Superhero science fiction, 1,400 words, a prologue of sorts wherein two estranged, super-powered brothers meet to set an entire superhero saga into motion.
The man who called himself The Hammer stepped onto the basketball court in the old neighborhood with something approaching reverence. The world was at stake. This would be an ending, but it could also be an origin. His younger brother Evan was already there. Two hoops stood in opposition on a blacktop rectangle, surrounded by just enough grass and a couple of stunted trees to call it a park. In simpler times, being on different sides didn’t make you enemies. Except when it did.
The Hammer asked his brother to meet here because Evan was sentimental, and might put aside their beef to hear him out. If it went right, it would be a new beginning for them, and where better to begin than at their beginning? Maybe The Hammer was sentimental too. When they were growing up, this wasn’t a place to hang at 3 AM. Times changed. So had they, along with a tenth of the world’s population. Empowerment was a rush, but it brought new threats.
I adore what Javier Grillo-Marxuach writes about writing. He’s a screenwriter and showrunner: his essay on “Operational Theme” in Apex Magazine is a brilliant way to understand how a collaborative creation maintains cohesion, and his Eleven Laws of Showrunning is an excellent leadership/management bible for creatives (fields like software development are often creative too!).
He recently wrote an essay on World-Buiding in Uncanny Magazine, and it’s a joy to read. This whole blog post is just an excuse to share that link. It comes on the heels of a context-free Stephen King tweet on how he dislikes the phrase “world-building” which sent speculative fiction writers into a minor tizzy. It is, after all, the thing we SFFH writers do. Grillo-Marxuach reeled the discussion back in by defining the terms, and more importantly, outlining the principles of world-building as a process of craft, not a product to be delivered to a studio exec–which is likely what King was referring to. The following are some thoughts on JGM’s principles, but honestly, just read his words.
I’m thrilled to announce that my 950-word flash science fiction story, “Our Kingdom Come,” has been published in Daily Science Fiction WHEREIN a tech billionaire achieves his dream of dying on Mars and second generation robots break from their immigrant parents’ dreams for the future.
In my middle-management day job, “measure what matters” (the title of a book by John Doerr) is an oft-uttered phrase. In business, “what matters” is an articulation of the real goals, the things that, if achieved, will enable the business to succeed, and if not, may cause the business to fail. You can measure a lot of things about your business, some more easily than others. And when you consider yourself to be “metrics driven,” you’d better be sure you’re driving from the right metrics, not just the most accessible ones. Choose the wrong metrics, and you can win battles but lose the war.
[EDIT: It should be “I’m a SFWA Member Now”–members pronounce it “sif-wa.” But the URL generated from the title is out in the world now, so there we are.]
I’ve always loved to write, but it was only as an adult that I became serious about it. That word, “serious,” made it weird. “Serious,” to me, meant committing to improving my craft and increasing my output. The latter goal served the former. “Commitment” meant setting up structures of internal and external accountability. I took night school classes. Wanting some tokens of accomplishment, I finished two, 2-year certificates in the Creative Writing of Fiction at Northwestern University and the University of Chicago. And finally, in 2012, I submitted my first story for publication. It was rejected, and I didn’t try again until 2016. That was when I got three acceptances–and the validation to keep trying.
What I didn’t realize was that “getting serious” about something, at least in my mind, entailed shaping it into something that looks serious to others. Academic credentials. Product. Revenue. Exclusive community membership. During the dry spells, when those things didn’t come easily or at all, I made a philosophical commitment to stop distracting myself with activities that were adjacent to writing, but not actually writing. That lasted as long as my next set of completed stories, and an ego-driven impulse to see if I could sell them. One sold, and I was back on my bullshit.
“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end”
“Closing Time,” Semisonic
“There are neither beginnings nor endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time. But it was a beginning.”
The Wheel of Time, Robert Jordan
Sometimes, someone articulates an idea that has been rattling around in your brain with such simple clarity, that it unlocks a new way of looking at familiar things. That’s what Darren Mooney did in The Escapist Magazine when he said that all of The Lord of the Rings is one big ending.
by Rajiv Moté (Fantasy-tinged fiction, 3,500 words)
Before we stopped talking, my best friend Davis saved my life three times from the Sirynz. It’s funny that I still call him that. “Best friend” is a concept I put away with other childish things when I left Marysville, but the obligation it carries lingers like a photograph standing in for a memory, a thing twice removed from the original. Still, it’s an idea that has pull. At least I owe him a call. But I keep coming up with excuses.
The first time Davis saved, they weren’t Sirynz yet. Tina, Jacqui, and Kayla had just started playing as a band called The Mantics. That afternoon at the Peony Park pool, they were three girls wearing two-piece bathing suits during a summer of great hormonal awakening. It was one of those summer days between fifth and sixth grade that you remember like a postcard picture: blue-skied, perfectly framed, hot only by implication–without the sweat, sunburn, bug bites, or grit at the bottom of the pool lacerating your bare feet. Idealized memory.
Aryeh Levin picked up the newspaper from his driveway to see how the world would disappoint him today. “Rockets Break Cease-Fire.” Well what else would they do? When your only tool is a sword, every problem looks like a neck. Sarah saw vindication in the headlines, never a sign we ought to do better. But on this side of the world, the morning street was quiet. The big houses lining it were variations of his own, with tidy lawns, shady trees, and gardens dappling the green with a Crayola box of blooms. A summer breeze carried their scents. Here, there was enough room to live and let live. He had resisted moving here. Places like this were walled gardens in a complicated world. He encouraged his students to start their adult lives and careers outside such walls. But Aryeh came to agree with Sarah that this was where Dina should grow up. In this neighborhood, on this block, Dina could learn what civilization could be, before her generation had to rescue it.
Aryeh returned a wave from a neighbor, the father of Dina’s friend, the bossy little one with pigtails. He started climbing the stairs to the porch when something strafed in front of his nose. He jerked back, stumble-hopping down a step. It was a bee. The porch was swarming with them.
Palms slide on palms, knuckles bump. Tail lights turn the corner. The stereo’s thump fades into the city. Bayard stands at the mouth of the dark alley. His smile dies.
The English accented voiceover says the gazelles know there are lions nearby. See how they keep watch. Tense.
Predators hunt here. Shapeshifters: Adze. But after a night of swagger, your friends don’t walk you to your door. “You can’t live in fear,” they say. But they do. Every damn day. The mayor wants more police, but police can’t tell Adze from human beings. Everyone’s a predator. Everyone’s prey.