Many moons ago, there was a Meetup about beginnings. At the time, I was struggling with writing a beginning, and I particularly had in mind the Four Elements of a good beginning: Character, Conflict, Specificity, Credibility. We read the beginnings of several good stories, and I was especially impressed by the beginning of “Special Economics,” by Maureen McHugh.
Jieling set up her boom box in a plague-trash market in the part where people sold parts for cars. She had been in the city of Shenzhen for a little over two hours but she figured she would worry about a job tomorrow. Everybody knew you could get a job in no time in Shenzhen. Jobs everywhere.
In Japan, Tanabata is a summer festival, based on a widely varying legend about two lovers who are now stars in the sky, parted by the Milky Way, flowing like a river across the heavens. And who better to carry messages between them than a clever otter? Leaving aside the sad fate of the river otter in Japan, “On the Banks of the River of Heaven,” by Richard Parks gives us yet another variant in a reading on Podcastle that’s just right for a sweltering summer evening.
All these little bugs having one last fling before winter are reminding me of a trio of stories I heard on Drabblecast a while ago, or as they like to call it, a Trifecta.
So I’m going through my archives of stories I like, which gave me an excuse to listen again the Drabblecast of “Gifting Bliss: Fifteen Years Later, Jason Avery’s Magic is Still Saving the World” by Josh Rountree. It’s a charming presentation, a kind of musical bio show, complete with promo break. Considering that I’m not exactly the sort of person who will beat down a gate to get into a concert, I have a special respect for a writer who can convey their love of music. But I guess what I really like is that it’s a story about magic and the price it demands.
Here’s another bit of silliness. “The Dyslexicon,” by Carl Frederick is almost too silly for words. That’s must be why it turns words inside out, mixes them, and shuffles them about. Filled with all sorts of wordplay, from spoonerism to bad puns, the story presents a conversation between a dyslectic robot interview with the Head of DOG, the Dyslexic Geek Organization. Yes, you did read that right. Read on.
Begs to be read out loud.
So, let’s see. “Shoggoths in Bloom” cast an admiring eye on squamous creatures. “Dark Heaven” offered mystical squamous creatures. Well, actually, neither of them were really squamous even if they were creatures. No, for real squamous horror, you need to go back to a Podcastle miniature form last fall called “All Flee the Vocab Quiz,” by Kristine Dikeman. All that’s missing is the gibbous moon shining over a girl’s shoulder as she studies her squamous vocabulary. Now, that’s a Lovecraft homage.
Told as the rejection letter from a science journal, Standards, by Richard K. Lyon, is full of deft hints of adventure and dry put-downs of the sort of mad genius who submits patents for perpetual motion machines and trisects angles in his sleep. And I think that sentence is almost as long as the story. I just wish I could thank Mr. Lyon for giving the world a good laugh.
Go listen to it.
After enjoying “Mars: A Traveler’s Guide” and “Pride and Prometheus,” I kept flipping through that same issue of F&SF and got caught up in “The Twilight Year,” by Sean McMullen. It begins in Britain long after the Romans have left little behind but ruins. The narrator is a bard who seems to have an effect on his host, the priest of a small shrine, similar to the effect of Lefty the Cowboy or Cacafonix the Bard. A third man, Valcian, abruptly joins them. Both challenge the verity of the narrator’s favorite ballads. To which he responds:
“If my ballad says that Arturian won, then Arturian won,” I said firmly. “Some people do not appreciate poetic license.”
I’m a sucker for stories based on myths and folktales, and even if I don’t know the original, I love that sense of ancient days, with kings and gods and priests, and impossible situations evaded with cunning. “Immortal Snake,” by Rachel Pollack, is mythic from beginning to end.
Long ago, in a time beyond memory, Great Powers owned the land, the water, and even the sky. Of all these empires, the strongest was a land called Written in the Sky. The soldiers of this land, who called themselves the Army of Heaven, travelled in rolling multi-levelled engines covered in sheets of black glass so that pillars of darkness moved across the earth.
Telling us a variant on Pratchett’s multiple tooth fairies, “The Tooth Fairy,” by Jeffrey Valka sounds exactly like the absurd thing a father tells his kids just to mess with them. Like Calvin’s Dad. You might feel like you’ve heard this sort of thing before, and then the last line of the story turns the whole thing on its head.