Reviews

A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Stories in the Limbo

Other 999s

There are a number of stories that have been in limbo waiting for a Muse to smack TOF across the choppers with the Salmon of Awakening. These 999s with a few paragraphs are:



055. Mandarins. 

technically not a 999. This is an alternate history collaboration. Not quoted here because it does not all belong to me.  Two sections are written, one by the first author; one by me. The ball at present is in the Other Court.

Hard Going in the Guangdong Virtch
 set in the Firestar milieu ca. Rogue Star/Lodestar


I. The Five Fingers

They’re called the Five Fingers, but never in public.  Partly, that’s because no one is quite sure who they are; and partly it's because, if they really are who they are rumored to be, it would be unwise to say so aloud.  It's not even entirely certain that there are only five of them -- or even five of them. 

Fingering.  That means sticking your finger in to stir things up.  Or sticking in your thumb to pull out a plum.  Or running your fingers along the keyboard to play an arpeggio.  It means...  Virtchuosity. 

Certainly, S. James Poole, of Poole sEcurity Consultants, is on everyone’s shortlist; but the suggestion that there might be four others his equal at fingering the Net is a notion he would not even laugh at. 

#####

In the Buzz

Listen. This all happened in the long-ago, when the stubs of the cities still emerged from the soil like plucked corn. It is a true story, for we had it from Hoba Strongwit, who had it from Hayzu Bloodsword, who had it from his mother Alaquin of the Dales, who had it from the Book of Yore, which was written in the old cligraf script on pages of fine deer vellum; and the Book of Yore was copied meticulously word-by-word from ancient books by Gorgy the Sage when he had found the Trove. And each of them told the story truly, lest he be admonished by others who had heard it. 

It is said that the People of the Elder Age had mastered song, and had mastered dance, and had mastered the art of lying without a mask for the entertainment of others; and the one thing they had not mastered was the art of building and maintaining the machines that kept them in comfort against the World. But that was before even the Long Ago, and is surely a fable; for what people would dare neglect such things?

Not too long after the passing of the People of the Elder Age, there was a man named Henry Unangst, though he answered to ‘Hank.’ Do not laugh, for they named their children so in the long ago, names which had no meaning or vision, but were only mouth-sounds. But we know him as Scar of the Poko Mountain, for a cougar once swiped him across the face while contesting passage of a mountain trail alongside a steep gorge. Now, there is a name of courage and meaning! Nor did he harm the cougar, but allowed her to pass her way unmolested, for they were kinder to such creatures in that age – or perhaps the creatures were more gentle.

But gather closely, little ones and big, for the fire is high and warm, and the tale is best told by its light.

#####

Love Among the Ruins
(w/ Dennis M. Flynn)

There is a scent in the air. It is part rotting vegetation as the trees begin to shed their skin and prepare for the long winter months ahead. It is part cleanliness, as I see a new year begin amongst the students at the university. Add a dash of solemnity knowing that by this time next year, people who have captured my heart will have gone. Break out your favorite scented cube to match the weather. And don't forget to mix in an abundance of “autumn only” music like Rasputina to bring out the flavor.

This truly is the most beautiful time of year.

Or would be if you ignored the rotting and half-eaten corpses that littered the city of Anchorage.
#

It begins with a slight tapping of the fingers against a brick wall. You find a decent rhythm and decide to try to get a more complicated beat going. You switch between the fist, the palm, and include some tapping with the fingers. After a while, you think you've found something good. You think you've got a decent groove going on.

You see that same brick wall every day and cannot help but to try again, day after day, just to see if you can improve your beat; create a better groove. Hell, you even patronize the building and invest in it to make sure the structure stays sound.

Some days are worse than others because you are not always in a creative mood, but you still try to create. Not all artists know what they want as an end-result. Some art has no end. It is constantly being reworked and refined and redefined.

But knowing what you want as an end-result and not knowing how to find that perfect beat, or that perfect brush stroke, or that perfect line and blend, is devastating.

A person can spend their life slapping their palms or tapping their fingers on brick walls. They may eventually work their way up to the knuckles and knees, thinking they got the groove going on. But eventually they will start bringing the bass and slamming their head into that brick wall.

But it's a brick wall. That brick wall never cared about you to begin with. It was a brick wall before you showed up. It will be a brick wall when you leave. And all you have done was scrape your palms and callous them. All you have done was drive your head, with passion, into something that does not feel at all. And it is not the brick wall who is left with the injuries.

And what you have done is create something artistic to yourself, but the brick wall will never know. Because it's a brick wall. Even the graffiti you may have tagged upon it will eventually be covered by new ownership and regular cleanings.

And when conversations of that neighborhood arise again (and rest assured they will) you will always remember with incredible fondness that brick wall which brought a beat into your heart and a brush stroke to your art.

######

Into the Rift of Stars
Spiral Arm sequence, side story set after January Dancer but before Up Jim River.


The Hound and her Pup came to Sapphire Point and graced Hot Gates for a time with their presence.  The necessity of the stop did not lessen the grace.  Hot Gates was the flagship of the interdiction squadron that drifted with the Visser hoop to St. Gothard’s Pass, and all who passed through that intersection of Electric Avenue must pause and pay respects to the commodore.

Hot Gates was a faerie castle set loose in space, and not what the ancients had imagined a starship to be.  She was a chimera – blocks and spheres and tubes and causeways were all a-jumble, protected within a spherical field and given a whimsical variety of ups and downs by an idiosyncratic use of gravity grids.  The faeries had been mad.  She would have seemed out of place anywhere – save here on the ragged edge of space.

Can space have an edge, ragged or not?  If it does, it is here by the Rift, a region where some ancient god had drawn a knife across the galaxy’s throat and left a black gaping flow of blood.  Between the Perseus Arm and its Orion spur, few suns spin and darkness is a feature of the sky.

On the farther shore of this sunless sea gleam distant stars with magic names – Dao Chetty, Tsol, the Century Suns – stars whose worlds are storied in antiquity: strange worlds, ancient worlds, decadent worlds, worlds of peculiar and exotic customs.  From Sapphire Point, they appear as they once had been: the lamps of the Old Commonwealth before it crumbled; and a lens sufficiently subtle might yet glimpse those halcyon days in the tardy, antique light just now breaking on the Peripheral shore. 
#
The Hound was Bridget ban and she strode the decks of Hot Gates like the queen of High Tara.  There was always a stride in her walk, even when she crept quietly on cat feet.  Her base name was Francine Thompson, and the Thompsons had a cast of mind and eye that was one notch shy of arrogance, and if Bridget ban had upped it by a notch she had good cause, for it was no small thing to be a Hound of the Ardry.

Messenger, spy, ambassador, saboteur, assassin, planetary manager – a Hound could be many things and anything.  The High King had no more loyal servants than the Hounds of “the Particular Service.”  Loyal for a certainty.  Relentless on the scent.  They were resourceful; skilled in arts politic and martial; without pity or remorse when what had to be done had to be done.  Of this fellowship, Bridget ban was not the least.  She was living proof that deadliness could decorate.  She had a voice like the bursting sea – a rush and a crash and with just a taste of salt.  Her eyes were the hard, sharp glass-green of flint, and her hair was a great flame of red, but her skin was dark gold.  The bhisti science-wallahs of the long-ago had once touched the genes of men, and what they had done had wrought wonders and horrors; and it was just as well that their art had been forgotten, for the world can bear only so much wonder.

The Pup bore the office name of Rinty, but Bridget ban called him by the older sobriquet of Little Hugh O Carrol.  His base name was Ringbao della Costa, but he had been planetary vice-manager of New Eireann for the Clan na Oriel management corporation, hired by the Eireanaughta to keep things honest.  This they had done too well, for the Eireanaughta had only wanted the graft spread about fairly, not eliminated entirely.  In the subsequent civil war, Little Hugh had discovered in himself a hitherto unsuspected capacity for mayhem.  He became “The Ghost of Ardow,” often heard from, seldom seen.  No leader of the Revolution was safe from his death squads, while the Ghost in turn always eluded Handsome Jack’s men.  A master of disguise, Hugh had moved like a fish through the water – once as a tinker, another time as a priest, a third time as a woman.  It was then that he had learned the art of concealment.  If there was a cover, he was beneath it.  If there was a hole, he was in it.  If there was a corner, he was around it.

And if there were a Hound, he was behind her.  By about two steps and a little to the right so that she would not block his covering shot, should the need arise. 
#

Rough Men in Long Blue Gowns

No text yet. Consultant in quality management in a variety of assignments.
######

Temp Work

Space-time is a tough substance for all that it is insubstantial.  It is the aether, made of some dark matter that does not interact with ordinary protons or electrons and yet imparts motion to them.  Rigid yet yielding, immobile yet moving, it is queer stuff, a sort of membrane, like a drumhead stretched tight between bang and bust.  When it is drummed, the dust on its surface dances; but the drumhead isn’t going anywhere. 
A field of tensors, it is sometimes called, as if a field of tensors were like a field of corn ripening for harvest; but the metaphor is apt in some ways.  Space-time is under tension, which is why a change at one locus may set up ripples and vibrations at others.  Yet when we look at the membrane closely enough we find it is mostly empty space with atoms playing catch by throwing electrons back and forth.  There are some loci where the tension is especially acute, where the membrane grows frayed and unstable and trembles on the verge of unraveling.  One must tread lightly through such milieus, as a platoon crossing a bridge must break stride.  The wrong sort of resonance could pop the membrane wide open and, granted that it will mend itself, there is no guarantee that you and I would much like the resulting scar. 

You and I, we’re the dust. 

#####

The Seven Widows
Set in the Spiral Arm sequence after Razor's Edge


Faint beneath the crimson sky twilight bells do peal
Midst ruins where their echoes tone:
We were real, we were real, we were real. 
As once they were, when life enfleshed these bones
And they fared forth to find what stars conceal.

– Méarana Harper, Bailéad an Domhain Terra.
#
There is a song for this, a goltraí, but the lament may not be the obvious one.  When there are the seekers and the sought, sorrow may lie on either end.  A quest may succeed or fail, and who can tell which is the greater tragedy? 
But as always when some go out and some come back, there are ambiguities in the accounts.  Blame the ancient god Schrödinger. For that which is not observed at first hand has a certain uncertainty to it.  Some lids are more easily lifted than others. 
How to weave a song from such disparate threads?  Not all men, apprehending the same impressions, will comprehend the same essence, for what is so elusive as a fact?  It may be that the accounts of those who say nothing are the most certain of all. 
In the end, what can the singer do but extemporize? 
#
An Brollach
The best place to begin a song, so it is said, is at the beginning; but at times the beginning is only a coda to a song more ancient still.  Once upon a time (as the seanachies say) a secret had been locked away, and so well hidden had it been that in time not only the secret, but the very hiding of it had been lost.  The hiders had not intended this.  They had only wanted a breathing space in which to ponder certain discomfiting truths.  But history caught them short.  They had not considered that they might not be there.  So bones piled on bones beneath the grass, cities fell and new ones rose, ashes blew in the wind, and names that once did grip the heart in ice faded into fables. 

Can there be forgotten memories?  Perhaps those are the happier kind.  The harper and the scarred man came to Terra of the Ages in search of them.  Of all the worlds of all the Spiral Arm, Terra groans thickest with memories.  They are layered on the ground like geological strata, and in consequence, the oldest of them have hardened into shale.  But sometimes from shale one may squeeze a drop or two. 

The city of Prizga, on the western marge of the Northern Mark, sits atop a long, narrow ridge whose blunt tip overlooks the gorge of the River Qornja.  The river drains a bowl valley rich with farms and after the plunge through the gorge snakes westward across a broad scrubland toward a delta twelve miles distant.  Lazarus species roam this plain: go-beeshon and go-camels and the like.  Spanning the gorge, a long, graceful bridge supported entirely by gravity grids, hangs faerie-like in the air.  On the air approach from the drop-shuttle, one catches sight of the white wall to the north: the ice that grinds whole continents down and tramples memories beneath its feet. 

Prizga is a bustling city that squats upon an anciently urban site.  Beneath the modern city lies the broken plasteel and metaloceramic of earlier settlements, and beneath those, fragments of concrete block, broken marble, and the rusty stains of iron rebar.  And beneath even that, pieces of wood that scholars feel had once been shaped as boards. 

The ancient Miwellion was dedicated by a minor descendant to a major ancestor who in his day had brought the entire Northern Mark under his rule.  Built in a style known locally as Late Imperial and elsewhere not at all, it sported great fluted columns and floating roofs beneath which were housed the Archives of Zãddigah-Terra. 
 
A word about Zãddigah-Terra.  In the long ago that was less long ago than most, when the Ice had begun its march, the people of Terra found that their colder and drier world could no longer support its burden.  And when the colony worlds grew finally weary of supporting a world of beggars, the Great Emigration began.  They went out to the Old Colonies – to Dao Chetty and the Century Suns; to Edicass and Delpaff and Old 82.  And to the New Colonies at Ashbanal and Dunlemor, Habberstap and New Krakas.  They went with a will, sometimes their own and sometimes those of overlords and conquerors.  And on some worlds they were welcomed and succored and on others not.  They settled into their own Corners and sang sad songs and made of their grief a way of life. 

But the people of Terra gave birth faster than they took flight, and soon enough the Great Hunger had winnowed them to the point where recolonists came from Old 82 to eke out a living on the prairies that were once India or the scrublands that had arisen from the shrinking Pacific.  The lords of Dao Chetty, Those of Name, called the world Zãddigah, which in their tongue meant New Earth, for they had long chafed under the suzerainty of beggars.  And so the Commonwealth fell and the Confederation rose, ungrateful children overthrowing their importunate mother.  Or children weary of being wheedled by a domineering hag.  You could go either way on that one. 

But before even the Commonwealth of Suns the Audorithadesh Ympriales had risen from the ashes of the Gran Publicamericana and, under their Brethidiendy Miwell II, had at long last gone out to the stars.  His proud visage had once adorned a mountainside in the company of leaders older still until the ice had slouched south and engulfed it; and his name survived only in the title of an old library-museum in downtown Prizga.  In that manner the kings who would never be forgotten slip from the memory of men. 

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