Et in Arcadia Ego

Nicolas_Poussin_-_Et_in_Arcadia_ego_(deuxième_version)I live in a trailer park next to a sprawling cemetery. When the zombie apocalypse goes down, I’ll be relying on my better-armed neighbors on the north side of the park to slow the onslaught while my sweetie and I escape. On a recent stroll through that cemetery recently, I noticed a few things, and it got me to thinking more about what I would want etched in stone above the small patch of real estate reserved in my name that no one was ever allowed to use for any productive purpose.

I passed one monument, dark marble, with text in a script I was unsure of. Fun and curly letters, but I could tell it was a poem. In my imagination, I was looking at a verse from beyond the grave, an insight into the nature of the afterlife.

Soon after I passed an equally magnificent monument etched with the words “We will miss you.” Frankly, this inscription annoyed me. Clearly this message is not intended for the rotting corpse in the ground; this is a resolution by those still above-ground to honor the dead so that when their time comes, perhaps they will be remembered as well. If the spirit interred therein could read the words, it could also discern the truth of them.

I think, perhaps, my most lasting published words will be what’s carved in the stone over the patch of lawn my corpse commands. The title of this episode refers to a painting I once saw in the Louvre, and while scholars and people who know latin may disagree, my simple, naïve interpretation of the scene, where people are reading the words on the stone is, “I used to live here, too,” or in modern lingo, “I had a life, love, passions and fears, just like you. And now here I am.” An entirely appropriate memento mori from dead to the living. (Scholars go on about death existing even in utopia and shit like that. I respect scholars, and maybe the painter was over-thinking things, but my answer is better.)

A brief aside for art criticism: It’s funny, in my recollection of the scene, how small the people were, dwarfed by the world around them. The image in my head is, apparently, a departure from the actual work. Perhaps there was another pastoral scene nearby in the museum that tied itself to the same memory. And researching the thing on wikipedia now, I’m a lot less impressed. Too much nearsightedness and pointing.

So what will my stone say, should I even rate such a monument? It depends on circumstances, but I think the message must come from me. Don’t carve messages to me in the stone; I won’t be able to read them.

For your reading pleasure I have a few modest candidates here. It’s good to plan your last words in advance.

The first is dependent on the manner of my demise:

Here lies Jerry
Run over by an asshole
rushing the red light.
Was that you?

Simple honesty can be compelling:

I would have preferred
to continue living
but apparently my opinion
doesn’t matter

Which is a variation of:
dang

Then again, being dead, maybe you know something your readers don’t. Vague prophecy is popular in some circles, and hey, it keeps you in the game, at least until five years after the big event:

On August 3rd
In the fourth year after the
GRAND UNMAKING
Return here when the bloated
reddened sun touches the
western horizon.
I’ll have a message for you.

Or perhaps the mystical powers of the departed can be put to more mundane use:

Thanks for visiting,
but I’m pretty sure you left your oven on.

In a similar vein, if Arnold Schwarzenegger’s headstone does not say the following, I demand a full inquiry:

I’LL BE BACK

Finally, it might be my last chance to advertise:

Hey! Check out my story
in the July 2006 issue of
Fantasy and Science Fiction

It’s a fun game, thinking about what your final, enduring words might be. And although some of these ideas are silly, that’s all right. In fact, it’s better than all right. Dispense with the usual platitudes and seize your chance to shape how you will be thought of long after anyone who knew you is gone. And maybe make some stranger’s day while you’re at it.

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Wrath of Athena

Before we get to the story, let me tell you a little about the author, Dale Cozort. He is part of a loose confederation of writers I have dubbed the “Kansas Bunch”, of which I am a member, though none of the others have adopted that name. Dale is unusual in our group, because he comes, gets advice, ignores a lot of it, and publishes his damn books. There are other published writers in the Kansas Bunch, some even famous or becoming so. But Dale is special in that regard. He plugs away, doing what he loves. He’s a very blue-collar sort of writer. No pretentious airs, just a story he feels good about.

So while I usually refer to authors by their last name in these little blurbs, Dale is “Dale” to me.

“Doing what he loves” means, for Dale, mashing different parts of history together to see what happens. Some of his stories might be called alternate histories, but most of his work is more like bizarro history, where space and time twist to rub cultures together that should have no business with one another. Most of his stories lean toward action/adventure, but now and then he’ll take a break and have a little fun.

Which brings us to Wrath of Athena: A Snapshot Novella. A petting zoo with a pair of talking dinosaurs (that may or may not have been won off some Nazis in a card game) is running into trouble in twenty-million-year-ago Madagascar (or, as I would call it if I lived there, Lemurpalooza). A breeding pair of talking dinosaurs, in fact, threatening disaster for the lemur-based ecology.

The setting is a little complicated, but pure Dale. Some alien intelligence we have no hope of understanding has been taking “snapshots” of parts of Earth at different times throughout history. So there’s 1942 Europe, 1950’s California, ancient Madagascar, and on and on, sliced out of reality, copied exactly including the people, and linked to each other through portals. Why do the mysterious intelligences do this? So Dale can have fun, that’s why.

This story unfolds like a whodunnit, and manages to keep that contract with the readers pretty well. The bad guys’ scheme is convoluted enough to keep readers guessing. Our main character is the official shit-shoveler of the traveling zoo, but he has some other skills as well. Dale has fun with stereotypes, and this gives the story a 1950’s-ish feel. Short-tempered redhead, insufferable brat, lecherous boss, and so forth.

Our shit-shoveling narrator talks like a shit-shoveler, and his voice is comfortable and honest. When he talks about his relationship with Athena you can nod and say, “I feel you, bud.” He’s playing catch-up much of the time, but he’s used to that.

Is it good?. I enjoyed it. It’s a light read, and it moves right along. I was about to say that I don’t see Hollywood banging down Dale’s door for screenplay rights for this one, but then I hesitated. It’s about the right length for a screenplay and… talking dinosaurs? Lemurpalooza? Nazis and hot redheads? What’s not to like? CALL THE MONEY PEOPLE! I’m already casting Bruce Campbell as the shit-shoveler.

Note: if you use the above links to buy this book (or an amazingly ugly watch), I get a kickback.

Another Reason Mexican Television is Awesome

I’m in a local cantina and on the TV there’s some sort of quiz show happening. When the contestants get the answer wrong they get a pie in the face. When they get it right, they get a generous shot of tequila.

“Tequila!” the teammates of the most recent correct answer shouted in unison. Good times.

Knives Episode 19 Released!

It seems like someone — or something — is trying to prevent our friends from reaching the fortress at Brewer’s Ford. The fort means different things to each of the companions — to Elena it represents safety; Katherine may be walking to a dungeon cell and the gallows. Martin is not a big fan of walls, but considering what’s out here trying to kill them, he’s willing to chance it for a while.

In a way this episode is its own biography, as it has seen its share of resistance as well. Chapter 19 has gone through several metamorphoses as it has moved closer to the big time, with whole sections inserted only to be removed again. Until a very short time ago I had moved much of what I planned to put into chapter 20 into this chapter as well, but this chapter was getting huge and I don’t want to hold back on the descriptions of what happens next. (As I’ve hinted before, episode 20 is a biggie.) So ultimately this episode is a little underweight, but has plenty going on to make it worthwhile. I hope I haven’t overworked the chapter, but it reads pretty well to me.

Thanks once more to all the patrons!

19: The Crossing

Starmind: The Rest of It

Talk talk talk sex escape talk talk hippies lecture drugs talk talk talking while dong things end.

To expand on that a bit:

Talk, talk, talk. There is a sizable chunk of Dave Van Arnam’s Starmind that takes place in a single room, with most of the characters unable to move. There’s just talking. Then the Tylerbody (the shorthand used for the three personalities all sharing one body) bangs the hot nurse (with Joe at the controls; Jailyn has a bit of trouble with this part), and then literally minutes later is rescued from the clutches of the Evil Dr. Brian.

Tylerbody blinks Tylereyes and whistles with Tylerlips. It is a creative solution to the impossibility of finding an adequate pronoun for the multimind. Creative, perhaps, but not very good. Later, when the personalities experience moments of great union, THEY see through THEIR eyes and learn about THEMSELF. I found MYSELF glancing ahead to see how long these all-cap pronouns were going to last.

There are some fun parts along the way — for instance the book, written in 1969, credits the Beatles’ music from the 1980’s (their ‘middle years’) with helping to spark a global cultural revolution. Alas, that revolution petered out after global biological warfare killed half the population of Earth, but the country folk (or as I call them, ‘hippies’) have been carrying on.

Meanwhile, up in space, the giant asteroids that have been outfitted with pseudogravitic multiwave generators haven’t up to this point accomplished much except cost a lot and suck down gigantic amounts of power. Think of them as super-huge microwave ovens that don’t really heat things up very well. But as the three minds become more integrated they realize something: Those microwave ovens will work better than anyone ever imagined, if only the right person were to stick THEIR head in it. So THEY do. And it’s awesome.

And thus mankind is given the stars, as long as they can construct just the right three-brained people to stick their heads in the microwaves. And, as no other intelligence has come up with the idea of merging people’s brains and sticking them in gigantic, inefficient, microwave ovens, mankind goes on to rule the galaxy. But that, we are told, is another story. Maybe one without so much talking in it.

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Starmind: Chapters 3 and 4

It’s not often I find a novel where every damn chapter is worthy of comment. Starmind, by Dave Van Arnam, turns out to be one of those. Not because it’s good, oh no, not all all.

When last we left this little yarn, I was wondering what possible excuse the author could find for medical professionals to even want to try to put the halves of two different people’s brains into one body.

Dr. Brian pretty much says he just wants to see what will happen. There’s a first time for everything, after all.

Yeah, Dr. Brian. The Brain surgeon. I have stopped correcting myself as I read. Nascent writers out there, if for some reason you want to call your guy Dr. Brain, just do it. No need to be coy. (Or better yet, call him Dr. Mtumbo.)

At this time, there are six characters of note. Inside the head, there are two men and one woman (although one of the men is more of an emotive blob). Outside the head, there are also two men and one woman. Both women are attractive, in nonspecific ways. Only one of the men has been described at all.

In chapter three, two of the three men capable of this sort of thought decide it might be kinda cool to have their brains installed in a hot female body. Both women find the idea of being installed in a man’s body to be loathsome. So… 1969.

On the second page of chapter three I laughed more than once. The dialog! Holy crap!

Here’s a choice nugget — the doctor, talking to the reporter:

I will not speculate on any emotional ties that might exist between you and Miss Rost, but it is obvious that your concern runs deeper than I, as a medical researcher and practitioner, dare to take cognizance of.

He better not dare to take cognizance of it! Or this gem three tiresome paragraphs later, as Parker, the reporter, continues his stilted verbal sparring with Dr. Brain Brian:

I am a professional in my own field, as you are in yours, doctor; and in my case it means I know how to research those necessary background facts that make conversations such as this more meaningful than the customary exchange of platitudinous awarenesses of each other’s position.

Both those quotes are parts of much longer paragraphs. Despite this unbearable verbal mass, they do little more than exchange platitudinous awarenesses of each other’s position, along with a heapin’ helpin’ of as-you-know-Bobs. The reporter, for instance, tells the brian brain surgeon that it has been eleven years since the first successful brain transplant.

But I will say this: although there are some horrible moments in the discourse between the characters inside the head, it is way better that the interactions outside the head. At lest so far; the head occupants aren’t to a stage where they can engage in stilted verbal exchanges. Though there are plenty of problems inside the cranium, as well. Jailyn is witness to one of Joe’s sex fantasies, then exercises her will to make it stop. She apparently has none of her own. Sex, it seems, is something men want and women allocate.

There’s a nice twist, though, as the “simple” thoughts of the Idiot Adonis unexpectedly rise from the previously-unmentioned surviving lower parts of his brain and provide an emotional foundation for the two intellects who discover themselves so intimately connected. In the hands of a skilled writer, that might make the premise of a great story. I could picture a one-act play based on that theme.

Alas, we are not in the hands of a skilled writer, my friends. Yet still I read on, finding comedy where none was intended, hoping the pretty nurse kicks her boss of irrelevant appearance in the balls, knowing she won’t. The mystery of “why would anyone do something so stupid” has been answered with a “why not?” and on we go. The next question is: how will the author contrive to expose this odd trio to pseudogravitic multiwaves? And will he manage that before the ridiculous dialog slips from funny to tiresome?

Stay tuned, dear readers, for the answers to these burning questions!

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Starmind

I found a battered old paperback in a box I packed up back in 2004, as I was preparing for the Homeless Tour. It was not with other books; it was jumbled with stuff that had come from my desk in my previous job. Starmind, it’s called, by Dave Van Arnam. It didn’t look even remotely familiar. The crappy copy on the back cover, circa 1969, did not stir any recollections.

The cover carries the tagline, “What ships can be launched on the far seas of the mind?”

I have now read the first two chapters, and I think that’s enough for me to stop and write a brief commentary. You don’t have to thank me; it’s what I do.

In chapter one, we meet three people and a technology. The three people are: a super-studly super-rich super-idiot, a super-clever super-sexy super-rich woman, and a super-intuitive super-smart engineer. The engineer is taking care of one of the massive pseudogravitic multiwave generators humanity has constructed out in space. Multiwave is… well, that’s not clear yet, but the Boss of Earth has made a huge commitment to the technology, with the hope of achieving faster-than-light travel. The engineer (Joe) also has a broken back, which gives him a chance to muse about how amazing it was that modern microsurgery can even repair nerves.

First note: I don’t care how far away the year 2057 might seem when you’re writing a story, there’s no need to be so specific. There’s no need to mention that the engineer’s dad was born in 1997. There’s no need to put dates on medical breakthroughs.

Anyway, chapter two (uh, this is a spoiler, but it’s only chapter two so get over it) comes along and all three of our main people are killed. One is burned to a crisp in a spaceship explosion, one is baked by multiwaves, and one simply falls to his death.

But get this: half of super-clever Jailyn’s brain was preserved, and half of super-intuitive Joe’s brain was also put into deep-freeze. And poor, idiot adonis Benjy is still completely intact, except his brain was destroyed in the fall.

So that’s where I’m at in this story, but what comes next is pretty obvious. Someone, for some mind-boggling reason, is going to decide it’s a good idea to put the two half-brains together in Benjy’s head. Pseudogravitic multiwaves will get into the mix, and a transhuman will be created. One whose mind, I might guess, will hold far seas upon which ships might travel. Or something like that.

The writing really isn’t all that good, I’m afraid; at points the dialog is downright odd. Van Arman invented a reporter as a foil for the Jailyn’s exposition in chapter one, and the conversation between the two doesn’t really resemble human conversation. “Trumped!” the reporter shouts once.

Good or not, I’m reading on! I must learn the logic that will be used to even consider putting two halves of different brains in the same body, and why anyone would think the outcome would be other than a horribly deranged monstrosity not even capable of governing the body they occupy. But someone’s going to suggest it, and others are going to approve.

Unless… maybe the multiwaves are behind the whole thing…

With that in mind, consider the way the book reached me, here in 2016. Perhaps there are larger, subtler forces at work. Maybe the multiwaves put the book in that box. If that’s the case, the fate of the world may hinge on me finishing this book.

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