Monday, May 24, 2010

Move Along, Little Doggie: New Site

If you truly loved me, you'd follow me wherever I went, but where I've gone, none can follow.

Except North Dakotans, maybe.

Instead, go buy books my friend Daniel, who helped me put my ideas on the computer.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Somewhere at the End is Not the Beginning

At the end of a long hall filled with treacherous traps, a man finds that he has returned to where he started, and before him is stretched out a long hall that is filled with treacherous traps.

He has risked his life to travel in a circle. His heart sinks.

Wait. No.

It is a mirror he gazes into, showing him the path he has traversed, the obstacles he's overcome. What had defeated him briefly was only the image of where he'd been.

Some might say that stories are circles: if the end doesn't bring you back to the beginning, it has failed perfection.

But a story, by its very structure within the confines of time and narrative, can only contain an image at the end which reflects back upon the journey, giving the illusion of circularity.

The story, every story, is a line. At its end, you may look back on what has come before, perhaps in a way that is so evocative, that for a moment, you can believe in a nostalgia-proof circle.

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Heroic Human

If you were going to condense every random tracer streak that flies through my rotted head and stony heart at any given moment, to tie Snorri Sturluson to Klaus Nomi, the Aeneid to Fear of Girls, King Uzziah to Andrew Koenig, Borges and Eco to Lovecraft and Barker and E.E. Knight, James Cagney to Tom Lommel, Flannery O'Connor to Felicia Day, Muhammed Ali, Floyd Patterson and Jack Vance, Cicero and Dracula, Ramses and the Baldwin Brothers, King Saul and Steve Wozniak, Frodo and Manfred Mann's Earth Band, Tom Waits, Warren Zevon, and LazyTown, machine language and bind them all into one, pre-apocalyptic gainland of the strange and it would be this:

The heroic human is the one who knows his smallness all too well, yet stands in the way of the strange, spreading roots of evil.

As a troll on the sidelines of the human story, I look on those precious few among your race who turn bravely to be swallowed by the dark. What madness compels you, what joy inspires?

Who made you a hero?

Friday, April 30, 2010

E.E. Knight: Desparkler of Vampires

E.E. Knight has a great hometown write-up (In the photo, Knight is the one on the right.) If you aren't into his spectacular Vampire Earth series, then you should at least check out his Age of Fire books.

After all, there are only two kinds of people on this planet: Vampire People and Dragon People - you must be one of them.*

Anyhoodle, Knight's vampires are of the decidedly Lovecraftian sort - otherworldly, grotesque, uncaring. Not an ascot to be found among them.

"Beneath the heavy robes of bullet-resistant material the Kurians wear is a bony, angular physique of wiry muscle. Their knees and elbows can bend either way in an unsettling manner. Aside from the grotesqueness of its motions, this allows the Reaper to coil its entire body for a leap, climb rapidly, and change position in a hand-to-hand fight with terrifying speed. Their bones are not white, but rather a dull black, as are their pointed seizing teeth within their snake-hinged jaws. Their blood turns into a thick, tarry substance when exposed to air, so they rarely bleed to death.

...they use their long, flexible, beaked tongues to stab into the prey, using their teeth to fix on the victim as a lamprey does while they pierce poor wretch's heart with their stabbing lingular syringe...They are hard to kill, vulnerable only to massed firearms, burning, or decapitation....

Only a fool takes on a Reaper alone at night."

Entirely unrelated (unless they are a front for a vampire hunting operation): have you ever wondered what the most beautiful website in the solar system for a Ukrainian Orthodox Church might look like?

Me too. (The photo gallery alone is worth the price of admission.)

*I'm both. This places me in the unique class of "First to Die" during the Vampire/Dragon apocalypse.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Doomed at the Ford of Bruinen

"At that moment there came a roar and a rushing: a noise of loud waters rolling many stones. Dimly Frodo saw the river below him rise, and down along its course there came a plumed cavalry of waves. White flames seemed to Frodo to flicker on their crests and he half fancied that he saw amid the water white riders upon white horses with frothing manes. The three Riders that were still in the midst of the Ford were overwhelmed: they disappeared, buried suddenly under angry foam. Those that were behind drew back in dismay."
-- "Flight to the Ford" - Fellowship of the Ring - J.R.R. Tolkien

At the Ford of Bruinen, we are outnumbered, we are outgunned. One might say that Elrond and Gandalf, by their combined magic, save Frodo, or perhaps even Glorfindel's horse, Asfaloth. In the movie, it appears that a sword-raising Arwen is the hero.

But what comes before the rescue?

A fading, mortally wounded Frodo, least among us, turns back. Before the saving water begins to rise, before the "cavalry of waves" becomes a team of trampling water horses, drowning the enemies' steeds and carrying the Ringwraiths to ignominous (if temporary) defeat, he turns at the water's edge, drawn to the Nazgul. Before any sign of salvation, he defies the overwhelming agents of death, who already have him in their grip, already have him pierced with soul-eating enchantments - both the morgul blade in his shoulder and the deadly ring around his neck.

"'By Elbereth and Luthien the Fair,' said Frodo with a last effort, lifting his sword, 'you shall have neither the Ring nor me!'"

His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Let Us Hunt Some Orc

When Frodo flees for Mordor, Boromir dies, Merry and Pippin are captured and those who remain behind have lost the purpose of the Fellowship (to defend the carrier of the One Ring), there remains practically no hope.

Their number of 9, matching, body-for-body, their opposites, the Ring-Wraiths, has disintegrated with shocking acceleration:

Gandalf to the Balrog
Boromir to the arrows
Merry and Pippen to the orcs
Frodo and Sam to the mission

Leaving 3: Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas, an exile, a mourner, and an alien. A large group was decimated, its purpose thwarted, its new mission unclear.

They had options: return to Rivendell and regroup, seeking revised orders from authority, disband, or focus on the next possible objective: to rescue the captives from an army.

In the real world, group decay results in full dissolution 9 times out 10.

What about that 10th time? What are the dynamics that separate a renewed sense of purpose, an enriched belief in success against even greater odds?

A seed grows that causes a man to stand up after a hurricane of violence and a crisis of identity and say, "Let us hunt some orc."

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race that is marked out for us.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Smurfs Wars

Because the one thing that was always missing from the Smurfs saga was tragic civil war. Although, technically, I believe the subject was thoroughly covered in the 1976 feature La Flute a Six Schtroumpfs.
Now, throw in gremlins, tribbles and the tiki doll from Trilogy of Terror to lead an insurrection, and we've got a whole new ball game.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Not Since Straub and King: Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee Team Up

I've got no details from the 2010 Gathering in Chicago, but Ted Dekker's brand manager just mentioned that Dekker and Tosca Lee are teaming up for a book in 2011.

Needless to say, the last time writers of this caliber teamed up, the world got a little surprise called The Talisman.*

No pressure!

*The last time heroes of this caliber teamed up, Batman fought Superman in DKR. And won.

UPDATED: Dekker spills his guts on it.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Summa Elvetica: A Casuistry of the Elvish Controversy

Short Fantasy Fiction took a massive beating last year. Two premier fantasy publications, Realms of Fantasy and the Year's Best Fantasy & Horror Anthology, ceased publication. Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine switched to bi-monthly publication to stop its own bleeding.

That isn't to say that short fantasy fiction is dead (again) in America. There are still lively and leading outlets: with relative newcomer, Black Gate Magazine chief among them. But short fiction authors wouldn't mind a map to redemption.

I found one.

In long fiction.

Specifically, Theodore Beale's Summa Elvetica: A Casuistry of the Elvish Controversy.
This remarkable book is notable for having successfully turned the fantasy novel as it is currently recognized on its ear.

The tropes, icons and themes of what I would call "standard" medievalesque fantasy fiction are challenged directly. Without the convenient cover of parody or satire, Beale plays it straight with his setting: conflicted regions, separated loosely into basic people groups: humans, elves, dwarves, orcs, goblins, trolls and other commonly-known fantasy species.

The Catholic Church shepherds (and, if need be, supresses, opposes or spies on) the social, political and spiritual objectives of the land's inhabitants. After all, in a genre (high fantasy) practically predicated on the Divine Right of Kings, how does an author express his story without careful attention to the "divine" governance of that right?

As (surprisingly) innovative as this approach is Beale does something even greater: he avoids writing his epic in epic style, choosing, instead, to tell a novella-length narrative accompanied by short fiction and Church documents.

It works great, but the reviews have been really mixed, or rather, mixed up. I can't tell you the number of reviews that found one of the novel's strengths - its abruptness - to be confusing and disappointing. They laud the short interwoven articles and short stories, but fail to make the connection between the "main" story and its interconnected sublots. For a book purporting to be the comprehensive theological treatise on a cultural controversy, it isn't quite clear why this approach has been so misunderstood.

I hope in time Summa Elvetica's interweaving of created history and unique approach to the problem of Christianity in high fantasy will be recognized for what it is, and not what readers think it is not.

If you read the appendices of Lord of the Rings and Silmarillion, you already know the power of the multi-documental approach. If you write short fiction, one could do far worse than to study Beale.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Wicker Man Made Me Follow Jesus

Mike Duran's thoughts on The Wicker Man nail it:

"Not only does The Wicker Man serve as a warning against spiritual naivete and complacency, it illustrates the stark, very real differences between world religions."

...and I would add that it does it with the literary and visual mastery of Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, C.S. Lewis and Fritz Lang, combined.

I might be biased. I was a pluralist anti-christian growing up (sort of a reverse Animal Farmer - All religions are equal: one religion is less equal than others.) with no interest in really understanding or studying the roots of faith. The Wicker Man gave me a thrilling, devastating crash course in the subject, to shocking results.

I found myself aligning fairly tightly with the odd and complicated residents of Summer's Isles, the pagans, and scoffing at the simplistic faith of the protagonist. He grated on me. But the movie was compelling enough, and though I fully expected some sort of twist that either revealed the hero to be either a villain by the end, or at worst, the unwitting tool of some sort of counterplot against the suspected but innocent Lord Summerisle.

The thing I did not expect - no, could not expect - is the one thing that instantly cemented the picture as a harrowing, strangely uplifting classic, one that I've meditated on many, many times over the past twenty years.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Josh is Five. Josh is Always Five.

Jeffty is Five, the Locus-winning classic short tale by Harlan Ellison, has long held a melancholy spell over me. (It is on page 71, and the book takes a little while to load).

It traces long lines into my own sense of the memorable (and malleable) past, touches on the eternal and the transient, and places nostalgia and reality on parallel tracks which intersect at tragedy. The beautfully-written story of the friendship between a five-year old boy who never ages and his normally-aging pal got its title from a misheard bit of conversation.

At a party, Ellison overheard actor Jack Danon * saying something like "Jeff is fine. He's always fine!" but thought he said "Jeff is five. Jeff is always five." The man who said it was a guest at a party hosted by Walter Koenig, Star Trek's "Chekov."

I had no idea, until today, that the character inspiration for "Jeffty" was another person at the party: a five-year old Joshua Andrew Koenig.

In the words of the author: "Writers take tours in other people's lives. Jeffty is me; he is also you. This is a short, memory-filled trip through your own life."

*Danon, incidentally, started his career in radio shows, like Fibber McGee and Molly, which casts an interesting, if wholly unrelated, light on the strange transoms of inspiration that helped carry this particular story to its fullness.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Which Zombie Will You Be? [Personality Test]

Every zombie movie has a set number of zombie types - a horde, a random guy, the first one to get shot.

But these zombies were once people, you know, with lives and dreams and ambitions.

Like you.

Which one will you be? Take the quiz and find out.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Man With Hammered Nails for the Pupils of His Eyes

I'd been chopping most of the day. Chips of granite spread at my feet, dusted my sweaty shirt, clouded my spectacles. But I'd made progress. The boulder had scars on it: closer, certainly, to the monument I wanted than it had been that morning.

A man walked out of the Infinity building, grey suit, red tie, briefcase in hand. He stumbled against my rock, and staggered to his knees. I put the axe down and helped him up. It was there, his uncertain hand on my tricep, elbow in my palm, that I looked into his face and saw the pupils of his eyes: they were the heads of nails, and his eyes, I am quite certain now, were wooden balls, smoothed on a lathe.

He blinked, one lid catching, and slowly crossing over the nail.

"Your shoulder," he said. I smiled, proud of the muscle my endeavors had built. "It is torn. You are ruining yourself. You don't look well."

I helped him up and stepped back, annoyed. "How can you see anything?"

"I can't."

"Why do you have nails where your pupils ought to be?"

"They keep the eyes inside my head."

After a silence too long, he wandered down the sidewalk. I did not look to see if he navigated the intersection safely, but returned to my task, my shoulder throbbing.


This is completely and wholly, as usual, the fault of a far greater writer.

Friday, February 26, 2010

The History Channel Trick

In an age that unworships at the non-altar of the relative experience, I recommend co-opting a trick perfected by the History Channel, both for some of their more standard history programs and their whack-a-doo pseudohistory programs, such as the "prophecies" of mystics, or the alien origins of the pyramids, or alien ghost autopsies, or whatever.

It is five magic words:

"There are those who say..."

Throw these in any time you would like to make an outrageous claim without any footing. It will sound authoritative and mildly suggestive that those who disagree will find themselves in an impossible situation.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Gremlins vs. Zombies: The Grempocalypse

The worst thing that could ever happen is that you get your pet gremlin wet* on the same night that a radioactive thunderstorm turns all the dead people into zombies.

Sure, the gremlins would fight the zombies, and the zombies would fight the gremlins, and that would super exciting, especially since the rain would turn the gremlins into more gremlins, and the zombie bites would turn the gremlins into zombie gremlins, and then the zombie gremlins would have to decide which side they would fight on, or if they would form their own army, and fight them both.

But eventually, they'd turn on you. Fun's over, and all of a sudden, you find yourself running through the streets, praying for Gandalf's eagles to swoop in at the last minute to save the day like they did in the Battle of Five Armies. Maybe you can make it until sunrise, and hope that the gremlins have re-killed all the zombies before bursting into flames. The giant birds never come, the sun doesn't rise and you aren't even left with the choice of whether to be turned into a zombie or become gremlin food - the choice happens to you.

Yet, there's a market for these spectacular, doomed experiments in fantasy:

Alien vs. Predator
Zombies vs. Robots vs. Amazons
Mermaid Yakuza vs. Terminator
Wolfman vs. Dracula
Moriarity vs. Fu Manchu
King Kong vs. Godzilla
Giant Squid vs. Sperm Whale

and of course, the penultimate conflict:

Satan vs. _________

Please tell me you didn't fill in the blank with "God." Because this particular titanic struggle between nasties doesn't include Him, for pity's sake. The word that belongs in that blank is "Us."

As one-time (and in many cases, current) subjects of the "god of the air" we also are locked in mortal - rather, immortal - combat with Old Scratch and his maniacal kin. But we aren't guys in white hats. If the devil is Predator, we're Alien. He didn't think up lying, pride and greed all by his lonesome, you know. Or if he did, we've become quite practiced at the dark arts of his making.

Winner gets to take on God. Unlike, however, the final target in Gremlins vs. Zombies, God isn't about to take off running. In fact, He's got just the sword to cut us to ribbons: His very word that formed us out of nothing is the same thing that will send us on our merry way to the wrong side of Winner-ville.

Yet he doesn't do that. In his wisdom, he reserves the destruction for Satan and his blokes, but for the other half in the wicked match-up? Mercy. Sacrifice. Humilty. A free ticket out.

Weird God, that God. Weirder than Jesse James vs. Frankenstein's Monster.

*A refresher: 1) Never get them wet - they'll spawn more gremlins. 2) Never feed them after midnight - it turns them evil. 3) Never expose them to light** - it hurts them.

**Unless, of course, they've eaten after midnight - then sally forth, Gremlin Hunter. Sally forth.