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Posts by davefreer

The lost story

We’re all a mish-mash of experiences and talents. The system for finding writers rather like the brute force approach taken by Bosch (of the Haber-Bosch process) to finding a catalyst that would make sequestering those precious nitrates (in the form of Ammonia) from the air cheaply and effectively. They just tried a lot of substances, without having a clue what would work or how it would work. Frankly, they got lucky.

Publishers — and indeed authors –are no better off when it comes to finding the catalyst that turns words and imagination into an irresistible story. And then it may be an irresistible story for me, and not you. But as time passes we do get slightly better at it.

Well. Maybe. I’ve just been looking for a specific short I wanted.I thought I’d write about it tonight… after the hell of a day I just had.

Which for the life of me I could not remember what I called.  So I started looking through my Word ‘shorts’ folder, and as the names tell me little, reading a bit of the story… and sometimes the whole story , because it carried me. I’ve certainly written a lot, and much of deserves obscurity (at least as far as I am concerned)  But looking through a couple of hundred shorts (not all of which I finished) written over twenty years (and that’s not all – there’s stuff on paper only from before that) I could see some some stories that needed to be revived, and some that needed whole books… and I could also see the change (and lack of it) over time.

It’s a good way of seeing what you’re good at… and bad at.  I decided I was probably best at being a sort of Simak-lite, writing the country people I know best, and like. (I was surprised to find just how many Australian rural-based shorts I had written. I’ll put together a collection one day.) Old dogs, cats, and children, and country people… well they’re comfort reads anyway, if not put together with that magic catalyst.

So I’ve got some idea of where the stories come from, how I have got to here. But I still have no idea where the story I was looking for is, and whether I dreamed it and never wrote it.  Which in itself is odd, because I do keep -and back up, my stories and even fragments. Searching on phrases I remember… gets nothing.

Yet it seems so familiar.  Which some of the shorts I re-read… didn’t. Which brings me into a rather odd idea. Either I’m channeling (and he was no genius – just like I am the re-incarnation of a Polish peasant, and everyone else gets to be the reincarnation of kings, or generals or princesses) or my subconscious  has been sneaking off and writing without me – perhaps channeling that to some poor schlub in another continuum.  I have to feel sorry for them.

Do you ever have that feeling?

Anyway I couldn’t find the story, but this one my channel must have left there instead.

Death walked the moonlit tall hedgerows and narrow lanes. There were deep shadows there, which suited him. Somewhere in the distance, the bell tolled.

 A nightjar warbled joyously. Death took it. It was a small and petty gesture,  but all that lived must die…

He knocked on the heavy wooden door. 

Normally walls and doors were no object to him, as thin as an insubstantial as smoke is to mortals. But this one was… different.

No one answered his knock

So he tugged the bell-pull.

A dolorous clanging could be heard, somewhere in the nether regions of the stone hall. It echoed the sad peals he had heard earlier.

And then the door was flung open and ghost-white sylph stood there, looking at him… with untrammeled delight. “Death!! she squealed. “It’s SO good to see you, at last. We’ve been waiting CENTURIES for you. Forever! Come in! Come in, do! Oh Motherrr! We’ve got a visitor!”

Death, paused, and hastily checked the hourglass that went with the fatal hour for all those he came for.

His empty eye-sockets could not blink.  That did not stop him wanting to.

The sand in the hourglass was fountaining upward. The scythe in hand felt heavy… and yet he knew it had no weight. Nor should the blade be flecked with rust. 

“Don’t let him stand on the doorstep!” crooned a voice from the darkness behind the bonewhite slyph. “Bring him to me!” The voice like was honey… thick and warm and sweet and drawing…

Image by JL G from Pixabay

An (uncertain) Future

I was on the periphery of a group of trad sf/fantasy authors discussing what effect the Covid-19 pandemic would have on authors. You might think ‘none’. After all, with the exceptions of the Hollywood-type authors who write great novels on their laptops in coffee-shops… we’re a precursor of the isolation dress-code.  Sweat-pants may well be the height of sartorial elegance for 2020 (or at least the most worn item of clothing), but we were wearing them to work long before everyone else. Read more

A pile of rotting veg, in a time of hunger

With the growth of vast supermarket chains, and bulk buying by them, the situation of local suppliers, dealing with local shop buyers died. It was just way too much hassle to deal with hundreds of thousands of mom-n-pop producers. If you were a small veggie producer, you couldn’t sell directly to the supermarket giant a half a mile away. Your product either went to market, and got bought by an agent (who was able to force the price down – and take a commission effectively from the small producer – unless they sold to small buyer. Then they’d screw both sides.) or you found small to medium sized outlets that would still do business with you, because they too were local, and were sourcing for their restaurant or catering business. It was that or the farmer’s market. Read more

Twice upon a time

Yes, well, we’d all like a do-over, especially knowing what we know from the first time, the second time.  My life would be less fraught with disasters and bad decisions.

Of course, I’d be someone else. They say all this shit is character building and if that is true I now have a large enough character to launch low orbit satellites by dropping them off the top of it. Well, whatever. It may be that there an infinity of alternate universes just a hairbreadth of a dimension away (part of the foundation for the Karres books, which may be supposed to be pure space opera, but bits of science kept sneaking in), and given enough iterations, one where my chaos-prone nature didn’t result in character building. I’m not sure if it is nature or nurture, but it does seem to be me.

So: time and again. Time travel has been a staple of sf since… well, Mark Twain, I guess.  I mean traveling to the future is in a couple of myths and of course the like of Rip Van Winkel – but traveling into the past (and changing it) seems to be later idea. I can’t offhand think of any earlier ones, but I may well just not know it or have thought of it. Some books have been fairly successful, but it is a cow for paradox (the old you went back in time and killed your own grandfather, so you didn’t live go back in time, so your grandfather lived, so you went back in time… I have this mental images of versions of the universe winking on and off in an endless loop.

There tend to be two versions of ways to get around this: either the past reflects the effect of the time travelers (Spoiler: See Harry Harrison’s ‘Technicolor Time-Machine – and that’s the punchline to the whole book) or, more popularly the time traveler changes the future…  but it is not his future (the multiverse concept, with breakpoints engineered in this scenario, by the activity of time traveler. Of course the latter has the fascinating dichotomy – can one person change future history, or is history ‘self-healing’ (you travel back in time to stop Archduke Franz Ferdinand being assassinated by Gavrilo Princip, to stop World War 1… and because that was merely a trigger to an unstoppable chain of events, something else promptly triggers the same chain, and, looked at from 500 years hence, ye Time Police arresting the time-traveling perp, discover that actually there is almost no difference as consequences.)   It’s the sort of stunt you can pull once as short story, but really most time-travel sf tends towards the former. I have a feeling that the best scenario (for the writer, because it allows you to ‘borrow’ the plot from history) is that one person can make changes – but that history would trend slowly back to what we know. YMMV.

Of course the idea that we can see the past but not change it has been used too – as has the fact the past is a microsecond ago. (I am trying to remember the name of that story. Anybody help?)

Of course, there is travel into future (and sometimes back again, a la DOOR INTO SUMMER).

Or stopping time for everyone but the character (A favorite of mine: THE GIRL, THE GOLD WATCH AND EVERYTHING, and as part of various DISKWORLD novels.)

And then there is the idea in James White’s TOMORROW IS TOO FAR with travel in time being also, obligatorily travel in space (a fascinating idea I toyed with, once again in one of the Karres books, but I haven’t seen elsewhere).

Time travel does however seem to have largely been displaced by Alternate History.

But, because sf trends are rather like fashion, recurrent if not absolutely circular, maybe its time is coming again.

Image by annca from Pixabay

We also serve Martians (boiled, fried or wrapped in duct-tape and barbecued)

We also serve Martians!

We welcome free-spending apocalyptical looters and overlords with green skins. Come in and get a little something for the lovely tentacle-haired one in your life and your little bloodthirsty spawnlings, so you can go next time again!  Tasteful multi-armed T shirts in many charming garish colors inscribed with ‘Martian, go home’ in several now-extinct earth languages. Well-tuned decorative nose-flutes, with a full range of delightful nails-on-blackboard shriek tones. The spawnlings will love them.  Models of artistically dismembered of earth-native life-forms, commemorative ray guns and other humorous nick-nacks like the ever-popular exploding Sydney Opera House.

Please leave your war-machine outside. Anything you incinerate or vaporize, consider it bought by you. Read more

What doesn’t kill… makes you stronger.

I see panic, doom-n-gloom, ranging from ‘we’re all gonna die!’ to ‘they will take away our civil liberties, forever’ all over the place. Well, who knows? But honestly, I doubt either scenario. I think we’re in for a rough ride. People will die, and economies will suffer. Whether any of that is as bad as those panic buying TP think… well, dudes, I’m relatively high risk (underlying condition), and I do work in a high risk environment (I’m a Volunteer Ambulance Officer- on a small island where we are all they have) and am married to and live with someone who also works in the front line.  I don’t want to die, but I’ve had one hellva life, if God thinks it is my turn.  I’m not giving up my Ambo work, nor stocking up on TP.   I think governments loathe giving up control of anything. But… well, once a genie has been out of the bottle, it’s not that easy to push back – or once the scare is over, to keep back. Yes, it may require hanging or shooting a few politicians, but, think of it as pour encourager les autres.

And we’re in for turbulence, bad bits, lots of human stupidity… but there might be some upside as well as downside in the medium to longer term (and I may be dead –so serious upside for the worms. Until they get unhappy gastrointestinal tracts, because I would disagree with anyone. I hope they stockpiled TP). Read more

More Blood-and-Thunder Adventures

I was reading a lovely old Magaret Mahy book (it’s a children’s book) called ‘BLOOD AND THUNDER ADVENTURES ON HURRICANE PEAK’.  It’s a delightful absurdity about the Unexpected School on Hurricane Peak above the great city of of Hookywalker. The villain of the piece is Sir Quincy Judd-Sprocket, a wicked industrialist (and former scholar of the Unexpected School) and the weighty and weasely hench-villains Amadeus and Voltaire Shoddy.  The heroes include the famous inventress Belladona Doppler, and her cousin somewhat removed Heathcliff Warlock, not to mention the Headmistress, Mrs Thoroughgood. Read more

Stay in your lane…

I was listening to a well-known author talk of how to succeed in the writing world. I try to keep learning, and sometimes there are things you’ve missed forever. Now, fair enough, the author’s background is trad publishing, his advice was based largely on the idea that you would want to succeed there. I’m not sure if you want to, or should want to. Read more

Fantasy as Literature?

I’ve had a long rough day putting in fiberglass insulation, some of which involved slithering on my back over ceiling joists, where it is too tight to fit any other way, and pulling the stuff over my body to get it flush with the frames. Second day of this process, so I am glad to say it is done. I have a little more in the middle to do, but I can kneel or crouch for that… a big improvement. Everything is relative, including relatives. Tomorrow will see that job done forever (until I build something else that needs rock-wool).

So I am cheating and quoting from an interview with one of my favorite authors, Sir Terry Pratchett.

The entire interview is transcribed here, and my thanks go to Patrick Rothfuss for doing this and putting it on his site.

O: You’re quite a writer. You’ve a gift for language, you’re a deft hand at plotting, and your books seem to have an enormous amount of attention to detail put into them. You’re so good you could write anything. Why write fantasy?

Pratchett: I had a decent lunch, and I’m feeling quite amiable. That’s why you’re still alive. I think you’d have to explain to me why you’ve asked that question.

O: It’s a rather ghettoized genre.

P: This is true. I cannot speak for the US, where I merely sort of sell okay. But in the UK I think every book— I think I’ve done twenty in the series— since the fourth book, every one has been one the top ten national bestsellers, either as hardcover or paperback, and quite often as both. Twelve or thirteen have been number one. I’ve done six juveniles, all of those have nevertheless crossed over to the adult bestseller list. On one occasion I had the adult best seller, the paperback best-seller in a different title, and a third book on the juvenile bestseller list. Now tell me again that this is a ghettoized genre.

O: It’s certainly regarded as less than serious fiction.

P:  (Sighs) Without a shadow of a doubt, the first fiction ever recounted was fantasy. Guys sitting around the campfire— Was it you who wrote the review? I thought I recognized it— Guys sitting around the campfire telling each other stories about the gods who made lightning, and stuff like that. They did not tell one another literary stories. They did not complain about difficulties of male menopause while being a junior lecturer on some midwestern college campus. Fantasy is without a shadow of a doubt the ur-literature, the spring from which all other literature has flown. Up to a few hundred years ago no one would have disagreed with this, because most stories were, in some sense, fantasy. Back in the middle ages, people wouldn’t have thought twice about bringing in Death as a character who would have a role to play in the story. Echoes of this can be seen in Pilgrim’s Progress, for example, which hark back to a much earlier type of storytelling. The epic of Gilgamesh is one of the earliest works of literature, and by the standard we would apply now— a big muscular guys with swords and certain godlike connections— That’s fantasy. The national literature of Finland, the Kalevala. Beowulf in England. I cannot pronounce Bahaghvad-Gita but the Indian one, you know what I mean. The national literature, the one that underpins everything else, is by the standards that we apply now, a work of fantasy.

Now I don’t know what you’d consider the national literature of America, but if the words Moby Dick are inching their way towards this conversation, whatever else it was, it was also a work of fantasy. Fantasy is kind of a plasma in which other things can be carried. I don’t think this is a ghetto. This is, fantasy is, almost a sea in which other genres swim. Now it may be that there has developed in the last couple of hundred years a subset of fantasy which merely uses a different icongraphy, and that is, if you like, the serious literature, the Booker Prize contender. Fantasy can be serious literature. Fantasy has often been serious literature. You have to fairly dense to think that Gulliver’s Travels is only a story about a guy having a real fun time among big people and little people and horses and stuff like that. What the book was about was something else. Fantasy can carry quite a serious burden, and so can humor. So what you’re saying is, strip away the trolls and the dwarves and things and put everyone into modern dress, get them to agonize a bit, mention Virginia Woolf a few times, and there! Hey! I’ve got a serious novel. But you don’t actually have to do that.

(Pauses) That was a bloody good answer, though I say it myself.

The downside, of course, is that while I agree with his argument… I LIKE writing something the literati despise.  If they started approving of my work I would be sure I was doing something very wrong. The last thing on earth I need is their approval. Anyway, one man’s ‘Serious literature’ is another man’s schlock. I read catholically… and I am a little smarter than average monkey (on a good day), and I tell you frankly there is often as much of value to be thought about in a good entertaining piece of fiction than there is in ‘modern literature’.  And it’s fun to read and has several orders of magnitude more readers.  

Image by Iván Tamás from Pixabay

Some thoughts on pandemics and their impact on writers

Watching this Covid19 epidemic unfold – as a Science Fiction writer, and someone who therefore deals with imagining TEOWAKI is hard, especially as I have family members I love very much who will, inevitably, be in the front line. Me, I’ve lived life to full and while I’m anything but ready to give up on doing more crazy things, I’ve had a fair go.  I am of course hoping it turns out much better than my best scenarios, a minor blip, and that both effective treatment and a possible vaccine are developed fast and death tolls are as low as possible.

Not thinking about it, ‘Keep calm and carry on’ is rather like not thinking of pink elephants, now that I have said you shouldn’t think of them. Read more