Saturday, March 23, 2013

Challenge: How Many Books Can You Hold?

Mark Lawrence recently posted a challenge: how many Speculative Fiction books can you hold up, covers facing forward and visible?

It took me a day to get someone to photograph me, as there was no way I'd pull this off on my own. Our top score was 13:

Jim Butcher might as well have sponsored this, since I was holding Storm Front, Summer Knight, Grave Peril, Death Masks and Fool Moon, none of which I've actually gotten to read yet. I guess I owe him now. In addition are old and worn copies of Michael Crichton's Sphere and Jurassic Park, Dante's Inferno, H.G. Wells's Time Machine, and Stephen King's Needful Things and The Waste Lands. Down in my hands are the equally lovely Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis and From Dark Places by Emma Newman.

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Only Thing Worse is the Cure, Part 6 of 7

This is Part 6 in a weekly serial. You can begin at Part 1 here.

It strikes as though I’ve always lived as hearsay. Overheard, admired without substance, dreaded without context, all things that delivered me safely to that fetid cemetery. I disembarked from our island with fifteen heralds, all of us in identical hoods. At the shore, we split into eight. At the second fork in the road, we split into four. Any group could have held the king of lepers. After two villages, only Helen was with me, her clinging to my cape, and those mariners far too confused to follow the correct band.

In my haste to meet my author, I brought nothing save money. Helen carried with her the fruits of her garden, and a pillow. I ought to have asked her why she carried that. I wish I could ask her now.

Helen departed me at the third village. Every one of them was damned, tainted, stinking of human rot, even though every denizen looked upon me with clear eyes. She sobbed that their clarity would not last, that those villages we had passed were already lapsed to such doom, and that the plague would swallow these souls without her help. She lingered to feed them with the fruits of her garden. She had a force of will about her.

All I ever asked of them was to find me a book, yet my heralds discovered the author instead of his work. Locals still spoke of the lynching, boasting that slaying a witch had saved them from the plague that swallowed so much of the mainland. For their rumors, I was happy to repay them with malignities. Their private waters streamed into the gutters as I mounted the outskirts of their cemetery.

Cemeteries have always been of unparalleled comfort to me. There sleep no leeches. No one to take healing from my person. Only Cecil ever appreciated the exhaustion of carrying so many ills. I prayed over the grave for a night, until I was certain this was the particular Arab. He and his family were murdered by Spaniards and heaped into a single casket. By my miracles or his, the bones of his fingers were prying at the lid of the casket. I comforted myself briefly that it was not I who raised him from death, for the woman and three children beneath him appeared as still as the day they were planted. I apologized to their memories as I rummaged through their person in hope of finding a book about myself. They lacked even a scrap of paper.

Such a somber march I made, misstepping and returning for Helen’s village, hoping for her solace, for her to define what I was. My self-pity deserved to die. Locals had torn her apart and eaten her flesh, having exhausted her fruits of their miracles. Even her heart failed to cure them, and the cannibalism attracted crusaders. They set such a blaze to burn me with the sin. I abided in the last house, breathing what air I could through Helen’s bloody pillow, until the crusaders became so ensickened that their private waters ran out through their eyes. Unseen, I flew for home. And that was the worst of my decisions.

What is a field without rain? What is a lantern without pilot? What is a rumor with no…

They lay in the dirt, and their filth, and their beds, and some drifted in the tides. Decades of diseases finding opportunity at once. Cecil sat in his rocking chair, though it rocked no longer. Lydia, Ruth, Old Gregor, Geraldine, Saul… A hundred martyrs for a failed son. Oh, Cecil. How I fought to make your chair move again.

Of them all, Mallory was alive. He danced on the docks and raved about demons waging war on nests of angels in his palm, until my boat moored nearby, and his pitch remained equally fervid, words merely running canny, now arguing what a good thing my departure was for my sundry works to come. Both mad and unmad, he ignored the dock workers who had perished all around him in favor of chanting that I ought not to have returned, and fell upon me with a knife to compel me away.

I dragged Mallory into the tide myself. His hands clutched at my wrists like the Arab’s fingers at the lid of his casket. I cannot raise the dead, but I can lower them.

There were fifteen fat vessels loitering as I labored, voyeurs armed with spyglasses. They fired cannons at my feet, dashing the tides, as though I could be crippled. Mallory became as smoke between my fingers. They’re coming with their muskets and clerics and cleansing blazes. Already the island reeks of incense. I’m a story coming to an end. Soon I’ll lapse into hearsay again.

Am I only the result of a thing a man once wrote? Is all this?

And what gave him the right? What gives any? Who is any more than the result of something two people once did?

Tonight I’ll eat from the garden that an enormously wise girl once believed healed all ills, and sit beside the rocking chair of the kindest man I’ve ever had the privilege to know. The supper may cause my people to rise. My presence may cause them to rise. Or, I may be a failure.

Regardless, the ships will come in the morning, and I will not be felled. I will meet them. I will cure them of their blight.

This serial concludes next week,
on Friday, March 29th,

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Bathroom Monologue: Do Not Call

"It's getting late..."

"Yeah. Want to grab dinner?"

"Actually, I'm pretty tired."

"Coffee? Starbucks is on me."

"I'll see you in class Monday."

"Okay. I'll call you later."

"I didn't give you my number, so if you call, I'll know you're a creep."

"...Damn. Check mate."

"What was that?"

"Have a good weekend! See you in class!"

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Bathroom Monologue: Eulogical

Ali was a great man, and everyone here will miss him. He was one of my closest friends. I met him in college, where he was screaming at the Dean of Studies. I was waiting next in line, to get her to sign something. I think he was fighting either about Affirmative Action or letting the Kung Fu Movie Club back into the campus theatre. As soon as Ali stormed out, I ran in and got her to sign the form, and then hustled after him. I bought him dinner at the crappy campus cafĂ©, just to talk to him and learn how you could have balls of that size. By the end of our nachos, he was screaming at the bar tender for his taste in music. It’s not a big surprise that a heart attack killed him.

So next week, I imagine, Ali will cure heart attacks. It will likely be the first medical innovation based on offensive medicine. Attacking hearts, probably. That’ll be why no one thought of it before.

By the end of the year, he’ll have used his fame to found the world’s largest television network devoted to martial arts movies. It will spur a renaissance in the genre, and he will probably star in one where he fights social injustice with compassion and Capoeira.

Having both won the Nobel Prize for curing heart attacks and won the hearts of the world with his digitally enhanced fists, Ali will ride superstardom to political office. There, he will do what he told us all he’d do for the last twenty years: get those Washington assholes to listen to reason. I’ve had hundreds of political discussions with Ali and I’m still not entirely sure what that means, but I know that as soon as he gets into a room with those Senators that he hated, he will fix the entire system overnight.

His newfound axis of social policy will change the world we live in. He will revitalize our space program. He will, I think, make both Israel and Iran extremely unhappy, and pride himself on it. Surely in Year One of Ali’s reign, he will force Axl Rose to stop ruining Guns ‘N Roses. Given how many impossible problems Ali believed could be solved by people ceasing to be stupid, I imagine he’ll have fixed the world before the midterm elections. We’ll all be so grateful that he’s still with us.

That’s what I’m going to imagine Ali’s future is like tonight. I invite you to join me in a well-earned delusion for a dear friend. It’s not fair that he’s gone, and I think the least we can do is lie about what could have been for a while. Let Ali have his way tonight.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Bathroom Monologue: God of ____, Redux

Ares was the god of war, Aphrodite was the goddess of love, but Apollo was the asshole god who wanted to take seventeen majors in college. Apollo was a very presumptuous god. He was a sun god, even though Helios already did the sun and Zeus did the sky. He was a medicine god, but also a bringer of plagues. He was both a war and sports god, making him a professional and hobbyist ass-kicker. He was the patron deity of shepherds and colonists, making him both God of Protecting Your Stuff and God of Taking Your Stuff. His oracles at Delphi were the most reliable and salient, making him a knowledge god, and from there he became more powerful than the muses at inspiring music and poetry, making him an arts god. And we can't forget that he was randy, though that was more a "god" thing than an "god of" thing. The gods were fucking nuts. And by "fucking nuts" I don't mean "crazy;" I mean if they found a cashew arousing, they'd turn into an ox and find a way to penetrate it.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Happy Birthday Danni! John narrates Pride & Prejudice

Happy birthday to Danielle La Paglia! For her birthday, Danni asked me to record the classic opening chapter of Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice. It turns out that I am absolutely awful at this, but if you'd like to hear me be awful at it, you can listen below.

If you listen very carefully, you might hear me arguing with someone about how to pronounce one of the words.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Bathroom Monologue: Give Me Your Daughter

Everyone in the camp knows at this point. This thing, this monster is going keep attacking us every night, killing a new victim until we give it my daughter. I thought you’d get it last night, but this morning there’s a new widow, and I hear people murmuring that he died instead of my girl. That’s not an exchange a father ever wants to hear murmured under breaths while he’s taking a piss. Now I hear you might consider giving Cornelia over.

Understand that you’re not giving that thing my daughter. Give it me instead.

It goes for stragglers. People too near the perimeter, or who don’t think there’s safety in the group. It’s never killed a group, has it? So tonight you build fires, and you set traps, and you sharpen all the fucking pointy sticks you can make. And you get everyone into a single group. You scare them with stories about what’s been happening – what happened to that pardoner who thought he could do better alone last night. You tell them his bloody tale so they get theirs into camp.

And an hour after dusk, when no one’s left the campfire, and everyone’s armed, I’ll start an argument with you. I’ll shove you, and you’ll hit me, and I’ll storm off towards the conifers. I’ll piss on them, and complain to myself, and pray like I’ve been doing, none of it too far from you. I’ll be the only easy prey the monster sees. It’ll have to kill me eventually to make good on its threat.

You wait until it’s eating me. Until I’m screaming in pain. Then you bring everyone down on that thing and you kill it, cut off its head, tear out its lungs, so that it never bothers anyone again.

Then you don’t have to worry about it killing us in the night anymore. Then you just got to worry about raising my little girl.
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