Epilogue

Part 1Part 2Part 3, Part 4Part VPart VI, Part VII,

23.

Long shadows stretched across the valley. The sun would soon give way to the dark and the horrors that lurked within. A solitary horseman clad in crimson and purple greeted the two men that limped from the cave into the twilight. The first man was clad in the same garb as the horseman. The man behind the first wore intricate armor and carried a shield on his back. His hand was placed upon the shoulder of the man in front of him, eyes darting back and forth, unseeing.

The horseman called down from his steed,

“Captain…so it was you.”

“Yes, it was. If you are here to kill us you are free to try, but make it quick. I am tired.”

“Truly, I do not know what my intentions are anymore. I rode here with a full division behind the lord of our land to put you to death for treason…and I watched him wither away to dust before my very eyes. Everyone scattered at the horror.”

“He was not your true master, but a simple tool. The puppeteer is gone, and so too is the puppet. Are we going to fight?”

The horsemen looked down at the battered man and his blind companion.

“No, I think we will not” the man turned his horse and left. The two men on foot watched as the horse and rider trotted off into the distance and disappeared.

***

They walked all night and into the next day, always east. A woman and child waited there in a small town. The woman had expected one man. When two appeared she met them with weapons drawn, but in the bloodied face of the unknown man she saw the child that she had taken as her own. Her weapons would not be needed. She wept tears of joy and relief as she beckoned for the men to enter their home.

Reports of famine and disease ravaging the lands to the west trickled in from merchants and travelers that stopped for rest on their way to the coast. No crops would grow and livestock that grazed there died within days. No women could bring a child to term. Many of the men were driven mad. They gave themselves over to unnatural acts and ritualistic mutilations of self and fellow man. The land was cursed. The land was poison.

The blind man stayed until the light faded from his eyes and he could see once again. He gathered his belongings and mounted his horse, then headed for the coast. The endless ocean and the strange lands on the other side were waiting. Maybe somewhere, somehow, she was too. 

Advertisements

Salt Plains 3

Part 1 Part 2

I wanted someone to see me for who I really am, you know? Not just “captain of the cheerleading squad” and “most beautiful girl in school.” I wanted someone to see the me inside…and that was you

The beautiful girl on the screen kissed the man wearing glasses and wearing clothes that didn’t fit right. An upbeat song about love and finding your dreams began to play as the camera zoomed out and the credits began to roll. John turned the monitor off and laid down in the dark. Time passed, but sleep did not come. He thought of taking some sleep medication. His dreams were always the worst on disposal days. No sleep meds tonight. He wanted to drive, but…

Something is out in the salt plains. What if it saw you? Who’s going to take care of the sleepers if something happens?

No. There is nothing. There is no one. I am alone.

John grabbed his night goggles and headed for the door.

***

The wind was strong, but the night sky was clear. The faint band of far off celestial bodies clustered together to form clouds against the dark. The car darted along the dusty road, abandoned structures and piles of rubble flew by. The milky purple sky remained motionless. John arrived. He stepped out of his car before the expanse of land that lay before him shimmering in the night. The hood of his protective cloak had not been secured properly. Cold wind whipped against the small patch of naked skin. The windburn would be painful in the morning, but he didn’t care. He sat on the ground and stared up at the endless dome above him.

The birth and death of all things had occurred under that same sky, all things to come would do the same. The sky and the stars will one day pass away too, but what will be there to witness and mark its passing? Who will be there to mark my own?

John waited. No lights appeared on the horizon. “It was just my imagination.” he said aloud. He picked up a rock and throw it into the empty ocean. It bounced a few times and then lay still among the other rocks. Rocks that served no purpose in a dead ocean on a dead planet where there was nothing but death to look forward to. The exposed skin on his face hurt. He reached up to fix it, but instead tore the hood from his head in rage and threw it at the car. The wind blew his hair about and stung his face. The pain was real, he was real, this was real. This wasn’t some simulation for electronic ghosts orbiting the planet until the end of time. The rocks were real too. He could just lay down there among them in the freezing night and drift away to whatever waited for him after all of this.

“You should put your hood back on. It’s cold out here.” a voice called out.

Salt Plains 2

Part 1

The rest of the drive back to the compound was a blur. Next thing he knew he was sitting in the dark of his room staring at switched off monitors. He turned them on. The vital signs of the sleepers looked normal. He put on a movie made for young adults about courtship rituals that used to be common in schools:

“So…ummm…you going to the dance with anyone?”

“Not yet…”

“Want to go with me?”

“Thanks, but I was kind of waiting for another person to ask me…sorry”

“Oh, yeah, sure no problem…see you around”

The boy on screen turns away from the rejection and tries to hurry down the hall just as the cleaning man turns the corner pushing a large garbage bin. The boy lands face first in the bin. Everyone laughs.

John turned off the monitor. He walked over to his bed and laid down. When he closed his eyes he dreamed of falling down a bottomless chasm. As he fell he watched a light above him get smaller and smaller until it was just a speck, then it was no more.

***

John awoke to a steady alarm sounding from the vital signs monitor. He walked over and silenced the alarm. The words “Soul transference complete” flashed on the screen. He put on his clothes and goggles, then headed out into the scorch of the sun.

The winds kicked up dust as he walked the short distance to the main sleeper building. He had made this walk countless times, but this time felt different. There was someone, or something, else out there. It was always a possibility that others were still alive, be it in other similar compounds or…somewhere else. He half expected to see some monstrosity waiting for him on the other side of the fence. Nothing but dust and solar panels greeted him. Maybe it was all in his mind.

John entered the main sleeper chamber and immediately saw a red light blinking above a glass tube in the back corner of the room. The red light signaled that transfer had completed and the body had been shed. He checked the monitor attached to the tube, “Transfer complete.” was all it said. He looked in the tube and saw a the body of a woman. She was 54 years old at time of transference. John remembered her. She had been there when he was tested for genetic compatibility with the process, had told his weeping parents that their son was condemned to mortality on a dying planet of dust and wind, but that he could still serve. Someone had to stay, now the choice was easy.

John disconnected the metal tube from all of the sensors and loaded it onto a powered cart. He guided the cart out of the sleeping chamber and into the disposal building. This was his least favorite part of the process. He loaded the glass tube onto the trap door mechanism that hung above a large vat of chemicals used for the disintegration of husks. For a moment the face of the woman was even with his, and though it was impossible he feared she might open her eyes and condemn him again. She did not. He pulled a lever and the tube released its contents into the liquid below. John remembered what it felt like to dispose of the bodies of his own parents, how he wept despite knowing that they were nothing more than empty organic shells. This time he felt nothing.

He took the now empty glass tube to storage in an adjacent building. The tube was placed among other glass tubes, indistinguishable from the rest. John wasn’t sure why he was storing the tubes, no one else was going to use them. It just felt…necessary to keep them. He wanted to remember. He looked at the room full of empty glass glittering in the sunlight that managed to get in through the open door. They reminded him of the stars. It was almost beautiful…almost. 

Frustrations with Edgar Rice Burroughs

  • by Gitabushi

I’ve been reading more slowly lately. Life, plus an obsession with a mobile game* as a stress reliever.

I am really trying to like Pulp. There is much to like about Pulp. But there is also much to dislike about Pulp.

Edgar Rice Burroughs (ERB) provides some good examples of both.

I’ve read enough of ERB and Robert E. Howard that I can get into a pulp mindset where I turn off my writing critic and just enjoy the story.  And *still* ERB annoys with some of his poor plotting mechanics.

I have to conclude that ERB was great at coming up with an amazing archetype of a hero, and then just writing about his bad-ass character. His fame comes from being the first to have such a bad-ass character, rather than from actual writing talent.

Maybe that’s harsh. I know it’s going to irritate some people. But look, I’ve read The Monster Men (which was one of ERB’s later works, and an attempt to be more literary), and while it still had some problems, it was actually a fairly well-written book, with some twists, some character complexity, proper foreshadowing, etc.

But I’m still in the midst of slogging through Gods of Mars, and there are just so many examples of poor writing.

I feel like nearly every 3-4 pages there’s an example of poor writing that jars me out of my Willing Suspension of Disbelief.

Sometimes it is having incredible luck that saves John Carter from failure/death or otherwise continue the narrative. One would be irritating, but there have been at least 10 so far…way too many.  Examples: How was it John Carter to Barsoom returned just in time to encounter Tars Tarkas? How was it Tars Tarkas wasn’t the Green Warrior surprised by the unexpected jumping tactics of the Plant Men? How did Thuvia and Tars happen to be right at the location where the damaged air car of John Carter, Xodar, and Carthoris comes to ground?  Why does Thuvia have the ability of nearly perfect telepathy with beasts? Is this something other Barsoomians have? The answer seems to be that ERB needed something to get the characters through a nearly-impossible situation, so he just pulled something out of the air and ran with it.

Or the characters encounter an obstacle, and what do you know, they just happen to have the ability/item they need, right at that moment, but ERB just forgot to mention it before then! This is probably the most irritating, because it gives an impression of first draft writing: if your writing leads you to put your characters into a difficult situation, you go back and add the solution earlier in the work, at a time that it won’t seem unusual or significant.  Call it effective foreshadowing, call it effective preparation to  avoid a deus ex machina, I don’t really know the right way to put it. But ERB completely misses the mark for this in A Princess of Mars and Gods of Mars.

One that bothers me even more, however, is when ERB is inconsistent with the world and the rules of the world he himself set up.  In A Princess of Mars, he explains at length that the Green Men have rifles capable of amazing long distance accuracy, and the marksmanship skills to use them at incredible ranges. Yet when the Green Men would reasonably use that advantage in a way that might hurt the main characters, the Green Men conviently forget to use them.  A prime example of this (which I just read, and pushed me over the edge to needing to write this complaint) is when the Warhoons are chasing John Carter’s band after he rescued Tars Tarkas, but the Warhoons merely pursue them instead of shooting their mounts from underneath them. Another example is several pages earlier when John Carter merely follows Tars’ escorting guards through the dungeon, intead of attacking them immediately to free Tars. And immediately following when John Carter regretfully feels forced to ambush Tars’ guards, clearly feeling it was not up to his standards of fairness.  This bothers me because John Carter had not hesitated to attack far more than just four Green Men warriors previously, and he had killed one with a single blow from his fist before. Why would he hesitate in this situation, and why would he finally decide on a somewhat-dishonorable ambush? Inconsistency.

There are other things to like about the book, but this isn’t really a book review. I like it better than the Land that Time Forgot, because when I put The Gods of Mars down, I do want to pick it up again.  But it isn’t compelling me to reach the finish like The Monster Men did.

I’m not saying the book sucks.  But it does spur contemplation on the nature of successful writing. Should I sacrifice quality for speed in writing? Should I just come up with a great character and not stress plot and consistency?  Why does the best of SFF pulp have this many problems, but the best of Western and Detective Noir do not?

Okay, come at me.

* Kingdom Rush. My obsession is finishing every level without using any of the one-time use special abilities you can purchase with diamonds.  I’m almost done. I’m stressed because the new job I mentioned on Twitter as getting hired for FIVE MONTHS AGO still hasn’t given me a start date. Long story there.

Guitar Lust: Why Don’t They Make More “Blackout” Models?

  • by Gitabushi

Okay, maybe “blackout” isn’t the right term.  That’s part of the problem: there is no name for the style of guitar I like best. What I’m talking about is a Stratocaster-style guitar, with black hardware, black pickguard, black headstock, and black fretboard, and just about any body color, combine to make what is, in my opinion, the most beautiful guitar imaginable.

Let me pause a moment and discuss taste.  Specifically, my taste. I’m kind of a rebel. I like what I like, and it seems like I always like the things that are a little different. Okay, a lot different.  For instance, I genuinely like the movie “Orcs!” (2011).  I love listening to Chinese pop music; but my wife tells me that even for Chinese pop, I like the songs most other people have never heard of. When I’m not listening to Chinese music, my favorite band is Styx, which garners more than a little derision. I like 80s hair metal, too, which would be embarrassing enough, except that I like Giant and Loudness, two of the least-popular hair metal bands that were just popular enough you might have heard of them.

But I’m not a hipster. I’ve never stopped liking someone or something because they got popular. In fact, I’m usually very eager to share the things I like with other people, in hopes of it catching on.

I would like everyone to watch and like Chuck and Flash Forward. The more people that like Chinese pop music, Chuck, CJ Cherryh, etc., the more people I have to talk with about my passions.

Alas: my tastes are apparently weird.

So getting to guitars, here’s what I like:

This is Brad Gillis’ guitar. Er, a guitar made by Fernandes in the style of Brad Gillis’ guitar.

It is, quite simply, bad ass.

(the opposite being found here)

And yet, it is very difficult to find many guitars that have all those elements. I had to search for quite some time just to find these pictures:

28347_SELECT_SC1_HSS_TORRED_RW_C10490_1_medium29349_SoCal_HSS_FR_SATIN_TORRED_RW_C9914_1_grande30184_Used_USA_Deluxe_Stratocaster_Ash_Ebony_Board_Cobalt_Blue_DZ5073886_1_largefP2280195thjthlthowolverine-strat_0010_11yfawjda4su0xdlr6exh0

And to be honest, there is no telling what the headstock looks like in these photos.  Too often, they go with a plain headstock or a body color, instead of plain black.

If I want to get really picky, I’d insist on a strat style headstock, which leaves this one out:

184a52f3791a1503906d99234ed9ff61

But I think I have to allow it, just because there are so few examples that meet all my criteria.

Too often, the manufacturer changes one thing that just makes the guitar fall short of perfection, like a chrome bridge, or light colored fretboard, or the aforementioned headstock color mistakes:

thrrthfthdth;s-l1000prod_1062_4145_largeFender 1st pickupslg_11-4545-706fen98floydrosestrat-wh-bkguard-hh-rw2electric-guitar-with-red-body-and-reverse

13719114235176A5361-0_1

Close. They just *had* to use a chrome bridge, didn’t they?  Bastards:

depositphotos_5175867-Red-and-black-electric-guitar3894029

images4

Just imagine how gorgeous this red guitar below would look with a black input jack, black bridge, and black tuners!

511165000837000-00-500x500

751_P1010258_1

This is so close to perfection, I could almost cry. Or grab a brush and some black paint:

Charvel-USA-Select-So-Cal-Style-1-HSS-FR-Torred

And Charvel is an interesting case.  The orange guitar above is rare, in that it has a rosewood fingerboard.  Charvel comes the closest to what I want with black hardware and beautifully-painted bodies.  But they insist (or their buyers insist) on maple fretboard and unfinished headstock.  It just ruins it for me.

15120960049ththathggtht

These would all be better if they just had an ebony fingerboard and black headstock.

Interestingly, this one works pretty well for me:

squier-bullet-stratocaster-hss-green-metallic

I guess I’m okay with a gray pickguard.  It still looks better than white, or tortoise, or any other color.  Black would still be better.

This guitar I have is the closest I’ve been able to get so far.  The headstock isn’t black, but at least it isn’t a light maple:

images1

images2

So now you have an idea of what I like in guitars.  Why aren’t there more of them? Or at the very least, why isn’t there a name for this color combination to make it easier for me to search for them on guitar selling websites?

 

MUST READ SFF: Replay, by Ken Grimwood

  • by Gitabushi

It should be no surprise by now that I like books with good stories, good characters, and ideas that challenge me.  Who doesn’t want to be entertained?  But there are so many options for entertainment, so when I read, I want my mind to get a workout.

51c+mzM27jL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

This book does that.

To be honest, this book may be generation-locked.  The main character was born in the 1940s, and so is in college in the 1960s, and the culture of the 1960s has an impact on the plot. Growing up in the 1970s myself, I didn’t live 1960s culture…but most of the books I had available growing up were written in the 1960s or early 1970s, and set in the late 1950s and 1960s, so I was familiar with the culture.  For someone who never had to dial a rotary phone or never lived before there was cable TV or microwaves, maybe the book will lack some impact.  I don’t know. If you are one such reader, try it out and let me know.

However, Grimwood does an excellent job capturing the normality of those early times.  The protagonist goes back to his youth, but brings his adult sensibilities with him. And if you can imagine how society has changed just from the introduction of widespread use of the birth control pill, you can imagine how his mature assumptions clash with the culture and society of his youth.

The entire book is written with bedrock-solid descriptions of mainstream life in the United States. It feels real. The characters actions and reactions seem real. The author thinks of aspects I didn’t (and maybe couldn’t) and plays them to the hilt. The result is a book that makes it extremely easy to willingly suspend disbelief. It is easy to get drawn in, to care about the protagonists, what they want to do, and why.

It is also intersting to see things fall apart when the main character gets to experience one of the most common wishes of humankind: “If I knew then what I know now.”  Jeff gets several lifetimes of that wish fulfillment, and it still never turns out like he expects.

From that point of view, the book can be seen as a comfort: you are already doing pretty much the best  you can. More knowledge wouldn’t make your life better, it would just move you along to encounter new problems. Life is life. Stop pining for how things could be different, and start appreciating what you actually have.

In the end, you may get a “Groundhog Day” vibe out of this book, but rest assured: this preceded Groundhog Day by several years.

In fact, I would like to challenge all writers: Take the premise of this book, or Groundhog Day, or Flash Forward, and write your own stories. We have endless takes on zombies, vampires, young adult dystopias. Enough!  These three formats are crying out for additional exploration.

But first, you have to read this. Find it and read it. Let me know if you think I steered you wrong, but I think you’ll love it as much as I did.

Oh, and give me a review of the review. Did it make you want to read the book? If not, what else should I have included to help persuade you?

Replay Radar

 

The Salt Plains

“I used to collect these little robot action figures when I was a child. They were only a couple inches tall, and usually came in packs of three. All of them were brightly colored and were aligned with one side or another of an eternal conflict. I would play for hours with them, waging war across the floor of the living room and beneath the dining room table. Then one day, I stopped. I took my basket of robot toys downstairs and stared at them. There was no desire to play, no affinity for the little figures that I had collected and brought to life on so many occasions. I felt only a hole where the joy once was. I don’t remember the exact day it happened, but I remember the feeling. I’ll never forget that feeling. I bet you’ve felt like that before.”

The man in the metal and glass container proffered no response. None was expected. He was sleeping, had been sleeping for several years now. Soul transference took a long time, and the length varied depending on the person. The important thing was to let the process work and to never wake them up. Data corruption was worse than death. John’s job was to keep the machines running. That was his only job.

John finished his check of all the sleepers and decided to head back to his living quarters on the other side of the compound. The noon-day sun stung his eyes when he left the main server building. He pulled down his shaded goggles and walked over to the fence that secured the small group of buildings. Solar panels stretched to the horizon, each reflecting the star above them. It was like a sea of blinding light. Even with his goggles on he could only look for a few moments. John turned back from the fence and walked to the small square building that was his home.

It took a few moments for his eyes to adjust to the comparative darkness of the interior. Eventually he could make out the wall of screens, the few pieces of furniture, and the small stove and refrigerator that were the only things decorating his living space. He turned on two of the monitors. One displayed the vital signs of those in his ward, the other an episode from a criminal show made long before. In this particular episode the protagonist tells a lie to his girlfriend in order to go to a sporting event. She ends up at the sporting event too, unbeknownst to him, resulting in hi-jinks. It was all very amusing. The show ended and John sat in silence with his eyes closed listening to the desert wind blowing sand against the walls. Then, he slept.  

***

John wasn’t sure why they had left him a car, but he was glad they did. It ran on solar power like everything else, and it gave him something to do. There was no place worth driving to except for the great salt plains not far from his compound. He drove fast along the dusty road: 180 mph, 200 mph, 220 mph. The stars in the night sky blurred past as he sped along, frost collecting on his windshield. The nights were cold and the days were hot.

He was the only one awake in a world asleep. He had read records of deviants that lived far away out beyond civilization. They had rejected the future and had even opposed (sometimes violently) the great migration. Fences were built around the compound for a reason. That was long ago, though. John had never seen a deviant, doubted they even existed. Fences were a relic of the past, just like his car. The great salt plains appeared on the horizon, an endless expanse of white glowing in the moonlight.  He brought his car to a stop and stepped out into the night.

The frosty ground crunched beneath his feet as he walked to where the dusty ground bordered the salt plains. Long before he was born, this had been a great body of water filled with life. Now it was salt and dust, merely reflecting the life of the stars that danced above it. John looked up at the sky. He could see the blinking lights of the ships that orbited the Earth, each one carrying countless souls and the servers that housed them. He picked up a rock and threw it out into what was an ocean. It skidded to a stop a few hundred feet away, one more rock in a sea of rocks. He got up to leave when a light flashed on the horizon.

The light was brief and very far away, but he had seen it. He was sure. Then the light flashed again. John felt his chest tighten as fear gripped him. He ran back to the car, stumbling over his panicked clumsy feet, and took off in the direction opposite from the dead ocean. The salt plains were a speck in the rear view mirror before he regained his senses. He brought the car to a stop and sat there in the dark listening to the gentle electric hum of the engine and the pounding of his heart.