Saturday, April 28, 2012

Bathroom Monologue: What To Do With Haunted Relics

Okay, if I had to scatter seven sacred relics to prevent some mastermind from collecting them and ruling the world, I wouldn’t stash them in seven really obvious huge dungeons. Firstly, those don’t exist. Secondly, it makes them very easy for him to find. After about the third dungeon this supervillain is bound to realize where the other four are.

1) The first one goes down the Mariana Trench. It’s the deepest hole in the known world, under so many atmospheres of water that it would kill anyone who tried to reach it. In fact, we’ve barely explored the place with robotics. A tiny crystal star would be darn near impossible to find in that abyss.

2) Drop one of them into the cement foundation of a Parliament building, preferably deep into it. You would thus have to demolish a government building and clear all the rubble just to look for it, and even then you probably wouldn’t have destroyed the foundations holding it. We also get free security, as a Parliament building should have a lot of that lying around.

3) To be a total jerk, I’ll stow one of them on the next space probe headed for the outer reaches of the universe. It’s cheap, but considering this explorer pod is headed further out into space than we’ll probably ever send humans, it will be really hard to retrieve.

4) In the middle of the arctic storm zones, where despite global warming there is a constant subzero blizzard with zero visibility. Preferably we’ll drill a hundred-foot hole in the ice and drop it down there, then cover it up. Within minutes you’ll have no idea where we drilled the hole in all the hundreds of miles of tempestuous storm.

5) In classic Lord of the Rings fashion, we’ll drop one into the mouth of an active volcano. True, the indestructible relic won’t combust like Sauron’s jewelry, but hopefully it will sink a miles under the surface of the earth, cradled in boiling lava. Most volcanoes don’t erupt like a geyser, but spit up and drool down the slopes. However this hot lava will be lighter and flow easier than the relic, so it will be more likely to sink while the lava rises. If the sucker ever erupts so badly that the relic is coughed up, it will be hidden in the cooling magma, and even we won’t know where it is.

6) Drop the sixth into the deepest stretch of the wide Yangtze in China, a river so horribly polluted that humans won’t enter it, and all the wildlife has either died out or mutated. We’ll weight this relic down in a tungsten container that will be too thick to fully corrode, and dig into the riverbed. Maybe we’ll even attached a self-propelling drill to the bottom so that it can dig a huge hole behind it. With a few days of current you won’t be able to see where it went down. That is, if you could see in the Yangtze.

7) One I’m just going to bury somewhere. It will be a chaotically chosen spot of no importance. Not a national park or a wonder of the world. I’m just going to bury out in the middle of nowhere.

In the mean time, let’s go build some huge dungeons as decoys. Perhaps one can have an exact replica of one of the relics to fool the bastard.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Bathroom Monologue: Reaching for the Moon Redux

Since it was time for dinner, the ogre went out hunting squirrels. Squirrels make annoying noises during everything other than while being eaten, so they are the food of choice for ogres.

He walked along until he came to a hill. A grey squirrel stood at the very top, perched on her hind legs, her front ones reaching into the air. There was nothing up on the hill to reach at.

The ogre would have just snatched up and eaten the pest, but she wasn’t making any annoying noises and was rather interesting to look at. He looked for a while before inquiring.

“What are you doing?”

The squirrel strained one more time, then fell onto her tail.

“I’m trying to get that delicious-looking thing,” she said. She pointed to the moon in the night sky.

“Idiot.” The ogre sounded especially condescending since he so rarely got to try it. “That’s the moon. A squirrel can’t reach it.”

“Can an ogre?” the squirrel asked.

The ogre didn’t know. He climbed to the top of the hill, shewed the squirrel aside and stretched out his arms. It didn’t work out. He righted his posture and tried again. He jumped and batted at it, but still couldn’t lay a finger on the moon.

“No luck?” chirped the squirrel.

The ogre scratched his chin. “It’s pretty high up there. Might be stuck.”

“What if I got on your shoulders?”

They tried that. Then they tried the squirrel standing on the ogre’s palm. She squeaked and flailed in futility. When her squeaks became suitably annoying, the ogre tried throwing her at the moon. She missed.

Trying to take his mind off the squirrel’s noises, the ogre took in the scenery. A little ways down the hill was a stately redwood tree, taller than any other in eyesight. The way ogres think, if it’s the biggest it can see, it must be the biggest in the world, and so the ogre wandered down the hill. The squirrel followed, yelping in protest.

The tree rustled in the wind. It asked, “What were you trying to do up there?”

“We’re trying to reach the moon!” chirped the squirrel.

“Oh, I’d like a piece of that,” responded the tree. “I photosynthesize all day, but sunlight gets stale. A little moonlight would go down smooth.”

The tree plucked up the ogre in its highest boughs. The ogre braced himself and extended an arm as high as possible. The squirrel scurried up both tree and ogre, and got to reaching.

“A little further!” demanded the squirrel.

“A little further?” suggested the ogre. He reached up higher, and the tree jostled, trying to help. The squirrel strained, the ogre strained, the tree groaned, and the bough broke. Down the ogre plummeted, striking the ground so hard he caused an earthtremor.

The ogre sat up just in time to see a boulder loosen from the top of the hill. It came rushing down the slope and collided with the tree, causing the squirrel to fall out from it.

After some discombobulation and profuse apologies, the squirrel climbed back onto the ogre. The boulder stared in disbelief and asked what anyone would.

“What’s going on with you two? Shouldn’t you be eating that noisy thing?”

“We’re trying to reach the moon!” chirped the squirrel.

“Oh? I’ve always admired her rounditude. I’d love to meet her.”

The ogre was having no nonsense. “We’re going to eat her.”

“Oh,” said the boulder. “Well could I have a couple of minutes with her first?”

The boulder joined their endeavor. The tree picked up the boulder, and the ogre stood on the boulder. The squirrel scurried up all of them and reached into the sky. Yet even with all that, they could not reach the moon.

They did, however, catch the attention of the local observatory. Closing up following a recent earthtremor, the resident astronomer came down and asked what the four were up to.

“We’re trying to reach the moon!” chirped the squirrel.

“The sky doesn’t actually work that way,” began the astronomer.

The ogre growled. “Don’t take this away from us. I’ll eat you.”

So the astronomer sat on the ogre’s shoulders and they resumed their tower of comradery. The squirrel climbed on top of the astronomer’s head and strained with her entire body. They were so close that the ogre drooled and sap trickled out of the tree.

Even on top of the astronomer’s bushy hair, the squirrel could not reach the moon. Yet she could see more clearly. To her surprise, it saw a rabbit in the moon. And a man. The rabbit stood on the man’s head, who in turn stood on a meteor. They were reaching for the squirrel.

The squirrel raised one paw and waved slowly to the rabbit. The rabbit strained, reaching harder. It licked its snout. The man in the moon salivated.

The squirrel made an annoying noise. “I don’t think I can reach it, guys.”

“Oh, come on!” yelled the ogre. “Get it or I’ll eat you.”

“I told you space didn’t work that way,” reminded the astronomer.

They went their separate ways seconds later. Well, they toppled straight down, but then went their separate ways. The squirrel darted into one of the tree’s knots, only escaping because the ogre’s mouth was full of astronomer. While inside the tree she collected some bark and leaves as a disguise, to hide first from the ogre, and then from the sky.

She was seen scurrying out the next day, though. The boulder saw her, foliage strapped to her head and tail, camouflaging herself against the sky. The squirrel sat on a rocky shore, trying to talk a minnow into helping her reach the bottom of the ocean.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Bathroom Monologue: Bedside Anthropology Redux

We can deduce a lot about this culture from its bedding. Note that the Single Mattress, presumably intended for one person, is 39 inches wide. The Double Mattress, which must have been intended for two people, is 54 inches, which suggests and twins and most married couples must have been grossly malnourished to enable both people to fit on it overnight. And yet the Queen Mattress is 60 inches, suggesting female monarchs must have been morbidly obese, requiring more sleeping space than an entire married couple. Considering the humans evolved on the same planet as bees and bees have enormous queens, it is possible they had a similar gorging impulse as the insects. One would expect male tyrants to exhibit similar gluttony, but the King Mattress is only 76 inches – suggesting that a married king would only have 16 inches of sleeping width to himself if he were to ever sleep with his wife, and considering the importance of queens in the reproductive habits of other species, he must have done so frequently. What a terrible and tiny existence kings must have led after dark, and at the dining table.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Don't Write Fantasy

Recently there have been many debates about historical accuracy in Fantasy. Debates range between how progressive a character’s politics can plausibly get to whether your agrarian folks could bale hay. Beneath it all is the belief that when you adopt too much from one culture, readers will judge the internal believability of your story based on how it matches their perceptions of that real culture. When it comes to taking a real culture and only tweaking a few things, I have simple advice:


Put more elaborately: please, for the love of God, don’t write another redundant piece of pseudo-history, especially not another sword-and-sorcery monomyth in an imagined England.

This is deviant advice and makes us stray from the debates. If you truly love some strands of history such that they determine your fiction, then me saying not to follow them doesn’t matter. You’ll do it anyway, and you should, and I’ll just pray you reflect critically enough to make the work fresh.

But if you’re not fascinated with it, if castles and rolling hills are simply all you’ve seen lately, if you’ve watched the Lord of the Rings flicks and want to make your own – then don’t write another Medieval Fantasy. Fantasy ought to be a non-denominational cathedral to the imagination, where any idea, no matter how impossible in reality, can flourish and enliven us. It’s not about new sub-genres, but about use of your pages. China Mieville ought to be one colorful brick in a mosaic of new materials. Yet in conversations about the New Weird and prospects of Fantasy, he’s often treated as the only brick.

Mieville’s breakout Perdido Street Station isn’t insanely original. It’s some H.P. Lovecraft, and some Industrial Era elbow-grease, a dash of String Theory, and a Steampunk gun. There’s some Pacific folklore populating some Gothic sensibilities, and some Star Trek multiculturalism grown up enough to have a liquor license. You can identify most of the moving parts, but it feels revelatory because the parts are different from what most writers are using and their creator is madly in love with them. He’s not following a convention too far, and he certainly doesn’t have to answer to an insipid authority about whether so-and-sos were treated this way in such-and-such similar culture, because he wrote something that belonged to him, not to a text book. It is fiction rich enough that it answers to itself.

You don’t have to be the next China Mieville or a practitioner of the New Weird. But look, you don’t need Yee Old Dialogue to write about dragons. We’ve got Urban Fantasy that puts elves barbecuing in the backyard and witches necking on the subway. John Scalzi just got nominated for a Hugo basically for making fun of people for adhering too much to old writing tropes; the community knows a lot of this tired stuff. (Update: Scalzi has since won the Hugo for this novel)

When it comes to crafting Secondary World Fiction, there is only one reason that it should resemble a notion of Medieval Europe, or the U.S. Revolution, or the Arab Spring: because it’ll allow you to write interesting things. There is far too much stuffy, boring Epic Fantasy that suffers because its authors are living up to Dungeons & Dragons. And Hell, we already have official Dungeons & Dragons novels. We’ve got World of Warcraft novels. Is that really what you want to write? There isn’t anything you’d change if you were in charge? Because you are in charge.

What do you love? If you love the Dark Ages, I somehow doubt it’s because you love oppressing women. Thusly, that doesn’t have to be a linchpin of your culture, though you should explore it if it interests you.

Before what buttons you think you can push, though, you need to identify what moves you. If it turns out you only like horseback riding and foofy dresses, and everything else from period pieces seems wimpy compared to androids, well then you can write about android dress-designers and horseback-riders. Why not create a scenario entirely out of the stuff you like instead of just partially? Fantasy is quite vast. A lot can fit in it.

An immortal god that craves nothing but suicide as he watches his pet civilization of ant-people crumble. He just doesn’t have the strength to help another one start. He begins pursuing his own meta-religion in search of guidance in his eternal failure.

Or, a prissy bridge-club of gryphons must wheel and deal to keep low-class naga from overrunning their borough. It’s a comedy of errors when one of their daughters falls in love with one of the flightless paupers.

Or, a war-tragedy anthropomorphizing blood cells fighting vainly to stave off a vampiric infection. We know doomsday is coming, but damn it, they will not slip quietly into that dark night. They will fight them in the knee cap, and they will fight them in the brain stem, and in a huge twist, they will fight them in the tail when it turns out they’re actually in a dog.

What is it that gets to you? Why doesn’t that stuff make up the entire world you’re writing? Because werewolves are hot on the market this year? If so, I’m sorry to report that by the time you finish your book you’ll probably be screwed.

Secondary World Fantasy means you can construct a world that contains anything, including foofy-dress-wearing androids that always win the equestrian event at the Olympics. If you love princesses and castles, then great. If you don’t love it then you are squandering both your time and mine. Your time on this planet and your time at the keyboard, and my time when I go to read it.

If you want, play with periods in history. Remix the real world and made-up ones. Make sure their systems can bear weight internally, not externally, and most of all, make it distinct and worthwhile. There are very few worthwhile books that came out of soulless copying.

In our self-pub dominated world there’s a good chance that you’ll fail no matter what you do, but surveying those who succeeded, you’re very unlikely to join them if you don’t love it. It’s not worth being intimidated by realism if it costs you experimentation.

Fantasy ought to be enormous. Whatever you make it, yours can fit. Make it.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Teaser Tuesday: The Year's Top Ten Tales of Science Fiction

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly blog hop hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. My book for this week is The Year's Top Ten Tales of Science Fiction, from 2009. You can guess how long it's been waiting on my shelf for me to read it.
The collection was edited by Allan Kaster, and this two-sentence excerpt comes from James Alan Gardner's "The Ray-Gun: A Love Story."

"In his mind's eye he imagined the incident again, only this time he casually somersaulted to safety rather than stumbling into a tree. That's how you're supposed to cheat death if you're carrying a ray-gun:
with cool heroic flair."

Gardner's short is just great, a logical progression from the Spider-Man influences it implicitly and explicitly drops. The anthology contains a lot of award-winning work, but the quality of the humor and humanity is a great start. I'm looking forward to meeting Gardner at EerieCon this weekend.

Everyone is welcome to Teaser Tuesday. The rules are as simple as:
• Grab your current book
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• Avoid spoilers! Don't give too much away or you'll ruin it for the very people you're suggesting it to.
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers

Monday, April 23, 2012

Bathroom Monologue: A Trail of Space Smut

They left the front door ajar. In the gap you can see one red stiletto-heeled shoe sitting on its side.

Two stumbling steps inward and you'll see another red stiletto-heeled shoe. There's also a press-on fingernail, with red polish, on the first stair. Looks like that came loose fumbling for the handrail.

Between the front door and the stairs: a slime trail. Translucent, green, two feet wide. It stretches up for four steps, where an imitation fox coat is strewn.

It's a tail of the trail. Three steps up, there's a pocket book.

Then an exoskeleton scalp-plate.

A pair of torn fishnet stockings.

A chrome breathing apparatus oxidizing in our atmosphere.

The crown jewel, on the very last step: the torn wrapper from an "ultra-thin" condom. The slime trail grows thickest there, leading away and consuming two halves of a discarded bra, several superfluous dermal spines, and a lipstick stain. The trail ends at the bedroom door.

You don't want to see what they left in there.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Fixing the Versatile Writer Award

Last week Steven Green gave me the Versatile Blogger/Writer award, and Richard Bon re-upped it with a shout-out. This marks at least the sixth time someone has been kind enough to think of me in their listing: I’ve previously received it from Marianne Su, Larry Kollar, Stacey Turner, Mari Juniper (who is apparently alive?) and Helen Howell.

It's been interesting to receive this award so many times. I mean, it's flattering. It's damned flattering, and thank you, it's staving off suicide, but it's interesting because over time the Award-game has lost all its game-properties. Now you just pass it on.

Well I'm not just passing it on, my friends. If winners can remove rules, then this winner is adding some. In honor of my sixth receipt, I’ll pass this on to six sundry bloggers, but they must answer six sundry questions.

1. What's the last sentence (from any of your work) that made you feel pride in writing?

2. What’s the last work of fiction that left you envying the creator? In what way did you envy he/she/it/them?

3. In your entire life, what have you most catastrophically failed at cooking or baking?

4. What field of science most frequently inspires you?

5. What task most recently frightened, grossed you out or otherwise intimidated you, such that you got someone else to do it?

6. Who is your favorite dead author? Or, if there is no single such person, name six of your beloved dead authors (in no necessary order).

As for the six writers I’d like to label Versatile this morning, in no necessary order:

If my six sundry targets answer the questions, then I guess I’ll have to as well. Since I have a writing convention next week, it’d be a great way to return home, and something fun to do on the train back. I’m only sure about #3.
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