Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Her Golden Aura

Flash fiction is supposed to be 1,000 words or less, but when sffworld first started running their flash contests, they were a little lax about that. This story is one I submitted for April of (I think) 2009 and it's 1250 words. I'm posting it here for giggles, but if I got comments on it one way or the other (I take criticism well) it would be splendid.

Her Golden Aura

The Goddess forbade communicating with the dead. The souls of her people were drawn to her holy gate for an eternity of bliss. To call them back meant to deprive them of her glory and pollute the spirits of the living. The zealots warned that Kuipes should not even handle the bodies of the deceased, “lest their spirits cling to the attendant hands.” When the Empire was alive, that task was left to other humans.
Dr. Tulu was now well on the way to a godless abyss. He had been asked by his captain to autopsy a corpse found on the bridge of a frozen ship that had been drifting for centuries. He could not refuse without explanation. 
Like a nightmare parable, the spirit of the dead man had woken. It left its decomposing husk and attached itself to him. Now it haunted him.
(I’m not a spirit.)
So it claimed.
(I’m not a dead Kuipe. I was Anul’s companion. We met in the deep. He…acquired me. He lived his span, then died. I had nowhere to go until you touched him. You are as devotedly deluded as he, I see.)
Perfect. The dead Anul consorted with demons and damned himself in the deep, then died and let the demon find a new Kuipe to corrupt.
(Determined to be miserable, aren’t you?)
Misery already defined Tulu’s life. His people, long rulers of this ungrateful spattering of planets, had been overthrown two centuries ago, outlawed and hunted to near extinction. Survivors hid themselves among other humans to wait for signs from their now silent Goddess.
(Too busy for her children? Tsk.)
Tulu winced and leaned forward in the uncomfortable chair, wishing he had never broken the taboo that invited this fiend.
(Cast more insult and I won’t save you.)

“It’s a test, Dr. Tulu.” The interrogator looked bored. He had been through this already with most of the crew. Docking with a Kuipe Deep-Systems ship in tow was a guarantee for military investigation, but there was a huge reward for them still on the books.
“What kind of test?” 
“Tell me what this is.” The interrogator slid a photograph across the bare metal table.
“A picture.”
“What do you see in the picture?” The interrogator’s name badge said “Hook,” ironically enough. “Don’t leave anything out.”
(This is a trap.)
Tulu already knew it was a trap. Hook was hunting live Kuipes that might have infiltrated the crew. What he could not understand was the usefulness of a picture.
(Damn. Because you can’t see her.)
“What is this a picture of, Dr. Tulu?” Hook growled.
(You cannot see her. He can.)
“Her?” Tulu could not track who said what for a moment. The slip was fortunate. The interrogator looked a little less tense. 
(Good catch. But winning this will take more than luck.)
Damn, demon! Tulu thought. Why is “her” something good to say?
Tulu’s mental argument must have made him look flustered. Hook frowned as he leaned back in his chair. He was still suspicious. “Describe what you see.”
(Her. Capital H. Your goddess. We have a problem.)
It seemed cruel that the demon would not assist him.
(That’s the problem. I don’t have eyes. I have to use yours. And yours only prove what you are.)
Tulu did not know what to do.
(Stall. Talk about anything but the picture.)
“What the hell is this stupid picture supposed to prove?” Tulu found himself nervously twisting the plain gold ring he wore as his only religious token. They were common enough. Non-Kuipes did not understand the significance of the metal.
“Describe what you see,” Hook said.
“I need to understand what kind of test this is.” Tulu was amazed to find himself pulling off the ring. His nerves never got that bad.
“Why?” Hook let the accusation hang unspoken.
“Because! Because I’m a scientist. I’m a doctor. Tests have to make sense to me. And I’ve never seen this t-type of test before.” Horror shot through him as the ring flicked out of his fingers and rolled across the table. “I--sorry--I spent a lot of time studying these sorts of things. In psychology. In school.”
Hook was unfazed. He caught the ring before it rolled off the table, pinched it between his thumb and finger and stared at its surface. “What do you see in the picture?”
“Uh, could I…?” Tulu put his hand out. “Sorry. Nerves, I guess.”
Hook handed the ring back without hesitation.
(The picture is of a woman in a stone courtyard, looking at the camera.)
Tulu was astounded. The demon must have travelled from one man to the other through the ring. Strange that it would come back.
(I like you.)
“Anyway. It’s a picture of a woman in a courtyard looking into the camera.” He could plainly see it was not; that there was no woman there.
(Say exactly what I tell you, no matter what.)
“Go on,” Hook said.
(There are climbing vines behind her. She has strange eyes.)
“There’s vines, and…” He tried to disguise a deep breath. “Strange eyes on her.”
(She looks very composed. She is calm.)
Calm—a word that carried religious weight. It was close to one of Her titles. “She’s composed…caalmm.”
(She’s surrounded by a glowing aura.)
“Ack!” The demon was describing the Goddess. Describing her plainly, like an object!
(Maintain yourself! Say there’s a light flare.)
“Sorry! Little hair or something.”
(There’s an effect to the picture.)
“Th-there’s a lighting effect.”
Hook’s voice was cold. “Do you see any colour?”
(It’s yellow.)
Something snapped inside Tulu, something basic. He wondered if this was how Kuipes died at the hands of captors. How could he possibly survive?
(Call it mustard.)
Mustard was a food product from Earth. He almost wept with relief, since Her Holy Golden Self wore no condiments. “Mustard.”
“Wouldn’t you say? Look, how much longer is this test supposed to go on? Do you want the fine details of the species of vine, or the style of…her dress?”
(Hush. Only lucky if he does not. Say no more.)
Hook smiled thinly. “A guard will escort you back to your ship.”
Tulu remained silent until he was back in his cabin. Inside his head, his dance with sin tore at his soul.
(Far too melodramatic.)
He had nothing more on hand than his fist to pound the wall. “That was a test of religion!” he whispered harshly.
(Almost correct: your “goddess” gave you a biological imperative. You cannot perceive her.)
He flung himself onto his narrow bench. “It’s forbidden.”
(Forbidden to try. Impossible to do. You are modified humans, built to worship, hard-wired not to see her, not to believe her image can be perceived, portrayed, even described.)
“There really was a woman in that picture?” 
He stared at the opposing mirror. He saw himself clearly enough, dishevelled and exhausted. “It was a courtyard…vines…”
(Background details. One assumes Kuipes get caught up listing everything but the woman. Effective test: simple, portable and a dead give-away.)
Tulu was fighting a growing nausea that began during the interrogation. “I could…almost see…something…towards the end.”
(Interesting. Perhaps it is less a test, and more a conversion technique.)
It was then Tulu lost the contents of his stomach. This was the moment, he would remember later, when his soul was finally and truly wrenched from Her Golden Aura.
(Oh, please. So melodramatic.)

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Violence and the Modern Comic

I recently attended the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo. Not my first time at a major con, but certainly my first time trapped like a herring in one.

—Seriously, sent round and round in circles:
"Can I get out this exit?"
"No." Points to the right. "Go out the corral."
Goes right. "Can I get out this exit?"
"No." Points to the right. "Go out the corral."
Goes right. Reaches the end of the auditorium. "I'm leaving."
"Can't get out this way." Points left. "Go out the corral."
"Where the hell's the corral?!"
Points diagonally through the massive crowd to the opposite corner of the building which was much closer to the first attempt door and DEFINITELY NOT LEFT. "It's over there."—

When I say this was a big event, I'm saying it was nuts. They were expecting 30,000 people and got 50,000 or something like that. It was wall to wall geek, standing room only freak, complete with outrageous costumes, unending lines, deafening sound effects, massive art, expensive indulgences in fandom and unnervingly polite behaviour from just about everybody.

Gathering the ST TNG stars all in one locale was probably under appreciated as a draw. It was rather a neat thing to happen and I'm sure a lot more casual fans turned out just to see it.  But the con has apparently been getting bigger and bigger just on its own. It's not that old according to the locals. Edmonton's predates it, but is growing at a much steadier pace.

source: wikipedia
Regardless, I was there to see who might sell my book or be interested in my other work, so spent the majority of my time walking the venders' floor. There were little successes, little frustrations and a lot of trepidation as I made my way from booth to booth.

I knew these folks were busy, so I stayed polite and waited for customers to be served. When reception was good, it was great. When not, well, it's a good thing that I already believe that the Simpson's Comic Book Guy is a real person who has been (un)successfully cloned or I might have come out of there convinced there was something wrong with me.

I came across this booth where nobody was standing. There were two older women inside amid a lot of books. Turns out they represented Alberta Libraries. It's not as sad as it sounds, all the booths like this one were finding it hard to attract attention. If you weren't selling costumes or comics or action figures, offering the services of hollywood horror makeup or (I kid you not) fantasy escort "for a night that is out of this world" you were ignored.

I stopped and we started talking. They were impressed that their local convention had drawn people from as far away as Fredericton. I didn't tell them about the folks from California I'd been speaking with an hour before. I learned on Sunday and Monday that Calgarians were genuinely surprised by their raging success (sometimes out of control) convention.

I was lucky to get inside both days. Lots of people who bought passes were turned away. Once in, regardless of how tired or hungry I got, I had to stay or risk not getting back in. There were huge lines for everything, including the overpriced food (plate with potato chips, pulled pork sandwich and pop=$12; regular coffee, prepackaged muffin=$4.56). When I needed to rest I went to a panel discussion—not the Steampunk ones I wistfully wanted to see, because the line up to get into them was an hour at least and that sometimes didn't get you in the door.

So, there sat I, one of possibly twenty people listening to a publisher (Avatar Press) talk about how writers and artists can break into the field, specifically through them. Big FYI for you, they meant artists for the writers they already have. New writers with no artist have no real chance at all.

That's cool. But I might be interested in getting a comic published. What could I do? I learned from their long list of published examples that I need to write something violent, comedic and/or full of sexual innuendo. Sigh. Comics are indeed a teenaged boy realm.

That's okay. I have a couple of characters who are inclined to violence.  They're not all that funny, and one of them is utterly asexual, but hey. The wheels started turning. By the time I was wrapping up my rounds for the day I had a general idea of plot and setting. I thought maybe, just maybe, I could find myself an artist ('cause, you know, writers aren't worth a pinch of poo) and work something up.

But, as violent as my characters can get, I have never set out to write the story equivalent of chum (slimy, bloody bait to stir up a shark's hunger). I don't see it happening now.

Read Me
Lucky for me, I met another publisher in the venders' aisles. Edge and Tesseract Books are Canadian and both really one publisher. I went to their booth for reading material (which I found, Tesseracts 13 is very good) and ended up wanting to submit to them.

But what I have ready at the moment are all short stories and these folks are looking for novels.


A new place for my would-be violent comic series, with a whole lot less violence, a lot more SF action and poor Flame gets to keep her modesty. Best of all, I can do it on my own. No artist required. No offence there artists, but you know how complicated these partnership projects can be.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Mud, Sludge, Mugs, and a Skull

I've been attending the New Brunswick College of Craft and Design. First a studio in photography, then ceramics. It's been interesting. Ceramics was the hardest to get a grip on (yeah, pun's intended…slippery mud's like that). I had to grow patience for it at the same time I was learning to be quick about getting it done. It's like the worst of being crew on a movie "hurry up!…and wait."

Clay dries while you're trying to fashion it into something less lumpy, heavy or ugly than what you've got so far. It weakens into a floppy failure if you work too hard to smooth out the unwanted textures of the canvas you flattened it in or some misguided pattern tool. It becomes uselessly loose when you lay on the water that will make it work in your hands. The contradiction is intentional. I think it's supposed to weed out the weak.

Don't try to figure out the lumps in front. They make no sense.

My first mug was overly tall and overly narrow, patterned with well-intentioned, but seriously ugly jewellery and heavy as a weapon.

What the heck am I supposed to do with this? Pencil holder, you say? I got me one of those. Got a couple. They're plastic and from the '70's, so are slightly less ugly. Easier to clean, too.

I don't want to discuss it.

My second run at the task left me with four mugs Dianna calls "The Flintstone cups" that are also too heavy, glazed with teeth-chipping grit and charming only in the words they spell. They are the perfect example of a good idea gone terribly wrong.

I'm sorry Jennalee. You were great to help me with these, but they aren't working out. Want them? Yeah. Thought so.

My third batch of mugs (three, rather than four, because I was running out of clay, time and steam) were planned diligently, executed carefully, detailed lovingly and glazed with great care and trepidation. I can only assume the glaze came out splendid. I'll never know for sure, because while I was away promoting my book they were stolen from the racks. Grrr!

First: You have no idea how hard it is not to hex my wayward mugs into poisoning their abductors.
Second: I'm a little flattered, if inconvenienced. My mug-making finally made it to the level of theft worthy. Thanks. I'm touched.

Regardless, while I was working out the how's and why's of mug manufacturing, I figured out I'd been taught everything I needed to know to make a ceramic skull. So I did.
Now, this was fun!
His cranium is from slab (as opposed to "thrown" on a potter's wheel) made into a cylinder, a bottom sealed on and paddled into the round. A top was sealed on and paddled roundish, too. It had three holes that I eventually worked into eye sockets and a nose hole. Everything but the mandible is applied like handles—that would be the maxilla, the nasal bones and the zygomatic bones (cheek bones)—then worked and carved into realistic shapes. Call the lower mandible a lid and I've followed my instructor's lessons to the letter. He didn't mark it, though. I had to make lids for my now missing mugs to get all my projects done. I still have the lids. Bonus.

I started a blog to…um…blog

If you're wondering why the dearth of entries, it's because I delete almost every post I sit down to write. The rest I save in a growing pile of "Can't post that until "*"" files that are starting to impact my computer's hard drive—a hard drive I darn near lost last week. The fact is, I don't know what to say that isn't either completely over the top or utterly random. What I write that's completely over the top is boring…and, I think, borders on arrogant.

I firmly believe I am in this life to learn humility. I'll post about that someday. In the mean time, I have to go with column B or leave this blogging business to the professionals and blowhards (an approach that has thus far caused me nothing but anxiety).

So. Utterly random. I actually do that rather prolifically. Buckle up. There are going to be a few sharp turns and some rather steep inclines. Take now. I'm inclined to talk about pottery.