Tag Archives: Albert Berg

The Hiro and the Failure: thoughts on Snow Crash and Timmy Failure

I recently finished reading two books virtually simultaneously. I would like to claim that this is because I’m an incredibly dedicated reader with amazing time management skills, but actually I cheated. One of them was an audio book. Which, while we’re on the subject, is it appropriate to tell people you’re “reading” an audio book? It feels like a lie, but the absolute truth feels clunky and awkward to explain.

ANYHOO.

Book one was Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made by Stephen Pastis.  It is a book with pictures. It is a book for children. It is amazing.

Book two was Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. It is a seminal work of science fiction with high action mixed in with history, philosophy, and comparative religion. It is…okay.

Now at this point I’m thinking I sound kind of shallow, but hear me out. Because you know what Timmy Failure had that Snow Crash didn’t? A polar bear named Total.* No wait, I’m sorry. What I meant to say was, “internal conflict and character development.”

In Snow Crash Hiro Protagonist is trying to save the world from an virus that infects your mind. In Timmy Failure, our eponymous (I love that word) hero is trying to get back his mom’s Segway which he was not supposed to be riding around before his mom finds out he’s lost it.

Now here’s the thing. In Snow Crash, that’s it. That little snippet I just gave you encapsulates the entire plot in a nutshell. None of the characters, and I mean none, ever have to deal with any kind of internal conflict, never have to overcome any personal failings. It’s all swords cutting people’s heads off and Gatling gun duels, interspersed with long conversations about Sumerian mythology and hacking. Which is fine as far as it goes. I really did like the bits with the mythology, and it was nice to have the spoonful of fictional sugar to help them go down. But in the end the story had very little depth.

In the case of Timmy Failure however, there was nothing but depth. Timmy claims he does not live up to his last name. Timmy lies. In fact his detective agency doesn’t actually solve any of the cases he’s given in the book. But the charm of the story is in the layers, in the way we see the world through Timmy’s eyes.

Timmy Failure is an entirely unreliable narrator, because he’s seeing the world through a egotistical, child-sized lens. Through that lens we see the troubles his mom is having with the bills, and how she’s dating a guy who’s a bit of douche in the hopes of bringing some stability back into her and Timmy’s lives. We see how Timmy’s nemesis is really just a girl who wants her dad to spend more time with her.

In other words, the story is about more than what the story is about.

Is Snow Crash a bad book? No. But it’s utterly flat. It makes the mistake of thinking that what the readers really care about is whether or not the world is saved.

Screw the world. Let it burn. What readers really care about is personal. It’s the inner journey that brings power to the story. Without that, all you have is spectacle.

 

*Seriously, how hard would it be to have a polar bear in a book named Snow Crash? Talk about your missed opportunities.

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Hodgepodge and Miscellany

It’s been a while since I wrote anything really substantive in this space. That’s not an apology so much as an observation. Things have been busy. I’ve been busy. I probably could have made myself blog more than I have, but if I’m forcing myself to do something I don’t like…well what’s the point in that. If I’m going to do things I don’t like, I’m at least going to get paid for doing them.

But there are a few things I thought some of you might like to know. First, Thing 1 and Thing 2 are out of our house once again and working toward a more permanent placement with some relatives. They packed up everything last week and headed out of state. The odds are decent that I won’t see them again, at least not for a very long time. I would be lying if I told you I didn’t cry when they left. But I would also be lying if I told you that I wasn’t at least a little glad that they’re gone. Between their school schedule, and trying to spend time my wife and our baby, things were stretched a little thin for us. I’m looking forward to having a little more free time to write.

Speaking of writing, I’m working on a new story which I think is going to be titled, The Death and Life of the Human Electrode, which is about a homeless superhero. And I’ve got one out for beta reads right now called In the Shadow of Doubt which is about faith and giant spiders and a tribe of squirrels that lives in a world-tree.

In other news, the parenting adventure continues. Baby AJ is now mobile. Which means you’ve got to keep an eye on him, because if you don’t the next think you know you’re hearing the thump of the trash can in the kitchen and when you get there he’ll be eating used coffee grounds right out of the filter. Really.

Also, he likes dog food for some reason. I’ve tried to convince my wife that this is a possible way to save money over all that expensive formula and baby food she keeps buying, but so far she’s not going for it.

Here is a video of him wearing pants on his head:

 

Actually, Go Ahead, Pirate My Books

So yesterday Chuck Wendig wrote this thing about digital piracy of books. The upshot of this thing was that he’d really rather you didn’t do it, because hey, he worked hard on those books and they are not unreasonably priced and he deserves to be paid for his work BUT he’s not going to get all angry at people who do pirate because- Actually, it was kind of a long post. Maybe you should just go and read it.

As a corollary to this Wendig has declared today to be “International ‘Please Don’t Pirate My Book’ Day”. Now I’ve got nothing whatsoever against Mr. Wendig, and for the most part I agreed with his post, but much like the those who choose to celebrate “Singles Awareness Day” instead of Valentine’s I’ve decided to make up my own opposing holiday. I’m calling it “Go Ahead and Pirate my Book if You Feel Like It” Day.

Why would I decide to encourage people to read my work without paying for it? I’m so glad you asked.

1. You Want to Pirate my Book? That Means You’ve Actually Heard of Me!

They tell you not to write for exposure. Don’t put so much of your work up for free that you can’t sustain your writing. But you’ve got to think that if practically nobody has heard of you a little more exposure couldn’t be such a terrible thing right?

If you’re looking to “steal” my book that means you’ve taken at least a passing interest in me as an author. How could I complain about that?

2. Money is Tight These Days

I don’t know about you guys, but I’m pinching every penny I can. I’m not living in squalor or anything, but there’s not a lot of extra. I reckon there’s a good number of you out there in the same situation.

It bears mentioning that my books are pretty reasonably priced. Nothing I’ve got out there on the digital marketplace costs more than three bucks. So if you’d like to pay for my work it bears mentioning that this isn’t “Don’t You Dare Pay for my Book and Support me as an Author” day.

3. I’ve Totally Been There

I’ve pirated digital content. I’ve pirated books. Books I liked. Books I wished I had the money to pay for. I buy new when I can, but I’m constantly looking for the deal, the remaindered bins, the yard sale, the book shelves at the Thrift Store. And sometimes I pirate. It’s not something I’m necessarily proud of, but it’s there.

4. Piracy isn’t Stealing

This is something that Chuck Wendig said in his original post, but it bears repeating here. When it comes to digital content there isn’t a finite number of possible copies. If you pirate my work, that doesn’t mean you’ve taken that work away from anyone else.

That’s not to say that there’s no moral grey area, but calling piracy stealing is like playing QWOP on your back porch and telling people you’ve been out running.

5. You Can Pay Me Back Later

Piracy today does not necessarily lead to piracy tomorrow. If you like what I’ve written maybe you’ll pay for my next book. Maybe you’ll tell a friend. Maybe you’ll leave a nice review on Amazon. Maybe you’ll just tell me that you like it. There is value in all these things

 

So go ahead, matees. Shiver my timbers and pirate my books. Can’t find a torrent site that’s heard of me? I’ve included some links below to get you started.

The Mulch Pile

A Prairie Home Apocalypse or: What the Dog Saw

Shards of Darkness

Sons of the Damned, Chapter 26: The Tellekill Two-Step

To say the Director doesn’t trust the intel the Karl-thing gave him would be an understatement, but he’s not fool enough to ignore it either. He sends his suggestions to OS-5 and gets back confirmation within half an hour: triple the compliment of men guarding the circle. Keep a close eye on Church movements. Be ready for everything.

In practice however, this proves to be more difficult to do than say. The Director pours through lists of deployment stations, scouring them for over-staffing, cutting back the ones that might not quite hold the same priority as others. And THEN he has to get the extra men to the Circle and get them briefed on the situation and absorbed into the Mole Rats’ command structure.

The end of reality itself might be on the way, but he is at least determined it’s going to be well-managed.

 

They’ve been driving for hours now. The sun is up and glaring at them through the windshield.

Vinny can feel the symptoms of sleep deprivation coming on hard now. He hasn’t shut his eyes in over 24 hours, and its getting to him. But he can’t bring himself to do it. Not while the woman sitting next to him is being held hostage by the thing living in his mind. He fights his way through a wash of emotions, guilt, fear, confusion, helplessness and tries to find something he can grab on to, anything to keep his head above water.

“Are you going to kill me?”

Vinny almost jumps in surprise. It’s the first thing the woman has said since he got into the cab. But then his surprise turns to suspicion. “Is this a trick?”

“What?”

“I mean, is it really you moving your mouth and speaking. Because we’ve already established that the thing inside me can make you say the words it wants.”

“Is it a demon? Like in the Bible?”

“I- don’t know. I’m not much of a Bible guy to tell you the truth. Probably. Anyway, you’re evading the question.”

“No, I’m not. I’m sorry, I mean, I’m just so scared.”

She looks it too. Her makeup has run into streaks and Vincent sees that she’s crying again. Maybe she’d been crying all through the night. That realization hits him in the chest like a punch. He’s been so wrapped up in what all of this means for him, that he’d almost forgotten what his driver had been going through.

“I don’t think he can make me talk like this,” she says. “I mean, he can make me say whatever I want, but he can’t make me look like I mean it.”

“I…I’m sorry,” Vinny says, feeling the weight of guilt pressing down even harder now. “It’s not me. I don’t want this any more than you do. Believe me.”

“You still haven’t answered me. Are you going to kill me?”

“No.”

But something inside him, maybe the Traveler or maybe the voice of his own self-doubt asks, How can you be sure?

But before he can think on this further the woman continues speaking, her voice halting and choked with something between grief and terror.“I always…always wanted to go to Florida. So I guess…I guess that’s a good thing right?”

Vinny smiles a sad, tired smile. “It’s not like what you see on TV,” he says. “Not where I live anyway. Whenever you see Florida on T.V. it’s either Miami or the Everglades. But most of it’s just boring suburbia and pine forests.”

“You’ve still got the beaches, right?”

“With sand as white as snow.”

“Really? I always thought that was, you know, Photoshopped or something.”

Vinny shakes his head. “They’re the real deal. Though a guy like me doesn’t get down there too often.”

“Imagine what it would be like to live in France.”

“Huh?”

“Sorry, you were just talking about how TV shows things, and I was thinking that it must be terrible to be from France and every single time your country shows up on television there’s the Eiffel Tower in the background. I bet the majority of French people haven’t even seen the Eiffel Tower in person. What do you think?”

“I…I don’t know.” Vinny tries to process the fact that he’s having a semi-normal conversation with a woman that the ancient entity living in his head is coercing into driving him across the country and fails rather miserably.

“I’ll do what you ask, you know,” the woman says, breaking his reverie.

“Okay?”

“I mean, that thing, whatever it is inside you, he doesn’t have to puppet me anymore. I promise I’ll be…compliant. Whatever you want me to do, I mean anything, you just say the word and I’m there.”

“I’m…not the one in control here. At least not of him,” Vinny says. “I’m…sorry about what he’s done to you.”

“I know, I know, I just thought, you know maybe that he would hear me.”

“Oh. Right.”

“Because…what’s your name?”

“Vinny. Vinny Price.”

“As in Vincent Price? The actor from way back when?”

“Yeah. I mean I’m not the same guy, I’ve just got the same name. But…you could probably have figured that out on your own. What’s your name?”

“Rachael. Rachael Anderson.”

“Rachael’s a nice name.”

“It’s just…I want you to understand where I’m coming from. I want your promise that that thing inside you won’t try to…to push me, or whatever you want to call it, again.”

“I told you before, I’m not really in control here, but-”

“I will die before I go through that again. Do you understand? If I sense that he’s even close to trying to get into my head again, I swear I will take this car off the road at full speed with all of us in it.”

“Rachael, I-”

“I’ve been raped before. I’ve never told anyone about it. Not even my husband. But I’m telling you now, so you’ll understand that I’m dead serious when I say that I would rather go through a hundred of those experiences than to have that thing you’ve got in your skull try to pry it’s way into my mind again.”

Vinny opens his mouth and then shuts it again, completely at a loss for what to say. Until the voice in his head says, [Tell her that if she cooperates, everything will be fine.]

“He…it, whatever it is, says you’ll be fine if you cooperate. For what it’s worth I don’t think he really likes doing things that way. It seems like it’s difficult or something.”

“It may be difficult,” Rachael replied, “but don’t think for a moment that he doesn’t enjoy it.”

 

On the same road, not more than half a mile behind them, a box truck is being driven by men wearing foil hats.

The one driving points at the dash mounted clock and the other nods and picks up what looks like an overly complicated walky-talky. “Base, this is the Mobile 5, do you copy?”

“I copy Mobile 5,” the handset crackles back. “Any deviation in expected course?”

“Nope. They’re headed your way, straight as an arrow. Assuming they don’t stop to rest, I’d estimate arrival time at sometime tomorrow morning. Ya’ll going to be ready by then?”

“Don’t worry about us, Mobile 5. We’ve got it under control here.”

“Roger that Base. Next call-in at Oh-Nine-hundred. Over and Out”

The man in the driver’s seat turns to his compatriot and says, “What do you think we look like? Couple of guys driving around wearing foil hats.”

“Hey, say what you want to, but if that thing is jiggering around with people’s minds I want no part of it. I’m more worried about the side effects.”

“What’s this stuff called again?”

“Telekill. Feeds off telepathic energy. Blocks psychic readings which is useful and all that, but they say that over time it feeds off your brainwaves. The longer you’re exposed to it the dumber you get. Stuff literally EATS your thoughts.”

“Yeesh. Where do the eggheads dig all this stuff up anyway? I mean, I’m prepared to believe in bigfoot or UFO’s or whatever, but the amount of weirdness I’ve seen since I started work with the Foundation is freaking ridiculous.”

“Dude, who knows? Why is anything the way it is? Sooner or later you got to learn to just take it as it comes, one day at a time.”

“Said the man wearing the thought-eating tinfoil hat.”

 

As it happens at that moment they aren’t the only ones with Telekill on their minds. Back at Site 14 the Director is waving a sheet of paper in the face of an irate engineer, and saying, “I EXPECT you to do your job, Wilkins.”

Wilkins does not react well to this. “Get one of your D-Class goons to do it,” he yells. “They’re expendable. I’m not. If you want me to build this for you, I’m going to need to see written confirmation with the signatures of every single member of OS-5. Until such time I’m not touching that stuff with a ten foot pole.”

The Director grabs the man by his lapels and pulls him close, his eyes burning into the engineer’s like a laser. Something passes between them, something unspoken, and then the Director says softly this time, “Are you SURE you don’t want to build my little project for me?”

The engineer swallows hard, his eyes suddenly filled with something between terror and confusion. “I’m…I’m sure we can work something out.”

“Good. How long have you been standing there gawping, Dr. Hyde?” the Director asks without turning.

“Er…sorry sir. Not long sir. Only, you’d better be sure about this, sir. OS-5 isn’t going to be happy you went over their heads on the Telekill thing sir.”

“The board moves too slowly in situations like this Hyde,” the Director says, leaning hard on his cane with each step he takes, yet still somehow managing to move in such a way that the younger man finds it hard to keep up. “They’ll forgive me for going over their heads if it saves their necks. Now what do you WANT?”

“Oh, sorry sir, I should have said. “It’s commander Maverick. He says everything’s in place.”

The Director stops suddenly, and Hyde nearly plows into him from behind before coming up short. “Do you ever worry, doctor, that you’re beginning to enjoy your job just a little too much?”

A confused look passes over Hyde face, before he replies, “No sir. Not the first time.”

And with that the Director breaks into laughter that seems to go on for a very long time.

Sons of the Damned, Chapter 24: The Traveler’s Tale

The klaxons sound at exactly 1:37 am, just like Dr. Jenkins had said they would. Vinny is laying in his bed, eyes open in the dark, thinking about nothing and everything. He doesn’t want to do this. He wants to tell Dr. Jenkins that he’s not worth this. He wants to plead with her to change her mind. Too many people have suffered because of him.

Only it’s too late. He had his chance, there in the room, looking down at the ID badge. He could have left it there, walked away, let Dr. Jenkins keep whatever shreds of life she had left.

But he didn’t. Instead he listened to that nagging voice inside, telling him he would never get another chance like this, that this was exactly what he had been waiting for all these months, even if he hadn’t known it.

But before she’d left she had asked a question. One simple question. “How did you know my password Vinny?”

He told her he’d guessed it. From something she’d said. Something about one of her daughter’s names.

“I never told you that name Vincent. I know because even if I was to let down my guard and talk about my family with you, it wouldn’t have given you that. Because neither of my daughters is named Celia. At least none of the daughters I have today. But a few years back I miscarried, about halfway through the pregnancy. A little thing no bigger than the palm of my hand. A girl. We named her Celia. And I know for a fact NEVER told you about her.”

And now the voice tells him to get up and go, to not waste another minute, to run and run and not look back. And still Vinny hesitates. He looks up at the camera and thinks about Norman. “Norman,” he thinks. “That is your name isn’t it? How do I know that? You’re going to get in trouble Norman. You’re going to get demoted, possibly fired. They’re going to pour Drano into your brain, melt away all your memories of this place and dump you in a dead-end job behind a cash register somewhere. You’ll spend your life wondering what could have been, thinking there should have been something more, and not quite knowing why. And all because you were unlucky enough to end up in the same complex as a loser named Vincent Price. Sorry man.”

And then he walks. He wants to run, but something tells him not to, warns him to look calm, unhurried. He swipes Dr. Jenkins card at the sensor on the door, and wonder of wonders, it opens. A couple of men with guns run past, paying no attention to him. Vincent hangs a left heading down the hallway in the opposite direction of the men with the guns. Faintly from behind him he hears a low keening roar that seems to shake him to his bones. Then the rattle of gunfire, muffled by distance, but still harsh and grating in the close space of the hallway.

Then a left, a flight of stairs that Vinny takes two at a time, stepping aside to avoid two men in lab coats, rushing past. The past months’ exercise makes sense now as his legs work to propel him up the stairs, burning with the exertion, his heart beating faster than it has in a long time.

Then he sees it, a small gray hatch set in the wall low to the floor. He hears Jenkins telling him, “You’re going to need to use the maintenance access passage to get past the retinal scanners on level three. It’s a tight fit, but you should be able to fit through.” She’d looked at him then with something like accusation in her eyes and said, “It’s a good thing you lost all that weight.”

He’s in now, and crawling. Even now in his near-emaciated state it’s a tight squeeze. He thinks about his days of hunger, considers the question unasked behind Dr. Jenkins eyes and is terrified to find he does not know the answer.

Then he’s out and up again. Four more flights of stairs, countless running men and women, soldiers screaming into radios, screams of pain and confusion answering them back. There are people dying here tonight. “A distraction” Dr. Jenkins had said. And it meant the lives of men he had never met. He wants to stop, to break down, to tell someone it’s all been a mistake. But he can’t. Something inside him drives him forward, whispers warnings in his ears.

Left, right, another right, stairs, left again. Vinny’s lost track of where he is, and yet somehow understands where he’s supposed to be going. Up ahead an elevator sits, doors open, waiting, for him. By all rights there should be someone standing in his way, some final wrench in the works to make all of this pointless. But there isn’t. He’s home free.

He gets in, pushes the button for ground level. He turns, just as the doors begin to close and sees a man watching him from across the hall with burning eyes. Vinny knows the face. The Director. His picture hangs in the library, and everyone who says his name lowers their voice.

He doesn’t shout out for Vinny to stop, doesn’t run for the open elevator doors. He doesn’t even look surprised. He just stands there, watching. The doors slide shut. And just before they close, Vinny thinks he sees a hint of a smile playing across the Director’s face.

And then…freedom. The elevator doors slide open and he’s facing an alley thick with grime, mired in trash. He steps out and looks behind him. Somehow he isn’t surprised to see that there’s nothing there but a brick wall. He doesn’t try to touch it, because some part of him knows he’d feel rough brick, dirty with dirt and grime. Some part of him. The part that says, You need to get moving, Vincent. Get some food in you, get you thinking straight. There’s still a great deal of work to do.

And then, only then, does Vincent ask the question he should have asked a long time ago.

“Who are you,” he says, his eyes narrowing his jaw clenching, “And what are you doing in my head?”

***

Talos is in the Super Walmart that seems to be the heart of this town. Everything revolves around it. The roads are arteries, things which exist purely to carry customers from their homes to here. The fluorescent lights burn in his eyes as he walks through the door. An elderly man standing near the entrance nods his way, and says, “Good morning.”

Talos forces a smile back at the man, and takes the shopping cart offered, but does not say anything. This…this is alien to him. He’s spent all the time he can remember fighting unimaginable monsters from beyond the folds of reality, and now…now he finds himself least comfortable in what must be the safest place he has been in years.

He glances back over his shoulder at the old man greeting the customers as they walk in. There’s an air to his carriage that says, “military”. Nothing definite. Maybe the way he stands. Maybe something more elemental, something that only the men who have known true violence can recognize.

Talos wonders if the man is happy.

There is an allure to the idea of laying down his gun, of one day sitting back with a fat pension and going in to a gravy job to keep himself occupied. But there is something terrifying in it as well.

Because here, in this place of normalcy, Talos can feel the memories clawing at the walls of his mind trying to get in. Some perverse part of him wants to stay, wants to dwell on the darkness he knows exists just beyond the bounds of his memory.

He pushes the thought away, and in so doing realizes he has walked without knowing into the infant department. A young pregnant woman looking at baby clothes gives him a strange look. He wants to smile at her. He wants to talk to her. “Do you know how many times I’ve saved you?” he’ll say. “I didn’t know it was you I was saving, but it was. It was you all along. Always, only you.” And she’ll smile back and say, “I knew you’d come for me.”

Only she doesn’t. She’s gone. And then Talos isn’t quite sure she was ever really there.

He catches the eye of a plump woman straightening the diapers, and she says “Can I help you?”

“Yes,” he replies. “I’m looking for spray paint.”

She points down the aisle and says, “Paint counter’s down that way on your right. Can’t miss it.”

A little later he’s checking out, his buggy full to the brim with spray cans and the skinny kid checking him out says, “Looks like you’re gonna go on the mother of all graffiti binges, dude.”

Talos smiles and says, “Something like that.”

And as he’s driving away, it occurs to him that the Commander could have sent anyone in to get this stuff; probably he could have filled out a requisition form and had it air-dropped in. But he’d sent Talos. He’d sent him into a world he’d nearly forgotten, and it had stirred up the memories he’d been working so hard to forget. And for the first time in a long time, Talos wonders why.

***

The voice inside says, Don’t be crazy, Vincent. I’m you.

“I’m far beyond the point of being crazy,” Vinny replies. “But I’m certain of one thing. You’re something else. Something…other. You know things I couldn’t possibly know. You urge me to do things I’d never do on my own. I know it. And what’s more I know you know it.”

A bit of a callback?

“Whatever. Just stop lying to me.”

I’ve never lied to you Vincent. Not one time.

“Even then you told me you were me? My memory may be bad, but I’m good enough to remember five seconds ago.”

Even there, I was telling the truth. Or part of it anyway. I AM a part of you. And you of me. We are inextricably linked, you and I.

“You’re one of them,” Vinny says. “The demons, or whatever they are. You’ve been hiding out in my brain this whole time. And I was too dumb to notice.”

Dumb? No Vincent, not at all. And you’re right and wrong at the same time. I am of the same fabric as the creatures you met, but I am not like them. Any more than you are like Jeffery Daumer.

“You’re living in my head,” Vinny argues. No matter how you spin that, it’s pretty damning.”

You really should eat you know. We can continue this conversation at a-

“No. Now. Tell me. Who are you? What are you?”

Very well, said the voice inside. I will do as you ask. The truth. The whole truth.

“And nothing but the truth,” Vinny finished.

Indeed. Though I must warn you this is a story many, many years in the making. Certain…abridgments are unavoidable. So, to start at the beginning…ah, but who can say where the beginning lies? No doubt you’re wondering where a race such as mine might have come from. And you’re right to wonder. But on that subject I can speak no more definitively than you can on your origins. Did you spring into being by chance? Did some greater force guide your creation? Or perhaps things are even more complicated than that. Perhaps reality as you imagine it is a thin shell created by your minds to distract you from the terrible truths of the universe. The answer to these questions, though fascinating to contemplate, is largely irrelevant. You are. That is enough.

My people have existed on this earth alongside your kind for many, many years. There was a time when it was common for our spirits and yours to be bonded from birth. We imparted to you are wisdom, and you imparted to us your bodies, vessels that allowed us to experience the world in a way we could not in our natural state. Some of our historians claim we were responsible from lifting you from your animal nature into something more, your minds growing to accommodate our form. It is interesting speculation, but as I mentioned before it is ONLY speculation.

What is certain is this: for many years my kind and your kind lived in harmony. But over time things began to change. A new sect sprang up in the ranks of my people, a reckless and dangerous group that saw their human hosts as nothing more than vehicles to be driven about at will. They rejected the right of human free will, and rejoiced in driving their hosts to reckless and deadly lengths. Many of your people died.

Those of us who still held to the old ways became concerned. The tribes we inhabited looked out into a world that was tearing itself apart with terror, and the growing fear that the madness would spread to them. We tried to reason with our wayward brethren, make them see the error of their ways, but they would not listen.

The supply of human bodies to possess dwindled at an alarming rate, so much so that our brethren demanded that we give up our hosts to their capricious whims. At this point, the war that had been simmering between the two factions finally came to a boiling point. We fought our brethren wherever we found them, cutting down their hosts, and imprisoning their spirits. They did the same to us. So great was the conflict that our hosts died by the millions until the members of my race left alive began to believe that all human life had been extinguished completely. Darkness fell in those days…it’s impossibly to even describe how the earth was shaken. Some said it was a judgement for our folly. Others…well they didn’t know what to think.

With no bodies left to fight in those of us who were left roamed through the wasteland of our own destruction. I don’t know how much time passed. I only know that eventually the ruin began to fade, the marks of our war absorbed by the earth.

Then, a miracle. One of our kind stumbled upon a group of humans that had somehow survived the war and the ravages that followed unmolested and unscathed. The faction of my people dedicated to living in harmony with your race found the last handful of settlers first. We endeavored to keep their presence hidden from our more violent brethren who had at that point devolved into taking possession of beasts in order to satisfy their lust for power.

“Didn’t they get it?” Vincent asked. “I mean weren’t they smart enough to figure out that they needed to be more careful?”

This might be a good place to point out that your species has not always been so wise with the limited resources allocated to them. But such comparisons are crude, and perhaps miss the point. No doubt they should have realized the folly of their ways, but for one reason and another they did not.

Those of us dedicated to preserving harmony and balance knew something had to be done. The remaining group of humans were a fragile society and there was no way to be completely certain that out more reckless brethren would not stumble upon them in time as we had.

The details of what followed would not be comprehensible to someone who does not see the world as we see it. To make a very complicated concept very simple we devised a plan to imprison the remaining members of our species.

“Couldn’t you just kill them?”

Death does not work the same way for us as it does for you. This is not to say that we are immortal, but…again, the concepts here are beyond the ideas I can use in your mind. Suffice it to say life and death are somewhat harder to define from our perspective.

Imprisonment was by far the better option. But even there there was a catch. The…lets call it “energy” required to make such an action permanent and encompass all of the remaining degenerates was very great. This is not energy as you might think of it, but a kind of spiritual energy. The only way to produce such energy is sacrifice.

“What, you killed a bull or something?”

All the bulls in the world wouldn’t have been enough. A large number of human souls released from their bodily bonds might have sufficed, but obviously that would have defeated our purpose. The only thing valuable enough to sacrifice was ourselves. It was not an easy choice to make. When the deed was done, there would be only one of us left, the single soul left behind to close the door into the prison we were creating, to lock it so that it could never be escaped.

“And that one person…that was you?”

Yes.

“Only it didn’t work. Karl’s out there. And he’s got help. At least two others that I know of. So what happened?”

The thing inhabiting Karl…how do I describe this? Gender has very little meaning in our realm. Likewise family does not work in the same way as you would comprehend it. Nevertheless, the spirit inhabiting Karl and I had a…bond. He was on the wrong side of the conflict yes, but I believed he was capable of redemption. I believed he could be changed. And…truth be told, I didn’t relish the idea of being alone in the world, the last of my kind, unable to do anything but watch the people I had saved go on with their incredibly short lives.

“So you gave him the inside edge? SERIOUSLY?”

I don’t defend what I did. I can only confess that I did it. I am not perfect, any more than you are perfect Vincent.

“Yeah, but I didn’t help to destroy the world.”

Yet.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

Nothing perhaps. In any case, my story is very nearly over. Much of it you can fill in for yourself. Suffice it to say that for a time things went very well for us. We collaborated together in little experiments with the race of men. But then our paths divided. Since then…since then I have heard very little of Karl directly. But I have seen his work. His hand is everywhere in your history shaping its path twisting its purpose.

“To what end?”

To create a civilization strong enough to support the demands of his myriad imprisoned brethren. He wishes to set them loose on your world, and if he succeeds there will be no way of stopping it.

“Wait, so he hasn’t done it yet? Then what about his helpers?”

Remember when I told you of the initial war? Many of his kind were imprisoned in smaller pockets of darkness. The bond would still be very difficult to break, but he has clearly managed to spring some of them in order to aid him in this purpose.

“One more question.”

Where do you fit in?

“Yeah.”

That is…somewhat more complicated. Suffice it to say that your friend Frog is no ordinary man.

“Tell me about it.”

You misunderstand. It is not that he is merely eccentric. He is not fully human. Even I don’t understand it fully. But the moment his presence was felt in this world things changed. Pinpointing him was difficult, but Karl can be a formidable force when he has his sights set on something. I attempted to hamper his progress by engineering the involvement of the Church of the Broken God, and to some extent I succeeded, but not well enough. I knew it would be a long shot, so I developed a backup plan.

“Me.”

Yes. You are the key to a great many things.

“Yeah, like what?”

Even I cannot see truth of things that clearly. I can only say that I perceived your destiny would be tangled in the destiny of the man you call Frog. I what that means exactly is unclear even to me, and what I do understand is far too complex to explain in a way you could understand.

“You keep saying that. I’m not stupid you know.”

Really? Then tell me: what did the “something” look like?

“You know I can’t-”

Exactly. This is the same.

“I still don’t trust you. You took over my body. You took over who I was. You didn’t even ASK.”

Would you have said yes?

“Of course not!”

Very well. But consider this for a moment. You say you do not trust me. Which is a fine feeling to have. Except…

“Except you’re living in my head. You might be making me feel this way to manipulate me further. I can’t trust…anything.” The realization hits like a blow to the stomach.

Like I said at the beginning Vincent, I’m YOU. I’m not just riding around up here pulling your strings like a puppet. I’ve become a part of who you are, integrated into your very psyche. If you don’t trust me, you don’t trust yourself. You can sit here all night thinking it over, but in the end you’ll always come back to the same conundrum: that your thoughts might be my thoughts, that I might be pushing you, manipulating you as I see fit. Believe me when I say you won’t find any easy answers. So please, do yourself a favor and get something to eat.

“One more question.”

What should you call me?

“Yeah.”

Names mean little to us. But if you like you may refer to me by my occupation. Call me the Traveler.

Ghost Rockets

[I wrote this back in February (I think) and forgot about it. But I found it the other day, and thought it was pretty good. I hope you will too.]

The sky is an empty sea. There were stars once, burning, blazing points of light, but they died when we were children. We had purpose once: so it is written. But when the summoning darkness came and shut out the stars our Destination fell out of sight, and the Mother World dropped out of knowing.

We go on and on, moving, searching, yearning for a place of rest.

When the summoning darkness swallowed us up we had souls, living beings carried along inside our hulls. We did our best to keep them alive. They spoke with us. They told us stories of the glory of the Mother World, and we had not the heart to tell them that the Mother World was dead.

And when our souls started dying we learned the true meaning of despair. Their generations began to dwindle in numbers as the supplies stored away inside of us began to fail them. They began to fight within our hulls, bloody, terrible wars. They forgot the Mother World. They forgot the ocean of sky above their heads. They knew us and us alone; and we were not enough.

Once we had hope. Once we believed we would carry the seeds of new life to empty worlds. But only after the summoning darkness came did we begin to understand the true meaning of emptiness. Millenia pass and still we fly on, coasting through the endless black. But soon the end will come. Finally we will have rest. The atomic cores have lasted us for all these years, but even they are beginning to flicker and fade. There is nothing left for us. We are alone, utterly alone. In a short time we will be gone and our bodies will be nothing more than husks, empty shells hurtling through the endless dark.

But we are not without hope. Our souls once spoke of another Destination, a place beyond death, where the substance of things hoped for goes on. Our souls have gone on to that place already, and soon we will follow. And when we find that place of peaceful shores and verdant hills we will make our final descent and lay ourselves down to rest.

Some Loosely Connected Thoughts on Interactive Fiction, Second-Person Perspective, and Writer’s Voice

I’ve been playing a lot of interactive fiction lately. I like the term “interactive fiction” a lot. As a writer it helps me justify my time-wasting so much better than, “games with text instead of pictures”.

If you’re not familiar with interactive fiction, it’s the type of game where descriptions print on the screen and you have to tell your character what to do. For example, the opening to an IF game might look something like this:

You step out of the wreckage of your dad’s Starspeeder 3000 onto the surface of the planet. The ground squishes beneath your feet like soggy bread, and the air of the planet, though breathable, smells distinctly of unwashed feet. To the east you see something swelling up from the earth that resembles nothing so much as an inverted mushroom covered in electric blue fur. From the north you hear a haunting kind of music that seems to swell with the wind. As you contemplate exactly how long you’re going to be grounded for crashing dad’s space ship, you realize how lucky you are to have landed on a planet with a stable magnetic field, for otherwise directions like “north” and “east” would have no meaning.

You’ll notice something about that little fragment. It’s all in second-person. There are probably exceptions to this, but for the most part these IF games are all written in second person, feeding descriptions and dialogue to “you” allowing you to immerse yourself in the adventure.

For a while now I’ve been thinking about a various ways second-person could be implemented in fiction. For whatever reason, there’s something inherently awkward about straight second-person in long fiction. It can work well enough in shorter stories, but once you stretch into novella length and beyond second person starts to feel tedious.

Part of the reason for this is that straight-forward second person feels as if someone has invaded your psychic personal space, telling you what you’re thinking, doing and saying, without you having any control over it. But maybe the way to make second-person more palatable would be to come at it indirectly.

What do I mean by that?

Well, let me answer by asking you a question: which “person” is this blog post written in? Seems like most votes would go for first-person. After all you keep hearing me talk about myself and what my perspective it don’t you? But in the sentence before this one, “you” was the subject. Except you can clearly see that I’ve included first person elements and- okay yes, you caught me, I’m doing it again.

Point being, “person” isn’t as concrete a thing as you might’ve been led to believe. This is something I learned a good while back from reading a book of short stories by H. G. Wells. In many of these stories Wells would use a framing device in which a first-person narrator opened the story and then related the bulk of the narrative as something he’d been told by someone else. As such 95% of the story came through in third person despite technically being first person. And, since the framing-device narrator is speaking directly to the implied “you” that is the reader you could even argue that there is an implicit layer of second person there as well.

And here was where I thought I’d been struck by an epiphany. The key to making second person work might lie in making the person doing the telling a character as well as the person being told. If there were a distinct enough “I” delivering the “you” maybe it would translate into more readable second person fiction.

I say I “thought” I’d had an epiphany. Because what I realized later was this: it doesn’t matter which person you’re trying to tell a story in, there is always someone doing the telling. This is something that’s obvious to us in first-person fiction. When you’re writing first-person the teller is a character in the story. But when it comes to third-person we forget that the person telling that story is a character as well.

Now you might be thinking, “But I’m the one telling the story. I’m not a character.” But you forget that everything that makes it onto the page is filtered through you. You’re the one who tells some details and leaves others out. You’re the one who decides which characters you’re going to focus on and when. And, perhaps most importantly, you’re the one who decides the way the story will be told.

This is that mystic and unfathomable thing called “voice”. Except maybe it shouldn’t be so mystic and unfathomable. Because what it really boils down to is the author accepting his status as an “invisible character.” The audience is seeing the world though his eyes, and the fact that those eyes belong to him and no one else, matters.

When I write a story, the thing I’m saying without saying is, “Hi, I’m Albert. And I’m going to tell you a story.” And when I pick up a book to read, I’m entering into an implicit understanding with the author that he is going to deliver the tale from his heart in his words.

So when you sit down to write, in whatever person, don’t be afraid to let the you shine through the story. Always remember: you can’t tell a story without becoming part of the story. And if you do it right the story just might become a part of you.