Tag Archives: short stories

5 Probably Horrible Science Fiction Plots I Dreamed Up This Year

23 Sep

So, there are a couple important reasons I’m studying history instead of, say, creative writing:

Cite your sources or die!

One: The stories practically write themselves.

Two: The characters are usually more interesting.

And three: I’m a wizard with footnotes.

But there’s always been a part of me deep down inside that wanted to write fiction, yearning to go all crazy second-person, present-tense, steam-of-consciousness on readers’ asses.  (Actually, in the first major original research I did for history a couple years ago, I did try to write the intro in the present tense.  My professor sighed sympathetically and simply said: “I tried doing things like that when I was starting out too.”)  I’m cured of that delusion now, but sometimes, on the dark, stormy nights of REM cycles, my subconscious rebels.

I’ve been writing down my dreams almost every night since fifth grade.  That’s… 12 years now.  Which is kind of messed-up in itself.  BUT, it also means I have a fantastic record of what I’d write if I weren’t sane.  Personally, I think they’d be awesome.

NOTE: These are actual excerpts from my current dream journal.  Otherwise known as Volume 23.

1. “Prepare to Suffer”  (Nov. 14, 2010)

Abe Lincoln says to the boy, as the kid puts on his floppy straw hat, long beige canvas-like coat, and picks up his staff in preparation for his journey—“Prepare to suffer.”  Lincoln has taken this trip before, and I think to myself, If I didn’t know better I’d say Lincoln’s read some Nietchze.  I am going on the journey then, and there’s a copy of a hardcover book (an old book with a spine that’s not very sturdy anymore) which says something to that effect.

Lincoln takes us to this man/prisoner being interrogated in a room.  His name is “Nikator.”  He’s calm and nonchalant, and tells one of the men in there (there are a number of FBI agents) that he could kill him and escape if they were alone—and says all of this with a smile and a laugh.

I have to leave because I’m an actress who gets these bit parts in some murder mystery show, where I’m stabbed with a sword in an elevator.  Of course it’s fake, but I still dread the part when it plunges in and then comes out the back, because I feel the pressure.  Then I fall over backward and the point coming out my back balances me above the ground.

Afterward, I realize that there’s a flap of skin missing on my stomach, and my intestines dangle out a bit.  I hold them in as I look for the doctor, who isn’t wearing pants and has an unbuttoned short-sleeve pint shirt in lavender and blue.  He’s been drinking, and doesn’t want to sew me up.

NOTE: I envision this as an alternate history sort of psychological thriller, with a lot of gnostic philosophy between chapters.  Kind of like a cross between Philip K. Dick and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

2. “Diarfa eb ton od, alebasi.”

Pronounced: “DARE-fuh eeb ton ood, al-EB-uh-zih.”

NOTE: Backwards, this reads “Isabela, do not be afraid.”  Obviously it would be incorporated into my novel as a not-that-cryptic-at-all message from the heroine’s (obviously Isabela’s) historical doppelganger Rose Hawthorne (daughter of Nathaniel Hawthorne), who keeps appearing to our heroine in vivid mystical visions.  Not that this has actually happened.  But compare pictures of us as children, and you’ll totally see what I mean:


3. F8

On vacation somewhere with mom and [my sisters], and we’d been there previously.  I find things I left for myself: like hints in a live-action game of Clue we played, only this time it was really serious.  I pass this little hill of rocks and bricks and sticks I’d been working on the year before, painting them blue to mark for future-me to find.

There are directions above an arch like a doorway without a door or walls outside.  It says to go over the “Giants’ Path,” and then a certain number of steps past a nail on a post, or sthng.  I go the direction indicated, through some trees, barefoot, and hit a pitch black lake.  [My sister and cousin] are with me—I ask her: How do we get across this?  We walk, she says.  But I’m up to my neck quickly.  She is out far into the middle really quickly, but I try and gesture to her—it’s near the shore, to the right, submerged in the water at this end: the Giants’ Path.  We go over a great royal blue plank bridge I’d forgotten was there.

Across the bridge is a house, very old, that’s like a library.  There are scrapbooked pages propped on a dresser, news clippings on pink and yellow floral paper.  The pictures from the newspapers, however, are of King Henry VII ordering the execution of someone.  This is the answer to a mystery, I realize.  And the picture shows Henry looking at the camera with his tongue stuck out, like that famous picture of Einstein.  I realize Einstein must’ve been photoshopped from this one.

The message above the arch had given a jumbled code starting F8.  I immediately knew this was Library of Congress cataloguing code.  The books are numbered so in the house, but the F8 one indicated isn’t useful.  On my last trip there, I hadn’t found the newspapers.  In the piano bench, though, I do find my sister’s Level 2 Spanish book—which she hasn’t done, even though now she has Level 3.

NOTE: I’m sure you already realize where this is going, but it seems obvious to me that the house at the end of the Giants’ Path will be my portal to Narnia, where I’ll either find religion or else go all Golden Compass and kill God.  I’ll ask my editors what they think.  A major subplot, of course, will be my decision to get a Masters in Library and Information Sciences.

4. The Traveling History Circus (that’s my title of choice)

Penta is a young girl with short blonde hair and a small braid on the right side; talking to her grandmother Penta, about the little green bugs that used to live on flowers, aphids, and the yellow stems coming out of the center of the petals covered in pollen.  Penta is also the name of the place where they live, now completely submerged in water, so they’re amphibious people.  They are a people of oral history, and every year they send two children to a workshop.  Penta is one of them; she leaves at night, choosing the steepest and fastest of three paths up the mountain.

Its purpose is to seek out the talented young of these people and turn them into mobile historians—visiting other places and telling the stories of their culture.  This was one of the projects instituted by the new king of one region, whose power extends to influence over others nearby.  The king is bearded and made this announcement over a dam that was being worked on and should be ready “in two weeks” (which wasn’t true—it’s more like a month or more).  They are all water creatures, and Penta’s people live completely underwater.  One man came to the dam—he was a charcoal-gray color over his whole body and the narrator says: He was pale and wouldn’t have been noticed (in the water).

Penta is already unique, though few seem to realize it yet—she “remembered” aphids and pollen, wven though she’d never seen or heard of them before.  It was a sort of psychic collective unconscious.  Her grandmother, blind, sitting under a tree, had listened with a sense of wonder.

NOTE: This is one of those classic “coming of age stories,” with an Asimovian The Gods Themselves kind of twist regarding the lives of the alien people of Penta.  Naturally, there will be an incredibly complex background mythology, and the historians will ultimately foment rebellion across the countryside against the bureaucratic king.  Because that’s what historians do, am I right guys?  Shoot, I really need to think about what I’m posting… I’m applying to grad school this semester…

5. Terson Bragg

NOTE: Prepare for it.  This one’s seriously meta.

I suddenly remember that long time ago, I wrote a science fiction novel (unpublished) in which the hero was a man called Terson Bragg, who became a machine.  I have forgotten this book until recently.

Now, the technology is available to place human consciousness into a machine—I am to be the second to do it; My uncle was first.  The thing is that, for two seconds, the mind is placed in a machine way out in space, one of those out by the asteroid belt and Saturn, taking pictures.  So, this transfer can be done at a great distance.  And for two seconds, a person’s mind will be there, seeing what the machine sees, and all the vastness of space.  Uncle John says it was beautiful, so great and awe-some.  I am nervous, and worry that the two seconds will seem like such a long time, like a lifetime (Uncle John said it felt longer than seconds), and that I’ll be blinded by all the stars and celestial bodies.  But I know it is an opportunity I cannot miss.

I go to the front desk—the reception room all chrome and glass—of the company where this will take place.  I am holding my kindle, which is circular and about the diameter of the inner circle of our large Frisbee.  The woman at the desk uses that to ascertain my identity, but says that next time I should bring the proper paperwork [it had a name—sounds like ubiquitous], which looked like dark blue-green x-rays.  All the time I am frightened, like on the way up to the first drop of a rollercoaster, thinking all the time that I want to get off but knowing I can’t, and knowing I had to take this opportunity.

I return home.

Mom and my sisters and Uncle John and everyone ask me how it was, but I find—I can’t remember.  I literally can’t remember, and Mom suggests—maybe I didn’t do it after all.  Maybe I backed out.  But I don’t remember doing that either, and I know, I couldn’t have.  I was frightened, but determined.  I try so hard to remember, but I can’t.  I can’t.  And then they suggest—well, do you remember it four years ago?  Because four years ago I wrote the Terson Bragg book, and this robotic-mind technology is analogous—and perhaps when I shifted consciousness back the memories went to the place they thought they should be.  And I was panicked and said no, no, but I do have an image of space from a rotating spot, black but bright with a golden light, with stars and colors everywhere.  And beautiful.

Then the future.  The world has strange collapsing tendencies, and people sometimes float down from buildings I see on the empty streets.

FINAL NOTE: Besides the fact that the science is off, I kind of think I wrote that one pretty well, even half-asleep at my computer, probably not wearing my glasses.  And besides, when did iffy science ever stop science fiction writers?  And Terson Bragg is a badass character name.


My Two Cents (review: A Dime for My Thoughts? by noriko tasaki)

26 May

Two months ago, when Greek writer noriko tasaki sent me a copy of her self-published short story collection A Dime for My Thoughts, she wrote this: “Since I’m not native it’s really important to know whether my first attempt to write in English is a suicidal one.”

Finally I can tell her (and all her potential readers), it’s anything but.

The ten stories in A Dime for My Thoughts are flawlessly written (tasaki has a better grasp of the subjunctive than some… most native speakers), but their appeal goes far beyond good grammar.  noriko tasaki’s writing is smart, sophisticated, darkly funny, sometimes disturbing and always original.  This isn’t the normal science fiction/fantasy fare I review, but grab a copy of tasaki’s collection and you’ll understand why I couldn’t pass on her short stories–they’re nothing less than literary.

The collection is structured as a story a day, ten pieces for ten cents each (the ebook is $1 well spent).  “Tuesday, March 1st,” the opening story, gave me chills, and “Wednesday” made me tear up a little.

Recommendation: Is it just me, or the short story format coming back?  It’s a great way for an indie author highlight her talent in varied formats, and tasaki is master of them all.  A Dime for My Thoughts is poignant, passionate, sorrowful and funny all at once.

Availability: A Dime for My Thoughts is $1.00 as an ebook on Amazon–and I promise, tasaki’s thoughts are worth much more than ten cents.  If you’re skeptical, try a free sample first, but really brother, can’t you spare a dime?

You might also like… Palimpsest, by Catherynne Valente

Knights in White Lab Coats (preview Miscorrection: Panacea)

30 Apr

For some reasons, scientists scare people.  It’s a cultural trope: mad scientists, evil geniuses, supervillains in high-tech bunkers underground.  And then we have people like Dr. Kevin Warwick of the University of Reading in England who calls himself a cyborg and says things about “cyborg ethics” like:

Thank you, IrishTimes.com, for making this eminent professor look like he's trawling for children in chat rooms. Thanks a bunch.

“There’s no point thinking that we’ll [transhumanists will] do a deal with the humans and be nice to them. This is a leap in intellectual performance so why should augmented humans listen to what humans have to say? Potentially this will split society.”

Not only does he look really creepy in this picture (left), but he kind of is a legit cyborg.  For the record, I’m totally on your side, Dr. Warwick– transhumanists ftw!  So… please don’t hurt me.

The hilarious Flight of the Conchords have a song that pretty much sums up the popular conception of what might happen when science goes too far.  See “The Humans Are Dead.

But this is getting off-topic.

“Panacea,” story #4 of the Miscorrection series, is not about robotic beings ruling the world, or shutting our motherboardf*cking systems down.  There isn’t even Mad Science in the conventional sense (oh, except for that crazy doctor shut up in prison for, you know, dangerous research and other assorted bad stuff).  What’s so refreshing about Panacea is that the scientists are good!  The title itself, after all, refers to a cure-all, not world destruction.

What a relief.  I was getting tired of cliches.

Doc Atrasti is a man on a mission.  Determined to turn the aforementioned crazy scientist’s research to good use, he enlists a favorite character from past installments (Daniel!) on a guys’ hiking trip–and by “guys’ hiking trip,” I mean a top-secret mission in the alien mountains of the planet Cormos.  At last, all those bio majors have decent role models to look up to.

I can’t give away the ending, but I can tell you that Miscorrection: Panacea will be out soon (May 2nd), with the opportunity to read it for free on the first day of the release.  See the author B.C. Young’s blog The Time Capsule for more details: http://the-time-capsule.com/2011/04/19/miscorrection-panacea-release-date-is/

This has been the 200th post of the Scattering, and no series deserves that honor (er… let’s just say it’s an honor) better.  Which is why I am officially awarding B.C. Young with the Scattering’s Linus and Cromwell Award for Science Fictional Excellence.  This prize is this terrible picture of my two most favorite misunderstood individuals in fiction and history.

Congratulations!  I hope this win does not negatively impact your sales, but I make no promises.

10 cent stories (up next: A Dime for My Thoughts, by Noriko Tasaki)

23 Apr

Greek short story writer Noriko Tasaki recently was kind enough to send me a review copy of her collection A Dime for My Thoughts–ten stories for ten cents each (the ebook’s $1 at Amazon).  That’s a deal by any account (see what I did there?), and from what I’ve already read, Tasaki’s work is nothing less than stunning.

The book was only published this past March, so hopefully Tasaki will be getting some well-deserved attention in the near future.  This isn’t my usual science fiction fare, but it’s a pure literary pleasure.    I’ll have a full review up soon, but until then: A Dime for My Thoughts on Amazon.

And here’s her brief bio from Amazon:

noriko tasaki was born in a city you will probably not know, in a country you probably think is consisted of islands, recession and fat people(Greece). She grew up filling pages and pages of journals, bellieving that volume is what makes something epic. She studied agronomy and ecology but proved to be allergic to plants and became a copywriter. Sick and tired of detergent-clean happy endings, she decided to gather what was left of her cynisism and write ten short stories in English, hoping she’s used past perfect in the correct way.
she wishes she was Woody Allen, as they share the same grades of myopia.
she wishes she played the clarinet, in order to have one more thing in common.

she wishes she stopped using third-person singular to talk about herself.
I wish you’d all give a dime for my thoughts…

You are now entering… the Twilight Zone (review: Beneath the Surface of Things)

23 Apr

Has your immersion in the mundane prepared you for the possibility that everything you’ve learned…is wrong?

That’s what horror author Kevin Wallis asks in his short story collection Beneath the Surface of Things, anyway.  It’s insight into the title of his book:

There are other worlds within our, fantastic and horrifying realms where vampires hold dominion, Heaven and Hell war in the dner down the street, and that dog who sits nightly at your feet dreams of snacks that taste more human.  Open the door to these worlds, and a phantasm might show you the secret to salvation, a corpse lying in the snow may sing a song of redemption, and the monsters of your childhood dreams plot their escape from your imagination…and into your backyard.

Because under the veneer of convention lies the truth.  And the truth might just devour those who look beneath the surface things.

Now I’m not usually one for extended author introductions, or author commentaries on their own stories.  It tends to strike me as affected and slightly pretentious.  But in this case, I’ll give Kevin Wallis a pass: that brief except from the intro gives a better picture of his short story collection than I ever could.  And besides, it reminds me of that classic tv series of horror and science fiction–The Twilight Zone.

I took a class called “Twilight Zone Culture” in American Studies last spring.  The basic academic premise of the course was that Rod Serling could slip social commentary under the McCarthy-era censorship radar by writing screenplays in the sf/fantasy genre.  And how could anything serious be hidden in something so frivolous as science fiction?

Well I don’t know how much social commentary’s lurking in the pages of Beneath the Surface of Things, but the story collection does echo another prominent feature of the famous 1950s/60s classic: like Serling, Kevin Wallis takes a scene or scenario from everyday life and turns it into something thoroughly twisted.

Wallis takes something as prosaic as a men’s camping trip and transforms it into an encounter with some horrible Cloverfield monster ripping off heads and  using skulls as gruesome jewelry boxes.  And yet, all throughout, the characters maintain total realism.  What would you do if your camping buddies were being decapitated by some Lovecraftian behemoth from beyond (or beneath)?   For our narrator: “I had to fight, not out of some suicidal notion of nobility, but for no other reason than because it’s what men do.”

And what’s more mundane than American masculinity?

That’s just one example (from one of my favorite shorts in the collection).  But it illustrates exactly where Wallis excels as a horror author: believability.  His mastery of suspending this reader’s disbelief is as developed as any giant of the genre.  I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for a full-length novel sometime in the near future… as well as checking under my bed before I go to sleep for the next couple weeks.

Final Verdict

Reading time: Short story collections are great for the simple reason that they don’t require long periods of downtime to enjoy.  Read one or two on your lunch break, between classes, or waiting for your name to be called at the Student Health Center.  That’s my experience, anyway.

Recommendation: I’m not much of a stickler for strict genre distinctions.  When I put Beneath the Surface of Things in horror and not some horror/sci-fi mix, I use the H.P. Lovecraft litmus test.  When Charles Stross writes about monsters from the cosmic abyss, they’re summoned by arcane mathematic equations and computer programs.  That’s sci-fi.  Kevin Wallis doesn’t give complex explanations for his monsters.  That’s not a criticism, just a distinction–and it means you can feel safe giving this book to new sf initiations.  SF for speculative fiction, not sci-fi.

Availability: $4.99 for an ebook’s a little steep, I’ll admit.  As usual, I’ll recommend getting a free sample first for a taste test.  Here’s the book on Amazon.

You might also like: The Passage, by Justin Cronin; The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories, by H.P. Lovecraft; The Atrocity Archive, by Charles Stross; The Stand, by Stephen King

Oh the horror! Now Reading: Beneath the Surface of Things

19 Apr

I’m 300 Kindle locations into Kevin Wallis’s short story collection, Beneath the Surface of Things, and, if I’m going to be honest, I’m both appalled and disgusted.

Which is all for the best in the horror genre.

Here’s what they’re saying on the Nets:

“An impressive, often unnerving, and always gutsy collection, Beneath the Surface of Things easily marks Kevin Wallis as a writer to Beware of with such stories as Redemption Song and No Monsters Came That Night. Every story showcases Wallis’ determination to break through the so-called boundaries of dark fiction and explore disturbing and sometimes even eye-opening new worlds, some without, but most within.  You owe it to yourself to look Beneath the Surface of Things.”

Gary A. Braunbeck
Bram Stoker and World Horror Guild Award winning author
of To Each Their Darkness and A Cracked and Broken Path.

Wallis currently has seven 5-star reviews on Amazon, with a low of one 4-star review (oh, the shame!).  I’ll get you my final verdict shortly, but if you my opinion doesn’t carry that much weight (and really, it probably shouldn’t), here’s Beneath the Surface of Things on Amazon.  Check out the customer reviews if you dare.

Adventures of an Anal-Retentive Assassin (review: The List)

26 Feb

Freud would definitely have something to say about a guy with a mission to kill superheroes.

I’ve been exploring the world of serial science fiction lately (see the reviews of B.C. Young’s Miscorrection series)–shorts in a single story arc published episodically.  And since I’ve been caught up in catching up on the last five seasons of Dexter this last month, serial killer SF has a certain appeal.

Enter “The List,” an online series by Kris Truitt about a man named Levi Cole with a bit of a chip on his shoulder.  In Cole’s world, superheroes aren’t so sympathetic as one might imagine.  And that’s just fine–antiheroes are in, have you heard?  Besides, “Daedalus” (complete with a winged helmet) really is a lame conceit for an ubermensch.  Here’s what Cole has to say for himself:

When in doubt, make a list.

That’s exactly what I was doing, writing in reverse order the names of people I planned to destroy.  I even included a nice little box beside each of the names, so I could check it off as I went.  In my line of business, it paid to stay organized.  And my business was the assassination of super heroes.

Truitt writes from Cole’s perspective–first-person, past-tense, dry sense of humor, the classic fictional serial killer type.  At about 4,000 words an installment (give or take), “episodes” are one-sitting affairs, which works for a reader looking for a fix on the run.  Pacing is fast and dialogue is strong, but our narrator’s wry, remorseless interior monologue makes the series.

Reading time: 30 minutes a story

Recommendation: Levi Cole lives in a recognizable world (minus the superheroes and laser weapons), and his story tilts more toward the action genre than traditional SF–meaning the series is accessible to readers of almost any persuasion.

Truitt posts new episodes monthly (currently, the series is up to seven installments) on his website, and best of all, reading is free.  Take a gander:

The List–Episode One: “PSA”

Truitt's sketch of the ridiculous superhero who I hope, indeed, will soon be "Deadalus"

Happy Mistakes (review: Felix Culpa, Miscorrection series)

9 Feb

Remember Kindle TV?  It’s back!

For eight years, I wondered what was going through Laura Bush’s head.  All those speeches, all those political events, fundraisers and campaign stops and banquets and–it’s enough to make your head spin.  Especially when your job is to stand beside the president, smile, and be perfect.  Political stripes aside, Laura Bush was the prototypical political wife in that tedious tradition.

And in “Felix Culpa,” third in B.C. Young’s Miscorrection series, that traditions extends far into the future (sorry Michelle).  Of course, far into the future the president’s wife needs a rictus of galactic proportions to satisfy her husband’s constituents… on six planets.

Poor, dear Adalyn, First Lady of the universe.

Hers is the dominant perspective in Miscorrection: Felix Culpa. Through the framework of not-just-another tedious press interview, readers learn about Adalyn’s past, as well as gain insight into some of the events and characters we last saw in “Sunrise” and “Arrogation.”  (Recall: Karhath terrorists and their internal power struggles, strange blue lightning snatching people up into thin air, and a boy and his grandfather mysteriously saved by a suicide bomber from one of a series of Karhath attacks.)  I don’t want to give too much away, but I will say that I had an “ah-ha!” moment when I learned the president’s name.

In Miscorrection: Felix Culpa threads are weaving together, suspense is really starting to build, and Young’s writing style has reached a new level of self-confidence.  Last time I reviewed Miscorrection, I commented that Young had “clean, uncluttered first-person prose.”  Ditto that with “Felix Culpa,” but add this soundbite: Let’s wipe the word “amateur” right off the table.  “Amateur” writers can come off sounding stilted and stiff in their description and dialogue (characters in the 20th-odd century probably aren’t going to sound like Shakespeare, or robots for that matter), but this time the voice of our narrator Adalyn cuts through the loud and clear.  Perfect grammar and mechanics is commendable; comfort with colloquialisms is capital.

Wedded to style is story (isn’t that what people say about presidential candidates–style or substance?), and Felix Culpa has both.  B. C. Young, a J.J. Abrams fan–as all science fiction writers and reviewers must be, according to the Intergalactic SF Code of Ethics–continues to build an intricate plot structure (not to mention the tiny LOST reference for fellow travelers at location 307) in his series.  The political stakes are high, the personal relationships are complicated, and the metaphysical implications are about as classic SF as you can get.  That’s right: I’m talking about Fate with a capital F.

Felix Culpa, for those who have not taken Others 101 and thus do not know their Latin (for shame, people), means “happy fault.”  Traditionally, the term has been used in Christian theology in relation to the supposed “Fall” of Adam–it sucked for Adam and Eve, sure, but because it brought sin into the world God had to send Jesus to save us, thus making the fault a blessed one with a happy ending (insofar as public execution is a happy ending).  Hallelujah!  Of course you don’t have to be Thomas Aquinas to bandy about the term.  Laypeople use “felix culpa” to indicate any error or mistake that happened to have happy circumstances.  All’s well that ends well, or whatever.

Miscorrection: Felix Culpa is all about that sort of happenstance.  When a gushing female reporter asks First lady Adalyn how she met her husband, and how they fell in love, the tale begins with as simple an event as a first day of school that happened to turn into a murdering spree and terrifying hostage situation.  In which Adalyn and [insert future president’s name here] were thrown together.  Mix in a potentially psychic history teacher and we have a classic case of Coincidence or Fate?

I guess we’ll have to wait for part four to find out.

Recommendation:  B.C. Young quoted Orson Scott Card (see Ender’s Gameee) as an influence on his philosophy of writing.  Three times removed, I’ll quote the quoted quote here:

“My goal was that the reader wouldn’t have to be trained in literature or even science fiction to receive the tale in its purest form … a great many writers have based their entire careers on the premise that anything the general public can understand without mediation is worthless drivel.”

And that’s plainly not true.  Let’s call it the Democratization of Science Fiction: this series is accessible to anyone, and that’s exactly who I recommend it for.

Reading time: 45 minutes, tops.  As has been said before–reading a good short story serial is like watching a good tv series.  Especially when you can spot the LOST reference at location 370.

Miscorrection: Felix Culpa is available as an ebook on Amazon for $0.09.  I’d say grab it off the shelf before someone else does, but the magic of ebooks is that there’s always enough to go around.  Just be sure to check out Sunrise and Arrogation first.

Note: If you buy the book (and really, I do hope so), you’ll find a little reference to the Scattering’s first review of the series as a motivating force in the completion of part three.  I was astonished, gaping at the screen of my Kindle and laughing incredulously.  Well I meant every word, and I still mean every word, but don’t worry–I can still say mean things.  Even after reading that forward, if the story had been dreadful, I’d have said so here

Retro Sci-Fi Reviews: Gotta Catch ‘Em All

18 Jan

How many times have I told this story?  Once upon a time, it was the year 2000.  I was ten, having just survived Y2k, had a new appreciation for life.  I was going to branch out–put away Oregon Trail once and for all and play that weird computer game my mother bought, “Alpha Centauri.”  Or something like that, I don’t know, maybe my timeline’s off… it was so very long ago, after all.

In any case.  Grandpa Bob–better known to badass Cold War rocket engineers everywhere as Robert Schindler–had a similar idea.  For whatever reason (maybe I’d already shown interest in Captain Picard at such an early age), he decided to give me some of his old science fiction books (along with a very enlightening work of hagiography entitled Heroes of Our Faith).  There were two collection of old-timey science fiction stories: the 1962 A Century of Science Fiction and the 1974 Before the Golden Age: A Science Fiction Anthology of the 1930’s.  Yes, the apostrophe is really there between the 0 and the s.  Cue shudder.  They’re both hardback, and were purchased used in 1985 for 85 cents and $1.25, respectively, if anyone cares.

A Century of Science Fiction was edited by a man named Damon Knight, who’s famous for writing the story that inspired the classic Twilight Zone episode of the same name, “To Serve Man.”  Before the Golden Age was edited by Isaac Asimov, who’s famous for writing… absolutely everything.  Even at that age (and now that I think about it, it was probably more like 1998–like I said, the timeline’s wonky), I knew who Isaac Asimov was, mostly because my mom told me for years that she once served him when she was a waitress in college, even though it turns out that her memory was wrong and it was really Norman Mailer.  Except that that’s a Gilmore Girls episode, and I really have no idea where I’m going with this.

Oh yes.

That second book–Asimov’s–was the first place (and this I’m absolutely certain of) I ever learned about: cosmic rays, time travel, evolution, advanced alien life forms keeping humans as pets, aliens who aren’t actually trying to take over the world, historical counterfactuals, rudimentary cryogenics, parasites, the atmospheric composition of the  planet Venus, hive minds, brains in vats, and alternate universes.  Many of those stories have stuck with me for over a decade, even after one read–names of characters, settings, and most especially the wonderful plot twists.  The other book?  Well, I didn’t really read it.

But by 2003 I was hooked, and ended up subscribing to Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine for only about a year (I cancelled in 2004… or maybe 2005? because some of those stories were just too provocative.)  Still, they stuck with me too–only I couldn’t remember the titles.

Over a year ago, I embarked on a quest to find two of the short stories I knew I had read in some issue of those magazine.  And after weeks of online research (and actually calling old used bookstores up for information–I’m that committed), I found the issue I remembered.  Jackpot.

Am I right, or am I right? This book cover is terrifying.

I was not so lucky with two of the other stories I remembered.  They weren’t in any magazine I could track down, and they weren’t in the Asimov anthology, and as far as I could tell, they weren’t in the forgotten anthology either.  I didn’t try too hard with that one, admittedly–I don’t know what, but something about it was always a little off-putting.  They wouldn’t be in there anyway–I never read it.  So I put feelers out on some SF forums and got… nothing.

Last night I pulled out A Century of Science Fiction again, just paging through the Table of Contents.  These stories had such frustratingly vague titles!  “Reason,” “The Star,” “Another World”?  These could be about anything–my mind jumped immediately to the conclusion that they were about, respectively, Thomas Aquinas,the Nativity and Epiphany, and the Rapture.  Which mostly says something kind of disturbing about me.

There was also a story listed with the title “Unhuman Sacrifice.”  I thought it seemed like something I, as a 10-year-old, would pick out of the line-up.  Which also says something disturbing about me.  When I opened up to page 152, however, I was disappointed: there was some crazy preacher trying to fix a translation machine (huh, maybe I wasn’t too far off before).  Not at all the plant people I was expecting.  And then I turned to the last page, because of this story, the thing I remembered most was that final line.

And there it was.

I was elated.  Thrilled.  I literally shouted aloud, alone in my dorm, “I FOUND YOU, DAMMIT!”  It was really friggin’ exciting.  A great victory for the memory of Isabela Morales.  I came up with the idea that I would blog about the 1958 story, so between classes today I re-read it in full.  And still, the waters of my mind were troubled, because there was one last story I needed to find.  That one I really thought would be in the Knight anthology, but I just didn’t have the patience to go through ever story and fish for key words like “strangle” and “invisibility” and “opium den.”  And then I realized: I’ve never been patient.  When I was ten, having finished “Unhuman Sacrifice,” I would have chosen the path of least resistance–start on the story directly after.

There is was, “Aliens Among Us,” with the telling subtitle–“What is it?”

I was elated. Thrilled.  I literally pulled out my phone with a triumphant laugh and texted to my dear Charlie:

AAAAHHHH!  I found the other story I’ve been searching for for years!  I have all 6… GOTTA CATCH EM ALL!

And so, after this long and frustrating quest, and even longer and more frustrating blog post, I would like t0 announce that indie science fiction reviews are hereby and forthwith to be supplemented by reviews of those epic stories of a bygone age, starting with “Unhuman Sacrifice.”  Look for it, like, tomorrow.

Literature in a Facebook Note (review: Isobel, by Darren Scothern)

7 Jan

Let’s talk about Facebook.

Like most people, my list of friends includes the requisite number of half-remembered acquaintances who managed to creepily track me down despite the fact that my profile picture is Ben Linus’s face and I’m pretty sure I never gave them my name anyway.  They’re the people whose statii overflow with cliched observations about the transient nature of love or heartache or whatever.  They’re the kind of people who post their terrible rambling poetry on their profile as notes and get comments like “omg i know exactly what u mean!!!1!!1” or “you’re so brave!” or “UGH get over yourself” (and before you ask, no, that last one isn’t my comment… not to say that I don’t like it).

I’m not a fan of those people.  I’d even come to the conclusion that Facebook notes were useless and pathetic by their very nature until yesterday, when I read Darren Scothern’s novella Isobel. Darren Scothern is an award-winning horror/science fiction writer who’s bringing back the Facebook note in a big way–posting Isobel in serial installments on his wall before publishing on the Kindle platform in November 2010.  I still don’t quite know what’s going on–but whatever it is, it’s freaky and fantastic.  As the book description on Amazon says: “Take a trip into insanity.”

Isobel follows our narrator on his confused quest to research a peculiar rock band–but that quickly gives way to hallucination, madness, blood, psychosis, blood, sex, and a mysterious woman named Isobel powering a wheelchair (or is she?) and grinning from under her copper hair.

And that’s as coherent as I can get.  The fact that the narrator’s a horror writer writing in first person doesn’t clear anything up either.  As he writes in the intro:

How much of what follows in what you are about to read is true, and how much is just fantasy, I can’t tell you.  But, there is some of each.

That’s all.

And therein lies the genius.  Like Mark Z. Danielewski’s famous House of Leaves, Isobel is a highly stylized piece of writing less about the plot than the literary effect: surreal, confusing, dissonant, dark, dreamlike (or druglike), and utterly, utterly disturbing.  It’s the perfect example of cyberpunk author Bruce Sterling’s definition of “slipstream”–a quote, by the way, I have on my Facebook page:

“This is a kind of writing which simply makes you feel very strange; the way that living in the twentieth century makes you feel, if you are a person of a certain sensibility.”

When done wrong, you get the worst type of postmodernist fiction.  When done right, you get the horror/SF amalgamation of Danielewski or Scothern.  And needless to say, it’s not easy to do right.  I don’t throw around the word “brilliant” very often (unless I’m talking about myself, naturally), and I almost never call something I review “literature,” but Darren Scothern’s writing fully deserves both descriptors.

I’ve heard it said somewhere that you know a book or a story is “literature” when you walk away from it feeling changed.  Isobel does that–in the most disturbing way.  Who’d have thought you could get that from a Facebook note?

Reading time: An hour… two hours… It took me longer, but then, I felt compelled to read the story twice.

Recommendation: This is one of the best (if not the best) piece of indie fiction I’ve reviewed on this blog, ever.  This post (if you couldn’t tell already) is an unqualified recommendation.

Availability: Isobel, along with Scotthern’s other short story collections, are available as Amazon ebooks (Isobel for $2.99).