#Smaugust Day 27: RESCUE!

Hey all,

It’s Friday so I’ve written another snippet of fiction inspired by the #Smaugust tag on social media. Not sure what that is? Well it’s essentially a portmanteau of the words Smaug (the dragon from The Hobbit) and the word for the eighth month of the year (my fav month for reasons not related to dragons) August.

Artists all around the internet come up with lists of themes which they then use as prompts for their dragon artwork. I’ve pretty much been fascinated by this for quite a while now, but can’t draw worth a damn, and so I decided to try and write some fiction based off the prompts. I’ve posted the list of prompts I’ve been using just below this text (I’ve completed short piece’s already for LEGEND, FOREST, and HYBRID). Today’s word is RESCUE and it’s the last piece I’ll be doing for this year. Hopefully it’s an awesome one.

Like pretty much every one of these I attempted, I did not really land on a completed piece. I’m hoping each of these snippets will go into a larger short story (or possibly novella) which sat gathering dust on my hard drive for a really long time. Trying to write for this event has really inspired me to get back in this world, but I keep feeling like I never actually get to the dragons. Oh well . . . practice makes perfect.

Lastly, since this is supposed to be a drawing event, I found some fun tips on how to draw dragons. The first was 8 Pro Tips For Drawing Dragons by creativbloq.com. The second was put out by Adobe and called How To Draw a Dragon. Both of these were so inspiring that I actually decided to attempt #Smaugust more properly and create an image for my story and the prompt RESCUE.

It’s not great, but I think for me it’s pretty darn good. Anyway, enjoy the story (and artwork) below.


Rescue

When Galleed finally makes contact, I’m halfway into his Stack, and it’s giving me some weird mix between tingly-itchy-numb and I-just-felt-every-grain-of-this-wooden-table. My limbs feel like they’re jumbled in a heap on the other side of the room, but at the same time I’ve never had more control of them in my life. There’s so much magic sung into the god’s iron that my gauntleted hand could probably catch a fly by its wing without bending the tip.

It makes me want to run and fight and do everything all at once. Instead, I pace with worry, and I don’t know whether I’m worried about Galleed or if I’m worried this feeling might end.

Of course, Galleed has told me about the sensation before – how men spend months wearing a single piece of their armor at a time in order to acclimate themselves – how after a lifetime spent wearing the suits, he still feels a bit of a rush when attaching the final piece.

It’s hard to focus on the words writing themselves on the parchment I have spread across the worktable. They might as well be written in a foreign language for all I can make of their meaning. Galleed’s handwriting is abysmal when using Crotania’s finest implements, and now it’s clear to me he’s forming the glyphs with a badly broken stick and mud.

But by the will of some god neither of us have ever prayed to, but who must want our little drama to continue for another act, the words resolve into sentences.

Caught. Prison on north cliff. Beast coming. Now or never. Use the suit.

I run my hand through my hair and feel a sharp pain on my scalp as I accidently rip free a lock of my curling hair. The suit’s magic regenerates the brown coil within an instant and I curse, chiding myself for a fool and for wasting some healing. 

I sigh and shape my response in glyphs with my finger atop the parchment:

On my way . . .

But it’s a lie.

I can’t save Galleed.

I don’t know how. I’ve run through every strategy we talked through during our plans, simulated every outcome. There are half-finished notes covering every surface of the shop, but none of them are a formula which balances on both ends. Not one contains a solution.

And of course, the reason for it is simple. Galleed. He’s on the wrong side of the equal sign.

My job was to build the weapons and the suit. A Full Stack with custom magic abilities, and an easily used keyword interface.

His job was to use the suit and slay a god damned dragon.

But now all of that has changed. After failing to fight off all the hybrid dragonkin in Failmor Forest, we each triggered our portal which only led to two destinations. Home to the shop, and to the base of our quarry’s hoard, The Secluded Mountain.

My portal didn’t work, and so Galleed pushed me through his. But they were only designed to transfer one person and so it closed after I came through leaving him in the Hybrid’s clutches. Miraculously, Galleed managed to trigger the portal to Secluded Mountain instead, jumping quite literally from the boiling kettle into the crackling fire.

But its only fate deferred.

Even if we’re generous, and I claim a tenth of the ability Galleed possesses, it is not enough to battle the dragon. Not enough to do so and win.

My first thought was that perhaps we did not need to. The suit has wings and uses magic to fly. All I need do was swoop in, grab Galleed and fly off, savior to a Crotanian prince.  

This is still my current strategy, but of course, we’ve run into the same problem that got us into this mess. The suit is only designed for one person. Galleed. It won’t fly with two, not enough magic.

I continue pacing but the giddiness I felt before is wearing off – oh I still want to leap tall buildings but there’s something else too – replaced by a kind of resignation.

Fate deferred.

I can still save Galleed, but it will require me to get the variables back on the right side of the equation. Galleed back in the suit making his escape, me left behind rent by tooth and claw . . .


Welp. That’s it . . . That’s all I wrote. Hope you enjoyed the snippet (sorry it ended on a bit of a downer but obvi it’s gonna turn around I just haven’t written that part yet).

If you liked anything about what you saw here, I have more fiction to read, and a newsletter which you can subscribe to. It basically lets you know more about what I’m up to, and how different projects are going.

Anywho, this has been a wild ride. See you next week!

#Smaugust Day 20: HYBRID

It’s a Friday in August so I guess that means I have another #Smaugust post for y’all. What’s a Smaugust? Well, apparently it’s the word you get when you combine the words August and Smaug, the main antagonist in Tolkien’s The Hobbit.

I got a little curious about the history of this event and was able to find that the Brush Warriors have done some sleuthing in their post: Smaugust — Drawing Challenge. Apparently it was started in 2016 by and artist named Katie Croonenberghs, aka Kamakru and Oh My Gawd, her artwork is absolutely beautiful.

Anyway, you may have noticed that I’m not an artist. I can’t draw to save my life, but I still think this is a fun and cool event, so I’ve decided to adapt it to my own purposes . . . writing fiction. I don’t have the bandwidth right now to write new fiction everyday, but every Friday has been pleasantly doable. You can see the list of prompts I’m using in the image below, and check out my two previous entries for the prompts LEGEND, and FOREST.

That’s pretty much all you need to know about that. Let’s get to the fiction. Today’s prompt is HYBRID. Enjoy!


High Breed

After Galleed had finished drying out, and I’d finished writing up my notes from our encounter with the Gorgusa, we decided we must continue testing the Full Stack’s features – after all, the test had revealed valuable flaws in both our methods and assumptions – though we both agreed that perhaps another look at those assumptions was needed before we reached Failmor’s southern edge, and the home of the Blensdcale.

Several long and expensive afternoons spent in The Capital’s premier library, The Anathenaeum, had given us nearly a thousand reports of encounters with our next quarry, some benign, but most disastrous. We poured through those accounts all over again while ambling down the slowest route to the southern edge, hoping to find some sliver of information we’d missed in our original search.  

Neither Galleed nor I had admitted it to each other yet, but we’d both been shaken among those ancient ruins and roving tupelo. Our first test, and we’d nearly failed. Our first bet, and we’d nearly lost it all.

We were determined not to make the same mistake twice, and so we worked.

But as the wind grew colder, and the hills began to climb, Galleed and I were no closer to the certainty of our next victory.

Most of the encounters we’d read which involved the Blensdcale had been taken from a single source – a chronicle so-to-speak – of a nomadic people who’d travelled to every corner of Failmor’s wood, and beyond.

They seemed to be a curious and detail-oriented people, which naturally I appreciated, and their runes and speech had been adopted as keywords for one the King’s infantry units to trigger the offensive magic sung into their armor and weaponry. The unit had guarded young Galleed for nearly a quarter of his life before being sent to the front to fight Severants.

He knew the runes almost better than I did. It had been the most logical account to base our hypotheses.

But in light of our last failure, the texted seemed bungling and amateur. It was seemingly filled with discrepancies and contradictions. Even within the same account, written by the same author, one stanza would describe the terror of beholding the dragonkin’s breath as it set its prey aflame. While in the next stanza it would describe the same breath as freezing a second man where he stood.

Having just been turned to stone by our last challenge, Galleed did not seem very keen on any interpretation of the runes involving the words freeze, frozen, or frost. I could not say that I blamed him, but I also could not ignore the meaning either, for perhaps the very same reason Galleed wanted to pass it by.

Whatever the truth of the account was, neither of us could divine it. It simply made no sense.

This was not the only mystery that our newly found caution had revealed to us. One grouping of runes stood out to us now as particularly strange and we spent nearly our entire journey trying to puzzle it out. Back in the Anathenaeum, the words seemed to translate literally to ‘High’ and ‘Breed’, which we had taken as simply a descriptor of the dragon’s status as an apex predator.

But Galleed pointed out the way in which the accounts expressed awe at the dragonkin’s majesty and nobility, as well as fear of their cruelty. Many of the accounts might have sold back in Crotania’s capital as romances in which star-crossed lovers were exiled to the far reaches of Failmor for their forbidden coupling.

And through it all, the High Breed, the High Breed, as if referring to some kind of lineage.

Of course, it was only when we finally reached the foot of the Blensdcale’s territory and saw the charred remains of a great pine encased in slick but never melting ice that we realized how we’d missed the forest for the trees. It was only after we were deep with the creature’s clutches that the meaning of those strange runes became clear.

Not ‘High Breed’ as we’d though but one simpler and more accurate concept.

Hybrid . . .


This prompt actually turned out to be way more fun than I anticipated. When I first looked at it, I hadn’t even the slightest clue what to write for it, nor how it would fit with the other pieces I’ve done so far, and the larger story I have planned for these snippets. But I’m happy to say I persevered and am pretty happy with what eventually came through.

I’m particularly proud of The Anathenaeum which is (to me) a sort of funny and ironic portmanteau (please try to guess what words it combines in the comments!). I’m kind of embarrassed by Blensdcale but I’m terrible at coming up with names for things (feel free to bash me in the comments for that one yeesh).

Anyway, I think that’s all I have for now. I hope you enjoyed High Breed. If you’re at all interested in reading more of my writing, or what goes into these stories, I’ve started a newsletter (which is hopefully released quarterly) so people can get a more “behind the scenes” look of what I’m doing and what’s going on in my world. Please consider subscribing. Just for signing up, I’ll email you the first story I ever wrote, about a Warlock Doctor. Fun times. Thanks again!

See you next time!

Teamwork (Part 1): Phase Feathers

Hey all. I had fun talking about Ancient Egyptian doggos last week, but I though another Max story was in order. This week he meets a coworker. Read on to see how it goes . . .

Teamwork (Part 1): Phase Feathers

Who was this? Of course, Max had been expecting Ms. Pine. Every time Max had come over to the house – whether it be to feed Jebalix to a Slagorez, or empty the litter of a toxic cat – Ms. Pine had been there to greet him.

She usually left a cryptic note, and then greeted him at the door with a smile which let him know that whatever crazy thing that was about to ensue would be alright.

This boy, standing somewhat hunched in the doorway, did not smile, and he seemed to have no idea why Max was even there at all.

“I’m Max. I’m here to see Ms. Pine.”

“Trevor,” the boy replied. “Ms. Pine left a few hours ago. She said the normal guy flaked so I’m watching the cat for the weekend.” He tilted his head over his shoulder. “You’re welcome to come in and cool off for bit if you’d like. Looks hot out there.”

It had been a rather grueling ride over. He supposed Ms. Pine wouldn’t mind if he got himself a glass of water from the kitchen.

Max watched the boy. He didn’t seem to be doing much. He just sat playing video games. Perhaps Trevor needed help.

“Has Sphinxy had a canary this evening?” Max tried, hoping to prompt the boy to action.

“Ms. Pine gave him one before she left.”

“And she showed you how to change the litter? You have to – “

“I know what I’m doing.” Trevor said curtly. “I don’t need any help.”

Max continued to drink his water and twirl on his stool in the kitchen. Perhaps he should just ride back home. If Trevor, wasn’t going to let him help, then there was really nothing else he could do.

His eyes fell upon the stairwell leading from the living room to the second floor. It’s not that he had never noticed it before, he’d always just been so focused on the tasks Ms. Pine had provided for him that he never took the time to explore.

If she had a cat which required PPE to handle properly sitting in a plastic cube in her living room, just think of all the other strange things she might have hidden away on the second floor.  It had never crossed his mind to head up those stairs, but now it seemed irresistible.

He didn’t consider it snooping. It was . . . professional development. He could take on more jobs if he knew more about the rarities in Ms. Pine’s house.It had nothing to do with being more valuable than Trevor.

Max gulped down the last swallow of his water and hopped off his stool. “Hey Trevor? I’m just gonna head upstairs for a bit. I’ll be back in a second.”

“Are you approved? Ms. Pine is very particular about where her employees go in the house.”

“Of course I’m approved.”

“Whatever.” Trevor said rolling his eyes. “But if anything is out of place when she comes back, I’m not covering for you.”

“Mhmm.”

Max took the first couple stairs quickly and then slowed his pace once he was out of Trevor’s view. He wanted to take this in.

Unfortunately, it looked pretty much the same as the last level. It had the same stylish but muted wallpaper, and the wood laminate was tidy but not sparkling.

The sparkle lay at the end of the hall, a crystal door, slightly ajar. Max felt a cool blue intensity radiating from behind the clear gate. Entering the large room, he was stunned. It held hundreds of the same type of cube in which Shinxy lived, each containing some different creature which Max had never seen.

Some had fins, others tentacles, many had wings, and some had all! Nothing seemed to be where it should, but it all seemed natural for whatever creature he laid eyes on.

Finally, his eyes came to find an unusual looking bird tapping the plastic of its cube and looking quite forlorn. Its wings were red with one gold feather each, then three gold feathers clustered around its tail. It had arms too and sat on crow’s feet with a parrot’s beak. Compared with everything else, it was quite normal.

This would be a good place to start he reasoned.

Approaching the cube, he saw a small plaque identifying the creature as a Phasing Icarie. Looking closer at the bird itself, Max noticed that one of the golden feathers had been broken – snapped off – close to the skin. The animal seemed to be in pain and before Max realized what he was doing, he’d opened up the cube and plucked the broken feather from the bird.

The bird hopped away, and held up its wing to check the wound. There was only a speck of blood. Satisfied it was not a serious injury, the bird puffed up its chest in triumph and chirped its thanks.

Then it disappeared.  

There was a fluttering sound and then a loud thunk as if something had hit the door. Max turned quickly to see the bird fluttering back from the door looking stunned. One of its golden feathers wafted to the floor beneath it. The creature disappeared again only to reappear at the opposite side of the room. It swooped low, in an effort to gain speed for the charge.

It would kill itself if it kept this up.

Max quickly moved in front of the exit and reached to intercept it. The bird disappeared again, just as his fingers were closing upon it. All that remained in his hand was a single golden feather.

The bird now clung to one of the other cubes, using its arms to help hold on, like a climber scaling a cliff. It swiveled its head like an owl to glare at Max with indignation.  Max approached slowly, but as soon as he got close enough to reach the bird, it disappeared and flew into the door.

The bird limped back to the far side of the room, clinging to the cubes only this time too high for Max to reach. He’d be here all day if he didn’t find a way to keep it from disappearing. It was then that Max realized he noticed hardly any gold in the animal’s plumage. Indeed there was only one gold feather remaining on its tail. All the other feathers had fallen to floor. They looked withered and expired.

Max thought of the game Trevor had been playing downstairs. How Trevor only had a limited number of shots to kill his enemy. The bird’s golden feathers were like its shots. It only had one left. 

Max opened the door hoping to coax it into making a move.

The bird let go of the cubes and swooped towards the open door. Max feinted as if he were going to try to grab the bird – it disappeared – and Max quickly turned and shut the door. The bird hit again, and while it was still dazed, Max grabbed it in both hands. It squawked and screeched, beating its wings to try and get away, but it did not disappear. Max held it fast and put it back into its cube.

He breathed a sigh of relief and turned to begin cleaning up the bird’s withered golden feathers. That’s when he noticed Trevor standing on the other side of the crystal door holding his cell phone. “Ms. Pine’s phone,” said the voice on the other end. “Who’s this?

To be continued . . .


Hey again, I hope you enjoyed Teamwork Pt. 1: Phase Feathers. If you’re at all interested in reading more of my writing, or what goes into these stories, I’ve started a newsletter (which is hopefully released quarterly) so people can get a more “behind the scenes” look of what I’m doing and what’s going on in my world. Please consider subscribing. Just for signing up, I’ll email you the first story I ever wrote, about a Warlock Doctor. Fun times. Thanks again!

See you next time!

Rapunzel’s Tower

Hey all. It’s Friday so I thought I’d let Max go play. I was aiming for 1,000 words and ended up with 1,055. I’d say not too shabby. This piece is also exciting because I found my first continuity error between this story and the others. I decided to leave it in as these shorts are just practice. If you catch it, post it in the comments. Enjoy!

Rapunzel’s Tower

Max smiled as his pencil traced an arc across the page. He wasn’t quite sure what the arc would form – maybe a wing, or a claw. Ooh the hump of a roller coaster! – but it felt good to sit at his desk, drawing to kill the time until his friend Tim came to pick him up. It felt good to have time to kill on the weekend.

A little red stone near the end of Max’s desk began to buzz insistently. For the third time in three weeks, it was Ms. Pine. Reluctantly, Max placed his palm on the table, and listened to the message.

Hi Max,

Are you avoiding me? Anyway, I have another job this weekend. Please get in touch!

Cynthia.

Max sighed and spun around in his chair. As he had last week, and the week before, Max made no move to reply to the message. He was done with putting his life at risk, done with being scared to go to work, done with Ms. Pine. From here on out?

No more monsters.

The doorbell rang and Max ran down the stairs and greeted his friend Tim. Immediately they began to talk about how much better today’s adventure would be as compared to last week’s. Max tried to match Tim’s excitement, but something was off.

They’d gone to play laser tag two weeks ago, and that’s when Max had noticed it. Though he was running, and jumping, and shooting, he felt as if something were missing.

He’d felt it again, at the pool party over at Kimmy’s house. The other children laughed as they splashed each other with water from the pool or ate cake and ice cream. But Max couldn’t bring himself to join them. If Tim hadn’t dared him to jump off the high dive, he might never have felt better.

Now, as he looked out at the neon flashing signs, and a thousand bulbs of light which arced into the sky, Max knew he’d be able to get it back. Whatever it was.

“Which ride do you want to go on first?” Tim asked as they waited to enter the amusement park.

Max looked around and saw a large tower that stood higher than all of the other rides in the park. At the top of the tower, was the statue of a woman with long golden hair, looking down across the park. Her golden hair cascaded down her back, flowed off the edge of the tower and eventually became the track for the ride which looped and twirled its way down to a knight who stood near the ride’s exit.

“You can’t go on that ride first Max, are you crazy? It’s the tallest one!” Tim said, putting his arms around Max’s shoulders. “You have to build up to it. Let’s try something a little easier first.“

Max allowed Tim to lead him away from Rapunzel’s Tower and onward to something that looked like a caterpillar chasing a leaf held by ants. It was just ok. The next one they tried covered almost the entire park, soaring on the wings of a Pterosaur, feet dangling high above the earth. Tim looked more exhilarated than Max had ever seen him in his life. Max supposed it was nice for him too.

Finally, they returned to Rapunzel’s Tower.

An attendant pulled the padded harness down over them and checked to make sure it was secure. With everything in place, the car began to slowly spiral upwards as if the passengers were walking up a spiral staircase to the top of the stone tower.

Max looked over at Tim who seemed to blanch a little more with each floor they ascended. Max’s anticipation was twofold. Would this thrill be the one? When this car finally dropped, would he finally feel that missing something?

They crested the top of the rise, and glided smoothly towards the drop. Max’s heart was butterflies in his chest. This was it!

There was a resounding crunch and the car stopped.

Max and Tim hung suspended over the tracks looking down to the pavement bellow. The other guests looked the size of ants and Max longed for the safety of the caterpillar ride. This was too much. It was too high. How on earth had he thought that this was what he was missing?

Max pushed against the padded harness holding him in place but it wouldn’t budge. Somewhere in the distance, an attendant was explaining into the loud speaker that the ride would need to be evacuated. Just remain calm.

When the fire department arrived and began to bring everyone down, Max was shaking as he descended the rungs. As soon as his foot touched the pavement, he ran towards the exit. He didn’t make it very far though; for some reason, it was too hard to breathe.

As Max stood with his hands on his knees, bent forward, trying to catch his breath, he heard an “Oww!” cried from somewhere in front of him. A second exclamation allowed Max to find its source: a young girl standing in front of a glass aquarium of Jebalix. She reached inside and their snapping beaks moved to nip at her hands.

Max was surprised by the fluidness of his motions as he approached the girl. His hands didn’t shake at all as he removed some leather strips from a hook on the wall and laid it within the aquarium. The jebalix bit into it, as he knew they would, and he pulled the leather back towards himself, removing their beaks. The girl was delighted, a grin spreading across her face as she reached into the aquarium to pick up one of the now harmless monsters.

Max realized he was delighted too, for as he’d helped the girl everything seemed to fall into place. The missing piece had been found! It had been the monsters all along that he’d been missing.

Tim walked up looking shaken, and stressed. “Is everything OK with you Max? You were shaking as you left the ride and now you look like you’ve just won an endless supply of free ice cream.” Max blinked a second looking at Tim. “What? Uh yea, I’m fine. Wonderful actually. But we should get going. I have a message I need to reply too . . .”


Hey again, I hope you enjoyed Rapunzel’s Tower. If you’re at all interested in reading more of my writing, or what goes into these stories, I’ve started a newsletter (which is hopefully released quarterly) so people can get a more “behind the scenes” look of what I’m doing and what’s going on in my world. Please consider subscribing. Just for signing up, I’ll email you the first story I ever wrote, about a Warlock Doctor. Fun times. Thanks again!

See you next time!

The Jebalix

So, back in my I’m Baaaackkkk! post a couple weeks ago, I mentioned I’d like to start posting some fiction on this site as well. Here is the first foray into that endeavor. Hopefully I’ll be able to keep up regular posting. We’ll see.

For this piece, my goal was to write a complete story in 250 words. It took me 369, but I’ll try harder next time. Please feel free to give any comments or feedback you’d like. Enjoy . . .

The Jebalix

Max eyed the Jebalix nest and wondered if the coin Ms. Price had given him would cover a new set of hands. Judging by the various prosthetics he’d seen on the other temp workers as he’d entered the habitat, he guessed that it probably wouldn’t. Judging by their broken and desperate demeanor, Max also suspected he should probably find work elsewhere.

But a whole month’s rent was sitting in that nest, if he could just grab one of these slimy little monsters and bring it back to Ms. Price’s house. He raised his hand towards the nearest Jebalix and shuddered as it pushed a chomping beak through its gelatinous body, nearly removing his hand right then and there.

Max began to envy those other workers their hook hands and club arms. It gave the beak something to clamp on to that wasn’t going to hurt . . .

Max removed his belt and dangled it in front of the nearest Jebalix. As before the beak came forward, chomping heartily onto the leather garment. While the beak was distracted, Max used his other hand to scoop up a Jebalix and place it in his bucket.

Yes!

Oww!

A second beak tore some flesh off his hand and he dropped the creature before managing to place it within the bucket. It plummeted to the ground and Max shuddered a second time when he heard it splat against the habitat floor.

Max stared in horror at the beak, still clutching his leather belt. Then he smiled and tossed one end of the belt so that it lay flat across the nest. Each of the Jebalix pushed a beak forward and clamped on to the belt. From there it was as easy as holding out the bucket and pulling the belt back towards him. When gravity began its work, each of the Jebalix landed promptly in the bucket. Max beamed as he looked down at the Jebalix, sloshing and chomping furiously in his bucket. He patted the coin in his pocket and breathed deeply as he went back towards Ms. Price’s house. One month’s rent paid with no loss of limb or life? Maybe this was a job he could keep after all.


Trying to Get Caught Up on Scalzi (Review of Miniatures & Redshirts)

Miniatures
Miniatures was a very quick and fun read. The stories are short and very easy to speed through (I think I read the whole thing in two sittings). For fans who have read a lot of Scalzi in the past, this collection displays all of the trademark imagination and humor that we associate with a Scalzi novel. For people who have never read one of his novels, I feel that you’ll get a pretty good feeling for his style and what kind of stories he writes. Nothing in this collection was earth shattering but all of the stories were enjoyable and most made me laugh. If you’re feeling that you’ve been in a bit of a rut when it comes to what you’ve been reading, this collection will be a breath of fresh air.

Also, many of the stories were written a pretty long while ago. Around eight years ago and further back. It’s amazing to me how prescient they were reading them in 2017. Not in terms of technology that we have today (many of the stories don’t have really visible future tech), but in terms of subject matter. For instance one story was written in 2008 posits an alternate history in which Vladimir Putin is the first person on moon. Not sure what Putin was doing back in 2008 but he’s certainly relevant today. Another story (written in 2010) forms a scenario in which yogurt takes over the world. I think the mixed feelings of “How could this have happened?” and “Is this a joke?” perfectly reflect the way many Democrats feel after this most recent election. To think that it was written 7 years ago . . .

red shirtsMoving onward, I have been doing a bit of “catching up” in terms of Scalzi’s catalog. I just finished Redshirts but elected not to give it its own post as it’s a Hugo award winner and probably has had enough written about it. Needless to say, I enjoyed Redshirts a lot, but am surprised by just how critically acclaimed it was. A quick look at the other authors nominated that year show: Kim Stanely Robinson, Saladin Ahmed, Mira Grant, and Lois McMaster Bujold. Seems a strong roster. I’ve not read any of these other authors but am familiar with their work (except Bujold). I also feel that if Redshirts had been nominated for the most recent Hugo award, it would not have stood a chance. Definitely interesting to see how awards change and how “what’s popular” changes over time.

Looking forward, I may try to read Lock In quickly before Collapsing Empire comes out. I’ve been told it is very different from Scalzi’s other works which seem to all be Star Trek parodies in one way or another (with Redshirts being literally a Star Trek parody). I’m very interested to see what Scalzi would write about when he isn’t writing about shooting things in space. Until next time . . .

Short Fiction Review: Dead Men Working in the Cane Fields

Well, it’s October finally, which means Halloween is fast approaching. It also means that for the next month, we (pop culture) will be celebrating all things that bump in the night. I enjoy a good ghost story, or a good werewolf flick. I can always be regaled by the tale of a lonely vampire or a Frankenstein’s Monster. However, one particular type of ghoulish creature (‘dead’ giveaway right there) has fascinated me as of late. He (or she) shambles. He’s dirty. Pretty dumb really. Hangs out with a bunch of buddies and roams around hoping to chance upon a rabbit or a deer, or better yet, a person if there are any of those still left. Yes, I’m not afraid to admit it.

I’ve fallen in love with Zombies!

Just can’t help it really. And while there will be all sorts of creepy crawlies and ghastly . . . other things that start with the letter G, I’ll be keeping my eye on the zombies. So, for my fiction review this week, I decided to go back to the source. Go back to where it all started: William Buehler Seabrook’s Dead Men Working in the Cane Fields. This piece (I believe) was originally part of a larger work by the same author called The Magic Island, and from what I can gather, is an account of Seabrook’s visit to Haiti, way back in 1929. I’m sure it was embellished some, and I’m sure that its contents were probably expanded upon and used by others who had a taste for the occult.

Great image from: http://survivingthedead.wordpress.com/

Great image from Mike Kloran via survivingthedead.wordpress.com

*Fun Fact: Apparently Seabrook had the taste for humans. Reportedly, he stayed with a cannibalistic tribe in West Africa, and eventually tried a ‘roast’ of actual human flesh back in America. Compared it to veal. Thought the tastes were so similar that all but the most discerning pallet would likely not be able to distinguish the difference. At least that is the myth.

 However, Dead Men Working in the Cane Fields is the first story to ever use the Z-word (zombie). The story isn’t long. I’d definitely recommend it to anyone with an extra half-hour to kill. Was really quite interesting to see the similarities, and differences, between this seemingly archaic conception of a zombie, and what we now perceive them to be.

A Master of Puppets is Pulling the Strings . . .

Seabrook’s zombies are the vacant, dumb, shambling creatures we are familiar with but with one very important difference: They are not their own vacant, dumb, and shambling creatures. What I mean is they must be told what to do. In Dead Men Working in the Cane Fields, the narrator (and through narration, the reader also) is told of corpses that are ‘dragged from their graves’ to go work in the fields. In Seabrook’s account, our precious zombies aren’t killers or cannibals themselves but simply work the fields and follow orders. Slaves really. They are kept away from the other workers because the master doesn’t want them to know that his workers are corpses. He’s afraid that someone will recognize a brother, sister, or other family member and demand (perhaps violently) that they be returned the afterlife.

Interestingly enough, the zombies are cooked separate food that has neither salt, nor meat in it. The superstition here is that should the zombies eat salt or meat, the food reminds them they are dead and they wail until they are back in their graves. Personally this seems like a rather silly picture in my mind but I’m sure it would be quite frightening to actually witness. I’m also wondering if the more modern, flesh eating zombies we are familiar with today are some kind of misappropriation of Seabrook’s own cannibalism and the horrific creatures he wrote about. No way to know for sure.

Zombie Keebler elves!

No, this is a Keibler elf, not a Keebler elf.

No, this is a Keibler elf, not a Keebler elf.

One similarity between Seabrook’s tale and more modern zombie sagas, is the presence of large corporations at work either creating the zombies, or using them in some way. In Dead Men Working in the Cane Fields, the narrator hears that Hasco or Haitian-American Sugar Company, is using the zombies to work their fields. The narrator then compares Hasco to Nabisco (ok not Keebler sorry) and some other large American corporations and announces his utter surprise  at hearing such strange business. I think about movies like Resident Evil and perhaps some others, which all use big corporations as the ‘bad guy’ who is responsible for the zombie outbreak. I marvel at the fact that this is the thing that stays the same when so many other zombie tropes have changed and mutated with time. I suppose if you wanted to get down to it, perhaps the essence of zombie fiction lies somewhere in the betrayal of big corporations. Not sure just yet but certainly something to think about as I read more zombie stories.

Anyway . . .

I suppose I’ve written all of this to say something much simpler and that is: “Get excited because it’s October and let’s talk about zombies.”

Give Dead Men Working in the Cane Fields a read if you have the chance. There isn’t a lot to it, but it is at least interesting to know what got this whole zombie thing started. I guess that is all for now. New story next week. Bye!

These guys still crack me up!

These guys still crack me up!

Short Fiction Review: A Cup of Joe

Well, it’s a new week which means a new review of short fiction.  This week’s pick is A Cup of Joe by Anita Ensal. Before we get on to talking about the short story, I want to take a moment to tell you how I came across this story. To put it simply, it was emailed to me. Zombies Need Brains LLC, is a fledgling publishing company using a Kickstarter to fund their first project entitled: Clockwork Universe: Steampunk vs. Aliens. In general, I’m new to Steampunk as a genre, but I think Kickstarters are pretty neat and I wanted contribute something to this new company (even if it was only $15) and this seemed like a good place to start. I backed the project. As a reward they have been emailing stories, written by authors contributing to the anthology, to the backers. I don’t believe A Cup of Joe will be contained in the anthology but I found Anita’s website here and it can be purchased on Amazon for like three dollars or something like that.

Love this Artwork!

Love this Artwork!

It’s worth the money.

When reading the story, I was immediately struck by the author’s voice. It’s easy to read, almost conversational. I was struck next by the construction of the world and the role of each character. These constructions were not necessarily subtle but still very tastefully done. For instance, there is a character called the Mother Board. It is clear from her actions within the story that she functions similarly to what we might expect from a motherboard in a computer. She governs the other components of the city and ensures that the ‘program’ runs effectively and efficiently. However, there is a way in which she also feels like a Mother, attempting to look out for her child, in this case, the human race. Perhaps, she is a little overzealous (ok she’s bat shit crazy) but that human aspect is there. It’s is especially interesting considering the fact that she isn’t human at all.

This is a world in which the structure of society values the mechanical and routine, over disruption and creativity. Of course, this cannot stand.

From here, all sorts of philosophical and ethical questions are raised. Is it ok to kill a few to save many? Are our lives predetermined or do we truly have a choice? Is it better to be happy in our ignorance or always seek the truth even if that truth is disturbing and painful? And of course how do we treat the environment? It isn’t a far leap to imagine this rigid, structured society as our own.

Candy??

Candy??

However, I think my favorite aspect of this piece is the love story. It’s simplistic (as a love story should be) and somehow reassuring. Now I think back on everything this piece has to offer and another story comes to mind. It reminds me an awful lot of The Matrix. It doesn’t have all the guns and shooting, but a lot of same elements are persistent through the story. When I first made this realization I was a little bit upset. But now, I don’t mind at all. I think that the story is still enjoyable to read because of it’s aforementioned qualities. The writing is good. Fun to read with good pacing. The characters are easy to care about. In my mind, the distance between David, Mother Board, Emily, and the reader is a lot less than between the viewer, Neo and Trinity. You’re in a new world, but it isn’t that far from what you already know.

As a short, I think it was perfectly done. Not a complete mind bender (or mind-fuck for that matter) but an enjoyable tale that gives you the opportunity to think about some interesting questions, but it doesn’t beat you over the head with them.

So, in conclusion, go spend the three dollars. Also, keep and eye out for Clockwork Universe: Steampunk vs. Aliens. 

Bye all.

Short Fiction: Sometimes it’s good to get “Literary”

True story. Sometimes you need something heavy to think about. If you’re in that sort of vein, I recommend William Faulkner’s The Bear. There’s a lot to swallow. Probably more than one blog post can suffice to say but . . . I want to talk about it anyway. I found The Bear in a summer English class, about two years ago. We were reading all sorts of ‘Literary’ books and stories. The Souls of Black Folk by W.E. Dubois, some poetry by Frost, and something by Joseph Conrad though I don’t think it was Heart of Darkness. I read that when I was younger and wished I’d had a professor there to help explain it to me. Still do.

Now, two years later I found myself thumbing (well I guess scrolling) through its pages a second time. I was taught in class that it was about ‘Modernity’ with a capital M. I find myself searching for meaning in that word even as the young boy hunts for Old Ben in the woods of the great . . . wherever. I still haven’t found him. I’ve crossed paths with ‘Modernity’, recognized its trail and ran its woods a thousand times but I don’t seem to be any closer to bringing home the kill.

As I read it this time, one passage really stuck in my mind:

“There was an old bear, fierce and ruthless, not merely just to stay alive, but with the fierce pride of liberty and freedom, proud enough of liberty and freedom to see it threatened without fear or even alarm; nay, who at times even seemed deliberately to put that freedom and liberty in jeopardy in order to savor them, to remind his old strong bones and flesh to keep supple and quick to defend and preserve them.”

Now read that passage again and take a shot every time you see the words ‘freedom’ or ‘liberty’. Am I right?

All joking aside, I feel that this quote is in a lot of ways ineffable. I imagine the wilderness this bear must live in. It’s complete and utter disregard for rules or regulation (civilization?) because there aren’t any in sight. A time before the land was developed, sectioned off, built up and disastrously torn down. Before modern conveniences like roads and computers, Twitter or Facebook, cell phones and television.

It also says something to me about competition. The Bear is “playing the game” to its fullest potential. At war with those who would try to capture its independence and limit its fulfillment. I think this exists in the world we live in today with all of the modern convenience mentioned before (note that I’m not trying to argue any sort of lifestyle in which we give up these conveniences; I love them). To me, those boundaries seem like a new wilderness through which the bear must run and through which men will hunt and attempt to capture him.

I also find the hunters in this story interesting too, because in my mind they are the same as the Bear. The reason they hunt is to push the same boundaries and fulfill the same need as their target. To push themselves to life’s limit so that they may better appreciate that life and those limits. To give them motivation to reach and succeed at new challenges. It’s just the same as that which they hunt. It seems to me a very American mentality. Good thing the 4th’s tomorrow.

There is definitely more to this story. Of course there is more meaning in this story than can be properly expressed with another hundred posts of this quality, but I think this short was included in a larger work by Faulkner called Go Down, Moses. I seem to remember them capturing the Bear and a rather sad eulogy to follow. I also seem to remember another story which made me think that I was no less a man if I poured water into my whiskey . . .

I think I’ll be talking more about Faulkner in the weeks to come. Until next time . . .

Old Ben? Maybe?

Old Ben? Maybe?

This Week’s Short Fiction Review! Paladins of Shannara: Allanon’s Quest

I seem to be on a fantasy thing lately. If it has swords and magic then I’m game. I want to read it. I would say that I’ve read a lot of fantasy in my reading career and I keep coming back for more. Spend enough time in a genre and you start to know the major authors whether or not you’ve read them. But given the nature of Fantasy literature, it seems difficult to be well versed in the plethora of authors this genre has simply because it isn’t easy (for me at least) to hop between series, worlds, magic systems etc. Also, some of the volumes can be quite lengthy so if you’re going to try an author for the first time, you probably aren’t going to bother unless you get a pretty huge recommendation from someone you know and trust, that has similar tastes in reading as you do.

Oooh Cover

Oooh Cover

This is not why I picked up Paladins of Shannara: Allanon’s Quest. To be honest, I can’t give you a particularly good reason as to why I went ahead and jumped into Shannara at all. I think I’ve just seen the name Terry Brooks (and by association Shannara as well) around for many years and figured I should take a gander at the work. It’s funny though, now that I write this post, I realize that this isn’t my first exposure to Terry Brooks at all. I read his adaptation of Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace when I was a younger (it came out in ’99 so that would make me exactly nine when I read it). I remember loving that book (I should probably read it again), so I suppose my expectations of Terry Brooks should have been pretty high.

But they weren’t. I had read a few reviews of Paladins and wasn’t expecting much. It turns out, Allanon’s Quest is the first in a series of shorts, set in the world of Shannara (the others being The Weapon Master’s Choice and The Black Irix). I’m told that long time fans of the series will recognize characters and gain a better understanding of the events happening in Shannara’s history (I’m also told these shorts contradict some of the other Shannara Novels but I don’t know this for a fact). For a newbie though, it was a good way to kill an hour or so.

It’s pretty classic stuff. There’s a prophecy, a sword (the sword which I’m assuming The Sword of Shannara Trilogy is all about), and an evil warlock bent on harming Shannara in anyway possible. Of course lineage is important and is the call to action for our formidable druid, Allanon. He must seek out the last remaining descendent of some king and protect him from harm until it is time for him to take up the sword and defeat the Warlock. Granted, this was only a short story, so all of these things don’t come to pass in the 30-40 pages which make up Allanon’s Quest. Really, all that happens is Allanon drinks at an Inn, interrogates an old man, is nearly killed by a Skull Bearer, and finally discovers that the lead he was pursuing was not meant to bear fruit but there is still another chance to succeed with a young boy named Shea who the warlock has not discovered yet. I’d say it was a pretty good appetizer and I’ll probably pursue the whole course later. Maybe I’ll take a few more samples before I dive in to Shannara full though. After all, there are still two more shorts that I can read to get my feet wet.

In all, as I said before, it was a good way to kill an hour, and if you are not familiar with Shannara at all (like I wasn’t) I think it could be a useful introduction to the world without having to commit to reading a full novel. I had heard some complaints about Terry’s writing style. Complaints that said that he was getting lazy and really only writing these shorts to feed the commercial side of what is now Shannara as a business. I didn’t feel that the writing was lazy or overly “commercial”. He has a good command of language and doesn’t dwell on unnecessary details. This seems important to me in a genre that is prone to over description. Perhaps his other work is better but Allanon’s Quest is good enough.

Lastly,  I really wished there had been more description of the Skull Bearers. These guys seemed curious and made me wish I had read more of the series so I could have had a  better picture of what these creatures were actually like. I suppose that was my only complaint.

I’d say if you’re into fantasy, take a look at this one. It’s only a dollar. Anyway, until next time . . .