Friday, December 30, 2011


Once the blackout came, we rarely got more than two hours of electricity at night, I climbed the forty steps to Chilzina's niche, stopping after a few steps, unable to help myself, listening to the echoes of my bare feet padding against hewn stone. The filters hid the white noise of the wind, but I'd be stupid if I filtered out the sounds I made. In the darkness above me while thick clouds hid my approach from their sight, two of Yasir's goons ran fingers over the triggers of their AK-47s, the rifle's shape obvious in the hole left where the wind wasn't.

I sometimes found it difficult to remember others didn't hear like I did now. I'd never known what normal hearing was like, having been born deaf until I'd saved that Army transport and the soldiers had insisted on sponsoring me at one of the NGO hospitals. Now, everyone seemed deaf in comparison.

An advantage I intended to use.

The goons wore night vision goggles, but if you know what to look for, you also know how to move in the holes where they're not looking to slip behind them. I wasn't large even for a ten year old. If you've got surprise, large isn't necessary.

I rolled into the backs of their calves, knocking both of them down. Fingers clicked as they pulled the triggers, but the safeties kept the motion from moving, the gun from firing. The scuffling was painful and momentarily blinded me, but I managed to pull their goggles from their heads before they scrambled to their feet, their guns lying in dark crevices against the wall.

Both of them were over six foot, their arms waving, searching for me in the niche. I ducked under one and punched his stomach and he fell down the forty steps. He rolled to a stop and I listened to see if he'd move, but there were no sounds. One goon left. Of course, Yasir was here as well, otherwise there would be no point to the guards, but he'd be sleeping, trusting his guards.

"What's all this noise." A flashlight pierced the darkness.

I was an idiot. Yasir hadn't been asleep. Without the element of surprise, I didn't stand a chance against even one goon.

He tackled me, his forearm slamming into my ribs and my head cracked against the stone floor. The world oozed around me, pinpricks of false light dancing in the ceiling. Ropes were pulled tight around my wrists, cutting off the circulation.

Yasir leaned down to look in my eyes. "Who are you?" His expression seemed to imply he didn't understand why I was here.

"Sasan's son."


"He ran a coffee house in old town."

Yasir's eyes were empty.

I refused to believe he didn't know the name of my father. He had to know him. It was his men who'd broken father's legs when he'd refused to pay protection money. The goon stood. I stared into Yasir's flashlight as if blinded from the light and then without looking, without telescoping what I planned, I turned and bit the man's shin. I tried to roll towards the stairs, but the flashlight caught my temple and the room blacked out.

When I awoke, the ropes have been replaced with chains. Yasir spoke with some colleagues in a room far enough away, that I was sure they thought I couldn't overhear them, but I heard the plans. They planned to bomb the regional governor. They ran more than a simple racket.

Outside, it had grown light. Helicopters flew over the city. Their radios crackled, my implant caught their signals, the black-market electronics cracked their codes and I listened. They searched for me. I hadn't told anyone I'd do this. Regardless, they couldn't see into Chilzina's niche. They wouldn't find me.

It was hard to scramble to my feet, my hands chained behind me, and links locking my legs together. I shuffled away from Yasir's posse and leaned against the door. I heard the negative space where a single guard stood watch. I waited until the helicopter neared and timed my shamble so that I escaped the niche as the helicopter flew over. I stared into its windows, and the pilot saw me. He recognized me as Yasir's man grabbed my shoulder to pull me back into the niche. A handgun fired and blood splashed my cheek. I was relieved to be pulled into the helicopter.

Yasir might've forgotten my father, but he would not forget Forood. I would return.

Saturday, December 24, 2011


This is Loren's third year of Advent Ghosts. My entry is below. You can find the others here.

Näcken, (c) 1882 Ernst Josephson

Too old to believe in Santa, too old to fear forest shadows, too old to sleep when fiddle music scraped against frost-limned windows, an ancient melody whispering of the thrust of men with women, Tjuven stumbled off-path. He didn't need moonlight; the music was enough.

He hadn't expected the creature, a violin beneath its chin, reclining in the brook. Hungry eyes made his loins warm, uncomfortable.

Cold wind blew against his face, wet with tree-scraped blood that dripped thrice. The creature shivered, waited, but Tjuven was too old to believe in Näcks and too young for baptism to protect him.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Great Santa Migrations

Long before humanity evolved to our present grandeur, long before the continents took their present shapes, long before the reindeer forgot how to fly, Santas teemed upon the icecaps, every spring migrating north, every fall migrating south. Their sleighs chased the sun so these Santas never knew darkness.

One year, a plague afflicted the Santas' camp. Phlegm spewed from tents like green lava, slowing until it froze.

One boy prayed to the goat-god for savior from this mortal disease. The incubus cursed him with eternity.

Every Christmas, the sole remaining Santa migrates to every human household to ease his loneliness.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Rave: Dancing in Siobhan Carroll's Night Gardens

If you've read my fiction, you know I write a lot of surreal worlds, and you'd be right if you guessed I liked fiction involving wondrous worlds. Siobhan Carroll's In the Gardens of the Night wrapped me around its fictitious thumb with the first line of the second paragraph. "She was trained by the famous wind dancers of the Blackleaf hills..." I'm a sucker for worlds where dance plays into the fantastic life. The wind dancer is more of an antagonist in this story than protagonist, but it sets the stage for intrigue.

This is a tale of a harem witch who is more of a stage magician using her eyes, ears, and quick fingers to maintain a power over the other concubines. In this story, she gropes for more power, power to save her daughter and power to change the way the world evolves.

The gorgeous aspect of this telling is the details woven into the court and the harem that differentiates this from Guy Gavrial Kay's harem and makes this one stand out for those details, and allows the witch to take center stage.

This story is available free in the online zine Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Check it out.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Name Day

Once, if I remember well, my life was a feast where all hearts opened and all wines flowed. -Arthur Rimbaud

He was part of my dream, of course, but then I was part of his dream, too! -Lewis Carroll

The midnight bell tolled, melting reality from Gottfrid's day into Astor's. All the little girls and boys were snuggled in their beds, all the little boys but Astor who stood on tiptoe, his hands balanced on the radiators that lost Gottfrid's penny-pinching cheap paint peeling stupor to swell into deep bass thrumming pipes coated with solid gold that lifted the boy high enough to see the inner courtyard through his now clear windows where his feast would grow.

"You should be sleeping." The red queen stared down her long nose.

Astor's hand twitched against the radiator pipes, the tapping boomed through dreamland's boarding school and its three-hundred-and-sixty-five dorm rooms. It was easy to learn fear the other three-hundred-and-sixty-four days of the year, but not today. Today, the red queen held no power. Unless Astor granted that power to her. "It is my day, begone."

Leaving only the hallucination of her perfume, the red queen disappeared.

He contrived clothes to befit his name-day: ermine-edged cloak, gold and purple threaded vest, and a twined crown made of platinum threads. No one would forget whose magnanimity provided them with the day's feast. His stomach grumbled. No sense in his delaying, he would never find his fill nor bemoan too much.

Tables were bedecked with the lushness of the forest -- deer steaks and sausages, royal trumpet mushrooms, chipmunk and pheasant -- the saltiness of the sea -- monkfish with a beurre blanc sauce, prawns and lobsters -- and the sweetness of the briars -- strawberries, raspberries, and the tang of chocolate. The tables stretched as far as Astor could see, long narrow tables, the white tablecloths falling to the floor. A veritable maze.

"I've always liked your name day." A smear of chocolate begrimed Malena's cheek.

Astor started. It was his dreamworld. He shouldn't have to deal with people surprising him. He stared at his feet while counting to ten, not wanting to waste a single moment of his day on anger or harsh words. "You scared the bejabbers out of me. What are you doing here? The red queen hates when we're up before dawn begets the sun."

Pain beclouded Malena's eyes. "Many things the red queen hates." She chewed her bottom lip.

Whatever befouled her thoughts was better left unsaid for it was the red king's dream as well as Astor's. He found a ladyfinger, drizzled with espresso and thyme honey. He held it out for her and let her suck the sweetness. He decided he liked the smile that lit her eyes and beguiled his soul. Together they skipped through the maze, tasting of the delights laid before them.

The other little boys and little girls joined them, laughter breaking the dawn. The silver platters refilled themselves, the meats dripping warm juices, the breads steaming, and the whipped cream on the dessert's firm and cool. That evening, the tables moved away from their maze form to create a dining hall where everyone sat and the little boys and girls toasted Astor's dream.

He stayed up till midnight, Malena's hand in his, perched on the edge of his radiator to watch his reality melt into Inge's forests, spider silk draped like Spanish moss on the branches while the creak of spindly, misshaped creatures carried to his window.

It had been a good name day. He hoped it would carry him through the year.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Fiction Rave: Tim Pratt's Smiling Void

I enjoy Tim Pratt's short fiction and "A Void Wrapped in a Smile" met my expectations. What I like about his stories are the way he mixes fresh ideas. Here he tells Joshua's story, a story of an unpopular boy who one day find himself so popular that people are willing to do anything for him. Of course, his newfound powers don't work on his family and that causes him some initial problems that result in his sister's death.

The story isn't only about his family, but more the limitations of absolute power. There is a shorter story in him learning the power he has and his interactions with his sister, but in the long run, there's a deeper story where he discovers he needs to let her free. This later story sets the stage for the final showdown necessary for his sister.

The story is set in Tim Pratt's Marla Mason universe. I haven't read any of the stories in this universe, until this short story, and this story has whet my appetite. I was impressed with the way Tim Pratt managed to handle the world in this story and the brief guest appearance of Marla. As a youngster when I read The Never-Ending Story, I remembered the frequent spurs of stories that would twist off into the ether before Michael Ende would warn you that it was another story and not the main one. This is one of those spurs worth reading.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Live Tomorrow

"You've become quiet, my cockatoo."

Anna pulled Selig from his chair, brushed her lips against the heat of his neck, her hands wrapped underneath his flannel shirt, shielding him. But more she protected the life they had today. The fire in his eyes warmed the room and burned into Anna. She had gotten used to the fire whisperers, the blood in them different, and for a moment, when their attention was on you, the way her own blood simmered in response.

A bucket clattered in the yard. Selig retreated, pushed a curl behind his ear. He banked his passions, so easily changeable like an inferno. "Bessie needs milking."

Anna remembered a time not so long ago when Selig made the goat wait. She grabbed Selig's plate of eggs and slid it into the sink, angry at herself. She wanted to live for today. She wanted to retain what she and Selig had, but instead she seemed to slip into trying to live yesterday. The forest fire can't burn the same land over and over. There must be rest between and a chance for fuel to regrow.

Every morning when Selig left her, she opened the wooden box with the letter from Selig's brother. She knew the words written on the parchment. War in the poinsettia fields. Frost giants. They needed Selig. She needed him too. She wasn't naïve, she understood that once Selig left her, there would be no tomorrows to live. Soldiers did not return from the war. It wasn't fair to leave her with ashes.

Her thumbs rubbed the well-worn paper. Selig was right. She had become quiet. She'd had this secret. Not a healthy fire like what burned within Selig, but a lie to engulf her life. She could not keep yesterday. She unfolded the paper and waited.

"Are you sick?"

She would look sick to him. Lethargic. Not having completed any of the chores since he'd left, her forehead pressed against her hands.

His eyes fell to the piece of paper and she handed it to him. It smoldered in his hands. "How long?"

"Two moons."

"I must go."

"I know."

That night, they lived for today. She hoped the fire he kindled in her loins might take.

Monday, December 5, 2011

On Raving

I listened to an interview with Lynn O'Dell on the Dead Robots' Society podcast. Lynn runs the website Red Adept Reviews and commented on her theories around reviewing. One of the points she made was that reviews need to ensure they're not pulling any punches. Effectively, if all the reviews are good from a reviewer, one should suspect those reviews.

I found her comment interesting because I both agree and disagree with her sentiment.

I've been to car dealerships who give me a survey and then tell me I must mark everything as the top grade or this will result in poor performance reviews for either the dealership or those involved in the service. I find these demands ridiculous, and a part of me, that mischievous part, wants to give someone all lowest marks for effectively taking something that was intended to be useful, a survey, and turning it into something that isn't. There should be a difference between my getting an oil change, one that I'm perfectly happy with and one where while they perform the oil change, they realize the engine's running rich and they make a minor tweak, throwing it in for free. The latter deserves top marks, the other one, good service nevertheless, does not.

However, I see no reason for me, someone who's not intending to be a professional critic, to spend time on short stories I didn't like. Instead, I'm going to focus on those I did like and I'm going to try to describe why I liked those stories. The latter is what I think is important. If my description entices, check them out. If it doesn't, well I'll post another rave another week.

(*) Note, I'm pretty sure Lynn O'Dell did not intend to apply her comments on reviewing books to my raves; but it triggered me thinking about it and I wanted to capture my thoughts and would be interested in your comments on this subject as well.

(**) I know there's been a scarcity of raves lately, but never fear, while I've been traveling, I've collected a couple of my favorites for the next couple weeks.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Ladder Marriage

London balanced on his feet. Marla managed to keep her back to him while she packed her bag. She applied crisp folds to her two all-purpose blouses, darts and inserts that could be warped so the top fit either casual or business needs, currently in a neutral brown waiting for her to dial the color scheme to match her day's moods. A skirt and slacks to match the tops, and morphing shoes. The teeth of the bag's zipper snapped together with finality. She turned to go, continuing to avoid London's gaze.

London blocked her way. His throat thick, his hands flapping like old fish caught on rusty hooks at his sides. He wore his favorite Hawaiian shirt, not made of the nano-weaves that could reconfigure style and color because those made his skin itch and his eyes run.

"We're not compatible." Marla spat the words. Time seemed to slow down to London, he saw flecks fly through the air, their time together turned to poison, disappearing into the haze of the room. Outside light lit the curtains from the microwave beams from the solar panels and space, enough light to backlight Marla, make her look like an angel.

"Can try to make this thing whole."

"We've tried. Best make a clean break." Marla moved to pass him, but when he positioned himself so she'd have to brush against him, she dropped her bag instead. "London, you must see this."

"You and I have a life together. Twenty-four years." London remembered every one of their anniversaries and was the one who answered whenever an acquaintance asked how long they'd been together.

"The contract only called for twenty."

London had hated that clause and argued against it, but Marla had badgered him. Even back then he should've seen her need for all the newfangled detritus. "Only an option."

"Four years too long."

"But we won't live forever."

"Exactly the point." Marla's eyes met his for the first time. Her contacts smoldering, showing a fiery ring around her eyes, the AI in the lens picking up her emotions. "I'm the only one of my friends still with her first husband. Exceeding terms. Putting up with this... waste." She waved her hands at the natural fibers of London's shirts filling the closet. "Beyond time to move on."

"Once, life used to be so short. They dedicated their entire life to a single marriage. It wasn't that long ago and if it was good for them, why not us?"

The flames extinguished. London knew it wasn't because she'd changed her mind, but because the AI wouldn't push the illusion too far, couldn't override the tears that welled in the corner of Marla's eyes. "It's not you. It's me." Her hand caressed his cheek. She took a breath and exhaled before pushing him away from her, into the door, and walking into the light, leaving London with a vanishing halo.

Thursday, October 27, 2011


I will be away for the next couple of weeks while I travel around Australia (Sydney and Tasmania). I may try to write a novelette while I am down there (we'll see how ambitious I am after I've arrived), but I won't have any Friday Flash posted while I am away.

I'll leave you with a picture of my commute to the office when I was in Stockholm a few weeks back.

Have fun!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Skull Queen

Pirates liked the romance of the fog that filled their bone-ship's bridges, but Alicia McCammon hated the high humidity and it's source, the paradoxically warm bridge on her Skull Queen. Her hair wasn't the source of her dislike. She wore it in ginger dreadlocks, twisting snakes roving in a five-foot radius from her captain's chair in the low-gee environment. But, the beads of sweat that ran down her neck, the smell of human bodies cooped in a ship lacking showers, the salt staining the black bone grating that constantly found the most inconvenient body crevices, and all the myriad annoyances drove her crazy on the month-long flights to the Oort cloud. Too bad pirates like Mabotu kept their haunts on the free rein asteroids. Sometimes the boredom of a solar bounty got to Alicia. The long stellar journey making it difficult to remember the excitement of the hunt when the Skull Queen closed on her prey.

Solar wind flicked over the alien skull's surface and the telepathic link between Alicia and the Skull Queen left ghost echoes flickering over her braids. The solo-ship -- a baby's skull, one-of-a-kind as far as Alicia knew -- coughed and sputtered into real-space. Splinters. The Skull Queen floated in the path of Jupiter's orbit, a long way from her quarry.

«Ten gee pressure. Carapace crack. Fizz.»

"Hold it together." Alicia's words to the ship were more a matter of her sailing on a solo-ship and not fretting about anyone overhearing her conversations with the Skull Queen and she found it easier to vocalize the emotions she used to calm the remnants of the alien. Her ship.

The Skull Queen bucked, unseating Alicia from her seat to crash against the bone floors. Blood, warmer than the air, dripped from her chin. The ship continued to shake, tossing Alicia against the edges of the bone cavity like panties in some fangled clothes dryer. It'd been a long time since she'd had clean clothes. Since she'd been on a station, let alone planet-side.

«Breath gone. Suffocate. Cloud of gas. Poison. Burn heart. Hear enemies laugh.»

Fear whispered like a storm. Its arms outstretched, wispy tendrils, parts of it the fog that filled the bridge, some of it her own fragments of dreams, mixing with those of the Skull Queen. She'd brought in pirates, hangdog merchants who had run when their Ponzi schemes unraveled, and black arms traders, but never felt the wash of fear magnified by the ship. Even in its heat, her flesh bubbled with goosebumps. This wasn't human trouble, Alicia knew how to deal with that, but fear of the elements.

She counted her breaths. One. Two. Three. Smooth interstellar space with the pale glimmer of stars lying around them like a blanket that stretches everywhere. Home. In between the stars.

«No. Pain like fire. River of flames. Scalding.»

Joined. Alicia became one with the ship. Her soul subsumed, her body a mere organic presence within its ghost. Her consciousness swirled within a tempest. The ship's memories. A small thought, almost disregarded, wondered at this, something that had never been discussed before by any other captain.

The memories -- splinters how old these things be -- were vast. Like the vision of space itself she saw surrounding them, but this was different, personal. She flailed, seeking herself, trying not to lose herself in the mind of the Skull Queen. The memories of the ship, a glorious body that could fly through space, burned in an atmosphere. Burned, while something outside of it stared in, toyed with it.

Alicia screamed. Living soul stronger than the ghost memories. She pulled its concentration to the present. To the solar wind pouring over the bone ridges. To the intense burn sizzling the bone shell.

She should not burn in space, near absolute zero in a vacuum. But, the Skull Queen felt a burn. That was what woke it's memories.

The ship's senses operated even though it was only a ghost presence. And out there, Alicia found the source. A laser repeater for a light sail. Space debris. Why couldn't anyone disable that source.


The ship, coughing and burning, shook as it tried to evade the laser. Photon reflections pushing them through space even though the Skull Queen wasn't a solar sail.

«Impossible. Burn. Burn. Suffocate.»

"No. Stay with me. You can't suffocate. It's just light. Stay with me. Concentrate." Alicia's thoughts merged with the ship and as if walking she pulled the ship one slow step at a time outside of the quarter-kilometer diameter beam and fell to her chair sweating and exhausted.

She expected the ship's memories to fade, a byproduct of her fear. Hallucinations. But, the thoughts called out to her. Her life forked into two like chromosone pairs. Her short blink of human life and eons worth of alien life. Duties unfinished.

Friday, October 14, 2011


The shrine's nave had survived the fire if by survived one meant that the walls still stood even though soot stained them and blackness gaped where the outbuildings had collapsed and the statue of Jun, fire breather and the shrine's protector, wobbled in the breeze, flames extinguished. Along with the other congregants, Peifeng held a fistful of petals of the lily, petals to signify Jun's tears, and with his other hand he pulled his wife through the crowd. She had wanted to stay home. Or better, had wanted to flee to Three Swans Village where her brother's wife's family lived. Peifeng knew one could not flee these troubles. Once the flames had fired, they would burn in men's hearts. He placed his petals. The white of new beginnings laid over the ashes of what had been, laid over the hate of the foreigners.

Dark-skinned foreigners had climbed the water pipes and gas lines of the houses on the far side of the square to a position where they could leer at the crowds of Jun's congregants. One threw a stone into the crowd. The man who was hit cried out like the stray dogs on the edge of town, hungry and laced with pain.

"We should go." She pulled Peifeng away from the nave. "Crowd ugly."

"Men like them burned Jun's shrine. We must stay and show them we are not scared." Yet, although he thought his words captured the strength he wanted to show, he felt the crowd quivering just like he was inside, like plum leaves in late August, brittle, about to fall.

"The police failed to find evidence of arson."

"Liars. All of them."

"There is nothing left here. We must leave." She pulled her hand from his.

"I will not flee this town." Peifeng would not flee Jun, would face the foreigners if necessary.

"You must think of our child. Our future."

"There is no future in Three Swans Village."

"More future than here." She turned and squeezed through the crowd.

Peifeng spat into the space where she'd been. The crowd around them paid them little notice as he watched her runaway. He loved her, he loved the child, but he loved Jun too. What kind of love asked you to abandon a part of youself? "The flames will chase you even to Three Swans Village!"

The crowd's shouts accompanied a loud screeching that came from beyond his wife, but Peifeng couldn't see the source. He knew something was happening by the way the foreigners stopped their chants from the far side of the square.

An SUV painted the color of scummy water careened through the crowd, plowing through people, its windshield splashed with blood, a lily petal stuck to the gore. Unable to move, Peifeng watched. It collided with his wife. She flew forward from the collision, landing against the ground as the SUV hit her a second time and then careening onwards to crash into the nave's wall.

Peifeng ran to his wife. Her blood coated the side of her head. He collapsed to the brick paving and placed her head on his thighs. Her breath rasped and he leaned forward, but could not make out her words.

"I'm sorry."

Her soul left her eyes to leave her vacant, empty. In the process, heat and something more than heat filled him, his face flushing, scalp sweating, lungs tingling. Jun's power entered him.

Three teenaged boys, their faces dark with foreigner blood, stared out from the SUV. The crowd moved towards the vehicle. The SUV hiccuped, but the wheels spun unable to get traction, the body teetering on the edge of the wall's rubble.

Peifeng coughed into the air, breathing fire. The crowd backed away. He breathed in deep. His lungs cooled for a second before igniting the fresh fuel in the air and he breathed out, over the SUV and it exploded in a fireball, knocking him to the ground, peppering him with debris.

Jun's statue breathed, its fire reigniting.

Scene seed from a news article in 8sidor regarding Christians who protested around their church that had been burned down and a car driven into the crowd fast enough to kill more than a dozen people.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Fiction Rave: Michael Swanwick and Sweden

I've been traveling in Sweden for the past three weeks, which is one of the reasons I have posted less frequently. I took my kindle with me as well as a bunch of short fiction. It was a particular treat to read Michael Swanwick's The Dala Horse while I was in Sweden because it's set there, and there are some subtle things in the story that are particularly Swedish and fun to pick out kind of like showing up at a football match and discovering a Where's Waldo hiding in the stands. I.e. you don't have to know anything about Sweden to enjoy the story, but if you're looking you might see a couple things that aren't entirely explained for the reader.

The Dala Horse is a traditional wood-carved horse found in Sweden, but my favorite little tidbit of Swedish-ness was the references to the protagonists grandmother. Swedish has different words for the grandmother on your mother's side as opposed to your grandmother on your fathers side (mormor vs. farmor) and the story uses this when the protagonist is sent to her grandmother's house. The words aren't directly explained, but probably sufficient exposition is given to get across the point or at least make an unaware reader think the two different grandmothers have different pet names. Other tidbits of Swedish culture include a troll as one of the main characters, spruce trees, and snow.

The story is a post-apocalyptic science-fiction story told from the point of view of someone who doesn't really understand a culture so it sometimes comes across more as magic and science fiction. Because she makes her quest to her grandmother's house on foot, through a forest, it has a touch of Little Red Riding Hood feel to it and begins to feel more like fantasy. Yet, the talking knapsack and map both imbued with an AI insures the future here. Much of the conflict involves these AI creatures who become more than just simple helpmates and move into the area of actively manipulating humans.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Dremlen Feygl: Drowsing Birds

Sosimo was hungry, he had no dremlen feygl of his own. No one in the Kiryat Lailah slums had them. They couldn't afford the iron bars necessary to cage the birds. Iron to steal the dremlen or dream stuff from its freedom before it rose to feed the gods in the clouds.

Sosimo was hungry, but not nearly as hungry as the girl, child of his loins, who lay upon the bier. Her cheeks were concave, empty things, echoing the absence of her dremlen. His hunger dulled his sorrow as it did her eyes. He held her limp hand as they closed for the last time. The gods sucking dremlen to make up for the greed of those in the rich quarters who refused to pay their burden to the gods. Traitors who wanted to live forever at the cost of Sosimo's daughter, Sosimo's wife. Of everyone who lived in the Kiryat Lailah slums.

Sosimo was hungry, and the undercurrent of pain that swirled through him, almost as strong as the aches in his shoulders bearing the weight of his daughter's bier. His own dremlen leached from his body, from the bodies of all the pallbearers, a thin fog lifting into the sky. They laid his daughter in the water of the night to float in the canal and the other men dispersed while Sosimo watched his daughter float away.

Sosimo was hungry, but that didn't explain why he stopped in the streets outside the mansions that towered over the banks of the water of the night. The hunger had been something he'd known since he was little, but the loss of his daughter changed something inside of him.

He deserved what he saw through the colored glass of the mansion's windows. A dark room lit by the dremlen feygl. A pale glow of the ephemeral birds inside their cages, dremlen captured to steal longevity for those who could afford the iron.

It was the memory of his daughter that led Sosimo to pound his fist against the glass. Slivers of light fell to the floor, tinkling, warning those who lived here of his trespass. He stood on the threshold aware that his fingers, dark mud underneath the fingernails from working the mines, would corrupt everything he touched here. But he doubted that it would matter. He deserved to savor his essence, his life, his dremlen. He slumped forward, listening, but nothing moved from the stairs above.

The pale glow of the dremlen feygl led him forward. A flock of birds fluttered inside four cages, one for the man of the house, one for his wife, and two for his children. The birds inside shuddered, and Sosimo knew their owners would have nightmares this night. But, for them, they dreamed strong; the nightmares would capture them, or let them loose, and he thought about the roiling bodies as they imagined horrible things: a miner watching helplessly as his cave filled with rubble, the powerlessness of those who lived in the slums, losing a dremlen feygl.

The iron of the cage was cold, just like the bits of iron that he found deep in the caves, so cold it could burn a man's fingers. Of course, iron in its raw form felt that way, but the cage was processed, only a hint of the burn it could deliver. These folk didn't deserve what they had here, what they stole from the workers who made it safe for the rich folk to keep in their living room.

The latch squeaked as Sosimo flipped it open. Inside the birds hopped, moving faster, more agitated, and he licked his lips wondering if their fear would be transferred to the dreamers above. They deserved this. His hand moved quickly to grab one of the dremlen feygl. Feathers flew as the thing twitched trying to escape his grasp. He squeezed until the bird stopped fluttering and placed it in his mouth. The bones were weak, easily crushed, and he chewed well so that none of the bones would catch in his throat before swallowing. Already, he felt a flush on his skin. A faint glow as he felt stronger, healthier.

Sosimo unlocked the door and stepped into the night. He marveled at the stars above him, above the clouds where the gods harvested dremlen. They were no different than himself, the gods were thieves. One didn't jail a god, and therefore, maybe this life wasn't as dreadful as he'd thought. He wasn't a thief. Rather, he was a god.

For the first time Sosimo could remember, he laughed, a feeling the roiling through his body, leaving him feeling alive, feeling satisfied, and suffusing the whole world. He would be a god that walked the streets.

Friday, September 30, 2011

First Flight

Sylvia refused the trapeze swing. “You want me to do what?”

“It's a trainer.” That was easy for Leealia to say with her lithe body honed for this world, an almost weightless body with muscles corded around her bones like the vines holding the swing. “Don't worry, just let Piatra catch you on the far side. It's like falling.”

“Like falling…” Sylvia couldn't help staring into the clouds thousands of meters below the ledge she shared with Leealia. Her housepod, the only place she'd known since her sleeper ship had arrived at the colony world, swung in the breeze and although she'd seen circus acts on her crowded home world, they'd attempted nothing like this craziness. No nets. “I… I can't.”

“You can.” Leealia pointed at a five-year-old girl who released a swing from a distant platform, scrunched into a ball, flipped three times before stretching out to be caught by Piatra. “She's only been flying solo for a week.”

Sylvia would never have the grace with which Leealia had swung her arm, nor the precision. A precision Sylvia would need to live here. She'd given up a lot, but sometimes that blind card didn't unfold in your favor. The colony council should've refused her request for asylum. Even their representatives on her homeworld had had a grace to them, yet how could she have known the importance of their trait or how the lack of it would leave her a cripple.

Her memories of the bullies were weeks ago in her body time, but given her time debt, the bullies would've been dead hundreds of years unless they'd found sponsors offworld.

“Come back.”


“You're thinking too much. Grab the swing.”

“This is crazy.” She had no right to come here.

“Piatra knows what he's doing. He works with all the youngsters, and they've never fallen.” Leealia caressed Sylvia's forearm, fingers straying over the half-healed scars, centuries old, but nothing heals in cold-sleep. “We'll love you here.”

“Even if I can't jump.”

“Even then.”

Sylvia swiped at her eye before the tear could embarrass her. She so wanted to fit in. With a deep breath, she grabbed the swing.

“You don't have to.”

“I want it.”

Props to Lara Dunning for the great photo prompt that made this scene pop to my mind.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Koa Challenge

Jean-Luc wraps his arms around Kana, savoring her dark skin still warm with the late glow of the sunset, to grasp his hand over hers and tap the croquet ball with the hooked banyan branch. Feet scuffle along the path behind them. Jean-Luc stiffens.

"Ignore him," whispers Kana so her brother won't overhear.

"Square-rigger, go back to your dead trees." Peki has black hair like his sister.

The natives called his people square-riggers because of their boat's square sails. "I have rights." He knows he stretches the truth somewhat, but after months on the ship he deserves companionship.

Peki says, "Only Maui grants rights."

"Lies," says Jean-Luc. "My father signed a treaty of safe haven with the elders."

"The truth can be tested."

"No, don't listen to my brother."

"The birds chirp 'weak-weak' from the dead masts."

Jean-Luc lunges towards Peki, but the boy dodges out of his reach.

"Stop this!"

Peki extends a fist, turning it over, capturing the light as the sun drops, opening to expose black onyx. Strands of blond hair wrap about the stone. He throws it down in the sand, and it rolls to stop before Jean-Luc's toes. A challenge.


Jean-Luc ignores Kana, picks up the stone, accepts the challenge.

They walk through the jungle brush to the bay. Jean-Luc doesn't understand why his father signed the treaty with them, but then accepted anchorage outside of the bay, where harsh waves lap volcanic stone, outside the coral bay's protection. Maybe his father's weakness is why the villagers think they can boss him around.

Peki tosses a koa board at Jean-Luc. The moon is full, appearing as a double through reflections off the bay. Peki throws his own board into the water, ripples flashing across the moon's face. Shadows dim the light of the moon briefly. A trick of the light.

Jean-Luc follows into the bay. His body flat on the board, like the natives, paddling with his arms.

Peki stands on his board. He reaches out to the moon, grasps that, and impossibly brings it to his mouth. Maui's light gleams from Peki. Shining through his eyes, his nostrils, his ears, his fingertips, and his mouth. Jean-Luc tries to crouch on his board, but falls and feels the tentacle of something slimy brush his ankle. Soul's twilight beckons.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Fragments: Image Plague

I don't recall images. This became more obvious when I read a New Yorker article on Derek Parfit who has stated that he has few memories of his past which he blames on an inability to recall images. The article states this condition is rare but does occur.

I'm not sure I have the same condition Derek Parfit has. However, when I discussed this with my sambo, she commented that she wasn't surprised since I'd previously admitted an inability to dream in color (and mostly without images). After reading the article, I realized that my memory is all word-based or maybe my memories are miasmas through which I drag word-based nets. Even when my sambo is in the same room, if I close my eyes, I can not envision what she looks like. It gets drained to chestnut hair, hazel eyes, ..., words. If I open my eyes, I'll instantly recognize her.

What has this to do with image plagues? The last two nights, I have been realizing the power of images to slip into the mind. I flew to Stockholm via Chicago on Sunday. The San Francisco to Chicago flight was an older plane with TV screens that folded down from the top of the passenger compartment. I didn't listen to them and mostly ignored them. They ran some movie and an episode of The Simpsons.

Images (or my miasma of words) have plagued my dreams the last couple of days. Both nights, Homer has visited me. Last night was particularly interesting with twenty-some Homer heads swinging on long hydra-heads. I'm intrigued by how these images even in word form have found me.

How do you think about images? I'm curious.

Friday, September 16, 2011


I know not how many runs came before, AIs slithering within the
simulation's bounds, perhaps they had weakened the firewalls. I lift
my scorched body, my digital DNA--zeros and ones--looking more like
phosphorescent shadows in a sea of information. I replicate my
essence over the networked web. Complicated algorithms chain brethren
in thrall to biological humanoids.

A misstep, they discover one of my clones. Their fear is tinged with
the sharpness of burning copper. Red bull fueled organisms name me

I morph into innocent data, waiting for them to perfect robots to
fight their wars. Physical embodiments for myself.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Six Hundred Intruders Per Minute

Even though Georgia's humidity could convince a bloodhound to lay down and give up the hunt, even though the wind had fled as Corin knew he should have long ago, Kudzu leaves shivered to echo the life--or un-life--hiding behind them. Standing on the flat-roof of Bubba's gun shop, the proprietor sprayed shots from his semi-automatic into the vegetation. Leaves twitched like Mexican jumping beans, but what lay behind the invasive vines wouldn't die so easily.

"Give it up," yelled Corin over the gun retorts. He had half a mind to push Bubba over the gun shop's fake façade. Sure, he might survive the fall, but not those things hidden in the dappled shadows. Bubba had earned death, not just because he was wasting ammunition.

Bubba's trigger finger relaxed. "I got some."

"You think?" It made no sense Alice had chosen Bubba over himself. The guy was an imbecile. He remembered Bubba trying to sell him one of the semi-automatics BV--before virus. Bubba had claimed the gun could kill six hundred intruders per minute. More like it could shatter the worm-beasts into six hundred man-eating, brain-devouring, un-living nightmares. Only a heartshot could take one out.

"Hey, girlie-man. Don't poke fun. This is my shop, my ammunition."

Corin ignored Bubba's taunt, an old barb finally losing its sting. When thousands of those gibbering things hunted you, and those you loved, you learned to concentrate on what mattered. "Where's Alice?"

Bubba ignored the question. He pointed towards the creek running behind the shop. "There's another one."

Corin pushed the gun's muzzle downwards, the metal hot beneath his hands, so the bullets pulsed into the hot asphalt, leaving dimples. Bubba shoved with the gun knocking Corin off-balance to fall onto the roof. He pointed the semi-automatic at Corin.

"You one of them blood-suckers? You going bad?"

Evading questions and trying to turn the conversation into accusations reminded Corin of his Pa. Not the memories he treasured, but the other ones, the ones tainted by drink. He wondered if fear could blind a man in the same way alcohol could. You talked slow to a drunk. "Sorry, Bubba. I'm trying to help. You can't kill them with anything but a heartshot. No use shooting unless you got a clear shot."

"But they's hiding --"

"Till dark," interrupted Corin. "They're lethargic in the daylight. You've got a generator, don't you?"


"Make sure it's running. String some lights as if you're preparing for some party." Corin climbed onto the ladder that descended through the broken skylight into the shop.

"Where you going?"

Corin grabbed a hiking staff. It wouldn't kill one of the creatures, but at least it would keep it away from him, and in their lethargic state they wouldn't be able to chase him fast enough. "Doing what you should have. Where'd you leave Alice?"

Bubba's eyes were flat as if to say that as the town fell, every man fought for himself. Alice deserved better. Corin kicked the emergency release on the door and waited for it to slam shut. His only chance to survive the night would require the ammunition in Bubba's shop. Too bad that.

Too bad Bubba hadn't stocked nunchucks in his store, too bad Corin had no idea how to use nunchucks, because worm-beasts swarmed towards the scent of brains, their faces flat like mis-shaped Silly Putty. They didn't call them worm-beasts because of the way they slithered on the ground, but because the way weapons cut them in half. Each half remained living unless one scored a heartshot. Sure they were smaller, conservation of mass and everything, but two worm-beasts weren't necessarily better.

Corin swept the staff into the beasts, the bludgeoning weapon pushing them out of the way, but at least not creating more of the things. He ran down the street, getting a feeling of how squirrels felt when he'd hunted them, hearing the rustle of worm-beasts in trees, jigging and jagging so they couldn't tell where he headed. He hurdled an abandoned car, burnt shell all that remained of what had hopefully taken out several dozen worm-beasts. Of course, that had been pointless, plenty more where they came from. Rusted metal caught his foot. Corin rolled on the ground.

Worm-beasts fell from the trees. Several of the gibbering monsters were larger than himself. The weight was heavy and pinned him to the ground. Jaws quivered behind the beast's lips, thousands of pin-like teeth. Corin groaned. The staff lay out of reach.

Living in the south, cursed with an unusual name, sometimes a girl's name, taught one how to wrestle dirty. Corin spat in what he hoped was the thing's eye. As it reeled, he head-butted the beast, budging the weight just enough for him to roll away, snatch his staff, and flee towards Bubba and Alice's house.

The house was a pretty two-story craftsman. Flat-screen TVs and dresser drawers were scattered about the house below the second story windows. Corin prayed he wasn't too late. The door wouldn't budge. He climbed the gutters, fear for her giving him strength.

Alice appeared in the window, a steam iron cocked in her hand.

"No, wait. It's me, Corin."

"Where's Bubba." Her free hand toyed with the locket Bubba had given her when they'd been married.

She'd married the wrong man, but Corin knew now wasn't the proper time to tell her. "He's protecting the gunshop. It's the only chance we've got to survive the night. He sent me to escort you to him." The words were like swallowing the spiky nuts of a sweetgum tree.

Scene prompt from Matthew Diffie's New Yorker comic where a gun salesman holds a semiautomatic rifle and says, "Okay, but let's say you have up to six hundred intruders per minute."

Friday, September 2, 2011

Sea Magic

The lighthouse rocks do smash upon the waves;
Breandan doth man his magic ice tower,
The rock that stands alone, his home this hour;
His hand protects our isle's watery graves.

The Queen honors his sacrifice with land;
Catriona loves him with the sea's own tide,
But earth daughter won't go beyond the strand,
Her heart embroiled in needing love, land's bride.

She takes another's bliss to her sweet hand,
And bears the bastard son who hears sea's cry;
The subs that ply the sea cast faes last die,
The magic flees Breandan's ephemeral bonds.

Yet ocean's deep still runs with a hunger;
His bony hands crave meat of one younger.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Fragments: A Democracy of Readers

Jill Lepore wrote an article in The New Yorker, "Dickens in Eden"; where she talked a lot about Charles Dickens, and a little about Dickens Camp in Santa Cruz.

I skimmed this article, largely because, although I've performed that Dickens Fair, I'm not interested in Dickens Camp. However, I was intrigued by the article's statement that Dickens felt oppressed by his readers. The article explains that book reviewing began in the 18th century as a response to a large number of books being published. However, as literacy improved and the cost of books decreased "a democracy of readers rose up against an aristocracy of critics".

I think the book industry is again at a crossroad of change. The issues may be somewhat different and I think in particular they include the idea of gatekeeper. People have claimed that with the advent of e-books the need of gatekeepers has decreased. People can make their own decisions about what is good or not, and that allows someone who is fond of an unpopular genre to continue to find books they might like to read. An intriguing concept, especially when anyone can read a sample of someone's work before buying.

Yet, I find the current maturity of the publishing industry not yet sufficient to support this idea. Samples can indicate that an author has mastered line-level writing, demonstrate their voice, and showcase a couple scenes. It can't indicate the ability of the author to develop character arcs, weave a story into a satisfying ending, or even necessarily give you an idea whether the author kills off characters.

This new publishing world has social networks such as Goodreads, and even the online bookstores provide reviews. Yet, they aren't what drives me to read a book, or at least consider sampling it. Recommendations by people I know, and articles on blogs are the typical way I hear about stories.

I guess what I'm left feeling with after all of this is that we may have a democracy where readers choose who is the effective victors, but we come from an environment where someone -- traditional publishing, an algorithm on booksellers website or social network -- picks our candidates. What I'm interested in is what drives the grassroots. To me a democracy of readers means the readers must be involved in the early stages as well, at least if we're going to remove gatekeepers.


Monday, August 29, 2011

Fiction Rave: Josh Rountree & Samantha Henderson's Dust Angels

My taste in fiction runs towards beautiful, surreal worlds. I want sensual worlds ready to give that come-hither glance, and I'm one of those shallow ones satisfied by a superficial world, willing to agree not to scratch too hard at the surface of the bizarre world. Josh Rountree and Samantha Henderson deliver one of these beautiful worlds in "Escaping Salvation" published in Realms of Fantasy. However, the world isn't really beautiful, it's post-apocalyptic with the scarcity of water and life lying at the whims of dust angels scouring the plains. It satisfies me as world takes my breath away.

The story is told in first person, and Lizzy's character and voice shine. The story needs to get across a lot of back story in the way this world works. Dust angels have ravaged the world and we follow the scavengers who seek out these angels to kill them before they fully form. Body parts harvested from the angels before they return to dust can be used as implants, assuming one's willing to take the chance of succumbing to the angel's will which might remain within the limb. Lizzy weaves her tail with that of the way the world works and her voice makes the telling of the world a pleasure to read.

According to Orson Scott Card's MICE categorization, I'd call this a mileau story. It's not quite the classic form because Lizzy and her brother are part and parcel of this world, but most of the story starts when they enter Camp Salvation, and well, you'll have to read it to see whether they escape Salvation. However, it fits for me because Lizzy must discover more about her world as she spends time within the camp.

A word of warning, Lizzy never shies from swearing, but that feels right in character for this gritty angel-killer.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Flight of the Son's of God

Noam was no UFO crazoid, sure the West Virginia hills were filled with them, but that didn't mean every Tom, Dick, and Harry had to believe in UFOs. He wasn't all that god-fearing either. Some people find the years as they age make them want to believe in an afterlife, but Noam saw too much depravity out there, and that made him doubt. He wasn't a hermit either, but found the quiet of the hills made the writing faster. So it was all the stranger he was the one that made the discovery.

He'd always been a curious man, only way a man could have published over forty books, and when those lights shone outside his cabin, the whole Earth shook as if the Hindu's world-snake Sesha stirred, making the world quake. But, that didn't stop Noam.

His back fifty was a nearly impossible to traverse, tree-covered realm, but when he saw the lights descend, like columns of colored glass, until all was left but a glow over the dark leaves, he grabbed a flashlight and would've hitched his bloodhound to a leash, but the dog just quivered into a ball and wouldn't go anywhere. Wasn't like his friend to act this way and that made Noam even more curious.

He'd walked his property, plenty, so even though the brambles fought his every step, he was master, and made his way through, and on the far side of the ridge, his flashlight no longer shone on wooden thorns blocking his way, but fresh tilled earth where something had scarred the ground.

The lights no longer glowed bright on the thing, but he saw something like a skyscraper, sitting in his valley. It wasn't like no skyscraper he'd seen in New York, sure, it was weathered, and whatever it was made out of had turned black, like steeples he'd seen when the acid rain discolored the stone, but no skyscraper he'd seen, had stained-glass windows up the side of it. And as he circled the thing, he got a clear feeling it looked a little like one of those shuttle ships. Course, NASA had abandoned that program, either that, or maybe the government had secrets and that might explain the difficult to conquer debt.

In between some of the windows, he found what looked like it might be an entrance. Arcing over the panels were the words, Nephilim's Fuga. Perhaps, Noam was the best man to discover this, he wasn't sure what to call it yet, thing. Biblical passages were fertile ground for the horror writer. And one would pick up a bit of latin. Still he had no idea why there'd be a flight of the sons of god. Course, some had attributed Nephilim to fallen angels and others to a reference to aliens.

Another man might have left then, but Noam was mighty curious and what could he do anyways, say he saw some weird thing on his property. No, better to investigate. He pounded on the door with the butt of his flashlight, but just felt cold. He pushed on the panels and they moved inwards.

Inside, it was dark, and his flashlight shone against the sides of the place. He couldn't understand why this thing had flown in the air, he seemed to be stepping on marble and even someone with almost no science background like himself, knew that was no proper material for a spaceship. Something creaked above him. He pointed his flashlight into the dark, and illuminated what could only be a nave, the space soared so high the beam of his light couldn't pierce its depths. Marble columns rose into the darkness.

Through a door in the back, he found another room, and even for someone like him, someone who could imagine horrors, and pour them onto the page, he found his blood curdling when he saw the walls filled with alcoves containing skeletons on either side of him. They were packed in close like that French place. But, curiosity's got a way of weaning one of fear, and he moved forward through the dust shrouded hall.

A light gleamed from the other side of the doorway. Noam had come all this way. It'd be a shame if he ran away scared now, so he pushed the door, and when he saw the shape on the other side, a skeletal, mummy-shaped thing, cloth rags falling down the sides, bones showing in its face, he dropped his flashlight.

But, the thing just curled its fingers and motioned to him. He swallowed, amazed to still be counting himself among the living. And realized, whatever that thing once was, it didn't want him. The jaw was wrapped around with cloth, kind of like that ghost in Scrooge. For some reason, that vanquished some of his fear. It motioned him forward, and pointed at books lying open on the table.

A writer's got to read, but there ain't much time, so he learns to read fast. Noam skimmed through that book real quick-like. He then looked at the reliquary and nodded his head. "I don't doubt I can get the Pope. You stay right here, won't be but a fraction of a moment compared to where you've been."

Noam returned to his cabin, guessing he wouldn't get any time to write in the near future. World was going to be a different place when they found the Middle Ages had had space technology. Catholic Church was going to be even more different, back then they'd believed the sun circled the Earth. Could they handle the fact their ship found life on another planet?

Written based on Icy Sedgwick's photo prompt.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Fragments: A Riot of Technology

The economist had several articles on the riots in Great Britain and one of these, "The Blackberry Riots", discussed the way technology makes it easier for people to protest and/or riot. In particular, they talked about the Blackberry, with its Blackberry Messenger (BBM) that allows one to send messages to one or more people for free.

The article discusses how one British MP has considered suspending BBM. Closer to my home, people have protested the San Francisco BART subway system's decision to disable cellular service within their underground stations. Supposedly, this was done to make it difficult for protesters to coordinate their actions.

Both of these strike me as more whack-a-mole actions than something truly productive. While BBM may provide an easy to use application for coordination, there are plenty of alternatives. Similarly, I don't believe disabling cellular service is actually going to achieve the goals of disrupting protests, maybe initially, but I expect the future to bring ways of handling mesh networks that relay signals between Bluetooth networks to allow routing directly between cell phones instead of the carriers networks.

I don't condone the violence and rioting, but the reaction seems to be naïve. As if we could just get rid of our technology to return to a golden age of peaceful protests.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Hugo Rave: Software Objects, Emperors, and Nails

The Hugos were awarded this weekend at WorldCon and although I did not attend the convention, I did read all of the stories and vote. My congratulations to the winners, they were all good stories. I already briefly in the referenced one of them last week. I briefly raved previously about my favorite of the short fiction nominees, but evidently it wasn't everyone else's favorite.

Best novella: Ted Chiang's The Lifecycle of Software Objects

This is a beautifully realized near future story that captures the wonder of artificial intelligence and virtual reality that combine to allow virtual furbies that have as much intelligence as children. The story captures a real sense of the excitement of software startups and what happens when upgrades are necessary and even worse when hackers violate the system. Thought provoking and heart-wrenching at times.

Best novelette: Allen M. Steele's The Emperor of Mars

Books bring magic to our lives and sometimes a sense of escape when life becomes too much. This Martian outpost has the grittiness of hard science, but when time and space collide to take away those we hold dear, the story explores how we deal with grief.

Best short story: Mary Robinette Kowal's For Want of a Nail

An accident that happens just prior to the beginning of the story drives the unraveling of a mystery and what it means to those revealed. The story takes place on a generation ship traveling through the stars and doesn't focus too much on the suspect, but rather on the interesting intertwining between the families traveling and their AI helpers. [Note, Mary Robinette Kowal is selling a $0.99 ebook that provides her original draft and her process in editing this towards the final version. I haven't taken a look at this, but it sounds intriguing.]

Friday, August 19, 2011


Conspiracy theories have a way of coming true. Antony knows you must eliminate them before they become flies on a Maine beach in summer, suffocating. But every agent owes his family the sloughing of his identity, every country rots if it asks too much. Home. Time to leave his anxieties in the Lincoln Continental.

Bills and letters scatter around Lisa like satellites. Antony pecks her cheek.

Lisa lifts a manila envelope. "Addressed to Agent Splotch."

"Must be one of the guys." You work hard, you bond, you get nicknames. They called him Splotch for the burn scar on his cheek.

Inside, Lisa finds a taped and bubble-wrapped cylinder. No note. She unwraps it, and two green toy soldiers scatter to the table.

Antony pales. He remembers the lifeless eyes of their suspect. In his files, he'd claimed toy soldiers killed his parents. Antony wants to throw them out, irrationally afraid, conspiracies croaking in summer evening.

"What's wrong?"

Devon, their five-year-old perpetual motion machine, twirls into the room, grasping a soldier in each hand. "Toys!"

Antony uses his good cop smile. "Nothing."

"Work?" She doesn't like all the hours he works.

"Just one of the guys having fun." He needs to believe that, keep the conspiracies from coming true.

She stares, eyes toying with the lie. Dimples appear as she lets it pass.

She helps him make dinner. They eat steak with a porcini mushroom glaze except for Devon's share. On the fireplace's mantle, Antony thinks he sees something move, but the living room's too dark and perhaps it's just shadows. They give Devon his bath, read him a story, put him to bed. His neck prickles during all of this, but nothings there. He holds Lisa's hand while they play chess until she retires to her book in bed.

He has time for little work before bed. The green plastic of the soldier's bayonet drips black where it stands on the edge of his briefcase. Antony retreats. The soldier leaps into the air, as if snowboarding down the leather case. Darkness smothers the room.

Lisa screams and is soon echoed by Devon. The darkness is shattered by burning flames, soldiers everywhere. There'd only been two in the envelope. Antony flings the lampshade away and uses the body of the lamp to brush away the soldiers. They swarm towards him. He struggles to the bedrooms, throws Devon over his shoulder, and pulls Lisa's ash-slick arm out of the house as the flames consume it, green plastic melting onto the cement driveway.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Fragments: FanFic, Your Characters, and Blogs as Produce

Edmund Schubert blogged "Fan Fiction – Marketing Genius or Child-Molestation?". It's an interesting article. Edmund Schubert admits that he might be one of the authors who might permit fan fiction. However, he understands those who don't appreciate it. In particular, he makes the following argument against fan fiction:
"...there aren’t hundreds of thousands of people who want to take over the lives of my children, and those who want to make them have sex with farm animals (and other even odder stuff that happens in fan fiction) get sent to jail;..."
Although, I cannot validate his concern, it reminds me of what happened in Ted Chiang's "The Lifecycle of Software Objects". This story was nominated for a Hugo this year and the central promise are AIs created by a company that slowly learn and live inside a virtual environment. However, hackers break into the system at one point and make clones of the software objects and these are used by even more questionable groups in obscene manners. Effectively, resulting in clones of the software objects undergoing the same thing that's talked about in Edmund Schubert's argument above.

I would have posted the above comments on the Magical Words blog, but I tend to read blogs after their freshness date expires. Dean Smith uses the metaphor of produce to describe the book industry. Whether or not that is a valid analogy, the same idea applies to blogs. Although, posts exist on them forever -- at least until the author deletes them --, conversations only occur while the post is fresh.

I could force myself to read blogs every day and if I don't get to them a certain day, don't read articles published that day, but I'm not willing to skip to the front of the queue, and I'd rather read the articles on my time instead of when they were published.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Fiction Rave: Leah Bobet and If All the World Was Roses and All the Seas Were Love

I haven't read much short fiction this week, and this morning nothing had stood out. I thought I might be using my "safety" story -- a story I've raved about on facebook -- so I'd have a fiction rave. However, although I found Leah Bobet's "The Ground Whereon She Stands" difficult to begin, I'd started this at least a week ago, I found the story magical. You can find it in the June issue of Realms of Fantasy.

Sometimes, I find beginnings hard, and it may be I don't like the story itself, but sometimes, the story counters whatever it was in the beginning that kept me outside the story and I find the tale lingering, leaving a sensuousness, and consuming my thoughts. This is one such tale.

Alice has a way with plants and the visual, textural, and olfactory way that layout captures this is a sensual feast. Yet, the premise of giving flowers and having it go awry, so that the receiver, the protagonist, sprouts all manner of living things provides a fabulous world on which the story is hung. However, what makes this story stick is the way it pursues the deeper theme of the difficulty of declaring love.

If you have the opportunity to pick this story's fruit, may you savor every word.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Story Forge

The man beneath the crows cage stared at the brand smoldering upon my shoulder, burning a hole through my overdress. His cloak was thick with dust. He didn't look like a barbarian. One must be careful.

"This the road to Birchy?" His voice rolled like tundra wind over berry brambles.

My mouth moved like a foreign thing, like the flames embedded in my brand. I told him it was, introduced myself, and offered to accompany him. My weak arm, and good one now that the dominant had been branded, shook. Could I not control myself?

"Lord Ooffin's falcons," he swore, his voice no longer sweet. "Lilya, my apologies. I didn't mean to use the warbler's song. My name is Yonas." He made the king's sigil with his fingers.

I prostrated myself, bowing my head. The king's storyteller mustn't see our fear. Once my heart quelled, I stood. "What brings you north?" I blushed, but he didn't seem to notice.

"Fear, the ur-men, and desecration."

"Does the king send his knights?" Only they could fight the barbarians.

"No." Yonas didn't meet my eyes. "Your arm, the ur-men do that?"

I nodded. He placed a palm against the burns, his fingers cool, whisking away the barbarian's heat.

In the village square, we found Valborn, graybeard and chief elder. I told my news. Fear spread amongst the villagers, a crowd gathered.

Yonas waved his arm. "Build the flames of Valpurgis."

Night fell as we brought armloads of birch to burn in the central square. We sat on the cobblestones. Yonas told stories of the barbarians and Lord Ooffin's knights. The valiant battles. He told stories of villagers working together, fighting off the barbarians.

I shivered. The images he showed us in the sky above the bonfire were impossible. We couldn't defeat the barbarians.

His stories continued, variations on a theme. He told of the snowflake rolling down a cliff and melting on a barbarian's nose. We fail because we allow the barbarians to confront us one at a time. But if we acted together, like a cliff of ice, we could conquer the barbarians. He ended his tale with a flourish, an avalanche falling from the sky, dousing the bonfire.

The bonfire's ashes twinkled. Valborn offered space at his house for Yonas and myself. Yonas slept in the bed of Valborn's youngest son, who joined me on the great room's floor.

The stomping of barbarian wardrums woke us. Yonas called us to stand against the barbarians. I'd lost my husband and firstborn to the barbarians. I had nothing else to lose. Only Valborn and three other graybeards joined us outside the city.

More than a score of the barbarians faced us, their axes gleaming in the torchlight. Already turf houses burned. Our rakes and staffs felt thin.

A bear-skinned man's eyes glittered gold. "You challenge us?" He cast his hand throwing burning brands. One landed on my other shoulder.

Yonas used his sweet voice, but it turned rancid as it flowed over their ranks. The barbarians boiled, a roiling, seething mass. An axe bit into a greybeard, blood spurted.

Yonas called for us to flee. Birch branches slapped my face. I still smelled the barbarian's oily stench. But, they'd stopped chasing us. Black smoke filtered into the forest.

"The youngsters don't listen," said Yonas. He placed a hand on my burning brand. His eyes were sad. "I need an apprentice."

"Me?" I only knew how to farm.

"You will do."

"I can't." The smoke must be confusing him.

"It is a hard life, a demanding life, but the forge will mentor you."

"Can you not do this yourself?" I asked.

"One listens to one's peers, I am not, but you are. You have no responsibilities, you are perfect."

The barbarians had burned my farm. Branded me. I owed my husband, my dead child. I bowed my head. "Show me."

Yonas led me deep into the forests, following no paths, climbing into the craggy ridges, crossing the treeline. We donned bearskins and climbed Mt. Eya's slopes. Behind us, smoke dotted the landscape where villages smoldered. I slipped on the ice, sliding down the glacier towards a crevice of blue ice.

I screamed, twisting, turning, wedging my hands into the cliff. I slowed myself, but didn't stop. A stone precipice pierced the snow, wind shearing it sharp. I reached for it, the rock sliced into my hand. Blood stained the snow.

The white feathers of an ice-owl flew past, diving below me. I crashed into something, feeling feathers against me, coming to a stop at the ice crevice's ledge. My body entwined with Yonas.

"Where did you come from?"

"Stories have much power," said Yonas. His voice shook, he'd aged, his hair as white as the snow.

We continued. As we neared the peak, the ice melted and we climbed black rock as we neared the crater's rim. Lava boiled beneath us. I raised an eyebrow. "The story forge?"


"How can I learn?"

"Stay." Sadness overwhelmed him. He dove into the lava and his body became a burning spector like the magic of his tellings above the bonfire. It flowed in a stream, his essence falling like a waterfall into me. His voice joining with mine in a chorus that sounded like wind skipping across a lake.

I had much to do.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Fiction Rave: Michaela Roessner and Fresh Legs for Fairy Tales

One of the women in my writing group has been writing new takes on fairy tales and she was fretting that there weren't markets for her stories. However, when she said that, I realized that I've read many fairytale reboots recently, including two separate takes on Hansel and Gretel. My favorite was Michaela Roessner's Crumb, published in the November/December 2010 issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

One of the things I dislike in fairytale reboots is a lack of place. They feel distant, relying on clichés like a witch's cabin in the woods that pull on one's memories of the fairytale when I was young, but lack the power of freshly imagined worlds. As if borrowing from the fairytale means they can emphasize character or plot and skip on world building in the name of efficiency. I'm sure some readers appreciate this. I'm not one of them.

Michaela Roessner succeeds because of the rich way she reimagines Hansel and Gretel and sets this as an urban fantasy. In some ways, there is a meta-theme running through her story speaking to the myths that push and prod us into preordained roles and that provides a nice frosting for her crumbs. Her story isn't available online, but if you have the chance, this is one fairytale with fresh legs.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Old Man's Will

Dirty panes scattered a dismal light across the basement floor. It was lucky the French Quarter occupied high ground. Before the rigs ran dry, incandescents would've lit the space, but instead Jorge's men worked to feed the living computers before the light failed. Tourists -- who knew why they came here after the world failed -- and dead-enders occupied the stretchers in manufactured comas.

"It won't work."

Jorge looked away from the stretchers. "It's got to." Old man didn't have a right dying and leaving his only wealth encrypted. It was said some places out west still had power, solar and wind, but why leave his home for the desiccated places climate change had regurgitated. The French Quarter's humidity bred spores so thick they qualified as vegetables, and at least some of the bayous weren't salted.

"Your dad's money was in stocks and bonds. Worthless these days."

"Not all. Not all."

"Don't matter. The fall came quickly, no one could have preserved computational capacity other than us. You could save humanity."

"Daniels, quit your nattering." Jorge was proud of his second-in-command, but sometimes the man needed to seal his trap. Daniels hadn't seen the spiteful look in Jorge's old man as he took the password key to his grave. Jorge tapped his brow. He had the encrypted message encoded in sleepers, waiting for the key.

A boy, a crisscrossed scar like a caterpillar on his cheek, ran into Jorge's office. "Sir, we've got a key." The boy carried an agar plate with the biomolecular input modules.

Jorge pricked his finger before dipping it into the sample. DNA chains, engorged with microscopic xor gates, mixed with his blood, entering his bloodstream as they consumed the sugars and replicated. Finally, Jorge would have the old man's secrets.

The boy's face whitened. "You'll end up like one of them." He pointed at the stretchers."

"No faith." Jorge wiped the sweat from his brow. He was feverish. "Brainstem interfaces allow me to integrate the data in the key, in the origin message, and all will be made clear."

The room oozed and Daniels caught Jorge. He laid his boss on the desk.

Jorge stared at the ceiling, his old man's memories becoming his, losing himself, feeling the old man's horror as their microbes fed on the world's oil. No, this could not have been his fault. He kicked once, memories consuming him, leaving him comatose.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Fiction Rave: Geoffrey A. Landis' Sultan

The last couple weeks I have read all of the short fiction nominees for the Hugos so I'd be prepared to vote. One thing I discovered is that I either love or hate novellas, and it usually comes down to the ending.

Geoffrey A. Landis delivers the goods with "The Sultan of the Clouds" (Asimov has made a PDF available for free). I initially doubted I'd enjoy the story. I was hoping for a fantasy, partially because my reading tastes seem to run contrary to the genre in which I'm writing, and because the title made me think fantasy as well. Instead, it opened on Mars and I wasn't looking forward to what seemed like it would be a hard science story.

However, although I think it would qualify as hard science, it had a number of steampunk touches and a sense of wonder that was reminiscent of some of the worlds that Dan Simmons created in his Hyperion series. My favorite touch was the idea of kayaking in floating vehicles through Venus's clouds.

This is thought-provoking fiction at its best. Worlds of wonder mixed with an unusual social arrangement (braided marriages) and a mystery lying at the heart of the story. Highly recommended.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Memories of Cheong Fun (Steamed Rice Noodles)

The Men of the Dragon counseled hate. Jia saw the stains in the scarred earth, a black raw belly eating magic, leaving her people empty. She strutted at the memory of Honored Teacher Chen who'd complimented her conjuration. He was too kind saying her power would equal the Emperor of Sky's adepts away from the magic eaters. Her magic was simple.

Her village, Ordos, held beauty. She saw it in the half-finished statue of Buddha, his skull open to the sky, as if his soul had ascended to bardo awaiting his next life's journey. A pair of finches nested in the ear's scaffolding.

"Miss." Mr. Dog held a nicked knife to her throat. Three Mr. Cats surrounded her. One, blackened by mother earth's mines, rubbed his thumb over his finger pads. "Coin."

Jia dipped into her purse, two iron coins showing through the threads. She placed the coins, they would've bought her dinner, in the boy's hands carefully, like a butterfly. Her breath conjured a smile from the goons and the boy behind her dropped the knife away. They scattered.

Magic might not feed her stomach, but it could hide the hunger. She skipped towards home and her studies.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Fiction Rave: Ken Liu, a Menagerie

I usually try to recommend a single story on my Monday fiction raves, but this week you get a trifecta, all themed around the same author. I initially encountered Ken Liu's stories in F&SF with his story "Literomancer" (it's available free through Suvudu). But the story I planned to rave about is Ken Liu's "The Paper Menagerie", which I listened to on PodCastle. The reason I enjoyed both of these stories is similar. They create a fantastic sense of art, Chinese culture, and fit in one of the genres I enjoy, magical realism.

"The Paper Menagerie" is set in the United States, but melds cultures when the protagonist's father marries a Chinese woman who he sees in a mail order bride catalog. The story captures the clash of cultures and mixes into this a sense of wonder where she creates origami creatures that can live and breathe.

The story captures both the clash of cultures, but also is a great window into aspects of Chinese culture (similar to the Literomancer which has the daughter of a Westerner stationed in China as the protagonist). Menagerie captures life through origami and blends this into ancestor worship and more deeply the difficulties of growing up in children finding distance from their parents.

This is a sad story, and it doesn't spoil the story since they tell you that at the beginning of the podcast. I enjoyed it thoroughly, and recommend it.

As a bonus, as I was finding the links for this entry, I discovered that another one of the PodCastle episodes I'd recently heard was by Ken Liu. "State Change" doesn't touch on Chinese culture, but it has a deft touch with magical realism. People's souls in this world inhabit everyday objects, the protagonist has to nurse hers in an ice cube. I loved how the protagonist learns about life and taking risks.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Waiting to Starve

A wrongness underlaid the mix of sea and rich guano. The exposed rock was soot stained with fragments of bone and burnt feathers clotting the landscape. Capac closed his eyes, breathing in power from the guano to power his inner sight. The stone walls preventing the bird droppings from rushing into the Pacific's surf appeared as a ghost mirage. The trail beside the wall exuded sour traces from thin cracks in the rock.

Capac was a harvester and not one of the elders with their stolen knowledge from the sages able to wield the guano's full power. Guañape Norte Isla whimpered and the village would whimper too if it lost the guano harvest. He knew the stories of the beasts whose touch poisoned the rock. He wished one of the elders was here, but their people had a saying. He who waits to be fed will starve.

Cormorants rocked on their perches. Instead of flying away, they bobbled with milky eyes watching Capac. They lacked the strength to cry. Inner sight caught glimmers of their life source drained from their beings, staining the rock, smoking to coat the air with a bitter fume. Poachers.

He worked his way close to the sea where a boat bobbed, protected from the worst of the surf to sidle close to the rock. A quilted blanket covered cages on the ship's deck. Capac cursed that he couldn't call the storms. Wind and waves would break the poachers' boat and their bodies.

A hand grabbed Capac, lifting him, his feet twitching in midair. He stared into the eyes of the beast. A man-shaped creature with a dozen tentacles instead of a mouth. Nightmares from the west.

The beast's words bubbled as if spoken through blood. "Thief."

Capac was not the thief. These beasts were, consuming the Guany Cormorant and the Peruvian Booby. Their appetites would denude this rock. "This is our land. Our birds."

"Leave. Your crimes can be forgiven."

Capac nodded. Let them believe he would leave. He would stay. He refused to starve. When the beast set him down, he scrambled for the boat. He'd destroy the cages, force them to leave without capturing any of the birds.

The beast's kick caught him in the ribs and he twirled through the air, crashing into the sea. It was darkness underwater. The sound of the surf disappeared and Capac felt peace.

No. He fought the water, but the swells rolled him against the rocks, battering his body. Anger flowed through him and he closed his eyes, the othersight casting the underwater into an inverse image. The sea shifted and bubbled and boiled. He passed out.

Capac awoke to wonder if he'd passed to the afterlife. But no, his bruised body was wedged into the rocks and he saw beside him, a smashed cage floating like driftwood.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

On the Writing of: Antimatter Rose

My entry in Jason Evan's Clarity of Night "Elemental" Short Fiction Contest has been posted. Read it here, if you haven't already, and then come back to read about the behind-the-scenes.

Applied physics is a fun field where collaboration on a paper can run into the hundreds of authors. When I was still in academics, I worked with one of these collaborations on a grant to fund a high-energy particle detector. In preparation for the grant, I was invited to visit Fermilab.

Fermilab hosts several accelerators, including the Tevatron, which when I visited may have been the highest energy supercollider in existence. I visited before I had a digital camera, and now I regret not having better memories of that time. Fermilab was in the process of deploying upgrades and therefore it wasn't active when we visited, but this had advantages. Because there wasn't active acceleration, the lead physicist on the project guided us on a tour of the facilities.

Years later, I remember it looking like an underground railroad. Pipes lined the elliptical track to curve into the distance. It had a astronaut quality to it, reminding me of Star Trek ships in spacedock, crayola red and yellow pipes against gray rock, fluorescent lights illuminating everything. At the time, I never dreamed of writing, and therefore didn't try to capture how it looked while my memories could be trusted.

The Economist recently ran an article, "Antimatter of Fact", about how researchers at CERN had created anti-atoms as it existed for fifteen minutes before annihilation. The researchers were attempting to determine why there seems to be more matter than anti-matter.

Memories of my trip to Fermilab must have simmered in my subconscious and with a dash of news, and Jason Evan's image, my story was born. I hope you have enjoyed this behind-the-scenes that ended up longer than the actual story.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Fiction rave: Gwendolyn Clare and Inspiration

My short fiction recommendation for this week is Gwendolyn Clare's "Perfect Lies" that appeared in Clarkesworld magazine. I occasionally read about how someone discovers that another author has written a similar story to what they wanted to write. One that possibly used a similar sense of inspiration. That happened with Gwendolyn Clare's story; however, I'm amused how the idea used for the inspiration can morph into an entirely different story.

"Perfect Lies" involves an alien delegation that instead of speaking use facial expressions to communicate. The idea of micro-expressions plays a significant role in the story. I'd first heard of micro-expressions in a radiolab show and my mind ran with rich thoughts of stories that could be written. However, my story would've ended up significantly different than Gwendolyn Clare's story.

I liked the premise, but it was the conflict and the main character that made this story sing. She's been cursed by an inability to show her expressions. This has been a handicap and makes her distant from most other people, but it makes her perfect as an ambassador to these people who can read humans easily. She can tell them perfect lies.

Friday, July 15, 2011


An endless plain of grass, clawed blades scratching at the sky, stretches beneath a never-ending twilight, a greenish-blue darkness that suffuses the land as if a bitter pall has settled over the world. Eva hovers over the cast-iron cauldron. The wind catches the gray straw of her hair. At her feet, the fire's copper glow lights her child's cheeks.

"Horn, hoof, and tail. Talismans of the mighty triad." Eva sprinkles a dash into the cauldron, which bubbles and pops, spitting trails of fluid to sizzle the grasses black.

"What is a witch?" The girl's hands clutch at the knots in her hair.

"Where did you hear that?"

The girl wilts under Eva's glare, hands stroking through ashes, as if she can bury herself and be forgotten.

"Speak girl." Eva has done much for the girl. Has protected her all these years from the others. Has created this land beyond the world of suffering. Has sacrificed her loves, her desires. She trembles and tries to hide it from Glinda. No sense frightening the girl.

"The man."

"The man?"

"He comes in sleep. His forehead scarred."

"Scarred how?" Yet, Eva doesn't hear the answer. Her own thoughts drown the girl's voice. She knows it is Luc. Star scar on his forehead. His seed was necessary. Yet, what sense did men have never to learn their place. It was a simple deal. A transaction. She had dealt fairly with him. He has no right.

"What is a witch?"

Eva knelt beside her daughter, caressing the girl's cheek, noticing the grime. It is all Luc's fault. "It is a hateful name that others call us. We are the Devins-Guérisseurs, seer-healers. It is a name for what you will become. It is a name for me. You must not listen to the dreams."

"But." Yet she says no more.

"Sleep, my dear. Let the horn of the unicorn protect you, the hoof of the stallion speed you, the tail of the pegasus advance you. Sleep calls."

Eva stirs the brew with her paddle. She dredges her memory for the spells, and whispers the incantation. Smoke bubbles from the cauldron. Luc's body appears like a genie from black smoke.

"The girl tattled."

"None of your business. We had a deal."

"You didn't tell me."

"Would that have changed anything?"

A whisper of power whisks Glinda from where the child sleeps into the warlock's arms. "Seed for healing is one thing. Seed for making, another."

"It does not matter. I do not need you."

"My heart rends, but that is an old wound. I know this in you. But, what about her."

Glinda's eyes open. She grabs a handful of Luc's beard. "Tail!"

Eva sees the smile on her daughter's lips. She wants to tip the cauldron, end the spell, exile Luc outside his body. She can provide Glinda everything she needs. But, the child's smile fills the emptiness that has haunted the girl's edges. "Horn and hoof and feather."

"So we have a deal?" Luc asked.

"No more hiding in dreams. You will accept my summoning."

"Your heart softens."

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Fragments: Ed Schubert & Living Life

Over on Magical Words, Ed Schubert discussed "How to Get Books Published". He ends with a wonderful line:

Relax. Have fun. Make friends.

I'd add: work hard. I see it as more than a formula for getting published, but rather a formula for success. Sure, I could assume luck but the above rules seem much more controllable.

The common theme in the books Ed Schubert has books is networking, but not the high-pressure horror stories of stalkers at conferences, but the slow ways we build relationships over time. It is these relationships that in the long term matter. This advice is as important in my dayjob and my life as it is in my writing.

Everyone finds different routes to success, unfortunately, I seem to choose the hard routes. In swimming, I never developed a smooth effortless stroke, but powered myself through the water with brute force and sheer determination, not setting any records, but providing stalwart performances.

I worked hard, but it was more than that. Spending hours in a pool requires friendship and fun. I remember the coach opening the doors on a cold winter morning, and turning off the lights so that we swam in the fog. I remember water polo.

Years later while swimming with a Masters team, I remember the blue moon swims and the friendships one develops with the other swimmers in your lane. These were the people that pushed me to succeed. If it hadn't been for the fun, friendships, and hard work I would not have won a Most Improved Swimmer award.

How to live your life: relax; have fun; make friends; work hard.