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A Wrap-Up From My “Providence” Reading Guide

After twelve issues – or eighteen, if you count The Courtyard and Neonomicon – we come to the end of Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows’ Providence. To finally have the whole project complete at last, we can finally sit back and reflect. No more annotations, no more stressing over page borders and trying to find the one black cat, no […]

via Providence At Last — Facts in the Case of Alan Moore’s Providence

“Remember the Ifrit”

I sold my second story, and the thrill is just as strong as the first. The Cast of Wonders podcast called for Young Adult science fiction/fantasy stories that evoke a sense of wonder — in 500 words or less. And since this is a podcast, I got to hear my words read by a professional voice actor (and Hugo award-winning author), which is pretty cool.

This is a short one. I hope you enjoy “Remember the Ifrit.” (If you’re in a hurry, my story starts around the 6:00 mark on the audio.)

http://www.castofwonders.org/2017/04/episode-242-little-wonders-11-flash-fiction-contest-finalists/

Writer’s Endnotes

An image that stuck with me from childhood was from an episode of Cosmos, where Carl Sagan hypothesized what kind of life might exist in the atmosphere of a gas giant planet like Jupiter. (I’m pleased to see that the segment clip is up on YouTube.) It was only after I’d written the first draft of “Ifrit” that I realized I was stealing from Carl Sagan. Let’s call it a tribute, instead.

humpback_whale

When the family went on a whale-watching cruise off Whidbey Island in Washington State, I resolved to experience it with my daughter, directly, with no camera involved. But my resolve faltered when the Humpback we’d been following began speeding just under the water’s surface. I had gotten my phone out of my pocket and started taking a video when she breached out of the water and then fell with a tremendous SPLASH. I never got her in frame — I wanted to see it with my naked eye — but in the audio, one can hear the family shouting and whooping, and mine was the loudest voice on the boat. That cruise, and sharing the experience with my daughter, was the first thing I thought of when I began considering topics of a story with a “sense of wonder.”

My cousin-in-law did manage to take a perfect picture of the whale, so I got the direct experience and a memento. I think it’s interesting that it’s not the photo that best recalls that sense of wonder for me, but the audio. The picture represents what I saw; the audio captures how I felt. For the story, I felt that both the experience and its recollection were important, along with the curious modern impulse to interpose devices between ourselves and a wonder in hopes of being able to re-experience it at will. And, of course, the power of an experience shared was the most important of all.

 

 

After Ozymandias

ozymandias

Two thousand years hence, a traveler

In this now-antique land

Spies a statue, vast, translucent, and suffused

With sunlight, standing legs astride and arms

Akimbo in the desert sand.

And on the pedestal these words appear:

My name is Erin Riddick, Chemical Engineer;

Look on my Works, ye Seekers, and rejoice

For I found Immortality in undying Plastics!

And just under the sand, crunching and yielding

Beneath the traveler’s feet, lie the artifacts of

An ancient world, inventions and conveniences,

The fruits of man’s ingenuity outlasting

Even those of God’s.

Thin Mints

Weight Watchers Girl Scout Cookies

He slapped the last box of Thin Mints on the table while we stared. “I deserve these cookies,” he said. “I need them.”

The rest of our Weight Watchers group looked down at our shoes, unable to meet his eyes. The second hand on the clock was deafening.

He grunted. “I’ll come back for these when I want them, not need them.” He turned and stalked out the door. The exhalation of held breaths drowned out the ticking clock.

His footsteps echoed down the hall. I eased a sleeve of Thin Mints from the box and stuffed it into my pocket.


 

I took a pair of Thin Mints from their sleeve — one serving — and threw the box into the trunk of my car. Then I drove. I started with a nibble, that became a bite, and before I could swallow, an entire cookie was in my mouth. The remaining one hung like a cigarette between two fingers, my hands on the wheel.

I only had to make it to the expressway. Then there would be no pulling over. One serving.

I took the barest nibble and held it in my mouth until it dissolved. The morsel of minty chocolate sludge stuck to the roof of my mouth while my esophagus yearned. The pleasure came not just from the taste on the tongue, but in the total act of consuming. To swallow was a release, but the hunger returned like a tide, moments after its ebb.

The on-ramp. Crumbs fell from the bitten cookie and with them came tiny pangs of loss.

The remaining Thin Mint went into my mouth the moment I merged into traffic. Chew, savor, swallow. The pleasure was too small, too fleeting, too sharp. I stomped the accelerator and looked for gaps in the next lane. Flipped the radio presets as a distraction. The Stones came on the Oldies station. I turned it up and sang along at the top of my lungs.

‘Cause I try, and I try, and I try, and I try

I can’t get no

I can’t get no

Satisfaction

The rhythm of the traffic and the music carried me. My mind drifted. The taste in my mouth faded, became a ghost. A memory. I thought about the box in the trunk, and I felt… nothing.

I had won.

I took the long way home.

 

 

How To Be a Tweet Journalist

As public figures in entertainment and government take to Twitter, the public gains a unique form of access to that person’s thoughts, raw and in real time. While you may think that such directness of communication relegates the internet journalist to the role of merely interpreting and contextualizing such messages like some chin-stroking intellectual, you would be wrong. There remains a booming industry of Twitter journalism that simply republishes the public figure’s words — and monetizes it. You too can get started as a Tweet journalist by following an easy formula.

Banner Ad

Begin with a banner ad, to make you some money.

Headline

Also known as the “clickbait,” your headline should allude to the content of the public figure’s Tweet without revealing it. Consider a headline of the format:

{Public figure} Absolutely Destroys {subject of Tweet} In a Single Tweet

There is no need to qualify that the subject of the Tweet wasn’t actually destroyed. It’s implicit in this journalistic form.

Ad Space

This is a good place to put another ad. Now you have two above-the-fold ads to make you some money.

Links To Related Content

This is the place to put some links to other “articles” on your site that have some of the same words. Or fall into some of the same categories. Or relate in more creative ways — have fun with it. Your SEO manager will mutter something about bounce rate, and Google liking richly interlinked content, but all you have to know is, the more Google likes you, the more money you can make on your ad space, and that’s why you’re engaging in this pointlessness, after all.

Background

Okay, you can’t get away with having no interpretation or contextualization. This is where you write one or two paragraphs of background for the Tweet, informing your readers if this is a singular event or part of an ongoing feud. Here, you may give more detail than your headline about what the public figure’s 140 characters will say, but don’t be too clever about it. The Tweet is the headliner here, and your exposition is just the opening act. Check your ego and bons mots at the door.

Ad Space

What, you thought you were done? If your reader has scrolled down this far, then you’ve done your job. And you should be paid for it.

The Tweet

Embed that Tweet. And hope its author doesn’t delete it.

The Future

An ambitious Twitter journalist will want to explore the ramifications of the Tweet going forward. And in the world of Twitter, “going forward” should never mean more than 24 hours. Here is the place to embed the zestiest of @-replies, quoted retweets, and subtweets. Give your readers a 1-stop shop (besides Twitter itself) of the conversation around the public figure’s Tweet. But don’t spend more than 15 minutes of research. Twitter Journalism is a fast-paced business.

Join the Conversation

Invite your users to post to your message board and discuss the topic. 99% of the posts will be garbage or worse, but that doesn’t matter. If you’re using a message board solution that is crawlable by the Google bots, then you’re getting the SEO juice of dynamically changing content, and maybe even some worthwhile “user-generated content” (where readers write things on your site that others may want to read, and you get paid for it).

Ads, Ads, and More Ads

Go for broke. Add a block of those links to “related articles” that another website will pay for you to host. Put in some more animated ads, maybe a pop-up, auto-playing video to punish readers who scroll this far down. The show is over. Roll credits.

 

 

The Trump Plaza Massacre

Chicago witches, along with witches across the nation, are gathering to cast a “binding spell” on the Trump Administration. This is true. But what happened after the first ceremony is a darker tale, one that is officially being called FAKE NEWS.

witches-against-trump

The President realized immediately that he was being constrained. His Executive Order-signing pens kept running out of ink, and he found himself unable to utter complete sentences — which in itself was not unusual, but now, his staff could not decipher his commands. “Steve,” he called out. “I need you.” The shadow the President cast on the Oval Office wall detached itself, slithered along the floor, and wrapped itself like a snake around the Leader of the Free World. Its head stretched over the President’s left shoulder, and pressed a phantom ear to his lips. “I’m being attacked,” the President whispered. The shadow flowed away and snaked its way into the greater shadows at the far side of the room, where it vanished.

In his sanctum at the top of Trump Tower, Steve Bannon chuckled without mirth as a tendril of shadow entered his nostril. For a moment, his eyes clouded with darkness, and he nodded. “Witches and hedge magicians, thinking they know power…” He went to the window, and opened it with a gesture. Outside, the sun shone in a cloudless sky. He frowned. Something passed in front of the sun, rippling as it ate the light. Rising from the far horizon, black vapors streaked up into the sky. As the darkness grew, so did Bannon’s power. The shadows cocooned him, and he transformed. A huge, shapeless, pale thing rose into the darkening sky like a misshapen balloon, and then sped westward.

The Chicago witches swayed in their circle in Trump Plaza. There was a stench on the wind from the east, and waves of nausea hit them. The witch Kloë looked up at the darkening sky, and said to her Sister, “Is… is that us?”

“No,” Breeannaugh said. “There’s someone… else…” She cast her mind skyward, and braving the ethereal miasma that tainted the air, she quested for the source of the disturbance. Her mind met something formless, terrifying, and radiating hideous power. Her body burst like rotten fruit dropped from a height. The witches’ hex snapped and recoiled, hitting the coven with a backlash of magic. With a single voice, they screamed.

A mass of pale flesh slopped onto the ground in the witches’ broken circle. It rose on tendon and sinew from its amorphous roiling. Steve Bannon’s face emerged from a sheath of quivering skin. It grinned. Qaitlynn vomited noisily.

“Hello Snowflakes,” said the thing with Bannon’s face. I still have plans for the President. You will not meddle in matters so far beyond you.”

Elyyzah’s fingers closed on her knife hilt and she whispered a curse, the strongest she knew. Then she leaped at the Alt-Right horror. Her blade sunk to the hilt in Steve Bannon’s gelatin-soft forehead. He smiled. “Nevertheless you persist?” he whispered. She herd mockery in the thing’s voice. And… admiration? She recoiled from the thought of being admired by this thing.

“FLY YOU FOOLS!” Elyyzah screamed to her coven as Bannon slithered over her and began to feed.

Far to the east, from his golden toilet, the President tweeted that the Left, still unable to get over his landslide victory, had resorted to witchcraft to defy the will of the people. Sad!

Hours later, a furious Sean Spicer condemned the dishonest media for its lies about the Administration’s dealings with dark forces, and about the very existence of the Massacre at Trump Plaza.

 

Poisoned Arrows

Cupid lay dying

His bow snapped in twain

At my feet he lay writhing

And moaning in pain

An eye for an eye

So Cupid did pay

For sending his poisonous arrows

My way

My blood is afire. The wound is just a nick, but poison throbs hot in my shoulder. My Queen is in anguish. The poison is taking her too. Stand. Nock. Draw. Hold. Loose. I know failure before the arrow leaves my bow. The demon flaps its wings and sends another shaft into my thigh. Cherub it may seem, but it is the deadliest archer I’ve faced. Again I draw. “For my King,” I whisper. My arrow finds sinew through feathers, and the demon tilts and spirals low. I leap, grasp its foot, and drag it to earth.

I snap its wings like dry branches, and kick its bow from its reach. Its youthful, curl-framed visage belies hideous strength, and we grapple as I strain for my sword.

“Lancelot!”

I glance to Guinevere — my Queen — and too late i see the arrow in the demon’s fist. It pierces my heart. My very soul catches fire.

I am vanquished. My foe is gone. Guinevere cradles my head in her lap. Tears stream down her cheeks, falling like sparks on my fevered brow. The poison roars in our blood. I can feel it in her, throbbing in time with mine. She shakes her head, denying something unseen.

My mouth is sere. Her lips are pink, parted, and — suddenly I learn — impossibly soft. I mustn’t. But we are twin bonfires consuming each other, uncontrolled. I try to fix in my mind the image of my King, but the thought blackens, curls, and disappears in bitter smoke.

 

Star Wars: Who Is The Last Jedi?

Now we know that Star Wars Episode VIII will be called The Last Jedi. So who is the last Jedi? Let’s not belabor it. It’s Luke. The Last Jedi is Luke Skywalker.

I’ve laid out what the prophecy of “bringing balance to the Force” means in terms of Star Wars’ ring cycle. [In Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the Answers Hide In Plain Sight] It bears repeating that in Episodes I-III, we see Anakin Skywalker turned to the Sith — the dark polar end of the Force. In Episodes IV-VI, we see him brought back to the light polar end — the return of Anakin the Jedi. Structurally, it makes sense that the final ring in the saga will be the emergence of the prophesied balance between dark and light.

Luke Skywalker figured it out. He wouldn’t have saved his father in Episode VI had he not tapped the strength of the Dark Side to physically defeat Vader, but then brought himself back under control to spare Vader, once beaten. Luke was never indoctrinated into the Jedi’s pitiless stance against forsaking duty to rescue loved ones. Guided by his compassion instead of Jedi dogma, he was able to do what Obi-Wan and Yoda could not.

By Episode VII, Luke has suffered a disastrous failure trying to be a Jedi Master, and his students are dead by the hand of his Dark-seduced nephew. So he fled to an ancient and lost Jedi Temple, to learn something that neither Obi-Wan nor Yoda had taught him. It’s not a stretch to guess that, spurred by his experience with Darth Vader, he was in search of the true nature of the Force, one that neither Jedi nor Sith had mastered. He has learned about the Balance.

Now Rey has come to him, a Force-strong young woman in need of training. Luke won’t repeat the mistakes of the past. He will remain the last Jedi. The purple light that bathed Rey’s and Kylo Ren’s faces as their blue and red lightsabers clashed was no accident. When Luke trains Rey in the Balanced Force, she will become something new, requiring a new name. And after the Revenge of the Sith and the Return of the Jedi, I’m confident that the new name will figure into the title of Episode IX.

UPDATE 1

The non-English movie posters have revealed that “Jedi” in the title is  being used as the plural. So it’s not just Luke. But no matter how many there are, the fact that they’re the last is what’s significant. The reasoning stands. After this set, Force practitioners will be something else.

Oddly, the French translation of Return of the Jedi was Le Retour Du Jedi — singular. Which rather minimizes the impact of Luke’s journey.

UPDATE 2

I take the last line from the teaser trailer for The Last Jedi as confirmation of all the above.

 

 

 

From 1984 to 2017

(An excerpt from the novel 2017, by Steve Bannon.)

Behind his screwed-up eyelids a forest of people seemed to be moving in a sort of dance, weaving in and out of the National Mall, disappearing behind one another and reappearing again. He was trying to count them, he could not remember why. He knew only that it was impossible to count them, and that this was somehow due to the mysterious identity between 1.5 million and 250 thousand. The pain died down again. When he opened his eyes it was to find that he was still seeing the same thing. Innumerable crowds, like moving trees, were still streaming past in either direction, crossing and recrossing. He shut his eyes again.

“How many people attended the inauguration, Winston?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know. You will kill me if you do that again. 1.5 million, 250 thousand, 7 billion — in all honesty I don’t know.”

“Better,” said Sean Spicer.

 

The Myth of Darth Vader

(With apologies to Albert Camus’ “The Myth of Sisyphus”)

(Some SPOILERS for Rogue One)

The Emperor condemned Darth Vader to live in a castle straddling a river of lava, on a planet where he had killed his wife in anger, and was betrayed, maimed, and burned by his one-time mentor and friend. The Emperor had thought, with some reason, that there was no more effective a way to tether Vader’s loyalty to the Dark Side than to be constantly faced with the worst day of his life.

If one believes George Lucas, Anikin Skywalker, the child who would be Vader, was plucked from enslavement by a Jedi who believed him to be an instrument of prophecy. Presented to the High Council, he was chastised for feeling fear and being too old — things over which he had no control. The Council accepted him only after the Jedi who took him from his home — without informed consent — vouched for his behavior. In this way, Anikin was passed from one form of bondage to another. The rules of the Jedi demanded the abjuration of passion and strict loyalty to the Jedi order. Beyond that, the Jedi held expectations that he would “bring balance to the Force,” without having any consensus on what that meant.

Anikin trained under a system that wasn’t equipped to deal with students with his — or any — life experience. His natural talents and innate power grew, but the yoke placed on him by the Jedi chafed and provided no succor. He had but two friends outside the Jedi order. The first was a woman he knew since childhood, the only woman he knew well. The second was a man who admired his instincts instead of condemning them, and was willing to discuss topics unspoken inside the Jedi orthodoxy. Anikin’s acts of volition, and there were only a few, were considered acts of defiance. He set off to rescue his captive, dying mother. He married the woman he loved. He fought against what he saw as the unlawful arrest of his friend. At this point, he passed to his third form of bondage: accepting Darth Sidious as his master, and embracing the Dark Side of the Force. It is in the Dark Side’s grip that Anikin — now Darth Vader — killed his wife and battled his former friend over the lava flows of Mustafar, resulting in yet another form of bondage: to the machines necessary to keep him alive.

You have already grasped that Darth Vader is the absurd hero, as much through his passions as through his torture. His scorn of the Jedi, his hatred of betrayal, and his passion for the freedom to pursue his own desires won him that unspeakable penalty in which his whole being is exerted toward accomplishing his master’s goals, which are meaningless to himself. If this myth is tragic, that is because its hero is conscious. Encased in black robotic armor, Darth Vader understands that the few choices he exercised led him to this state of utter servitude. A moment of anger and violence led him to become a machine of anger and violence, an attack dog on the Emperor’s leash, kept alive and functional to serve a purpose outside himself.
In those quiet moments in his hell-castle home, when the Emperor has no need of him, Darth Vader may contemplate his fate. He can no longer lie in repose or take his ease as other men. When he is not being used as a blunt instrument, Darth Vader hangs naked in a bacta tank, letting the medicinal organisms soothe what cannot be healed. Perhaps, during those moments, he broods over what could have been had he rejected vengeance, love, or justice. But during those ruminations, suspended like a specimen in a jar, he must also see that in different choices he would have found different servitude. His very conception was by another’s design, he was born into slavery, and at no turn in his life was he left answerable only to himself. And as the fatigue of railing against his fate becomes tedious, he must realize that at that moment, his thoughts are his own. The world inside his tank is the world of his own unfettered imagination. Boredom of monotony alone would inspire him to imagine joy instead of rage. And eventually he would realize that external forces are so intent on controlling his actions that his actions could just as well go on without the presence of his mind. At that moment, he is free. One must imagine Darth Vader happy.