Saturday, July 13, 2013

ReaderCon and the River of Stars Invitation

This is a hub post for the weekend. I'm abroad right now, at ReaderCon in Massachussetts, the first of my many business trips this summer. It's my first time at ReaderCon. I'm pretty excited, if only for the amazing roster of authors who lecture and schmooze there. Kelly Link, Peter Straub and Scott Lynch have written some of my favorite works.

I may livetweet some of the more interesting panels, or blog up the highlights here. It all depends how my Kindle Fire holds up and how strong the convention wifi goes. If you see something on the schedule that looks highly appealing, hit me up on Twitter. You can find me @wiswell - unless my Kindle implodes.

This is also my first chance to meet my fellow Viable Paradise students and possibly meet some of the instructors. If things go according to plan I'll be having tea with Elizabeth Bear while you're reading this. Tonight the students are gathering for a big dinner in town. I've chatted with a few by Twitter (all have been friendly), but it'll be good to have faces to go with screen names.

I also want to give a shout out to a little reading program starting next week. Beginning July 17th, Sonia Lal and I will be reading Guy Gavriel Kay's River of Stars. It's Fantasy inspired by the Song Dynasty of China, set centuries after the previous novel so that it can stand alone, being about the conflict between rival factions as its world moves forward.Kay has repeatedly impressed me with his words about anthropological fiction, and particularly his unpopular stance that characters from other cultures shouldn't be "relatable" or "likeable." There is a tendency to make The Other just like us, which can be welcoming, but also often ignores significant external and internal life.

Sonia and I will be chatting about River of Stars as we make our way through. Anyone is more than welcome to pick up a copy and join us.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Bathroom Monologue: Shredded Viagra for Andreas Sundgren

Andreas Sundgren asked for a flash based on this image.
Who was I to deny him?

Andri spotted the little boy half an hour before anyone else. He slid down the slope to the foundation of the dike and water splashed beneath his shoes. There was a leak. Andri recognized the boy's chubby face – Hans Something, one of the skater kids from in town. Now the boy shivered, jamming his hand into a cleft in the stone. Water spurted around his little fist, and his arm was turning a deeper shade of blue than Andri had known possible.

"Help! Help!" Hans called through chattering teeth. "It's leaking!"

Damn, and he'd been on his way to a date. He'd been looking forward to this for weeks, too. Telma did not open her doors easily.

Andri slid up behind the boy, nudging his shoulders. The boy jerked his blue hand free, water gushing from the hole and threatening to tearing more stone with it. Immediately Andri leaned in, jamming an index finger inside, but water streamed around the digit and soaked his sleeve. He tried pushing his middle finger in as well, but while they were tall enough, they weren't thick enough to plug the hole. Too small for his fist, too big for his fingers, and now he felt the water's chill rising up to his heels.

Hans, or whatever the kid's name was, rubbed his numb little fingers and commiserated, "Mine weren't big enough either, sir."

Andri clenched his teeth, thinking of the bottle of wine and the too-small sweater Telma had promised to bring. He muttered, "God damn it."

"Should I go get someone?"

"You know Telma Søvndal?" he asked, unzipping his fly. He wasn't sure if the name or the action made little Hans look so excited, but the boy certainly perked up.

"The dancer?"

"Yeah," he said, opening his jacket and retrieving a cardboard package. He bit the top of the package open, feeling two pills pop loose. He swallowed them dry, then scratched the rest of the packet open. "Tell her our date's postponed another week depending on the pruning, but somebody had to plug this thing."

It was twenty-three minutes before he was relieved of duty, and two days before the swelling subsided, and really three weeks before feeling came back. He opted for physical therapy instead of surgery. On the upside, Andri never had trouble getting laid again. Not with this story.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Bathroom Monologue: The Shoemaker's Profits

Walk two leagues west of the Cloud Hills and you will see The Ascent, the city that was once the first outpost in this region. It was settled before golems did the work of humans, and grew into one of the first cities in the entire Empire of Gold and Jade. It is built into along the steepest slope in the region so that the hands that built it would never forget the feet that supported them.

Everywhere in The Ascent is a fetish for staircase, and every structure in it is only one story tall. There are no houses as there are on farms or in modern cities; instead, every baked clay abode is covered by another overlapping set of stairs, going diagonal, or winding amid each other, and every door is set beneath where someone treds. This way anyone can walk anywhere, and this way every head rests to sleep below where feet will run, and so everyone in the city knows they are not alone. It is a comfort and an obligation, reminding every citizen to rest no longer than they must and to return to service.

These tiers of houses run up to the mayoral residence, above which no one lives. Passages have been built throughout the intricate staircases to carry the noise of all the footfalls in the city up to the apex, and so they echo through the mayoral residence and the chambers of his staff, thus reminding them more than any who they must rise to serve. When policies are unfair, people climb The Ascent with heavier footfalls, or remove their shoes to beat against the mayor's door. At the worst times, the citizens have hurled loads of unwashed shoes at those windows. The shoemaker profits on every discontent.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Bathroom Monologue: Dear Skeletor

Dear Skeletor,

I am a big fan of yours. You work much harder than He-Man. He is lucky to have so many muscles and his friends are much smarter than yours.

You are much smarter than He-Man. One time you attacked Castle Grayskull during an eclipse where his powers went away and you almost won. Another time you built a really big robots with spikes that he almost couldn't beat. Sometimes you find mutant armies that seem pretty tough.

Have you ever thought about doing all those things at the same time? Since He-Man can barely beat your giant robot, if you send it when he has no powers, then he will be easier to beat. Even easier if you send mutant armies at the same time.

Please try this. I would like you to win.

John Wiswell (Age 7)

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Perfect Crime

I've been swimming to tinker with my health recently, striving to make across the little lake in our area. I was finishing my one and only lap of the day when I saw the three girls on their inflatable raft.

There was a tiny one, perhaps five years old, wearing a bright pink one-piece. There was also a slightly taller girl in a blue one-piece, and a significantly taller girl in a plaid bikini. Even with lake water in my eyes, they were instantly recognizable as Little Sister, Middle Sister and Big Sister. Big Sister was shoving Middle Sister's shoulders, teasing that she'd shove her overboard. Middle Sister struggled to remain undampened, while Little Sister huddled at the back of their raft, trying to keep it stable.

This was the scene of the perfect crime.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Happy Urban Legend 4: Alligators in the Sewer

There is a venerable urban legend of alligators living in the sewers of major metropolitan areas. It began as one baby gator stolen from the pet store by a capricious child, and once discovered by his parents, is flushed down the toilet. It grew up, spawned and proceeded to stalk the sewers for the rest of its days. Three things are patently untrue about this urban legend:

1)      Alligators aren't sold in most pet stores. It wasn't stolen from one.
2)      The child flushed it not because of parents, but because children as sadistic and evil monsters.
3)      It was actually a baby crocodile, but most people don't know the difference.

Some version of the gator/croc infestation is real in most cities where children have access to wildlife and toilets. However the average sewer croc is friendly to the point of being entrepreneurial, perpetually stalking the sewers in order to collect all the change people drop down grates, pipes and sinks. The reason there is not one, but many crocs in the average sewer is because the original croc made enough money to get his family across the border and into the neighborhood.

If you find yourself underground and cornered by something like an alligator or crocodile, offer it a dollar. If this does not dissuade it, offer to flush anything from the surface world it wants as soon as you get topside again. This usually does the trick. Be sure to follow through with the sewer croc's demands, though: the part about them coming up through the toilet for revenge is truer than is worth risking.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Lit Corner: Remembering Matheson By Reading *What Dreams May Come*

Having grown to admire Richard Matheson's work in recent years, I had to pull another of his books off the shelf during the outpouring over his death. I've already written about his substantial contributions to the Speculative Fiction canon, and today only want to discuss What Dreams May Come. It's an odd one to read as a farewell, being about a writer of novels and screen who dies and uneasily tours the afterlife. If the original audience felt he was writing about himself with all his sentimentality, abandoning much of his Horror roots, it reads even eerier this weekend.

I don't really remember the movie. Pretty sure this ain't in the book.
My copy contained an odd preface in which Matheson claimed only the characters were fictional. He'd studied so many near-death experiences, particularly those following suicide attempts, that he was convinced his vision of an afterlife was as accurate as it could get. Quite the claim from the guy who tried to make vampires plausible in I Am Legend. I largely tried to put it out of my mind as I consumed the book. It's a funky artist's statement to put in front of something otherwise so infinitely interpretable.

Whatever else I can say for What Dreams May Come, I never stopped wanting to read it. When I woke up Saturday morning, and my second thought was to read another chapter. That's an engagement very few books get, especially ones with so little plot. It's a simple novel, half a tour of a new-age Heaven ala Dante's Divine Comedy, and half a rescue mission into the incoherence of Hell.
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