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Topic Archive: Thrilling Tales of the Downright Unusual
The Files of the Retropolis Registry of Patents will conclude in ‘Patently Absurd’

Filed under Patently Absurd, Thrilling Tales of the Downright Unusual, Works in Progress

Cover for 'Patently Absurd'

For the first Wednesday in more than six months, there’s no update today for a story at Thrilling Tales of the Downright Unusual. And that’s not an accident: it’s all part of my nefarious plan for the Files of the Retropolis Registry of Patents.

Yes, Mister Bond: you just sit there in those nearly unbreakable chains, and I will tell you everything.

We’ve seen some major changes for Ben and Violet after the events of Professor Wilcox and the Floating Laboratory and Ben Bowman in the Vault of Terror. Those changes lead us into the conclusion of the series, which will appear for the first time in a collection called Patently Absurd.

That will collect the entire series together in one illustrated book in print and digital formats. The launch for the book and its new imprint will be fueled by a Kickstarter project during the summer, following the release of Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom.

I’ve had a lot of fun with this series of stories. They follow the everyday lives of ordinary people, both human and mechanical, in a place that’s extraordinary… to us. But it’s just home to them, of course. They take its mad science and its unique difficulties in stride because, at the end of the day, the thing that really interests and worries them is office politics. Like I said: ordinary people.

My plan for the series has always been to collect it, and that’s the reason why the stories have departed from the format I set for The Lair of the Clockwork Book. There’s more text to go with each illustration, for one thing. That makes the print layout a lot simpler than it was for the earlier book.

And the black-and-white illustrations for Patently Absurd, because they cost less to print, will make it possible for me to sell the book in more markets.

So those of you who’ve been following the stories can look forward to their conclusion later this year or early in 2018. We won’t talk too much about Patently Absurd until after Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom is released. (That’s on June 13!) But it’s out there. Or it will be, anyway.

Also, I’ve added preorder links for Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom in several places, like this one, even though the retailers’ cover thumbnails are (still) pretty awful. I continue to hope that we’ll get that straightened out.

 
 
‘Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom’ has a real release date; also, a new blurb from Lawrence M. Schoen

Filed under Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom, Thrilling Tales of the Downright Unusual, Works in Progress

I just realized I’ve never mentioned that Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom now has a release date that we can believe. It’s June 13! That’s the day we Mockup of the finished book need to think about.

Okay. I’m thinking about it. I don’t know what you’re doing.

We’ve been through the line and copy editing passes, and though I’ve yet to see a galley with all the illustrations in place it seems like the book has begun to make its stealthy, mysterious passage through the world. If you define “the world” as “people who know my editor”.

The reason I think this is true is that there’s a new review in the book’s feed from Macmillan.


“Schenck presents the best future from our past. Robotastic and charming.”

― Lawrence M. Schoen, author of Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard

So, yep. Robotastic. And charming, a word that’s been used to describe the book before. I never suspected that it was charming, and the idea took some getting used to; but I’m on board with it now. Charm away. Get all charming, book. Go forth and be charming. On June 13. In bookstores, and everyplace else.

 
 
Starting Wednesday: Ben Bowman in the Vault of Terror

Filed under Thrilling Tales of the Downright Unusual, Works in Progress

Starting Wednesday: Ben Bowman in the Vault of Terror

What do you do after you’ve dropped a building on your boss’ head? Well, in many cases, you rethink your life. There are also those who dance around the building, singing about it. But we pretend we don’t know those people.

Even at the Retropolis Registry of Patents there are several approaches to this kind of trauma. Violet, the Registrar’s secretary, is in the “rethink your life” camp; Investigator Bowman is off on a tangent of his own. He’d just really rather not have to spend any time down in the Registry Vault (the “Patent Registry Models and Samples Repository”).

Nobody likes to go down there. It’s full of the working models and prototypes for every invention that’s ever come out of Retropolis’ Experimental Research District. If you get posted down in the Vault, you can’t help knowing that at any time something really dangerous and irreversible is likely to happen. And when it doesn’t happen? Well, there’s a statistically identical chance that it’s going to happen now. That sort of thing can wear you down.

Really dangerous and irreversible things almost never happen, of course. Almost never.

Meanwhile the Registry is expecting its new Registrar (again) and so that’s what’s on Violet’s mind. She’s made a resolution not to do anything to this one.

We’ll see how that goes, starting on Wednesday, in Ben Bowman in the Vault of Terror.

 
 
Starting Wednesday: Professor Wilcox and the Floating Laboratory

Filed under Thrilling Tales of the Downright Unusual, Works in Progress

Professor Wilcox and the Floating Laboratory

This Wednesday marks the beginning of the fourth Retropolis Registry of Patents story at Thrilling Tales of the Downright Unusual.

This time, Violet and Ben Bowman have to deal with the problems of Professor Wilcox and the Floating Laboratory. This story stands apart from the earlier Registry of Patents stories because it’s told almost completely from Violet’s point of view. Ben is active, but offstage, for nearly the entire time.

And this gives us a chance to take a closer look at Violet, and her quest for a promotion, and what that kind of promotion means to a robot who was designed to be a secretary. If her single-minded devotion to her goal seemed excessive earlier, you may find that it’s both more and less excessive than it seemed. Or you may find that she’s the most horrific employee a manager could imagine. A lot of this depends on your perspective.

There’s a cameo appearance by Grace Keaton, courier and graduate student; there’s an air traffic emergency; there’s an example of the lingering, malevolent feuds that can rise up to divide neighbors, especially if each of those neighbors is a mad scientist; there’s an imminent, terrifying threat to a fishing vacation; and there’s an office betting pool, because it’s an office.

It’s an almost ordinary day at the Registry of Patents. Starting Wednesday!

 
 
Two views of Ben Bowman’s office at the Retropolis Registry of Patents

Filed under Thrilling Tales of the Downright Unusual, Works in Progress

Retropolis Registry of Patents, Office of Ben Bowman - left

I learned the hard way not to build complete environments for my illustrations. If you’re making a game – with free-floating player characters and cameras – you really want to build the whole thing. I mean, you don’t want the player to turn around and see that the world stopped while no one was looking.

But I’m not building games any more. And I found, often enough to notice, that if I built a complete and seamless set for a picture I would spend forever on it; and at the end the results wouldn’t be as good as if I’d worried only about what background I needed for the pictures I was actually making.

There are exceptions. I built a complete in-the-round set for Doctor Rognvald’s lab in Trapped in the Tower of the Brain Thieves, for example; but I was going to be rendering a lot of pictures in that one environment. So it made sense.

I’m working now on the last illustration for Ben Bowman in the Vault of Terror (coming in late November!). Up to that point we’ve closed every one of the Registry stories back at Violet’s desk in the Registry of Patents. But there’s a Reason why that changes here, and for that same Reason we will spend a lot of time in Ben’s office when we come to the sixth and finalish Registry of Patents story.

So I’ve built three whole sides of Ben’s office. Will we ever see the back wall? No idea. That may be where he’s stashed his televideo phone: I couldn’t find it anyplace else.

Retropolis Registry of Patents, Office of Ben Bowman - right

But apart from that mysterious back wall, we can see here the not-very-large office where Ben Bowman spends his days when he isn’t out in the field. He’s got a lot of books and manuals, stacks of files and boxes, and two whole card catalogs of… well, he doesn’t really know what’s in those. He never looked. I think there’s a pastrami sandwich somewhere in the right-hand cabinet, though.

There are industrial safety posters, because, well, of course there are; a science reference poster; and a blackboard. Also, I really like his carpet and I wonder where I could get one like it.

There’s a contrast between this working area and Violet’s. Ben’s a messy organic person, while Violet is mechanical and… not messy. But there’s also this: as a secretary, Violet’s desk is no more than the gateway to the Registrar’s office. She doesn’t really have a space of her own. So part of the difference we see is that Ben has staked a claim on his space, while Violet is still scheming to get an office where she might do the same thing. At that point, how would Violet’s office look? It’s an interesting question.

But I can guarantee that we won’t see an answer to it any time soon.

 
 
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Down in the Basement. Where it Strains Against its Chains and Turns a Gigantic Wheel of Pain, for all Eternity. Muahahahahaha.