Knives Episode 20 Released!

keIr8jbMXxmru4jF8SmZgLewEQsJqeLDjbPX7mnqvHXuQ641S02V6HFty34Ricip_large_2This is a significant milestone in the story and in the history of the Soul Thieves. We don’t know anybody who sits at the big table where decisions are made, but something has gotten the wizards worked up enough to make a big move. If this were chess, the Soul Thieves just moved their queen. That’s a bad strategy early in the game, but who knows how long this contest has been going on?

Behind the scenes things are proceeding apace, but I did realize while working on episode 21 that I had messed up an important detail back in episode 17 or so. I went back and made some changes to those episodes, but nothing Earth-shattering. Ah, the joys and pitfalls of serial fiction. Good thing I don’t have very many readers yet.

Thanks, as always, to my patrons. Some of the beer I drink writing each episode is funded by you, and it makes me proud and grateful to have your support.

Episode 20: Conflagration

A Message in the Night

Early morning, still dark outside, the world quiet. I was sliding back into deeper slumber after a wakeful moment. A phone rings; I answer. An old friend.

“Wondering when the next episode of Knives is coming out,” he says.

Another voice, another old friend. “It’s been a while.”

The next voice is from one of the Kansas Bunch. “Whatever happened to Munchies?” she asks.

“And Monster,” another voice says, close enough to the project to use the shorthand name.

More voices, now with faces. Writers, readers. “Wait a minute,” I ask, “Is this an intervention?”

It was.

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Et in Arcadia Ego

Nicolas_Poussin_-_Et_in_Arcadia_ego_(deuxième_version)I live in a trailer park next to a sprawling cemetery. When the zombie apocalypse goes down, I’ll be relying on my better-armed neighbors on the north side of the park to slow the onslaught while my sweetie and I escape. On a recent stroll through that cemetery recently, I noticed a few things, and it got me to thinking more about what I would want etched in stone above the small patch of real estate reserved in my name that no one was ever allowed to use for any productive purpose.

I passed one monument, dark marble, with text in a script I was unsure of. Fun and curly letters, but I could tell it was a poem. In my imagination, I was looking at a verse from beyond the grave, an insight into the nature of the afterlife.

Soon after I passed an equally magnificent monument etched with the words “We will miss you.” Frankly, this inscription annoyed me. Clearly this message is not intended for the rotting corpse in the ground; this is a resolution by those still above-ground to honor the dead so that when their time comes, perhaps they will be remembered as well. If the spirit interred therein could read the words, it could also discern the truth of them.

I think, perhaps, my most lasting published words will be what’s carved in the stone over the patch of lawn my corpse commands. The title of this episode refers to a painting I once saw in the Louvre, and while scholars and people who know latin may disagree, my simple, naïve interpretation of the scene, where people are reading the words on the stone is, “I used to live here, too,” or in modern lingo, “I had a life, love, passions and fears, just like you. And now here I am.” An entirely appropriate memento mori from dead to the living. (Scholars go on about death existing even in utopia and shit like that. I respect scholars, and maybe the painter was over-thinking things, but my answer is better.)

A brief aside for art criticism: It’s funny, in my recollection of the scene, how small the people were, dwarfed by the world around them. The image in my head is, apparently, a departure from the actual work. Perhaps there was another pastoral scene nearby in the museum that tied itself to the same memory. And researching the thing on wikipedia now, I’m a lot less impressed. Too much nearsightedness and pointing. “Holy shit, Marge! Get a load of this one! Makes you think, don’t it?”

So what will my stone say, should I even rate such a monument? It depends on circumstances, but I think the message must come from me. Don’t carve messages to me in the stone; I won’t be able to read them.

For your reading pleasure I have a few modest candidates here. It’s good to plan your last words in advance.

The first is dependent on the manner of my demise:

Here lies Jerry
Run over by an asshole
rushing the red light.
Was that you?

Simple honesty can be compelling:

I would have preferred
to continue living
but apparently my opinion
doesn’t matter

Which is a variation of:
dang

Then again, being dead, maybe you know something your readers don’t. Vague prophecy is popular in some circles, and hey, it keeps you in the game, at least until five years after the big event:

On August 3rd
In the fourth year after the
GRAND UNMAKING
Return here when the bloated
reddened sun touches the
western horizon.
I’ll have a message for you.

Or perhaps the mystical powers of the departed can be put to more mundane use:

Thanks for visiting,
but I’m pretty sure you left your oven on.

In a similar vein, if Arnold Schwarzenegger’s headstone does not say the following, I demand a full inquiry:

I’LL BE BACK

Finally, it might be my last chance to advertise:

Hey! Check out my story
in the July 2006 issue of
Fantasy and Science Fiction

It’s a fun game, thinking about what your final, enduring words might be. And although some of these ideas are silly, that’s all right. In fact, it’s better than all right. Dispense with the usual platitudes and seize your chance to shape how you will be thought of long after anyone who knew you is gone. And maybe make some stranger’s day while you’re at it.

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Wrath of Athena

Before we get to the story, let me tell you a little about the author, Dale Cozort. He is part of a loose confederation of writers I have dubbed the “Kansas Bunch”, of which I am a member, though none of the others have adopted that name. Dale is unusual in our group, because he comes, gets advice, ignores a lot of it, and publishes his damn books. There are other published writers in the Kansas Bunch, some even famous or becoming so. But Dale is special in that regard. He plugs away, doing what he loves. He’s a very blue-collar sort of writer. No pretentious airs, just a story he feels good about.

So while I usually refer to authors by their last name in these little blurbs, Dale is “Dale” to me.

“Doing what he loves” means, for Dale, mashing different parts of history together to see what happens. Some of his stories might be called alternate histories, but most of his work is more like bizarro history, where space and time twist to rub cultures together that should have no business with one another. Most of his stories lean toward action/adventure, but now and then he’ll take a break and have a little fun.

Which brings us to Wrath of Athena: A Snapshot Novella. A petting zoo with a pair of talking dinosaurs (that may or may not have been won off some Nazis in a card game) is running into trouble in twenty-million-year-ago Madagascar (or, as I would call it if I lived there, Lemurpalooza). A breeding pair of talking dinosaurs, in fact, threatening disaster for the lemur-based ecology.

The setting is a little complicated, but pure Dale. Some alien intelligence we have no hope of understanding has been taking “snapshots” of parts of Earth at different times throughout history. So there’s 1942 Europe, 1950’s California, ancient Madagascar, and on and on, sliced out of reality, copied exactly including the people, and linked to each other through portals. Why do the mysterious intelligences do this? So Dale can have fun, that’s why.

This story unfolds like a whodunnit, and manages to keep that contract with the readers pretty well. The bad guys’ scheme is convoluted enough to keep readers guessing. Our main character is the official shit-shoveler of the traveling zoo, but he has some other skills as well. Dale has fun with stereotypes, and this gives the story a 1950’s-ish feel. Short-tempered redhead, insufferable brat, lecherous boss, and so forth.

Our shit-shoveling narrator talks like a shit-shoveler, and his voice is comfortable and honest. When he talks about his relationship with Athena you can nod and say, “I feel you, bud.” He’s playing catch-up much of the time, but he’s used to that.

Is it good? I enjoyed it. It’s a light read, and it moves right along. I was about to say that I don’t see Hollywood banging down Dale’s door for screenplay rights for this one, but then I hesitated. It’s about the right length for a screenplay and… talking dinosaurs? Lemurpalooza? Nazis and hot redheads? What’s not to like? CALL THE MONEY PEOPLE! I’m already casting Bruce Campbell as the shit-shoveler.

Note: if you use the above links to buy this book (or an amazingly ugly watch), I get a kickback.

Another Reason Mexican Television is Awesome

I’m in a local cantina and on the TV there’s some sort of quiz show happening. When the contestants get the answer wrong they get a pie in the face. When they get it right, they get a generous shot of tequila.

“Tequila!” the teammates of the most recent correct answer shouted in unison. Good times.

Knives Episode 19 Released!

It seems like someone — or something — is trying to prevent our friends from reaching the fortress at Brewer’s Ford. The fort means different things to each of the companions — to Elena it represents safety; Katherine may be walking to a dungeon cell and the gallows. Martin is not a big fan of walls, but considering what’s out here trying to kill them, he’s willing to chance it for a while.

In a way this episode is its own biography, as it has seen its share of resistance as well. Chapter 19 has gone through several metamorphoses as it has moved closer to the big time, with whole sections inserted only to be removed again. Until a very short time ago I had moved much of what I planned to put into chapter 20 into this chapter as well, but this chapter was getting huge and I don’t want to hold back on the descriptions of what happens next. (As I’ve hinted before, episode 20 is a biggie.) So ultimately this episode is a little underweight, but has plenty going on to make it worthwhile. I hope I haven’t overworked the chapter, but it reads pretty well to me.

Thanks once more to all the patrons!

19: The Crossing

Starmind: The Rest of It

Talk talk talk sex escape talk talk hippies lecture drugs talk talk talking while dong things end.

To expand on that a bit:

Talk, talk, talk. There is a sizable chunk of Dave Van Arnam’s Starmind that takes place in a single room, with most of the characters unable to move. There’s just talking. Then the Tylerbody (the shorthand used for the three personalities all sharing one body) bangs the hot nurse (with Joe at the controls; Jailyn has a bit of trouble with this part), and then literally minutes later is rescued from the clutches of the Evil Dr. Brian.

Tylerbody blinks Tylereyes and whistles with Tylerlips. It is a creative solution to the impossibility of finding an adequate pronoun for the multimind. Creative, perhaps, but not very good. Later, when the personalities experience moments of great union, THEY see through THEIR eyes and learn about THEMSELF. I found MYSELF glancing ahead to see how long these all-cap pronouns were going to last.

There are some fun parts along the way — for instance the book, written in 1969, credits the Beatles’ music from the 1980’s (their ‘middle years’) with helping to spark a global cultural revolution. Alas, that revolution petered out after global biological warfare killed half the population of Earth, but the country folk (or as I call them, ‘hippies’) have been carrying on.

Meanwhile, up in space, the giant asteroids that have been outfitted with pseudogravitic multiwave generators haven’t up to this point accomplished much except cost a lot and suck down gigantic amounts of power. Think of them as super-huge microwave ovens that don’t really heat things up very well. But as the three minds become more integrated they realize something: Those microwave ovens will work better than anyone ever imagined, if only the right person were to stick THEIR head in it. So THEY do. And it’s awesome.

And thus mankind is given the stars, as long as they can construct just the right three-brained people to stick their heads in the microwaves. And, as no other intelligence has come up with the idea of merging people’s brains and sticking them in gigantic, inefficient, microwave ovens, mankind goes on to rule the galaxy. But that, we are told, is another story. Maybe one without so much talking in it.

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