Bowie Thoughts

Ziggy-Stardust-ziggy-stardust-8526918-497-584By now pretty much everything there is to be said about David Bowie has been, but sometimes sorrow, like wine, needs a little time to mature. David Bowie was never my favorite musician, and some of his songs don’t appeal to me much at all. Others, well…

I got Ziggy Stardust on cassette in the Safeway in Socorro, New Mexico, and while I’d heard plenty of Bowie before, and I’d even heard some of the songs on that album, I’d never immersed myself in his music the way I did as I played that tape at high volume while I drove across the desert. Big, buzzy guitars, lyrics that didn’t quite make sense in a poetic sort of way, all wrapped up in showmanship.

Many years later, I wrote a story that opens with a man in a spaceship, floating far above the world, a story I called “Tin Can.” Was I thinking of “Space Oddity” as I wrote it? Not really. But the song was there, part of my science fiction education, a story about loneliness as much as anything else. It’s a vibe that you can find in most of my favorite stories. There’s a little bit of Major Tom in all my favorite heroes.

My guilty pleasure: “China Girl”. I don’t hear that one mentioned in the eulogies that have sprouted up everywhere. Perhaps it just landed at the right time in my life, or perhaps I’m the only one on Earth with the taste and sophistication to appreciate it. That song’s kissin’ cousin, “Let’s Dance,” really doesn’t do much for me.

Recently, semi-accidentally, my sweetie and I watched Labyrinth. It’s… not very good. It sounds like all the dialog was re-recorded in the studio and without any regard for the environment the action was taking place in. Mr. Bowie, well, he does not succeed in rescuing the show. But I’m glad I watched. It was the last time I will experience David Bowie without the knowledge that he is gone, without wondering what he might do next.

And so we move on, flying through space, looking for something, not sure what, that was here a minute ago but doesn’t seem to be where we left it. That’s the hole we didn’t even know David Bowie was filling. He’s still here, of course, but everything he did is now tinged a little blue.


Facts Are Overrated

I’ve been working on a story that takes place in the Tincaniverse. It can be hard sometimes to get the balance between explaining enough for readers unfamiliar with the previous stories without becoming repetitious for those who’ve been following along. Perhaps I should go back and read I, Robot again to see when Asimov stopped listing the three laws of robotics in each story. Now those three laws are such a part of the landscape that other writers invoke them as well.

While that is an issue I face every time, this particular story had another challenge. The story represents a jump in time and space, and a lot has happened to set up the situation. I found that the story was growing as I tried to work in quite a bit of history. The events have been mentioned in previous stories, but there are a lot of details that need clarification before the new story works. More details than I realized when I started. So there I was, several pages in, and the characters were getting lost among all these facts.

All these facts are part of the larger story, however, things I’d like to tell eventually. The answer, I think, is to write a separate story that takes place before the one I was working on, that presents some of this information without being cumbersome. The catch is that for the first time it will really matter what order people read the different stories in. To understand the context of the second one, you will have to have read the first. I’ll try to minimize the requirement, but in the end I think there’s no getting around the fact that some time in the next few episodes the landscape the stories take place in will just be too complicated. Already I think knowing some of the history makes the stories more enjoyable, but I’m reasonably sure background info is not required yet.

On the Cover at Piker Press

My short story “The Tourist” is on the cover of the Christmas issue over at Piker Press. The story takes place in the world first started with my story “Tin Can“, which appeared over there some time back. Depending on how you count things, this is either the fifth or seventh entry in the series. (There are a couple of stories that take place in the asteroid belt that have a similar voice but which aren’t — yet — connected in any concrete manner.)

Hats off as well to Sand Pilarski for an illustration that really fits the piece. It’s simple, but it really works for me.

I just reread the story, and while I like it quite a lot, there are a couple of places when I needed to pause for a moment, to allow the reader to react before being swept away in the ensuing events. One of those is the second paragraph. I may ask the Piker editors if I can sneak in another sentence there. There are also a couple of sentences I worked really hard on, that present pretty complex ideas, that get a little lost. (How many times did I go over the story? A hundred? I suppose there will always be something that could be made a little bit better.) Overall, though, it’s a not a bad read, if I do say so myself.

This also marks the third anniversary of my Piker Press debut, the story “The Cowboy God” which was on the cover of the Christmas issue in 2004. That debut was a big deal for me, my first real publication. I was in Moravia at the time, unable to get online, and I was going nearly crazy trying to make sure everything had come out right. A lot has happened in the last three years, and I will be forever grateful to the ongoing support of my fellow Pikers.

So Happy Jerry’s Piker Debut Day, or any other holiday you may wish to celebrate today.

Addendum: Thanks to the Piker Press staff for incorporating my edits, not just once, but twice. The story is better now in ways quite possibly visible only to me. Although there is that one missing comma…

Odds and Ends

I should mention that I have the cover story over at Piker Press this week. It’s set in the Tin-Caniverse, a neighborhood of the Science Fiction multiverse in which a few laws of physics have been suspended for being inconvenient. It’s the first in the series told in the third person, and the continuity issues between this and the previous installments I chalk up to conflicting memories. We won’t consider that one person is remembering something before the other person experiences it. In fact, in this case we can temporarily reinstate relativity to make traveling faster than light a form of time travel, explain away the problem, and then put that pesky law of nature back in the drawer.

I’m pretty happy with the story, but reading it now that it’s been published, I think I left a little on the table. No such worries about my story that will be published over there during zombie month. Zombie Month! Where have you been all my life? I’ll let you know when my modest submission is up; it’ll be a few weeks, yet.

I’ve settled on my NaNoWriMo story, but I really don’t know what I’m going to do with the idea. It’s a comedy based on the statement “When math is outlawed, only outlaws will do math.” In a world where governments willfully keep the populace ignorant, what would a revolutionary look like? It’s got lots of possibilities. I picture street gangs that hang out in ‘math houses’, leaving elegant mathematical clues how to find them scrawled on walls throughout the city. I think I’ll start with a scene where during a police raid the protagonists must convince the cops they were only doing drugs, and that the drugs were obtained through sanctioned sources.

This morning I put out a new release of Jer’s Novel Writer. The last version had a bug that only happened to users installing the software for the first time. Not good, and of course none of my usual testers were going to catch something like that. I’m not exactly sure how long the bad code was in there, but the problem manifested most obviously in the last release. I wonder how many odd problems people have been having over the past months were caused by the bug. Ai, ai, ai.

On Monday What’s-Her-Name sent me a message asking if I was free. I haven’t seen her since her brief tenure as a bartender at Little CafĂ© Near Home. My phone and I don’t really get along, though, and I didn’t see the message until about an hour ago – three days late. Somewhere, the capricious gods of telecommunications are laughing.

Finally, do any of you remember reading an episode about the Awkward Bowling League? I wrote it a couple of weeks ago, and now it’s… gone. There’s no sign of it. I was going to write a follow-up, and I wanted to read the original first and link to it. I’m just wondering if it vanished before or after you guys got a chance to read it.

[Late Addition!] Five cover letters tonight. I just have to assemble the parts, and I’m caught up. Got a smiley-face infested message from What’s-her-Name, so that’s cool. Getaway Cruiser is playing some good noise into my head right now. Things could be worse.

Programming Note: The Unknown

I’ve got the cover piece over at Piker Press this week. It’s the third in a series of three stories, starting with Tin Can, followed by Home Burn, and now this one. They evoke (or at least try to) a golden age of SF feeling, from back in the day when flying around in space ships seemed inevitable. In a way it’s nostalgia for something we never even had in the first place. They are simple stories, but I like them. Perhaps you will too.

Maybe Tin Can didn’t suck so bad

OK, I never thought Tin Can sucked — the title of this entry is theme-based — I just didn’t rank it with some of my other bits. I’ve only been a Piker contributor for a few months now, so I didn’t think I’d show up in the anniversary issue. It’s a huge issue, a lot to go through, but there’s some great stuff there this week. This is your chance to appreciate the talent at that rag.

So I was pleased to have one if my scribbles recognized by my piker peers, but I’m left asking myself ‘why that one?’

Perhaps my other stories are not accessible. Zelazny, in a comment between stories in an anthology of his early work said, “explain everything.” I’m having a hard time with that. But shit, he’s been camping for years while I’m still looking for the trail head. I should listen to his advice, but I like leaving things unsaid. I want there to be a question mark hanging over the reader when the last sentence is over and nothing is left but but the unknown. I imagine you, faithful reader, setting the story aside with a frustrated “dammit” and then building the unknown yourself. All I’ve done is give your imagination a Scooby Snack.

Pardon my pompous-ass declarations, the pseudo-intellectual trappings of a storyteller striving to be important, but the things I have written that I like the most have been about questions, not answers. There is a Giant Unsaid, a current of thought that we all know but try to ignore. It is the work of artists to speak of the Giant Unsaid, and it is why we are afraid of true artists. Or, at least, I’m afraid of them.

The implication of the above is that in some sense I am an artist. Craftsman I have no doubt. Artist, well, that’s not for me to decide. Giant Unsaid, well, crap, we’re human.

Tin Can is getting better the more I think about it,