Gotta Ride, Part 5: 300+ Fezzari Miles Later*

Coyote Creek Trail

There is a section of my favorite bike trail, a sinuous stretch that winds between ancient trees, that is far enough from picnic spots that there is little foot traffic or large family bicycle outings. Along that stretch, I am occasionally able to flout the local speed limit and really have fun. Or to be precise, a different kind of fun, because it fills my heart with gladness to see a whole family out there enjoying the air and the trees and some of the good things about life.

And now there are bike helmets for kids that are awesome. I saw a young girl with a unicorn lid today that was just plain cool. I could be tempted, is all I’m saying. I’m never going to grumble about having to slow down for groups like that; in ten years I’ll be the one getting in the way of the girl who has eschewed her unicorn for an aero helmet. Hakuna-matata, or something like that.

But I digress.

I am thankful for the quieter stretches, on this trail and elsewhere, over which I can put my head down a little bit, and see what I can do. The stretch on Coyote Creek Trail was always one of my favorites, but then I got the new bike. The Fezzari Empire changes things in ways I could never have imagined.

The Coyote Creek segment is flat by bicyclist standards, but it rolls a bit, with rises that seem gentler than they used to, and descents that seem more fun than ever. Ascending, rather than drop down a couple of gears and pedal enough to preserve some of my momentum, I’m more inclined now to stand up and mash, the challenge to never break my cadence as I attack the slope. Often now I’m going faster when I get to the top of these minor obstacles and my heart is pumping harder and I feel good.

Then through the twists and turns, and as confidence increases (see Rule 64) I find myself slicing through the corners, my bicycle eager to carve a path as my tires hiss over the pavement and my shirt ripples with the wind. It is a singularly awesome moment.

I mentioned somewhere in Part 4 that the new bike loves to turn. In fact, it is much like the little two-seat sports car that is buried under bike stuff in my garage. Quick, twitchy, and communicative, if a little more demanding and rougher than my good ol’ Giant commuter bike. The Fezzari is talking to me all the time, and listening as well. And if I don’t pay attention, things go astray much more quickly than when I am on my other bike. Kind of like my storytelling.

Perhaps now is the time to mention, for people who don’t know me, that when I speak of my recent triumphs on my new bicycle, that the successes are relative. I will not be competing in the Tour de France any time soon; I am a gradually-less-overweight guy with skinny little legs who has earned his long white beard. Most of the Spandex Crowd** still passes me. (Hehe… most.) I’m probably not saying anything here that experienced cyclists don’t already know. But maybe the experienced cyclists out there have forgotten just how awesome getting on a good bike and riding really is. And that joy is what I’m here to tell you about.

On the subject of communication with a bike: Never has a chain lube given such instantaneous gratification before. I had not considered that the repair stand I owned would not work on a bike with a through-axle, and I suddenly found myself scrounging. It was 250 miles before I did the first cleaning/lube (factory chain lube is supposed to last a while… right?) and I had identified a rumbling feeling coming through my cranks. I thought it might be an alignment problem with my fancy derailleur, but nope, after routine chain maintenance it was like I was pedaling a cloud. A badass cloud. The sound of the tires actually rises and falls with my pedaling cadence. Zhoosh-zhoosh-zhoosh.

Along the Guadalupe River Trail there is a brief, very steep slope up from the river to the top of the embankment. The other day I stood up and mashed, increasing torque on the pedals by pulling upward on the handlebars. The front wheel was lifting off the ground as I pushed up the slope, and I leaned forward to put more of my weight over that wheel.

Like a real goddam cyclist. For the rest of that outing, my longest single ride ever, I was taking it easy to conserve energy, especially while fighting a fierce headwind for the first half, but for the few uphill bits I turned into a maniac.

How does my Fezzari compare to a Trek or Specialized with similar components? Honestly I have no idea. Fezzari is a smaller outfit out of Utah, and they make a big deal of their production techniques. The marketing copy sounds convincing, anyway, and there are some good reviews. And for a bike with the same components I’d be out at least another $2000 to go with the big name. Probably more. That’s a lot of dollars. And the water I carry weighs more than the frame does.

Someday in the future I will haul my pedals down to visit my roadie friends in San Diego, and try not to destroy their gear as we ride about more slowly than they are accustomed to. Maybe then I can do a comparison. In the meantime, I can only gush about the game-changer I’m riding now.

The Fezzari folk are awfully friendly as well, although I think this road bike is new for them. In a couple of cases I feel a bit like a beta tester — a couple of conversations with their staff were a little confused, the assembly instructions didn’t apply to this bike at some points, and the brace for the seat post needs a little design work. The front derailleur was not adjusted properly when it arrived, but they may have been rushing because I was pestering them with “is it ready yet?” messages every seven minutes and they just wanted to give an excitable old man his bike.

Would I recommend the Fezzari Empire to other cyclists? Oh, heck yeah. Am I the guy other cyclists should be taking advice from? Only if you love to ride.

_____

* As well as a fair number of miles on my old Giant.
** The term is not to disparage; I will be a member of this crowd soon enough.

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In Parting, a Nod to Operation Warp Speed

If you’re not familiar with the name, “Operation Warp Speed” was what the Trump administration dubbed its all-out blitz to partner with the pharmaceutical industry to create a coronavirus vaccine. And historically, even given the head start we had working on other similar vaccines, OWS has been a pretty monumental success.

Had this been part of Trump’s coronavirus response, rather than the entire response, we might actually be (guardedly, with qualifiers) saying nice things about our president right now. Had our president not amply demonstrated that his only interest in the vaccine was to be a feather in his cap to get him reelected, we might be a little more inclined to give credit where due.

But despite the fact that Donnie has once again demonstrated that he doesn’t care whether people live or die, he did do this one thing right, if perhaps for the wrong reason.

Goodbye, Donnie. I hope your prison tweets fracture the Republican Party beyond repair to give room for a new ethical conservative voice to rise. But thank you for Operation Warp Speed. Perhaps it will come in time to save a few of the people you would otherwise have killed.

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Left Turn at the Door Lock

For NaNoWriMo this year I am writing a novella that takes place in the universe I created for a series of short stories I wrote a while back. It is Science Fiction, with a mild Golden-Age feel, that is very character-centric. It is about a group of people, “spacers”, who are outcasts and misfits, socially awkward to the point of debilitation, and therefore ideal space explorers.

I have been stumped on a few other short story attempts in that universe, and I realized that the story I was trying to put together just didn’t fit in the mold of the previous stories. The ideas were more complex, and there was more actual action.

So I’ve been cranking away on a Novella, and I have reached the following situation: A bunch of people are on a vast spaceship. They occupy less than a tenth of the available space, but they are all crammed together. There are factions that hate each other, there is a woman who makes a habit of provoking those around her — and sleeping with them, too. There will soon be a mysterious stranger — extra-mysterious, since they are hurtling through the vast emptiness of space at the time. Some people on the ship are less surprised at his appearance than others.

I had just got to a part where the elderly female main character is learning about the privacy rules on the ship and the “unbeatable” lock that is on the door to her berth, when I realized something. This is unequivocally the setup for a mystery story.

It would be fun to write a mystery, I think, but there’s a catch. Mysteries are tricky. Mystery novels are much more of an interactive read than most genres, as the reader assumes the role of a detective following the same clues as the detective in the story. This leads to an important contract I have written about before: the author cannot withhold facts from the detective reading the story at home; the reader has to have access to all the information. This leads to a good mystery writer disguising (but not withholding) important clues and using misdirection, but in the end it has to all hold together, simultaneously surprising the reader, impressing them with the ingenuity of the detective in the story, and not pissing them off.

Which means planning. It means knowing who did what when, and who saw them do it. It means, for instance, knowing whether anyone besides the captain of our giant ship can override the door locks, or how control of those locks is transferred if the captain is unable to fulfill his duties. It means coming up with what the cause of death really was, what it appeared to be, and why it’s impossible that anyone could have done it, even while almost everyone on the ship had a reason to want to do it.

That’s a lot of work for NaNoWriMo. Work I’m simply not going to do.

But… that doesn’t mean I can’t write a bad mystery story, one that violates the mystery contract. It just means that the result, even if I do manage to keep the novella scope and actually finish a draft this month, will be less of a draft and more of a sketch, while I figure out all that stuff as I go along. When that process is done, I would then still need to go back and turn it into and actual mystery story.

Will I try to write a mystery? Tune in next time to find out!

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It Sells Itself

Centrum vitamins and Red Bull should combine to make an energy drink aimed at seniors. The name: Fossil Fuel.

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The Foundation Trilogy

This is a literary review episode, but it’s gong to take a while to get to the actual review.

We are a week into November. Most years by this time I would have dumped upon you all, faithful readers, a long and maybe-not-so-good pile of prose. It’s NaNoWriMo, after all, and true to form, this year on November 1st I produced a lot of words. But before I share those words with you, I want to provide a little context.

Back when I was a regular at Piker Press, I wrote a series of stories that had a golden-age vibe. The first story was called “Tin Can”, and the following stories fall into what I call the Tincaniverse. My project this month is a novella in that space. Ultimately I’d like to iron out some inconsistencies and publish the bunch together.

A classic example of a series of smaller stories coalescing into a single grander story is the Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov. If I’m planning to pull off the same stunt, best to study from the master.

Flashback! Once, on a muggy afternoon in a Kansas dormitory, I heard Jim Gunn say something like, “You can’t build a story just on dialog, although Asimov wrote a lot of stories like that.” By the tone of his voice, I don’t think he was revering Asimov’s dialectical skills.

So, the Foundation Trilogy. I found an inexpensive download of the trilogy as a single purchase and opened it up on my glowing screen. First, an entertaining intro by Asimov, written long after the trilogy was originally published, but before Foundation’s Edge (the first follow-up novel) was published, maybe twenty years later.

In that intro, I was extraordinarily pleased to read Asimov referring to Jim Gunn by name, as Isaac was searching for the proper voice for the new work in that universe.

Then there was another copy of the same essay, and finally the stories themselves. It was obviously an uncritical optical scan of a print version, as every use of the word ‘torn’ was turned into ‘tom’, and so forth. A few hours of an intern’s time could have cleared most of that up, but then I might have had to pay more than three dollars.

Anyway, the stories.

I think the most important thing to know is that Asimov wasn’t really a fiction writer, he was a puzzle writer. In much of his fiction, his characters are faced with a puzzle they must work out. The first stories in the Foundation series are very simply Men Talking and Figuring Shit Out. Occasionally a Man will travel to another place to talk to other Men and figure shit out.

Lest I disparage too greatly, it is cool that there is a whole history of the universe based on cleverness. The heroes in this story win by being smarter than their rivals.

But holy crap there’s a lot of yapping. And a lot of men. Men yapping with other men. And through the course of the entire dang series there are exactly two significant female characters, and at least judged relatively, the two women are by far the most active and interesting characters in the whole goddam trilogy.

The “trilogy” is really just the convenient container for a series of short stories and a couple of novellas. So now I’m trying to put a novella into my world of short stories. What have I learned from that example?

Not much, to be honest. I loved the Foundation Trilogy when I was a kid, but it hasn’t matured with me. But I do know that if you keep a steady arc you can build a large story out of a series of smaller stories.

But to do that you need an anchor. In Foundation there is a core component of the stories, an idea called psychohistory. Psychohistory allowed that with a large enough populace you could predict its response to stimulus, and thus guide humanity. Or oppress. One of my previous NaNoWriMo efforts was called “Math House” as was a direct response to that idea, set in a world where statistics were weaponized — and when math is outlawed, only outlaws do math.

In the Tin Can stories, the anchor is a little softer, a little deeper, a little more human. I just have to remember it with every sentence I write.

I think Apple recently announced they were going to produce a version of the Foundation Trilogy. Or maybe it was Amazon, or whoever. You can look it up if you care. Whoever it was that picked up that project, I wish them luck. And I hope they do not feel too bound by the source material. Although guys talking in a room is not that expensive to shoot.

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