In the Belly of the Whale
Truth or Death – Drilling the shell – ‘Excellence, we have a problem’ – Damned capewalkers – Nobody – Ling-ling shows her ankle – Kicking the can down the road – A pedestrian observation
Ling-ling Barnstable celebrated her twelfth birthday by playing with her friend Megwan Masterson. The game consisted of showing each other body parts that they normally concealed.
“This is my ankle,” she said, pulling off her boot.
“Big deal,” Megwan scoffed. “It’s no different to mine.” But his eyes lingered, and he declaimed:
“Slim, curved, and graceful
Demanding no adornment,
I would be your shoe.”
He made a move to touch the so-celebrated ankle, and the duenna, supervising the play from a stuffed chair off to the side, sat forward, warning him off.
“Thou art a bold one, Meg,” Ling-ling said. She thought the poem not bad for a spontaneous composition, although he had framed it in Standard English and used syllables rather than morae for the line counts. Her duenna sniffed disapproval, but whether for the sentiment or the syllabification, Ling-ling did not know.
They were, fittingly enough, in the Game Room of the suite known as Zephyrholm, an interconnecting set of compartments on Three Deck, forward of Seven Frame, used by the Commander of Air. Her father was an important man, and someday the post would be hers, although she was unsure what that entailed.
“Have you gotten your draft notice yet?” Megwan asked, but with a little too much eagerness in his voice, so Ling-ling affected not to care. She extemporized a couplet:
“Oh, that notice so best of worth
Comes not always on the fest of birth.”
Megwan’s mother was Commander of Water, a puissant post in its own right, since next to breathing, drinking was most vital. Their parents had been conspiring all of Ling-ling’s life to join her to Megwan, though she had become conscious of the deliberateness of these arrangements only in the past year. Her child by Megwan would become Joint Commander of Air and Water. Even the in-captain would have to pay attention to so powerful an Officer. So, she and Megwan had been tossed together like the ingredients in a salad in the hope that when their draft notices came, they would have already formed a bond of affection.
Of course, there was the small matter of the Examinations, but she could cast a verse as readily as Megwan, and there was always yin privilege for moving the children of Officers up in the rankings. So, as long as she passed, Ling-ling did not think she need worry about demotion.
As far as that went, Megwan was not the worst choice her parents could have made for her. He was presentable and cleaned up nicely. But the Eugenics Department had the final say regarding who could copulate and with whom.
Her mother had instructed her in that art too, of course, but she wasn’t quite sure what that entailed, either.
Lovely book, one of my favorites of yours.ReplyDelete
Wow. That was a really great story.
A group of Harri Seldons working in the 19th century is good enough; the insights into the engineering character and mindset were even better, but the characters themselves were amazing.
And, of course, the fact that you got the details of a double acting cylinder exactly right made me smile (I'm in the middle of rebuilding a Bosch framing nailgun right now before I can continue building shelves in the barn, and the technology hasn't changed a bit in a century).
End "Steel Driver." Begin "Longford Collector"ReplyDelete
That was fun, too.ReplyDelete
End "Longford Collector". Begin "Fly Trap"ReplyDelete
Next to the dog and the tapeworm, no other pet becomes so attached to its master.ReplyDelete
Just wanted to say that this is a great line!
I got my first story (and a poem!) published at 13, so I have you beat there.
You have me beat in that I've never published anything since, though...
The ah, distinctive sense of humor certainly manifested early! Fly-traps, hmmmm.....ReplyDelete
End Venus Fly Trap; Begin DragonsReplyDelete
Nyuk. Good story. Nice surprise ending. And nice hard science/fantasy blend.ReplyDelete
Yes, nice. Did I miss something in the story about why dragons are presumed to hunt predators and not something more thermodynamically efficient like, say, sheep? Or is that part of legend that I'm unfamiliar with?ReplyDelete
Hmm. No, I guess I never did explain.Delete
oh, I like it! 'Though in my experience profs who have a thing about shape-shifters are a more subtle, long term danger.... I was halfway expecting it would be Mrs. Robins who was the predator, ambushing him with her son (and maybe employer, too) on the way home--but that would be a pack attack & probably the isolated confrontation is a more dramatic ending. Was Krishnamurthi a predator, too? I couldn't decide. (or deliberately ambiguous? sneaky sneaky)ReplyDelete
That was an awesome ending! Not sure how I didn't see it coming though...ReplyDelete
The reviewer in Locus dismissed it as 'standard ending #' something or other. OTOH, the secretary in the office where I worked had no knowledge of SF or F but wanted to read something I wrote. "Dragons" had just come out, so I gave it to her.Delete
Our desks faced away from each other and silence descended on the office for a time.
Then she shrieked. I mean she cried out loud.
Ha! Seems about right. My reaction went something like this:Delete
"Wow! Didn't see that coming!"
(A few seconds later)
"Seriously though, how did I not see that coming?"
So I can't really fault the story, since it did surprise me. The mild irritation is purely directed on my end.
i can't seem to find any way to access older stories, such as "The Steel Driver" - are they still accessible or is only one [older] story at a time made available, before being replaced by another selection? any chance there will be return engagements? I'm a big fan of "In the Country of the Blind" and was really sorry to miss a chance to read one of the Babbage stories.ReplyDelete
Yes, it's one page, so each story overwrites the previous one. Usually at about 2 week intervals when I remember. Sometimes there are previews of new stories.Delete
Begin "The Feeders"
um, I mean, that was cool & particularly appropriate for the feast of St. Louis
Twisted. I liked it.ReplyDelete
Begin "Timothy Leary, Batu Khan, and the Palimpsest of Universal Reality
Radical, man. Trippy, even.ReplyDelete
Looking forward to part 2.
End "Timothy Leary, Batu Khan, and the Palimpsest of Universal Reality" Part IReplyDelete
Begin "Timothy Leary, Batu Khan, and the Palimpsest of Universal Reality" Part II
OK, that was sneaky-funny. Since I had a front-row seat on the 60s as a young teenager, can't get enough 60s bashing: has there ever been as clueless, stupid and destructive set of people as the run of the mill 60s hippy? Probably - coming up with them would be a fun way to while away the time.ReplyDelete
On the story itself, yea, I can see editors having concerns that you could damage the transmission shifting like that. I thought it worked: the manifest humor and silliness of part 1 gets temporarily eclipsed by the bitter 'love' story of the second half, until it dawns on the reader that they - the craziness of Pt 1 and the cultural insanity made personal in Pt 2 - really are very much related. Then there's always the temptation - I am particularly prone to this, it seems - to wish we could go back and fix things. This manages to show how that might work and throw cold water on the idea at the same time.
Laughing a bitter laugh at hippies? Count me in.
And, hey - in this one case, maybe you can put up both parts? Kinda hard to recommend people read it when all we get is part 2.ReplyDelete
End Timothy LearyReplyDelete
Begin Throop's Revenge
End Throop's RevengeReplyDelete
Begin Soul of the City
End Soul of the CityReplyDelete
well, you certainly demonstrated what a crappy bit of non-thinking "shit happens" is. A tough narrator to pull off, I think, just slightly less a monster than his companions. It put me somewhat in mind of "Fear & Loathing in L.A."ReplyDelete
that's "Las Vegas" when I'm not sick. Sorry.Delete
The last 2 books I've read just threw the theme of betrayal & trustworthiness into sharp relief, and suddenly this looks like volume 1. Funny and/or Providential how sometimes 'random' reading turns into a moment of the uncanny at just the right moment.Delete
I found this an enjoyable read! I'm sorry Wag died the way he did; I think he's interesting at least. But then I rather like wolves in general.ReplyDelete
Begin "The Engineer Discourses Upon His Love"
Perhaps an Optics engineer could take up the theme:
I can't get no satisfaction
At this obtuse angle of refraction
I reflect upon her opaque gaze
and the polarizing way she waves
(and so on)
optics, too, lens itself to punning.
Joseph, I saw what you did there . . .ReplyDelete
As a once-engineering student, I'm charmed.ReplyDelete
End "The Engineer Discourses..."ReplyDelete
Begin "The Sisters of the Sacred Heart"
I am glad this had a happy ending.ReplyDelete
You've put this up before? Perhaps on John Wright's site. I thought I remember her losing.ReplyDelete
For some reason Hozier's "Take Me to Church" seems like the soundtrack for this story. But I agree with Wombat above - I'm glad it ended not-horribly.ReplyDelete
The original ending was at the point where Plumaje says, "Just once more."ReplyDelete
End "The Sisters of the Sacred Heart"ReplyDelete
Begin "Spark of Genius"
Like it very much; laughed at the last line. (maybe wasn't supposed to?) The last 10 days I discovered my heart is genre and has actually no interest in cross-over to literary fic. at all.ReplyDelete
And Happy New Year!
In a moment of synchronicity, this got posted on the Sci Phi Facebook page:ReplyDelete
I loved the nod to Card's M.I.C.E. quotient.ReplyDelete
End "Spark of Genius"ReplyDelete
Begin "The Seven Widows" excerpt
Oh, thou Arch-Tantalizer!ReplyDelete
Arch-Tantalizer? It that something that tickled the sole of the foot?ReplyDelete
End "The Seven Widows" excerptReplyDelete
Begin "The Blood Upon the Rose"
Ouch. But if you fail to communicate that badly... silence isn't exactly a virtue.ReplyDelete
End "The Blood Upon the Rose"ReplyDelete
Begin "Great Sweet Mother"
Perhaps this poor biologist had himself a bit more drink than he let on, or else he would have told me why diving gear didn't seem to be an option for him and his beloved; or why they couldn't have arranged a tank with seawater for her to wait in while he developed his own gills; or why it seemed to have taken him a while to replicate the process which he described as an accidental prick. Neither did he answer my inquiries as to her promises to wait for him (because surely she made him her vows, yes?), and to meet with him out in the sea whenever he could.ReplyDelete
I had so many questions. I daresay ditch water is brighter than I am. I didn't even know what I was supposed to be dying with curiosity about when he first addressed me. What is so odd about a man sitting on the beach with food and books? It's quite a lovely thing to do. I like walking along the beach, night or day; night, of course, affords me the cover of darkness. And yes, there were many places in that cove for me to hide in. Not for nothing have I been called a disgrace to the 'fairer sex'--and a blight upon worlds in general! I doubt he would have remained where he was, or called me his friend, if he had been able to see me clearly.
And this brings me back to the drinks. I would have liked to talk about the mer-folk he mentioned; I'm not sure if there are creatures like that in the netherworld, where I came from. And the waves! Oh, the waves. But he seemed less sober than I would have liked. And he was quite focused on being with his Sandy. I can only hope she treats him well. I have little experience in such things.
End "Great Sweet Mother"ReplyDelete
Begin "From the Corner of the Eye"
That was great. I have to ask- how much time between "Dragons" and this one? Those two together are wonderfully complementary.ReplyDelete
Dragons was finished in 1987; Corner in December 1992.Delete
I never would have thought humans would find dryads tasty. Hmmm.ReplyDelete
That would explain why there are so few around today . . .ReplyDelete
End "From the Corner of the Eye"ReplyDelete
Begin "Nexus: Jim-7"
End "Nexus: Jim-7"ReplyDelete
Begin "The Promise of God"
That was an unflinching story. You began with a dark premise and developed it to a believable, melancholy outcome. Nealy's cravings as an older man strike me as logical results of both soul-loss due to magic use, and the psychological push-pull methods the vestal uses to keep him under control. These broken behaviors of a being broken in an abusive environment remind me in some ways of the pathologies developed by the survivors of the Spartan agoge.ReplyDelete
The setting piques my curiosity. Given mentions of Leif Erikson, the Pine Barrens and Oneida, did you set the story in the Mid-Atlantic states (with a significantly different history) with Nealy's family farm in New Jersey, and the cabin shared with his rixler up in the Taconics or Adirondacks? I was also pleased with the suggestion of not just a drastically different history, but entire metaphysical reality, sans info-dump, with your weaving of the mezuzah, prayers to gods, hermetic texts and other details into natural places within the narrative. It's quite a different world where priests carry ankhs, Gnostic ramblings appear valid as real scripture, and Mohammed is a saint. Was that last detail a reference to "Agent of Byzantium"?
You've also expanded my vocabulary and linguistic knowledge, which I thank you for. I had not known that "man" originally meant "person" and that "wereman" and "wifman" meant the respective male half and female half. That's a beautiful case of language expressing the metaphysical truth illuminated in Matthew 19:5. I'm tucking that one into my back pocket should I need to employ it in my future defense (and I imagine I will - I'm at university).
I don't recall now if I had read Agent of Byzantium or not at the time.Delete
I'm glad you enjoyed the story, if "enjoy" is quite the right word.
It's the correct word to describe my feelings towards your craftsmanship, language, hints at the setting and courage in developing the premise to its end. My overall experience of the story is accurately captured by the term "appreciation." Thank you for sharing it with us.Delete
I enjoyed it in both the conventional and Lewisitcal senses. Now I must contemplate it. The language is a delight, and although the very pagan societal vision is dark all get-out, it is entirely self consistent. I didn't see the end coming until a few lines out, but in retrospect, said "Of course. How else could such a tale end?" Brilliant darkness indeed.ReplyDelete
Perhaps I know you too well, Michael, as an honest craftsman.ReplyDelete
I had the necessary ending here:
"Yes, four or five possibilities, some of them quite amusing. And it made Agnes’s request so much more interesting."
It may be better sans the ultimate line.
The nod to the Jersey Devil was also appreciated.
I have sworn not to be (a) Greta, and I pray to Our Lord I stay true. (I have not exactly been their favorite, and no man has asked me to be his wif, so there's not much difficulty.) Why Gretas are found to be so desirable, I surrender to God as well.ReplyDelete
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Whoa is me.Delete
End "Promise of God"ReplyDelete
Begin excerpt from Shipwrecks of Time
End excerpt from Shipwrecks of TimeReplyDelete
Begin "Built Upon the Sands of Time"
People who would revise the continuum do tend to have this propensity for wishful thinking. The physicist is aware of the multitude of possibilities that could occur. Why should he insist that Lisa FitzHugh is better off? It's more than likely that she's somewhere sulking and blaming other people for her miseries, as is clearly her established behavior. She may even have had another child to whom she also has passed on her sullen disposition and bad temper. (I'm not sure, either, why no one has addressed her role and responsibility in regards their marital troubles.) And if she is indeed better off, why should that absolve the physicist from what he did? Poor Lenny, and poor Hennesey!
That is a terribly sad story! And scary. Worse than any Lovecraft. Brrr. Glad I went to Confession last night.ReplyDelete
Of course, even if a father can forget his child, we are promised that God will not forget us; so there's that.
I saw "Watch this Space" and thought that was the title of the new story preview :-(ReplyDelete
Watching, watching, watching.ReplyDelete
My eyes are getting dry!
-- Occasional Correspondent
Still watching...still waiting :(ReplyDelete
In the Belly of the Whale
Looking forward to the book. What poor blighter is getting offed?ReplyDelete
— Occasional Correspondent
In the sighing of the sergeant I see an extra slash. Is this slash fiction?ReplyDelete
— Occasional Correspondent