Sunday, September 27, 2009

WIP: "A Fine Day to Watch the Dragons Die"

This is the first page of the short story that I'm about to finish (in draft form). It looks to be about 4000 words, maybe a bit more. I like it, but I'm not sure I'm getting the point across.

Dorlé awoke to a rumbling chorus of dragon whimpers.

As he opened his eyes he had to shield them from scabs of mud that were flaking off of the hut wall next to his cot. The ground trembled like a rapped drumhead and sent a quivering melody through the stances and framework of the little shelter. Dorlé pulled his thin blanket over his head and buried his face into the bundled old deerhide that was his pillow, and waited for the shaking and flaking to stop.

After a few minutes quiet returned to the hut. Dorlé slipped out of his cot and right into his sandals. He looked around as he rose; the other two cots were empty, one neatly covered with a threadbare quilt, the other bereft of bedding. Two cups and plates sat on the only other piece of furniture in the shelter: a high, three-legged table with a round top, like an ogre’s barstool. A breadbox was between the plates, and a single bowl, crudded with soup stains. Near the table was a small fire whose thin smoke wound up to the smokehole in the roof, and through a few other holes near it.

This hut would be poor shelter if it rained much here. Dorlé went to the fire and opened the small stewpot that was hung over it on a rickety tripod. A burst of steam rolled out of it and he turned his head away so fast his ‘prentice lock whipped around and snapped its small iron burr into his forehead. He yelped and skipped away from the fire entirely. He stood rubbing his temple for a moment, swearing in his mother tongue. The dragons didn’t seem to know Kharutun, so he felt it safe to question their heritage and the gods they had served in the language’s harsh vowels and sighing suffixes.

He turned back to the fire and sniffed the steam curling over the stewpot. Old meat and sickly broth fought over the honor of making him gag. He coughed and snorted, and this time skipped away from the fire to the back door and pushed through the stiff goatskin cover into the morning.

He emerged into the beigeness of another day. The sun was filtered through clouds the color of trail dust and worn saddle leather. A few tints of gray delineated cloud banks, but the light that reached the ground was the kind that muted brightness and washed out dark tones. Sky and earth were the same color, except that the earth had slightly more vegetation. Dorlé walked to the small garden plot behind the hut and surveyed its lack of bounty. When they had first arrived, they had planted herbs, medicinals, wonder-leafs, and even some flowers. Bristletack had been coaxed to form around the plot to keep out vermin and a night-singer had been granted a home in the middle of the plot to call out when unfamiliar people came near.

Now it was little more than several disheveled rows of withered shoots and petals. A few things flourished, like the garlic and the pepperleaf. The toughest herbs and tubers stood out amongst the clusters of limp stems and frills. Dorlé walked up and down the rows, toeing a few plants, then he shrugged and bent down to pull what he hoped was some sort of onion. “All dying,” he muttered as he dug at the ground, which actually seemed quite black and moist.

“Not dying,” a dry voice said behind him. He tilted his head backwards until he could see the speaker, who stood with a slight bend on the roof of the world to Dorlé’s overturned eyes. “Not dying at all, pupil. Just. . .” the man sighed, his thick master’s braid, weighed down with silver stars and small wire-bound rubies, swaying next to his downcast face. “Just. . . bereft.”

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


My latest Forces of Geek column is up. Astute readers will not its genesis in the previous blog post.

There's more I want to say about this topic, because I think that the social life of SF is so important and that both the works and those who appreciate them exist in a tighter synergy than readers of most other types of books. And I am not just talking about SF fans being "bigger fans" than mystery or romance fans; the word synergy is very specific here. And I think that the significance of synergy could do with more discussion and a little critique. But that is for another day.

Enjoy the column. Please do comment.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Joe Haldeman is in the hospital

Send out some good vibes to Joe and Gay Haldeman, y'all. Joe just had sudden, "extensive" surgery and is in ICU. He's a great writer and a thoughtful individual. Gay's note sounds pretty collected, and she has a lot of support, but good thoughts are never wasted in this situation.

I have not read Haldeman in a few years, but three of his books were an important part of my SF upbringing: his award-winning The Forever War, There is No Darkness (with his older brother Jack, who died in 2002), and his Vietnam memoir War Year (which I am honored to have a signed first of in my rather small collection). Haldeman's stuff was a mighty corrective to my earlier overdosing on Heinlein. I found Forever War and Darkness to be significant counterpoints to Starship Troopers and Space Cadet, two other formative books for my teenage years. Haldeman got deeper into his characters and the moral ramifications of people's actions than Heinlein, and didn't push the Big Ideas quite so hard. I felt that there was a little less agenda and a bit more space for me to engage the narrative as a reader and not be led around as forcefully.

I hope he recovers from this surgery. Do keep him in your thoughts.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

RIP Lucky Travel Clock, 1997-2009

There is much sadness here this morning at Chez DragonTurtle. Hard on the heels of the death of Patrick Swayze, I awoke to find that my beloved Lucky Travel Clock, companion of my anthropological fieldwork and wanderings around Ireland and Great Britain, has lost two critical sections of the LCD display, which means that right now (8AM) the clock reads "E:OO." Rather than allow it to shamble on so disabled, I think it is time for the Lucky Travel Clock to be retired.

I thought that the Lucky Travel Clock would be with me for life. This was a foolish expectation, given that I bought it for $5.00 at some airport transit shop while on the way to my first field trip to Geneva, Switzerland. But it weathered over a dozen trips aboard, over a hundred tumbles to the ground, and being sat on dozens of times with no problems. I dropped it in the snow once and didn't realize it for twenty minutes, had to go back and find it as dusk fell in a creepy Swiss wood. I changed the batteries twice in twelve years. It was a survivor. It's called the Lucky Travel Clock because it's lucky, not because it bring luck to me, although I have found its survivability comforting and auspicious.

It has been a valued companion and a relic of my graduate school years. There are many fond memories associated with the Lucky Travel Clock. Sleeping in crowded hostel rooms, perched next to a hundred-year-old clock in a fine Irish hotel, serving as a light in a corridor on the way to the foyer bathroom. . . it has been a tool with many uses. It has weathered flatulent Peruvians, flooded tents, and several cats who thought that it was an fantastic toy. It wears its many tiny scars proudly and has had a full life. I rarely invest objects with emotion, but the Lucky Travel Clock has brought me joy and familiarity in strange places and kept me on time for innumerable meetings. I give it all the praise it is due, because it not only functioned well for quite a long time, it became a touchstone that boosted my confidence and readiness to face each day's challenges. It did not always succeed, but somehow starting every day by clicking the alarm OFF was a ritual that brought surety to the first few moments of each day.

Go in peace, old friend.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Jay Lake's Flash Fiction Challenge: "Estuary"

In response to Jay Lake's challenge (as noted in my previous post), here is a story of exactly 500 words, not including the one word title:


“So, is this an art piece or something?”

She grimaced. “No, officer.” The stream’s water sluiced over the rocks, whispering of flow and vigor. Nothing else moved.

The cop sighed. “OK, what am I looking at then?”

She sighed back. “Either a miracle or a weird-ass suicide.”

He scratched his neck with his cheap pen. “Uh, right.” He bent down to examine the hat, unmoving in the afternoon breeze. He tugged at the brim; it stayed in place.

He looked up at her. “Why is the hat glued down?”

“It’s not. It’s just. . . there. Right where he stood. It won’t move. Neither will the rocks around it.”

The cop straightened up and shook his head. “Ma’am, it’s illegal to make crank calls like this.”

She gritted her teeth. “This is not a crank call.” She moved behind the hat. “Look, here’s what happened. My uncle called me and told me to meet him at our favorite picnic place along the estuary. When I asked why he said, ‘Because that is where things mix and change.’” He’s been acting weird the past few months, but I say OK and drive down here.” She took a step back. “When I get here, he’s standing by the creek’s edge, holding a stick in his right hand” she looked to her right and waved an unseen magic wand, “and a white feather in his left,” she nodded in the other direction, making her left hand flutter. “I ask him what he’s doing, and he says ‘travelling to a different stream.’ He mutters something glottal, tells me ‘I hope to see you there, dear,’ waves the stick and flutters the feather, and disappears.”

She rolled her eyes at the cop’s glare. “That’s what happened.”

“That’s nuts,” he replied. “You and your uncle are crazy.” He closed his notebook and pocketed his pen.

“My uncle was a lot of things, officer,” she said quietly, “and crazy was definitely one of them.” She looked downstream. “This is. . . genius?”

The officer grunted. “Sure, Ma’am. Look, you need to come with me. Pranks like this are. . . .”

“Oh sweet Aphrodite’s sweaty bodice! I am telling you. . . .”

The cop waved his hands and moved her aside. “You’re telling me that your crazy uncle waved these. . .” he bent down and scooped up the stick and feather, “said a few magic words,” he grumbled a bit of Spanish and waved them in the air, “and. . . “ he was cut off by the hat flying atop his head. He looked up at it, and disappeared.

* * * * * *

It was quiet. The estuary here was smaller, and there was snow on the rocks. The cop looked around. From downstream he heard a hum, and an old man on what looked like a flying Segway carved out of teak landed on the bank. He wore no hat, but had a big smile on his face.

“Hello,” he said.

Writing is Fun!

The past two days have been a fabulous whirlwind of writing for me. My new Forces of Geek column is up, although sadly it is rather truncated. There's a lot more I want to say about Lev Grossman's WSJ piece. Not strictly in terms of the piece itself, but what it represents as a part of the social life of science fiction. I really wanted to talk about Grossman's conception of readers and delve a bit more into the middle ground he proposes. I might do some of that here, but rather than get too caught up in that right now, I have been doing some other writing.

Jay Lake put a flash-fiction challenge up on his blog, and I just finished writing that. I will post that separately so that I can put the link in his comments section. I made use of as many details from the scene as possible. Hopefully, it works for other readers. . . .

Working on the short story right now. The family has gone on an outing so the house is all mine, which means I need to write! So, back to it.