LYING LIKE CARDS: A MARIUS DOS HELLESPONT FIX

To note the Aurealis Award nomination for The Marching Dead, here’s a little bonus for those of you who knew him before he went electric.

Lying Like Cards: A Marius dos Hellespont fix is a vignette I wrote to mark the publication of The Marching Dead. It concerns the game of Kingdom, which I invented for the novels and which nobody has had the decency to licence and make me a rich man by producing limited edition gold-plated versions thereof. Or even a DOS game. The story takes place just before the opening of The Corpse-Rat King, so if you want to get the full benefit of the narrative, buy my goddamn books already. It’s appeared at the Angry Robot website and some delightfully hand-made booklet versions were given to people who attended the book launch, but it appears here for the first time.

Enjoy.

Lying Like Cards: A Marius dos Hellespont Fix

An hour ago there had been six at the table. Now there were two. Marius don Hellespont, late of His Automancer’s Court of Taslingham, even later of the cells beneath the court, took a moment to glance down at his cards before casually flicking over a stack of riner coins so they splashed across the green paper tablecloth.
“Whatever that adds up to,” he said, deliberately yawning. The fat Tallian across from him pursed his lips.
“That is bad etiquette, sir.”
“In this fine place?” Marius waved a hand at the shabby, peeling wallpaper, the warped floorboards, and the boarded up windows that surrounded them. “Where are my manners?” He nodded at the coins. “Whatever that adds up to. See it or raise, tubby.”
The fat man waited enough that Marius knew he was beaten. The game of Kingdom was a complex one, if you paid attention to the cards, and it became more difficult the fewer players were at the table. Ostensibly, the object was to build the hand most closely resembling the current ruling class: Royal family, if you were in Scorby, Council of Elders in Zerpha, Automancer’s Cabal in Taslingham, and so on. If you were paying attention to the cards. Only the most trusting of beginners did that.
Real players, and Marius was a real player, knew that the object of the game was much simpler: to take your opponent’s money. The cards were immaterial. What counted was keeping your opponent off-balance– learning their tells, their psychological weaknesses, and then exploiting them. Like all truly great sports, Kingdom was won by the one who best played the man. The Tallian hesitated the tiniest smidgeon, and Marius had him.
“Gods damn it.” The fat man blew out his cheeks, aiming to recover lost bravado. “Gods damn.” He made a show of counting the coins, then counting them again. Marius very deliberately did not leer like a greedy baby snatcher. “All right,” his victim said. “All right.” He riffled his stack, came to the decision Marius knew he was coming to all along. “All in.” He moved his pile into the centre of the table.
Marius didn’t count them. He had no need. He knew he had the bet covered. He paused just long enough to make him sweat, then casually smiled and laid his cards face down before him. “Call.”
A queen, a prince, a knight, three nobles, a peasant. Pretty close. Good enough to win most hands. The fat man stared at them for several seconds, then raised his gaze to Marius.
“One peasant.” He snapped the card onto the table. “Three nobles.” Snap. “One knight.” Snap. “One prince.” He held up the last card, turned it so that it faced Marius. “One King.” He laid it down with a grin, slid it into place with the others. “My hand, I think.”
He reached out to draw in Marius’ coins. To their right, a door crashed open.
“What the fuck?” Both players reared back from the table as if stung. A soldier was standing in the doorway.
“The King!” he roared. “The King has been killed!”
“What?”
“Assassins from the house of Belchester! The King is dead!” He flung himself back out the door. The room erupted in a mad scramble to follow him: off duty guardsmen and civil militiamen hurling themselves towards distant guardhouses, to swords tucked over lintels, to scythes and halberds and sharpening wheels in front yards. As the room emptied, Marius raised a sympathetic eyebrow at his stunned opponent, and began scooping coins into his pockets.
“Tough timing,” he said, and rose before the fat Tallian could recover himself enough to object. “Still, the cards never lie.”

# # #

Marius sat in a booth at the back of ‘The Hauled Keel’ and watched his young apprentice Gerd weave through the crowd, two tankards of Krehmlager in his beefy fists, plonking down opposite his master and passing one over. Marius raised it in salute, and took a long swallow.
“You hid the armour?” he asked, once he’d recovered his breath. Gerd took a sip, and choked.
“In a barrel on Pudding Alley.”
“Good. Good.” Marius removed a short stack of coins from a pocket and slid it over. “Your share.” Gerd accepted it without counting. Trusting lad. Stupid boy. Marius felt the weight of all the winnings secreted around his body, and took another swallow to help ignore a sudden pang of conscience. From outside came shouts, and a clattering so loud that even the seasoned drinkers within the pub were silent for a moment.
“What’s that?” Gerd stood, and turned towards the window. Marius tilted his head.
“Soldiers,” he said after a moment. “Forming up in front of Traitor’s Gate.”
“Isn’t that the…”
“Road to Belchester?” Marius nodded. Gerd slowly sat down.
“You don’t think..?”
Marius took a long draught of his lager, shook his head, and signalled a passing girl for another while he recovered the feeling in his face. Krehmlager was traditionally strong. The Hauled Keel’s brewing room deserved its own hospital. “No,” he said, finally, flipping a coin through suddenly-clumsy fingers. “And even if there’s a little skirmish or something, nothing will come out of it but opportunity.”
The new pints arrived. He picked his up and gestured to Gerd to do the same. “Drink up,” he said. “We’ve got to get our stuff and be ready to follow them.” He smiled, thinking of the riches to be had on the battlefield to come. “I’m going to teach you how to be a corpse-rat.”


WANT A TASTE OF CORPSE-RAT?

It’s Short-bits-of-Battersby week! 

First there’s the appearance of Canals of Anguilar in the Review of Australian Fiction, which you’re all aware of because you’ve already lashed out the $2.99 and have read it, but now you can pop over to the Angry Robot website and get a tiny taste of Corpse-Rat to whet your appetite for this Saturday’s launch event: a teensy tiny prequel to The Corpse-Rat King for your education and amusement.

Lying Like Cards: A Marius dos Hellespont Fix.

This is the story that 25 of you will be able to own in signed, dead-tree form, simply by being the first to purchase a copy of either Marius dos Hellespont novel at the launch and getting me to sign it. But have a read before you buy: I am a kind and generous God….

ROUND AND ROUND AND ROUND SHE GOES…

It’s awards season in Australian science fiction, with three national awards announcing their short-lists, and at times it’s enough to make your head spin as some titles crack a mention in all three, some names are conspicuous by their absence, and the clattering of d20s as judges try to make their minds up is enough to make the nerdgods brush crisp crumbs from their Devo tour t-shirts and take notice.

I’m extremely happy to announce that The Corpse-Rat King made a couple of saving roles and has been short-listed in two out of the three awards. No luck in this year’s Aurealis Awards, where it hasn’t made the Fantasy or Horror lists, but it has cracked a mention in the following:
  • The Ditmars are the Australian equivalent of the Hugos, voted on by members of each year’s National convention, this year being held in Canberra, scene of my favourite convention experience (outside of the one at which Luscious married me), waaaaaay back in 2006. The Corpse-Rat King has been nominated in the Best Novel category, along with works by fellow Angry Robot stablemate Jo Anderton, Kate Forsyth, Kirstyn McDermott, Jason Nahrung, and Margo Lanagan. I’ve not won a general Ditmar before– I was awarded the Best New Talent award 10fuckingyearsagoholyshit! earlier in my career, but it’d be nice to add an ‘open’ award to the small shrine to my genius I keep behind the garden shed.
You can check out the full list of nominees in all categories here.
  • The Australian Shadows Awards, known to everybody except everyone who isn’t me as the ‘Dead Chicks’ because, well… you figure it out:
Once again, I share the Best Novel category with Kirstyn McDermott and Jason Nahrung. I’m on a mission to win my third award, which would add a nice symmetry to my brag shelf, so let’s hope all fans of numerology can bring their influence to bear.
The Shadows have expanded significantly in scope since their inception, and now cover a whole bunch of categories. The full nomination list is here.

STOAT OF THE NOTION

It’s been almost a month since I blew the dust off this baby and made with the updatery, and there’s a very good reason for that: I’ve been off enjoying life.

Response to The Corpse-Rat King has been positive, and if you haven’t got your copy yet then there’s really no excuse– it’s in all the good book stores and most of the rotten ones, and if you haven’t picked it up then I can only assume it’s because you hate me and you’ve never really liked me and you’ll be sorry when I’m dead and all this guilt will be on your head, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t stand losing…. wait a minute.

Marching Dead is finished, and has been delivered to Angry Robot for their consideration. All being well, it will appear on shelves next April.

And right now, I’m giving myself some down time before I turn my attention to the next project on the block: either a return to Father Muerte & The Divine or if the Angry Robot overlords activate the clause in my contract, the third Marius dos Hellespont novel which I’m nominally calling Fall To Heaven. We shall see, we shall see.

But for the moment, I’m clearing my mental palette, watching a buttload of documentaries, playing with the kids, and getting the house ready to put on the market before the end of the year so we can downsize. Give me a week or so, and I’ll be back on the bloggery treadmill, but for the moment, no signal is a sign of contentment.

KSP SF MINICON FULL PROGRAM

Oh yes, my friends, I shall be there. And it will start oooh, and aaahhh, then later there will be running, and screaming….

Get your peepers on this little lot and tell me you don’t want to come on down and hang out. This is going to be one fabbo day:
The 2012 KSP Speculative Fiction Writers Group Minicon
Panellists include :
Local Writers: Lee Battersby, Amelia Beamer, Hal Colebatch, Cathy Cupitt, Stephen Dedman, Joanna Fay, Satima Flavell, Sonia Helbig, Elaine Kemp, Pete Kempshall, David Kitson, Martin Livings, Dave Luckett, Juliet Marillier, Ian Nichols, Anthony Panegyres, Carol Ryles, Guy Salvidge, JB Thomas. 

When: Sunday, 9 September, 2012  9.30am-4.30pm

Where: Katherine’s Place, 11 Old York Road, Greenmount (Turn into the first driveway after you turn in from the highway and park at the back)

Cost: $15, or $10 if you book in advance. Leave a comment at http://kspminicon.blogspot.com.au/ if you want to do this.

Lunch: A decent meal and tea and coffee will be available for a gold coin donation or you can BYO – there are no eateries in the vicinity.


Programme
Discussion Panels: Meeting Room

10:00 Breaking the Rules
“Look, that’s why there’s rules, understand? So that you think before you break ’em.” – Terry Pratchett
Sometimes the ‘rules of writing’ need to be broken. But what are they and how and when do you get away with breaking them? And what do you need to be aware of before you do? All the best writers are renowned for breaking rules and new writers are crucified for it, yet there are times when we all need to cross that line.
Lee Battersby
Sonia Helbig
Martin Livings
Anthony Panegyres
Guy Salvidge

1100: Is the Internet the New Slush Pile
Google the question: “is the internet the new slush pile?” and the wisdom of the masses will tell you that since mid 2011, there has been a grass-roots change in the world of publishing. The inference given in hundreds of articles unearthed by such a search is that you should no longer submit to slush piles while trying to get noticed. There’s a new wave of authors who publish their material directly to the Internet in the hope that their book will attract the attention of publishers and agents. But what does this method of gaining attention achieve and will it replace the tradition of slush pile Mondays? For that matter, with so many new writers self-publishing, is there a need to be picked up at all? Or is it a path to self-destruction of the writer’s rights?
Stephen Dedman
David Kitson
Dave Luckett
Ian Nichols

12:00 Lunch
Book Launch, The Corpse Rat King by award winning author Lee Battersby (Angry Robot Books)

Lee Battersby is the author of the novels The Corpse-Rat King (Angry Robot, 2012) and Marching Dead (Angry Robot, 2013) as well as over 70 stories in Australia, the US and Europe, with appearances in markets as Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror, Year’s Best Australian SF & F, and Writers of the Future. A collection of his work, entitled Through Soft Air has been published by Prime Books. He’s taught at Clarion South and developed and delivered a six-week Writing the SF Short Story course for the Australian Writers Marketplace. His work has been praised for its consistent attention to voice and narrative muscle, and has resulted in a number of awards including the Aurealis, Australian Shadows and Australia SF ‘Ditmar’ gongs.
He lives in Western Australia, with his wife, writer Lyn Battersby and an increasingly weird mob of kids. He is sadly obsessed with Lego, Nottingham Forest football club, dinosaurs, the Goon Show and Daleks. He’s been a stand-up comic, tennis coach, cartoonist, poet, and tax officer in previous times, and he currently works as the Arts Co-ordinator for a local council, where he gets to play with artists all day. All in all, life is pretty good.

1:00 Critting and Crowd-Sourced Editing
Should writers have their manuscripts criticised by a broad audience of their fellow writers? What value does it add to your work? Can you lose your ideas by letting others see your manuscript before the editor does? How about crowd-sourcing of editing? Is it possible to let others perform the work for you while reading early revisions of your manuscript? And how do you even take advantage of such services? Should they be avoided completely?
Amelia Beamer
Satima Flavell
Pete Kempshall
Juliet Marillier
Anthony Panegyres

2:00 Building Characters without Cardboard
In online reviews, a common complaint against many recent authors, especially those who choose to self-publish, is that their characters seem two-dimensional or otherwise lack depth. So what does the aspiring author need to consider in their writing so that their characters seem more real to the reader? And how do they achieve it? Are characters planned or imagined? And what are the pitfalls that many new writer, and even experienced ones, fall into? And how do you write convincing characters from the other gender?
Lee Battersby
Martin Livings
Juliet Marillier
Carol Ryles
JB Thomas

3:00 Has Erotica Become Just another Mainstream Sub-Genre
With Fifty Shades of Grey now the fastest selling book ever, it’s difficult to ignore the part that erotica has played in this series’ success. Writers thinking of including sexually explicit content in their novels are often confused by the terms ‘erotica’ and ‘pornography’. How should a modern writer approach this situation? How to avoid mistakes? Should erotica feature in a serious novel at all?
Amelia Beamer
Cathy Cupitt
Stephen Dedman
Elaine Kemp

Kaffeeklatsch Schedule (Library)
1PM – 1:30PM Joanna Fay: Publishing with a small press overseas
Joanna’s Daughter of Hope, the first novel in her epic fantasy sequence The Siaris Quartet, has recently been published as an e-book by Musa Publishing, a relatively new e-press in the USA. From the comfort of her lounge room in the Perth hills, Joanna has taken an intensive ‘high learning curve’ this year on the road to publication, while coming to grips with both the potential and pitfalls of online promotion.

2PM – 2:30PM David Kitson: Self Publishing – A complete end to end guide for anyone planning on doing it themselves
David’s self-published novel, Turing Evolved, broke into the top 20 Science Fiction book list on Amazon.com and is now rated at four-and-a-half stars with one hundred and fifty customer reviews. Learn about David’s experiences with editing, uploading, customer feedback and eventual contact and representation by a literary agent.
3PM – 3:30PM Juliet Marillier: Theme to be announced
Juliet is a New Zealand-born writer who now lives in WA. Her historical fantasy novels for adult and young adult readers include the popular Sevenwaters series and the Bridei Chronicles. Juliet’s books have won many awards including the American Library Association’s Alex Award, the Prix Imaginales and the Aurealis Award. Her lifelong love of folklore, fairy tales and mythology is a major influence on her writing. Juliet has two books out this year: Shadowfell, first instalment in a fantasy series for young adults (available now) and adult fantasy Flame of Sevenwaters, to be published in November.