Reality Skimming

Reality Skimming

Reality Skimming promotes optimistic SF -- stories that inspire us to fight the good fight for another day. Committment to larger projects, the writer's sense of mission, joy of reading, the creative campfire of the SF community and the love of deserving protagonists are celebrated. We believe in heroes and striving to be what we believe in. It is also a news hub for content related to the Okal Rel Saga written by Lynda Williams.


Excerpt from Without Bloodshed Part 4

Matthew Graybosch is a Romantic science fantasy novelist from New York who codes for a living. He’s also a gamer, a long-haired metalhead, and a geek who passes for normal by not talking about the nerdy stuff that excites him. He lives in central Pennsylvania with his wife, two cats, and a bicycle that nags him whenever he doesn’t meet his daily word count. He’s hard at work on the next Starbreaker novel. You can reach him by email or on Google+. His home page is at

Chapter 11, "Three Adversaries Walk into a Bar" (Scene 2) part 4

Morgan had not yet reached the bar. He told her he wanted a particular stool: one adjacent to the one Michael Riordan occupied. Approaching the man was impossible; Fireclowns intent on a mixed martial arts match in progress on a screen over Riordan's head crowded him. She spied an upright piano sitting forlorn against the wall in a section of the bar kept clear, and caught the bartender's attention. "Do you think your patrons might fancy some live entertainment? I assume your piano's in tune."

"I keep it in tune for my son; he practices in the mornings after helping me set up. I gotta tell you, though, these guys aren't much for the classics."

Neither am I, tonight. This is a night for improvisation. She shrugged off her armored coat and slung it over her shoulder, holding the collar with a crooked finger. "Do I look like I do the classics?"

She draped her coat over the upright piano, sat down to uncover the keys, and began a rendition of In These Shoes that she often performed when Christabel ducked backstage. Without Sid to play the bass or Morgan to accompany her on guitar, she improvised. The youths with whom she spoke gathered nearby to watch. She played without rest, letting themes and variations develop of their own accord as she entered a meditative trance.

Her peripheral vision suggested the presence of a vast crowd, but she dared not turn her head to verify the size of her congregation. Experience proved an unforgiving tutor in teaching her of the fragility of concentration in a flow state, once achieved.

She let her voice soar and provide a counterpoint to her piano. Without the need to convey lyrics, her voice became a pure instrument. After a time, her voice stilled and her hands settled into another familiar melody. She began to sing again, performing another Crowley's Thoth standby: an art rock song from the 1970s concerning a trip to a fair.


Excerpt from Without Bloodshed Part 3

Matthew Graybosch is a Romantic science fantasy novelist from New York who codes for a living. He’s also a gamer, a long-haired metalhead, and a geek who passes for normal by not talking about the nerdy stuff that excites him. He lives in central Pennsylvania with his wife, two cats, and a bicycle that nags him whenever he doesn’t meet his daily word count. He’s hard at work on the next Starbreaker novel. You can reach him by email or on Google+. His home page is at

Chapter 11, "Three Adversaries Walk into a Bar" (Scene 2) part 3

While almost all of the patrons wore the colors of the Fireclowns MC, most of them seemed too absorbed in their own conversations to notice her. "―I told my wife I didn't like this job any more than she did, but did she listen? Nah―"

"―Can you believe this shit? It's 2112 and my grandparents still think my being bi is just a phase―"

"Hey, isn't that the babe from Crowley's Thoth?"

She stopped and turned towards the booth containing the patron who recognized her. He seemed terribly young to be riding with a gang of mercenary bikers, and his reddish brown hair kept falling over his face. His companions were equally youthful. I guess it's a family business for some of them. "I never expected to be recognized in uniform. I'm helping Morgan; we'd like to resolve matters with Liebenthal in a peaceful manner."

One of the other youths nodded. "My dad was there last night. He couldn't believe you guys didn't just kill them all. The doctor told him to stay home and rest a few days."

"Morgan and I only got to Boston this morning, but I'm glad for our friends' restraint." She pointed to Sid. "I'm sure Adversary Schneider would appreciate hearing from you."

The biker with the absent father reddened as he brushed past Naomi to get out of the booth. She smiled as he passed; his blush even set the back of his neck aflame. By the time he caught up with Sid, he was too far away to be audible over the hum of conversation, but the sight of him shaking the giant's hand encouraged her. That's at least one man with no desire to fight.


Excerpt from Without Bloodshed Part 2

Matthew Graybosch is a Romantic science fantasy novelist from New York who codes for a living. He’s also a gamer, a long-haired metalhead, and a geek who passes for normal by not talking about the nerdy stuff that excites him. He lives in central Pennsylvania with his wife, two cats, and a bicycle that nags him whenever he doesn’t meet his daily word count. He’s hard at work on the next Starbreaker novel. You can reach him by email or on Google+. His home page is at

Chapter 11, "Three Adversaries Walk into a Bar" (Scene 2) part 2

The Four Winds Bar lay just past the warehouses and factories, in a district which seemed allocated to bars, nightclubs, strip joints, and brothels. Motorcycles crowded the parking lots in front of several establishments, despite the plenitude of bus stops for the use of revelers too drunk to pilot a vehicle. Most of the stops bore public service posters displaying men and women passed out from drunkenness and slogans like "Too drunk to drive = Too drunk to fuck" and "Only losers take advantage." Others bore recruitment posters for the Adversaries, some of which were defaced by some angry hand to read, "We have control. We keep you safe. We are your hope." She used her implant to photograph one of them while passing. I bet Claire would like this. She's a Protomen fan.

As they dismounted and approached the entrance, their motorcycles parked away from those ridden by the Fireclowns, Morgan started a secure relay chat and invited Naomi. Though she usually worked alone, she approved of the connection between them, for it permitted real-time tactical coordination. I'm not used to working as part of a team. Should I just watch your back, Morgan?

Watch Sid's as well, and we'll both look out for you. Otherwise, I trust your judgment. We want the Fireclowns to respect us, and we want them to understand we're not here to fight.

Sid joined in. How's your empty-handed technique?

Rusty. The admission pained Naomi. As an Adversary she was as skilled a combatant without a sword as she was with one; her instructor insisted upon it. She lapsed after retiring from the IRD corps. However, I think I managed reasonably well with Thistlewood.

Both men replied at once, You did.

Sid held the door, and followed Naomi inside; she smiled as she took in the interior. Every booth and table sported plush leather seats, and the woodwork gleamed with fresh polish. Screens displayed various sporting events currently in progress, among them a fencing tourney, a soccer match, a Formula One race, and a baseball game. Despite Claire's opinion, the Four Winds Bar seemed a quality establishment.


Excerpt from Without Bloodshed Part 1

Matthew Graybosch is a Romantic science fantasy novelist from New York who codes for a living. He’s also a gamer, a long-haired metalhead, and a geek who passes for normal by not talking about the nerdy stuff that excites him. He lives in central Pennsylvania with his wife, two cats, and a bicycle that nags him whenever he doesn’t meet his daily word count. He’s hard at work on the next Starbreaker novel. You can reach him by email or on Google+. His home page is at

Chapter 11, "Three Adversaries Walk into a Bar" (Scene 2)

Naomi last rode a motorcycle several years ago, but she recalled her former skill within minutes. The motor purred beneath her, powered by a miniaturized thorium-fueled nuclear reactor which comprised half of the bike's mass due to shielding requirements. She opened the throttle, pulling alongside Morgan, who sat his chopper with a proud ease worthy of a paladin in the medieval romances they read while recording the Crowley's Thoth album Le Morte d'Arthur.

His hair remained unbound beneath his helmet; rather than wear head protection tailored for bikers, he settled for an armored helmet issued to Adversaries and militia, and protected his eyes with sunglasses. Sid did the same. Naomi regretted accepting the expense of a 'proper' helmet; having the visor down left her head completely enclosed, and evoked a sense of claustrophobia. She opened a secure talk session with Morgan. You were right about the helmet.

Do you want to stop and switch? My gear should fit you.

Naomi used her implant to pull up the map; only a kilometer and a half remained before they reached their destination. We're almost there, but you were knightly to offer.


Sorry. You look very gallant astride a motorcycle. She slowed to keep pace with Morgan. A message from trafficnet to her implant advised her of a seventy-five percent reduction in the maximum safe speed due to heavy truck traffic. They entered South Boston, and began passing warehouses and small factories. Trucks laden with goods bound for delivery occasionally lumbered forth, forcing Naomi and the others to stop and wait. Their pace was so reduced, she felt a temptation to tuck her helmet into a saddlebag. A foolish idea, no doubt. Morgan might not mind being stabbed, bludgeoned, and shot like an irreligious Rasputin, but he damn well wears his helmet.


Campfire: Excerpt from Without Bloodshed by Matthew Graybosch

According to official records maintained by the state of New York, I was born on Long Island in 1978. I also troll people by telling them I am in fact Rosemary’s Baby, the result of top-secret DOD attempts to continue Nazi experiments combining human technology and black magic, or that I sprang fully grown from my father’s forehead with a sledgehammer in one hand and a copy of The C Programming Language in the other — and that I've been giving the poor man headaches ever since.

Bad jokes based on obscure allusions aside, I'm the author of Without Bloodshed, a Starbreaker novel coming soon from Curiosity Quills Press. I'm also a generalist software developer with over a decade of professional experience earned at such companies as TEKsystems, Deloitte Consulting, and Computer Aid, Inc.

My thoughts on optimistic SF.

I don't claim to write optimistic SF for the same reasons I don't call myself a hacker or a feminist. I think "author of optimistic SF" is a title which must be bestowed upon me by others, rather than claimed. To do otherwise seems presumptuous.

Despite my reluctance to apply the term to my own work, I don't write dystopian fiction. While the backstory for my invented universe contains what I promised my wife I wouldn't make my characters call a "nanotech-induced zombie apocalypse", Nationfall is part of the backstory for Starbreaker. The series itself takes place later, in the society the survivors rebuilt after learning from the past. It's an open society where people are free to live, work, and prosper without unnecessary fear of violence or discrimination. It's a world where liberty, justice, and equality under law for all aren't just empty words or hollow ideals.

However, it's not a utopia. Corruption and abuses of power remain a problem, and must be opposed by those willing to uphold their rights and those of their fellows with diplomacy and force of arms. Reform and further progress are still necessary, but in my imagined society both are possible, and can be set in motion by individuals. And my own tendency towards cynicism and misanthropy results in a tone which might be more appropriate to film noir.

Why do I write such fiction? I do it as both an act of rebellion against the current popular trend towards the depiction of dystopian societies, and for my own sake. I don't want to write about real life in real America as I understand it. I don't want to depict a society in which corruption, discrimination, inequality, widespread poverty, and perpetual war for nothing of lasting value might as well be part of the status quo. Depending on where you get your news, dystopian SF might as well be a new form of realistic literary fiction.

I refuse to be part of that. I refuse to write such fiction. Instead, I choose Romanticism; or, if you prefer, optimistic SF. .

Introduction to Excerpt

Naomi Bradleigh is one of the central characters in my Starbreaker sequence. Her exotic coloration (normally pale skin, white hair, and scarlet eyes) is not a result of albinism, but of her ancestry. She thinks of herself as human after growing up in human society and participating in human culture. She lives in London, is a classically-trained dramatic coloratura soprano and pianist, and until recently one of the driving forces behind the progressive metal power trio Crowley's Thoth. It is her association with the band's deceased founder, Christabel Crowley, which places her in a delicate situation nobody should have to face.

Excerpt from Without Bloodshed

Naomi Bradleigh pressed a hand to her belly, hoping her empty stomach's snarling remained unheard. Two constables took her from her home and brought her to MEPOL before breakfast, which meant her only food today was a handful of hothouse strawberries eaten before her shower. She refused all offers of coffee or water, afraid of a ruse to get fingerprints or genetic evidence without a warrant or her consent. "Do you make a habit of starving your suspects into submission, Inspector?"

She considered the office as she waited for her captor to deign to answer her. The constables who came to her home did not bring her to one of the bare interrogation rooms she expected from watching the occasional police procedural drama, but directly to the office of Inspector Alan Thistlewood. Thistlewood's right hand trembled as he held the phone to his ear, and his gaze lingered on her in a manner which made her wish for a weapon. "No, not yet. I got evidence of motive and opportunity. She'll incriminate herself if we keep up the pressure. Everybody does."

Thistlewood hung up, and studied Naomi until her urge to draw her cardigan tight around herself threatened to overwhelm her. "Hungry, Ms. Bradleigh?"

"Lunch would be pleasant, Inspector. I would also like to speak to my attorney."

"Why do you keep mentioning your attorney? Trying to hide something?"

"I would hide everything from you, Inspector." He leaned towards her, as if sharing a confidence. "The more you tell me, the more I can help you."

I used to be an Adversary. How can I just sit here and wait for rescue which might not come? I should be my own savior. Naomi eyed Thistlewood's revolver, which rested in a shoulder holster under his right arm. The belt holding his service gladius hung from a coat tree by the door, out of his reach. She entertained the notion of overpowering the inspector, taking his weapons, and using them to force her way to freedom. The revolver held only six rounds, but the short, broad-bladed sword suffered no limitations save those of her own strength and stamina. Let violence be my final resort. I can do much to resist before resorting to arms. "I will tell you nothing without my attorney, Inspector."

"You were Christabel Crowley's neighbor, which afforded you opportunities to get close and kill her." Naomi shook her head, unable to believe Thistlewood insisted on beating this hobbyhorse of his into the ground. "Crowley kicked you out of the band, and believed you seduced her boyfriend, which gave you motive. I bet she hated sharing the spotlight with a freak like you."

Thistlewood wasn't the first to call her a freak. Life with congenital pseudofeline morphological disorder, or CPMD, meant she grew up around people who called her worse names. Her eyes had slit pupils, her ears resembled a cat's despite being flat against her head like a normal human ear, and her fingernails curved over her fingertips to create claws. "Now you're just being tiresome." She kept the rest to herself. You think I seduced Morgan? I count the days to every Winter Solstice and an excuse to kiss him.

Naomi ignored Thistlewood's questions, for she deflected each of them half a dozen times already. Morgan would call even the deflections a mistake. So would Edmund and Sid. They kept telling me I should treat the police as my enemy and give them nothing but name, rank, and serial number if I ever found myself in their custody. His aftershave reeked of alcohol as he leaned over her, staring into her eyes. "You might be a freak, Ms. Bradleigh, but you got a hell of a body. Do you work out?"

She suppressed a shudder, and considered Thistlewood's revolver again. The weapon waited within her reach, its polished wooden grip a dull gleam beneath the antiquated florescent lights. No. This is just a new tactic. He hopes to use my revulsion in his favor. Naomi narrowed her eyes as his hand gripped her thigh too tightly to be a mere caress. "When did groping a woman become an acceptable interrogation technique?"

Thistlewood loosened his grip, and smoothed her skirt with a lover's delicacy. However, he continued to lean over her. His hand trembled through the layered chiffon and the silk of her stocking. "I hoped you'd incriminate yourself, but we can convict you on the evidence alone. Juries hate women like you." The hand slid up a bit. "But I can suggest a plea bargain which will get you a very lenient sentence if you cooperate."

"For your sake, Inspector, I hope you don't use that line at pubs." She slid her hand behind his head, and gently pulled him close enough to whisper in his ear. "You don't need a line with me. I'm in your power, right where you want me. Morgan Stormrider never had me like this." He wouldn't want me this way, which is why he's a better man than you'll ever be.

Naomi held her need to fight back at bay as Thistlewood's creeping hand slipped between her legs. I dare not kill him. His death would bring rest of them down on me, and he might stop me if I go for his gun now. I need to lower his guard. I bet Claire would seduce him, or at least let him think she was seducing him. She shifted in her seat, parting her thighs a little, and arched her back. "Am I the reason your hand trembles, Inspector."

"Are you telling the truth?" Thistlewood's voice was lower, rougher. He strained against the seam of his uniform trousers, and for a moment Naomi wished Morgan was leaning over her, his lips inches from hers. "Stormrider never had you like this?" "He never had me at all." Naomi let her voice settle into a seductive purr as she slid her other hand along his waist, before letting her fingers curl around the revolver's grip. She slid the weapon free of the holster, and dug her nails into the nape of Thistlewood's neck when he tried to pull away. Smiling as he yelped in pain, she ground the muzzle of the revolver into the soft flesh beneath his jaw while thumbing the hammer back. "Neither will you, Inspector." She kicked his feet out from under him, and her claws, which she filed so that they would not interfere when she played a keyboard, tore into Thistlewood's flesh as he fell. She sprang out of the chair and retreated before he finished collapsing to the floor. She adjusted her grip as he rose to his knees, glancing at the sword; she held the weapon in both hands, as Morgan taught her, despite her insistence on needing only a sword for self-defense. I should have told him I was an Adversary.

He stared at the weapon, stared at her, and could not get the words out right away. "You stole my gun, you treacherous bitch."

"You violated my rights and tried to extort sexual favors from me, but you insist I'm the villain here? You certainly think highly of yourself." She smiled behind the iron sights, and put her teeth into it. "I can be reasonable. If you do as I tell you, I might forget this ever happened." "That's blackmail."

She shrugged, and the revolver pointed at his belly instead of his groin. "Now you have cause to arrest me. Try not to make a complete botch of it."