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In the Masthead

June 26th, 2006

I got my copy of the new Lady Churchill’s 18. My name is in the masthead! Don’t I feel big and important now?

I also got a response from Aunt Gwenda as regards a delicate conundrum I had been trying to avoid. Yes, I asked for help from an advice column. You are surprised? I am not. Perhaps I am more of a basket-case than I let on. Anyhow, Gwenda’s unmeasured response revealed a complete lack of compassion for the plight of stuffed animals. She insinuated none too subtly that I must be deranged for still possessing such things.

So I learned my lesson. No more advice from highfalutin strangers. Next time I’m asking my Rickys what they think.

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Beyond the Fields We Know

June 20th, 2006

See where the rainbow touches the ground? That’s where I live.

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Storm Breaking over Sunderland

June 20th, 2006

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Hope and Erosion

June 15th, 2006

The July issue of the christian fantasy zine Dragons, Knights & Angels will include a short story of mine called “Hope & Erosion”–a heroic lay about the value of striving against the inevitable. I wrote it in 2002, during a week I spent sitting alone on a beach in Corpus Christi.

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The Slow Demise of the Tornado

June 15th, 2006

Apparently the planet Venus has a pair of perpetual tornadoes centered around its poles. Look at the thermal images from the Venus Express probe. See?

Like the planet Venus, this site has been enduring a destructive anomaly–a state of perpetually suspended repair that has now lasted nigh on three months, and which thankfully now is drawing to a close. I’ve reached a stage of satisfaction sufficient for me to announce the vortex officially dissipated. I was thinking seriously about dropping back to the main index format, having all the enties appear in order regardless of category on a single main page. I decided I like this way better. So huzzah. Everything more or less works now–the new menubar links, the monthly archives, the search feature. Try it!

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June 15th, 2006

Mash left behind in the carboy after the initial fermentation of the Waning Moon Tavern’s Connubial Bliss Barleywine.

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Fantasy & Science Fiction July 06 – Review Part Two

June 7th, 2006

I left off with Garcia y Robertson’s “Kansas, She Says, Is the Name of the Star”. Let me resume with Ysabeau S. Wilce’s “The Lineaments of Gratified Desire”. It’s pretty long: the table of contents calls it a novella. The novella is rather a fascinating beast for us budding spec fic writers, or ought to be according to the popular opinion of our betters, because so few people bother to write them these days that if you can manage to churn one out you’re practically a shoe-in for a nomination to that category at the Hugos. Thus far I’m afraid I have not paid much attention to this particular piece of advice from my betters. I know next to nothing about what a novella is supposed to look like. The only things I’ve read at that length are classics: things so damn good I practically couldn’t help reading them. I am familiar with novellas by Conan Doyle, Poe, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Henry James. This limited experience has, until now, deterred me from any interest in attempting to write a novella, simply because how in the hell am I supposed to live up to that? But if “Desire” is any indication, I’ve been giving the novella a bit too much credit. All you have to do is take a short story and pad it nice and fat with unnecessary establishing scenes and plot-stalling side-encounters and voluminous stylistic verbosity.

I guess I’m being cruel; it isn’t as if this story is without merit. An egomaniacal sorcerer embarks on a quest to save his resourceful uberbrat of a ward from the machinations of demonic kidnappers. Mostly the verbosity serves as a bolster to the comic over-the-topness. It only really bothers me when Ms. Unpronounceable-First-Name Wilce attempts to use it to suggest some overarching profundity. The title is a representative example: I would have been happier if the thing had called itself “Tiny Doom Visits the Underworld”. Had it done so, and had it taken novel form instead of novella-as-part-of-series form, I might have been more indulgent of its digressions.

Moving on.

Robert Onopa’s “Republic” reminds me too much of every other broken-prime-directive cautionary first contact tale I have ever read. The point at which I was most interested was when its linguist narrator gave me the brief impression he was making subtle reference to Ted Chiang’s “Story of Your Life”. I’m afraid once that impression wore off, “Republic” was the worse for the comparison.

“Memory of a Thing that Never Was” is cool. A short and sweet and subtle spy thriller, nostalgic for the cold war, but with fatalistic aliens instead of Russians. A mood piece, really. It doesn’t try too hard, and thus it succeeds admirably. Yay, Jerry Seeger, whoever you are.

Heather Lindsley’s “Just Do It” is about a horrifyingly likely future in which the world is ruled by conniving corporate sellout supergeniuses, where all the conservatives are infallibly clever and all the morally tolerable liberals are just not quite devious and twisted enough to hold their own. God, it depresses me just thinking about it. Honestly, I’d much rather read something that *didn’t* hit so close to home…Phillip Dick and Stanislaw Lem’s political distopian futures of the ’70s seem quaint and cuddly by comparison. Well done, Ms. Clarion Class of ’05 Lindsley. You’ve managed to deter me utterly from any desire to criticize your writing ability, merely so I can drop the whole subject and find something else to think about. If I might, I’d like to offer you a challenge? Write this story again, but figure out a way for the liberals to win. Maybe you’ll give the real liberals some ideas.

That’s it for the fiction. I’ll skip the columns, if that’s all right with all of you. Again, many thanks to Gordon Van G for the blog/free copy tradeoff. I’d be glad to do it again… just as soon as I make it through the rest of my Never-Ending Odyssey crits.

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Gang Mentality Aboard the Ruined Corsair

June 4th, 2006

Myself, my cousins, friends and others fall into Lord of the Flies tribalism when we find ourselves adrift at sea in a ramshackle three-masted corsair. We scavenge the ship for weapons, supplies, caches of cigarettes and alcohol. Those first aboard, among them John and Nick Manseau, are the dominant clique: those who managed to get their hands on the AK-47s. They mostly fire the guns in the air for effect, especially since the ship is so damn rickety a good double-row of .30 caliber holes in the hull might just be enough to snap the whole thing down the middle.

After a good half-hour of fleeing from the guns like monkeys with our heads cut off, I figure this out. I make my way down through the holds, encountering pockets where other refugees have already gone into hiding. The pirates appear to have targeted a lot of cruise ships in the seventies, as mostly everything down here is in the vein of yellow polka-dotted canvas suitcases covered in mildew. In a cache beneath a false floorboard beneath the very prow of the ship, however, I discover somebody’s hoard: several dozen oversized kitchen knives, a couple of utility razors, a crowbar and a couple of bottles of Bass ale. I choose one of the razors and a heavy, serrated bread knife. I of course lay claim to the beer, but distribute the rest of the weapons among my fellow stowaways.

Possessed of a newfound self-assurance and disregard for my armed enemies, I am soon to be found lounging in a cargo sling dangling from the yardarm, an empty beer bottle cradled in my lap, trying to pry the cap off a second bottle with the blade of the razor. John and Nick and their crew stand around on deck, guns against their shoulders, cursing me roundly.

Alas, when I get the second bottle open I find it has been compromised by age and sea, full of foamy white mold.

My shiv-toting compatriots arrive from below decks; a brief battle ensues. I tumble from the comfort of my hammock for fear of flying bullets, and barely manage to save myself from the waves by grabbing onto an open porthole as I plummet past the hull. The breadknife and the last of the beer tumble out of my lap and disappear with a splash. I duck through the porthole, back into the safety of the hold.

Above the sporadic sounds of gunfire choke to a stuttering halt; either the mutinous assault has been subdued, or the idiots are finally out of bullets. Either way, the contest is now rather moot. The damage has already been done: the shooting has irrevocably compromised the hull and the hold is filling steadily with froth. The last stragglers of the kitchen-knife clan scramble to salvage what they can of the cargo, then slosh with their spoils across the swiftly tilting deck towards the hatch that leads topside.

I, however, am in need of a weapon to replace the one I lost. I take a deep breath and plunge underwater, heading for the deepest innards of the ship.

Close against the keel, in a broad, low-ceilinged space now gray and murky with the inrushing sea, I take my sweet time, rummaging through more rotten suitcases, piles of spare timber and tackle. The lack of oxygen, the fear of drowning, is only an abstract concern. This is dreaming–here I don’t need air to breathe. Alas, I make no more opportune discoveries. I don’t know what I was hoping for–a nice, compact nine-millimeter would be useless now anyway, soaking wet. I settle on a five-iron from a rust-encroached set of golf clubs, kick free from the flotsam and head back the way I came.

My head breaks the surface back in the forward hold just in time for a wet, rending crack as the rotten wood of the hull tears asunder. Light and sea spill in through the hole and beyond it, I see–

“Land! We’re coming up on land!”

A jagged shoreline of pines, broken up by rocky outcrops, sliding by fast. I grab hold of a trailing rope and swing out onto the hull’s outer surface. Up on deck everyone is shouting and scrambling about pell-mell, wailing about how we’ll be smashed against those rocks. The pines slide away and suddenly there’s a marina in sight on shore not fifty yards away, pristine white pleasure yachts bobbing at anchor, and a crowd of people sitting at some quayside restaurant all standing up and waving. I pitch away my hard-won golf club, get a good grip with both hands on the rope and kick off away from the ship, out over the water. “Swim, you idiots!” I shout, then let go of the rope, plunge in and follow my own advice.

Somebody pulls me out of the water onto the dock. “What the hell’d you do that for?” he asks.

“Are you kidding? That ship is a wreck. It’s going to sink any second.”

“Doesn’t look like it to me.”

I turn, and he’s right. From here the ship looks as though its still on an even keel, moving along at a decent clip despite its lack of sail. The people on deck don’t look happy, though, and even as I watch the ship lurches, the stern lifts up out of the water and the whole thing starts to slide down beneath the surface. People are leaping off like mice.

“See?” I say. “I told you.”

   Dreams | 3 Comments »

A Vast, Indoor Mockup of a Sleazy Medieval Slum

June 2nd, 2006

A vast, indoor mockup of a sleazy medieval slum, shrouded in perpetual darkness, in which a vast and perpetual game of live-action D&D is played. I stumbled upon this phenomenon somewhat by accident, joining with a band of six or seven adventurers including Charlie Finlay as human ranger/party leader and Toby Buckell as disgruntled halfling thief. (Note disturbing parallels to Order of the Stick throughout.) I played (surprise) a dwarf fighter pretending to be a burglar.

In the absence of moderators or DMs, the adventuring and combat systems were based on a set of tradable cards printed with objectives and spells and combat regulations. These cards also functioned as currency; accomplishing an objective was worth certain stated quantities of gold and XP.

On my first attempt I rather made a mess of things; my objective was to retrieve some pulsing blue orb from the hoard of a rival band of adventurers who were hoarding it. The card was worth quite a lot, but what with my clumsy misunderstanding of the rules and my general roleplaying rustiness I severely fucked up my group’s chances, leaving Tobias, if not the rest of them, rather resentful.

I vowed to improve.

I returned the next night with a newfound resolve and a black cape lined in red silk slung over my shoulders. Again my allies made sharp remarks about my poor performance, though Finlay, being a good leader, remained diplomatic. I kept silent, resolving to prove my worth by actions, not words. Our objective that evening was an ambitious one: to infiltrate and loot our rival band’s very lair: an expansive set of apartments next door to a popular and thoroughly raunchy cabaret theater.

As our band made its way through the evening’s crowds, I jostled my way to the front, paying only half attention to their debate of the strategies of frontal assault and subterfuge. Being the newest member of their band, I knew I was the least recognizable, and relying on my high charisma and dashing black cape, I figured I could infiltrate and scout their stronghold without their ever catching on to my malicious intent.

In retrospect, I should have given my fellows more credit and let them in on my plan. As it was, I assumed they wouldn’t give me the chance, and anyhow they’d probably still be arguing by the time I got back. Alas, I failed to anticipate how well my ruse would work.
I was making for a side entrance to our enemies’ compound, running over plausible excuses for my intrusion in my head, when one of their number reached over the railing of a low balcony to pluck at my cape. I recognized her: a low-level witch draped in flimsy black gauze (played here by Natalie Portman), who, by her dress and demeanor, seemed to have taken advantage of her proximity to the cabaret by offering her services as a lady of the evening.

She invited me to join her. Not wanting to seem too eager, I declined. “I am going to the cabaret,” I told her. She made a pert face and released me.

I strolled on to the cabaret box office and made brief perusal of the bills pasted in the window. Then I returned to the foot of the stair that led to Ms. Portman’s aerie. “This evening’s show has already sold out,” I told her.

“What a shame,” she said, and held out a hand.

As she led me in through the balcony door, I craned my neck behind me to search for my allies in the crowd. They were nowhere to be seen.

Our arch-rivals’ lair resembled one of Tufts’ Hillside Apartments. Every available surface was cluttered with pizza boxes, empty two-liter soda bottles and fake weapons. A television flickered in the common room; a few of her housemates lay sprawled on the couches, oblivious to our presence. Realizing I was as-yet unarmed, I plucked a plastic basket-hilted dagger from a countertop and slid it through the back of my belt.

Natalie’s room was actually on the ground floor; at the top of the stairs she turned to me, wrapped her fingers in my cape. “So I hear you’re a burglar,” she said.

“Not tonight,” I answered. “Tonight, I’m a kidnapper.” I lifted her up in my arms and carried her down the stairs.

Near the bottom, an enormous foam-sheathed broadsword leaned against the wall, as tall as Natalie herself. I set her on her feet and reached back to grab it; just as I did so she caught me by the other wrist and pulled me into her room.
She kissed me.

My response might have been more convincing had there not at that moment been a loud crash, followed by shouting and the clash of plastic swords. Over her head, through the half-open door, I saw Charlie and Toby and the rest of my crew battling their way past. Apparently they’d chosen the brute-force option.

Natalie pushed me back towards the bed. I sat down, resting the broadsword on the floor between my legs. The plastic dagger in my belt dug into my back. She got down on her knees, wrapped her hands pornographically around the hilt with an utterly mischievous expression on her face.

Then the door swung wide, one of her housemates toppled through it to the floor with Toby roaring on top of him, and I started awake.

It was quarter to seven. I went back to sleep, and found myself seated in the lair of my own adventuring party with Charlie and Toby. It was morning, with sun streaming in through the windows. They were about to critique a short story of mine. I was nervous because basically what I’d done was a complete retelling of one of Toby’s old stories. But we never got the chance to discuss it, because just then another member of our party burst in with some kind of security tape of what had happened the night before. It showed the melee in Natalie’s room, just after I had woken up. It showed me pulling the dagger from my belt, grabbing Natalie around the waist and slitting her throat. Absurdly bright red blood flooded everywhere.

I couldn’t figure out what the hell was going on. I had no memory of what I was seeing, and I couldn’t believe I would have done such a thing. We fell to arguing. Every few minutes somebody else from the group would arrive and the argument would escalate. Before long everybody but Charlie was shouting themselves red in the face.

Then Natalie herself came in, and there was silence.

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