constructed around them all.

Which sets the stage for a final, epic battle between Warren Dawson and his closest friends. Utilizing powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men, Jimmy and his buddies must go to war with a man who would be God, to settle the final fate of the entire human race...
and every living inhabitant of WARREN'S WORLD.

In the late 21st Century, the Global Union has mostly united mankind and brought lasting peace to the surface of the Earth... until the dead start rising from their graves to attack the living. Across the globe, panic and terror cause chaos to erupt, civilization to crumble,
and humanity itself to totter on the very brink of extinction.

Only three members of the Global Union's top secret Science Sector have any inkling of what is actually going on. Now they must undertake a perilous journey into the airless depths of outer space and beyond the borders of death itself in a last ditch attempt to save humanity from the evil alien Fear Masters that seek our utter, final destruction.

Can two tough as nails secret agents and a beautiful, brilliant super-scientist 'git 'er done'? For the answer, check out THE FEAR MASTERS, by D.A. Madigan.

When Jim, a thirty something bachelor geek with no life outside the pages of his favorite SF books, comes across a wrist watch that allows him to travel in time, he immediately sets out to fulfill his lifelong dream by traveling through time to assemble the greatest collection of
mint condition Silver Age superhero comics in human history.

But in the future, the secret agency known as Time Watch isn't pleased that one of their devices has fallen into the hands of an outsider, and they are ready, willing, able, and eager to do whatever it takes, up to and including killing Jim, to get their watch back.

As Jim flees from his pursuers across time and space, he quickly realizes that he may well be the human race's only hope for avoiding extinction at the hands of the insidious alien intelligence that is pulling Time Watch's strings from behind the scenes. They want humanity, ALL of humanity, dead... and Jim is now the only living human being who knows the truth.

Armed only with his wits, his time watch, and the aid of a beautiful female personal computer from the 22nd Century, Jim must avoid his pursuers and somehow thwart the genocidal agenda of an ancient, immortal, unearthly collective mind that seeks to bring all human
history to a most final termination.

Welcome to Sparta City, circa 1995, where seven super-powered teenagers fight for their lives and their freedom against covert cabals of ancient, evil immortals who yearn to outfit them all with high tech alien mind control slave collars - or low tech earthly bodybags, whichever works.

Yes, here in Sparta City, it's the neurotically networked 90s as they never really were, a time and a place when centuries old evildoers scheme, conspire, machinate and manipulate, while teenage superheroes leap, flip in midair, hurl lightning bolts, cast illusions, punch, kick, fly at supersonic speeds, kick ass, take names, and generally blow stuff up real good.

Seven stalwart students at Sparta University, inadvertently given unique and insane ultrapowers by an exotic on-campus psychology experiment gone horribly awry, and now avidly sought after as super-powered slaves by every other secret super society on the planet -

GALLANT, team leader, who at the age of 19 is both selfless and cynical, and whose super-agility and inhumanly unerring aim make him an all but unbeatable hand to hand combatant and absolutely deadly with anything he can throw, especially the hard energy discs and explosive energy globes his alien tech gauntlets generate;

TESLA GIRL, an 18 year old French Canadian hottie who can turn heads with her high voltage beauty and whose electrically supercharged metabolism can generate lightning bolts powerful enough to melt a combat tank into molten slag;

STRAIGHTLACE, the 18 year old diminutive blonde babe with the attitude of a pit bull who can fly faster than a speeding Sidewinder and smash through solid concrete without taking a scratch;

RAMPART, 19 year old African-American star athlete and honor student who can leap tall buildings in a single bound while carrying a Cadillac Seville over his shoulder;

LOBE-O, wheelchair bound 16 year old supergenius with an advanced college placement whose telepathic powers can trace a fleeting thoughtwave through a million muddled mundane minds;

GLAMOUR, a husky Innuit plain Jane psych major whose psychically projected mental illusions seem real enough to leave lipstick marks on a frat boy's cheek, or boot shaped bruises on a bad guy's ass;

WARPER, the 19 year old star college quarterback who can open teleportals with his mind, when he's not charming phone numbers out of any nearby cuties with his All American good looks;

MAINFRAME, the ageless, bodiless former maintenance man who now only exists as a self aware electronic impulse haunting any machine or set of circuitry he cares to inhabit at any given time;

Together they are ZAP FORCE, reluctant heroes fighting to protect an innocent and ignorant global populace, or at least, their own damn selves, from enslavement or death at the hands of the ancient evil immortals who secretly run the world:

BARON SAMEDI, centuries old blustering boss-man of the voodoo-themed Clan Loa, whose sheer raw strength can crumble solid concrete and whose brutal will to dominate will not be denied by uppity interfering newcomers like those no good Zap Force punks;

THE BARONESS, Baron Samedi's crafty, malevolent and utterly ageless wife and co-Monarch, whose vast mental prowess can (and does) enslave entire populations, including, of course, her own entirely unsuspecting husband;

THE OLD ONE, an inhumanly brilliant schemer born before written history began, who remembers the angels, gods and devils of ancient Sumeria and Babylonia as his contemporaries, peers, and more often than not, siblings, and whose own Royal Clan, the Eldest, is the most respected, hated, and feared of any in existence on Earth today.

STEPHEN SANTERIOS of Clan Loa, psychic assassin and master of the incomprehensibly advanced technology left behind on Earth by the long gone alien H'nnr

Put it all together and what do you got? ZAP FORCE!!

Of all of those, THE FEAR MASTERS is so far my top seller... in the last three months, I've sold 7 copies of it to discerning and apparently satisfied customers (at least, they didn't ask Amazon for a refund). This is so far a break out month for me; from May 1 through today, I've sold 10 copies, total, of my work. In 60 days or so, I'll get $34.80 direct deposited to my bank account. I may buy my wife flowers. Or, you know, just my kids some groceries.

Anyway. To the above tally, I'm happy to say I've formatted and added the following:

ENDGAME : When Webster Madison awakens at the far end of the universe in the super powered fantasy body he'd always wished he had, he was thrilled... until he learned that the price for his power would be his participation in a deadly alien game that could cost him not only his new avatar-form, but also his sanity, or even his life.

Now Webster and thirty other transformed roleplaying gamers from Earth find themselves enmeshed as living chess pieces in a contest whose rules they cannot comprehend, and where every move can result in sudden, horrible, grisly death, while the alien overlords responsible for their transformations test their new champions, often to destruction.

Those transformed human champions who survive these trials will be sent on a mysterious mission even more hazardous than the game itself, with an enormous reward waiting at the end for those who finally win through. Or so they are all told... but Webster suspects that in a world where no one is what they appear to be, nothing they have been told is the truth, either... and if he cannot somehow determine actuality from illusion in this dangerous labyrinth of perilous power, neither Webster nor any of his fellow super powered pawns will make it through the ENDGAME...

EARTHQUEST : When Webster Madison, Hired Gun is dumped at the other end of the galaxy from Earth by treacherous aliens, he must fight his way back home across the hostile stars. Hijacking a ship full of slaves, he successfully leads the human cargo in rebellion against the crew and embarks on a career as an interstellar buccaneer and liberator of the oppressed.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, Sam Curtis is using his newly found superpowers to reshape the world in his own twisted image. Should Webster somehow manage to set foot once more on his native planet, he will find himself walking into a deadly trap elaborately planned and set by his deadliest foe...

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Man vs. Swine

So, the plague has infested Castle Anthrax.

It started last Friday. Super Adorable Kid was finishing up a week's stretch at her biodad's, and he called to tell us she was spiking a fever. When she got back to us Saturday morning, her fever was around 101, and over the next 24 hours, it went as high as 103.9, never quite breaking the magic '104' mark we had set to ourselves as the point at which we'd take her to the emergency room.

It was an eerie Saturday night. I'd worked until, I think, 7:30 in the evening, and upon getting home, I got to watch what SuperWife had been describing to me all day (on my breaks, I always call home) - Super Adorable Kid flushed from fever, every square inch of her skin radiating heat like a sun lamp, shivering and complaining bitterly of the cold and begging for a blanket, which of course SuperWife wouldn't give her, due to the high fever.

We tried kid's ibuprofen and cool showers, and could not get that fever down. By ten o'clock the next morning, we were near panic. My mom was due for a visit starting tomorrow; we were worried even at that point that we might have to wave her off, and anyway, she's a nurse, so we called her to consult over the phone, and she advised us to get Super Adorable Kid to a doctor immediately, as it sounded to her like the swine flu.

So we called our doctor, and it turns out they have an after hours acute care facility just for kids, and thought she sounded bad enough that she should come in immediately. So we took her over there, and after waiting for an hour and a half in a lobby full of coughing kids, and another 45 minutes in a small consultation room, a doctor we didn't know came in, swabbed her throat, advised us it was probably just the flu but he wasn't sure if it was swine flu, came back in ten minutes later to tell us she was negative for strep, and sent us home, with instructions to keep doing what we were doing.

While we were there, a nurse took her temperature, and it was 99.6... the lowest we'd seen in 48 hours. But the digital thermometer she used had a little plastic roller that you run along the forehead, whereas ours is a digital that you insert the contact point into the ear, so I'm still not sure their thermometer got a good reading of her core temp.

So we got her home and took her temp with our thermometer and it was back up to 102.

That was last Sunday. Sunday is the one day a week I always have off; you can imagine, it wasn't a very restful day of rest for me.

Along about Tuesday, Super Wife started showing symptoms. Now, Super Wife has had bronchitis before, and anytime she gets anything remotely like a chest cold or the flu, it goes straight into her lungs and turns into bronchitis. The last time she got sick was a month and a half ago and although she got a Z pack, and it seemed to get her most of the way back, she never quite got to a point where she wasn't coughing if she laughed too much or breathed too hard. So she started heading downhill fast, fast enough that I didn't have to exert anything like the amount of pressure I normally do to get her to go to the doctor's. (She's quick on the trigger to send me or any of the girls to the doctor if we get a sniffle, but she will not go herself. She's the last person in the family she ever wants to spend any money on. It drives me insane.)

So she was home sick from work Wednesday and went to the doctor's office Thursday and came home with an inhaler of medicine and a double Z-pack, and she seems to be improving, but she's still weak and wheezy, and given that the people who seem to be dying from this thing are doing it because it gets into their lungs, I'm pretty worried about her.

Also on Thursday, our pediatrician called us back and advised that they were pretty sure Super Adorable Kid had swine flu. Yay.

Thursday I also started to cough, just a little bit, at work. I work for a call center (no matter how assiduously I try to avoid call center work, I always seem to end up being sucked back into it; it's like I can get away from hell for a little while, but eventually I always end up back there) so I was hoping it was just allergies combined with having to talk to idiots all day, but Friday, which was my day off, I started to spike a fever and feel pretty crappy.

I would have loved to have stayed home on Saturday, when I was scheduled to work 11 to 8, and any sane employer would have encouraged me to do so rather than bring swine flu into their workplace, but if anyone has ever called my current employer sane, they need to take it back. At the call center where I work, employees earn no sick time until they have worked there a year. You get no PDO (paid days off) until you've been there six months. If you get two full attendance occurrences within a year, you get fired, and there are no exceptions made for any reason, and I'm not kidding.

Different types of things trigger different levels of 'occurrence'. If you're between one minute and two hours late, or you punch out between one minute and two hours early, it is an infraction, and technically you need 10 infractions to add up to an occurrence... but there is a sliding scale. In your first 12 months, any one infractions actually equals 6 infractions. In your second year, that goes down to like 4, I think. In your third year, it drops to 2, and when you've been there four years, your attendance infractions actually count as one for one.

Now, missing a day of work unexcused, for any reason at all, is a full occurrence, so you can only miss 1 day of work in your first year... the second day, you are fired. No exceptions. It doesn't matter why you missed work, your supervisor cannot excuse your absence, it is zero tolerance.

So, if you come in late or leave early twice, you have eighteen infractions. Miss a day of work, and you have 10. Get up to two full occurrences, and you're gone.

If this sounds very confusing to you, well, it is. I believe that it is deliberately made very confusing so that at the uppermost levels of management, somebody somewhere can be a little bit subjective about it if they want to... in fact, I know they can, because a month or so ago, when we had bad flooding in downtown River City, about half the call center couldn't make it to work, and management decided that that particular day would not count as an occurrence. (You didn't get paid for it, but it didn't count against you.)

I understand the policy. At any other job I've ever had -- and having temped since 1985, I've had over a hundred, I'm sure - where they have sane attendance policies, people will generally, at least once or twice a year, call in sick when they're not sick. Maybe you've got a sick kid, or maybe you've got to go to an appointment, or maybe it's a nice day out and you need a mental health day, or, whatever... if you work for an enlightened employer, you call up and say "I've got a sick kid, I can't come in today", and if your employer is a dick, you call up, put on your sick voice, and say "I've been throwing up and I can't get off the toilet, I'm gonna try to make it in tomorrow". And nobody fucks with you.

They may not like it; they may very well suspect, when they hear the 'sick voice', that you're faking it to get out of work, mostly because they've done the same damn thing themselves; everybody has, one time or another, unless you have the kind of employer who will let you call in for any reason besides sickness.

My current employer has decided they're not having any of that. But how do you eliminate fake sick days? Well, you eliminate ALL excuses to call in for work; you enact a policy whereby, if an employee misses any work at all, they're fired. No excuses. No exceptions. Show up for work on time when you're scheduled and work your whole shift, or don't show up at all, ever.

The analytical part of me also wonders just how much this deranged policy has to do with the fact that I only have this job because my employer had to get permission from the Federal government to do a pretty big merger last year, and the Federal government stipulated that if they were going to do that, they had to agree to bring about 2000 jobs that they had previously offshored back to America. Given how hard it is to actually stay employed by this employer, what with the policy I am describing, and several others I have not, I'm wondering if they aren't positioning themselves to go to the Feds in another year or so and say "We've tried to staff these jobs with Americans, and Americans are no good... they won't show up for work, and we can't keep the positions filled. We need to offshore these jobs again." This little bit of paranoia is especially born out by what a supervisor at my call center once told me - any month where they only have 51% turnover in staff is considered a good month. But they don't often have good months.

So, yes, I do understand the policy, but it's either malevolent or insane. The elimination of people calling in sick when they're not sick is, on one level, a laudable goal, and call centers do need to be pretty strict about attendance and punctuality. But this is my fifth call center, and it's the first place I've ever worked where, no matter how sick I actually am, I absolutely do not dare to call in sick if I think I have the strength to crawl to the bus stop.

So, even knowing that I almost certainly have the swine flu, I went into work on Saturday. I was pretty miserable, with my fever spiking up and down all day, but I took a lot of medicine in with me and I'm not bronchial like Super Wife is, so I got through it. Most of the people I spoke with, however, opined that I should really be at home, a sentiment I heartily agreed with.

Today I'm doing okay. I've been stuffed up, but taking a handful of pills every 12 hours or so... ibuprofen for fever, Mucinex for the cough and congestion, sudafeds for the runny nose. I had no fever all last night, but woke up with it back up to 101.7... took some ibuprofen and a shower, and got it back down. Now I have no fever again, or didn't last time I checked it. I just feel kind of punk.

After a restless night, I switched over to sleeping in my 9 year old's room (she was back at her biodad's for her weekend visit earlier today). Her bed is the futon I used to sleep on (my mom and stepdad bought it to put in the guest room when I had to stay with them for a while back in '97, and when they moved out of that house, they gave the futon to me, and I've had it ever since, and slept in it until I moved here in 2004, when I turned it over to Super Adorable Kid). I mostly did it so SuperWife could have the bed in the back room and watch TV; she wasn't tired and I was. I wound up sleeping until 2:30 in the afternoon, which seems to have done me a world of good.

Super Adorable Kid had been scheduled to go camping at Red River Gorge for a family reunion this weekend, and SuperWife had been scrapping with the ex all week long, trying to get him to see that even if Super Adorable Kid weren't feverish on Saturday, she might still be contagious and she shouldn't be sleeping on the ground in 40 degree weather. He finally, grudgingly, saw reason on Friday and agreed not to go to the Gorge; it was only when SuperWife called his sister and told her that Super Adorable Kid probably had swine flu and the sister called him and gave him an earful that he came around. It's unfortunate that things are this way, but the kind of relationship he has created with us, if SuperWife or I say "stop", he immediately says "go". He honestly thinks that everything is about him, and if SuperWife or I are expressing concerns about our mutual daughter's health, well, that's just a blind, what we're REALLY trying to do is mess up his camping trip, and he has to dig his heels in just to spite us.

So, anyway, she didn't go camping, and she seems to have been fever free all weekend, which is something. Now she's got a rash and is scratching her head and neck a lot, and she's still coughing too much, but I think she's getting through the flu, at the very least. Which is a huge relief.

This thing isn't hitting me anywhere near as hard as it's hitting SuperWife. I can hear her coughing her head off from down the hall in the bedroom, and it's really stressing me out. I have to go back to work tomorrow, and risk spreading this thing to any number of other people who, I'm sure, if they could take a vote, would much rather I stayed home... but I can't lose this job. There is nothing else out there for me; I keep looking. I'm amazed that in the middle of a recession bordering on a depression, I managed to find work at all. I've called our personnel department twice to ask if they are planning to make any exceptions to the attendance policy for swine flu, and both times the person on the other end of the phone has said, basically, "Uh...." followed by a long silence.

Of course, whoever I get on the phone isn't authorized to make an exception for any reason, that has to come from the very top. And I know that. And I also know that if someone were to decide, okay, we'll let people with swine flu stay home and recover, well, anyone who wants to call in sick will say they've got swine flu, which is exactly the sort of thing that this completely fucking demented and utterly irresponsible attendance policy is intended to prevent.

But the end result is going to be, the entire call center is going to end up down with the swine flu.

Anyway, that's my ongoing battle with swine flu. I strongly suggest that if you haven't already gotten it, you wash your hands every twenty minutes, carry antibacterial spray with you everywhere you go, and avoid the infected like lepers.

SuperWife is coughing again, so I'm going to wrap this up.