08 March 2015

Short Fiction for the the Week of March 1

First, some back­story. I’ve been work­ing on read­ing at least 365 sto­ries for 2015 as a way of build­ing my read­ing mus­cles up in the wake of hav­ing my son, and to help reded­i­cate myself to writ­ing short fic­tion. Reading is the first step towards improv­ing as a writer.

I have been post­ing a few short words about the sto­ries, but I do not say any­thing neg­a­tive. These are not cri­tiques of the fic­tion or reviews, they’re just some notes for myself. If I think some­thing is really great and rec­om­mended read­ing, I might men­tion that. But don’t take any­thing I post here as a rec­om­men­da­tion. I have to read a lot of sto­ries to meet my goal, and it’s just unlikely that I am going to like all of them.

This past week, I worked my way through most of the March issue of Lightspeed Magazine. If you don’t have a sub­scrip­tion to Lightspeed, then you’re miss­ing out on great monthly fic­tion. /​plug

Note that all sto­ries pre­vi­ous to these were logged and noted on my Facebook, but as I’m try­ing to stop using Facebook as much, I’m mov­ing my notes on this project to my blog. All three of you still read­ing this will be delighted, I am sure!

Story 74 - Hot Rods by Cat Sparks

Really great, solid ground­ing in a place that I was intrigued by. Good voice and char­ac­ter in the narrator.

Story 75 — The New Atlantis by Ursula K. Le Guin

Had an ephemeral, dream-​​like qual­ity, and some ele­ments of retro-​​futurism that were really fascinating.

Story 76 - The Way Home by Linda Nagata

Sometimes a good story just involves some ordi­nary peo­ple in an extra­or­di­nary sit­u­a­tion, and this is one of them. Nagata is a great writer and this is no excep­tion to that.

Story 77 — The Good Son by Naomi Kritzer

Heartbreaking in all the right ways. Also some­what dream-​​like.

Story 78 — Documentary by Vajra Chandrasekera

Strange and won­der­ful, with the weird­est exam­ple of lycan­thropy I’ve ever seen.

24 February 2015

video

Dumbo Octopus

Amazing crea­tures. I have great sym­pa­thy for any­thing that even seems to have enor­mous ears.

(via red­dit)

23 February 2015

27 January 2015

Men of Unborrowed Vision live on Lightspeed Magazine

My lat­est story, “Men of Unborrowed Vision” is now live on Lightspeed Magazine. It’s an unusual story for me, in that it’s an attempt at deal­ing with pol­i­tics and cur­rent events. I am pretty sure it’s my only bit of near-​​future sci­ence fiction.

I wrote it con­sid­er­ably before the events of Ferguson, Missouri. There was a moment dur­ing edits that I con­tem­plated whether or not I should men­tion Ferguson in the story, but ulti­mately, it was too soon after the shoot­ing for me to feel like I had any­thing cogent to say about it. It felt like per­haps I would come across as tak­ing advan­tage of the pain and suf­fer­ing to drive home points I wanted to make in the story. So if you read this and won­der why Ferguson and Michael Brown weren’t men­tioned, that’s why.

I have noticed in early reviews that the cen­tral moti­va­tion of the tit­u­lar char­ac­ters was per­haps unbe­liev­able. I will just say that this was inten­tional on my part (but you can still find that unsat­is­fac­tory. I can under­stand that).

I have two other sto­ries I would like to tell in this sequence. Let me know if you’d like to read them.

09 December 2014

On Baby Clothes

Matty, posing like a female comic book character

Matty is com­ing up on six months old, so I think it’s fair to say that I am now a par­ent­ing expert. And as I par­ent­ing expert, I have a sub­ject I would like to address with the world:

What’s the $#%!ing deal with baby clothes?

Approximately 76% of all of Matty’s clothes fea­ture the face of an ani­mal. The vast major­ity of those fea­ture the animal’s face on his bottom.

Who thought: “you know what baby clothes need? Faces on the butts.” This seems pretty cute and harm­less at first, but that’s only until you see that smil­ing, car­toon lion weep­ing brown tears when Baby has a blow-​​out.

Some of the clothes have ani­mal faces on the hoods, the butt, and the FEET. Now we’re into “ser­ial killer in train­ing” ter­ri­tory. It makes my kid look like he’s been wan­der­ing the for­est, adding new vic­tims to his collection.

Oh, hello, Mr. Rabbit–”

*snaps rabbit’s neck*

I AM GOING TO PUT MY KNEE INSIDE YOU”

Look, I’ve said it before; the only thing keep­ing babies from being can­ni­bals is the fact that they don’t have teeth. Anybody’s whose fin­gers have strayed too close to the mouth of a teething baby knows this hor­ri­fy­ing truth in their heart. So really, babies are ter­ri­fy­ing as it is with­out look­ing like creepy Mountain Men, cov­ered head to toe in ani­mal carcasses.

I think we’ll just dress him in burlap sacks from now on. Burlap never goes out of style.

03 December 2014

Just how crazy is the Batman?

When peo­ple talk about how insane the Batman is, they’re most often using our own world to eval­u­ate that level of crazy. “You’d have to be nuts to dress up and go fight crim­i­nals.” The Nolan movies kind of take this approach for the most part.

I’d argue that the comic book Batman is even cra­zier, because you need to put his par­tic­u­lar psy­chosis in con­text. In the Batman’s world, there are real, honest-​​to-​​God mon­sters, croc­o­dile men that are nine feet tall. There is a bad guy who is LITERALLY a giant man bat. A woman who can con­trol plants. A guy made of clay that can suf­fo­cate you.

An ordi­nary human who dresses up as a bat and fights crime in our uni­verse is plain-​​old nuts. But in DC’s world, it’s not just crazy; it’s sui­ci­dal. In that con­text, it makes sense that Bruce would do every­thing he could to con­vince peo­ple he was some­thing more than just a guy in a cos­tume. He’d deploy all kinds of weird psy­cho­log­i­cal tricks. Stage magic. His dis­ap­pear­ing trick is essen­tial to his sur­vival as an ordi­nary man liv­ing in a world full of extra­or­di­nary threats. It makes peo­ple think he’s more than he is.

Bruce needs the aver­age street crim­i­nal to believe in the mythos of a super­nat­ural Batman. If you real­ize that the Batman is just a guy and you start to won­der, oh, hey, where does this guy sleep dur­ing the day. What’s his deal? Next thing you know, all the gangs in Gotham are burn­ing down Wayne Manor (again) and you’re strung up from a lamp post.

There’s a moment in the new 52 Justice League where the Green Lantern real­izes that Batman really is just a guy in a cos­tume. It’s hilar­i­ous, but it shouldn’t be. Bruce should be scared shit­less that some­one has fig­ured it out.

justiceleagueextra[1]

Bruce Wayne’s biggest secret is not that he’s the Batman. It’s that the Batman is just a human. He should be will­ing to do any­thing to keep that a secret.

10 October 2014

Ikea Dreams

Yesterday, the wife, son, and I made our first-​​ever trip to Ikea. It was all a bit over­whelm­ing. So much so, I had what was either the best Ikea dream ever or the DUMBEST Ikea dream ever. You decide:

It was staged like a fan­tasy action movie. You see, Ikea had announced a new Wardrobe line called PÖRTOL. They were made with a rare Nordic wood, and some­thing was very fishy about them. Me an my team were rac­ing against time to put a stop to an evil plot.

Ikea, you see, was a front for an ancient evil race of Swedish fey, and they intended to invade our world by sell­ing every­one cheap PÖRTOLs and then attack­ing through them with huge armies, direct into our homes. Yes, the wardrobes were por­tals to another world.

There was a lot of run­ning around in an Ikea ware­house being chased by bad guys that looked like the elves from Thor 2, and a lot of hammer-​​smashing Ikea fur­ni­ture to bits. I’d like to think that Thor would approve.

06 October 2014

An Electronic Magazine Idea: Call & Response

Electronic mag­a­zine for­mats are a bit stag­nant in our field lately. There’s this model that’s shown some suc­cess and a lot of oth­ers have cropped up to imi­tate it, which is totally under­stand­able. Magazines need to at least break even to con­tinue, so any­thing you can do to match the suc­cess of oth­ers makes sense, but it leaves me won­der­ing what ideas are being over­looked. So some­times I’ll find myself day­dream­ing ways to tweak the tra­di­tional for­mat that has evolved.

This is another one of my shower ideas. The for­mat for the mag­a­zine would be a lit­tle dif­fer­ent. It would be called Call & Response. That should give you a basic idea of what it’s about right there. The premise is this: you pur­chase one larger piece, per­haps novella length, some­thing that’s boldly explor­ing some ideas pop­u­lar in the genre. Maybe it chal­lenges a com­mon con­ceit. You pub­lish this piece on your web­site, like most elec­tronic mag­a­zines do. Then you open up to sub­mis­sions for a cou­ple of months. The guide­line is, you must write a story that is a response to the ideas, char­ac­ters, what­ever of the novella. The edi­tors select 4–5 shorter pieces, bun­dles them together, and sells *that* as an ebook issue. They would sort of be like lit­tle themed antholo­gies released on a reg­u­lar basis.

The rea­son­ing for this is, I think there used to be a larger com­po­nent of dia­logue in the field of sci­ence fic­tion. Especially when it was smaller and no so dif­fuse. Stories were often writ­ten in responses to other sto­ries, but I don’t see that hap­pen­ing nearly as much now, and when it does, there’s a good chance you never read the orig­i­nal. So the notion here is to insti­tute a mag­a­zine based on that tra­di­tion for format.

Would read­ers enjoy this sort of thing? I’m really not sure! A care­ful cura­tor of course would be nec­es­sary. But I’d love to see some­one try it, so the idea is yours if you want it.

19 September 2014

Three Months a Dad

If I have one thought about father­hood so far, it is:

Becoming a Dad is easy; being a Dad is hard.

It is star­tling just how easy it has been to refer to myself, com­pletely non-​​sexually, in the third per­son as “Daddy.” There’s some deep evo­lu­tion­ary shit going on there. It’s almost like we’re pre­dis­posed to adapt our con­cept of self to include a poop­ing, cry­ing ball of meat.

And cry he does. Life as a par­ent is a life of con­stant inter­rup­tions. And that’s just now, when the only way the kid can inter­rupt you is by cry­ing for atten­tion. I can only imag­ine how that gets worse when they can walk into the room and really pester you. Or go to their room and play loud music. Or any num­ber of things to dis­tract you from what­ever it is you think you’re sup­posed to be doing.

I can see my future pain points already. I become irri­tated when I’m inter­rupted, when my train of thought is bro­ken. I get angry. I’m afraid of out­bursts at the child when he’s older. I don’t want to be the kid of Dad who yells at his kid. If I was the kind of per­son who prays, I would pray for patience. Instead, I cog­i­tate on it. Try to drill it into myself with a mantra:

No mat­ter what you’re doing, he’s more important.”

In gen­eral, I believe it, but in the moment, I don’t always. I’ve spent a long time now in an adult world where a per­son could be delayed a moment. “One sec­ond,” to an adult is no big deal. To my kid, it’s mean­ing­less, and even if he did know what I was say­ing right now, a sec­ond prob­a­bly seems like a pretty long time to him.

And I am dis­tracted. Usually for a good pur­pose. I hit the ground run­ning when he was born; booked buck­ets of work. For a few weeks, all I did was feed the baby, sleep in fits, and build web­sites. No read­ing, no real tele­vi­sion except for what I could sneak in while the baby was eat­ing a bot­tle, and cer­tainly not any video games. I still have to sched­ule my video game time like some kind of seri­ous busi­ness man. Times like that, I real­ize what I gave up. Nothing like what Sarah sac­ri­fices every day, mind. But in these early days, the reward­ing part was slow to come.

I think the reward of it all was the­o­ret­i­cal until he started smil­ing reg­u­larly. You feel… pro­tec­tive more than any­thing else, before that. But when he finally started to gen­uinely smile at me, I knew I was sunk. There’s no emo­tional dis­tance when emo­tions can pass between you and your child.

I have a photo of him smil­ing on the lock screen on my phone. For the tra­di­tional rea­son of “I love my kid,” sure. But it’s also a tal­is­man. A reminder. It says: “remem­ber this guy? Is what you’re look­ing to do on your phone more impor­tant than spend­ing some time with him?”

I put my phone away with­out unlock­ing a lot more often these days. Maybe enough. I don’t know.

So now he smiles, and he almost laughs, and he bounces him­self in excite­ment when he sees a boob, a bot­tle, or the chang­ing sta­tion. He is hap­pi­est on the chang­ing table, right after a feed­ing, right after a new dia­per. And now, almost inex­plic­a­bly, like some kind of mir­a­cle, the ball of meat has begun to make talk-​​like sounds.

Aguh,” he says. Over and over. Stringing them together like sen­tences. Sometimes they sound like ques­tions. “Mmm, yes, indeed,” I say. “‘Aguh,’ indeed.”

Because really, what else can you say to that?

In those moments, I can see burn­ing within him a fierce desire to inter­act with the world; to under­stand it. An impa­tience and curios­ity we share most days. I am pos­sessed with a strong curios­ity as well but I am also tired. Regardless of sleep or lack of it, he is deter­mined to observe every­thing, and cries hard­est when he’s afraid he’s miss­ing out on some­thing inter­est­ing. I am instructed through con­di­tion­ing to hold him upright, no longer cra­dled in my arm, so that he can look around and see the world. He can’t con­trol his limbs yet, and I fear for the fate of our pos­ses­sions when he learns. In my minds eye, I see him dis­as­sem­bling every­thing with ham­mer or screw dri­ver, just to see what’s inside. This child is not going to have the patience for mur­der mys­ter­ies for a good long while.

And I resolve again to myself that I shall not be the kind of father who responds to ques­tions of “why” with “because I said so,” but my resolve is weaker than before because now I know exhaus­tion and it is con­ceiv­able that I will be too tired at some point to explain, per­haps at two in the morn­ing when all well-​​behaved chil­dren should be rest­ing, I will per­haps be just a lit­tle too exhausted to explain how prisms work.

Go to sleep,” I will pos­si­bly per­haps bark. “We’ll Google it in the morning.”

It is entirely con­ceiv­able that this kid will learn to Google before he learns to walk.

But then, I am rush­ing for­ward again, as I seem pre­dis­posed to do. Time trav­els fast enough; three months in but a flap of a butterfly’s wings, and before I know it, I will be dead and my grand­chil­dren will be col­o­niz­ing Mars, but before then I must tether myself to the now. Work keeps me here, but not as a weight, I sup­pose. It’s my lazi­ness, and the real­iza­tion that between now and the future, there is an awful lot of work to be done. Best to reside in the now just a lit­tle bit longer, please.

Slowly, inevitably, we’re dragged for­ward to the future and the work that waits for us there. But also, per­haps a smil­ing, laugh­ing, talk­ing child. So the future isn’t so bad, despite the work it takes to get there.