Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Creativity Workshop #3: My Three Goals

The way this creativity workshop works is that each writer creates three goals - typically from the list of Issues and Interests we'd been asked to compile just a few days earlier - and then spends a month devoted to each goal, with one short story written towards that goal each week. Each of the stories in the sequence should be linked, somehow.

Three goals; one goal a month; one story a week; three months, twelve stories.

It's going to be quite the ride.

This post, essentially, is me tentatively outlining my three goals, the tasks within those goals, and maybe - just maybe - a rough outline of what I'm writing for each week. I haven't really thought that far ahead, but you know. Have to have something planned.

Below, comrades, the Glorious Goals of my Three-Month Plan:

1. Australia Dreaming

Whatnow: For the past, oh, two or three years Australia has been of much fascination to me, especially as a setting in which to place urban fantasy. I want to explore this further, with a deeper emphasis on Australia itself. I want to do urban fantasy, especially set around Melbourne. This is the easiest goal, being strongly related to my writing past and a throwback to my earlier attempts at a novel, and yet something I wish to reach a state of perfection on.

Links and Stories: Exoteric setting, obviously. Each story will be set in Australia. They'll also be tied together, I think, by a common protagonist - a riff on the Sorcerer and Private Investigator trope I find myself enjoying more and more, in the lines of Harry Dresden, John Taylor, etc - who's actually given up magic entirely. A murder brings him back to the Art, but he finds that he's lost the talent forever - and yet his old enemies haven't forgotten him, things are heating up, etc. These four stories will be vignettes from the overall tale. I like the idea of a protagonist who is powerless in the sense that he has no supernatural abilities and yet strives towards a different sort of power - the power to be free and secure.

Tasks:
1. Write for thirty minutes to an hour each night, no matter what. 2. Figure out exactly what four stories you wish to tell, and where in Australia they fit. 3. Think some more on the protagonist. 4. Finish the stories.

2. Mars! Exotic Mars!

Whatnow: The Sword and Planet subgenre of speculative fiction has long been a favourite of mine. John Carter, Lietenant Gulliver, whatshisname Carson, Michael Kane: I enjoy them all. I love the idea of a jungle-wrought, savage Mars, a place so close to our world and yet so far... and I've long been wanting to write a series of stories set in my own fictional Mars, Aukrahk. I want to pay loving homage to the stories which have so recently inspired me, to the pulps of that era, and to the idea of good, readable fantasy with my own unique spin. The last time I wrote an honest fantasy? It was my first story and novelette, written when I was ten or eleven, entitled The Unholy Ale. It's been a while - time to try my hand once again at a genre I love and a subgenre I adore. This will also be my chance to start thinking about the Exotic Cultures held within the cradle of the Red Planet, merging - I hope - two of my Interests.

Links: The setting will be the link between the four stories - Mars - though each story will take place with different characters within a different Martian locale, whether it be the Earth-obsessed, sprawling Yordes or the metal-infested utterly western, antagonistic nation of Edgarb. The stories..? I'm not entirely sure, yet.

Tasks: 1. Start reading some more Savage Mars fiction - both to get me in the mood and because I still haven't finished Edgar Rice Burroughs full Barsoom sequence. 2. Solidify my understanding of Aukrahk so that I might feasibly set a series of tales within it.

3. The End

Whatnow: Okay, this might sound a little mad, but for my last, and presumably toughest, goal I want to write each of four stories to be an understanding of the ending, the finale - I'm not entirely sure what the technical term is, but each story will encapture an ending to a longer tale, perhaps explained, maybe not. Each story should, if I succeed, at once be as self-containing as a good short story, wrapping up all loose ends, while simultaneously feeling as if it were an ending of something larger. It's evoking a false, though perhaps valid, sense of mood through the style of the story itself. I hope.

Links: The link will be the fact that they have all been designed to feel like an ending. Probably nothing else, though each story may explore unused Issues/Interests from my list.

Tasks: 1. Don't give up. You're going to want to because you're a coward, Nat, and this will be hard. But it doesn't matter whether you succeed wonderfully or fail miserably - all that matters is that you learn and you finish what you start. 2. Start seriously studying how the Ending is formed, and how I can try to emulate that.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Creative Workshop #2: Icebreaker Mission

Merrilee Faber is crazy. Her 'icebreaker' exercise involves sorting through 31 blogs in what must be a parody of the traditional scavenger hunt, trying to attach 31 clues to 31 writers. Madness.

But it's awesome.

And I love a challenge.

So below is my attempt..

  1. Missing purple? Try under the trapdoor. Vixen Phillips; Lyrical Trance
  2. English author rapping in the bath? Umbrella required! Rosalind Adam is writing in the rain
  3. Moon across the ocean blue. Where’s the long white cloud? Anna Caro
  4. Who says you have to grow up? On Escapism
  5. Five times I love you. Aurora's Creative Corner
  6. California garden with a foxhound. Of Angels and Plants
  7. 21 + 6 + 5 + 5. Oh, and a chicken. Coyote; LykosEcho
  8. Considers the lillies, but still a wage-slave to the empire. Sigh. Constant Revision
  9. Lips as red as cherries, hair as blue as…electric? The Magic Spoon
  10. All singing, all writing bird! I’m so Lost… Kayla Olson; Owl and Sparrow
  11. Pigs DO fly! I told you so. Valerie Sloan; It's All Make Believe
  12. Manchester daisies. Greener than home? Kerryn Angell; No Excuses. Just Write
  13. Not in Penzance, and the gender’s all wrong, but still! Raise the Jolly Roger, arrr! Amandasea; Pirate Queen at the Helm
  14. Raising goats, joyfully. Hallelujah! Amber Dawn Weaver; Joy of Dawn
  15. There are thirteen ribs, apparently. Ashley Nava; Right Brain Spasms
  16. Love and stars and hearts and butterflies and swirls! One Big Adventure
  17. RIP Cooper, dear friend. Catherine Mede Writes
  18. Who’s to blame for the rain? Blame it on the Weatherman
  19. Living in Melbourne, dreaming of Mars. Me; Pen and Paper Initiative
  20. Canada’s in the pink! Chibi Doucet
  21. Siochain’s amulet, 50% off! Davina Pearson
  22. Not a serial killer, but an explorer. Exploring Eliza
  23. Bun in the oven, two kids, no time! J.C. Hart; Just Cassie
  24. Beautiful Jalal. Out of my Mind
  25. Africa? Australia? Jicama? Africanaussie
  26. Japanese poetry, in the popular form. Stories of Sommer
  27. Mother, 8, grandmother, 12, not enough chairs in the garden! The Grandmother's Garden
  28. Law of Attraction, no magnets here! Janette Dalgliesh
  29. Ngapuhi? (Gesundheit!) Letters from Silent Hill
  30. I’ve got your contest right here! Epic? You bet! Simon C. Larter; Constant Revision
  31. This is not the Olympics, no matter what the header says. Five Rings
My God this is crazy.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Creative Workshop #1: Issues and Interests

So, I’ve stumbled across the magnificent writing blog of Merrilee Faber, and not a moment too soon - she’s taken the time to begin an online writing creativity workshop. Everyone who owns a keyboard and blog is invited, and as I, myself, am always looking to increase my own productivity and the quality of my ideas I thought I’d give it a shot. Ms. Faber being genuinely lovely and my love for a challenge don’t hurt, either.

As a sort of preliminary task we’re supposed to write about issues and interests we face as a writer. I present to you, my readership - the list of Nathaniel Robinson:

1. Momentum and Discipline - issue

I really only get things done when I place deadlines upon myself and stick to them. That only begins to happen, mind you, when I’ve gathered sufficient momentum to do so – to see an end in sight and then, naturally, begin to think of the destination. This happens all too rarely. I often lose momentum, and then it is a struggle just to continue. I know a lot of begins with discipline; my own sense of discipline is something I need to realise if I wish to seriously up my game.

2. Versatility of Character – issue

My typical protagonist: white, young, male, often a writer, sometimes smokes (I do not), often bitter about some tragedy he inflicted upon himself. This is because I am male and white and often a writer and often screw things up, as well as a host of other reasons that I’m not entirely sure of myself. Nevertheless, my most recent short story involved a jinn who was of Arabic descent (tick), had no particular interest in writing (tick), was powerfully ancient (tick) and did not smoke (tick). He was, unfortunately, male and inclined to messing up. But I enjoyed the process of studying an entirely different character, adding variety to my typical writing, and so I’d like to continue to buck my fascination with bland characters.

3. Dialogue – issue

Frankly? My dialogue sucks. It gets better with revision, but I still execute it poorly, I feel, perhaps because I personally believe that the speech of the individual is the truest indicator of their character. I want to be able to do dialogue damn well. I want my readers to almost be able to hear the words coming out of the character’s mouth.

4. Unpleasantness – issue
My stories never really have a happy ending. It’s always bittersweet at best, horrific at worst. As I am no Roald Dahl I can’t always pull it off well, and my writing suffers for it.

5. Exotic culture – fascination

Culture in general fascinates me. Especially culture I, personally, find exotic – it is the relative strangeness in thought and activity (at least compared to my own culture). The most enjoyable thing about writing the aforementioned jinn story, besides the nonstandard character, was researching and grasping Islamic culture, extremist and otherwise, ancient and modern, esoteric and exoteric. I’d like to continue with this.

6. Man versus Mythology – fascination

This is a theme that I find cropping up more and more in my writing. The idea of a man battling against his culture has consumed me over this past month. Whether it’s the life of an atheist man who bitterly searches for his ascended religious wife after the Christian Rapture, or the career of a superhero learning to actively despise the task of saving people, or the struggles of a genie trying to break free of his cultural programming – it all fascinates me. This is something I’d really like to explore. In a way, it’s almost about personal control versus the external world, with a twist of the fantastic, and I like it. It harkens back to Greek myths and prophecy and the idea of fate, karma, destiny… and there is something subtle and powerful about it.

7. Romance and Lost Love – fascination

As a writer I tend to throw in a lot of my own life into my stories (as, I am sure, most writers tend to do). Recently this has manifested through the motif of romantic screw-ups, lost loves, etc, especially through the actions of the protagonist. I’ve tried to keep away from other favourite themes – such as the absentee father or the idea of addiction to action – but this channeling of personal guilt into the story has formed something positive: a slow love for the romantic (in the modern sense) genre. I like to see one individual chase after another; I like to see them fail and I like to see them succeed.

9. Mars (and the pulps) - fascination

Hey, who doesn’t love the pulps? Don’t answer that. I’m absolutely intrigued at the moment with the idea of writing stories in the vein of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom stories (and the further stories of Michael Moorcock and several others). Sword and Planet is a subgenre I’ve come to truly love.

10. Home – fascination

Australia isn’t boring. Melbourne is exceptionally interesting. So why don’t I write more stories set in Aus? Now, to my credit, most of my more recent tales have been set in Australia… but I’d really love to focus on the mystery, the culture, the power of Australia. Australia can’t be less interesting than America, after all, and look how many novels are set in the United States.

11. The End – fascination

So I’ve recently finished watching the entire first season of the soap opera teen drama frenzy The O.C. with my girlfriend. (Before you judge, the dialogue is much greater than I remember. The plotting – while ridiculous at times – is dense and well-executed, the characterization is fantastic and the entire set up is very clever. That’s where I stand.) The last episode was quite sand, and she was weeping as the credits roll. Even I, the epitome of all that is MAN, felt a little teary. That is an affect I sorely want to emulate – I need to learn how to craft the perfect ending.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Rabbit

The rabbit was white and menacing. It came out at night to watch things happen, loitering in the backyard like a dead saint. Word on the street claimed that it drew sustenance from the corpses of dead felines. The cats were nervous. They could not catch the rabbit, for it possessed the alacrity of a snake, the cunning of a bird and the bizarre fortune of a dog.

There were sixteen cats living within Dell Road. All of them were frightened of the rabbit.

Cats lived in strange cells of two or three, only meeting fully on certain special or mystical dates, though they were all ruled by the wisest cat on the road. This cat was known to its brother felines as Lapradush, or ‘destroyer of Hare’. This was very funny to the wisest cat, whose owner was entirely bald. Nevertheless, he took his role as protector, destroyer and seer very seriously, and had sworn a bitter oath to rid the street of the rabbit.

A short while after the rabbit moved in under the house, the tenants moved out. A human boy had fallen mysteriously ill – rot of the lungs - and had quietly died a few nights before. A fish lived at the house, the companion of the dead boy, and had spoken quickly and confidently to Lapradush.

“Do not eat me,” said the fish.

“I will not, little thing,” said the wisest cat. “I am here to speak.”

“That is good, Kashkakash,” said the fish. Kashkakash was the name the bowl-kept fish of the road had named the wisest cat. It meant ‘destroyer of Fish’. “Speak.”

“What killed your master? Was it the whitest rabbit? There is talk of your family moving out of the road… this disturbs us greatly.”

“Yes, they are planning to move out,” said the fish. “The rabbit comes, sometimes, you know. To watch. I tried to speak to it, at first. Then I begged it to go. It would not leave. It would not even speak.”

“How did it gain entrance? Was there a hole – a door left unlocked?” said Lapradush. He knew that the fish – despite being bowl-ridden – was intimately familiar with the home.

The fish blinked.

“I do not know how,” it finally admitted. “All the doors were locked. No open windows. No holes. Unless, perhaps, a cat let him…” The fish knew that all cats – despite their supposed distaste at all things mechanical – were intimately familiar with locks, keys and doors.

“No. The cats would not.”

“Sometimes, the rabbit comes to watch me. I know that the hopping folk do not care for meat, least of all the flesh of fish, but… what if it…? What if it is here for – what if it killed Matthew so that it could get to – to me…?”

“Goodbye, little fish,” said Lapradush, known as Kashkakash, ‘destroyer of Fish’, as he leapt out the window.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Batting for Phobos

(So this was meant to be a short exercise to get me in the mood for my more impressive - I hope - savage Mars novel, 'Dreaming of Mars', which you'll all be able to read soon enough. As such it might seem to finish abruptly. Honestly, that is simply when the story ended.. I had no interest in what happened to the Martians, or the Englishmen, or any of that. My goal was simply to write a little about the situation. Enjoy.)

The twentieth century, it seemed, would be a hundred years of further rain. The savages weren’t panicked by the weather. It was unfortunate, however, that the test had to be further delayed by half a week. They kept practicing in the rain, and I supposed they needed the practice, a gentleman’s game like cricket as utterly alien as it was to their unruly culture.
I watched. There was a strategy, here. Can’t trust an alien to play a genuinely British match. Protected only by my coat and jacket, the storm battled around me, further sullying my mood. I knew that in a remarkably short amount of time they’d become adequate players – possibly even good players.
But we were Britain’s finest.
Earth’s premiere batsmen.
The Martians were good at batting, I knew – the four spindly, twisted arms weren’t as much of a handicap to them as I’d reasoned.

“Learn much int’resting, Cap?”
I turned, and rain lashed at my face. The voice was familiar – it was our unread, uneducated wicket-keeper, ex-Private John Smithson.
His near-Cyclopean face leered out at me from within the gloom.
“Smithson,” I said, attempting conversation with the brute, “Why do you think they continue practicing in the rain?”
“On the field, Cap?”
“Yes, on the field. It is a disturbingly dangerous activity.”
“Ball don’t spin right, Cap, sure is men’cing. P’rhaps… perhaps the blue-skinned devils aren’t like us. P’raps they’ve got tougher skins, Cap.”
“Perhaps,” I replied, and lit a cigarette.

“You can’t lose this one, Vinall. It’s rather important to the human race as a whole that you don’t let this one go.”
The Colonel’s face was obscured by smoke. The rain had stopped, but the pitch was drowned. We met at dusk, while the team drank and the Martians prayed.
There had to be a direct connection between the unsightly nature of one’s face and their role in the world, I mused. The Colonel was built like some bizarre chimera, half-cat, half-opium fiend, and half-ogre. There seemed to be no humanity within those eyes. He was a big man.
None of the government or military cads I’d had talks with had good looks or a roguish smile.
“Why is it so important? We’ll win, you know that. We’re the best. Do make yourself useful, Colonel, and worry about something else. How could we lose?”
My smile was grim, but only out of distaste. The very notion - !
“They’ve given us gifts, Vinall,” said the Colonel. “Military rifles made of glass that can shoot up to fifteen hundred paces and emit pure light. Strange foods and wines. A flying machine, for God’s sake! Their technology must be extremely advanced…”
“Ahah.” I smirked. I knew where this was going – I’d been fielding for England for far too long not to understand how this worked.
“Vinall…?”
“If we win, we’re given more gifts. Greater technologies. There’s a wager, here, Colonel.”
“Isn’t there always? You’re sharp, Vinall, I’ll give you that, but only half-correct. The Martian mind, it seems, is a simple and impish thing… they enjoy a gamble, as you’d know.”
I knew. After practice and prayer, they’d often cheat my men out of all of their pounds by beating them in games of chance – even games such as Gleek or Loo, entirely native to Earth. The Martians had brought with them their own game of nok-Rasool, an alien game of cards that works almost similarly to the Persian game of Nas, with many added peculiarities. It was massively popular with much of the military and our own team, as poor as we were at actually managing with the absurd, high-blue cards.
The Colonel continued. I lit another cigarette.
“It’s more serious then you’d imagine. If we win, we’ve offered to give them one of the colonies: India, specifically, as the climate in most of the sub-continent suits their assumed preferences nicely. They’ll have it all, and, if they wish, the Indians with them.”
“That’ll close any chance they have at independence,” I remarked. “But what could convince His Majesty to offer them such a large part of the kingdom?”
“If we win, and this, you’ll find, is the extremely cunning bit,” said the Colonel, “if we win, they leave Earth, leaving a substantial amount of their scientific texts and the like with them, and they’ll give us Phobos, Hall’s moon of Mars. To colonize. The British flag will fly proudly once more, Vinall – fly above the luminiferous aether itself!”

The stakes were high.
It was obvious that the Martians – the Colonel called them the Shai’eev, but they were from Mars and that makes them bloody Martians – hadn’t quite given England the intelligence regarding inter-planetary flight, or anything at all, really, regarding that field. How we’d colonize Phobos without rocket-ships was a mystery to me, but it could have been part of the deal…
It was raining again.
I was watching the Martians.
“Our intelligence, Vinall, the intelligence suggests that Mars is hot and wet. Rains all the time there, the Shai’eev indicate. Fills up those great canals… so they’re quite happy in this kind’ve weather,” said the Colonel. We were discussing tactics. I told him our tactic was to be really clever with how we hit the ball, since they had four hands to catch us out with, and that seemed to satisfy him.
“They look like big bloody frogs,” I said, watching the droplets run down their amphibious backs. I was repulsed by their bulbous eyes, their broad backs and contrastingly thin arms, the six fingers on all four of their hands, dark red fingernails over bright blue flesh…
The Colonel laughed at my comparison.
“I wonder how they’d get along with the frogs over the English Channel,” he said, between cackles of laughter. We both knew that the French had been desperate for access to the Martians.

“They’re a funny ol’ bunch now, aren’t they, Cap?”
Johnson Smith had a particular habit where he would sight me sitting miserably, often smoking tobacco, often in the rain, and he’d think that I was lonely. So, in the spirit of friendship, he’d come and bother me.
It wasn’t raining.
The pitch was dry.
The sun was out.
“They’re giving sacrifice to their sun deity,” I said. I’d realized just how much information about the savages I’d acquired watching them play. “Asking him for blessings, victory on this day, the like…”
“Ain’t really sporting, though, is it?” asked Johnson. “Mean, there’ve gotta be rules, Laws of Cricket, y’know, Cap?”
“I know,” I sighed. “It’s not against the rules, because we don’t believe their sun deity is capable of such a feat as allowing them to beat us at a match of our own game.”
The wicket-keeper’s mouth rounded in shock. It was most displeasing. I could see the food stuck between his teeth.
“Shame, Cap, shame,” said Johnson, shaking his head. “They’d be cheating and we wouldn’t ev’n think it.”
They couldn’t be cheating.
They weren’t smart enough.
We were cheating.

“Have you ever had a Martian, Cap?”
I looked at Knowles. Summoning my greatest death-stare, I tried to obliterate him with sheer will alone. Harrison Knowles was good batsman, and a brilliant bowler, but occasionally the real Knowles would come out. The filth-loving, whore-punching pervert was the secret shame of the team, and the only reason I tolerated him was because we couldn’t find a better spinner. So I let him on, for cricket’s sake.
“They brought their women with them. We told them, told them if they wanted to stay, they need to consent to, aheh, get this, ‘biological research’. Ahah. So they’re doing these tests, right, and now they’re up to this bloody stage – you won’t believe it – where they’re trying’ta see if Martians and humans can mate, y’know, ubermensch stuff, so…”
I sipped at my scotch. There was a cigarette in my hand, but I didn’t quite feel like it. Outside, torrents of liquid smashed at the windows.
“Not interested, Knowling,” I said. “Just let me drink, mate…”
“No, seriously, y’gotta hear this,” he said, “So they need blokes who’ve, liked, who’re local and who can keep their mouth shut, y’know, and the Colonel comes to me and he’s all like, ‘Oy, there’s a good mate, yeah? Wanna bitta this?’ and shows me a photo, like, and I see the four arms and the breasts – oh god the breasts…”
“Fantastic, Knowling,” I said. “But that’s enough. Degrading, just a bit, yeah? I don’t need to know…”
“So put us in a room, yeah? Sorry mate, I mean Cap, won’t take long at all, so we’re just in this room, and the poor little blue thing looks scared – they’re much smaller than the males! So we get there and I, y’know, take everything off, and it’s really just…”
I lose my temper.
Knowles saunters away, bragging about his interspecies conquests to the rest of the men in the pub.

“The plan’s a good one,” said the Colonel.
I was wet.
I was not in the mood.
“Better than beating them fairly and playing a good match of cricket?” I asked, a little spitefully.
The savages were playing in the rain.
“Oh, yes,” said the Colonel. “Turns out the Shai’keev have many addictive substances themselves. Certain weeds, chemicals, the lot… they’ve got a whole city, you know, called Hoosk? Do you know what Hoosk means, Vinall?”
“Enlighten me,” I muttered.
“Hoosk, in their language, means, ‘City of Illusions’, or mirages, or something similar. The city’s built on a huge desert, and the desert is found atop a huge deposit of gasses. The gasses rise, sometimes slowly – sometimes quickly – and the city hallucinates.”
I nodded.
“What’s your point, Colonel? I mean, it’s all fascinating, but we’re never going to go there…”
“Don’t be so sure…”
“And anyway,” I said, “What does our cricket match have to do with the city of Hoosk?”
“Nothing at all,” grinned the Colonel. “But you know one thing the Shai’keev don’t have? Vinall, pay attention here: they don’t have tobacco.”
I’d had a few drinks. I wasn’t as sharp as I typically am.
“We’ll sell them tobacco and get them to throw the match?”
The Colonel laughed, the fat on his face wobbling ever so slightly as he did so.
“No, no,” he said. “They love the stuff. We’ve been giving it to them, not charging them a cent, since we twigged on that they didn’t have any…”
“So…?”
“The tobacco, Vinall, is laced with the isolated form of Strychnos ignatia.”
I didn’t say a word.
“And we’ve checked, young son, oh yes – Vinall, that Martian whore we shacked Knowles with? She’s dead. We tested it. Strychnine kills them, Vinall. Kills them dead.”
I nodded.
“It is a pretty good plan…”
It was quite cunning. The Martians would drop dead, or be too sick to play, and we’d win the match. We hadn’t been poisoning all of them, of course. They needed the technology… it was only the cricket-playing aliens who we needed to exterminate.
Clever, yes, in the finest traditions of Great Britannia. But something about it made me feel ill. I didn’t hold any sympathy for the creatures – they were anathema to my entire way of life, cold-blooded savages who spoke a strange language and made my flesh recoil every time I had to touch their amphibious flesh – but they were noble, I supposed, in their own way. My own code of honour demanded that schemes such as the Colonel’s should not be practiced upon anyone or anything – but it was out of my hands.
It wasn’t Captain Vinall running the show.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

THE FICTOGNOSTICS WANT THEIR BOOKSHOP BACK (Fifteen-Sixteen)

FIFTEEN

“Go on,” said Vic the Jester. “You may as well. At least this way – this way, you’ll have a chance.”

Two weeks had passed in the kingdom of Cardanea. For thirteen days out of fourteen Justin had feasted, every morning, upon Cardanean pancakes, topped with Cardanean syrup. The syrup, he was told, boosted the body’s regenerative rate, and this seemed true enough; his leg was still stiff, but the gaping wounds had stopped gaping – they had healed.

He’d spent the entire first week resting and reading borrowed books from the Cardanean public library – non-fiction, all of it. Cardanean anthropology, sociology, archaeology, geography, ecology, psychology… it was all truly fascinating. An entire new world! One with different laws and customs, a different sphere of reality, a different paradigm of existence…

The beast that had shot him, Justin read, was known as a mechanea. Far, far to the north there was a deep pit known as Mogthandamechanea - the spawning place of the strange beasts made of rust and rage. It was a sacred site to most Cardaneans. Their entire concept of ‘hell’, such as it was, was tied to the place… in less civilized times, Justin read, prisoners and dissidents were thrown into the pit to be eaten alive by the mechanea.

This was before the arrival of a prophesied sorcerer-king and master scientist known as Archival King Reed. Justin felt an electric surge run through his gut when he read the name… there was a definite link to the bookshop, to the mysterious bookseller Reed.

Reed came and unified the warring tribal clans of Cardanea through reason, justice, philosophy, religion and charisma. He ruled with reason – he taught many of the chiefs and craftsmen how to read, how to use numbers, how to write, the things typically reserved for shamans and seers… he taught them how to think clearly, and to act with such clarity in mind; he ruled with justice – there was to be no rape and no torture within his military force, or within those who served under him, and he punished such crimes with severity.

Reed ruled with philosophy and with religion – he spoke to them of honour, and of objective and subjective truth, and of the divide between materialism and spiritualism, of existentialism and pragmatism and skepticism and rationalism and many more… of mythical proto-peoples, such as the ‘Greeks’ – this philosophy caught the Cardaneans by storm, and they delighted in theorizing and refining as best they could, reveling in their glorious rationality. The animism and astrology of the clans were soon assimilated by a fast-growing religious movement - the cult of Reed – and he was claimed to be a living, immortal god.

(At this, Justin was surprised – not at the supposition, which was almost expected, but at the claim of immortality… according to the Archival City histories, Reed had been ruling for just over a thousand years, which verified the immortality claim. Justin was disquieted a little at the idea of Reed being more than ten decades in age…)

Finally, Reed ruled with charisma – there was no doubt about that. Followers flocked to him like sheep to the shepherd, like bees to pollen, and he soon amassed enough followers to crush any who opposed him, as rare as violence was needed. Soon, his followers were eager to march on to Mogthandamechanea, which Reed objected to – it was too dangerous even for them, he claimed. A few days later and he claimed that the pit was sacred ground, their ancient mechanical enemies demons sent to test their vigilance, and that they should instead engage in something more productive – the building of a proper city, perhaps.

And so Archival City was born.

The printing press came soon, under Reed’s knowing guidance, and not long after that their was a complete revolution – gunpowder, advanced agriculture, artistic and literary booms, humanism as a goal, the pursuit of physics, chemistry, astronomy, mathematics, biology… and so it was that Archival City became a true archival city, both in purpose and name. Book-burning was an offence punishable by forced pilgrimage to Mogthandamechanea, and every citizen was required to learn how to read, write, and know numbers. Literatures abound…

Justin knew there was more, of course. He’d read enough about Cardanean psychology to realize that they held the idea that both sexual and violent release were needed for a well-adjusted individual, and that the weeping trees of the southern forests held saps of many different pseudo-mystical properties. There was much more to learn…

Justin knew that he was to see Archival King Reed on the fourteenth day, and was looking forward to the meeting. He’d read as much as his mind could handle without exploding – he had a million (or more) questions for Reed about the place and of his exact involvement in it.

On the fourteenth day, his leg almost fully healed, Justin was dressed in heavy white cloth and given a single snow flower – a gift for Archival King Reed. He was escorted by two soldiers, each heavily armed, and led through silver doors into the King’s grand chambers.

And then there was judgment; swords; a friend returned; and escape.

“Go on,” said Vic the Jester. “You may as well. At least this way – this way, you’ll have a chance.”


SIXTEEN

It took very little work, but was still considered by most of the magical underground to be one of the deadliest forms of sorcery; the hubris conjured simply in employing had staggered many a naïve magician in the past.

Still, at one point or another in their lives every fictional-sorcerer would, if they took the craft seriously, be forced to use it. Many natural-born occultists fell into the trap of abusing the magic before they even became aware of the greater delights involved in the manipulation of sorcery – a trap which very few escape.

It was, to put it very mildly, a highly addictive practice.

“Patterning, it’s called,” said Reed. “It’s nothing at all major, very little chance of anything going wrong…”

He was lying.

When it became obvious that Michael Hardaes, as unreal as he might be, had no idea how to properly use a semi-automatic weapon, Reed had to think fast. He’d already exhausted much of his inner reservoir of power while building a fictional replacement for Justin. It wouldn’t be wise to tap into a Babilu shard for something so petty…

Patterning: the science of creating fictional patterns – expressed through history, memory, experience, conditioning – and forcing them upon a persona. The typical result is that the individual feels as if they’ve truly lived out that experience, and gains all of the associated baggage that comes with such an experience. It is not easy to live a life filled with events that you know for certain did not occur.

Patterning is dangerous. Addictive, a narcotic of the mind – it is easy to fall into the trap of believing that fabricated knowledge matches the truthful equivalent – easy to spend all of one’s time assimilating information, gathering skills, learning languages, becoming a master in a dozen – more – different crafts…

The mind can only take so much strain before it is overwhelmed; the story of the soul is a precious thing, and should not be polluted casually. For every lie the magician makes real, he is enforcing another pattern upon the tapestry of his spirit.
“Very easy process,” said Reed. “Okay. Okay – close your eyes, Michael.”

Imposing a fictional pattern upon a creature made solely of fictional patterns was even riskier than attempting it on an individual that contained some truth – luckily, they were also a little more expendable.

Michael closed his eyes.

“Do you feel the gun? The rifle – in your hands?”

“Yes, lord.”

Reed knew that the weapon was not loaded. He still felt uneasy.

There was a wave of the hands…

… And Michael Hadriguez had spent five years serving his country in the Australian Defence Force. Training had been during summer and had occurred in the Australian Capital Territory – he was a qualified engineer, and had qualified for a higher-rung technician job, but they saw officer material… saw an officer in the way he held himself, in his reserved loyalty, in his rational eyes, in his unflinching discipline. He remembered a hot day – easily forty-five degrees Celsius – where he and his squad had dressed in heavy fatigues and practiced with the automatic weapons – the Steyr was his favourite. It was sleek, felt natural – almost sexy in his hands. He had a girlfriend at home, and…

“Enough,” said Reed.

… And two nights before that, Lieutenant Hadriguez had learnt that she’d been fucking Garry. Garry was a mechanic from Melbourne, once Michael’s best mate – Mike and Garry they were known ha ha ha – and they’d have a few beers together, maybe watch the cricket, maybe go to a car show, catch up down at the pub and he was fucking her, performing the sacred alchemical rite upon his girlfriend – his fiancée, fiancée, she’d accepted and she was his fiancée – and oh yes Michael was very good with the weapons great with an assault rifle but not so bad with a handgun and it was relatively simple to…

“Enough!” roared Reed.

… Relatively simple to get the handgun and load it six little bullets very nice yes he told them he liked to shoot targets yes they thought ceramics but no flesh targets are good to him and Gary best mates yes and he shot him shot Garry twice, thrice, four times and shot him again and again and she screamed no I love you and he laughed and shot her and then himself and…

And Michael Hardaes had the Steyr in his hand and was slamming his head against the rifle. His eyes were wild, unfocused, and drool flowed freely from his mouth, surrounded his teeth, fangs, visible and glinting as he tried to gnaw at the weapon and smash his own brains out at the same time.

Reed wasted no time – he knew the word that would not be written, and said it.

As he said the word it was if a thousand moths had flown into the room. The air shimmered with unseen flight. There was a gnawing at the place, a gathering around the lights, that snuffed all sound and plunged the room into a state of stillness and silence. Reed felt bile rise in his throat, a bitter taste on the tip of his tongue. Every time the word was spoken aloud it lost a little of its power – still, there was enough there.

A clatter broke the silence – steel on tiles. The rifle had fallen, hit the tiles. Michael Hardaes was gone, the fiction unraveled, the creature destroyed.

Reed felt sick. He needed something, needed to sate some addiction, something that him in its grip… he knew what it was, but as was usual his mind went through the motions. Caffeine? This morning – coffee. Nicotine? Not for over a decade, since he’d given them up. Sex? Too long – not since the oath of abstinence, twenty, twenty-five years ago…

Magic.

Real magic.

He had just ruined a life.

It was insubstantial, more a semblance of a life – a photograph of a life – but he’d crushed it and it had felt good.

He’d said the word. Worked the pattern.

Reed slumped in his chair. His body went limp and his eyes rolled back as he savored the taste of black magic.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

THE FICTOGNOSTICS WANT THEIR BOOKSHOP BACK (Eleven-Thirteen)

ELEVEN

Snow slashed at the skies of Cardanea like an orchestra of white knives. Accompanying the snow, as was often the case, was the bitter, biting cold; as disoriented as Justin was, his cognitive abilities had recovered enough to scold him for not wearing a heavier jacket. His jeans were soaked, his hands rubbed raw.

When Justin breathed, steam rose from his mouth – as if he were a dragon. This did not make Justin feel better. He did not feel like a dragon.

Justin couldn’t stop shaking.

That didn’t seem much like something a dragon would suffer from.

Still, he was exhausted, and found it difficult summoning the willpower just to raise his head, let alone standing up. His head throbbed. It hurt to move his lips, they were so cold. Justin didn’t know how long he’d lain there, or even how long he’d been conscious.

There was, in the distance, a great creaking sound – like an avalanche born of steel and rust. Justin felt a little panicked, but remained where he was – very still. A sharp tang hit his nostrils – he saw smoke through the trees.

Fire…?

No. Still there was the groaning, the shrill screaming of metal, the broken sounds of something mechanical moving through the snow. Something heavy. Justin heard the clankclankclank of gears against gears, felt the hit of adrenaline warm his body. Adrenaline spiked with fear.

The smell got stronger. The sounds got louder. Justin coughed weakly, not bothering to cover with his hand. In a surge of bravery, he sat up suddenly. Less than half a kilometer in front of him rumbled the beast, edging closer and closer…

He hadn’t gotten more than a glimpse of it, but what he did see inspired enough terror. Easily twelve feet tall – a giant – and made, as assumed, of battered iron or steel. Pipes, like the horns of the devil, spat black smog into the clear sky. A giant made of frosted grey, its face marked by a red and orange war-mask, eyes leering, watching, tracking… it was more demon than machine, and it was edging closer.

Closer.

It had arms, yes, but Justin had read enough trashy science fiction to realize that they functioned as some kind of automatic chain-gun; he felt, rather than heard, the whirring, the clicking, of bullets and bullets and bullets –

“Oh,” said Justin.

He scrambled. He ran. It was a deeply courageous act. As he ran, he saw white, stumbled, ran as fast as he could. It was snowing in Cardanea. That did not help. He slipped, slid, fell, chased by the creature of the mask…

“Jade,” said Justin.

He knew he’d be safe if he could reach the trees. If only it wasn’t so damn cold! If only his head didn’t hurt, if only he was fitter, if only he’d worn something more suitable… the trees were close.

Closer.

He heard the whirring, knew it for real, heard it with his goddamn ears. There was a flash of nothing, and dark red fell upon the pure white. Stumbled, fell, and couldn’t get up. He saw his leg, mangled by blazing iron; a misshapen thing burst right open by the bullets. There was a little pain – like stubbing your toe – but nothing else. Despair, perhaps, but the pain was minimal…

Oh, he hurt. He screamed. He wept and he begged. But there was no pain.

“RETAIL RECOMMENDED PRICE US$16.99 (CAN $18.75) AU$29.95,” said the machine,
hovering over Justin. He knew the beast would enjoy this, would savor it…

There was a crack – it split the air like a gunshot.

Like a gunshot.

Justin saw the men rise, dressed in heavy white, from the snow. They were once invisible – still only blurs upon the landscape, silver firearms the only giveaway. Another crack. Another. The machine whirred.

ClankclankBOOMclankBOOMBOOMclunkclunk –

Saved by the Cardanean knights, bullets whirring through the iron – a considerable lack of ricochets which Justin was quite thankful for – Justin tried to pull his meager body away from the machine. He failed. Soon, however, the masked beast toppled, falling to the side with a marvelous crash.

A pallid soldier moved towards Justin. “Blasted leg,” said the man, nodding to another. “You’re going to be alright, I think, not that you deserve it – stupid, isn’t it, messing around out here? We’ll take you home, fix you up…” Justin could only see her eyes, the face covered with the white mask. It reminded him of surgical attire – he was bleeding…

“Got a name?” asked another soldier, moving to pick Justin up by the arms.

“I’m – I’m Reed’s assistant, Justin, I work, at the bookshop, I mean I work at the bookshop,” said Justin, very aware that he was raving. Still, he knew he couldn’t stop. “Can you get me back – back to the shop? Reed’ll be, he’ll be angry, dock my pay…”

“Reed?” he saw the medic raise an eyebrow. “Wouldn’t be talking about Archivist King Reed, would it, Mike?”

“Wouldn’t have an idea,” replied the soldier named Mike. “Charlene, don’t think he’s from around here, though. Seems unlikely. Clothing wasn’t made for snow. If he’s a visitor, he’ll need to go through the Lord Archivist regardless…”

“Yeah,” said Charlene. “Tssk. Denim. Impractical.”

“Justin,” said Justin. “My name is Justin!”

The soldiers exchanged glances. Mike gave orders to the half-dozen others; they were to continue the patrol.

“You hungry, Justin?” he asked, kindly. “We’ve got the finest pancakes you’ll ever taste.”

“So hungry pancakes yes,” said Justin.

TWELVE

Soror Twist passed the fictional Reed the Bookseller as if he wasn’t there at all. She found the real Reed sitting in the kitchen, shaking, sipping black coffee. Twist knew that he wanted her to think that he was reading the newspaper, but they both know that he couldn’t. He was too frazzled.

A mop and bucket sat next to him. The bucket read PROPERTY OF REED’S BOOKS but if it was alive, it kept silent. Reed had mopped up the fictoplasm as best he could, but it would take months of reweaving the reality of the place before the black would fully fade. The blood of sorcerers was sticky stuff indeed.

“Twist,” said Reed, managing a smile. “Good of you to come. Cherry with you…?”

“She’s being massaged, pampered and given very thorough counseling in one of Sunsorta’s finest health resorts,” said Twist. “That’s why I’m late, sorry. I’ve liquidated everything Vic owned, too. We’ve got a million or so in worthless,” she said, meaning cash, “And a Babilu shard and a half otherwise. Don’t know what he did with those blasting rods you set him up with, but they’re gone. All his other talismanic gear has gone. It’s all vanished.”

Reed nodded, staring into his coffee. They knew what that meant.

“They didn’t know what the real stuff is,” said Reed. “Left the worthless books. Good for us, I suppose… what do you mean, ‘half a Babilu’?”

Twist sighed. Her magnificent red hair shimmered accordingly. “He’d had a thing for composing, apparently,” she said, “Music. We’ve got a Babilu shard, but it’s written in notes and staves. I can’t understand it.”

“Ah,” said Reed. “Always the tricky bastard, wasn’t he…?”

“Yeah,” said Twist.

There was a silence in the kitchen.

“Should I try and get the body to Blackwater? Did he mention anything about wanting to be buried with the world? Tradition and so forth?”

“No,” said Twist. “He was adamant about that. He wanted a traditional funeral, in the normal sense. Buried – tombstone - the lot. Apparently his Mum doesn’t know that he was into all the scary fiction shit… hah, oh, we had a laugh about that one.”
Twist took Frater Vic’s body and five Babilu shards – more wealth than most sorcerers would own in their lifetime - leaving Vic’s musical piece with Reed. Before she left, she asked to see Justin.

“Ah,” said Twist. “Got a fictional backup?”

“Not yet,” sighed Reed. “There’s a lot to do today. Maybe he’ll be easy enough to find. Still not sure what exactly triggered the escape…”

“Might’ve been the pancakes,” said Twist wryly, having noticed that the kitchen was full of empty bottles labeled CARDANEAN SYRUP COMPANY.

“Maybe,” said Reed, but he didn’t elaborate.

THIRTEEN

It had taken an hour for the two soldiers to carry Justin back to Archival City. They’d cleansed his wound as best they could, removed the bullets, and fed Justin the clear sap that would plunge him into a deep sleep.

Before Justin met a second unconsciousness, he saw the outskirts of Archival City. It seemed as if most things in Cardanea could be seen only in half-taken glimpses or rushed glances – Justin saw the great gun-towers, made of rusting iron, defending the city. There were at least half a dozen of them, built upon the tall stone and metal walls, and they surrounded the entire capital.

The clouds above Archival City were a dark grey, the colour of gravel, and it soon began to rain. Justin remembered feeling the lashes of freezing rain before the sap took hold and he fell into sleep.