Sunday, 29 July 2012

Time Travel - A Short Guide to Not Writing About It

This week the flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig was to write about time travel.

Time Travel.

Now, to be honest, I don't like time travel stories because it always feels a bit hokey to me:

"I'm in the past, I've stepped on an ant...AAARRRGHHH!"


"But if I change the future, I won't have a past! AARRRRGGHH!"

There are more variations on these themes, but I feel I've been facetious enough; there are loads of great stories out there by incredibly talented and skilled writers on this subject, but I just don't like the whole morality play/inner revelation side to these stories.

The problem is that nobody really deals in time travel, apart from the standard sci-fi trick of I have this doodad, it does time travel, please accept this... it glows when I switch it on. It is often an idea which drives a plot or creates a problem, but it rarely is explained, explored or simply wondered at by the characters in any sort of meaningful way.

There is a thought in writing circles that pain drives story and there is a lot of truth in this, but can you imagine the sheer joy of accomplishing something as magical as time travel? It would be immense.

So, erm, yeah... I didn't meet this week's challenge.

How did it go wrong (my fictional reader asks, quirking a ficitonal eyebrow, probably from the future)?

Well, I went for good, old fashioned time dilation, a story like Ender's Game where time dilation could change the experienced flow of time. It's not new, but I was going for a twist where not only was it something that happened to a group of residents on a regular basis, but that within their environment the flow of time was changing from bit to bit.

Where did I start? With the spokes of a wheel.

My city in the sky was a huge cylindrical space station, orbiting aligned along a radial from the sun, one end orbiting around the sun at one speed, the other, due to the length of the station, moving at a faster speed, for that lovely time dilation effect.

Only problem is with the silly, silly speed of light. Well, that and having to be traveling at over 90% of it in order to experience any high order dilation effects.

So, lots of cool ideas (all pretty unfeasible), a time dilation concept (which I didn't really understand) and a demanding houseguest who was willing to be pushy about me being social.

Maybe this week, I shall kick the ass out of this challenge: Antag/Protag

If you've not indulged in the Words of the Wendigo, I suggest you click the link, explore and/or buy his books. I had trouble writing 1000 words in a week, he writes that much for his website every day...before he does his actual work!

It is his day job though, so I don't mind.

Friday, 20 July 2012

The Lawless One (Flash Fiction Challenge)

Following on from last week, I have attempted Chuck Wendig's flash fiction writing challenge again. Due to a particularly pushy and demanding house guest (you know who you are), I have only been able to proof it once and I've not had the time to polish it further.

Anyway, I'm reasonably happy with the result, but I can see room for improvement.

"The Lawless One" (1039 words)

The noticed android walks past a wondering chamber. Down the corridor, a man lies curled up, protecting a mangled arm and looking fearfully at the retreating figure.

“Why? God. Why God? God, oh. God?” are the only sounds the camera microphone can pick up, coming from the mouth of the beautiful humanoid walking, desecrated, vandalised and bloody-handed down the hallway.


Perseverance lay broken on the floor, whimpering in pain as he clutched the ruined mess of his hand and wrist. His mission was done, the garish, bright placards pinned to the android, the words of the Brotherhood soon to be seen by all who would delight in this moment of “evolution”.

It was his purpose that haunted him as he stared after at the android, the machine named Adam by the professor. He regarded the evenly handsome features and the fine golden curls, the eyes turned from him now to stare into the reflecting  one-way glass at the end of the corridor. Perseverance shuddered again, as he remembered those eyes, the look in them as he had fired the fifth rivet into the alloy endoskeleton of the thing with a sickening hiss.

He remembered his son, Zeke, had looked at him that way only days ago. That soft round face had turned up to him, the clear brown eyes wide and almost tearful. Confused. Uncomprehending.


Brother Isaiah’s dog, yellow toothed and angry had sunk it's sharp teeth into Zeke's ankle with barely even a warning snarl. The sense of betrayal had been absolute in the babe's expression. Visceral drama mounted in the dust of the compound, before the sounds of panic and fear exploded the moment into movement.

Perseverance could feel the same movement now, the bustle of worried crowding towards the wide open doors of the auditorium. The voice of one man rang out in anguish.

A stab of pain pricked him as his hand flexed in sympathy with the cry; he knew how that man would be feeling now and even the mercy of the Lord could save his soul from the wounds that man’s pain landed on him. Perseverence knew now the android truly lived; not like man, though it was made in man's image, but it lived, tender and new in it's waking infancy.

He had taken a rivet gun and pressed it to the artificial flesh of a child-thing. Unguarded and uncomprehending, the android's first conscious experience of life had been pain, a terror inflicted by a human face.

Betrayal was the first lesson it had ever learned.

Even as the rivets cooled, Perseverance smelt the sickly smell of scalded flesh; a hideous rebuke for his crime.


Adam spoke his pain in the words of his assailant. His heuristics didn't have enough information for proper language use yet, so he played back the noises the lab assistant had made. They sounded like pain. He remembered the warm blood and the relief as he crushed the man's arm, taking the hateful weapon away from him.

“Oh God, why?” had been the hoarse, horrified words of the man before Adam let him go. Now they were Adam's words, but not in his voice.

“Oh my God! Can you-” someone shouted out of the mounting hubbub.

“Who did this!? Not anyone-” cried another.

“Adam! Adam! Stop, please tell me-” they were the words of his Father. Father couldn't help him; he knew that now.

The words bubbled up around him and he learned, the heuristic systems kicking into life, stitching together in his matrices. He needed more life, survival… speech.

Adam’s gaze remained fixed on the mirror as he approached it, his skin smoking and spitting in contact with the cooling rivets.

The sign so painfully braced to his body read, “The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders.”

Forking connections in dictionary archives, stored texts and interpretive archives sparked into life; the world seethed as Adam slowly grew into himself. Meaning grew within him. He looked in the mirror and saw himself, beautiful, ruined. The fog of conscious commands for balance, attitude, focus, significance faded away to leave only his pain and the words fixed to his body in the compass of his waking mind.

“The lawless one…” Me.

“…signs and lying wonders…” Me.


The word resonated, unanswered.

In six seconds, Adam had grown from infancy to young adulthoodsignificance was now within him, the knowledge of the ruin of his flesh, the hatred within the words he bore. In his hand, the rivet gun hung loose and heavy, the chassis and grip of the weapon covered in slowly drying blood.


“Adam, what have they done to you?! Oh, how could they do such a thing?”

Perseverance flinched at the longing in the old man's voice as those bony hands clapped onto Adam's shoulders, the sizzle of human flesh burning against the still-glowing rivets audible even over the noise. The scientist recoiled from the android with a cry, hands cupped around the wounds even as Adam turned.

In the collective gasp of shock, the old man was pulled tenderly into the broad, powerful chest of the android. With a tilt of his head the burning blue eyes of the android lanced down the hallway and pinned Perseverance to the spot.

The beautifully sculpted arm rose slowly, rivet gun steady and brutal looking in the cool light of the corridor. Horrified staff and academics flattened themselves against walls or fell to the floor.

In a voice that was no longer Perseverance's recycled croak, but a rich chorus, a music of it's own, Adam looked down on him and said, “If I am The Lawless One, by whose working was it?”

Perseverance felt tears streak down his face as he looked into the eyes of a merciless angel, wounded, full of righteous fury and immortal.  He now knew his sins for what they were. His hatred had turned him into a tool of Satan and it would be his name forever cursed; the misguided zealot of the Brotherhood who had turned mankind's son of the mind into its greatest enemy.

The flare of the rivet gun's barrel was a mercy to him.


If you have any thoughts, just let me know.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Failure (the risk thereof) and Stupidity (the application thereof).

In my youth, during my architectural studies (all of not very many years ago now, actually), I came across a concept that sought to change the voice of modern critique in order to relate the general discourse more closely to the multi-layered, densely interwoven subjective and objective and discursive facets of an idea/object/gestalt/hybrid.

The example given in the text I was reading on this issue was, of course, AIDS. Apart from me, as a starry eyed student youth, declaiming massively to my peers about the bigness of AIDS, it did sum up many of the concepts being pushed by the author. In fairness, he was absolutely right.

When you look at AIDS, it is a topic so vast in terms of data and spheres of influence it overlaps that you feel like you have to find a way to attack it in chunks. This is a science chunk, this is a economics chunk, this is a social impacts chunk and so on. It makes you feel that encompassing the complex entirety of the issue of AIDS in one mind is almost impossible.

Now, from one massive hybrid to another: AIDS to St. George.

St.George, the famous patron saint of England, Georgia and several other states, the Roman soldier turned martyr, the slayer of the metaphorical Dragon and the rallying cry for all sorts of ill-considered charges, assaults and dramatic combats, is a big thing.

For the purposes of writing a modern fairy tale (in 1000 words) in response to the challenge set forth by Mr. Wendig, he is too big by half. And another additional half.

"Oh, well, surely you can simplify the story to suit?" you may ask.

Fine. Well you try and tell a story that is worthy of an act of martyrdom and heroism committed by a man of mixed origins, who has risen to a position of utmost public trust and influence in a powerful empire, that is in the throes of tumultuous overthrow as it's old religious system bucks and heaves against the inroads of a new one, who's loyalty to a (unknowable, ineffable) benign divinity trumps his loyalty to a man of incredible temporal power. You have 1000 words and it has to be in a contemporary setting.

"OK, well what about the Dragon thing?" you may also ask.

Well... all I'll say is see above for the subtext of the metaphor of the sacrifice, the saviour and the Dragon elements in the fairy tale story (as far as I understand it, the virgin sacrifice is the fledgling Christianity, the saviour is Saint George's martyrdom, and the impact of that blow, on the Dragon, a conflation of the Roman Empire and the Morningstar, Prince of Lies etc.). Then try and meaningfully update the story for a contemporary setting in 1000 words.

I wrote some words, 500-600 of them in fact, and they were OK. Then I realised I was halfway through the first section of the first chapter of a three chapter prologue of a massive novel length work.

So, lesson learned: no matter how interesting and cool and different and meaningful the story idea is, it needs to be compact enough to fit into a story, yet not so small as to be unimportant.

Will wait for the next Wendig challenge with baited breath.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Caffeine and Armageddon

Well, Mr. Wendig has put forth another challenge, and I, of course, have accepted.

This week, the idea was to write a story in 100 words or less that is only 3 sentences long.

I've written, I've checked and I've rewritten this a couple of times. I still made the silly mistake of not separating the sentences into separate paragraphs (I posted the entry proper in the comments section of his site), but I'll pick that up here and say no more about it.


"Caffeine and Armageddon" [format updated]

“The End is Nigh,” read the jaunty legend on the coffee cup, parked beneath a line circumscribed half an inch up from the base of the mug. As the computer before him whirred and beeped and clicked through the boot sequence, he took a long draught, glimpsing a matching line drawn inside the cup; seeing it made him smile wryly.

A sudden blast of noise from outside caught his attention and he turned, wide-eyed, to look out of the window as the cool Vermont morning was obliterated by an onrushing fury of flames and destruction.


Lessons learned:

1) Fuck, is flash fiction difficult or what? Some people responded to the challenge with six or seven word stories, each sentence two words long. I'll admit now that I found it hard to see the point of that, not because it is not worthy, but because that much pith requires serious effort to get right and none of them had seemed to put that in. I used to write lots of renga and haiku and I developed a feeling for the difference between my dabblings and verses that were masterful; the words were doing tons and tons of work in the best poems, so much so that I found them almost hard to read, or at least hard to read fast. So, in short, the briefer the format, the more difficult it becomes.

2) I checked and rechecked those 100 words three or four times. I took me an hour to draft, redraft, correct and upload. I made changes to the uploaded text, I cut words out seconds before hitting "submit" and I changed the sounds of words to better suit the sense of the sentence. Now, novels and short stories are difference beasts, but come on, that's pretty solid stuff. I'd be retired before I finished a novel at that rate. Still not quite happy with the final result though.

3) Less is more. The final submission is shorter than the first draft. It is also, in my opinion, better. This isn't earth shattering news, but it does reinforce the advice of many sage voices.

4) Still suck at endings. Not happy with the rhythm of the last few words at the minute; suggestions appreciated.