Friday, June 30, 2006
Character Fusion/Character Fission
Well, this morning, I made a very similar realization about End of the Century, the next in the Bonaventure-Carmody sequence, which I'll be writing this fall. The difference is that this time I realized that one character was in fact two characters. And that by splitting them into two I solved some pretty substantial difficulties I was having with the plot, and had a character ready to slot into a bit of backstory that desperately needed one. What's odd about this instance is that this is something that's been nagging me for weeks, a persistent buzz at the back of my head, that I've been steadfastly ignoring, certain that it was a horrible idea. But while Georgia had her breakfast I figured I'd jot it down in my Moleskine, on the off-chance that it might prove a useful notion further down the line. And as I was writing what I was sure was a dead-end notion, it became suddenly and inescapably clear that it was in fact already true, and that there was no going back.
I'm sure none of this makes the slightest bit of sense to anyone but me. Heck, I'm not sure it makes any sense to me.
Thursday, June 29, 2006
Publishers Weekly on The Man from the Diogenes Club
British author Newman channels the glam '70s in this spirited collection of eight stories that celebrate Richard Jeperson, an agent of the titular club—the "least-known branch of the United Kingdom's intelligence and investigative services." Blending SF with supernatural whimsy, Newman (Anno Dracula) conjures up the exploits of a psychically gifted Day-Glo–era ghost hunter and his fellow paranormal investigators, vixen Vanessa (an "s.b.g.," or stunningly beautiful girl) and sidekick Fred Regent. Particularly entertaining tales include "The Serial Murders," about ghostly chicanery on the set of a British soap, and "Egyptian Avenue," in which Richard investigates Kingstead Cemetery's restless wraiths while wearing "leopard-pattern safari jacket and tight white, high-waisted britches tucked into sturdy fell-walker's boots." Think Steed and Peel hop in Dr. Who's time machine with Austin Powers's panache.I think that last sentence present a fairly apt summary of the book, for those unfamiliar with the stories. And I like that they opted to go with the natural pun, "spirited collection."
Cross Plains Universe: Texans Celebrate Robert E. Howard
This year marks the centenary of the birth of pioneeering Texan pulp writer Robert E. Howard, and in celebration of the event Scott Cupp and Joe R. Lansdale have assembled a collection of original stories by Texas writers inspired by Howard, written in his style, or featuring Howard or his creations as characters.
CROSS PLAINS UNIVERSE: TEXANS CELEBRATE ROBERT E. HOWARD is a co-publication of MonkeyBrain Books and the Fandom Association of Central Texas with the cooperation of Paradox Entertainment, and will be a limited-edition anthology. Each attendee of the 2006 World Fantasy Convention, hosted this year by FACT, will be presented a copy, but at this time there are no plans to make copies commercially available, and no plans for a trade edition.
Dean Andersson – “Slim and Swede and the Damned Dead Horse”
Neal Barrett, Jr. – “The Heart”
Jayme Blaschke – “Prince Koindrindra Escapes”
Lillian Stewart Carl – “The Diamonds of Golconda”
Bill Crider and Charlotte Laughlin – “The Heart of Ahriman”
Scott Cupp – “One Fang”
Brad Denton – “The King Comes to Texas”
Mark Finn – “A Whim of Circumstance”
Melissa Mia Hall – “The Sea of Grass on the Day of Wings”
Rick Klaw and Paul Miles – “A Penny a Word”
Ardath Mayhar – “The Pillar in the Mist”
Michael Moorcock – “The Roaming Forest”
Chris Nakashima–Brown – “The Bunker of the Tikriti”
Lawrence Person – “The Toughest Jew in the West”
James Reasoner – “Wolves of the Mountain”
Jessica Reisman – “Two Hearts in Zamora”
Carrie Richerson – “The Warrior and the King”
Chris Roberson – “The Jewel of Leystall”
Howard Waldrop – “Thin, On the Ground”
Livia Washburn – “Boomtown Bandits”
Gene Wolfe – “Six From Atlantis”
Wednesday, June 28, 2006
Tau Zero Foundation
"Welcome to the birth of a new foundation. Using the dream of reaching other worlds as a long-range goal and a catalyst for near-term progress, the Tau Zero Foundation supports incremental advancements in science, technology, and education. As a private nonprofit (501c3) corporation, supported mainly through philanthropic donations, the Foundation seeks out and directs support to the best practitioners who can make credible progress toward this incredible goal and educate the public during this journey of discovery."Sounds good to me.
David Louis Edelman Interview
Straw into Gold
Monette says: Writers' brains are an infinite series of alchemical laboratories, all busily engaged in the process of turning lead into gold."Lead" in this case means input of all kinds: sensory, intellectual, emotional. "Gold" is a story that works. But one of the most interesting kinds of transmutation is the one where the "lead" is itself a story (i.e., somebody else's gold), and the gold is a new story.
This is something I find myself doing a lot. I often start with a bit of historical trivia or scientific concept or what-have-you, but as a story develops it invariably adopts the architecture of something I've seen or read. The process is sometimes intentional, but more often completely unconscious. I can't seem to help it. I've just consumed so much popular culture in the last three and a half decades that I think in terms of story.
Bear describes her realization that the male leads in one project duplicate the interpersonal dynamics of The Man from UNCLE, and that two other characters are the unintentional linear descendants of William Katt's character from The Greatest American Hero.
I'm constantly discovering this sort of thing about my own stuff. When I transposed the story of the U-571 sub disaster into a nuclear-powered spacecraft in a Chinese-dominated alternate history in The Voyage of Night Shining White, the commanding officer--a eunuch--and the ship's physician somehow end up having the same interpersonal dynamics as the two protagonists in Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin novels.
But that's not a typical example, I'm afraid. I mean, O'Brian's novels are at least respectable. Usually, my influences are at the other end of the spectrum, the end that Bear describes as the "deep-fried Twinkies" zone. Paragaea is a perfect example. When I was in the final stages of writing the novel, I realized something surprising about the characters. A female protagonist, who sees the world around her in rational terms, having a more sophisticated scientific grounding than her companions. A male protagonist, who is just a likely to assume that something unnatural is the result of magic as science, but doesn't really care all that much, since his solution to most problems comes at the point of his sword. And a big cat man, usually affable but capable of considerable aggression when his friends are threatened, and who doesn't like large bodies of water.
My friends, I realized that I'd just spent a considerable amount of time and effort reinventing the wheel that was Thundarr the Barbarian.
Tuesday, June 27, 2006
Bird People and the Great Chain of Being
47,255 / 90,000
Today's sample is one of only two chapters I finished today. The other was a lecture by two uplifted ravens about the mechanics of threshold wormholes and the uses and abuses of cosmic string fragments, but this one is mostly about a robot talking about a planet of bird-people.
To be “commander” of the Further was a somewhat nebulous concept, I quickly discovered. As the spokesperson for the majority shareholder, I was able to make decisions—or at least cast a tie-breaking vote—on large scale decisions affecting the ship as a whole. On the small scale, though, the various departments and groups that made up the ship’s crew were functionally autonomous, essentially their own little fiefdoms. So long as they carried out their designated role, the departments were free to govern themselves however they saw fit. Most had adopted a more-or-less strict hierarchical structure, individual workers reporting to supervisors, who themselves reported to department heads, with the department heads themselves directly answerable to me. But a few of the departments, particularly those which constituted only a handful of sentients, had adopted more novel organizational approaches.I didn't realize until I came to write this bit that I was probably unconciously riffing on Ursula K. Le Guin's very excellent "The Seasons of the Ansarac." But I probably was.
Astrogation was, so far as I was aware, made up of only three individuals. The department head, and member of the command crew, was Xerxes. Ey was assisted by two others, though it was some days into our shakedown cruise before I discovered who. At first, all I knew was that Xerxes didn’t appear to be terribly busy, and that he could often be found in the Atrium, watching the birds.
It was there that I found him, with still a day’s journey ahead of us before we reached Aglibol.
I had been rambling around the ship, trying to familiarize myself further with its layout, and been stymied by the fact that some of the corridors and compartments had been restructured even since I had passed them last, only a few days before. In the end, all I really managed to do was tire myself out, and make the nodding acquaintance of a hundred or so of the crew I’d not previously met. At the end of a few hours of that, I was ready to get off my feet for a while.
As short tram ride carried me to the Atrium, where I knew if nothing else the large scale structures would have remained principally unchanged, I could find a place to sit, and someone might be willing to bring me something to drink. I was right on all three counts, though since my last visit the café appeared to have shifted a few meters to one side, to make room for a collection of chairs that seemed to be some sort of virtual reality parlor or gaming area, those in the chairs connected via interlink in a simulated sensorium.
Picking up a tall glass of ice-cold water from the café, I wandered into the park to find a comfortable place to rest my legs, and chanced upon Xerxes, sitting on a bench, head titled back, eyeless gaze fixed on some point high above. I looked up, and saw a small flock of birds wheeling overhead.
“You’re not disturbing me, captain, if that’s the reason for your hesitation.”
I’d been standing behind Xerxes, some meters off, and as ey had said, I’d indeed be hesitant to approach, reluctant to interrupt what seemed to be a private moment.
“Thanks,” I said, simply, and closing the distance to the bench, settled down beside em. “I keep forgetting that you see in all directions.”
“Any light that hits my surface registers,” Xerxes said, sighing, “though I find I only pay attention to a small percentage of the visual information at any given time.”
I glanced at the flock overhead, which seems to shift and move like a single organism as it swooped and dove back and forth above the treetops, darting first one way and then another. “Bird-watching again, eh? Is it a habit of yours, if you don’t mind me asking?”
Xerxes shrugged. “I suppose. That it is a habit, that is, and not that I mind you asking, which I don’t. A few incarnations ago my signal was intercepted by a planet colonized in the later days of the so-called Diaspora by sentients descended from uplifted terrestrial avians.”
“Precisely. And in the years I spent with them, observing and cataloguing their culture, I was forever amazed to find preserved in their habits the biological imperatives of their subsentient ancestors.”
“Well, flocking behavior, principally. Whenever they moved from one population center to another during their seasonal migrations, they would spread out over the landscape like black clouds, tens of thousands of flightless individuals in any given cluster, and yet without any central authority or guiding intelligence they still managed to move essentially as one, maintaining set distances each from another, the mass moving almost as a single organism.”
“Just like a flock of birds,” I said, watching the cloud of birds darting back and forth overhead.
“Exactly like a flock of birds,” Xerxes agreed. “The scientists and sociologists of the avian culture had spent generations studying their own inborn imperatives, and had developed whole classes of mathematics devoted to continuum dynamic predictions and the analysis of the effects of individual fluctuations on group movements, and in the end, the only result of the countless years of labor was a single, simple statement.”
Ey paused, thoughtfully.
“Well?” I asked, at length. “What was it?”
Xerxes turned eir eyeless face to me. “We are animals, and we do as animals must.”
I took a long sip of my water. “That seems somewhat… bleak.”
“Only if one finds the notion of being an animal as something to be avoided. If anything, the avians found it to be a tremendous comfort.”
“They were… comforted? By someone saying that they were no better than animals?”
Xerxes shook eir head. “They wouldn’t have said ‘no better,’ and I won’t either. It assumes some hierarchy with an animal at one extreme and the speaker at another, and is suggestive of nothing so much as the ancient notion of a ‘great chain of being,’ in which organisms were ranked by how closely they approached some divine ideal.” Ey paused, and looked at me. “You are not a holder of an irrational believe in some divine, are you, Captain Stone?”
I took another sip of water, thoughtfully. “If you mean do I believe in a god, or gods, some supreme intelligence that exists outside the observable universe, then the answer would be no. However, by the same token I can’t say to you definitively that none exists. We simply lack substantial evidence to make a decision one way or another.”
Xerxes gave a small nod, pursing metallic lips. “A supremely defensible position, captain. And one which goes to support what the avians’ contention.” Xerxes glanced around, a gesture that was clearly for my benefit, to indicate the variegated crewmembers who were scattered through the atrium. “The Human Entlechy takes great pride in its name, and in the notion that it has extended the franchise of ‘humanity’ to all of the children of earth, biological, synthetic, and otherwise. The avian culture among which I lived came to a related, but apposite conclusion. Rather than saying that all sentients were humans, as no clear dividing line between animal and human could be drawn, the avians concluded that all sentients were animals, though with varying levels of sophistication and degrees of expression. There was no ideal to which they were evolving, no divine atop a great chain of being, but rather an accumulation of instinct and tradition carried down to them by their forebears. And as such, there was no shame in recognizing that, as animals, there were certain biological necessities which were their inheritance, and which they would no sooner escape than you could the need to consume quantities of hydrogen hydroxide.”
I tipped my glass in a mock salute, and took another long swallow. “And that’s why you watch birds?”
Xerxes shrugged. “No,” ey said simply. “I watch them because I find it difficult to predict what they’ll do next, and that helps me pass the time.”
Spider-Man 3 Trailer
A Terrifying Message from Al Gore (and Bender)
Cover Story Review on RevolutionSF
Heat Vision and Jack
It's a terrific bit of sublime nonsense, and there's a special circle of hell for the Fox execs who passed on picking up the series, chosing instead to air "Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire Midget" or whatever. And now, thanks to YouTube, the world can see for themselves what might have been.
Monday, June 26, 2006
Rick Kleffel on "Beach Reads"
Gerard Jones on Superman and Irresolution
"Our mass entertainment today is mostly based on irresolution, on cliffhangers and endlessly unfolding mysteries whose apparent answers are undermined by new questions. And that's not surprising these days, when life is distinguished by war against untraceable opponents, slowly manifesting global disasters and a growing premonition of national decline.Jones goes on to wonder whether Superman Returns, with Bryan Singer at the helm, can make it in a Batman-and-Spider-man world. I guess we'll find out in a few days...
The superheroes who currently rule the cineplexes are living embodiments of that irresolution. Batman will never get over his rage at the thug who killed his parents. Spider-Man will never get over the guilt of letting his Uncle Ben die. The X-Men will never get the world to accept them (and, as true adolescents, don't really want it to). Superman, on the other hand, was all about resolution. He resolved to use his powers for the good of mankind because his dear old dad wanted him to. When his dad passed away, he left the farm for the city, took on bad guys, beat them, and that was that."
Sunday, June 25, 2006
New Paragaea Review
Here's a little bit of prognasticating, in which Alan is perhaps a bit overly optimistic, and Dave is a bit closer to the mark:
AM: I think there will be post-Watchmen comics, probably some good ones, like the thing from Dark Horse The American: a superhero who has been a patriotic symbol for the government since the ’40s, but there’s something very strange about the way he works: he keeps getting killed, or reported killed, and then he turns up again and calls a press conference. It’s a beautiful strip and it’s got that Watchmen flavour. I will say this: I’ll bet my arse that within 6 months or a year, everyone will be sick to the back teeth of realistic superheroes.Six months? Sadly, it's almost twenty years later, and poor Cap is still gloomy, miserable, and inappropriate, so I'm afraid we're not quite out of the woods yet...
DG: It does seem to be ‘de rigueur’ that superheroes are gloomy and introspective. You get something like Captain Marvel, which to me is the ultimate Good Fun superhero. DC revive it and it’s gloomy, miserable, inappropriate…I’d like to do a Captain Marvel who would be an adventurous, colourful, magical character.
Slings & Arrows
No idea if they're doing a third season, but then I'm not sure what Shakespeare play they'd tackle next. Romeo and Juliet is mounted as a counterpoint to Macbeth in season two, and with those and Hamlet out of the way, they've pretty much done the three plays most familiar to a general audience. Midsummer Night's Dream, perhaps?
Saturday, June 24, 2006
Bernie und Ert
Bad Journalism, and Intellectual Property
Oh, and I've decided that there should be a complete moratorium on anyone--journalist, blogger, or message-board poster--discussing anything related to intellectual property cases if they don't know a) the difference between copyright and trademark, b) that IP laws differ from country to country, c) how trademarks are defended, and d) how copyright terms have been extended, in the US and elsewhere.
In this specific instance, Thomas Wagner would have fallen the first hurdle, as clearly both (b) and (d) have completely eluded him (and possibly (c), as well). I understand that the details of the Peter Pan copyright might be a little complex, but a few moments' investigation is all it takes to discover that the original works featuring the character are in the public domain in the US, and that an spurious attempt by the British copyright holders to prevent derivative works is currently being challenged by none other than Lawrence Lessig. Oh, and that the only reason that Peter Pan didn't enter the public domain in 1987 in the UK is as the result of a special act of Parliament.
Big Jim's P.A.C.K.
(via) As in, "Professional Agents/Crime Killers."
I don't believe I ever owned one of these little guys (my personal army of adventurers was made up of Steve Austin, Mego versions of Superman, Batman, and Aquaman, and an assortment of Adventure Team-era GI Joes) but I used to study these ads with the intensity of a talmudic scholar. Who knew they had box-art by Jack Kirby?!
Friday, June 23, 2006
In this section, RJ discovers that a trio of people he's encountered several times before have joined the crew of the starship Further, and the first officer gives him a bit of a surprise.
The next ship’s morning, rested and refreshed, I bathed, ate a quick meal of oatmeal and buna in my kitchen, and then dressed in a simple black coverall shipsuit and slip-on shoes. My quarters, like those of the rest of the command crew and most of the department heads, were on the same level as the bridge, and while I was sure I’d have been alerted if the ship had run into any problems while I slept, as captain I felt obliged to check in as a matter of course.
Stepping out into the now brightly lit corridor beyond my door, I was immediately brought up short by the unlikely trio standing just beyond. It was a woman dressed in the uniform of a Napoleonic-era British officer in Nelson’s Navy; a man dressed in a red velour tunic, black trousers that flared below the knee, and high black boots, with a gold star embroidered on the breast; and another man wearing a styled mid-20C-era dark blue sailor’s uniform, with a white “Dixie cup” hat and a red kerchief around his neck.
“O Captain,” the woman in the Napoleonic uniform said in passable English, standing to attention, snapping off a crisp salute. “Midshipman Euphagenia d’Angelique Bibblecombe-Aldwinkle, reporting for duty. May I present Lieutenant Commander Rex Starr”—she indicated the redshirt—“and Chief Warrant Officer Donald Duke”—she pointed with her chin to the sailor suit.
“Donald Duck?” I said.
“Duke, sir,” the sailor suit said. “Donald Duke.”
“Ah, of course. And, Starr, was it?”
The redshirt stood to attention, chin held high. “Yessir.”
“I think you might have the wrong starship, friend.”
“Nevermind.” I surveyed the trio. When I’d first seen them outside the diamond house, they’d been a superheroine and a pair of zoot-suiters, and later on Cronos they’d been Scarlett O’Hara and the blue & gray brothers. The Anachronists had clearly found a new mode to explore. “So you’re part of the Further’s crew, I take it?”
“Oh, yes sir,” the midshipwoman said, positively gushing. “When we heard that you were taking command, we couldn’t resist.”
“We’ve taken on new personas and everything,” the redshirt added, proudly. “Do you like them?”
“They’re.. they’re just splendid. Glad to have you onboard.” I paused, considering. “Um, if you don’t mind me asking, what positions have you taken in the crew, come to that?”
“I’m in astrometrics,” the sailor suit said, “and Rex and Gina—”
“Euphagenia d’Angelique Bibblecombe-Aldwinkle!” the midshipwoman said hastily, interrupting.
“Right, sorry. Rex and Euphagenia d’Angelique Bibblecombe-Aldwinkle are helping out in industrial fabrication.”
“Any post is fine with us,” the redshirt said. “We couldn’t pass up the chance to experience what it must have been like for the ancient explorers of your time.”
“And you all have adopted ranks, I see.”
“Oh, naturally,” the midshipwoman said, shoulders back. “It wouldn’t have been an authentic primitive experience without them.”
“Quite right,” I said, nodding sagely. “Well…” I waved my hands in absent motions. “Erm, carry on the good work?”
The three beamed. They stood to crisp attention and snapped off salutes, then turned on their heels and marched off down the corridor.
I continued on towards the bridge, exchanging nods and pleasantries with every manner of biological, synthetic, and mix of the two along the way. But before I reached the entrance to the bridge, I heard a voice calling my name.
“Captain Stone, do you have a brief percentage of the day to spare?”
I turned, and saw First Zel i’Cirea standing in an open doorway, dimly lit rooms beyond. Her dark blue hair was pulled back into a tight knot at the back of her head, the sapphire-colored eyepatch over her left eye in stark contrast to her alabaster skin.
“Certainly,” I said, a bit warily, and walked over. “What can I do for you?”
“I have something to show you.” She stepped to one side, and motioned to the rooms beyond the door. Her manner was unusually solicitous, and I couldn’t help but be suspicious.
“Is there something wrong, first?”
“No, nothing like that,” she said, a faint smile on her lips that didn’t reach her eye. “I just wanted to get your opinion on something.”
I shrugged. “I’m in no particular hurry.”
As I stepped into the room, it took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the gloom beyond. There was someone standing in the far corner in the shadows, a low couch, and a pair of chairs.
“Do come in,” Zel said, as the door closed behind me. “Captain Stone, I believe you’ll recognize my guest?”
The figure stepped out of the shadows. As the light fell across his features, he stood revealed as an old man, in his late seventies if not older, hair white and thin against dark skin, shoulders slumped and knees slightly bent.
It was me. Or rather, the me I’d been, just a few days before.
Yes, I'll admit it. It's a cheap shot at historical recreationists. But, to be fair, it's just one of several cheap shots at historical recreatonists in the book. Does that make it any better?
My next working day is Tuesday, so expect a new chapter then, god willing and the creek don't rise.
The Mighty Hercules
But what's with that crap opening? That's not the Mighty Hercules theme song.
This is the Mighty Hercules theme song.
Hercules, hero of song and story.I've had this theme song stuck in my head for thirty years, and can't escape it, so why try? Here it is in mp3. Listening to it, I'm reminded that this might well be the whitest damned song ever. But in reading the lyrics, I'm amazed to see how gay it is. "Softness in his eyes, Iron in his thighs." Oh dear. "Fire in every part"? Check, please...
Hercules, winner of ancient glory.
Fighting for the right,
Fighting with his might,
With the strength of ten, ordinary men.
Hercules, people are safe when near him.
Hercules, only the evil fear him.
Softness in his eyes,
Iron in his thighs,
Virtue in his heart,
Fire in every part,
Of the Mighty Hercules.
Thursday, June 22, 2006
Post-Scarcity Customer Service
Today, I hit my target wordcount for the day with about fifty-six minutes left until I've got to go on Georgia Patrol. Damn. I think I'll spend some time outlining tomorrow's work, after I get back from the mailbox.
39,115 / 90,000
Today's bit comes midway through RJ's tour of his new command, the starship Further. And, like all starship tours, this one ends up at a sidewalk cafe overlooking a park, in a discussion on the politics of post-scarcity employment with an uplifted catperson waitron.
“Xerxes 298.47.29A!” Maruti called out happily, as we stepped out of the tram and onto the walkway leading to the café. “So nice to see you again.”This may be the first time I've shared a sample chapter in which Xerxes is identified with pronouns, in which case I'll point out that no, those aren't typos. As RJ's escort explains in an earlier chapter, "Xerxes does not identify as any gender. Users of languages that include gendered pronouns utilize gender-neutral variants when referring to Xerxes. In Information Age English it would be ey, em, eir, eirs, and eirself, rather than he, him, his, his, and himself." Make sense?
The Exode probe glanced up—if a robot with no eyes can actually be said to “glance”—and the faint smile quickly faded.
“Maruti,” Xerxes said with a faint sigh, nodding in Maruti’s direction. Ey turned, and to me said, “Captain Stone.”
The Further avatar alighted gracefully on my shoulder.
“And…?” Xerxes regarded the silver eagle for a moment, thoughtfully. “Ah. Further. I almost didn’t recognize you.”
“Astrogator,” the avatar answered, inclining its head momentarily.
Xerxes had contributed a significant amount of power to the Further fund—the majority of the non-inconsiderable fortune ey’d amassed over the centuries by sharing Exode technology and science with the Entelechy—more than any but the Plenum, the Demiurgists, and the Pethesilean Mining Consortium, and as a result was one of the leading voices in the crew. Ey’d accepted the role of astrogator, but more to stave off boredom than anything else, it seemed.
“Mind if we join you?” Maruti said, pulling up a chair before waiting for an answer. As the probe regarded him silently, the chimpanzee motioned the waitron over. At first I assumed it was a subsentient drone, like the zookeepers who looked after the park animals, but as the server drew near I saw it was flesh-and-blood, some sort of uplifted bipedal feline.
“Yes, gentles?” the cat-waitron purred. “Can I help you?”
“It’s not too early in the ship’s day for a cocktail, is it?” the chimpanzee answered, and when the waitron responded with only a confused look, hastened to add, “I’m sorry, an obscure joke. In our dear commanding officer’s day, I’ve discovered, some cultures preferred to limit the ingestion of intoxicants to the later percentages of the day.”
The cat, who I saw now was female, glanced at me, a somewhat suspicious look on her face. “Whyever for, captain?”
I could only smile and shrug. “Things were different in primitive times, I suppose.”
With a lingering confused glance my way, the waitron took Maruti’s order, some strange beverage with an unlikely name. I joined Xerxes and Maruti at the table, as the Further avatar hopped from my shoulder to the back of a nearby chair, and then the cat turned her attention to me.
“And you, Captain Stone. Is there anything you require?”
“No,” I said, and then thought better of it. “Actually, you can answer a question for me, if you don’t mind.”
“Certainly,” the cat said with a smile.
“I was just wondering…” I paused. “I’m sorry, what was your name again?”
“It hasn’t been announced, but it’s Ailuros, actually.”
“I was just wondering, Ailuros, why choose to wait tables? When the work can be done by drones, I mean.”
The waitron regarded me quizzically, her whiskers twitching. “You could just as easily ask why any of us do anything, sir. All of us onboard the Further, as indeed all sentients throughout the Human Entelechy, perform functions that could just as easily be accomplished by subsentients, who would just as likely be more efficient and error-free in their work. So why bother, when we could be at our ease?”
I thought it over for a moment. “Well, from what I’ve seen, people still perform services in exchange for payment… power, I mean.” I glanced at Maruti. “Don’t you intend to give Ailuros a gratuity when she brings your order.”
“Naturally,” the chimpanzee said in a broad gesture, pulling a cigar from a case in his smoking jacket and cutting off the tip. “Provided the order’s right.”
“So it would be easy to assume, Ailuros, that you work in exchange for power. Right?”
“Perhaps,” Ailuros purred, her head tilted to one side, “until one took into account that, as an expert in multidimensional physics I could likely find more lucrative employment elsewhere. There are engineering firms who’d be willing to exchange more power for one days’ work from me than I could earn in ten years of serving beverages.”
“Fair enough,” I said, nodding appreciatively. “In that case, my question stands. Why wait tables?”
“Because I like waiting tables.” Ailuros, smiling, turned and walked away.
When she’d gone, I turned to the others, confused.
“If I’m too much the unfrozen caveman in your world, please forgive me, but there are still so many things about your society that I just don’t understand.”
“Don’t worry, Captain Stone,” Xerxes said in a tired voice, “there’s much about them I don’t understand, either. Like the reasons why so many biologicals feel the desperate need to unburden themselves to me. Perhaps it’s something to do with my physiognomy, I don’t know. But our server felt impelled earlier to tell me an abbreviated version of her life story, when all I wanted to do was watch the birds. She’s contributed a hundred-thousandth share to the Further fund, I’m given to understand, and has a post working in drive engineering, but intends to spend her free time here, serving orders.” Ey glanced the way the waitron had gone, and then back at me, and shrugged. “Your explanation for her actions is likely as good as mine.”
“Xerxes,” Maruti said, holding a the end of his cigar in the flickering flame of a compact lighter, “you never struck me as a birdwatcher.”
“In our brief, fleeting encounters, Maruti, I’m surprised that I struck you as anything at all.”
Maruti took a long pull from his cigar. “Perhaps an interesting and unexpected benefit of our traveling together, a few thousand of us in such close quarters, is that we’ll all learn things we never suspected about one another, becoming faster friends in the process.”
The probe sighed, and was silent for a long moment. “How… wonderful.”
Less than fifteen minutes later, Maruti was shouting at him at the top of his lungs, and the chances of the two becoming fast friends seemed vanishingly remote.
Tomorrow I should hit the halfway point in the novel, the middle of Part Two, and now that all of the guns are set up on the wall (literally, in one instance) it should be a matter of relative ease to finish the second half in the three weeks I've got budgeted for it. Should being the operative word here, of course.
Wednesday, June 21, 2006
"Damnit, I'm not an engineer, I'm a fez-wearing chimpanzee..."
33,527 / 90,000
I was going to share the chapter in which our hero is rejuvenated overnight, his age stabilized at roughly thirty-years-old, but then I figured, screw it, I'll share the chapter with the monkey in the fez, instead.
::MARUTI, GOOD TO SEE YOU.::Two notes on this chapter. The term "medichine" is stolen brazenly from Alastair Reynolds, as when I stumbled upon it in Revelation Space it was the perfect word for the "nanoscopic medical machines" I already had in my outline, but for which I lacked a clever word. I don't know that too many besides Reynolds have used it since him, but it was such a perfect neologism that I just couldn't resist using it. I may change it, if I can think of anything that fits half as well, but don't count on it.
The chimpanzee winced, drawing back from me as I walked into his quarters onboard the Further.
::Stop shouting,:: Maruti answered without moving his lips, his voice sounding clear as a bell in my head. ::If you exercise a bit more control, people will be much more eager to talk to you.::
::SORRY,:: I replied, and then paused to concentrate. ::Sorry.::
I knew how to subvocalize, of course. I’d used a throat pick-up countless times when I’d been with the Orbital Patrol. But the technology we’d used in the 22C had been immeasurably cruder than that used in the Entelechy, and after Maruti had installed my interlink I’d quickly discovered that I lacked all fine control. I was able to communicate without speaking out loud, but I always ended up “shouting,” like someone sending a text message in all caps or laced with unnecessary punctuation.
Eventually I wouldn’t even have to subvocalize, Maruti insisted, and that I’d just have to think of the correct words in order to stimulate the appropriate parts of the brain and transmit the message, but that kind of virtual telepathy was a long way off for me.
The Further’s avatar was perched on my shoulder, in the same position and pose its predecessor had adopted for days. It had lead me through the winding corridors of the ship, many of which were in the final stages of construction. I’d been studying schematics of the ship for days, and already had a rough idea what was where, but there was the added wrinkle that the ship was largely constructed of smart matter able to reconfigure itself at will, so that rooms and corridors could be resculpted to suit the present needs of the crew. Since the interior volume of the ship’s main sphere was over four cubic kilometers to begin with, that meant a considerable degree of variation was possible.
In the interests of giving me some necessary grounding and context, the Further had directed me to the quarters of one of the crew with whom I was already familiar, the ship’s physician and resident exobiologist, Maruti Sun Ghekre the Ninth.
The ship didn’t have a medical bay, as such, since current day medicine was almost all done in situ in the body itself and could be performed anywhere, but Maruti’s quarters had been outfitting with a large sitting area, complete with a wide variety of chairs and couches, so that his patients could relax in comfort—or as much comfort as possible, at least, while the nanoscopic assemblers did their work.
The sitting room, like the rest of Maruti’s quarters, reflected the taste evident in the chimpanzee choice of attire. Sumptuous, hedonistic, and anachronistic. It resembled a Victorian-era gentlemen’s club, with deep upholstered chairs, dark wood paneling, low side-tables topped with decanters and hardwood humidors, but with other touches that destroyed the illusion, like overstuffed beanbag chairs and stark industrial-styled lamps of brushed steel and white enamel.
I’d asked Maruti, while I shivered with my waste-heat fever in the diamond house, how he abused his body with alcohols and carcinogenic tobacco smoke, when he was himself a physician and well aware of the damage he was doing to his body, and he’d looked at me as though I’d just sprouted horns and started singing obscene nursery rhymes. It had taken him a moment before he even understood the question.
“Why would I let anything damage my body?” he asked, completely perplexed. “My system’s medichines metabolize everything I consume or inhale, transforming it into the components my system needs. What could it possibly matter what the raw material was in the first place? So why not indulge my tastes?”
Those were questions for which I had no context, much less a ready response, no more than he’d had for mine. It was clear that notions of health had altered drastically since my time, and it was going to take some getting used to.
“Cigar?” Maruti said out loud, holding out a humidor to me, opening the lid to reveal rows of neatly arranged tubes of green, tan, blue, and brown.
I shook my head, mouthing thanks, and then thought a moment. “I don’t suppose you have any bidis, do you?”
The chimpanzee looked at me with a confused expression for a moment, his eyes glancing towards the middle distance, and then smiled. “No, but give me a moment.”
He closed the humidor, there was a faint ping, and then he opened it again, and in the place of the rows of different hued cigars was a small pile of bidi cigarettes.
“How…?” I asked as I reached out to pick one up, though I’d already guessed the answer before the word escaped my lips. “A fabricator, then?”
Maruti nodded. “There’s a small one built into the base, that I’ve keyed specifically to manufacture tobacco, cannabis, and other inflammable herbs.”
I held the bidi up to my nose and inhaled deeply, the scent carrying me back to misspent days of my youth. Tobacco ground up and rolled in a brown tendu leaf, tied with a little bit of string, bidis were a staple of street-corner life in Bangalore when I was growing up. In a brief rebellious phase in my teenaged years I skipped a lot of school—which, considering I was the son of the professor of literature, pleased my father not a bit—and hung out in the market with a group of juvenile delinquents, daring each other to tether our skateboards to the backs of fast moving trucks, trying unsuccessfully to catch the eyes of girls from the convent school, and smoking endless number of bidis. I’d lost the habit almost as quickly as I lost an appetite for lawbreaking, when a group of us ended up jailed for a weekend after a senseless prank went horribly wrong, but I still harbored fond memories of the hot smoke filling my cupped hands, the little bidi tucked between my ring and little fingers, the heady buzz and momentary disorientation that always followed the heavy nicotine hit.
“Light?” Maruti asked, holding up an ornamental brass lighter, in the shape of a cymbal-playing monkey.
“Maybe another time,” I said, carefully placing the bidi back into the humidor.
The chimpanzee shrugged. “Fair enough.” He dropped the humidor unceremoniously onto the seat of an overstuffed chair, and bit down on his cigar. “So how much of the ship have you seen so far, captain?”
“Not much,” I confessed. “I only boarded a short while ago, and your quarters are the first completed part of the ship I’ve seen.”
“Splendid!” Maruti clapped his hair hands together, then snatched a red fez from a hook on the wall and plopped it on his head. “I’ll come along with you, and we’ll see the ship together. I’ve seen precious little besides the insides of these rooms, myself, having only arrived yesterday. Or was it the day before? No matter.” He paused a moment, adjusting the tassel on his fez. “That is, if you don’t mind the company.”
“Oh, no, of course not,” I said, and glanced at the eagle on my shoulder. “Further?”
“Physician Maruti is a member of our crew, and is welcome in any of my habitable areas, naturally, and equally welcome to join us.”
“That’s settled, then,” Maruti said, and made for the door. “Let’s go already.”
So we set out into the ship, the silver eagle, the fez-wearing chimpanzee, and me, trailed by a cloud of cigar smoke that lingered only momentarily as we passed, before tiny machines too small to be seen with the unaided eye quickly scrubbed out any impurities, leaving the ship’s air fresh and clean.
Second, a note about the interlink, a kind of communicator that also acts as a universal translator and an onsite backup for the user's mind. I thought I was being desperately clever when I decided to use a pair of colons in place of quotation marks to set aside dialogue sent via interlink, only to discover in reading John Scalzi's The Ghost Brigades that I had inadvertently stolen it from him, since he uses the same typography for his BrainPal dialogue. By that point, though, I'd grown so much to love the look of it that I couldn't fit the idea of replacing it into my head, and so I've stuck with it. But at least I accidentally stole the typography from Scalzi, while I was fully aware how I was shamelessly nicking Reynold's term.
Lady and the Lamp
The lamp in this piece isn't a million miles away from Luxo Jr, don't you think?
Another Slow Start
They were on us before we knew they were there, and by then it was too late. The initial attack put us on the defensive, our mantles rendered completely rigid and almost entirely opaque, all of us momentarily trapped and immobile inside our protective individual shells, unable even to return fire. They disarmed us quickly, relieving us of our wrist-mounted projectors, and taking my cap-gun from its holster. By the time our mantles regained flexibility, we were surrounded, strange weapons trained on us. Our interlinks struggled to translate their archaic language, broadcast to us over the radio waves, but the dead sun circling overhead peppered their transmissions with static, so that we received only an incoherent string of hate and scorn.
But that was later, the end of one mission and the beginning of an other. It had started so simply, without incident, that I fooled myself into thinking it would all be that easy. I should have known it was too good to last.
Captains In Space
Yesterday came the news that the book was getting the full "Absolute" treatment in October, a 464 page oversized hardcover packed with "new story pages, detailed annotations, alternate sequences and an extensive gallery of sketches, pinups, action figure art and much more." Exciting, right?
Well, it gets better. Today I stumble upon the news that the book is to be adapted into a direct-to-video animated feature, written by Stan Berkowitz and produced by none-other-than Bruce Timm. How awesome is that?
Monday, June 19, 2006
Is it just me, or does this composition look like something that John Picacio could have laid out?
UPDATED: And now we have the full solicitation...
THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN: THE BLACK DOSSIER HC
Written by Alan Moore, art and cover by Kevin O'Neill .
Writer Alan Moore once again joins forces with artist Kevin O'Neill for The Black Dossier -- a stunning original hardcover graphic novel that is the next chapter in the fantastic saga of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
England in the mid-1950s is not the same as it was. The powers that be have instituted some changes. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen have been disbanded and disavowed, and the country is under the control of an iron-fisted regime. Now, after many years, the still youthful Mina Murray and a rejuvenated Allan Quatermain return in search of some answers -- answers that can only be found in a book buried deep in the vaults of their old headquarters -- a book that holds the key to the hidden history of the League throughout the ages: The Black Dossier. As Allan and Mina delve into the details of their precursors, some dating back centuries, they must elude their dangerous pursuers who are hellbent on retrieving the lost manuscript...and ending the League once and for all.
The Black Dossier is an elaborately designed, cutting-edge volume that includes a "Tijuana Bible" insert and a 3-D section complete with custom glasses, as well as additional text pieces, maps, and a stunning cutaway double-page spread of Captain Nemo's Nautilus submarine by Kevin O'Neill.
208 page, $29.99, in stores on Oct. 25.
Okay, I'm excited...
More on Fate of the Artist
Slow Bob in the Lower Dimensions
Sunday, June 18, 2006
New Paragaea Review
I wish to be...
Love & Monsters
Saturday, June 17, 2006
The Amazing Screw-On Head Approaches
For Future Reference
Just pointing out, is all...
"Novella?" you may be asking. "For MonkeyBrain?"
A few exciting projects in the work for our little imprint, needless to say. The first is a limited edition, the news of which has already leaked into the world, and which I'll be talking a bit more about in the near future. The other two are the novellas.
We'll be making a more formal announcement late this year or early next, but the short version is this: MonkeyBrain is launching a new series of original novellas in inexpensively priced trade paperback editions. The inaugural titles in the line are slated for Fall 2007 release, one by Hal Duncan and the other by Sean Williams.
And in the event that anyone's wondering, yes, we still have every intention of publishing an Adventure Vol 2. We were, perhaps, a bit overly optimistic when calling it an "annual anthology." How does 2008 sound to everyone?
Friday, June 16, 2006
Hector Plasm: De Mortius
Cereno was co-creator of 2004's, Tales from the Bully Pulpit, in which Theodore Roosevelt and Thomas Edison traveled through time and space, meeting chicks and having adventures. It was a bit wacky, to say the least. The character of Hector Plasm, who originally appeared in backup strips in Robert Kirkman's Invicible, is quite a bit more serious, but there are some nice touches of humor here and there.
I'm in the process of falling deeply out-of-love with mainstream comics, but there's still a trickle of good stuff coming out on a regular basis that keeps me coming back, week after week. While the talents of more established writers are increasingly squandered on editorial-directed event nonsense, there's a crop of relatively new writers turning out some great stuff off to the sides. From the Big Two, the aforementioned Robert Kirkman is writing some terrific books--I may be the only one, but I adore his Marvel Team-Up, which presents an idiosyncratic view of the Marvel Universe that I much prefer to the direction the rest of the line is going--Dan Slott's name on a book is always a guarantee of quality--he's building up a corner of the Marvel Universe of his own over in She-Hulk, complete with a giant android and the Two-Gun Kid--and Brian K. Vaughn has yet to disappoint. Allan Heiberg's stuff is awesome, what little of it there's been so far.
So far, Cereno has written just a couple of one shots and a handful of short stories, but everything I've seen of his has been golden, and I wouldn't mind at all seeing him get a chance to script for DC or Marvel, provided that it meant that we'd continue to see Bully Pulpit and Hector Plasm stories on a regular basis (just as I'm glad that Kirkman continues to get Marvel work, if it means that Invicible rolls on).
And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the art, which is awesome. I'd not seen much of Bellegarde's work before, but his clean line and idiosyncratic lettering was perfect for this story. With the colors of Jacob Baake, I was reminded for some reason of Herge's Tintin is spots (though it may actually be that I'm reminded of the tonally somewhat similar ZombieWorld: Champion of the Worms, written by Mike Mignola, in which artist Pat McEown seemed to be doing a kind of undead Herge riff).
Having looked forward to Hector Plasm: De Mortius for months, I was amazed to find that it's even better than I'd anticipated. One of the best comics I've read in recent months, and a tonic when faced with the never-ending events of the Big Two, I can't recommend it highly enough. Buy lots, so Cereno and Bellegarde won't have any choice but to keep churning out follow-ups.
New Paragaea Review
This new novel is old again. That is, it's quite explicitly, indeed exuberantly, in the mold of planetary romances such as Edgar Rice Burroughs's Mars books, Alex Raymond's Flash Gordon serials, and Leigh Brackett's work. And, as the author reminds us, the television series Land of the Lost. Chris Roberson also includes buried references to many other SF books, and he grounds his story in at least vaguely (if not very) plausible speculative science. The end result is quite a lot of fun.
Thursday, June 15, 2006
Scooby Doo, Where Are You?
(My hat is off to whomever did this custom paint job. My eyes boggled as soon as I spotted it in the parking lot. Sadly, the two year old and the six year old in the backseat were not nearly so impressed as I was...)
"Sara Jewel and the Iron Mentalist in, 'The Final Equation of Professor Quantum'"
The Great Crosstime Airship Race
Considering this me calling my shot, if you like. If it takes another ten years or more before the characters Sara Jewel and the Iron Mentalist see print, you can rest assured they'll have been haunting me all along.
Billie Piper Leaves Who
Helix, a Speculative Fiction Quarterly
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
The Terrapin of Tomorrow
A Legion, and a Pair of Ravens
29,731 / 90,000
Today's bit is just an excerpt, not a full chapter, in which RJ Stone meets a legion and a pair of ravens.
The escort navigated me through the crowd, and in a few steps we came to the group it had indicated.Okay, that's it for this week. The next writing day is next Wednesday, so I've got a lot of Georgia Patrol in the meantime...
The three women, who appeared to be of Asian ancestry, looked to be about twenty-five years old. They were completely identical, more alike than twins, each with the same face and build, the same height of 1.5 meters tall, the same dark hair and brown eyes.
“Ah, the legendary Captain Stone,” one of the women said I approached. “So nice to meet you in person.” She stuck out her hand, a gesture I’d not seen since waking, and as I shook it, she said, “I’m Jida Shuliang.”
“Nice to meet you,” I said, and turned to the woman at her side. “And you are?”
The three women looked at one another, smiling slightly.
“Jida Shuliang is a legion,” the eagle on my shoulder said out loud, “a distributed consciousness, the longest-established and most stable in the Entelechy.”
I looked from one woman to another to another. “Distributed? So you’re all…?”
“I am Jida Shuliang,” all three women said in unison. One of them grabbed a drink from a passing tray, and another’s attention drifted to the side of the room, but the third continued to speak to me, a slightly bemused expression on her face. “I first expanded my mind through more than one body in T3017, connected via primitive cortical implants. My original body expired after only a few centuries, naturally, but I’ve I’ve continued to use that original as a template when fabricating new bodies ever since.”
“A single mind in a series of identical bodies?” This was a bit difficult to take onboard.
“Well, as identical as possible. I tweak the design as necessary, of course, with Jida resident on methane-breathing worlds, or high gravity planets, or habitats kept only a few degrees above absolute zero, but I retain as much of the original morphology as is feasible.”
“How many of you are there?”
The Jida with the drink smiled slyly, but the one to whom I’d been speaking only looked at me in mock derision. “Captain Stone,” she scolded, playfully, “that is an extremely personal question. Still…”—she paused, and the Jida whose attention appeared to have drifted to the other side of the room slowly licked her lips—“perhaps someday you’d like to visit me on my planetoid home of Tian Bao Jun? I could show you a few more of myself, and in exchange I’d love to hear more about your life in the Information Age. I’m always so hungry for new information and new experiences.”
“Begging your pardon, Madam Jida, but isn’t that precisely why we’re all here?”
It was one of the two smaller figures that had spoken, with whom the three Jida had been talking earlier.
“Captain Stone,” one of the Jida said, indicating the two with a nod, “may I present Hu Grimnismal and Mu Grimnismal.”
The two were alike enough to be brothers, and the fact that they shared a name suggested that they were. They stood about a meter tall, covered in fine black features, with flexible beaks at the center of their round faces, capable of forming a surprisingly large range of complex sounds.
“A pleasure,” I said, inclining my head, hoping the escort would feed me more useful information.
“The brothers Grimnismal are corvids,” whispered the voice of the escort in my left ear, failing to disappoint, “sentients derived from uplifted terrestrial birds of the order corvidae.”
“My brother and I,” one of the two said, though whether Hu or Mu I couldn’t say, “have proposed a new type of exotic matter with negative mass, you should know. It will revolutionize society, more than any discovery since the establishment of the first threshold.”
The corvid’s tone was boastful, and perhaps a little smug.
“Provided, of course,” one of the Jida said, “that such a thing actually exists.”
“Oh, it exists, Madam Jida,” the other corvid said, rankling. “And those who contribute to the Further fund will be the direct beneficiaries, you can count on it.”
“Just what is the purpose of the fund, if you don’t mind me asking?” I said, but before anyone could answer, I felt a tap on my shoulder.
Look, Up in the Sky!
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
Superman the Movie
The Story of Xerxes
25,897 / 90,000
Today's bit is a brief aside, just as RJ is introduced to the Exode probe at the Anachronist dinner party on the planet of Cronos.
Before relating my meeting with Xerxes, I think it’s instructive to relate a story I was later told, about the first time anyone in the Entelechy met Xerxes.
In T8623, three hundred and fifty two years before Wayfarer One was found by a crew of dogmen, a communications satellite in orbit around the Entelechy world of Ouroboros received a laser transmission that fell within the Ka-Band frequencies, a little above 30 GHz. Data was found to be encoded in the transmission by pulse position modulation, on the order of ten to the twenty-first bytes of data—a zettabyte, in other words. The header file of the transmission defined a binary lexicon and a complete periodic table of elements. There followed a series of simple instructions for the creation of long chains of silicate ions in precise configurations. When completed, these proved to be self-assembling molecular machines that began immediately to assemble some sort of mechanism.
Within ten standard days, the assemblers had incorporated and reconfigured one hundred kilograms of raw materials, producing a genderless bipedal robot resembling a baseline anthropoid. A team of the most prestigious scientists of the Entelechy gathered behind protective fields, and waited for the first communication from the mechanism.
The probe rose to a sitting position, regarded the scientists with an eyeless gaze.
“Oh,” the probe said with a sigh. “It’s you.”
That, in a nutshell, is Xerxes.
... in full Star Wars gear.
Just for the record, my kids are going to be taken care of, and I want them to benefit from any lingering financial value my work might generate after I'm gone. As for my grandkids, they're on their own.
Monday, June 12, 2006
20,284 / 90,000
In the following bit, RJ Stone is introduced to representatives of the Veda, a group of "mythopoeic recreationists." I'll let the rest speak for itself.
After a while the endless vistas of this new Earth all became a bit too overwhelming, and I suggested it might be nice to take a break. The escort directed me onto another series of slidewalks, and in short order the diamond house was hoving into view.In the next section, naturally, RJ has a tete-a-tete with a martini-drinking, cigar-smoking chimpanzee...
The crowd that formerly had jostled around the door had largely dissipated, but a small handful still milled about, waiting for my return. As I stepped off the slidewalk onto steady ground, the escort perched on my shoulder, a pair of them approached me. I’d glimpsed them near the back of the earlier crowd, another in the mix of odd hybrids and strange forms, but seeing them now, I found them very familiar.
The first was an elephant. An elephant with the body of a man, to be more precise. Or a man with the body of an elephant. It hardly mattered which. He loomed over me, easily two and three-quarters meters tall, his skin gray and wrinkled, his massive tusked tipped with gold ornaments. He was bare to the waist, with billowing yellow trousers, gold bangles on his wrists and ankles and a string of pearls worn over his shoulder like a sash.
At his side was a woman only a few centimeters taller than me, her skin a bright shade of blue, with an extra pair of arms emerging from her ribcage, two on each side. She wore a skirt of silver and gold, her chest bare, her bright orange areolas standing in stark contrast to the surrounding blue. Hair the shade of a setting sun hung like a nimbus around her head, and her eyes were flashing yellow.
For a moment, my mind reeled. Before me stood the form of Ganesh and a female Vishnu, as though they’d stepped off a temple painting from my childhood.
The ganesh began to speak, and I recognize it as an archaic form of Hindi. The syntax was strange, and much of the vocabulary escaped me, and so as the escort provided its translation I had dual meanings echoing in my ears.
“Sri Rama, your arrow returned at last to Earth, we bear greetings from those who have awaited you. I am Vinayaka, and this”—the ganesh indicated the blue-skinned woman at his side—“is Sarasvati. We represent the keepers of knowledge, the Veda.”
The elephant pressed massive hands together and the woman placed her hands in pairs, one above the other, and inclined their heads.
“Namaste,” each of them said, as their voices echoed in English from the eagle’s mouth, “I bow to the light in you.”
I namasted in response, keeping my eyes on them, confused. “I think there might be some… misunderstanding,” I began, uneasily. “I’m not sure who you think I am…”
“You are Captain Ramachandra Jason Stone of the interstellar exploration vehicle Wayfarer One, correct?” the woman named Sarasvati asked.
“It is well known to us,” the elephant-headed Vinayaka interrupted, “that Ramachandra is merely another name for Lord Rama, Prince of Ayodhya, an avatar of Vishnu the Preserver.”
I couldn’t help but chuckle, however a bit nervously.
“Ah. You see, my name is Ramachandra, but I’m afraid that’s more a function of my mother’s classical taste that anything else. My brother LJ—Lakshman Julian—got off slightly better than I did, I think, but it's not an accident that both of us ended up using our initials instead of our full names.”
“Lakshman was the brother of Lord Rama, no?” Sarasvati asked, raising a bright-red eyebrow suggestively.
“Yes, I suppose the mythological Lakshman was, but...”
“And is it not true,” Vinayaka asked, “that when the great rishi Parasurama presented him with the bow of Vishnu, Lord Rama shot an arrow that flamed into the darkness of the night sky, a shaft of infinite trajectory that arced through the heavens, until it would one day return, and its arrival would mean the end of the Earth? And in like manner did your spear-shaped craft not arrow through the heavens, returning to Earth only once the planet it had been was no more, and a new Earth hung in the firmament?”
As a poetic description of the fate of Wayfarer One, it wasn’t entirely unapt, and the ship was shaped somewhat like an arrow or spear, with a broad nose-faring to deflect dust, micrometeorites, and other particles. But that still didn’t earn me a place in any pantheon, nor suggest that I had any but mundane origins.
“Look,” I said firmly, chin raised, “I know that you mean well, but I’ve got to tell you…”
“Forgive our insouciance,” the blue-skinned woman said, interrupting, her gaze averted. “We have given offense, which was not our intention.”
“Your pardons, Sri Rama.” The ganesha’s eyes were on the ground, his trunk wrapping around his neck protectively. “So overjoyed are we by your return that we forget our manners.”
I tried to speak up, to let them know that I wasn’t offended, just that they had the wrong guy, but the woman cut in before I could get a word out.
“We were sent to inform you that a place has been prepared for you on the sacred wheel, Thousand-Petalled Lotus. Your people await you there, Sri Rama, whenever you choose to join us.”
The elephant-man Vinayaka glanced skyward, and a low sound thrummed from him, like a giant clearing his throat. In response, a twinkling light overhead suddenly began to move, growing larger, and in a matter of eyeblinks was revealed as a platform two meters in diameter, with an ornate and bejeweled railing, like a stylized chariot without a team of horses. Speeding towards us, as it neared it slowed, floating down as gracefully as a feather falling to Earth, finally stopping and hovering bare centimeters from the ground.
“Wait, I just want to…”
The blue-skinned woman raised one of her four hands, as the ganesha climbed aboard the chariot. “Please accept our apologies for the rudeness of our approach, Sri Rama.” She vaulted to the elephant-man’s side. “We return to Thousand-Petalled Lotus to prepare for your arrival.”
And then the chariot soared off into the blue sky, heading in the direction of Central Axis, and the strange pair were gone.
Still Living on Mars
Sunday, June 11, 2006
Last Daughter of Krypton
This weekend we drove to Duncanville for my nephew's fourth birthday. It was a Superman-themed party (the kid has good taste, and is naturally obsessed with Superman), and the kids were instructed on the invitation to come dressed as their favorite superhero. It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out who Georgia should dress as.
Go ahead. Tell me that isn't the cutest damned kid you've ever seen.
Friday, June 09, 2006
Free Scott Pilgrim
I don't know what's wrong with me, honestly. It's not as though I wasn't familiar with artist Bryan Lee O'Malley's work. I'd had his Radiomaru site linked for years, and I'd really enjoyed his Lost at Sea OGN, but for some reason when the first volume of Scott Pilgrim was release I gave it a miss. I can only think it all stems from the fact that I was dropped on my head as a child.
In a review of the first volume, Pete Mortensen described it as "Nintendo Realism." His reasoning also acts as a handy synopsis:
"The world the characters inhabit is largely normal, except that everyone has a handy stat-sheet which determines their capabilities. Perhaps most insightful in this shortcut is its reflection of life, where the "statistics" of a human being can determine their livelihood, success in relationships and ability to participate in certain activities. The device is outlandish but also in some ways painfully honest. Rather than compose an angst-fueled slacker epic, O'Malley stepped outside of existing genres to create a celebration of people just getting by, reveling in minor achievement. Scott is, in the strictest sense, a video game hero. His friends are not competitors, they're supplemental characters who might offer advice which help him to overcome the dangers of new enemies and challenges."I was reminded in reading the three volumes of some of Paul Pope's wackier stories, which share a similar kinetic energy and use of text sidebars and character stats, but since both are heavily influenced by manga I suppose it shouldn't come as any surprise. (And, now that I come to google it, O'Malley appears to have acknowledged Pope as an influence in interviews, but while there are tonal similarities, their artistic styles are so disimilar that I never would have expected Pope to have been a direct influence.)
There was a vibe similar to that I found in Kung Fu Hustle, which is never a bad thing. And how can you go wrong with a world in which, after our hero defeats one of his new girlfriend's "evil ex-boyfriends," the vanquished foe disappears, leaving behind a pile of coins? Oh, and sometimes Scott ends up with an "extra life" as well (though he didn't manage to hit that save point before Envy made the scene, did he?), which is sure to come in handy.
Thursday, June 08, 2006
Late Night Buffet
Wednesday, June 07, 2006
I managed just a bit over 7K today, which brings me just north of 15K. I've only got six weeks blocked off on the calendar to finish Beyond the Threshold, which means that the minimum I need to write per week is 15K, and with only three days a week to work that means that if I start working any slower I won't be able to finish in the time I have budgeted. Any longer and I'll be impinging on already contracted projects, and considering that this is a spec novel that is so far homeless, that doesn't seem so wise.
I'm liking how it's shaping up so far, though. The voice of the narrator isn't quite what I expected, but then even when you outline as fanatically as I do the characters still manage to wrest a bit of control from you when they open their mouths. That the process at work, I think, and I've learned in my few years at this that you don't fuck with the process. Open it up and you let the magic smoke loose, and then where are you?
From the ages of twenty-one to twenty-four, just a bit over three years, I served aboard Orbital Patrol Cutter 972, first as an ensign, then a lieutenant. An Aurora ZD-36 manufactured by Winchell-Chung Industries, Cutter 972 was thirty meters, tip to tail, a small Keeper class vessel intended for nothing more glamorous than the maintenance of navigational buoys in cislunar space. My “quarters,” which stretch the definition of the word, were a cube approximately 2.5 meters to a side. A bit over fifteen and a half cubic meters, that small space was home for thirty-eight months.In case anyone is wondering, or a google search leads you here by mistake, yes, "Winchell-Chung Industries" is a reference to Winchell D. Chung Jr., whose Atomic Rockets site is invaluable.
The finest accommodations I ever enjoyed was the presidential suite at the Starshine, the most expensive room in the most exclusive hotel in Vertical City, the bed in which would not have fit into my room on Cutter 972 without folding it first in half.
With those experiences at either extreme, I was still ill-prepared for what lay inside the residence.
“The Plenum intended it to be a recreation of a typical Information Age dwelling, sir.”
Typical. If anything, the interior was even grander than the outside, which had been constructed out of diamond.
I was reminded of photos I’d seen of presidential palaces, of the ostentatious homes of celebrity entertainers in the days before all roles went to virtual actors and pop music was recorded by algorithms. The foyer in which I stood, the tiles cold beneath my bare feet, was outfitted with the “typical” furniture of modest home—chairs, side table, umbrella stand—but at a scale and of such precious materials that no potentate could ever have afforded. A chair’s legs looked to be solid platinum, a mirror’s frame was inlaid with gold and iridium, the floor seemed to be constructed of an enormous sheet of opal. And the ceiling, nine or ten meters overhead, sparkled like a starry night.
I felt dwarfed, a small old man out of his time.
“Captain Stone, is there anything you desire? Would you like to rest, perhaps?”
I shivered, and wrapped my arms around me, feeling my ribs through the thin material of the robe.
“I’ve slept enough for a hundred lifetimes. But I don’t suppose there’s any chance of a change of clothing, is there?”
The sleeping quarters were the size of a small hangar, and the closet larger than the cargo hold of the Cutter 972.
“The Plenum,” the escort said, as I surveyed the options, “took the liberty of fabricating a wardrobe for your disposal.”
“What is this ‘Plenum,’ anyway?” I pulled out a suit coat made of something like leather but as light and supple as silk. The cut was elaborate and baroque, though, the fashion of some other era than mine.
“The Plenum is a collective of artificial intelligences that share resources towards common ends. The Plenum can alternatively be looked at as a conglomeration of individual AIs acting in concert as a variety of hive mind, or the individual AIs can be seen as emanations of the Plenum; both interpretations are equally valid.”
“Artificial intelligences like you, then?” I asked.
The silver eagle bobbed its head in a slight nod.
“I’ve never met an AI before.” I shook my head. “Remarkable.”
“It is my understanding that, while in its infancy, artificial intelligence had been developed by your era. Do our records err?”
“Well, not exactly. There was some low level stuff, I think, but it never rose above the intelligence you’d find in worker drone in any given beehive. They had to use animals to govern robotics when any kind of sophistication was called for, like corvid brains, ravens and crows mostly, disembodied and cyborged to mining equipment in the asteroid belt, their pleasure centers wired up so that biology drove them to seek out valuable ores.” I thought of the flock of feral corvid-miners that had descended on the Hutterite colony on Callisto, their circuitry fried and all safeguards offline, and shuddered.
“Perhaps I misunderstood, then, sir. I am still gaining valuable experience, and while I have the data at my disposal, my interpretations may sometimes be in error.”
“And how old are you, by the way?” I shook out a pair of pants and held them to my waist. Like the rest of the clothing in the wardrobe it was tailored precisely to my measurements, but these pants had exaggerated flares at the ankles, the waist coming higher than my naval. Many of the options presented to me appeared to have been based on cartoons and caricatures, exaggerations of real-world examples. I could scarcely fault then, though. If historians in my day tried to present a traveler from the tenth millennia BCE with period fashion choices, I doubt they’d have done a fraction as well. “Didn’t you say that you were ‘born’ while I was talking with the man-lion and the amazon and the chimp?”
“With the Voice of the Plenum, Chief Executive Zel and Maruti Sun Ghekre the Ninth,” the escort corrected. “Yes. I first gained sentience approximately .0208 standard days ago, or roughly .5 hours in your method of timekeeping. My subjective experience has been considerably longer, though, as AI nurseries run at highly accelerated clockspeeds, and I share the memories of the intelligence from which I was calved, and so my personal recollections extend back far further than my objective age would suggest.”
I managed to find the simplest and most practical of the options, a featureless and unornamented jumpsuit of dark fabric, similar to the flight-suit I’d worn onboard Wayfarer One, and completed the ensemble with a pair of soft-soled shoes. When I’d dressed, I stepped back out of the closet and regarded myself in a full length mirror that dominated one corner of the sleeping chamber.
An old man looked back at me. Hair white and thin against dark skin, a straggle of beard on my chin, ears and nose larger than I remembered, shoulders slumped and knees slightly bent. I appeared to be a man in his late seventies, if not older. Much older than the thirty-one years of life I remembered living. But then, the years can pile on quickly when you sleep for twelve millennia.
Still, I was the lucky one, wasn’t I? The others had moldered to dust in their sleeper coffins. All but one of the women, the chimpanzee had said, who’d died recent enough to leave a decaying corpse. Who had it been? Beatriz? Eija-Liisa? Amelia?
Just thinking of the names stung, the last especially.
The escort must have seen the pain which spread quickly across my features, as he waddled up to me, wings folded, and regarded me with a steady metal gaze. “Is there some distress, sir?”
I straightened, took a deep breath, and cast onee last glance at the old man in the mirror.
“At the moment,” I said, “my principle difficulty is that I haven’t had anything to eat in more than a hundred and twenty centuries, and I’m very, very hungry.”
Jay Stephens Has a Blog
If you've never read Stephens' Jetcat or Oddsville, you're missing out, and Atomic City Tales was always fun, but The Land of Nod is, no fooling, the funniest thing I have ever read. Possibly the funniest thing ever committed to paper.
Aargh! And he's doing a webcomic, too! An embarrassment of riches!
Tuesday, June 06, 2006
Seven Soldiers #1... delayed!
Planet of the Dog-Men
8,348 / 90,000
In the following bit, written this morning, our hero Ramachandra Jason "RJ" Stone wakes for the second time.
When I woke, I felt like one enormous, dull ache. My eyes still shut, I tried to lift my arms, but my muscles refused to cooperate.
I groaned, the sound of it surprising in my ears.
“The sleep which spreads out it awakes,” barked a gentle voice at my side.
I opened my eyes, and looked up into the grinning muzzle of one of the dog-men. The ceiling and wall beyond its head was a smooth unbroken curve of white, studded here and there with strangely shaped protuberances. It was not a view I recognized from Wayfarer One. Had I been moved since last I woke, or had I been too groggy before to realize where I was?
“Wh-where…” I managed, just barely.
The dog-man paused for a moment, head cocked slightly to one side as though listening to a sound I couldn’t hear.
“In mining boat,” it yapped, at length. “Of the Pethesilean Mining Consortium.”
“Alien…?” I croaked.
The dog-man paused, again cocking his head to the side.
“No. Me it is commander. Executive.”
I struggled to lift my head, but couldn’t. It felt as though I was pinned down by multiple gravities, as though in a ship at high acceleration, but the dog-man stood casually upright, suggesting the problem was instead with me.
“Can’t… move…” I croaked.
Again the pause, the cocked head, and the dog-man answered. “It spread out and it degenerated the inside long sleep. Remainder and to spread out and recuperate.”
I drew a ragged breath, blinking slowly, drained by the exertion of simply filling my lungs.
“How… long… sleep?”
The dog-man listened to the silent voice, and nodded. “It is year T8975.” Then it reached out and patted my head, gently, as though soothing an ailing pet. It’s other paw held the silver lozenge device over my eyes, and the dog-man added, “It sleeps go.”
I was asleep before I could groan another syllable.
My sleep was dreamless and dark. When next I woke, the ache I’d felt before had subsided somewhat, now concentrated mostly in my joints—knees, elbows, and wrists particularly.
I lay for a moment in red-lidded darkness, listening close. I could hear soft footsteps some distance to my right, the sound echoing faintly off of wall nearer to my left. Less than a meter from where I lay, I could hear the rhythm of regular, calm breathing, sounding for all the world like a content puppy at rest.
I tried to lift up on my elbows, and surprised myself when I levered into an upright position. Startled, I opened my eyes in a panic, my hands reflexively shooting out to either side to steady me. My muscles seemed to have regained their strength as I slept, and it now felt as if a gravity one third that of Earth’s was pulling on me. Like that of a large moon, or a ship under acceleration.
My head swam, as my insides struggled to realign themselves. I hadn’t felt so disoriented since the time on Ceres when Laurentien had insisted I share what she euphemistically called a “peace pipe” to seal our negotiations, but the figure advancing on me now shared little in common with the Dutch queen, so there was no chance this experience would end anything like the same. The dog-man was saying something, speaking a strange, guttural language of growls and barks, and though I had no clue as to his meaning, his agitated manner was plain enough.
“Stay back…” I said, raising my hands in front of me in a defensive posture. But they weren’t my hands, were they?
I flexed, and the fingers moved, slow and tentative. The joints were thick, the fingers gnarled, the backs of the hands covered in liver spots.
These weren’t mine. These were the arthritic hands of an old man.
The dog-man was within arms reach now, brandishing the silver lozenge like a weapon. It let out another string of barks and growls, but then paused, seeming to remember something, and in a gentler voice yapped, “Sleep.”
I felt a faint tickle, somewhere in the back of my mind, and my eyes closed on the world once again.
That's all for today, I think. Tomorrow RJ's "escort" takes him to the quarters prepared for him on Earth (which isn't quite the planet he remembers... or even a planet anymore, for that matter), he gets a new set of clothes, and he meets the spiritual descendants of the Society for Creative Anachronism.
The Adventures of Dr. McNinja
It probably goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway: "pirates are the ninja's ancient enemy."
Locus Online New Books
Monday, June 05, 2006
Beyond the Threshold
I've always wanted to try one of these little writing progress meters, so here goes. The novel is going to skew a bit shorter than my last few projects, hopefully, so I'm targeting for 90K at the outset.
1,797 / 90,000
Two percent? A decent enough start, I suppose, but not a typical day's output for me, I'm afraid. Maybe tomorrow.
I'm not sure if I'll be tracking my progress online throughout the novel or not. My schedule these days is a bit screwy, as I'm only able to work three days a week, sometimes only a few hours a day, and never the same three days in any given week. By this fall, Georgia will be starting preschool and my life will fall back into something more closely resembling a routine, but at this point its a bit more, shall we say, organic?
In any event, the following is the opening chapter of the novel, which is entitled Beyond the Threshold. This is what's called a "spec" novel, by the way, which means it hasn't been sold yet. Just so you know.
When I woke up, surrounded by talking dog-people, it was clear we’d strayed pretty far from the mission parameters.
The rest of the crew had gone down a few weeks out from Earth, when Wayfarer One passed Neptune’s orbit, but I’d opted to stay awake almost until we reached the sun’s heliopause. As I arranged myself in the narrow sleeper coffin, the hibernation gasses gradually slowing my body’s processes to a near halt, I closed my eyes, knowing that when I opened them, four decades and 4.3 lightyears later, it would be to look at a sight no humans before us had ever seen.
Wayfarer One’s automated systems were programmed to wake us a few weeks out from Alpha Centauri B, as the engines fired and the ship began to decelerate. According to the mission specs, by the time the ship’s velocity slowed to zero we would be within visual range of our destination, a tiny Earth-like planet known only by a registry number, that might one day be a new home for humanity. I was born a century after an asteroid toppled the most powerful nation on Earth, and knew all too well how vulnerable our planet was to another such disaster. A larger strike could well mean the extinction of life as we knew it. Establishing a toe-hold on another world would only serve to increase humanity’s chances of surviving into the distant future; but first we had to find a world capable of supporting life.
That was the mission my colleagues and I had accepted. We knew it would mean sacrificing anything like a normal life, as our friends and relatives aged and died back on Earth as we traveled between the stars, but it was a sacrifice we were willing to make. We would be carrying life into lifeless space, the first humans to reach another star.
It came as something of a surprise, then, when I opened my eyes and looked up to see a trio of spacesuit-wearing dogs standing over me, their tongues hanging out as they barked enthusiastically.
More surprising still, they seemed to be barking at me in English…
There it is. A so-far-unnamed narrator, some spaceship fu, and talking dog-men. I may be posting little snippets tomorrow, depending on how I feel about them, as well as updating my little progress meter thing.
Superhero: The Secret Origin of a Genre
Superhero: The Secret Origin of a Genre, Pete Coogan's book length examination of the superhero, is a corker. Scheduled for a July release, copies should be available at the MonkeyBrain booth at the San Diego Comic Con, where Pete will be on hand to sign copies. Anyone with even a passing interest in the genre owes it to themselves to give it a look, as it's well worth picking up.
One of those stories, which I read under the title "The Five Other Identities of Superman" in Best of DC #8 (Nov/Dec '80), was my introduction to the concept of alternate histories. Oh, I'm sure that I'd seen It's a Wonderful Life or any number of retreads of the plot in sitcom holiday episodes, but this story marked the first time that I understood the concept. A single change in a character's history (such as "On what planet does the infant Kal-El's rocket land?" in this instance) could lead to widely variant futures.
Originally published as "The Day Superman Became The Flash," in Action Comics #314 (July 1964), the story relates how Jor-El examined probable futures, in each one of which the infant Kal-El grew up to be a superhero of one sort or another (and all, naturally, closely resembling his fellow members of the Justice League of America).
(It's important not to focus too closely on the details of the story, I'm afraid. At this point in the character's publishing history, it was a fait accompli in any depictions of Superman's early life that his parents would not escape the destruction of Krypton, and that the infant Kal-El would be the sole occupant of the rocket which reached Earth. This resulted in some rather strange plot machinations, such as in this story, in which Jor-El devotes considerable time and effort into determining to which planet he'll send his infant son, rather than devoting his attentions to things like, oh, I don't know... building a rocket with three seats, for example? Krypton, with its rich and varied history, was at this point just a place to be destroyed, his parents merely people to be mourned. When the number of Kryptonian survivors approached the millions, at least (taking into account the prisoners in the Phantom Zone, Supergirl, Supergirl's parents in the Survival Zone, various and sundry scientists, criminals, and robots who arrived in rockets throughout Kal-El's life on Earth, and the entire population of one of Kandor, which as one of Krypton's leading metropolises must have had a considerable population), it began to appear that Jor-El and Lara were the only ones not to survive the destruction of Krypton.)
In later years, DC would create an entire imprint to examine this sort of story, Elseworlds, spinning a square-bound "prestige format" graphic novel out of precisely the sorts of scenarios exhausted in this story in the span of a few panels. There's an interesting sort of narrative inertia in the DC Universe, such that no matter where Kal-El ends up landing, he grows up to be a superhero, usually some variant of the Superman with which we're familiar, with the attendant supporting cast and villains in tow. (My personal favorite is probably the pulp-flavored "Elseworld's Finest," written by John Francis Moore, which recast Superman and Batman as 1930s adventurers, Lex Luthor as a Robur the Conqueror type, and so on.)
Sunday, June 04, 2006
Kim Newman Speaks
Well, hell, if our bacteria overlords can't get the problem under control, no reason we shouldn't invite in some new boarders, rights?
Friday, June 02, 2006
Perhaps bacteria encouraged the development of multi-cellular organisms back in the dawn times, just to have a safe and controlled environment, and a set of limbs to carry them around. Actually, on reflection, that's not a million miles from the conceit of a story of mine that's due to be published sooner or later (which I won't identify, so as not to spoil the ending).
Thursday, June 01, 2006
Fleet Street Scandal
"In 1967, the Fleet Street Art Gallery in London was robbed of its entire collection of priceless paintings. No clues were left. No motives were determined. No suspects were apprehended. The only thing known is the thief had exquisite taste. The incident became known as the Fleet Street Scandal.Fast-forward to 2006 - Scotland Yard uncovers a hidden vault containing the entire cache of paintings."Whole bucketloads of awesomeness, to be found here. It's all marvelous, but I may like "Constantinople" best.
The Princess Spy
Noor Inayat Khan. Honestly, if a reader came across a life like this in a work of fiction, it would be rejected as entirely implausible. History is always allowed to be so much less believable than fiction.