An Interview with Nic Marson

Today, we’re chatting with Nicholas Marson, whose first novel, The Key of Astrea, will be released on Sunday, November 3. Here’s the blurb for the book:

“Sixteen-year-old Jenny Tripper might be crazy…or she might have the power to save the Solar System. At least that’s what the holographic woman in her bedroom tells her. Jenny thinks it’s just another ghost, but after falling into an alternate Universe, she finds herself neck-deep in an interstellar conflict over runaway aliens. She alone may be the key to their freedom … if she can master her abilities without going insane.

Jenny quickly learns that she’s not alone. There are others like her with mysterious powers. Now, she must compete against them for the right to wield a key that will unlock a galactic gateway. But, when a starship arrives to capture the runaway aliens, Jenny must work alongside her competitors to keep the aliens and the galactic gateway out of military control.

This coming-of-age story about a girl who develops psychic powers, fights giants, and takes part in spaceship battles will appeal to readers of science fiction and fantasy–and anyone who loves an adventure.”

DV: Tell us a little about yourself and your writing background.

Nicholas Marson: Professionally, I’m a web designer and developer, but from the time I was nine years old, I’ve been inventing other worlds. My first major project began when I was eleven. My best friend and I created a role-playing game. I drew all the characters, and we worked out the mechanics together. We played it for a few months before getting bored and abandoning the game. It would seem that I enjoyed creating more than experiencing the product. Throughout high school, I wrote papers and short stories, but the next major team project was designing a Super Mario Bros 3 sequel. I drew bosses and outfits for Mario, as well as designing levels and writing dialog. These were all fun expressions of creativity, but nothing serious. It wasn’t until later that I started my first real project.

After high school, I started a company called Armored Chicken Studios along with two friends. We met once a week, for two years, as we developed a story called The Third Age. The premise was that a city-state, called Sardis, shifted into an alternate universe in order to avoid being destroyed. Over the years, the world forgot about Sardis. After 500 years, Sardis returned, but the world was not ready. After 1,000 years, our two protagonists stumble into the city before it shifts a second time. They discover that time passes differently in Sardis, after five years, the city returns for a third time, 1500 years after it first left. This time, the world is ready, and the two warring superpowers destroy Sardis in their attempt to capture it. Each protagonist is taken prisoner by a separate superpower. Unfortunately, the project was never completed, though I did create a short art book for my junior graphic design course which contained the characters, and settings we invented for The Third Age.

DV: What was the inspiration for your novel?

NM: I wanted to put a movie on in the background while I was working from home, but I was bored with my usual go-tos. Instead of complaining (though I did complain), I decided to write a book. I thought, if nothing came of it, I would at least learn how difficult it was to create good entertainment. The first step was to break down my favorite movies in order to figure out why I liked them. So, I created a spreadsheet with Star Wars, Harry Potter, and The Matrix. Then, I examined them scene-by-scene, and to my surprise, a pattern started to emerge. After a quick internet search, I discovered that Joseph Campbell already did this work back in 1949, and George Lucas based Star Wars on the monomyth. But I wasn’t discouraged, because I now had a blueprint to follow.

DV: You mentioned a mad scientist character in your novel. Tell us more about them!

NM: That would be Ramus. He is an immortal alien who crash-landed on an alternate Earth thousands of years ago. Now, he is a tech-trillionaire who made his fortune reverse-engineering alien technology. Yet, there is a metamaterial that he’s been unable to reproduce in his many thousands of years of life. It’s called nexum, and it composes the artifacts responsible for faster than light travel. When a group of alien refugees arrives on Earth, with a forge capable of producing nexum, Ramus comes up with a plan to steal it for himself.

DV: What is the coolest thing about being an author?

NM: Honestly, I don’t feel like an author. I suppose it’s a case of impostor syndrome. Like, if I say I’m an author, then the author police will come and serve me with a fine. Right now, there are two emotions at war after finishing my novel. One is a great sense of accomplishment. The other is being nervous as to how my novel will be perceived.

DV: What are you working on next?

I have about a hundred pages of notes for the sequel to The Key of Astrea, so writing that novel is my first priority. After that, I have a fascinating concept for a novella that exists in the same universe. Without giving anything away, I would describe it as a cross between Inception and Stranger Things.

Thanks, Nicholas! We’re looking forward to checking out your book!

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Awesome Finds: Power & Magic

Last year, we found Heartwood on Kickstarter and loved it. This year, the same creators are back with Power & Magic volume 2, a comics anthology of young adult queer witches of color!

The Kickstarter creator and the artists and authors involved with this project are described as “26 creators of color, all women or woman-aligned and all extraordinary”! And from the teaser photos in the Kickstarter, it looks like this will be another wonderful anthology of comics!

Check out their Kickstarter before it ends on November 9.

 

 

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That Man Behind the Curtain – September 2019

Cats hiding behind a futon.

Feline interns hiding from the dreaded vacuum cleaner, with boxes of books visible.

In September we launched our next-to-last quarterly, sent out copies to patrons and contributors, and finished up I Didn’t Break the Lamp.

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Fiction: Smudge

An essay by the daughter of Hershel Conway, as provided by Jane Abbott
Art by Luke Spooner


My father was called a crazy man. More than that–a mad scientist. Although I considered such terms to be insults, I admittedly never protested their validity. I never found the heart to blame anyone to think of him as such. Father always had ludicrous ideas and theories, and he was never afraid to share them with anyone–not even those who didn’t possess the genius intellect to understand him.

Seeing that I was one such girl of average intelligence, Father spent hours on end thinking of how to explain his fantasies to a child. He often succeeded in doing so. Every lesson became a story that drew me further and further into the fantastic realm of science. These tales were mostly focused around astrophysics, a topic that sounded infinitely more drab and dull when coming out of the mouth of anyone else. Father was a genius in this regard, a master of entertainment. I enjoyed every lecture except one: the time travel demonstration.

It began on a warm July’s day. I was reading a picture book about insects. My left elbow had been scraped badly due to a combination of poor balance and a bicycle that lacked training wheels. Father had patched me up, made me a peanut butter sandwich, and set the book in front of my face to dry my tears. About a half hour later, when the sandwich had been eaten and I had made my way to page 36, Father rushed to my side with a jar of water and a piece of paper. Seeing the smile on his face, I followed protocol and put my book down.

“How do you travel through time?” he asked. I blinked in confusion before answering:

“I don’t know.”

“Think simply. Just guess.”

“You … build a machine?”

“Exactly!” Father took a seat to my right. He lay the paper on the counter. Then he plucked a large paintbrush from his coat pocket, as well as a red pen. “You could call it a machine, but I’d call it more of an invention. I’ve named it Chronomorphium. It’s a tool that will allow us to move forward in time. Isn’t it neat?”

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Strange Science: The How-Tos of 3D Printing

Spools of 3d printing filament in gold, purple, red, and gray, with small 3D printed balloon animals in front of eachWe recently learned that the Dred Scott Heritage Foundation had commissioned 3D printed replica statues of the famous Dred Scott statue in St. Louis (where co-editor Dawn is from). Part of the process of replicating this statue apparently involved an MSJ-adjacent, possibly mad engineer, climbing a ladder to take a series of photos of the original statue at a variety of angles. Learning about this made us wonder: how does one go about creating a replica of an existing thing and setting it up for 3D printing?

There’s plenty of information on the internet about getting started with 3D printing, including this extensive page about 3D modeling, which is how you’d create an STL (or standard triangle language) file, which tells the 3D printer how to print something. There’s also a page with a good list of mistakes that beginning 3D modelers might make.

Of course, the easier way to 3D print is to download files that someone else has already modeled, but if you want to print something the world has never seen, the above links will help you get started!

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More Halloween Reads!

Jack o' LanternsLast year, we suggested stories you might like to read for Halloween. This year, we’re back with more, and giving you enough lead time to get copies of the ones that are no longer on the website!

On a Winter’s Night” by Paul Crenshaw (a creepy Gothic tale)

Old Mother Shudders” by Tom McGee (advice for those dealing with an infestation of supernatural creatures)

“Guts” by Theodore C. Van Alst, Jr. (when the insects strike back) (available in Mad Scientist Journal Autumn 2018)

“In Lieu of the Upper Hand” by J. A. Psoras (a dark story of revenge) (available in Mad Scientist Journal Winter 2018)

“Is the Vampire Diet Healthy?” by E. B. Fischadler (a lighter consideration of a strict blood diet) (available in Mad Scientist Journal Autumn 2017)

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Review of A Family Matter

A Family Matter by Ox Aaronson (Lightning Cellar Publications, 2019) is a fast-moving sci-fi heist novel with plenty of twists to keep you turning the pages.

Alexander Romano-Bennetti is the nephew of the ruler of Nostraspace, one of seven galactic empires connected by jumpgates. When a Nostraspace team goes missing while on a mission, Alex and a small group of Nostraspace-affiliated individuals head to the heart of another empire to get them out. Along the way, they encounter a variety of complications and bizarre circumstances that force them to think on their feet to keep themselves and the other team alive.

One of the interesting things that Ox Aaronson does with the narrative in this book is that there are scenes where dialogue is exchanged or actions are taken that aren’t explicitly on the page, and you only find out what was discussed, planned, or done in a subsequent scene. This strategy helped increase the suspense of the heist, since things were frequently going sideways and requiring adjustments in the plan.

If you enjoy heist movies like the Oceans Eleven series, TV shows like Firefly, or role-playing games like Scum and Villainy, A Family Matter by Ox Aaronson will be right up your alley!

The author provided us a copy of the anthology for review consideration.

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Mad Science Experiments for Halloween!

Halloween lanterns and pumpkin with spider webIf you’ve got some burgeoning mad scientists in your life, and you’re looking for something to do with them as Halloween approaches, we’ve tracked down a bunch of fun science experiments you can do!

This page lists 22 experiments, but it also has a calendar that you can use for a full 31 days of science projects themed toward Halloween! And this page has more than 20 more ideas (with some overlap, naturally).

Enjoy some spooky mad science experiments!

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Fiction: Patent THIS

From the self-published 49-page masterpiece Beer and Bioelectronics: Memoirs (Plural) of a Part-time Science Bro, by Dr. Toomani Katzenstuff. Excerpted by Zandra Renwick
Art by Leigh Legler


“Chaaaaarlie!” I bellowed, thundering up from the yard, brandishing the potato overhead like an incendiary weapon, a live grenade or molotov cocktail. My bathrobe flapped open and my fuzzy slippers slapped the backs of my heels in staccato machine-gun rhythm: fhlap fhlap fhlap fhlap!

My roommate sat on the couch hunched over an open box of junk cereal, full spoon halfway to his mouth heaped with toxic star and moon shapes marketed as having something to do with fruit. Under his cowlicked bedhead hair, he peered at me through cokebottle spectacles, which in this era of lunchtime surgeries were an affectation, myopia as lifestyle choice. “What’sup, roomie?”

Figuring with his terrible eyesight he might not recognize the lumpy ovoid item in my hand as a potato instead of my customary fresh morning egg straight from the backyard chicken coop, I stomped over (fhlap fhlap fhlap) and thrust it under his nose. “Does this look like an egg? That industrial chemical slop you guzzle for breakfast may be all right for some people, but you know I need organic protein in the morning.”

Even to me it sounded more indignant whine than righteous fury. But I was fed up with his additive manufacturing experiments disrupting my genetic modification trials. The world’s food situation was chaos on a global scale, and though Charlie and I shared the same funding (a sickly generous private research grant), the same house (cheapest we could find, and a landlord who put up with random power surges and backyard farming), and the same vision for the future (cheap global access to sustainable, accessible nourishment) … it sometimes felt like we approached everything from opposite sides of the same canyon.

My words must’ve hit home though; Charlie’s spine had gone ramrod straight and he was staring at the potato. “One of your chickens laid that?” he asked.

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Strange Science: A New State of Matter?

Physicists working in the field of quantum computing believe they have discovered a new state of matter that has great significance for quantum computing.

This new state of matter is called “topological superconductivity,” which is not as easy to remember as solid, liquid, or gas. In trying to construct a platform for Majorana particles, which are their own anti-particles, but which have no natural host material, these physicists studied transitions of quantum states and energy barriers, and found a way to use topological superconductivity in a two-dimensional platform, providing a way to store quantum information without error.

You can read the summary of this research here, or the more detailed technical article here.

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