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There Are No Words

May 1st, 2015  |  Published in Uncategorized

As promised, I have posted the story that I mentioned yesterday: “There Are No Words“. Sometimes when writers get asked which of their stories is their favorite, they say something like, “Stories are like children, you love them all equally.” Not me. I have definite favorites, and although I would be hard pressed to pick one that represents the absolute best of my work to date, there are some that I just flat-out like more than others. “There Are No Words” is one of these.

There are a bunch of reasons for this. The story takes place in a near-future version of Olympia, which is where I live now, which was incredibly fun to write. Writing a post-literate society that was neither utopian nor dystopian was a very rewarding challenge (that I think I pulled off pretty well, as most of the people who have read the story only noticed that something was “different” without really being able to put their finger on it). I didn’t plan it, but the story ended up being about two teen girls’ friendship, which is something that I don’t come across a whole lot in my reading. Finally, I got to deal with one of my pet peeves, which is that writers seem to find it easier to write stories with zombies or spaceships or magic than to write a story without some sort of automobile analog (seriously, if you are writing in a post-peak-oil setting, don’t have people driving around in cars, also, horses for riding are and have been incredibly expensive).

So why am I posting this story here rather than selling it? First off, it is about 9,000 words, which is about 3,000 words too many for most markets. Second, I tried to sell it to YA markets and the very first word in the story was “Shit!”, probably not the best idea (I have since revised it to “Ostras!” which is more profane but obscure enough to not raise many red flags; it also fits the setting better). Third, the story opens with the characters in an Augmented Reality game that involves ghouls (originally zombies) and I suspect that some slush readers never made it far enough in to find out that the story has just about nothing to do with zombies. Finally, this story has a lot of ideas and leaves some of them unexplored, deliberately (one piece of feedback I got from an editor was that they loved the story but that it was both too long and too short, which is to say that they felt it needed to decide whether it was the first chapter of a novel or just a short story; I agree with this analysis, but have decided to go another route, and plan on writing more stories in this setting that link in and explore some of the concepts).

Without further ado, here is the first bit of the story. Enjoy!

“Ostras!” Emma yelled, and then started to run. “Cat, the ghouls saw me!”

Catalina echoed the sentiment under her breath, and followed her friend as she sprinted through the crowd of undead. The ghouls must have recently fed, because they barely noticed two of them as they ran. She yelled at a ghoul on a bicycle that almost ran her down but immediately regretted it when the nearest ghouls looked at her with expressions of anger. But of course they weren’t angry, ghouls didn’t get angry, they were probably just starting to get hungry again. She needed to get out of there.

“That was a close one,” Emma said when Catalina caught up to her in an alleyway.

“Way to throw your best friend in front of the train, Em,” Catalina said, panting from the mad dash that had been required to catch up to her friend.

Emma threw up her hands. “You were surrounded. If you weren’t able to get out of there on your own, there wasn’t anything that I could have done to help you.”

Catalina punched her friend in the shoulder. “And honor, did you forget about that?”

“Honor is just what boys call stupidity. I’m not going to get eaten over that,” Emma said.

“Whatever. We need to get moving before they find us,” Catalina said.

They started to move again, walking through the deserted alleyway, but with less urgency than in the street. Catalina and Emma relaxed as they made their way deeper into the maze of alleys that ran through Olympia’s Downtown Island. In different circumstances, they could have taken one of the water taxis that clogged the canals, but with the ghouls, that was out of the question. So they walked along their route, keeping just a block or two away from the street away from the deeper alleys that resounded with the sounds of drinking and gambling and other sounds, no less disturbing for their indistinguishable nature. They did see an occasional ghoul in the alleyways, but they just hid and waited and the threat passed.

Finally, they emerged into the brightness and heat of Percival Landing with its food carts and sleek fiberglass ferries. They had made it.

“This is getting too easy,” Catalina said.

“Agreed; we need to find a new game,” Emma said.

“See you tomorrow?” Catalina asked.

“Of course.”

The two friends parted ways, Emma heading towards the ferry that would take her up the Deschutes towards her home in Tumwater and Catalina heading towards the ferry that would take her to the Eastside.

As she walked, she held her left hand out in front of her, palm down. A black rectangle was tattooed on the back of her hand, and she pushed her thumb in the middle of it. A moment later, her System had read her thumbprint through the interface pad that had been layered into her skin and verified it.

Immediately, the harsh sunlight dimmed, while the colors of the buildings and plants and everything else intensified. After an hour of staring at the fading colors of the city, it took her brain a few seconds to acclimate. Her System polled the network and information began to populate on the people that were walking around the park, until varicolored icons and numbers hovered over each of their heads. She knew that the same thing was happening with her, and suddenly the people who had been oblivious to her presence glanced in her direction before going about their business.

Catalina boarded a ferry bound for Ellis Cove. As soon as she stepped aboard, two icons appeared in the center of her field of vision, one showing a coin, another an icon of a stick figure rowing. She had the money to pay for passage, but there was no need to spend it, so she focused on the rowing figure, causing the coin to fade into the background. A moment later, the coin had faded entirely. The rowing icon blinked out of existence and a green line that only she could see appeared on the ground in front of her. She followed it and was guided to a vacant oar. It would be a few minutes before the ferry would be full enough to leave so she flipped through the news icons to see if anything interesting had come up while she had played ZomCom with Emma. Nothing had, but her school icon was blinking, indicating that she still needed to put in some school time for the day. She focused on the icon until it was activated.

A moment later a tutor avatar blinked into being on the bench next to her, a figment of her System. The tutor cleared her throat, and began to speak.

“By the end of the twentieth century, the world had–“

The tutor was a woman somewhere in her 30’s of indistinguishable ethnicity. In fact, everything about her was vague, forgettable, with the exception of her voice, full of excitement bounded by precision. The meta for the Academy said that they had scoured the globe to find the best lecturers on any given subject and contracted them to record the lectures. Catalina believed it, but even so, she wasn’t in the mood for history, and canceled the lecture. The tutor avatar vanished.

The rowing icon flashed to the middle of her vision, overlaid by green arrows chasing each other around in a tight circle. The arrows would rotate at various speeds to indicate the tempo, but she immediately banished it to the corner of her vision, opting instead for music that would modulate its rhythm to keep her on pace.

The academy software returned to the center of her vision, a menu of icons arrayed in front of her. Each icon was color coded to show how much time she needed to put into it. Catalina ignored these metrics, and instead chose the only icon that was already green, the branching network of dots that represented Abstract Concepts. Immediately, a Go board popped into view. She went first, placing the black stone by concentrating on an area of the board and then tapping her fingers to select the proper intersection, the fingers on her left hand moving the reticle up and down and the fingers on her right hand moving it from side to side. She knew that she wouldn’t have a lot of time, so she had set the game up on a 13×13 board rather than the standard 19×19. The game was over by the time the ferry reached Ellis Cove, with the System winning by 3 points. A moment later a notification blinked in the corner of her vision, the Abstract Concepts icon overlaid by a green +6, not that she needed the points.

When the ferry neared an image of hands releasing an oar popped into her field of vision, but she had already let go. A moment later, the oar was locked into the docking position, raked down almost parallel to the hull. The ferry’s small motors engaged, swinging it around and bringing it to rest against the dock. People queued up and filed off the boat. A coin notification blinked at her, with a green +3, the minimum payment for a shift at the oars.

There were only a few people waiting to board ferry for the trip back downtown, which meant that the people staying on the ferry to take it back downtown would make at least twenty or thirty credits. Rowing ferries didn’t pay enough to live on, but for someone still in school, it could make the difference between a fun summer and instant noodles.

From the dock, she walked uphill through the trees until she reached the road. The bicycle traffic was heavy, and she was torn between waiting for an opening and walking a hundred meters out of the way to use the overpass. Finally, a gap opened and she dashed across. Fifteen minutes of walking along a footpath that wound its way through moss-covered trees and she was home.

Read the rest of the story.

Ongoing Hugo Drama

April 17th, 2015  |  Published in Uncategorized

You may or may not have heard of the kerfuffle around this year’s Hugo awards. If you care, you probably already know about it, if not you probably have no interest in having me explain it. In any case, i just read a fascinating essay on the subject by Eric Flint. What’s more, he has a lot of interesting stuff to say about awards in general, and even if you aren’t a F&SF fan you should give it a read.

Stories I Probably Won’t Get Around To Writing: The Silent and The Dead

March 17th, 2014  |  Published in Uncategorized, writing

Okay, let’s say that there’s a zombie outbreak and virtually everyone gets infected (99% or more).  What would that look like? I’m going to use Olympia as an example, as that is where I live.

The average population density of Thurston County (where Olympia is located) is 347 people/square mile. This could be better (the average for the US is 88) but it could be a whole lot worse (Los Angeles County has a population density of 2,100 people/square mile). Assuming “Walking Dead” style zombies, with a small group, you should be able to clear a square mile without too much trouble over the course of a week. The problem comes in when people get guns. Something like an assault rifle might be audible as far away as five miles. With sustained shooting, it isn’t unreasonable to assume that you would draw every zombie within a three mile radius. Not so bad, right? Wrong. A three mile radius gives you an area of a little over 28 square miles, with 347 zombies per square mile, you’re talking about nearly 10,000 zombies.

Now, let’s say that you’re a survivalist shooting zombies from their roof. Even with a 100% accuracy rate, you would be talking about 10,000 rounds, and at 28 pounds/1000 rounds, you would be talking about 280 pounds of ammunition, just to give you an idea of the amount of supplies you would need. Furthermore, what would 10,000 zombies look like? Shoulder to shoulder, that many people would take up something like one and a half football fields. In any case, I think that you get the picture. Things would not be good for our lone survivalist with his buried gold, canned food, and mountain of ammunition. I wouldn’t write about him.

Instead, I would write about the sort of group that would survive the math of the situation. They would need to be competent, not necessarily at killing zombies, but in organizing themselves as a group. A disorganized or fractious group of people with weapons doesn’t have many more choices than the a single armed person (in fact they may even have fewer, as their resource footprint would increase with their size). Weapons are force multipliers for individuals. Organization, on the other hand, is a force multiplier for groups.

The group would find a defensible place with a source of fresh water (and as far from survivalist types as practicable), and they would secure that area as quietly as possible, then gradually move out, clearing the area around them.  Once they had carved out a large enough area for themselves, they would create zombie traps, basically pits with sound emitting things (perhaps a shishi odishi for zombies?) scattered around the area’s perimeter. Every day or so, someone would head out the pits, dump in some gasoline, and burn the day’s zombies.

Wouldn’t they need that gasoline for their cars? No. First of all, gasoline goes bad and eventually will not work in your engines (but will probably still be viable for burning some zombies). Second, cars are loud (see the bit about drawing zombies to you above) and require cleared roads or paths. Finally, gasoline production would cease at the zombie outbreak (or shortly thereafter), and the group would soon find itself scavenging farther and farther away just to fuel their vehicles.

So what sort of stories would take place in this setting? First of all, there wouldn’t be much soap opera (which isn’t to say that it would be entirely absent, either), as it requires a fractious group and would likely get everyone killed before long. Instead, the story would probably focus on the various struggles from within the group, such as how decisions are made, and how to deal with divisive issues (51-49 votes are terrible for morale, see congress). The group would have to decide on its relationship to other survivors. I’m sure that there would be plenty of stories to tell in this setting. The main difference is that it wouldn’t be as annoying as much of what you see being made these days, which either assumes that people are basically bad (it seems to me that our world is an example of the opposite) or that people want to watch petty squabbling, or both.

In any case, I probably won’t write this, or at least not any time soon, but wanted to share the ideas anyway. If you do want to write it, feel free.

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Weekly Reading 4.6.12

April 6th, 2012  |  Published in Reading, Uncategorized

Books and Novellas

  • Sauerkraut Station, by Ferret Steinmetz – Described as Prarie Home Companion in space, this story was a lot of fun. Plus, GigaNotoSaurus allows you to download epubs of their stories, which makes them much more readable.
  • A Web of Air, by Phillip Reeve – After enjoying Fever Crumb, I thought that I would give the sequel a try. I was disappointed. First, the audiobook had a different narrator (the author did the first one, and was fantastic). Second, the simplistic view of spirituality that it portrayed (summed up as religion always hinders progress) annoyed me. Third, the most interesting part, birds with human intelligence that had decayed since their creation (but with the possibility of redemption) weren’t very well explored. Finally, the main character shoots someone by clamping a bullet in a vice and setting it off. Since the character is trained as an engineer, she should know that the bullet would need a barrel to achieve any sort of velocity. I won’t be reading the next one.
  • A Planet of Viruses, by Carl Zimmer – An excellent introduction to the world of viruses. Informative without being dry.
  • Palimpsest, by Charles Stross – This novella makes me look at every time travel story I’ve ever read and think that the authors lacked in ambition. I cannot overstate how much I enjoyed this book.

Articles

  • Real Spending, Real Dollars – Our spending priorities are just scary.
  • The $30 Billion Social Security Hack – I imagine that we will see a lot more of this in the future.
  • The Inadmissible Assumptions – Like a tiny Jaron Lanier sitting on my shoulder.
  • Not an April Fool – You know that saying about never attributing to evil what is more easily explained by stupidity? Well the corollary is that there is no functional difference between stupidity (or ignorance or incompetence) and evil.
  • It’s the Economics, Stupid! – Interesting look an energy prices and politics, although I think that he doesn’t take into account the effect of staring at a pump for a minute or two as you pump your gas, rather than simply seeing one number one time each month when you get your natural gas bill.
  • What Book Publishers Should Learn From Harry Potter – Namely that readers want to be your advocates, and that perhaps abject fear isn’t the correct response.

Comics

Weekly Reading 3.20.12

April 3rd, 2012  |  Published in Reading, Uncategorized

This was supposed to be posted on the 20th of last month, but due to operator error, it wasn’t. Oops.

Books

Last Week: The Statues That Walked, Ship Breaker, The Quantum Thief, The Third Reich, and One Way Forward. Of these five, my favorites were definitely The Statues That Walked, which made a rather persuasive argument that rather than polluting themselves to death/killing each other, the people of Easter Island were both peaceful and remarkably good stewards of the environment, and One Way Forward, which was one of the most hope-inducing political book that I’ve read in a long time.

This Week: Ragamuffin, Fever Crumb, and Dark Life. All of them were good, but nothing really bit me.

Articles

 

Weekly Reading

March 10th, 2012  |  Published in Uncategorized

Books

This week, I finished reading Richard Matheson’s Other Kingdoms, Sherman Alexie’s Flight, Tobias Buckell’s Crystal Rain, Tamora Pierce’s Tortall and Other Lands, Jonathan Hickman’s Red Wing, and Oscar Guardiola-Rivera’s What If Latin America Ruled The World. Of these, Crystal Rain was by far my favorite, and you should read it.

Articles

Broken Shores Updates and New Fiction

February 21st, 2012  |  Published in Uncategorized

OK, I promised a new book cover design article today. That may still happen. Other stuff has happened, however. First, I’ve gone through and done some more work on the Broken Shores site, so that now the stories page is the page that loads when you first head over there. In addition, I’ve created a logo and changed the intro text to hopefully make it more interesting (if you have suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments):

The world was once a place of plenty and wonders: famine and disease were largely unheard of, cities floated through the sky, everything appeared to be perfect. But it could not last. When the magic called Ve collapsed, society collapsed along with it: millions starved and the floating cities crashed to the ground. In the wreckage the byproducts of Ve use, magical beings called Amekt, went feral. This along with the ensuing wars rendered the mainland uninhabitable.

In the last days of the old empire, as things began to fall apart, a small group split off an island-sized piece of rock and seeded it with a plant that would allow it to float. For nearly 500 years, the island of Ansau has drifted in isolation on the ocean currents. Life is more difficult than it was, but the Island’s inhabitants have learned to use the trickle of Ve and stability has been the rule. But things are about to change again.

Second, I have finally posted my attempt at a Machine of Death story, Supervillain, which was rejected. I like it though, and you might, too. Keep in mind that it is in no way official. Here’s the first bit:

Silvia resented many things. She resented the job that made her feel like the Red Queen, running ever faster only to find herself stationary. She resented that her crippling student loan debt had paid for an education but not prospects of employment. She resented the economic necessity that forced her to share her too-small apartment with a roommate. But she loathed none of those things. Loathing was reserved for Adam. Her roommate.

Even worse, he was oblivious to her feelings towards him, and continued to do aggravating things. Like talking to her.

“Look at this,“ he said, handing her a slip of paper that could have come out of a fortune cookie save for the block lettering that was the hallmark of the Machine. It said SUPERVILLAIN. “What does it mean?“ That was the other hallmark of the Machine, it was annoyingly vague.

“It means that you‘re going to be killed, somehow, by a supervillain,“ she said. “I‘m thinking comic convention.“ After all, there were no super-powered people running around.

Adam didn’t look convinced, but he didn’t say anything else, which was good enough for her. She took one look at the common area, which appeared to have a nasty infestation of a fungus composed entirely of Adam’s things, and headed for her room, which was almost it’s own apartment within an apartment. If not for the bathroom and the exit being on the other side of No-Man’s-Land, she would never have to leave.

[read the rest]

In any case, a post about cover design might still show up this afternoon, time permitting, but if I were a betting man I would place my money on Friday.

The system is down . . .

December 22nd, 2011  |  Published in Uncategorized

. . . but should be back sometime tonight. What happened is that my old hosting provider went down and I had to switch, which takes some time. I did back up a few weeks ago, and have the missing stuff in hard digital copies. Even after I restore the site, it might not be until sometime next week that I get everything else back. Thanks for your patience.

Broken Shores is in a slightly more advanced state of repair, so you can read stuff over there, although things like images aren’t up yet.

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Happy NaNoWriMo!

November 1st, 2011  |  Published in Uncategorized

As you probably already know, it is November now. You may also have heard that November is National Novel Writing Month. If you are participating, good luck. As for me, I won’t be joining you. Nothing against it, it’s just not my thing. I will be doing something fun, however. This month I plan on finally finishing Caldera.

I know, I know, you’ve heard this before. I’ve been working on Caldera on and off since 2007. It was one of the first stories that I wanted to tell. I can still remember trying to fall asleep when I had the first kernel of an idea for it. I wrote a good chunk, only to realize that I was violating Rule #1 of writing: If it isn’t interesting, it had better be both important and damned short. I dropped the project (although it is still available in the archives, no promises about quality). I restarted the project after a while, keeping the first chapter and writing Those Who Stay Behind, which was an improvement. Somewhere around the same time I wrote and sold Betrayal at Waylan, which was incredibly fun. After that, I started working on Broken Shores, which is still active (indeed, I have a rough draft that needs some revision and will be published later this month).

Finally, I started working on what is hopefully the final incarnation of Caldera earlier this year. I changed a lot of things, and I think that I’m ready to just get to it and write this thing. So that is my goal for the month. I imagine that the final product will run somewhere from 15,000 to 30,000 words, but time and writing will tell. I’ll try to keep you appraised of my progress as the month wears on.

I Heart May

May 10th, 2011  |  Published in Uncategorized

This has been an extraordinarily productive month. First, I wrote a short story for ShoStoWriMo. Then, yesterday and today, I wrote a short story that I’m going to try and sell. Next week, maybe I will write the next Broken Shores story. I have pretty much finished this month’s story for Broken Shores and hope to post it later today. In any case, I should probably get some stuff done in the real world. Hope everyone else is have as good of a May as I am.