Monday, October 31, 2011

What I read: October 2011

OWW: 3

“We Never talk about my Brother” by Peter S. Beagle. Short stories. The title story will stay with me. So elegant! Some of the stories were meh, like all short story collections, but this one was worth reading.

“Storm Front” by Jim Butcher. So, when I was at the library taking back the previous books, I was poking around. I often look at the Jim Butcher Dresden Files books because I’ve heard so many good things about them, but I want to start with book 1, so I’ve never taken one out. I looked in the paperback FSF section, then the hard cover FSF, then the general stacks... and they always have some random middle books, but never the first. So, I’d given up. I was over in the general paperback section looking for Jane Austen (they only had Mansfield Park, but I wanted Persuasion or Sense and Sensibility) and I found this! It reminded me of Sandman Slim, though of course this came first. It came out in 2000, and it’s weird how strange that feels – the characters don’t have cellphones, 9/11 hasn’t happened. The world was a different place. There were some style things I might have done differently, but this was a quick, fun read.

“The Watchers out of Time” by HP Lovecraft and August Derleth. Not really Lovecraft, apparently. But I don’t think I’ve read any Lovecraft, and this was sitting there at the library, so I got it out. This book made me want to eat Kolbassa and sauerkraut. The introduction by Derleth’s wife was an amusing bit that seemed to suggest that Derleth was the real genius here, and just took chunks of unfinished Lovecraft stories to craft works around. I think I could tell which bits those were, and they were pretty silly, some of them. There are maybe only so many things you can do with men who inherit houses that have histories of warlocks living in them, but after a while they were a bit all the same.

However, the formula seems to work. I was editing a story and it wasn't working, so I've started again, with what I'm calling "the Derleth formula" applied, with my own modifications of course. I may be discovering at this late date that I'm not a pantser.

“Nine Princes in Amber” by Roger Zelazny. I haven’t read this in about 20 years, but it holds up. You can probably guess what the next four things I’ll be reading are. (Apparently I don’t own the second five). What a great character!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Flash Fiction Challenge: Bully

The challenge: a hundred-word story about bullies, and only the weekend to write it. They're all posted over on terribleminds.com, but to be complete about things, I've put it here too.

“You should make something for the bake sale,” Janelle said. “It’s a good cause.”

Their daughters were on the soon to be torn down playscape.

It looked safe enough to Clarissa. “I’m not much of a baker,” she said. Money was a little tight this week.

“Heather looks grubby today,” Janelle said. “Didn’t Children’s Aid visit you once?”

“When her father was still around,” Clarissa said. Things were better now. “Maybe I can make some squares.” There might be brownie ingredients in the cupboard?

Underneath the playscape Heather threw a handful of sand. Caitlin ran, bawling, to her mother.

Flash Fiction Challenge: Welcome to Blackbloom

This challenge was different -- Chuck Wendig is doing a worldbuilding exercise. The entries are all in the comments, but I thought for completism, I'd post mine here, too.

The world was once terraformed. Aliens had seeded it With algae spores. These spores grew on all the wet things, killed some of them, and converted others. It was a very painful process. Creatures walked around, bodies half-covered in algae, going mad from pain.

The algae spores are a modified version of filamentous green algae, which does conjugal reproduction (trading DNA with other species). The algae takes the sulfur out of the SO2 atmosphere, leaving the free oxygen that the original lifeforms are allergic to.

The algae is still out there. Occasionally there’s an outbreak. Non-natives are particularly vulnerable.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Flash Fiction Challenge: Mary Alice goes to Hell

Another Chuck Wendig challenge; the rules are here. I'd written this story to see if I could do something small in the world of my urban fantasy, without it having all that annoying stuff I see in some short story collections that contain those. I had to cut it considerably to fit it in the space. It would be neat to put this aside and then try editing it "straight", and see how it comes out. I had not realized my vampires were so racist.

Mary Alice went out to give Sephora a hug. “Thank god you’re here. Avril is the dumbest thing ever.”

“I know, honey,” said Sephora. Without a mirror she freshened her black eyeliner and cranberry lip gloss. Sephora would have flown commercial from Iceland now that Candelmas was past. She dragged a huge trunk behind her through PATH, Toronto's 10 KM of underground walkway and mall.

“I can’t believe she’s going to be second,” Unlike the other vampires, Mary Alice was small and had a tiny voice to go with her pixie-sized body. “If Goatboy goes down, we'd have to report to her.”

“How can we get rid of her?” Sephora batted those lush lashes. She was tall and unbelievably thin, with long, glossy hair in a messy pile on top of her head.

But like a monkey, Avril moved fast. “Welcome back,” she said as she bounced into their space as if this was her place, not theirs, and her right to welcome anyone back. "We're all on our way out. I've been summoned to Hell."

A cockroach walked by. Mary Alice flicked it away.

Avril caught it and popped it in her mouth absent-mindedly.

None of them ever went to Hell except Goatboy. It wasn’t that they didn’t want to go; they thought maybe they couldn’t make it.

The therians moved as a pack through the fountains and wheelchair ramps of the mall, and then outside. The hellhole was near the junction of two highways, under the crossing of two rail lines beside a river, as desolate as those things can be in a city.

The moon was a fingernail clipping, a scrap of feather falling towards the west. No therian would change tonight without choosing deliberately.

“This is ridiculous,” Sephora said when they got to the Hellhole. “Why did we come?”

“No clue,” said Mary Alice. “Maybe she’ll get stuck up to her knees in the snow.”

But Avril gave Goatboy a peck on the cheek, took the step forward, and let gravity take her away.

She did not stop knee-deep in a groundhog hole. She was gone.

“Well, that was that,” said Sephora. "We’re free of her for a while.”

“I hope so,” said Mary Alice.

“Shall we go, then?” Sephora said. "I don’t understand why we came in the first place.”

“Yeah,” said Mary Alice. And that was that.



But Avril was back in the food court the next night.

Mary Alice took her normal spot on the floor in a corner. Sephora waltzed in grandly, but then crouched beside Mary Alice.

“The second should be one of us, a vampire, not part monkey.” Mary Alice said.

“Maybe she’ll grow into the role,” Sephora said. “Hell’s not that big a deal, really.”

“Have you been?” Mary Alice said.

“Not since I bubbled up,” said Sephora. It was how they said they were no longer useful for Hell's eugenics programs.

“Why would they summon her?” Mary Alice said.

“They need someone to report on Goatboy,” said Sephora.

“Why Avril?” Mary Alice said. “You could do it.”

“I was in Iceland,” said Sephora. “I don’t know what’s been going on.”

“No one asked me,” said Mary Alice. “I know what’s been going on. Nothing.”

“I can’t take your information to Hell,” Sephora said. “That would be hearsay.”

“I could go,” Mary Alice said.

Sephora snorted. “Good luck with that.” She walked away, and sat down with Goatboy and Avril.

No one noticed as Mary Alice stood up and pulled her sweater around her, and wandered out of PATH.

The humiliation she’d been hoping to see when Avril went, it would probably happen for her. Mary Alice didn’t need anyone to see that. But after 5000 years, she had to know.

It was before midnight when she got to the hellhole. She held her sweater above her as she stepped and then let it fall over the hole as she dropped.

There was dark, and wind for so long. Then she hit. The pain was worse sunburn, worse than not feeding for a month or a bath in holy water.

“Arrival,” she heard.

“Weren’t expecting anyone.”

“Human?”

“Vamp.”

“Can’t leave it here.”

“Send it back."

Anything else they said was drowned out by a wind.

She smelled rather than felt the return to Earth. She hit her sweater, launched into the air above it, and fell.

There was no daylight yet, just bruises on bruises.

After a while she heard Sephora’s voice. “I know this sweater.”

Strong arms lifted Mary Alice, sweater and all, and carried her away. There was the odd jostle of being carried by someone on seven-inch heels, the sounds of riding on a bus, then yelling for someone to open the door.

Mary Alice could smell corn chips. The hard surface she was set down on must be a food court table. Sephora began to unwrap her. “Oh, honey, what have you done?”

“That bad?” Mary Alice said.

“Your hair, when is the last time you combed it?” said Sephora. “Have you been sweating?”

“I’ve been to Hell,” Mary Alice said.

“But why?” said Sephora.

“I didn't want to be left behind."

Avril was standing behind Sephora suddenly. “Does she need anything? Blood, nachos?”

“Shut up, Avril,” Sephora said. "How was it?”

“They sent me right back,” Mary Alice said.

“That’s the way Hell works,” said Avril.

People were always telling her things she already knew, but this was too much. “Shut up, Avril,” said Mary Alice. She got up to go to her spot in the corner on the floor.

"Hey Mary Alice, if you can get to Hell, you can be my second," said Goatboy.

"Shut up, Goatboy," said Mary Alice.

"I'm serious," said Goatboy.

"I went to Hell," said Avril.

"You're a therian," said Goatboy. "The job needs a vampire."

"I'm a vamp," said Sephora.

"You didn't go to Hell," said Goatboy.

"I can," said Sephora.

"Too late, the position is filled." Goatboy said.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Flash fiction challenge: Ginger Root

The challenge is here. Go there! Read the other stories! Mine is about a plant my mother is growing.

Kitchens in the Cookie Factory Lofts were small, so Kimberley didn't have to walk far to show Mitch the ginger they had left in the cupboard.

"Look at it," Kimberley said. "I wonder if you can eat the shoots." Four branches, hard like bamboo, grew off the corners of the wizened 3-inch root.

"It's not a burger," Mitch said. He was working from home on the dining room table. The loft didn't really have an office.

"Maybe I'll plant it," said Kimberley. She used ground ginger instead, and dinner was sub-standard that evening. Mitch knew enough not to say anything.

After dinner, Kimberley took a flowerpot off the windowsill, and threw out the dead poinsettia it had held. She dug a hole and nestled the ginger root in with coffee grounds and potato peels. She watered the whole mess and set it beside the spindly avocados and garlic scapes. By then, Mitch had the scent of compost stuck in his head, and could smell nothing else for the rest of the evening.

"Kind of pointless to give up meat and be so nice to the plants," Mitch said. They had met working at a vegetarian restaurant while they were in University. He was afraid they were growing apart. Sometimes on his lunch break, he would leave his office and buy a hotdog from the street vendor.

Kimberley was disturbingly thin. More and more foods refused to cross her lips. She was down to potatoes, cabbage, apples, and kale. If it wasn't for vodka, she wouldn't get any calories at all. But she came up behind him where he sat at the table, kissed him on the top of his head, and said, "It's so nice to see them try."

So he let it go.

The southern exposure seemed to be just what it wanted. The four branches were a foot taller when Mitch got home the next evening.

"It's definitely taller," Mitch agreed when Kimberley pointed it out.

"I think the pot is too small," Kimberley said.

She was right, but Mitch didn't need to see the fronds waving in agreement.

After a dinner of spinach nut loaf (no substitute for meatloaf), they picked up a bag of soil and the largest planter the hardware store had. They filled the new pot with dirt and took the planted the ginger again.

"Does ginger reproduce by growing new bulbs, like a tulip?" Mitch asked. A small bubble had appeared on one end, between the two shorter branches. It hadn't been there yesterday.

"I guess so," said Kimberley. "It's all broken bits at the grocery store. Maybe it grows in mats the size of the table."

The next night when he got home, the peanuts were chopped, garlic crushed, green onions sliced, rice in the rice cooker, and extra-firm tofu fried. Soy sauce, sesame seeds, and hoisin sat measured on the counter. But Kimberley stood with the paring knife poised over another ginger root, not peeling or mincing. She wasn't even grating.

"I feel a little guilty about this, in her presence," she said, and gestured at the ginger plant. It hadn't gotten any taller, but had filled out. The four limbs stood like trunks in their own right.

"Oh, just cut the thing," Mitch said. It wasn't like butchering a cow after all.

Kimberley squeezed shut her eyes, gripped the knife, and sliced the ginger root in half. She opened her eyes and hastily trimmed the rough outer skin from the fibrous flesh. The smell of ginger filled the room, though none had yet landed in the hot broth in the wok.

Kimberley didn't notice the rustling by the balcony door, but Mitch did. He turned around to see the ginger plant climb out of the planter as if it was a bathtub. The shorter branches looked remarkably like arms, and the leaves bent like many-jointed fingers, brushing the dirt away. What yesterday had been a bubble on the main root was now a head wrapped in what looked like burlap. Green hands stroked that face until the husk came loose and hung around her neck and under dangerous red hair.

"Kimberley," was all Mitch could think to say.

Just as she was about to brush the minced ginger into the wok, Kimberley turned. "Oh my," she said, setting the knife and cutting board down on the counter. "I'm so sorry."

"If you were really sorry," said the ginger plant girl, "It wouldn't have happened in the first place."

Mitch didn't move until she was past him on her way to the kitchen. He wasn't fast enough. The ginger girl grabbed up the cleaver from the wood block and lopped off Kimberley's head.

"Oh god," was all Mitch could say, as the ginger girl held Kimberley's head over the wok, dripping blood over the sizzling garlic.

"For flavor," she said, as the air took on a pleasant meaty smell.

"I can't eat that," Mitch said. He could taste the vitamin B-12 already.

The ginger girl poured the peanuts into the wok. It would take a couple of minutes for them to absorb the liquid. "You will when you're hungry enough," she said. She came from the kitchen five steps to the dining room, pulling the papery skin off her neck like a mummy tearing off its wrappings. Her flesh underneath wasn't desiccated at all. She pushed Mitch, dominatrix-like, onto a chair and tied his arms and legs down.

Back in the kitchen, all the other ingredients went into the wok. She put rice and tofu on two plates and stepped over Kimberley's body to set them on the table. She sat down across from Mitch.

"One hand free?" she asked.

It would be better than eating like a dog.

She tore the bindings off his right hand. He picked up a fork and took a bite. Tofu takes on the flavor of whatever you put on it. The slightly meaty taste was divine.

"I'm sorry, Kimberley," Mitch said.

Monday, October 03, 2011

What I read: September, 2011

OWW: 4 (and all in the last week)

“Deadline” by Mira Grant. Bought this in North Conway, NH at the Borders Express going out of business sale. The boy devoured it and then nagged me while I finished “Rebecca”. We got Ed “Feed” for his birthday, so he could read this one. I think he’ll like the science. It was nice to have someone to discuss it with. Intriguing ending. I think Shaun has a reservoir condition in his brain, the boy suggests it might be in the Amygdala (whatever that is).

“Among Others” by Jo Walton. My friend Lucy finished it before I’d even started, and asked if I’d read a lot of SF from back in the day. I said yeah, I had, and then I’d gone to SFContario last year and listened to Jo Walton riff with Ed Greenwood and TNH and someone else about how different writers connect together for an hour, and just written down a reading list. This book makes me want to work on “Toothbrushing Club” again. Maybe I ought to pull it out and do a new draft.

“Last Call: the Rise and Fall of Prohibition” by Daniel Okrent. Social histories are so much more interesting than what gets taught in school. This book was funny and fascinating, all about the disaster that was the 18th amendment, how it happened, and how it was undone 14 years later. I wish it said more about parallels to the anti-abortion movement and the drug war, but I suppose those are inferences I can draw on my own, so subtlety is good.

“Ceremony” by Leslie Marmon Silko. Read this on the train on the way back from Farthing Party. It was a neat magic realism story, other than an occasional unsubtle rant (not all directed at white people). The structure reminded me of Catherynne M. Valente’s Orphan’s Tales, without all the signposts, which is to say I wanted to read it as fast as possible so I wouldn’t forget who was who. The character/POV I identified with the most was Helen Jean, whose description of her fellow young women in town was painful and sticking with me. The was published in 1977, so the main character dealing with the aftermath of WWII was interesting, because he seemed to have a lot of problems that I associate more with people coming back from Korea or VietNam. I guess war really is hell.

“Breakfast of Champions” by Kurt Vonnegut. I do not think I could get away with writing this book.

“Rampant” by Diana Peterfreund. Library book. Unicorns! The first chapter was totally brilliant. It totally did everything a first chapter should do. Throughout the story, there were moments when sometimes the character reactions seemed a bit random (Neal in the first scene with Phil in the office, Phil when she takes charge), and there are a couple of loose ends that I wanted tied up (where is Brandt? Where are these other Llewelyns? What specifically is the remedy? Where are the other hunters?) but overall it was a good read. Maybe all that will be explained in the sequel.