Archive for the ‘critique’ Category

“I don’t get it.” Garrick said aloud as he shrugged. He considered responding to the post with “Tl;dr”, but that didn’t really convey his confusion. “WTF?” also came to mind, as did “lolwut” and “O_o”. In the end, however, he went with a simple “huh?” He pressed “enter” and sat back, waiting for the response.

Denyse boggled on her end of the screen. She had put forth a well detailed argument, complete with citations and examples (and links, even, dammit!) only to have it all negated with a four – character reply. God, how she longed, longed, to be able to reach through the computer screen and grab people by the throat and shake them exactly the way you’re never supposed to shake a baby. She was at a loss. She let loose a torrent of thought on the screen, possessed.

“The English language is made up of these things called ‘words’,” Denyse typed. “These ‘words’ stand for, are the place-holders for, these things called ‘ideas’. ‘Ideas’ are the the things that are traded back and forth between sentient creatures in a process called ‘conversation’. One ‘idea’ leads to another one, and so forth and so on, until a thing called ‘understanding’ is achieved. I could tell you, for example, that water is wet. You might reply that beer is also wet. This might lead us into a thing called a ‘discussion’ on the differences and similarities between beer and water. What is not allowed, however, is this bullshit about one person responding ‘huh?’ to something that was so clearly laid out as what I wrote to you. Are you saying that I lost you somewhere? Where did that happen? What does ‘huh?’ mean? What is ‘huh?’ a response to? You are, ostensibly, a functional adult. Use words.” Enter.

Now, Garrick was hurt. A little bit. Denyse and her big brain. Her big words. Her logic, that he was never allowed to argue with. The one big word that occurred to him at times like these was ’emasculating’. If she provoked an emotional response out of him, however, it would mean that she had won. He pursed his lips. Popped his knuckles. Concentrated.

“What I meant by, ‘huh?’,” Garrick haltingly began, “was that I don’t understand why you think that it would be such a bad thing for people to have their health and well being monitored for them, for their own good. What’s wrong with a restaurant suggesting a lighter option for a customer, if the waiters can tell at a glance on a screen that this person’s heading towards type II diabetes, for example?” It had taken Garrick quite a while to type that out. He’d had to make constant references back to Denyse’s original post, just to make sure he wasn’t about to mis-quote or mis-understand her. Denyse was known to be quick witted; however, the speed of her reply still jarred. As though she had been watching over Garrick’s shoulder as he typed, she thundered back.

“Have you ever heard of the concept of ‘agency’?” Denyse asked. “Does the thought of ‘personal responsibility’ ring a bell? Why should the body politic, be it collectivist, statist, or capitalist, have any say in the affairs of the citizenry, especially when it comes to such personal issues as health? Have all notions of privacy been thrown away? Has -”

The screen went blank. Garrick looked over his shoulder. His boss looked on, shaking his head ruefully. “Another failure,” he sighed, shutting the ‘Denyse’ program down.

Garrick nodded. “We’ll get it, eventually. Just a little bit more tweaking. The last ‘Denyse’ was a little too much of a sycophant; this one … well, you can see the problems. A bit more ‘tough love’ than we really need.”

“Right,” the boss agreed. “We need to dial it in. Come up with a personality that most people will accept, that won’t rub people the wrong way. This app is gonna go on everything, after all. Can’t have it going around spouting off about stuff over everybody’s head.”

 

words © Christopher Ward. All rights reserved.

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This is sort of a “sideways” story, a tangent from Allosaurus. You don’t really have to read any of that to get anything out of this, if you don’t want to, or if you already read enough about Fran and Palmetto Bug Man. Just a thought that I had from listening to Laurie Anderson this afternoon.

“Who told the 80’s they could come back, anyway?” Morgan sighed, in between bites of his sandwich. “Popped collar polos, Ray Bans, bright ass colors … and this music you kids listen to these days!” He took a long pull from his extra large size soda. “Not one original guitar riff! Not one! Jesus Christ, I liked Vampire Weekend a lot better when they were called Peter Gabriel -”

“Sir,” the young woman behind the deli counter started, ” you sound a little bit … agitated.” “Sir” and “agitated” were said as though they were questions. The young woman continued. ” I’m going to have to ask you to calm yourself down a little bit, mmk?”

“Don’t take that tone with me!” Morgan blurted. “Who are you, my wife? ‘Calm down’, she says-”

“It’s just that we’re showing some elevated signals here on your blood pressure and anxiety levels.” The young woman pressed a few buttons on a console in front of her. “Plus, it looks like you lied to me earlier. You had a regular cola just the other day.” She extended a hand to him. “You’ll I have to give me that one back and accept a diet lemon/lime or water.”

“Oh, really?” Morgan sneered. “No unsweetened ice tea?”

“Hmm. Nope. You’d be over your caffeine limit for the day.”

“You. Have got. To be. Kidding.” But, the young woman was resolute, and Morgan couldn’t afford another interaction with the Powers That Be. He gave the young woman back the cup with a sigh. “Lemon/lime,” he muttered, a broken man.

It was during his last tango with the Powers That Be that he’d been put on a modified potassium diet. A bit moody and restless, they’d said. More bananas, they’d ordered. Morgan hated bananas – yellow, mushy, obscene. Who knew what horrors they’d introduce him to next time? Gluten – free? Morgan grew up on his mom’s baked spaghetti. Not happening.

Just then, Morgan’s pedometer broke in. “Look, I don’t wanna start anything,” the pedometer said in a pleasant, slightly matronly tone, “but you’ve got another 4,000 steps to go before six p.m. this evening. Now would be a good time to start walking in place, don’t you think? I mean …” The pedometer trailed off, the audio version of a rather passive/aggressive shrug. Morgan rolled his eyes and began to march about in place.

The screen above the counter displayed the news of the day. Morgan glanced up to read as he continued his lunch – gulp, step, gulp, chew, step, step, step.  Gulp, step, gulp, chew, step, step, step. Bombings over here. Shootings at this school or other. Building collapses. Weirdos in spandex making a mess of things in Saint Pete. Gulp, step, gulp, chew, step, step, step. He looked around the deli. The other customers seemed to be engaged in the same shuffling dance, with eyes on TV screens or smart phones or tablets. The same matronly voice from the pedometers exhorting the dancers. From the tablets. From the TVs. A safe, soothing, comforting voice.

words (except “O Superman”, which is linked from youtube and is by Laurie Anderson) © Christopher Ward. All rights reserved.

So, I finished the rough draft of the first book of Allosaurus. I did a quick and dirty word count, and it comes out to just around 19,300 words. Those of you who are familiar with National Novel Writing Month know that the goal is 20,000 in one month.

Took me seven.

Still, it’s the first time I’ve written that kind of volume without being on some sort of manic episode – thus, putting the tales of Fran and Palmetto-Bug Man ahead of the original Ashland* by leaps and bounds. Also, the original Ashland has been, mercifully, lost. So, yay meds.

A lot of people look at writing as homework that you have to do, every day, for the rest of your life. Forgot who said that. It doesn’t feel too far off the mark. But there was also an element that felt like I was compelled to write. Even on days when I was tired, or didn’t “feel” like it, Fran and company beckoned. I could see her in my head, arms folded, foot tapping. “Dude, let’s go!” she’d exclaim, while Fenris and Pamela checked their watches. “I got asses to kick! C’mon!” And so I’d follow them along, writing as I went. When I would try and write something that was out of character for them, they would look back at me, incredulously. “You know I wouldn’t do that,” Mister Vanglorious would say. This made it a bit difficult to stick to the original plan of my story, in which Fran dies. It also allows me to go further in exploring what I really want to write about with these characters, which is the way a person can become a monster – and how they can, maybe, win back their humanity.

Speaking of Mister Vanglorious, there are several characters that I “borrowed” from my best friend Doc. Doc’s a hardcore gamer, with experience working in the industry designing peripherals. He’s that serious. He came up with D – Nforcer, Vanglorious and Arctica Winters as avatars for DC Online and Champions Online. Thing is, he more or less killed them off in the games, so I was only too happy to give them new life in Allosaurus. Thanks, Doc.

 

*Ashland is a story I’ve been writing on and off for about twenty years, in all honesty. The basic theme of Ashland is the way things lose their real value when everything has a price. I stopped writing it because, as a satire, it slowly became indistinguishable from reality.

You remember them, right? From math class, like the 2nd grade or something. Set theory. All of X share this property; all of Y share some other property; both X and Y have some other property in common. You illustrate this by drawing a couple of intersecting circles, with the space shared by both circles representing the subset where X and Y meet. Sometimes the point of commonality is pretty big: dolphins gots hemoglobin, people gots hemoglobin: all God’s chillun gots hemoglobin. (Preach, deacon Jones!) Not to mention sexual reproduction, growth stages, mammary glands, bad breath, etc. The space between can contain a great number of things. Other times, however, X and Y have very little in common. Monteverdi and Bow Wow Wow. Both make music. And, they’re not from America. That’s about it, unless somebody can point out the influence of Burundi drumming in Domine Ad Adjuvandum.

People put themselves into these little subsets and such. “I’m a Democrat.” “I believe that Hare Krishna is the answer.” “I’m down with O.P.P.” Whatever. There are points of intersection, of course, but we get so wrapped up in being this thing or that thing that we don’t get the commonalities. We stick others into these sets as well. Makes it easier to gain a sense of control over others. “What do you know about it, (insert bunch of people you don’t like here)?” Worse yet, there are times where we purposely confine ourselves to this set or that set, as if that’s all we are. All we ever could be. It’s a tool for defining ourselves, but it also limits us.

Make space. Spread out. Expand. Fill it out, get free. You know the drill.

I guess what I’m trying to say here, is, look. You are more than just whatever one thing you’ve been limiting yourself to. We all are.
We all spill out of our subsets.

 

 

 words and pictures © Christopher Ward. All rights reserved.

Clayelle.

Confluence is a weird thing. Or, a better way to put that, would be this: A picture of a statue, combined with an article I read on Cracked.com, plus a really cheesy riff I came up with on guitar, plus my literary pretensions, times my break-up, led to this song about men trying to force women to be something they’re not. Or something.

If you click the link, you’ll find an article about the ways men are trained to secretly hate women. One of the most interesting points to me was the bit about men feeling that the culture has promised them a girl all their own. And, much like a Real Doll(tm), this woman isn’t supposed to have much say in this arrangement. Guy does such and such, guy gets the girl of his dreams – just about every movie or book or TV show that features a male/female dynamic in it somewhere has this setup. Of course, this rarely happens in real life: thus, men feel cheated. It’s why a lot of guys have these antagonistic relationships with their significant others, allegedly. 

About the song: Rob hates the name. I get attached to these song titles that use words not found anywhere in the song. Rob comes from the school of thought that the title has to be part of the chorus. I usually feel like the song’s title should reflect the mood of the piece, and that if you say something in the chorus, you don’t need to repeat it. Most songs are written, of course, the way Rob would write. It’s more memorable that way. You hear a song, the chorus is catchy enough to stick in your head; when you look for that song, you look for the part you remember. I think I’m just obstinate. Whatever. Google the name, if you must.

Pygmalion.

It was like any other day
I made a girl friend out of clay
I taught her all the things to say
We’ll see how far it goes

We found a pleasant place to stay
In gulfport right beside the bay
It’s like a party everyday
We’ll see how far it goes

She don’t like rock and roll
Only listens to Philly soul.

It was like any other day
Me and Clayelle went out to play
She worries about how much she weighs
You know how far that goes

Clayelle looked so far away
Her 1000 yard stare made me say
“Hey baby why you look at me that way?”
You know how far that goes

She likes to dress in black
When she reads Jack Kerouac.

It was like any other day
Clayelle brought home a bag of clay
I looked at her, she looked away
I guess that’s how
it goes.

The chorus of the song is still under debate. 

Except for the Cracked.com article, words and pictures © Christopher Ward. All rights reserved.

Bellum In Astra

Posted: June 30, 2011 in critique, sci fi
Tags: , , ,

Blatant Rip-off and Re-Imagining, with Thinly Veiled Name Changes. One day, perhaps when a certain baby-boomer has relinquished control over a property concerning a series of conflicts, or wars, in the stars, someone might do a re-boot. If for no other reason than to erase the memory of certain prequels.

Chapter One Cast

Ibn Juan McNulty:
Oblate of the Balance. Warrior, diplomat, teacher. As a young member of the Church of The Balance, McNulty is skilled in all the teachings of the Way. He uses his mastery to clear his mind and focus before any battle or any negotiations. His belief is that anytime he has to resort to violence, he has failed. Being a realist, however, he is adept with a wide variety of weaponry and fighting skills.

Mahalaleel Cloudbourne:
Balance Initiate, student and friend to Ibn Juan McNulty. Cloudbourne is a native of the island planet Archipelago. He is like a brother to McNulty, and though he often shares his views about the failure of violence, he is not averse to opening up a can of whoop ass from time to time. Cloudbourne, however heroic he may be, hides a deep secret from nearly everybody, including himself.

Piers Hel:
Operative of the secretive Sunnum Bonu. In keeping with his affiliation with the Bonu, Hel wears a mask and hood, with only his eyes exposed. Hel is perhaps the most formidable of the Bonu, that organization of Way sensitives that have pledged their abilities to the establishment of a government that will bend the Galaxy to their will.

Prao Wat Mbele:
Royalty of the non aligned world of Mbele Beni Beni, Prao is the first queen of her people in five centuries. She is an idealist, struggling to bring much needed reforms to her people and the Iis, the amphibious beings that share her world. She may be young and seems to be naive, but has still managed to evade much of the palace intrigues that have surrounded her since birth. She shares a secret love with the heroic Mahalaleel Cloudbourne.

Emperor Claudius IV Platinus :
Nicknamed “The Beloved” by the masses of the Galactic Empire (with some not too insignificant prodding from the Imperial P.R. machine), Claudius strives to portray himself as a folksy and benevolent ruler. His love of sprint flyer racing and good eats is well documented, as is his devotion to his family. Most galactic citizens are charmed by him, especially when contrasted with the corrupt administrations of the previous Claudii I – III. This Claudius, however, is no genial family man. His schemes are merely hidden better than those of his predecessors, his aspirations for power and control that much greater for their seeming invisibility.

Shenne Wat Orinoco:
Wife of Samuel Wat Orinoco, the Viceroy of Ori, and a closeted Way adept. Shenne is a hidden Sunnum Bonu sympathizer, and uses her influence with that body to further her husband’s political objectives. She is having an affair with Piers Hel.

Samuel Wat Orinoco:
Viceroy of Ori, Wat Orinoco has his own designs on overthrowing Claudius. To that end, he has cultivated covert alliances with the Kiiruk Trade Federation, the Ptlah’ht Syndicate, and Amalgamated Industries. His plans include a scheme to box the Emperor into surrender by using the combined forces of his allies, but he does n’t realize that he is merely playing into his wife’s (and therefore, the Sunnum Bonu’s) plans.

Brings His Father Joy:
Son of Born With Auspicious Signs, ruler of the amphibious Iis. Brings His Father Joy cultivates an air of clownish weakness, portraying the bumbling oaf to a tee. This is only to draw attention away from himself, so that he survives the treachery of Ii politics. In reality, Brings His Father Joy is a shrewd and ruthless manipulator whose schemes could net for him not just leadership of the Iis, not just all of Mbele Beni Beni, but even the carving out of his own empire. Brings His Father Joy is a Way sensitive, but aligns himself neither with Bonu or the Balance. He may in fact be the most dangerous character of the entire saga.

Imperial Prime Minister Yudit Makonen:
As her title suggests, Yudit Makonen is second in power to the Emperor. She is something of an amateur historian, and perceives a cyclic ebb and flow in the nature of Galactic civilization. Makonen is concerned that events are building to a head that will culminate in a disastrous war that could rival the Great Die Off of thirty centuries ago.

Chapter Two Cast

John Cloudbourne:
Twelve years old, John is a native of Hepiptlah with a precocious sensitivity to the Way. John has been raised by his aunt and uncle, and has been led to believe that his father Mahalaleel was a freighter pilot killed in an asteroid field crash. All his life, John has felt that someone, somewhere has been watching him. This has caused him to be somewhat paranoid and withdrawn, always observant of his surroundings. He has few friends, and because of his small size and seeming prescience, he is quick to fight anybody he sees as a threat.

London Wat Orinoco
Nineteen years old, London is the supposed daughter of Samuel and Shenne Wat Orinoco. As the daughter (and only surviving offspring) of the Viceroy, she has spent much of her life evading the impending responsibilities to be foisted upon her. She runs with a fast crowd of the well-to-do children of the famous, infamous and powerful, and has been branded as a hard core party girl, a typical “princess”.

Jambres Smith
Former Imperial officer turned smuggler, Captain Smith is desperately trying to escape his storied past, his dizzying fall from grace and several bounty hunters. He flies mostly for the shady Ptlah’ht Syndicate, running weapons, drugs and slaves to worlds both inside and outside the Empire. His ship, the Jade Phoenix Ascende, is surprisingly fast and well armed, considering its current function.

When He Dies He Will Send It
Co-pilot of the Jade Phoenix Ascende, When He Dies He Will Send It (or “When” for short) is from a planet whose name is unpronounceable. Imperial Cartography refers to it as Planet KSH-003-003CY, and the indigenous sentient creatures as Fuzz. When seems to be the second fiddle to Jambres, but in actuality When is a spy for the nascent Rebellion against the Empire. He has maneuvered Jambres into working with the Ptlah’ht Syndicate in order to gather intel on the outlying systems, and especially Hepiptlah.

YA-El-49 (Yale):
Ambassador series android, fluent in over 3 million forms of communication. If it weren’t for the fact that YA model androids are common and thus look more or less the same, Yale would be indistinguishable from a human. In many of the worlds of the outer rim, there is a distinct antipathy towards YA model androids because of this. Yale attempts to take it all in stride, philosophically reasoning that if the tables were turned, he would probably be afraid of the superior intellect, senses and strength of the YA models as well.

0010100010101100010100101010100101001(Owen):
Fix-it robot, partnered with Yale. Owen communicates in Binary, and looks less human that his partner. His limbs transform into various tools needed for his trade. Fix-it robots are not generally thought of as sentient in the way that ambassador series androids are, and as such are generally seen as expendable. Owen, however, has secretly been upgraded into sentience and intelligence levels rivaling the YA series. His role as an Fix-it robot is his cover as a spy for the Rebellion forces. He and When have secretly worked together on many campaigns, often right under the noses of their respective partners.

Baez McNulty:
Crazy old hermit wandering the harsh and forbidden Deadman Brother’s Wastes of Hepiptlah, or hidden Way Oblate? Is he Ibn Juan, somehow risen from the dead? A relative? Or, perhaps, something far stranger? Only time will tell.

Piers Hel:
Last of the Sunnum Bonu, hidden right hand of Emperor Claudius IV Platinus. Some…incident…has left him more machine than man, has scarred his mind into madness. A lost love fuels his obsession with the afterlife, his considerable Way- sensitive abilities focused on dark arts of re-animation. He harbors a secret grudge against the Emperor, biding his time until he can find a way to get revenge on him for the death of Shenne Wat Orinoco.

Grand Mufti Yeshimabet Tar:
With the abolishment of the Imperial Senate and the re-structuring of the Galactic Empire, the Mufti system of rule took over. Muftis, or sector governors, rule over 100 worlds. These answer to the Great Muftis, who oversee 70 of the sector governors. Tar is a Grand Mufti, of which there are ten. She, like the other grand Muftis, oversees 70 of the Great Muftis. Tar’s jurisdiction includes Orbis Magnus, the Imperial Capitol, and as such, she is, under the Mufti system, second only to the Emperor in power and prestige. And, with no Imperial Prime minister to temper her rule, Tar exercises absolute authority. It was her initiative that led to the creation of the War Moons, orbital war platforms capable of destroying whole planets.

Who will appear in Chapter Three? A mentor to John, whose power is disguised by her tiny stature and weird speech patterns? A suave space pirate turned “respectable” businessman and part-time alcoholic beverage endorser? The most badass bounty hunter in the galaxy (who gets devoured by a Freudian stand-in for the horror of  female genitalia before we actually ever get to see him do anything badass?) Only time will tell, folks!  

So, we’re all still here, apparently. At any rate, there were no worldwide earthquakes, no sun turning black and moon turning red like blood. Yet. Those who knew, I mean, really knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the rapture was upon us, now stand baffled and disappointed. Bitterly so, I would imagine. The Internet snarkerati have spoken, and pronounced them to be deluded fools, worthy of our scorn and derision. Some scattered voices pipe up, reminding us that the Bible says that even Jesus Himself hasn’t a clue as to when the big end o’ the world shindig is, and that Mr. Camping was, at best, foolish for thinking he could divine the secret timetable of the cosmos. Homes have been sold, life savings depleted, families split like uranium. (What’s that say about our much vaunted nuclear family setup?) and, one of my favorite new memes is a picture of a billboard with a verse of scripture and the words “well, that was awkward…”

I had my part in the mockalypse, as well: a Facebook post describing my scooter ride in a post- Armageddon wasteland and subsequent encounters with mutants and zombies at the 7-11. Ha ha. But, truth be told, I spent Friday night transfixed by an internet live feed from Tonga, the first place on earth said to experience the Rapture, rolling across all timezones at 6:00 pm. I confess that I’ve been through several of these ends of the world, from the 70s with Skylab and the “two sevens clash” the year my nephew (Damian, of all names!) was born, to the nuclear holocausts of the 80s, the partying like it was 1999 and y2k. And, even though in my mind, I know better, I still get antsy about the whole thing. I hate to admit it, but I’ll probably be freaking out a little bit on December 20, 2012 too. Something about the end of the world as we know it bypasses the logical part of my mind, and zeroes in on my lizard pre-brain. It spooks me, no matter how much I reason out that it’s not going to happen yet.

My best friend has a very zen take on the whole matter. “Can you go someplace where God isn’t?” she says. “We are all a part of God, so how’s He gonna lose a part of Himself? Is God’s big brother gonna come along and take His stuff from Him? No? Then why worry?” My wife is less metaphysical about it. “Is there somewhere in the bible that says we’re going to be able to know when the end of the world is? No? So what’s the problem?” And here’s the thing: I’m no idiot. I can see the very same thing my wife sees in the Bible, I can take my mind through the same mathematical gymnastics my friend does. I can come up with the very same conclusions. And yet, and yet. I find it hard to belittle those people who truly believed, who staked their families, their homes, their lives, on a belief. Under slightly different circumstances, I might’ve been one of those people driving the vans. Lemme tell you a little story…

Back in the day, I was a member of an organization. It was a quasi religious group with military overtones, it was concerned with social justice and community empowerment (whatever that means) and I threw myself into it, wholeheartedly. There are still some concepts that this organization championed that I strongly adhere to. I was convinced that the world, as we knew it then, was finished. That soon, a new era would be ushered in, and while there would be pain and deprivations and hardship and maybe even death, in the end it would all be worth it. I dropped out of school, because, why not? School wasn’t going well for me anyway at the time, and really, there were more important things going on. I didn’t really have a job then, either, apparently because my full-time gig was community organizing. (Maybe, I coulda become President some day.) My family and most of my friends thought I’d lost my mind, and they were probably right.

And then, one day, in the fall, we were in Detroit. I remember it like it was yesterday. Suddenly, without warning….
Nothing happened.
We were all gathered for a meeting, a council concerning one of our members who’d gone rogue. By-laws had been broken, people (self included) had been used, trust was demolished, various member’s standing in the community were tarnished. As a result, this rogue member was…promoted.
There ain’t no justice.
The world, for me at least, had ended. Just not the way I had thought it would. Demoralized, disillusioned, disgusted and dead broke, I struggled to mend relationships with my family and friends, bull-shitted my way back into school, and got a job piercing ears at the mall.

Flash-forward to the present day. A compelling voice on the radio convinces followers that the time is NOW. Stop what you’re doing. Get ready. You’ve been let in on The Secret, so you’re special. Anyone who isn’t with us, is against us. It’s a story I’m all too familiar with, unfortunately. Meanwhile, Joplin, MO was hit by its own apocalypse, when tornadoes tore through the town, bringing the end of the world for some hundred or so people. Earthquakes and volcanoes, not quite book-o-revelations in intensity but brutal nonetheless, strike Iceland and Turkey. What do we do for these people? Does it help them to indulge in speculations about how much time we’ve got left? I wonder if God hasn’t told us when he’s coming back so that we could busy ourselves with helping others who are faced with their own end of the world.

words and pictures © Christopher Ward. All rights reserved.