Zeitgeist Preview: Chapter 2

It's time for the second chapter preview from my forthcoming novel, Zeitgeist 1919, a tale of magic and machines, star-crossed lovers and mythical monsters set against the backdrop of an alternate-history First World War. You can pre-order your copy for 50% off the list price for a limited time and read teaser passages and the first chapter (in case you missed it) on the Zeitgeist book page.

Available November 17, 2017

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CHAPTER 2

Rory stood at attention on the wall, conscious of the crowd in Battery Park below. Stiff boots pinched his tingling toes and gripped his calves. His fingers felt like ice inside his gloves. Hundreds of eyes were watching him, maybe thousands. But not him alone. Distantly, above the thundering rush of blood in his ears, he heard the sergeant barking orders, the thunder of boots as the veteran battery crew sprang into action. He kept his eyes fixed forward, staring over the city he was now sworn to defend. He didn’t remember the speeches, barely remembered giving oaths and saluting the dignitaries in the gallery beside the cannon, wreathed in the mist of their own breath.

Aunt Eva was in the gallery. She had arrived with a small pack of her fellow technomancers, hair pulled back in a severe bun, head strangely naked without the goggles she always wore. Odd that he would notice the missing goggles more than the fact that she was wearing a dress. It made her look older. Sadly, the uniform failed to do the same for Rory. Somehow it made his reflection in the mirror look younger, like a child playing at being a soldier.

Was Aunt Eva watching him now, wondering what she had done by getting him assigned to the battery? Not that she was solely to blame. His sister-in-law Nora had helped as well. Together, they conspired to override his brother’s efforts to pin Rory to the boring safety of a desk at Defense HQ. Aunt Eva’s voice carried weight with Defense because she helped maintain the Tesla cannons, and Nora’s father was high in the chain of command. The two women would have to share the blame when his mother found out.

Back rigid, eyes focused blindly on the skyline, Rory’s mind drifted.

Dinner at Aunt Eva’s last night had been predictable. Mother’s birdlike eyes had followed Aunt Eva, no doubt fuming that her sister-in-law claimed the head of the table ahead of her eldest surviving son. Not that James seemed to mind. He was busy regaling the family with yet another story of the Air Wing and their feats of aeronautic daring.

Nora sat beside her husband, trying to mask her worry with a smile. But Rory saw her hand shaking as it held the fork, saw her other hand touching her belly. Pregnancy was supposed to make a woman glow, but Nora seemed to be fading, growing more gray with every passing hour. Her features had always been more stark than beautiful, but there had been life in her eyes before, a playful curl to her lips…

Heat had blossomed on Rory’s cheeks as he looked away. He imagined every set of eyes around the table focusing on his flushed face, aware of the guilty train of his thoughts. Surely if Nora harbored any concern for him, she would try to get him assigned to the relative safety of the general staff. She had made such an effort to protect James, only for her father to turn a deaf ear. General Keane seemed intent on putting the Donnelly boys firmly in the line of fire. Rory on the cannon battery. James in the Air Wing. And Patrick…

Rory’s gaze had been drawn to the framed photo on the sideboard. James and Rory flanking Patrick in his doughboy kit, hat tilted rakishly, the ghost of a smile haunting his face. Patrick had abandoned his apprenticeship at Tesla’s lab to enlist. Off to Europe to take the fight to the Kaiser as part of General Keane’s Expeditionary Forces. In training, he’d met the general’s daughter, Nora, and in the weeks that followed she’d joined the Red Cross in secret so she could accompany the Expeditionary Forces and thus remain near Patrick. But her father had found out and forced her to return home.

Then he assigned Patrick to the first group of Americans destined for the trenches.

Rory remembered his mother’s face when she received the telegram confirming Patrick’s death, the shuttering of her eyes, the way she seemed to shrink in on herself, to age a decade in mere minutes. So much potential lost. Patrick had paired their father’s natural intelligence and talent for magic with charisma that made him stand out in any crowd. Rory and James had worshiped him almost as much as their mother had. They had wanted to be him. Still did. Wasn’t that why James joined the Defense Force? Wasn’t that why he pursued Nora so hard when she returned from Europe? Theirs had been such a short courtship…

James had half-risen from his chair, hands chasing each other as he described some aerial maneuver he’d accomplished in his biplane. His mother watched, a small smile chasing about her thin lips, knife and fork poised over her plate. James turned to Nora, but his wife was looking at the table, her shoulders trembling. 

Had she married James just to spite her father, or had something about James reminded her of Patrick? They had married within weeks of her return. Before her father could interfere. Maybe before she could entertain second thoughts…?

Rory watched her push food around her plate. She was obviously terrified that something would happen to James. Was that because she loved him or because she didn’t want to raise their child alone? And why had she helped get Rory assigned to the Tesla Battery? Why wasn’t she afraid of what might happen to him?

James started to reach for her shoulder, but turned and touched his mother instead. She caught his hand, pressing her lips to his palm. Her eyes twitched toward Aunt Eva. Little spots of color dotted her cheeks.

No mystery there. Rory had seen that look often enough since they moved in with Aunt Eva. In that look were all the reasons why Mary Donnelly had encouraged her eldest son to abandon an apprenticeship with Tesla to go fight in the old country, why she now took joy in her middle child risking life and limb in a mechanical, flying death trap rather than a technomancer’s laboratory.

And why she would keep her youngest son, Rory, far from anything that carried even a hint of magic.

Her husband had died in the pursuit of magic. An accident in Tesla’s laboratory had ravaged Eamon Donnelly’s body and mind. It took weeks for him to die. Aunt Eva had not left her brother’s bedside until his last breath. She shouldered the blame for the accident, promising her dying brother that she would care for his family, that she would abandon the recklessness of her youth. Mary Donnelly had not forgiven Aunt Eva or thanked her for her help. Nor had she forgotten the part that magic had played in her husband’s death.

Rory had stifled the urge to brush the cannoneer’s pin in his pocket. If his mother found out…

Rory’s scalp prickled, bringing him back to the present. The Tesla cannon’s accumulator was beginning to whine, and the wall vibrated beneath him, shaking his boots and rattling his bones. He sensed the heads of his battery-mates turning, discipline amongst the volunteers breaking down as their excitement built. Rory fought to keep his gaze fixed forward. Nobody would be watching him. All eyes would be on the great cannon. Nobody would see. Just a brief glimpse.

His gaze flickered past the gallery to devour the gleaming metal surfaces of the gun. His father had helped Tesla design it. Rory’s heart thudded against his ribs.

Most of the cannon’s workings were hidden from view. The only exposed portion was the large cylinder cradled by the mechanism that connected it to the wall. Cables thicker than a man’s thigh carried vryl current from concealed accumulators in the wall. The battery crew swarmed around the cannon, checking the cables for leaks, cranking the massive gears that brought the weapon’s barrel to bear. The sergeant, still shouting through a bristling mustache, stared at the indicators monitoring power levels and targeting information. There was no specific target today. The firing itself would provide ample demonstration of the weapon’s potency.

The wall grumbled, transmitting the steady thrum of the hidden accumulator coils as they pulled vryl energy from the air. Every hair on Rory’s body stood at sharp attention. His skin crawled as if spider webs were being drawn across it. Arcs of pale lightning flickered around the cannon’s barrel, and the sergeant’s voice became impossible to hear as the weapon shrieked and growled. 

The firing rocked the wall.

It shook the city and rippled the bay for half a mile in every direction.

Rory spread his feet to maintain his balance. His jaw went slack as the air in front of the barrel shimmered with the passage of thaumaturgic energy bound to super-heated particles. The fact that the beam was only faintly visible did not make it any less destructive or deadly. Rory had never been this close to a firing, had never seen the beam as anything more than a faint line stretching off into the infinite distance. He had heard the boom when the firing ceased of course. Nobody with ears in the city could have claimed otherwise over the past eighteen months. But this was different. It was one thing to read about the fell energies harnessed by technomancy in dime novels, but witnessing the real thing shifted his fascination to terror. He stared with wide eyes, every hair on his body trying to pull free from his skin. A warm breeze caressed his face.

He became aware of a commotion.

Near the cannon.

Rory turned, astonished to see Aunt Eva racing from the gallery, arms waving. The cannon’s crew could not see her. They were focused on the destructive passage of their weapon’s energy beam. Rory saw faces in the gallery behind her, some looking with horrified expressions at the horizon. Evangeline Donnelly tumbled into the battery crew, shouldered the sergeant aside, and tugged fiercely at the massive firing lever.

Thunder jolted the wall as air rushed in to fill the vacuum left in the deadly beam’s wake. Rory clapped his hands over his ears.

Too late.

The beam was supposed to be stepped down gradually in a test firing, so the new recruits hadn’t been issued the helmets with ear protection that the battery crew wore. In ringing silence, Rory watched the sergeant struggle to decide if he would strike the woman who had manhandled his cannon’s controls. The sergeant loomed, his face purple behind the straw bristles of his mustache as members of the gallery rushed forward. He was shouting, but Aunt Eva had both ears covered. She took one hand from her ear and pointed at the horizon. 

Rory twisted around. Distant shapes wheeled in loose formation above Brooklyn, producing flashes of color—yellow and blue, red and green. Painted wings.

The Air Wing.

Biplanes swooped and dove as they came across the water. They passed just over the wall, the pilots’ scarves flapping as they waved to the spectators below. The wood and fabric bodies of their machines were garish with color, and James’s yellow-winged fighter was in the lead.

Zeitgeist Preview: Chapter 1

Zeitgeist 1919 is a tale of magic and machines, star-crossed lovers and mythical monsters, and you can pre-order your copy for 50% off the list price for a limited time! Read more about the book, including a number of teasers and the book's Prelude on the Zeitgeist book page. Or dip your toe in with the first chapter, presented here in its entirety...

Available November 17, 2017

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CHAPTER 1

Gotham glowed beneath an orange and gray dusk, her myriad Edison lamps pushing back the encroaching gloom. The city’s streets hummed with tales of industry and magic, with rumors of the war kept at bay by the mighty Atlantic and the arcane machines of American technomancy. Rory Donnelly walked those streets in a daze. He ran his hands through the dark tangle of his hair and then lowered his fingers to stare at them, wondering that they were not still tingling.

“I touched it,” he muttered.

His fingers strayed to the brass pin affixed to his collar, a stylized lightning bolt atop a disk. He remembered the pulse of the imprisoned energies, his skin itching and crawling as the great machine hummed to itself.

A Tesla cannon.

“I touched it,” he repeated, still in disbelief.

Had it been just a week ago that he stood in the shadow of the great wall listening to the buzz and crackle as the cannoneers tested their weapons, dreaming that one day he would be up there with them, preparing to defend the city? 

And what of tomorrow?

Tomorrow could not come soon enough for Rory. Tomorrow the new recruits would take part in firing one of the great weapons. 

Rory shivered inside the borrowed greatcoat. His wiry frame would never fill it out as James had. He frowned as he pictured his older brother’s burly, athletic build, the black gloss of his hair, the Defense Force pilot’s wings pinned to his collar. Rory unfastened his own cannoneer’s lightning bolt and shoved it deep in his pocket. James would know what the symbol meant. Despite all the strings he pulled on their mother’s behalf to get Rory behind the safety of a desk, somehow his younger brother had been assigned to the Tesla cannon batteries.

Mother would not be happy.

Rory paused beneath the glow of an Edison lamp and tugged his collar up against the evening chill. Now that he was almost home, he wondered if maybe he should have accepted the invitation from his new battery-mates to join them for dinner.

A curtain twitched on the second floor of Aunt Eva’s brownstone, and Rory’s lips compressed in a tight smile. If he’d accepted that invitation, his mother would have sent James to look for him. Worse, she might have come looking herself.

Rory stepped out from beneath the Edison lamp and crossed the street. On the stoop of Aunt Eva’s building he took a deep breath to settle himself and to suppress the excitement the Tesla cannon had smeared all over his face. Then he pushed open the door.

* * *

The city glowed on the horizon, a pale finger between dark sky and darker water. Silke stared at it from the rolling deck of the unterseeboot. The black water surrounding the submarine sang to her, but its chant was deep and alien. Not like the cheerful babble of the brook beside her parents’ farmhouse. Not like the weary lament of the Rhine where she and her sisters…

The Rhine? Had she ever seen the Rhine? And what sisters had she been thinking of?

Silke shook her head.

A brother. She had a brother.

But he was dead now, wasn’t he? Hadn’t the Americans killed him? Silke tried to order her thoughts. She couldn’t even remember her brother’s name. But she knew he was younger than her. Surely too young to enlist? And why would he have been fighting Americans? The Russians were closer.

The Russians…

A fleeting image danced through Silke’s head of a wasted and shambling man, skin gray where it was not rubbed raw and pink. Bones protruded from his savaged arm. Worms writhed in empty eye sockets.

Silke twisted a pale strand of hair around equally pale fingers and tugged hard enough that tears filmed her eyes. The vision fled, dragged down by other memories of trucks and trains and cold rooms with steel tables. Men in dark robes—Zaubersänger sorcerers, measuring and whispering, examining her body, testing her intellect. Prodding and probing. Pain and sickness.

Her hair had been darker then, streaked with red and gold. Silke remembered it piled on the floor around her, harvested by unkind shears. She remembered the hissing voices, the hunger for revenge blossoming in the confusion of her mind. Revenge for her slain brother.

And what about her parents? Were they dead as well?

Memories of lumbering gray bodies in the village.

The Russians. And some of her neighbors.

The corpse-army! Coming for her family, coming for her…

The gray bodies in her memory gave way to slender shapes, sinuous and bright beneath the sedate flow of the Rhine. Her sisters, voices raised in chorus for the watching sorcerers. And the zaubersänger, adding their own voices to the song. Her thoughts and memory being pulled apart, woven back together.

And then the long dark.

Why wasn’t she shivering? A bitter wind tugged at Silke’s thin dress, but the cold did not bother her. It was a distant thing. Nothing to worry about.

She lifted her hand. Light from the distant city painted the webbing between her slender fingers a pale pink. Had they always been like that? Why couldn’t she remember? What had the zaubersänger done to her memory, to her body? Were the sisters real? Was her brother? Her parents? The village of her birth? They all felt true. But maybe not. And what of the corpses stalking her…?

“Forgive us, the drugs were necessary. They kept you safe.”

Silke’s head snapped around. The rumbling engines of the unterseeboot and the insistent song of the sea had masked the arrival of the man standing behind her on the deck. Or at least she assumed it was a man. The robed figure’s features were hidden by the darkness. She made out several indistinct shapes looming behind him, silent and watchful as standing stones.

“The confusion will pass. Your mind will settle shortly.” The words slithered around her, oily and gritty all at once. “The song of the deep ocean during the crossing would have driven you mad.”

Zaubersänger, thought Silke. She took an involuntary step back. The dark water called to her. It would be so easy to jump in, to swim away, to put distance between herself and the sorcerer. And water. Water had power against their breed of magic.

Silke hugged herself. How did she know that? What had they done to her? Something flashed beneath the sorcerer’s hood. His teeth?

“It calls to you, does it not?” he rasped. “But remember your mission, maiden. Remember.”

He stepped close to her, and Silke fought the impulse to dive into the dark water lapping the hull of the submarine. It was deep and alien and forbidding, but no more so than the man—or was he a demon?—standing before her. He leaned in close, and the dim light played across a wasted expanse of dark hollows and scars. Had some disease ravaged his skin? The sorcerer’s eyes burned with a green light that held her motionless, opened windows in the mist of her thoughts.

Shuffling corpses on the farmhouse path, wearing the faces of her parents—

“Remember your brother, maiden. Remember who killed him.”

The sorcerer’s breath smelled of stone and dirt and decay. Grave-stench.

Whispers chased each other through Silke’s head. Her mouth opened. The zaubersänger raised one finger, bent at an unnatural angle, and touched it to her lips. Heat blossomed. Burned. She could not pull away.

“Your parents and your brother. Remember them. Remember what happened to them.”

Corpses. Oh dear God, the corpses. The dead should not walk. How could they be walking? Where were her parents? What did her parents look like? There were holes in her memory, holes shaped like brother, like mother, like father. The farmhouse remained. The animals and flowers and gardens remained. But no faces of those she loved, no names even. All forgotten. All stolen.

“Remember.”

Another finger touched her forehead, tracing a line of fire across her brow. The zaubersänger began to chant in an unfamiliar tongue, and Silke’s mind flooded with images of her brother, his body broken and bloody. But he was not in the garden, torn apart by corpses that might have been her parents. He was on a battlefield, and American soldiers loomed above him, their features twisted and demonic.

“The Americans have ways of detecting us,” the sorcerer hissed in her ear. The stench was terrible. “Machines built by Tesla, Edison, and their technomancer ilk. Defenses the river prevents us from getting close to. But not you, maiden. Magic has shaped you, and yet you have no spellcraft to trigger their alarms. Remember your mission. Remember what you must do.”

The rhythm of his words surrounded her, wrapped her in a tight embrace. Silke put her hands to her head, touching skin that was clammy and cool. Had she always been like this? She tugged hair that was almost white, not the gold from the mirrors of her childhood. Shaking her head, she tried to remember that girl.

“Go, maiden,” the sorcerer hissed. “Open the way so that we may enter, so that we may avenge the fallen. Your fallen.”

Image of her parents, ruddy-cheeked and smiling.

Fading.

Now ashen-faced and gaping.

Dead eyes. Gray hands reaching—

“The Americans,” a voice insisted from inside her head. “It was the Americans. Take your vengeance.”

Silke shook her head, trying to dislodge the voice, but a second joined in, and they hissed in chorus. And a third. Then a fourth. A whole host of whispering voices.

The sorcerer’s lips brushed her ear, and Silke shuddered.

“I can make them go away,” he rasped. “The voices. The memories. The visions.”

His hand touched her shoulder, fever-hot through the fabric of her dress. She did not know what was real and what had been put in her head by sorcery. She did not know who she was. Was Silke even her real name?

“Do it and be free.”

Silke twisted and dove from the rolling deck with a cry, the dark sea parting to embrace her, icy and warm all at once. For a moment, all she heard was the dull roar of the unterseeboot’s engines. Then, as she put distance between herself and the submarine, other sounds reached out to touch her. First came the bright chorus of small streams singing of mountains and trees and sunshine. Then the languid, steady drone of an old river. Then the deep chanting of the bay.

But there was another song lurking beneath them, an ancient and menacing dirge she had heard before. It had brushed against her mind during the ocean crossing, sending questing fingers through the fog of zaubersänger drugs.

So unfathomably old…

The deep-song chased Silke toward the city as she swam with all the speed the zaubersänger shaping magic had gifted to her. It promised protection, promised safety. And belonging. Just swim to the deeper water, it called. Swim to the cold currents of the sea. Be free.

But the chattering in her head was too loud, too insistent. Could the song of the sea rid her of what haunted her mind? Or was that something only the zaubersänger could do?

Had the sorcerers put the voices there to begin with?

Vaguely, Silke was aware of something making thrashing, violent progress across the surface of the bay, following her with unerring accuracy. But that was only of minor concern to her. The noise paled beside the horror of the voices from her past, beside the ocean-song that told of madness and imprisonment and a yearning to be free.

To touch the air again. To see the stars. To feel the wind. Lost, all lost.

Something in the sea was trapped.

Trapped like the voices in Silke’s head.

And dead. Dead for so many centuries.

Silke swam.

Zeitgeist Teaser #4: A Brief Discussion of Magic

The copyediting is just about wrapped up on Zeitgeist 1919. With formatting and the proofing process just around the corner, it's time to share another sneak peek at the work-in-progress. Today we look at an appendix describing the various styles of magic employed in the novel and their place in the book world...

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The world of Zeitgeist 1919 is one in the late stages of a magical flourishing akin to the Industrial Revolution. Though magic had been present in the world prior to the late nineteenth century, a sudden explosion of scholarship, codification, and training led to a rapid expansion of sorcery from a fringe practice to a daily fact of life for many people.

As with the Industrial Revolution, this expansion was not always greeted with enthusiasm by the majority of the population despite the benefits that everyday magic brought to their lives. Most people have a pervading discomfort with sorcery and know little about its practice, much less possess the knowledge to distinguish its various forms. What all varieties of modern magic have in common, however, is that they involve the manipulation of magical or spiritual energy.

 

 

I. Vryl

 

Diverse magical traditions attribute the source of their power to energy, spirits, or sometimes both. The modern “science” of technomancy refers to this power source as vryl and to magical energy in terms of vryl fields and vryl currents. Recent research has also hinted that vryl may be a living energy, perhaps even the stuff of life itself. While no direct evidence supports this, further study may reveal that traditions involving the summoning of “spirits” are simply a shifted perspective, and that manipulation of energy and the coercion of spirits are one and the same.

Be it raw energy or a more complex living form, vryl is found everywhere, though sometimes it becomes concentrated in a nexus. Such concentrations interfere with perceived reality and lead to discomfort, often extreme, on the part of the observer, particularly if that observer is not versed in magic. Likewise, concentrated vryl can augment or warp spells, potentially with catastrophic effect. An example of such an effect was the Wardenclyffe Disaster, wherein an accident permanently damaged the vryl fields in the area around the laboratories of the technomancer Nikola Tesla.

The origin of the term vryl is unclear, though many scholars point to it being an adaptation of the word Vril in the 1871 novel The Coming Race by Edward Bulwer-Lytton. This is disputed, however, and evidence of similar variants of the word are found in works across multiple languages hundreds of years prior to Bulwer-Lytton’s novel. Often these works are recordings of visions and occult experiences whose authors would have no connection with other historical or contemporary accounts.

While the specific terminology can be disputed, what is not in question is that all magic, at its heart, involves some means of controlling energy or spirits.

 

 

II. Means of Manipulation

 

All magical traditions rely upon a means of exercising control over energy or spirits. Methods often overlap in practice, but broadly, they can be sorted into physical, verbal, and ritual means of manipulation.

Examples of physical means would be a focus item (such as a wand), the crafting of runes or symbols, or even the use of spell ingredients and/or living tissue. Recent advances in research and technology have led to physical means being the basis of increasingly powerful spellcraft, notably among American technomancers. Physical means also enable the magician to imbue an item with power, enabling its use by those without magical training or knowledge. To limit the abuse of such power by the ignorant, magical devices may require an incantation to activate or change the effect of a stored spell. This is a simple example of verbal means, the second method of manipulation.

Verbal techniques have found their greatest modern refinement and expression among the zaubersänger of the German Empire. While physical means are usually external to the practitioner, verbal means are intimately connected to the spell caster, making them both easier to control and more dangerous if that control fails. For this reason, verbal means need extensive training and practice and are often combined with physical or ritual means to offer the spell caster both an aid to concentration and a buffer against ill effects should the spell go awry.

In a similar manner, most ritual magic requires both substantial training and the addition of physical or verbal means for safety and focus. Because of its more complex and time-consuming nature, ritual magic is typically the domain of specialists, often with the trappings of religion or secret societies meant to ensure the transmission of arcane formulae and training to new generations of practitioners. Ritual means are also more commonly used in spiritual manipulation though it is up for debate whether this limitation is imposed by the traditions that employ it or the greater complexity required in communicating with spirits (as opposed to the relatively “simple” shaping of raw energy).

Given that means of manipulation are not often exclusive, it should come as no surprise that while individual magical traditions often favor one means over the others, all sufficiently developed traditions use a combination of means in their practice. The following passages detail a selection of traditions that may prove of interest to the reader.

 

 

III. Technomancy

 

Technomancy involves manipulating fields of magical energy using crafted devices, often of startling complexity and power. Though predecessors of this style of magic are found throughout human history, modern technomancy developed in the later stages of the nineteenth century, primarily in America.

Though there is an undercurrent of distrust regarding magic in America, the so-called “trinity” of American technomancy,—Tesla, Edison, and Westinghouse—are regarded as national treasures and heroes. Likewise, the practice of technomancy is framed as being based on science rather than on spells and the occult, and technomancers are seen as men of intellect who bend energy to their will through skill and invention rather than mystical means. For these reasons, technomancy emphasizes machinery and devices and plays down magical symbols and verbal spell triggers when presented to the public lest the practice appear too much like witchcraft.

Other common features include the heavy use of metal in devices and the ubiquity of accumulators, a magical component that allows the gathering/concentration of energy without the need for the user of the device to either focus her mind or have any level of arcane training. The significance of this ease of use is not lost on America’s enemies, who both fear the potential of technomancy and crave it for themselves.

 

 

IV. Spellsong & The Zaubersänger

 

A style of magic principally developed and taught in the German Empire, spellsong uses a combination of music, chant, and runecraft to cast spells. Though the tradition has ancient roots, the modern practice was codified in the 1856 text Lieder der Veränderung (“Songs of Changing”) by Maximillian Ingrimm, an archaeologist who dabbled in sorcery.

Practitioners of spellsong take the title of zaubersänger, or spellsinger, from the German zauber (magic, spell, or charm) and sänger (singer), though they are often referred to as hexenmeister (German for sorcerer or wizard). Many zaubersänger consider this term pejorative, though some embrace its use.

Most zaubersänger are in the employ of the German Empire and are organized in a loose hierarchy under the Imperialer Zaubersänger (“Imperial Spellsinger”). There is no formal selection process for the Imperialer Zaubersänger, much as there is no formal schooling in the art. Those called to the practice either try to educate themselves (a folly that often ends in madness or death) or apprentice themselves to a master zaubersänger.

While song is the basis the zaubersänger’s magic, runecraft also plays an important role in providing both focus for the singer and an enhancement of spell effects. Spellsong induces a physical change in these symbols, causing them to move and glow, though this is not the only physical manifestation of spellsong. Those within hearing of the song will often feel the magic as an oily, slithering presence, sometimes visible as skeins of shadow or liquid darkness.

Recently, zaubersänger have shown an increasing interest in the magical modification of genetic material. Experimentation to this effect has resulted in the creation of chimera by fusing the cells of multiple organisms in a single host, most notably the drachenwolf, an amalgam of bird, dog, wolf, and the modern-day descendants of pterosaurs discovered in the German colonial territories of Deutsch-Westafrika (German West Africa).

This creature has the senses and body of a massive wolf with the bone structure and wings of a pterosaur. Though lighter than a normal wolf, flight would still be physically impossible without the assistance of magic. Such enchantments, along with the chimerization process itself, cause drachenwölfe to be in almost constant pain, requiring the addition of a human partner to both mitigate the pain and to keep the beasts from reverting to an untamed state. The zaubersänger identified a distinct cohort of men of certain Prussian bloodlines who could have their minds and bodies manipulated to create “riders” capable of bonding with the drachenwölfe, a process that blends the minds of both beings to the point where they identify as one creature.

Such manipulation of mind and body is not limited to drachenwölfe and their riders. Experimentation has produced a number of monsters from myth and legend such as the elben. The origin of these pale, expressionless giants is shrouded in mystery and rumors of ancient witchcraft, but they have quickly become among the most trusted of the spellsingers’ servants.

While spellsong in the modern context is most commonly associated with the German Empire, historical antecedents abound from all corners of the globe in a variety of forms. For example, while zaubersänger spellsong is noted for weakening or failing in the presence of running water, legends of dragon song, a similar magical style also based on song, note that it gains strength from proximity to water.

 

 

V. Necromancy

 

Necromancy (derived from the Greek nekromanteia, a combination of nekros, “dead body,” and manteia, “divination”) refers to several ritual magic traditions that involve communication with spirits to divine secrets or reveal the future. Such spirits often belong to the deceased but can also be creatures of living magic that transition between the mundane world and the spiritual one.

Advanced practitioners of necromancy may also be capable of “calling back” deceased spirits, either through the reanimation of corpses or the resurrection of the recently dead. Modern examples include the creation of zombies in Haitian Vodou traditions and the Armiya Mertvykh unleashed by Russian necromancers upon the encroaching German Empire in 1916. Such practices are regarded, even by those of other magical traditions, as dangerous and distasteful.

While various magical and religious traditions have their own ideas about spirits and death, some scholars theorize that the living and dead are linked by a third domain, and that this domain is the source of the magical energy sometimes known as vryl. The boundaries of these realms are not easily crossed, requiring complex rituals that drain the life force of the spell caster and pose a potential threat to sanity. 

 

 

VI. Vodou

 

A Haitian spiritual/religious practice based around ritualized interaction with loa (from the French les lois, or “the laws”), spirits that act as intermediaries between a supreme creator spirit and the mundane world. Vodou priests and sorcerers (houngan and bokor respectively) summon individual loa with varying spheres of influence or responsibility (e.g. the sea, healing, communicating with the dead) using ritual offerings, prayer, and song.

Such summonings may result in the loa’s intervention, often in the form of the loa “riding” a human host, with the host taking on the loa's mannerisms or appearance. Notable loa include Baron Samedi, master of the dead; Papa Legba, guardian of the crossroads; Agwé, ruler of the seas; and Loko, patron of healers and plants.

Vodou morality can be divided into so-called “light” and “dark” practices, with the latter often being categorized as sorcery and making use of petro (demonic or angry) loa. One of these “dark” practices is creating zombies (Haitian Creole zonbi). Though these are sometimes reanimated corpses, the vodou practitioner can also create living zombies using spellcraft and special powders to steal the will of a living soul and render it a slave subject to the vodouist’s control.

 

 

VII. Conclusions

 

While this discussion of magical systems is by no means exhaustive, it provides a general flavor of the styles of sorcery in play during the early decades of the twentieth century as they are presented in Zeitgeist 1919. The field of magical scholarship in the world is still evolving, and doubtless there will be changes to current theories and accepted wisdom in addition to advances within existing, modern practices.

Zeitgeist Teaser #3: Glossary of Foreign & Invented Terms

The Zeitgeist 1919 editing process marches ever on, and the manuscript should be ready for proofreaders' critical gazes later this month. With all signs "go" for a November release, it's time to brush up on some lingo. Sneak peek number three is a glossary of the most-used foreign and invented words in the novel and will appear as an appendix to the main text. No spoilers included, but this should give you a taste for what's coming next month...

* * *

GLOSSARY

 

accumulator:  An apparatus used to tap vryl fields for the purpose of powering technomantic devices. Also referred to as a Tesla accumulator in homage to its inventor.

 

Armiya Mertvykh:  (Russian) Translates as “Army of the Dead.” A growing undead horde created by Russian necromancers to combat the German invasion. Initially composed of dead Russian soldiers, it has fed and expanded, adding the slain to its ranks and devouring the Russian Empire and the easternmost regions of the German Empire.

 

bokor:  (Haitian Creole) A sorcerer in the Haitian vodou tradition.

 

Die Fliegertruppen:  (German) Translates as “The Flying Corps.” The airborne wing of the German military. Initially machine-based, the expanding influence of the zaubersänger and their magics has resulted in the drachenwölfe largely displacing fighter aircraft in Die Fliegertruppen, though airships and larger bomber aircraft are still employed.

 

drachenwolf:  (German, plural: drachenwölfe) Translates as “dragon wolf.” A genetic chimera of pterosaur, bird, wolf, and dog that can fly by virtue of magical assistance. When mentally and emotionally bonded with human riders, drachenwölfe are the elite aerial strike force of the German Empire.

 

Edison lamp/lantern:  Any of a range of lighting that uses vryl as a power source to produce a glow. Such lights can range in size from handheld (flashlights/torches) to massive floodlights. One of the most famous and transformative technomantic devices to emerge from Edison’s Menlo Park.

 

elben:  (German) Variant version of the German for “elves” and used by the zaubersänger to denote a type of creature fashioned from humans using magic. They are tall, pale, silent, and expressionless. Gifted with great strength and speed but little grace, they are brutal and deadly. Observers often associate them with stones and winter. Though not mindless creatures, they do require direction, but follow orders with unflagging determination.

 

Gebieter:  (German) Honorific meaning “master” or “lord.”

 

Geissler tube:  A lighting device that employs gas discharge to produce a glow in a glass cylinder. It has been largely replaced by Edison lanterns for most practical applications. 

 

Götterdämmerung:  (German) Translates as “twilight of the gods” and is itself a translation of the Old Norse Ragnarök (“fate of the gods”), a war among gods and supernatural beings that ends in the world being burned, drowned, and renewed. More specifically, it is the title of the last of four parts that comprise Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen.

 

hexenmeister:  (German, both singular and plural) Translates as “sorcerer,” “wizard,” or “warlock.” The term most commonly used outside the German Empire to refer to zaubersänger. Initially used in a pejorative sense within the Empire before zaubersänger rose to political and military prominence. Some zaubersänger consider the title an insult, but others relish its occult and dangerous implications.

 

houngan:  (Haitian Creole). A male vodou priest.

 

Imperialer Zaubersänger:  (German) Honorific that translates as “Imperial Spellsinger.” Denotes the individual zaubersänger acknowledged by the others to be the most powerful of their order and their chosen representative in dealings with the Kaiser.

 

Jasta:  (German) Abbreviated form of Jagdstaffel, which translates as “fighter squadron.” Originally referring to groups of flying machines in Die Fliegertruppen, the term was later applied to groups of drachenwölfe and their riders.

 

Kaiserliche Marine:  (German) The Imperial German Navy.

 

loa:  (Haitian Creole) Derived from the French “les lois” meaning “the laws.” A collection of spirits in the vodou tradition that act as intermediaries between the divine and mundane worlds. Specific loa mentioned in the text include: Baron Samedi, master of the dead; Agwé, ruler of the sea and patron of sailors; Simbi, serpent loa associated with water; Loko, patron of healers and plants; and Ogoun, the warrior.

 

oanga:  (Haitian Creole) A magical charm bag used by vodou practitioners.

 

technomancy:  A scientific approach to magic based on rules, standardized symbology, and the use of crafted devices. Though an ancient practice, the American hunger for all things modern has seen a flowering of magical technologies aimed at removing the mystery from spellcraft, making it more predictable and usable by all, not just those who study the thaumaturgic arts or have a natural gift for them.

 

Tesla weapon:  A technomantic device that uses vryl energy as fuel to create a destructive particle beam. Tesla weapons vary in size from pistols to cannons, and their output can be adjusted by trained users to produce a variety of effects. The normal firing of a Tesla weapon results in the creation of a temporary vacuum that produces a thunderclap when air rushes to fill it.

 

unterseeboot:  (German) A submarine. Translates as “undersea boat.” Popularly referred to in English using the shortened, derivative form, “U-boat.”

 

vodou:  (Haitian Creole) A Haitian spiritual/religious practice based around ritualized interaction with spirits known as loa.

 

vryl:  Magical or spiritual energy tapped or manipulated by magicians to create spell effects. It exists in fields and can move via currents, sometimes gathering in a nexus of strong magic.

 

zaubersänger:  (German, both singular and plural) Translates as “spellsinger” or “charmsinger” and is the preferred title of German warlocks that practice spellsong.

Zeitgeist Teaser #2: More Characters!

In the months leading up to the release of my new novel, Zeitgeist 1919, I'm going to be posting a series of sneak peeks at the work in progress. With a tentative release date set for November and all character names and backgrounds finalized, here is the (almost) complete list of named characters that will appear in the appendices for the book... 

* * *

Dramatis Personae (Extended)

 

I. New York City & Environs

Rory Donnelly … A teenager who has recently enlisted as a cannoneer serving on the Tesla batteries that protect New York City.

Nora Donnelly (neé: Keane) … The pregnant sister-in-law of Rory, she is plagued by fits and visions of impending doom.

Evangeline “Eva” Donnelly … An American technomancer and Rory’s aunt, she serves as a magician-advisor to the forces defending New York City.

Eamon Donnelly … Technomancer killed in the Wardenclyffe Disaster. Father of Rory and sister of Eva.

James Donnelly … Pilot and chief of the Defense Force Air Wing. Brother to Rory and husband of Nora.

Patrick Donnelly … Eldest brother of Rory. Died fighting the Germans in Europe.

Mary Donnelly … Rory’s widowed mother. Wife of Eamon.

General Keane … American military commander and father of Nora Donnelly.

Corporal Sims … Tesla cannoneer assigned to the same battery as Rory.

Josephine “Jo” Sibley … A self-educated, mixed-race schoolteacher and occasional fortune teller. Previously a domestic servant for the Roth family.

Oscar Roth … A wealthy academic magician, more attuned to discovering magical secrets than casting spells. An affair with his family’s servant, Josephine, ended badly a dozen years ago.

Baptiste Leopold … An exiled freedom fighter and vodou practitioner of Haitian-German descent.

Edward Phelan … British spy and magician.

Violeta “Vee” Quintana … The young leader of the orphans living in the tunnels beneath the city.

Chess, Lin, Luck … Orphans who dwell in the tunnels beneath the city.

Sergeant Allen Gray … Soldier assigned to a secret base of magicians and spies along the Connecticut coast.

 

II. The Germans & Their Allies

Imperialer Zaubersänger Sigmund Gramlich … Chief sorcerer to the Kaiser and architect of the invasion of America.

Silke … A young German spy whose body and mind have been warped by sorcery.

Konrad von Elbing … Scion of an ancient Prussian military family and a reluctant drachenwolf rider.

Freiheit … The drachenwolf Konrad rides and is bonded to.

Bokor … A nameless and ancient Haitian sorcerer allied to the Imperialer Zaubersänger.

Stefan Lang … Kapitänleutnant in the Kaiserliche Marine and commander of the unterseeboot U-188.

Josef Lang … Infant son of Stefan Lang. Deceased, but now possibly part of the Armiya Mertvykh.

Magdalena Lang … Wife of Stefan Lang. Deceased, but now possibly part of the Armiya Mertvykh.

Brandt … Watch officer aboard the unterseeboot U-188.

Lehmann … Enlisted crewman aboard the unterseeboot U-188

 

III. Brennerville, Pennsylvania

George Kohlberg … An immigrant German-American technomancer haunted by the disappearance of his son and the mountain that looms over his town.

Thomas “Tommy” Kohlberg … An apprentice technomancer being trained and raised by his grandfather, George.

Jakob Kohlberg … George’s son and Tommy’s father. He disappeared when Tommy was an infant.

Delphyne … A mysterious girl living in an isolated cabin with her grandmother.

Helen Carter … Deceased wife of George Kohlberg and daughter of Abraham Carter.

Abraham “Abe” Carter … Deceased technomancer who trained George Kohlberg and later became his father-in-law.

Manfred “Fred” Keller … Schoolmate and friend of Tommy Kohlberg.

 

IV. Lynnwood, Vermont

August Frazier … An American magical researcher and botanist who has recently lost his wife to an accident in the woods.

Elizabeth Frazier … Deceased wife of August.

Henry “Hank” Weeks … Owner of the general store and the closest thing August has to a friend in town.

Avery Clayton … Elderly critic of August and all things magical.

Lazare Viger … A young Québécois smuggler and nationalist who suffers from hypertrichosis, resulting in most of his body being covered in thick hair.

Malone … American border guard patrolling the crossings between Canada and northern Vermont.

Gignac … French-Canadian smuggler and associate of Lazare.

Widow Laporte … Nearest neighbor to August Frazier.

 

V. Historical Figures

Thomas Edison … American inventor and technomancer.

Paul von Hindenburg … Former commander of the German military. Now deceased.

Kaiser Wilhelm II … Emperor of Germany and King of Prussia.

Erich Ludendorff … Current commander of the German military.

Nikola Tesla … Serbian-American inventor, scientist, and technomancer.

Zeitgeist Teaser #1: The Characters

In the months leading up to the release of my new novel, Zeitgeist 1919, I'm going to be posting a series of sneak peeks at the work in progress (currently facing the slings and arrows of the outrageous editorial process). We'll begin with the featured players in our story and the caveat that this list of characters (which will appear at the beginning of the book) only highlights the central players in the drama. The full dramatis personae that appears in the appendices for the novel has (at current count) forty eight characters! So without further ado...

 

Dramatis Personae

Rory Donnelly … A teenager who has recently enlisted as a cannoneer serving on the Tesla batteries that protect New York City.

Nora Donnelly, née Keane … The pregnant sister-in-law of Rory, she is plagued by fits and visions of impending doom.

Evangeline Donnelly … An American technomancer and Rory’s aunt, she serves as a magician-advisor to the forces defending New York City.

Silke … A young German spy whose body and mind have been warped by sorcery.

Konrad von Elbing … Scion of an ancient Prussian military family and a reluctant drachenwolf rider.

George Kohlberg … An immigrant German-American technomancer haunted by the disappearance of his son and the mountain that looms over his town.

Delphyne … A mysterious girl living in an isolated cabin with her grandmother on a Pennsylvania mountainside.

August Frazier … An American magical researcher and botanist who has recently lost his wife, Elizabeth, to an accident in the woods.

Lazare Viger … A young Québécois smuggler and nationalist who suffers from hypertrichosis, resulting in most of his body being covered in thick hair. 

Josephine Sibley … A self-educated, mixed-race schoolteacher and occasional fortune teller. Previously a domestic servant for the Roth family.

Oscar Roth … A wealthy academic magician, more attuned to discovering magical secrets than casting spells. An affair with his family’s servant, Josephine, ended badly a dozen years ago.

Stefan Lang … Kapitänleutnant in the Kaiserliche Marine and commander of the unterseeboot U-188. His wife and child have been lost to the Russian Armiya Mertvykh.

Baptiste Leopold … An exiled freedom fighter and vodou practitioner of Haitian-German descent.

Imperialer Zaubersänger Sigmund Gramlich … Chief sorcerer to the Kaiser and architect of the invasion of America.

Calling All Beta Readers

Want to help make my latest book better? Not intimidated by rough text and the likelihood of plot inconsistencies? Just want to get a look behind the scenes at how the sausage is made? Excited to see what flying wolves and sorcerers would bring to World War I?

If you answered yes to any of the above, then head over to the book page for my next novel, Zeitgeist 1919, and sign up to be a beta reader today! Don't delay. This is a big book, and I'll need you to read it and submit your feedback before August 25th.

Thanks in advance!

2016 Accountability Post

Is the annual accountability post a useful exercise, particularly in an essentially creative endeavor? I’m not entirely certain, but it does provide a milestone (not millstone!) and reminder of sorts about whatever path I’m on. With that in mind, let’s review what my intentions were for 2016 before the reality of time constraints, the whims of imagination, and a ceaseless slog of negative news took their toll…

  • Put the icing on the Symphony cake. I wrapped up my historical fantasy series, The Dreambetween Symphony, in 2015, but I wanted to package the series as an omnibus box set / compilation / what-have-you. Status? Mission Accomplished!
  • Revise and publish The Pike. While the initial drafting phase for my latest novel was complete in late 2015, it still required heavy editing. Also, I wasn’t sure whether to publish the book under a pen name given that it didn’t quite fit, genre-wise, with much of my previous output. Status? Published, June 2016.
  • Begin a new series. Status? Fail! I was in the planning stages for a series tentatively titled Gunmage. Expanding upon my short story Lamia’s Daughter, this alternate-world western with demons, fey magic, and gunslingers is still in the planning stages and has been pushed behind other projects in the queue.

Which brings us to 2017. What tentative goalposts do I put up and then pull a Charlie Brown trying to boot the ball through?

  • Publish a new novel. The first draft of my next novel is complete, and I’m currently muddling through the first round of edits. Tentatively titled Zeitgeist 1919, this book is a beast, currently weighing in at almost double the page-count of my previous longest novel, Requiem. Zeitgeist tells the story of a reimagined aftermath/extension to World War I, where Kaiser Wilhelm II, aided by the sorcery and genetic monstrosities of his hexenmeister warlocks, invades the United States and faces the might of American technomancy (machine-magic!). Readers of my shorter work may recognize The Sack of Gotham, the novella (re-edited and slightly adapted) that forms the first portion of this new book. Assuming no catastrophic editing nightmares, Zeitgeist should hit the digital shelves in late spring or early summer.
  • Start writing a new series (or possibly a stand-alone novel). The aforementioned Gunmage series is in contention to follow Zeitgeist, but it will have to push aside another idea that’s been pinging around in my skull. This would be a novel consisting of a series of linked paranormal and cyberpunk-ish short stories set in a near-future American spaceport. At some point, I'd also like to revisit the cross-dimensional, post-apocalyptic invasion series that Symphony shoved aside a couple of years ago. And get started on an epic swords & sorcery fantasy. And a space opera. Sigh...
  • Begin to reboot my short story collections. While novel-writing will consume most of my production time, I’m also embarking on a reboot of my short story collections, splitting them into longer, novel-length work focused more narrowly by genre. The twenty-one stories of The Singles Collection will be repackaged with new work and some older, reworked material. I’m not sure how many collections are going to result, but the first should hit the digital shelves this year.
  • Update my production workflows and website. Part of the process of rebooting the shorts collections and publishing the new novel(s) will include a move to a new publishing workflow using the ebook formatting software Vellum. This should result in prettier and more consistently formatted ebooks, and, if all goes well, most of my back catalogue should get a makeover in the next 12-18 months. Finally, I’ll try to work in a reboot of my website, which hasn’t exactly been lavished with attention the last year or so. 

That’s the tentative plan anyway. See you back here this time next year (assuming the world hasn’t blown up or civilization collapsed into Dark Ages barbarism), to check how far off the roadmap I've veered!

Holiday Sale

Celebrate the holidays with FREE and 99¢ ebooks from yours truly. Did you find a new Kindle, tablet, or phone under your tree? Maybe somebody special gave you an Amazon gift card? Then there's no time like the present (zing!) to grab most of my books in this special holiday sale. 

Enjoy the books, and don't forget to post a review or otherwise let me know what you thought about the stories.