Tag Archives: Jandrax

253. Handgun Accuracy

2-gunsOver in Serial, the chapter Raven’s Run 42 came out yesterday. This post was supposed to stand across from it, but Leonard Cohen’s death caused me to push Handgun Accuracy back a day to make room for an appreciation of what he meant to me.

Everything in the night drive through Martigues and the Barre Lagoon in yesterday’s post is from research. I was never there. But I was in Marseille and everything there is from experience. You have to have some first hand knowledge, mixed with research, if you want to look like you know everything.

The bit with the .45 automatic is also accurate, and from experience. I only fired an M1911A1 once in the Navy, in boot camp, but years later I acquainted myself with it and a large variety of other handguns at a firing range near my home. I spent an hour a week there, every Tuesday for a year, and became proficient with the two dozen styles and calibers they had for rent. That was partly for writing research, and partly because we live in a dangerous world.

You have to be able to describe handgun usage accurately for the kind of fiction I write. And yes, this post title has that double meaning, like the NRA bumper sticker that says Gun Control Means Using Both Hands. I could never resist a bad joke.

Accuracy is important in science fiction weaponry as well. In Jandrax, Jan’s “express pistol” was a technologically advanced weapon that was fairly fully explained, while the other weapons were nineteenth century technology because they were meant to be repairable on a frontier world.

In Cyan, due out soon, the explorers are operating in the near future. I decided to give them handguns only slightly advanced over the present day for their initial exploration, as in:

“Gus carried a comped 12mm magnum semi-automatic in a cross draw holster.“

This led the proofreader at EDGE to highlight comped and write “?”. (See 134. The Long Road to Cyan (2) for details on proofreading in the modern era.)

Comped actually refers to mid-twentieth century technology. I replied:

Comped, pronounced compt, not comp-ed, is a standard term. It comes from compensated, and refers to a series of slits on either side of the front sight of a heavy handgun, which redirects some of the expanding gasses upward, counteracting muzzle flip. Gun nerds will know the term; others will just be puzzled.

The cross draw holster is reasonable, but it is mentioned early because it sets up a plot point I would need about forty pages later.  And 12mm magnum will certainly ruffle the hackles of purists, but again, it is so named for a reason. The largest caliber presently designated in millimeters is 10mm and magnum is applied to a new, more powerful version of an old caliber. This means the 12mm magnum is two generations away – which is what I was looking for, a near-future version of present day technology.

I made these automatics obsolete during the colonization phase by introducing a handgun called a fletcher which was, in essence, a hand held rocket launcher. If you need a powerful, hand held weapon with little recoil, replacing bullets with mini-rockets is the simplest way forward.

You can only use phasers in Star Trek novels and no self respecting science fiction author will ever say “ray gun” again, but fletchers – certainly under a different name – will probably be available within a decade or so. High caliber handguns have just about reached the limits of human hand strength, even though all of them are comped today.

Keep your eye on future issues of Field and Stream for new developments.

234. Revisiting Columbus

A year ago today, I was anticipating a January 2016 release for my novel Cyan. Since Columbus had a brief appearance there, I published an excerpt on Columbus Day as a teaser. The novel’s release has been delayed, and very few people were reading that early in the blog’s history, so here is a reprise

*             *             *

Poor Columbus; he has taken a beating over the years. We don’t see him for what he was, with all his strengths and weaknesses, but through the lens of our own times. Here is a picture of how we might view him a century from now, when we have had to change our calendar to meet the demands of the rest of the world.

Anno Domini
A Latin phrase meaning the Year of our Lord.

Before sunrise on October 12, 1492, Anno Domini, a lookout for Columbus’ expedition sighted land. Columbus had found two new continents (although he did not know it), following his own powerful vision of how the Earth was constructed (a vision that was wrong), and began a five hundred year reign as king of explorers.

Half a millennium later, Columbus was dethroned. Even school children were now being taught that Columbus was not the only one who knew the world was round. Sailors and scholars had known that for hundreds of years before him.  Columbus’ great vision was that the Earth was small, and in that he was wrong. By the late twentieth century, it was certain that the Vikings got to America first, likely that St. Brendan beat Columbus there, and there were a dozen other putative explorers who had their champions.

Besides, American popular thought was in one of its Noble Savage stages, and it was politically correct to echo the Native Americans who complained that Columbus was a destroyer of races and cultures.

But even at the height of Columbus bashing, it was apparent that his voyage had differed in one significant detail from the other explorers who had preceded him. After Columbus, America was never lost again. After Columbus, and those other explorers who sailed close on his heels, the Earth became entirely known and entirely interconnected for the first time.


In the year A. D. 2037 (as Christians measure time), at the Conclave of Mecca, the Islamic world announced that they would no longer recognize, speak with, acknowledge, or deal with any person, nation, or document which forced them to use a calendar based on Christianity.

At the International Bureau of Weights and Measures Convention in Buenos Aires two months later, a new calendar was established, based on a sidereal year. It would have neither weeks nor months since Islam and the rest of the world could not compromise on the issue of lunar months. It could not start at Jesus’ putative birth, nor at Mohammed’s, and it quickly became apparent that the new Standard Year should date from the midnight preceding the day the Earth became one planet for the first time.

This whole Standard Year business came about by accident. When I wrote Jandrax thirty plus years ago, I had no idea that I would write other stories in the same universe. After all, I stranded all those poor people so far out that no one would ever find them.

However, I began wondering what circumstances, beyond what I had already written, might cause Dumezil to invent his pan-Earth religion, and I wondered what Jan Andrax’s ancestors were like. That led me to make Stephan Andrax, Jan’s multi-great grandfather, spaceside commander of the Cyan expedition.

In Jandrax, I had pulled the date Standard Year 873 out of thin air. Now I had to backtrack and make it work for Cyan, which I did my making Standard Year Zero start with Columbus’ discovery of America.

Jandrax 92


Standard Year 904 and of the colony,
Year 36

When Jean reached the hilltop, Snowmelt had already come and gone. He leaned heavily on his staff and looked first at the rough stone marker, then upward and outward across the endless melt to the lake. After a time, tears came and he let the precious moisture fall upon the earth that covered his father’s body. Farewell, Jandrax. No man on this planet has made a mark so uniquely his own.

Snowmelt approached then, shyly, much as Isaac must have approached the altar. Jean smiled down at him, and reached out his hand. Snowmelt touched him fleetingly then withdrew. He scuffed the damp earth with his moccasin. He was slim, brown and powerful. The perfect savage. “Son,” Jean said, “I am leaving for a while.”

Snowmelt flashed a resentful look. “I know. Back to the island. Everyone is talking about it.”

Jean frowned his distaste. “The tribe is making me a prophet, and I never wanted that.”

“You claimed to speak to God. Prophet or liar; you left yourself no third alternative.”

“I suppose not. Well, I was warned.”

“Why are you going? Why must you leave me?”

Jean squinted at the distance and turned his face away to hide the depth of his feelings. “That I cannot answer. Rather, I will not. I will not burden you with it all, though you know part.”

Now his son turned away, for to acknowledge that his father was a cripple, to acknowledge that no woman chose to bed with him, was to acknowledge shame on them both. Yet the knowledge would not go away. “Was there never a woman of the tribe who looked favorably upon you?”

“Yes, Son; once. Briefly.”

“The winged girl was very beautiful?”


“But she too will have aged.”

“Perhaps. Perhaps not.”

“And if you go to the island, there will be no way to reenact what happened before. You said yourself that the presence rejected you.”

“I can only try.”

Snowmelt turned blindly toward Jean, unaccustomed tears streaking his face. “If you loved me, you would stay.” Jean reached out to him and, for once, Snowmelt allowed himself to be embraced.

“My son! If I did not love you, I would not have stayed these twelve, long, hungry years.”

Snowmelt pushed away and turned his back. For a time, Jean let the silence lie between them, then he said, “Will you come to the lakeshore to see me off?”

He shrugged without turning. “I suppose.

“See that you do!” Without looking back, Snowmelt began to descend the hill. Jean let him go. Soon only his shaggy head showed occasionally above the siskal.

(page break)

Excerpt from the DUBOIS HIEROS.
Manuscript discovered on the planet
Jandrax, galactic coordinates 11C 927C84.

1. In the morning of the world, the hero strove with the winds and cast down the mountains. The wind walker and the cloud dancer moved into the open air and there was rain, and from the rain, grasses, and from the grasses, cattle, and from the cattle, men.

2. The hero lay upon Sinai at the world’s edge and dreamed himself a dream.

3. First from the dream came the walker of winds, and he cleaved her to wife.

4. And from out of her loins came all manner of things, both good and evil . . .



One last comment —- Is this reality? Fantasy? Hallucination? The true hand of God?

You decide.

Jandrax 91

Anton. A question, out of curiosity. Did the primer actually fail?”

Dumbly Anton shook his head.

“I have been advised by better men than either of us that I own your life. That I can kill you and feel no qualms of conscience.” Jean smiled. “I think you would not even resist me much. But I will not kill you.

“You wanted the antler; you have it. I need it no longer. But I will take my son.

“You, I will let live. Your life would be more punishment than death in any case. Your crippling of me only made me stronger and the prize that you took from me was a thing of no worth – have you enjoyed Chloe?”

Anton trembled at the taunt, but did not advance. “I will take my child now.”

Why Anton did it, Jean never knew. Perhaps he saw his life laid out before him, a half-man who let his own son be stolen. It was the first and last manly act of his life. He leaped forward, his blade raised. Jean slapped it away and thrust his own knife deep between his ribs.

Anton’s knees hit the dirt floor with a quiet shock and his eyes were wide. Death came rushing in on him and he turned toward the bed, his hand reaching out for Chloe. He died there, stretched toward that for which he had strived so hard, from which he had received so little. He was stretched thus when she woke to the light of morning and her screams alerted the colony to come see this latest wonder, the returned antler, the bloody floor, the empty crib.


Maybe this is where Jandrax should have ended. Certainly, if it were a simple adventure story on a science fiction world, this is all that needed to be said.

I didn’t feel that way. Even though I was a young writer, I had ambitions to tackle larger problems than “Who won?” and “Who lost?” The nomad and the oasis. Man and God – who was the created and who was the creator? Simple materialism vs. wrestling with whatever it is, that is larger than a man.

What really constitutes manhood? How do you balance personal independence against the need for human companionship, particularly when you can’t find a society that thinks and feels as you do?

In any case, I didn’t stop when things were settled, but went on one more step to stir them all up again. final word Monday

Jandrax 90

Old Anton was tired of power, tired of the responsibility of leading his fractious following, but he dared not relinquish it. He had taken this scepter by midnight murder and now he could not let it go if he wished to remain alive.  If only sister Angi lived to give him comfort, or her husband, Lucien, dead these several months of the tuberculosis that ate at him so many years. If only . . .


Young Anton stared at the ceiling in indecision. He suspected that his grandfather’s death had been at his father’s hand. It was common gossip, softly spoken. He should get up, go quietly to his father’s apartment knife in hand and end this foolishness about succession. But he would not. He seethed in impotent fury.

He would not because young Anton had not inherited his father’s intelligence or his cunning and he knew it. Whatever he did to end his father’s reign would be countered by some unexpected move. Try an assassination and he would find some unseen safeguard. Even if it were not so, the expectation of it was enough to deter him.

But let this hunt pass and he would be able to take his father’s place. Already he was leading the hunt; that was a victory.

Or was it? Had his father planned it all; did he know that his son would not return from the hunt alive? It had happened before.

Cold sweat stood upon young Anton’s face as he remembered the wild moments, the instant decision, the withholding of fire that had destroyed Jean Dubois two years ago. Jean Dubois, his rival for Chloe – Chloe the slut, whose soft womanhood had gone to fat and whose affection had gone to hatred.

He had made an instant decision then, one of the few he had ever had the nerve to make. And it had been right, but Dubois lived. If only he had had the nerve to finish what he had started. If only . . .

Again he thought of the day he stood face to face with the crippled Dubois and let him take the antler. It seemed such a small thing then, but in his mind it had grown, had unmanned him. If he had stood his ground then, he could stand his ground now. But he had not.

There was a disturbance in the air which he would not have noticed had he not been upwrought. There was a stirring of breeze and an excess of light where there should have been only darkness. Softly in the night, Marcel, his son (Dubois’s son!), whimpered. Dumezil slipped out of the bed, careful not to waken the shrew that lay beside him, and took up his blade.

He drew back the hide curtain that screened their sleeping area. The shutters were gone from his window and wan moonlight stole in. Someone was in the room!

Some assassin sent by his father?

There was – something – near the door. With his left hand Anton struck a light and touched the wick of a candle.

It was the antler, remade into a cane. It was the very one that had torn Dubois, that Dubois had taken, had carried as a visible goad. It stood against the door, taunting.

No, it could not be! It was a forgery, made and placed at his father’s command. It had to be. Something stood behind him. He tried to turn his head, but could not. He swallowed. He leaped sideways, bringing up his blade.

“Anton, you have something of mine. I have come for it. Stand aside and I will let you live.”

Anton’s face was sweaty white in the moonlight. He shook his head, but the ghosts would not go away. “No!”

“Yes, Anton. A question, out of curiosity. Did the primer actually fail?”

Dumbly, Anton shook his head. more tomorrow

Jandrax 89

Moccasin looked beautiful in her finely cured hide vest and trousers and her thigh-high white moccasins. By the standards of the tribe, who came near to worshipping fertility, she was even more beautiful for her round belly, sure indication of her pregnancy.

Jean dropped beside her where she knelt at Nightwind’s fire. Nightwind was out on a hunt and Jean had chosen to make his advances in full sight of the tribe. He could not chance a clandestine meeting but this might be taken as innocent conversation between childhood friends.

Moccasin looked shocked to see him and turned her face away. Suddenly he was unsure of himself and unwilling to pursue his intentions. “Paulette.

Her head came up sharply. “Do not call me that; I am Moccasin.”

“Paulette, do you wish to stay here? Would you rather return to the colony?”

“Why do you taunt me; you aren’t of the tribe.”

“I am not taunting you.”

“Are you asking if I want you to rescue me?” She cocked her head in the attitude of derision so often affected by the girls of the tribe. “Well, what do you offer?”

Now it was Jean’s turn to hesitate, for he was not sure how far his duties to her ran. He had known her when they were children and had desired her as a young man, but much had passed between that time and this.

Moccasin gestured toward the others. “They mock me, they belittle me, but my day will come. I have talked to the older women who were captives in their time. They made their own paths here and so can I.”

She looked around her again, at the lushness of the eternal melt just visible beyond the firelight. “Could I leave all this? This wild freedom, this eternal beauty. Could I exchange all this for a drab wooden cubicle and a man who is brutalized by too much slaughter in one season and too much leisure in the other? I can be one of them,” she gestured toward Mist-an-water and her comrades. “How could I ever go back to being what I was?

“Could you?”

Chapter 17

Night closed about the town, enfolding it in arms of darkness. Anton Dumezil, the elder, lay silent in the apartment that his own father had occupied and stared at the ceiling. Anton Dumezil, the younger, lay beside his wife staring likewise. Each wondered in the privacy of his own mind how went the machinations that each had set against the other.

Anton the elder swung his feet to the floor and paced his rickety way about his apartment. His feet crushed the fur of the same rug that Nightwind had wrapped himself in a year earlier. His arthritic hips would not let him sleep, nor would his own son’s knowledge of those same hips. He could not hunt again. The preparations had been made, the barges were loaded, the melt was on, but Old Anton would not make his kill this year. His own son was leading barge number one.

His mind rushed back over the years to the night he had stood over his father’s corpse, knife in hand. Young Anton didn’t have that kind of nerve. He was a weakling. If he wrested power from his father, he would not hold it long.

Old Anton was tired of power, tired of the responsibility of leading his fractious following, but he dared not relinquish it. He had taken this scepter by midnight murder and now he could not let it go if he wished to remain alive. more tomorrow

Jandrax 88

Jean showed Mist-onwater how to fire his rifle and she in turn instructed him in the fine points of archery and use of the lance. His leg still hurt with exertion, but he ignored it as always and found that he, could hold his own with Vapor and the others as long as they kept their speed to a fast walk. He could not trot or run.

Jean and Mist went hunting using Jeans technique of a slow stalk upwind and she killed a herby with the rifle. No other young member of the tribe had ever fired a rifle and she did an impromptu war dance around the carcass.

The lake lay far to the south and preparations for the turnabout were underway. For weeks the tribe had killed in excess, drying the meat against the flight. Now it came.

The herds had been restless for days. The herbies were milling in the brush, unsure of themselves, and the trihorns were even more belligerent than usual. Longnecks came within sight of the camp and the tribe’s children were held close at hand. All nature seethed with the imminent change.

Then they started. Here a humpox turned its shaggy head southward and there a herd of trihorns stampeded nervously, now trotting, now running, south. The herbies were quick on their heels.

The sun was southing, The melt growth still lay untouched to the north but the wildlife had turned away back toward the southeast, cutting away from the crumpled swath they had made and into the dry region of unharvested growth. The sun, too, had turned south, but there was no snow to melt. Snow there was – for it had followed the melt but it lay far to the south and the herds were hurrying on to find it.

Some of the animals continued north. Always there were a few less gifted with instinctive intelligence and they went on into a fool’s paradise of heavy growth, munching their way toward starvation.

The tribe, too, turned southward. Now the animals were wary and lean. Jandrax could still kill them and now Jean’s rifle proved its worth. There was some fresh meat and some dried fruit and seeds, but mostly the tribe subsisted on the meat that they had dried in previous weeks.

They moved at the speed of the sun and even the tribe’s boisterousness was subdued by the barren land. It was low winter for a springtime tribe and their spirits were not accustomed to it.

The animals grew gaunt and many died. The children of the tribe ranged wide cutting seedpods for the domestic herbies and the elders rode more now, for they were the first to feel the short rations. Jean’s leg hurt constantly and he was hard pressed to keep up and to hunt. Mist-on-water was with him often, but had the decency not to comment on the pain she read in his face.

They came to the region of scanty growth. Snow had fallen here, though not in abundance, and every day southward brought them to greater moisture. It was not the unfolding of the melt as the colonists experienced it, for every day saw them in the latitude of the lal, but each day there were more young shoots and soon the headlong flight had slowed to the even pace of the long march.

Jean felt more at one with the tribe for their shared tribulation. He had been wrong in characterizing them as the children of eternal spring, for this ordeal was theirs twice yearly.

Now they were heading southward again and every day brought them closer to the colony and home? more tomorrow