Monthly Archives: March 2014

Friday Fragmentary Fiction: Tense

Oily Jack and I watched as Melissa Mordechai strolled about the library, brandy in one hand, idly examining the shelves.

“Did I ever tell you about the first time I met her?” I asked.

“No,” Jack replied as Melissa took a heroic swig of brandy.

“It was two years ago, when Dr. Mordechai made that assault using his new batch of clockwork badgers,” I said, then continued with the harrowing tale as I sightlessly watched Melissa’s explorations of our inner sanctum.

We were hard-pressed to stem the tide of metallic badgers, given how difficult they were to hit, and we suffered many a grim injury to ankle and foot. The battle took place mainly at the eastern wall, and perhaps the only saving grace in that battle was that the badgers found themselves unable to effectively exploit our difficulties by encircling us–their stubby legs made rapid redeployment impractical.

I paused in my narrative, and the sight of Melissa Mordechai casually topping off her snifter with brandy made me tremble in rage.

“That’s not how you use a snifter,” I said. “She’s filling it to the brim.”

“There, there,” Jack said, patting my shoulder. “Go on with your story.”

The badgers came on implacably, heedless of their losses, a clockwork wave that washed across the formerly picturesque groomed lawn to the east of the university complex and up the wall, barely slowing. Our brave band fought them back, however, firing their lasers without letup (admittedly, less difficult than it would have been with old-style weapons, given the lack of recoil). None was more heroic than Dr. Hendershot, a professor of applied linguistic mathematics who had risen to be one of the leaders of our desperate defense. Now he held a position over the eastern gate, the most critical of defense points, rallying our people by standing with icy calm, as if completely unconcerned by the threat of badgers.

I broke off again to see that Melissa had found her way unerringly to our small section of seventeenth-century meteorological erotica and was browsing the well-thumbed copy of On Fyne and Peculiar Uses of Cyclic Winds. I shook my head and continued by grim tale.

It was then that I first clapped eyes on Melissa Mordechai, standing near her father, far back from the main battle and surrounded by an honor guard of enormous badgers. Even at the great distance, she was a striking figure, clad in a silver jumpsuit, hair whipping in the breeze, with the the Hellburner Mk 4 that she was famous for even then at her hip. I admit that I stared overlong at the sight, neglecting my badger-shooting duties, and I blame myself, at least in part, for what happened next.

Before I knew what was happening, Melissa had produced some sort of rifle.

I paused in my narrative to estimate Melissa’s height against the shelves she stood near, seeing that her head was just below Dangers of Over-stimulation Due to Helotropic Effects, with its distinctive sunburst on the spine.

The weapon she held had to be over eight feet long, given how far over her head it stood when rested on the ground, but sadly it was not so grounded for long. In an eyeblink, she’d crouched and rested it on a nearby, particularly large, badger. I realized too late what was about to happen, and I’d just turned to warn Dr. Hendershot when she fired. Perhaps no matter what I had done I couldn’t have prevented his death–plasma bolts travel at just a bit under the speed of light, after all–but then perhaps had I not been so distracted I could have acted soon enough.

“In any event,” I concluded, “I was too late and Dr. Hendershot fell. It was only through good fortune that we managed to hold the gate even after the death of the brave hero.” I clenched my fists as Melissa, across the room chuckled at something in the book she read. “If only I’d known the Mordechais had obtained long-range plasma weapons. By thunder, if I had one in my hands now …”

“There now,” Jack said. “As you recall, Hendershot was drilled right through the chest, so he was a good candidate for Dr. Bumberton’s new toy.”

“Not the memory playback device!” I exclaimed.

“The same,” Jack said. “We thought it best to conceal the results, given the distaste many around her have for it, and what we found, but perhaps I should tell you.”

He cleared his throat and began the narrative.

The badgers are unassuming creatures, the sort of things that look more suited to reading and rejecting short story submissions than attacking a fortified university. But these badgers, despite what looks like an eerie intelligence in many ways (for badgers), are driven only to attack and kill on Dr. Mordechai’s orders–they have no other impulse or desire. And that mindless spark drives them into our laser fire, ignoring what loses they take.

Jack looked up. “It really was spooky, the sense of immediacy a fella gets when he clamps the memory storage device to his noggin.” He shook his head.

Dr. Hendershot makes his way to the eastern gate, pushing his way past several of the university’s defenders who were clearly feeling less than fully-committed to the fight.

“Stand fast, lads!” he shouts. “You there, Smith! Take some men to the western gate!”

“Now hang on,” I said. “Why would he send men to the west gate. Surely an erudite man like Dr. Hendershot had noted the shortness of the badger legs, and therefore their lack of flanking speed.”

“Just hold on and let me finish my tale,” Jack said. “It will all be clear.”

Hendershot springs to the top of the gatehouse, firing his laser pistol in the general direction of the clockwork badgers. Off in the distance, he can barely see Dr. Mordechai and his honor guard directing the assault. He waves his arms, making a gesture known to several primitive tribes (and of course, to Dr. Mordechai, who had spent so much time in Borneo) to be extremely insulting. He had to carry on for several seconds before seeing an answering gesture from Dr. Mordechai.

“I’d forgotten about that,” I exclaimed. I glowered over at Melissa Mordechai, who was unsteadily climbing a ladder to reach the volume we thought best to keep away from youngsters, half-full snifter still in one hand. “No doubt she saw it as well, and it was what attracted her fire.”

Jack held up a hand.

Hendershot glances down and confirms that his pre-arranged signal has been understood, and Dr. Mordechai has thrown his reserves into a massive charge straight at the sturdy gates. Now is the time. He reaches for the lever that will throw open the gate and invite the badgers to slaughter. Everyone below will be killed,and he will be a rich man by the end of the day. There is a flash of light.

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Yay, Another Way to Magically Improve Writing


The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shock-proof, shit detector – Ernest Hemingway

And as a bonus, this one calls itself an “app”, so it sounds like an advertising exec trying to sound hip: Hemingway App.

Like other sites of its ilk, it works best with writing samples provided by people who are nervous about their own competence.  When one tries to validate it with the sort of prose that is generally thought to be the sort of thing one should aim for, it doesn’t work so well.  For whatever reason, Hemingway is always comes out looking badly things, but it is particularly ironic in this case, I think.  Personally, if I thought Hemingway was awesome and that I’d cracked the code on how he wrote so well, I’d test said magic algorithm on some of his writing before releasing it into the wild.  It’s not like it is hard to come by.

The obvious question, of course, is why does the test fail?  (I think we can take it as read that a test designed to make you write like Hemingway has failed when it insists that Hemingway isn’t up to snuff).   Is it because it can’t get out of its own way, and properly implement its own strictures?  Whoever put it together, for example, doesn’t understand what passive voice is, and while they call various things adverbs that aren’t, they might be even worse at spotting actual adverbs.

Or is it, perhaps, because the rules themselves aren’t quite right?  There is a clear danger in using Hemingway for something like this – most such tests pick EB White as their exemplar, but Hemingway wasn’t quite as adamant about telling everyone not to write like he did, at least not to the point of publishing a whole book about it.  For White, the algorithm designer can always say that it was designed to test against this book over here, not that other one; for Hemingway, sadly, we just have the stuff where he was trying to write well.  Most of his advice on writing does not lend itself so well t a formula.  And if Hemingway can get away with adverbs and passive clauses and complicated sentences, how are we supposed to know what to avoid?  Read his tips? Those are a bit harder to follow.




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submarineYa’ll have likely heard by now about the Subway employee in Worchester, in the UK, causing a bit of a kerfluffle by using the bread oven where she worked to dry her wet socks (and gloves, but really, it is the socks that have caught everyone’s attention).  One can understand, of course – the weather there has been terrible and floody lately, so there is no doubt an epidemic of wet socks everywhere (and it’s not like the odd pair of drying socks will make Subway bread cooking smell any weirder).  Given the fact that Subway has glass-front ovens that they just stick out in front of God and everybody, it seems like it would be wise to set aside special sock ovens, at least in flood-prone areas.  Or the employee in question could have used the cheese-melting oven, which is not only lacks the glass front, but is designed to cook, and dry socks, very quickly indeed – she would have had a good chance to get the socks out before anyone noticed.  Except never mind – she was “caught” because she took a picture of the socks and posted it to Instagram – very little can be done to shield such a person from the consequences of her actions.

Anyway, I’m not here to post about floods, or socks, or social media.  My focus is language.  Specifically, what’s up with Subway restaurants in the UK?  Shouldn’t they be called “Tubes”?  Actually, it’s odd enough to have a Subway in Worchester, MA, much less the original Worchester, because they call subs “grinders” in Massachusetts.  Of course, that brings  up the fact that “sub”, as in sandwiches, reference submarines, not subways, which are totally different types of transportation.

We’re through the looking glass here, people – none of this makes any sense.


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Friday Fragmentary Fiction: Repetition

We made it to the Pandemilon Express just ahead of Dr. Mordechai’s clockwork baboons. The rocket engines slung to either side of the engine were already cycling up, lights flashing on the fences that were strung around the rocket wash area. It was, in fact, too late to purchase tickets. Waiting a day for the next train was hardly an option, though, given the contact we were to meet several hundred miles away, and perhaps more urgently, the imminent arrival of a horde of merciless mechanical baboons bent on tearing us limb from limb. Fortunately, my companion, ‘Oily’ Jack McNabb, was an inveterate scoundrel, and sneaking aboard a train was hardly a challenge for him. We settled into the seats we’d found just before the train began to move.

The sound of shrieks and metallic clanking heralded the arrival of Dr. Mordechai’s creatures outside, but just then the jet engines of the train engaged and we were thrust back against our seats by the rapid acceleration.

“So,” I managed, forcing the words past the crushing acceleration, “Where exactly are we meeting this secret contact of yours?”

Oily Jack smiled, in that irritating manner he had when he was about to say something he considered clever and surprising. “Hard to say precisely.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, instantly suspicious. “You’re not playing this whole operation by ear, are you? I was given to understand that this secret contact was vitally important, someone who could change things utterly.”

“Oh, she is, but there’s a reason she’s a secret contact, as opposed to some sort of normal contact. And she’s got a suspicious nature.”

“No wonder, if she’s used to dealing with you,” I muttered. “But look here, what does that have to do with where she’ll meet us?” The acceleration eased as we reached cruising speed, and our fellow passengers in the sparsely-populated car began to move about, many of them discussing the attack of the clockwork baboons we’d heard as we left. It was fortunate, I suspected, that none of them knew they’d been after Jack and me.

“Well, you see,” Jack began, only to be interrupted by the door opening at the rear of the car.

“Tickets, please,” the conductor said from behind us. Jack broke off and we exchanged a glance. Before he could speak, and reveal whatever plan he might have to prevent us form being thrown off the train, my attention was drawn to the door at the front of the car opening.

The woman that stepped through was striking, thanks in part to a black and gray dress with an elegant brocade, and stylish hat, but mostly because of the massive Hellburner Mk4 laser pistol holstered in a bandolier slung across one shoulder, and a black leather eye patch. Yes, it was none other than the notorious Melissa Mordechai, daughter of our nemesis, on the very train!

“Tickets, please, gents,” the conductor said, appearing at my elbow. I ignored him as I locked eyes with Melissa Mordechai (or to be precise as my eyes locked with her eye), and reached for our my own pistol.

“No, you fool!” Oily Jack shouted. “She’s our contact! Why do you think her father sent so many baboons after us?”

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Words Mean Something, Dammit, Part II

I don’t want to make everyone jealous, but check out the letter I just got:


That’s right, it’s from the Department of Issuance.  That’s the department that issues things.  And not only that, it is from program headquarters of the Department of Issuance.  I mean, some of ya’ll might have been issued something from a regional or even state office of the Department of Issuance, but this is clearly the big time – the home office in Rolling Meadows, IL (well known epicenter of issuances).

As the envelope said, there was not a moment to waste, so I opened it immediately, and it turns out I am a finalist in a contest.  So this is probably my last post, given that I’m guaranteed to win one of several prizes, and most of them are pretty kick-ass.  I don’t know if I can see slaving away at a blog after I win a sweet new Corolla.

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I Just…Don’t Understand This

grouchoGlassesAccording to this post by Scalzi, some authors don’t suffer from impostor syndrome.  Sorry, I just don’t buy that. Have Dunning and Kruger taught us nothing?

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Friday Fragmentary Fiction

“Bees!” Amalia shouted. Her laser pistol sizzled.

“What’s that?” I asked. I fired myself.

“Bees!” Amlia shouted again. She grabbed my shoulder, pointed. I gasped at the sight. Bees they were, indeed. Clockwork bees, swarming toward us. That was Dr. Mordechai’s latest trick. He’d tried bears. He’d sent owls. We’d fought them all back. But how do you fight bees? Amalia fired again. I followed suit, with no real hope. All around, our scrappy band was assaulted. The bees were too small to shoot. Their clockwork wings hummed. They stung and slashed.

“Run!” Amalia shouted. I needed no more encouragement. We ran, Amalia lifting her petticoats. All around us, a terrible buzzing sounded. We made the door just in time. Slammed through into the laboratory. We stood, listening to muffled screams outside.

It had been a rough several months, since Dr. Mordecai’s efforts to recover the mysterious tome had reached a fever pitch–months when his famous clockwork creations (previously the toast of Paris before he’d gone mad and begun to use them to for nefarious ends related to evil rituals) had been thrown upon our little college in ever more desperate assaults, assaults we’d thrown back only through pluck, courage, and the frantic use of applied research, and in these months our little band had grown close (at times almost disturbingly close, as in the case of Big Fred the chef and his particular friends Emma and Shiela-Jo, the chief of the ornithopter pool and the ferret wrangler, respectively) as we tried to divine the terrible secrets of the book, secrets which hinted at something even more terrible than the horrifying eldritch machinations that allowed Dr. Mordechai to fashion the many hideous clockwork automata that had killed so many, caused so much destruction wherever in the wide world that knowledge and light attempted to battle ignorance and darkness; but rough as the months had been, there had been times of joy, brought on by triumph or simply the aforementioned closeness amongst our shrinking band, as well as small but satisfying triumphs, of the sort only a desperate band of embattled academics and mechanics can know, as they see their various theories proved in the most impressive fashion, saving lives and striking down abominable foes (when, of course, they didn’t fail spectacularly as in the tragic case of Dr. Bemberfred’s ‘transformative brass-shielded airship battle platform’ which killed not only Dr. Bemberfred but six students, a chancellor, and a passing fishmonger on it maiden voyage); truly, they were remarkable, and in a strange way, exhilarating, times.

And now they might come to an end because of a bunch of stupid bees.

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Knowing What You Don’t Know

We live in an age of wonders, as far as research on fiction goes.  Not so long ago, an aspiring author had to go to a library, or take a course or something, to research some topic important to their book (hence the classic advice to ‘write what you know’, which might be more accurately stated as ‘write what you already know’).  But of course, those of us engaged in speculative fiction can only take that so far, and anyway there generally comes a time when you need to go a bit beyond the realm of personal experience (especially if your life is not a non-stop thrill-ride but you want to give your readers something a bit exciting to read about).

So research.  Made so much easier by the internet.  All you need to do these days is just type whatever you want to know about into a search engine (which let’s face it is likely Google, but if you are an Alta Vista fan don’t let me stop you). I’ve recently had some reminders, though, of the secondary functions of beta readers and editors.  Their primary function, of course, is to unsuckify your writing (sorry if that isn’t a word – this hasn’t been edited).  But secondarily, they may have had some direct experience with something your characters have done.  Because it is all fine and well to read about things, but it doesn’t measure up to personal experience with corsets and half-moon clips and so on, simply because basic information about something may miss those little details that really make something come to life.  Oh, you can perhaps find that if you look hard enough on the Internet, but you risk the grim reality of diminishing returns when you start to search for those finer points:

XKCDsecondEven more importantly, though, is that without personal experience, you likely don’t know what sort of questions to ask the all-knowing Internet.  So short of just getting out and living life (bleah, right?), I think the best bet is getting to know some interesting people who are willing to read your stuff.

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New Digs

internetBookSo here I am at a new Universal Resource Locator.  The old URL(s) and website were intended to be focused on my horror/vaguely Lovecraftian writing, and they’d drifted away from that focus, so it seemed time for a more general-purpose site.  Also, setting up a new website is sort of like rearranging furniture, and who doesn’t want to do that every once in a while?  My intention is to try out some new things content-wise as well, and we’ll see how long that resolution lasts.

I would continue on, and make this first post of my new internet manifestation more memorable, but daylight savings time just started, and man, I just … what?  Was I saying something?

Anyway, for older posts, go here.  But be careful, you might find yourself going in a circle.

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