Thaw, and rejections.

It’s actually above freezing here, for a change. Some of the sidewalks are still covered with three or four inches of ice, so the thaw isn’t helping much there, but the roads are getting steadily clearer. (And it does help with the sidewalks which aren’t covered with that much ice, so really, all to the good.)

The end of February (and the end of Google Events, dammit) came on a lot faster than I was expecting, so this weekend has been a lot of catch-up. I updated my record of rejections and got four stories out on submission. Skype seems to be working as a Google Hangouts alternative, at least, so that’s a plus.

I found out today that TCAF is coming up and at least two creators whose work I am really smitten by (Junji Ito and Emily Carroll) are going to be there, so I may try making it out in May. Looking at the logistics this next week coming up.

Interview with Cortesa Singh

Three questions with Cortesa Singh, resistance member of Bradbury Weeps and asteroid belter, survivor of the Oort Line on 2311.04.17, when the Chorister fleet swept towards earth. Interview recorded at the Silton Repository on Dirt.


Where were you from?

The belt. Parents planned against a kid but the pills didn’t work, and they wouldn’t sign me over to MarsCorp. Started flying our mining skiff–the Stendahl’s Promise–at fifteen. Wasn’t legal, but we fixed the pilot logs, clocked enough hours to start paying down the company debt.

Lost my leg and dad died in a space grit shower. Other belters got us back but the Promise needed repairs. My cousin Orsina fixed our maintenance logs so MarsCorp couldn’t deny the death benefit. Patched the Promise up, shared what we could with those who got us home.

Orsina taught me Bradbury.

Old Earth writer, before space flight. Told stories that ended with Earth gone and Mars being where we moved past the worst of what people did to each other.

You seen MarsCorp? All us little lights out in the black and they’re sucking us dry on contracts and margins.

Bradbury weeps.

So MarsCorp probes got lost and their systems broke and their scales weighed heavy and paid out extra and we’d share it round.

We were close to getting caught, when the war started.

How did you experience the war?

War, hah. Was a leaking massacre. Scrappy little ships what couldn’t cross a galaxy on the Oort Line, and what came for us–

Orsina and me stripped the Promise down to fuel and power, clad on extra armour, swapped scanners for weapons. I flew, she was gunner. Got through a Chorister hull, but half our weapons were blown clean off. Rest stopped firing.

Wanted to think they’d run dry.

We weren’t getting back anyway.

Gearing up to run the Promise right into the Chorister’s guts when Orsina–

Didn’t hear her coming. Was wearing Bashton’s Ears.

She used a medkit sedative.

Woke up too late.

People talk about Earth and Mars. Not about what it was like out in the black, after. Tatters of the Line stretching all the way to the belt.

The frozen air, leaking.

Understand it. Known her since we were too young to work. If we’d have been dying over nothing, fine, but…

Promise could’ve slowed that Chorister.

Haven’t seen Orsina since I dropped her on the Calabrese. Don’t know if she’s on Dirt or off on a Permancer ship or what. Haven’t checked.

Got nothing to say to her, now.

What are you doing now?

Fixing shit. *chuckles* Haven’t had time to take Promise off-world since I got here.

Dirt’s pretty easy. You can breathe free, step outside free… even water’s free, just leave enough for others. So much give here.

Sloppy or unlucky can kill you, but the belt taught me a lot that’s useful. Sinkhole at Jadoc? My filter masks kept the kids breathing long enough to get fished out. Webster flood? I welded the bridge that held. It’s not just scrabbling. It’s building.

Dirt’s…

We’ve got a chance here. Something new, like Bradbury dreamed we could be on Mars. Fleet’s holding on. Dirt’s building up. Kids from the sinkhole’re doing okay.

Couple still have bad dreams, imagine they heard things.

Dirt’s home now, right? It’s ours, free and clear, thank the Permancer.

Sure they meant well. Only.

Have dreams myself sometimes.

Bradbury said things about free dirt.


After the War is a science-fiction tabletop roleplaying game of memetic horror by  and . Ten years have passed since the end of the galactic war, and now we rebuild our new home on this alien frontier world. The Kickstarter is over, but soon you will be able to tell your own stories on Dirt.

That thing where the thing looks like another thing but isn’t.

I’ve been watching Riverdale (a fact which has prompted a little self-analysis of what exactly I like in a movie or TV show, but that is neither here nor there), and a recent episode did something that I’m sure there should be a term for.

(Spoilers follow. Oh yes.)

Riverdale, for those of you who don’t watch it, is a pulpy neo-noir crime soap teen drama thriller with a faintly retro feel. It’s clearly fond of classic movies (every episode is named after one, usually crime or thriller but sometimes horror). It’s not quite real in a couple of subtle ways. All the main characters are juniors, but they’re also seventeen years old, for example.

One of the patterns (not hard rules) is that leaving Riverdale doesn’t quite work. In the show, three people have done so. One is Jason Blossom: he died. One is “Mrs Grundy”; she made it to Greendale, but was murdered. One was Joaquin, who left by going on a bus to San Junipero – that’s the eponymous town from an episode of Black Mirror which is actually a fictional world where people’s consciousnesses are uploaded after death. (Before the show began, there was also Archie’s mother, and Hermione Lodge – in the context of the show, they both start outside Riverdale and come back to it.) Archie’s mother gets to leave again, but overall, the pattern you see again and again is that people don’t leave Riverdale, and if they do they die.

So. The episode I’m thinking of was called “Tales from the Darkside” and told three short related stories.

In the first, Jughead owes someone a favour, so he needs to deliver a crate to Greendale. He doesn’t have a car, so he asks Archie to drive his, and while they’re en route a tire blows out. A truck driver comes by; he says he’s going to Greendale, he’s got room for one of them and the crate if they pay him, and Jughead agrees to give him all his money ($18) in exchange for the ride.

The first thing the driver says, once they’re moving, is that for a minute he thought Jughead’s friend was Jason Blossom. The driver (played by Tony Todd) then starts telling Jughead about the Riverdale Reaper, a mass murderer from fifty years ago. They stop for gas, and Jughead discovers that the guy has a dead deer in the back of his truck.

Meanwhile, Archie calls a repair service, gets his tire replaced, and drives on. He reaches the point where the sign on the road says

<- RIVERDALE
GREENDALE ->

and stops for a second. A deer crosses the path, strolls straight across the road, and disappears into the woods behind the sign.

And, alright, practically speaking, it’s not that anyone actually can’t leave. Archie catches up with Jughead and they make the delivery.

But in terms of subtext…

  • Jughead gets a ride from someone.
  • This person, in a show that loves and references movies, and which is specifically referencing horror movies with this episode, is played by the actor who played the urban legend/killer/living story from Candyman, and who was Death in the Final Destination series.
  • The first person the driver indicates he knew is a boy whose defining characteristic throughout the show has been that he’s dead. It drives the entire first season.
  • The first name the driver brings up (and he never brings up his own) is that of the Reaper.
  • This man demands all of Jughead’s money in exchange for ferrying him across the border.
  • We see a living deer as the creature that walks along the border between Riverdale and elsewhere.
  • We see that this man has a slaughtered deer in his truck; literally, the thing that marks the border, destroyed and made powerless.

This is absolutely the story of Jughead being stuck delivering a questionable substance to repay a favour. You know he’s not going to come to a Tales from the Crypt terrible ending. He’s got to stick around. We know this.

But it is also the story of someone being taken across a border by a stranger who is all but wearing a T-shirt saying “Ask me about my role as the Grim Reaper, Guardian of the Threshold and Ominous Bringer of the End.” And we know that as well, and we can enjoy the beats of that story even as we are sure they will never happen. And the beats of that story both exist and shape our expectations of what will actually happen.

There’s a word for this, isn’t there? Telling one story, but telling it in the shape of another?

Westworld

First: I am not impartial about this show. It is beautiful, both visually and in terms of each episode’s construction. It is richly nuanced. It is thoughtful. Unless it takes a sharp right turn off a high cliff, I think it is going to be the best science fiction show I’ve seen this year.

Second: I have not yet seen more than the second episode, and it’s the second episode I want to talk about. (Of course, this might be the kind of thing people have already established in cast interviews, or something, but I’m going to put it under a cut for spoilers anyway.)

Continue reading “Westworld”

Of fine bookery

Orrin Grey’s excellent collection, Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings, is coming back into print! There’s a Kickstarter currently running for the new edition, so I am going to have two copies of it, and one of them will come with an extra story and some e-phemera. The stories in this book are lovely; I may have mentioned “The Seventh Picture” before, and I continue to live in the hope that someone will someday make a movie out of that one.

My review of the initial edition is here, but I figured I’d yank a partial paragraph:

There’s horror here, yes, but that’s not all that’s important here; Never Bet the Devil would be an impressive but rather cold book if it was. The infinite strangeness of the supernatural, that was what I was having trouble defining, and a love for the strange and supernatural elements of the genre. The stories, taken together, are stories of horror, and loneliness, and madness, and mystery. And they still manage to convey a sense of wonder. Not overwhelmingly so; I don’t think it’s possible to come away from them thinking cheerful thoughts. But dammit, reading stories like this, stories that have these things in them… this book makes me happy, and the reading has improved my days.

Overall it comes out to less than $2 a story to get a digital copy, and these are some really, really lovely stories, even without the illustrations. Worth checking out.

“Don’t Go Out Alone”, Simone Kimberley, in “Parasite”, Mira Grant

Certain lines can’t be uncrossed,
Certain maps will get you lost,
Once you’ve past the border then you’ll have to play the game.
Roll the dice but count the cards,
Break the glass but keep the shards.
The world is out of order. It’s been broken since you came.

The broken doors are hidden in the blood and in the bone.
My darling child, be careful now, and don’t go out alone.

This is an odd one because the work itself doesn’t exist.

What I’m quoting is a fragment of Don’t Go Out Alone, a children’s book that exists in-universe in Mira Grant’s Parasite, but is not confirmed to be fully transcribed. (Mira Grant is a pen name used by Seanan McGuire, so we’ve got an author who created an author who created an author… it’s turtles all the way down. Well, turtles with scalpels.)

Parasite is a lovely book; compelling characters, good pacing, a mounting sense of dread. The lines from Don’t Go Out Alone just chime through it and accentuate it. Absolutely worth reading.

“Loob”, by Bob Leman

The proof is this: they are here, the Goster County dogs.

This is one of those moments where you really need to read the story in order to appreciate the line, which on the one hand I kind of tend to avoid–but on the other hand after four years of wanting a copy of Bob Leman’s collection Feesters in the Lake, I am looking like I will actually get a copy of Feesters in the Lake, and I am celebrating.

I’ve spoken about Bob Leman before. His writing, from what I’ve seen, is elegant and restrained. I’m not sure I’d go so far as to call it understated, but his horror whispers, it does not shout.

You can read “Loob” in full at Weird Fiction Review.

“The Shadow Out Of Innsmouth”, H.P. Lovecraft

I shall plan my cousin’s escape from that Canton mad-house, and together we shall go to marvel-shadowed Innsmouth. We shall swim out to that brooding reef in the sea and dive down through black abysses to Cyclopean and many-columned Y’ha-nthlei, and in that lair of the Deep Ones we shall dwell amidst wonder and glory for ever.

Oh, I have so much to say about Lovecraft.

The first work of his I read was either “The Dunwich Horror” or “Pickman’s Model”. I didn’t start noticing how stridently he kept bringing up race and miscegenation for a long time, to which the only defense that I can offer is that I started way young (and I actually have something else to say about my tendency to not question authorial voice, which is a different issue for another time).

But this quote; this one chimes with me. Because while I believe Lovecraft thought he was writing a terrible horror story about the triumph of degeneration, the more I read it the more it’s about a triumphant escape, and coming home, and realizing who you are to dwell in a place of loveliness and acceptance.

(Also, you know, Deep Ones. Who are neat, although I prefer ghouls.)

Cabal, Clive Barker

For now, they had simpler concerns. Keeping the children from the roofs at night, the bereaved from crying out too loud, the young in summer from falling in love with the human. It was a life.

I think this one appeals because it actually focuses on the quiet or peaceful life of a society, rather than a handful of individuals. It kind of pulls back and gives you space to relax.

(Also, you know, hidden society of monsters.)

Mind, I generally find Barker’s style to be dreamy and faintly detached; I’m not sure it would work as well if he wasn’t building on an entire novel in the same vein. Either way, though, it’s very relaxing.

“The Screwfly Solution”, James Tiptree, Jr.

AP/Nassau: The excursion liner Carib Swallow reached port under tow today after striking an obstruction in the Gulf Stream off Cape Hatteras. The obstruction was identified as part of a commercial trawler’s seine floated by female corpses. This confirms reports from Florida and the Gulf of the use of such seines, some of them over a mile in length. Similar reports coming from the Pacific coast and as far away as Japan indicate a growing hazard to coastwise shipping.

That cheery fragment is actually one of the less upsetting pieces of text in Tiptree’s “The Screwfly Solution”. It’s a fairly hard-hitting story, especially when you (for example) go in thinking that while it’ll probably be a good story, it’ll be a little dated and there’s no reason to think it’d make more of an impression than others you’ve read.

(I was corrected. To borrow a phrase from another work, I was corrected harshly.)

That short story’s remarkable to me at least in part because I honestly feel like the last few lines weaken the horror of it. Partly that’s surprising because I find most of Tiptree’s work is remarkably consistent and builds well on itself; partly that’s interesting because I’ve got a class on beginnings and endings tomorrow, and I’ve been thinking a lot about them lately.

Tiptree wrote a great many stories, and it’s hard to choose what to recommend first, but after “The Screwfly Solution” you could do worse than go with “Your Faces, O My Sisters! Your Faces Filled of Light!”, “The Man Who Walked Home”, and “The Girl Who Was Plugged In”.