Friday, July 27, 2012

Story of the Week: Gears, Grease, and a Little Bit of Magic

Clockwork Universe
by Tim Wetherell.
H. A. Titus's "Gears, Grease, and a Little Bit of Magic" in the July issue of Residential Aliens is a bit of steampunk flash about a repairwoman with a problem. A customer arrives at her shop one morning with a broken gadget. He never tells her what it is and she's too afraid or proud to ask.

It looked like an over-sized pocket-watch—round, with two carved metal disks covering the inner gears, whatnots, and whoozamacallits that made up the inner workings of the thing. The disks were carved in concentric circles all the way around. A brass knob set at one end of the disks looked like the button you push to open a pocket-watch.

The man wants her to fix it and despite all the other work around her shop and against her better judgement, she agrees to take the job. And he's leaving the next morning on an "airship cruise," giving her one night to fix whatever it is. The man leaves and disappears in the crowded street. For the rest of the day, she does everything except work on the mystery gadget. As she shutters her shop, she prepares for a long night at her work desk. When she finally opens it, she finds its innards as impenetrable as the outside.

The inside was filled with gears, wires, and more brass, all folded into a strange pattern that I couldn’t even begin to recognize. I leaned my elbows on the desk and stared at it.

She wakes to a familiar form silhouetted against her shutters pounding on her shop door.

Titus does very well building a sense of suspense and mystery. What is the gadget and how will she fix it in time. I think she lets her character off a bit easy in the end. I would like to see some repercussions enacted for the method she uses to find the problem. Some sort of trade off would heighten the tension. What I liked most about this story was the atmosphere that Titus evokes. Consider the following:

I poked my head out of the doorway and saw the lamplighters moving along the streets, their lighters clicking and sparking away.

And this:

Pulling the shades, I turned on the gaslights, and sat down at my desk, sweeping clear all the half-finished personal projects and loose bits that had piled up over the last couple of weeks. The disk sat alone on the dark wood, gleaming in the light.

I love stories with a strong sense of place and Titus delivers it. I wish this story was longer so I could extend my visit.

To learn more about H. A. Titus and her writing, check out her blog at

Photo Attribution: OpheliaO (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, July 23, 2012

If Bob Dylan Had Written The Hobbit

Ever wondered what Bob Dylan would have done with The Hobbit? Probably not. But "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" always reminds me of The Hobbit. Both tell of a journey through strange lands where the traveler hears and sees strange and wondrous things and meets amazing people. I'm not much of a poet (not at all to be honest) but here's my version of "A Hard Dragon's A-Gonna Fall." Feel free to laugh and chuckle. I certainly did while writing it. Cue the music.

"A Hard Dragon's A-Gonna Fall"

Oh, where have you been, my hairy-footed hobbit?
And where have you been my middle-aged one?
I've stumbled and crawled inside the Misty Mountains
I've walked down the road that goes ever onward
I've toiled and been lost amidst the evils of Mirkwood
I've been in a barrel that danced on a river
I stole in a mountain and thieved a dragon's hoard
And it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard, and it's a hard
It's a hard dragon's a-gonna fall.

Oh, what did you see, my hairy-footed hobbit?
And what did you see, my middle-aged one?
I saw many an elf a laughin' and singin'
I saw a ring in the dirt that now lives in my pocket
I saw many a Warg from a tree that was burnin'
I saw lights in the trees of a dark, haunted forest
I saw the halls of an elfking and a river there under
I saw sharp swords and bows and shields a clashin'
I saw a stone that glimmered like rain on the moon
And it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard, and it's a hard
It's a hard dragon's a-gonna fall.

And, what did you hear, my hairy-footed hobbit?
And what did you hear, my middle-aged one?
I heard three trolls a-talkin' about me a cookin'
I heard the thunder of giants and stones atop a mountain
I heard a cavern of goblins their drums all a-beatin'
I heard the jeers of goblins who laughed at my burnin'
I heard the talk of spiders a bent on blood suckin'
Heard the voice of a dragon who laughed at my riddles
I heard the screams of a lake town its people a burnin'
And it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard, and it's a hard
It's a hard dragon's a-gonna fall.

Oh, who did you meet, my hairy-footed hobbit?
Who did you meet, my middle-aged one?
I met dwarves bent and twisted on gettin' their treasure
I met an elf who saw letters that no one could see
I met a thing with no soul who ate fish and spoke riddles
I broke bread with a man who prowled as a bear
I met an old wizard who kept comin' and goin'
I met an old dwarf wounded in greed
And it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard, and it's a hard
It's a hard dragon's a-gonna fall.

And what'll you do now, my hairy-footed hobbit?
And what'll you do now my middle-aged one?
I'll celebrate peace and go back to my lodgings
I'll take back my house from those who would sell it
I'll tell you my stories of near death and danger
I'll smoke and I'll eat and I'll grow plump and happy
And when dwarves come a knockin' I'll welcome them in
I'll seek wizards and elves for news of places I've been
And when I grow old I'll go walkin' again
Then I'll meet with the elves and gaze on the mountains
But I'll finish my book before I stop singin'
And it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard, and it's a hard
It's a hard Smaug's a-gonna fall.

Image: Wanderer Looking over the Sea of Fog (1818) by Caspar David Friedrich.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Story of the Week: Taking Care of Ma

Lee Hallison's "Taking Care of Ma"—printed in Daily Science Fiction (June 25th, 2012)—is about relationships. How we relate to technology. How we relate to each other. The narrator/protagonist has an easy relationship with artificial intelligence (AI). She has no issue with letting machines take care of the mundane bits of her life. One of her mundane tasks is looking after her aging mother. The narrator enlists a smart-vac to handle the day-to-day monitoring.

The salesman had shown us how it would sound an alert if she fell, sending a signal to our computer and my left arm implant. It could guide her along, like a service dog. We could program it to beep on schedule—for medicines, time in the bath, etc. And the side benefit—no more dust bunnies.

The mother is less than happy with the smart-vac. She complains that it stares at her and she likes to be in charge of it when vacuuming. The mother attaches a broom handle to the smart-vac with duct tape, giving it the form of a traditional vacuum and puts a scarf over the thing's "eyes." The narrator finds her mother's "modifications" maddening.

What was wrong with wanting her to live out her days safely? She was impossible about progress. The robots weren't "taking over," they were machines. Even the new AIs were machines. And useful ones! I loved my tiny implant—it kept track of everything, and connected me to the web, to Jim, and to Ma's smart-vac. Malevolence was a human trait, not a vacuum's. I obviously hadn't reassured her.

Hallison's story is funny and poignant. She paints a picture of a mother-daughter relationship in crisis and in serious need of some communication. When I started reading this story, I was on the narrator's side. She seems reasonable and genuinely concerned about her mother's well-being. However, as the relationship between mother and daughter unfolds, I found myself switching allegiance to the mother. Irony takes over and we ultimately see that the mother may know more about this machine than her daughter. I believe the mother is also trying to send a subtle message to the daughter that what she really wants is company—the warm blooded kind as opposed to a cold hunk of wires and metal.

To learn more about Lee Hallison and her writing, check out her blog at

Photo Attribution: Larry D. Moore. Image used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Story Acceptance: Good King David

I learned today that my story "Good King David" has been accepted for Dybbuk Press's anthology King David & the Spiders from Mars: More Tales of Biblical Terror. This is a followup to Dybbuk's She Nailed a Stake Through His Head: Tales of Biblical Terror, published in 2010. I am super stoked about this sale. It's a very decent advance plus royalties.

David (at rest), 1865,
Frederic Lord Leighton.
"Good King David" combines elements of Hamlet with the story of Absalom. Sounds crazy but the stories mesh quite well. The setting is Denmark during the dark ages, so instead of telling stories about wandering through the desert of the Sinai for ages, David's people talk about being lost in the Black Forest for ages and following a flaming tree as their guide. Uriah, Bathsheeba's "murdered" husband, plays the role of the ghost who appears to Absalom to get the tragedy rolling. If you're familiar with Absalom's story from the Bible, you won't be surprised to find that this tale is filled with intrigue, murder, incestuous rape, and adultery. I had planned on using Absalom in the story's title but the more I wrote the more David's character insisted that the story was really about him. Typical of kings I suspect. As with customers, your characters are always right.