Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

A writing look back

December 10, 2022 Comments off

I recently was posed an interesting question: What was the first email address you ever had? If nothing else that takes me back. In the late 80’s we had Compuserve and GEnie dial-up accounts. There was no SMTP email with those, but I seem to recall in our last years living in Maryland, circa 1992-6, we had a dialup ISP account that did provide email. For the life of me I can’t find any mention of such an address. When we came back to Mass in ‘96, we had accounts on and later

Anyway that was the starting point of me poking around in all the oldest files I have lying around. In that I cam across the fragment below, the start of a story I had titled “Into the Out”. I remember the characters and the concept very well, and who knows? In coming years I may come back to it. But I had totally forgotten the fragment below. It is crudely copying of Jack Vance in tone, and it’s way longer than I would render such an idea today, but it was a pleasing connection back to my 1990’s self.

So below, the opening pages of INTO THE OUT …

“Another day … when will it give up?” Kenneth Iborgan Teele muttered his customary morning complaint. He sat up straight and swung his feet over the side of the bed, twisting to give first his spine then his neck a crack. He tilted his head left and right, as if listening. On a few past occasions there had been in fact something to hear; for Teele such a situation could betoken nothing good.

Today there was nothing. His morning ritual completed, Teele threw a robe about his shoulders and went off to the kitchen for breakfast, pausing to pick up his data-cache, that was lying on the nightstand. As he went, he pulled aside some drapes, and slid open a window to let a breath of air through the cottage. A bright beam of sunlight described a yellow rectangle on the floor and highlighted wisps of dust floating and turning like asteroids. Teele paused a moment by the window to wonder at the golden yellow orb of Sol, so different from the paper-white lightbulb of Vega. A current anthropological fad suggested that the differences between Earth and Vegan culture stemmed from the quality of light their peoples lived under; Vega 9, under pure white light and razor-edge shadows became a world of crystallized towers and perfect symmetries; Earth under the flickering bonfire-light of Sol grew into a world of subtly blurred distinctions, of brushstrokes instead of penlines.

Teele, of course, knew the folly of hypothesizing after the fact. But he smiled as he recalled a conversation he once had on this very subject, with a self-proclaimed “Chromatic Redemptionist” in a tatty bar on the outworld Hodown.

“You hold then that light influences our brain?” Teele questioned.

“Never doubt it!” the man replied, already half-exalted from drink. “Strands of the visual apparatus intermingle with fiber of the frontal lobe, and the temporal, and even the hippocampus and other areas of the ancient under-brain. In this way the quality of light impinging on the eyes sends impulses of uncertain effect into every area of the mind. Thus, the time the mind functions best is in absolute darkness – and even then, so many pathways have been warped from a lifetime of seeing that there is little improvement to be gained.”

“But as I understand it, your creed admits the possibility of redemption from this state?”

“The lost world Eden orbits a star of the perfect light, of an exact spectral quality that will allow the mind to function in its perfection, as it was meant to be. To see the healing beams of the sun of Eden is to think and perceive as the original man, innocently and cleanly. Thus, when mankind attains Eden, the numerous ills of our myriad warped societies will be cleansed.”

“A happening we all fervently hope for, to be sure. Yet I wonder, since all the modulations of light can be created by simple machinery, if one might not experimentally generate stellar wavelengths and test them for the enlightening effect you describe. You might save us all a period of unhappiness as we await the discovery of the actual planet Eden.”

“Pah! I refute this paltry hypothesis! Man cannot replicate by craft the sublime frequencies of Eden; that you suggest such a thing is only evidence of a warped mentality caused by exposure to light.”

“By the same token, since your creed comes from a light-tainted brain, how can we know its veracity? Unless of course, you were swaddled in blindfolds since birth?”

“First you spout heresy, then inveigh against an obvious revelation from the divine; if not for this excellent beer you have purchased for our consumption, I would end our association on the instant!”

“Well then, how do you propose to locate Eden? Presumably you do not command an armada of pioneer-drones.”

The man brushed at the shoulders of his threadbare coat. “You presume correct. Till now, the best I can do is closet myself in absolute dark, and by sheer intuition try to apprehend the location of Eden. My efforts all conclude that Eden lies somewhere in Sagittarius. I then prevail on wandering spacemen to convey me in that direction. I perceive you belong to this class, and since you are of a sympathetic bent you can no doubt provide me a berth, possibly even joining me in my search … ”

“I fear my business Out is done; my plans take back through the Door and In.”

“Always worldly pursuits stand in the way of salvation. Shall we not at least take more beer? And consider those ladies at the end of the bar – do they not grow in attractiveness even as we watch?”

“I believe it is the light of barrooms that causes this effect.”

“As good a cause as any – but still the effect remains. Ladies! Are you occupied? Observe my friend; a bravo of the spacelanes – and myself, a searcher among stars …”

Strange, the things we choose to include in our memories, Teele thought.

Categories: Writing

A CivSpace Christmas

December 25, 2018 Comments off

Twas the night before Christmas, and across his wide grounds

Terendurr the Black Stone listened for sounds.

His wide ears were twitching both downwards and up

And his head swiftly turned like the most nervous of pups.

His own sounds were sickly, twiddling and coarse,

An orchestra drained of all its force.

When I could stand it no longer I had to yell out,

“Boss! What’s the problem? What’s it about?

Alien invasion? Quantum death-beams?

A party of Keret forming volley ball teams?”

“The night is quiet, Blair,” he said,“Too quiet for me.

I fear some plot of fearsome degree.”

“No help for it now,” he said, nodding his head to the door,

“Go out to the city and search out the score.

Do not return until the danger is known –

Then I, a genius, the solution shall intone.”

He seemed so sincere I didn’t dare scoff

so grousing and grumbling I departed straight off.

My first stop was Bartoe the Monitor,

a lawman grumpy but tough as a boar.

“MacAlister!” he growled, “Trouble as always!”

“Thanks, Bartoe,” I said, “From you that is high praise.

But tell me, straight-up, any evil brewing tonight?

The Black Stone is nervous and fearing a fight.”

“No, nothing,” he barked so onwards I strode

My next stop, a Phair, to cash a favor long owed.

“Terril, you thief, you inveterate cad,

you owe me some info, so don’t make me mad.

A job is happening, this very eve.

Tell me the play and I’ll let you leave.”

His bald head he nodded, big eyes he blinked,

“Lovely Blair, I’m not so bad as you think,

no crime is planned across the town tonight.

In fact I intend a solemn and personal rite

Where clothing is optional and qualms passé –

What say we share a moment outré?”

In reply I just slapped him down to his bench

(Why should an alien know French?)

and headed out to the dark. My geas unlifted,

weary across the silent town I drifted

till at last I encountered a rare thing indeed,

an Oro-Ka, moving at speed.

Chaotic beings, of power great and manifest

He was my last chance to finish my quest.

“Hail, your worshipfulness!” (an ancient expression we scoundrels all favor).

“Questions I have I know you will savor.”

“What’s this, a Terran?” he cried.

“A child race – upstarts, infants – my patience you try!”

“Calm yourself,” I scolded, “lest dignity you misplace.

A riddle I have ,as great as space,

That I would pose.

Will you answer? Chose!”

“Ask,” he replied, sparks of power flicking about his head.

“My riddle,” I began, not without dread,

“concerns nothing, nothing at all.

When we are threatened by ‘nothing’, what defender shall we call?”

“’Nothing’, you say?” he stroked at his chin.

“A riddle from the Terran Sphinx’s kin.”

His powerful hand indicated the stars.

“Child, attend to the answer I tell.

Time is infinite, and space as well,

both curving, both swerving, both infuriatingly grim.

Back upon themselves they bend, an enclosing rim,

Tighter and tighter and the end – Is nothing – Unless.”


“Unless a fracture is introduced. Foolish primate.

Only by that can you avoid your fate.

At the beginning of things the answer lies,

When quanta were mist and atoms dreams.

I am done, and so are you I deem.”

There was a shimmering flash and he was gone,

Leaving me to ponder the night alone.

Above were alien stars, around me alien air,

All lonely, cold, beyond care.

But in that moment I smiled, and laughed —

the Oro-Ka was right, and not by half.

Back to the compound I sped,

Till through the silent doors I did tread.

Distant sounds drew me on, breathless,

To the Great Hall when, blinding light left me helpless!

For there was Madeline the Raylic and the Trang, Pierre,

Bearing wrapped gifts, the grinning pair.

And the Black Stone as well a present he had

(its wrapping I must say was terribly bad).

“Apologies, Blair,” he boss announced,

“for the false assignment so lately pronounced.

Too late I learned that gifts are needed this night

For your Terran celebration to be observed aright.”

And we laughed, and talked, till Terendurr inquired

“Christmas, Blair, what is it? besides presents acquired.”

“The beginning of things,” I said, thinking on The Oro-Ka.

“We choose how the symmetry cleaves, what flaw

Shall set our yearly path towards we know not where.”

“Hrrmphh,” he grumbled, “Unaccustomed for you, wisdom quite rare.”

Then shaking his head he left, off to his office to ponder,

On problems I’m sure most dire and somber.

But I heard him exclaim, as he tromped to his lair—

“Happy Christmas to all, but most to you, good Blair!”

Categories: Writing

Pen-Ultimate: A Speculative Fiction Anthology

July 7, 2013 4 comments

Writing tip #1: Start in the middle of the action.

“Hey!” Kathy shouted.  Her clear voice cut through the traffic noise and the oblivious guy ahead turned, saw her coming at speed, and slammed his car door shut just in time.  The guy’s head spun watching her pass, barely six inches between him and the right handlebar of Kathy’s bike.

No time to look back.  Kathy had to get there quick or all the copies would be gone.

Writing tip #2: Show, don’t tell.

3 am.  There was no getting around it, sleep was not happening.  Just one more story, Kathy thought as she took the book from the nightstand and clicked on the LED bookmark.  The white glow reflecting from the turning pages gave her face the look of a ghost, an apparition.

The story ended and still not sleepy.  Well then, one more.  Then another, and then she reaches the end and still not sleepy.  I’ll go back, I want to read some again.  But which?  The robot story?  The troll-ship story?  Then she realizes, no need to choose.  I’ll just re-read them all …

Writing tip #3: Revise, revise, revise.

“Hey!” Kathy shouted.  Her clear voice cut through the traffic noise just in time for the oblivious guy ahead to hear, turn, and slam shut his car door; the right handlebar of Kathy’s bike nearly grazed him as she leaned into the pedals for yet more speed.  In her wake the oblivious guy cast angry shouts characteristic of oblivious guys everywhere.

No time to look back.  Kathy had to get to Readercon quick or all the copies of Pen-Ultimate would be gone.

These and a great many other tips come  from the Ultimate Science Fiction Workshop, which I attended in 2008.  Why, you might ask?  The short answer is, I want to be a writer and despite dinking around with it ever since college and producing some bits which I rather like – amidst much larger volumes of utter junk – it was clear to me I needed some basics and some examples.  Run by Jeff Carver and Craig Shaw Gardner, the USFW was exactly the right thing.  The workshop, which ran each Fall from 2006 to 2011, is on a break just now, while Jeff and Craig do actual writing.  If like me you have the writing bug, look for the USFW when it comes back.

I’m afraid I have ignored writing tip #4: Get To The Point.  Here it is:

Pen-Ultimate: A Speculative Fiction Anthology

Neat cover, huh?  Through mailing lists, FB, etc. alumni of USFW maintain a loose level of communication.  About a year go the idea came up of an anthology of USFW graduates’ stories.  There was also quick consensus on what to do with the proceeds of any such work:  All would go to the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America Emergency Medical Fund, which helps SFWA members facing unexpected medical expenses.

The result is Pen-Ultimate: A Speculative Fiction Anthology, just now available at Amazon and other outlets:

The story from yours truly is a short one, loosely inspired by some experiences I have had in India.  But all the stories here are great.  I particularly like the ones from my fellow attendees in the 2008 session.  The workshop experience is quite personal – you’re sharing and critiquing each other’s thoughts, after all – and hearing the voices that I recall as tentative and new back then, now coming up with these confident, creative and cool stories is just great, and gives me hope for my own work.

So, good stories, good cause – catch a copy of Pen-Ultimate.  And it really will be at Readercon, July 11-14.  Like the Kathy in my mini-story, if you get there quick you can snag what I’m sure will someday be a valuable first edition!


I’ll end with, Writing tip #5: Finish with the reader wanting more.

Fundra put the thunderbird to sleep, her tips pressing the two-meter wings into hundred-fold angles. Bird bone spines and feathers fused into layers, the whole animal sliding paper thin and easily rolled into her community pocket. She made a gesture of sixteen tips because she felt sad, because she had fallen in love with the bird’s eyes, glassy dark and wise.

If you want to find out what happens next, get Pen-Ultimate.

Categories: Writing