Wednesday, April 29, 2015

I Sound Like That?!

Lately I've been pushing out some short fiction as a way to procrastinate the finishing touches on a novel for submission; chapter summaries are the devils work. Another form of procrastination has been the involvement of a writing podcast with several friends, recording once a week for (@typehammer). No matter what you may have heard, podcasting is only just a new venture to sink cash into fancy hardware. In my case, a nice mic and headphones. Please don't listen to episode 2. My audio is frightenly bad.

What does any of this have to do with writing? Well, last weekend I had published through the #Saturdayscenes writers group a twelve hundred word story called The River. Remember that procrastination I mentioned? Well on Sunday I fired up a free copy of Audacity, sat in front of the mic and turned my short story into an audio story.

I quickly learned two things:
  1. I do not like my voice (seriously, who does? Mike Rowe, maybe?)
  2. It is a lot harder than I have given people credit for
The takeaway for me was crystal clear. It was a great way for me to review and edit my work. Reading it back, out loud, forced me to read the material in a new light and see where changes needed to be made.

What to hear my mumbling? You can hear me say w-ivver instead of river. You can also hear my iPhone let me know I have a facebook message. Should I re-record for better clarity? Probably, but I wanted to share this work in progress. Like writing, the first version is always crap.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

StoryMaker: Nothing Dies

I know it's been a while since I last used this process for storytelling, so just a reminder, the StoryMaker is a way to create random story ideas using random numbers to determine setting and theme. I first posted about it on this blog here:

This is another experiment using the StoryMaker. However, this one actually came out of random brainstorming, and I decided to create a real story out of it several days later. In addition, this one ended up being too long a concept to use for one writing exercise. If people are interested, I'll continue the story in later posts. By the way, the StoryMaker roll I used to create this story is listed at the bottom, after the story itself to avoid spoilers.

Avuwav would always remember the day when it all started, not that she ever forgot any other day. November 16th, 2546 by the old calendar. She was in higher education, spending her days in the old facilities and her nights at home, in a dome a good thirty miles from any of the old settlements. The commute wasn't a problem (not via 1,300 mph hypertube, at least,) but few students bothered to even visit the facility. There wasn't any need for it, after all. Any classwork could just be done online in the comfort of home, and besides, the old facility was creepy. Just standing around, studying five-dimensional math or interstellar transportation theory where people once lived and died? Why expose yourself to that emotional paradox?

But Avuwav didn't mind. She was a bit of a traditionalist, who preferred making friends and seeing her professors in person. Besides, she reasoned, what was the point of learning history if you were only going to do it based on theory and holographic projections? If you were going to learn about the past, you should be willing to confront it, get the emotional scale of what it meant, figuratively live in it. Whatever, she thought to herself. At least she wasn't as bad as her history obsessed weirdo friend Qehoxa.

However, on the night of the first incident, all of her justifications vanished away. Night had already fallen when she made her way to the hypertube that would take her home. But she wouldn't get there that night. Just as she made her way into the last hallway out of the ruins of the past, the doors sealed themselves. She stopped, more irritated than worried. A simple malfunction, she assumed, though she couldn't remember the last time she experienced. But then the lights in the hallway started flickering, leaving her in total darkness every few seconds. This shouldn't happen, she realized. More than that, it couldn't. Nothing had been built so haphazardly in centuries.

And then she heard the voice. “Get out,” it whispered, inches away from her, though she could see nothing. A faulty com system? Impossible. That would have resonated all around her from the exact direction of the speakers. But as she stood alone in that dark hallway, surrounded by impossible things, a horrible thought struck her. What if this wasn't some faulty facility equipment? What if the only thing malfunctioning was … her? Only way to be certain. She shut down all external sensor equipment, leaving her in the comforting embrace of pure data. She ran her internal self-diagnostics a dozen times, but every time, she came up clean. A little bad memory here and there, but nobody was perfect. Nothing that would explain such irrational sensory experiences. At any rate, when she returned to the external world, all the strange phenomenon. Even so, rational or not, she didn't hesitate a moment to get the hell out of there.

“What do you think happened, Qehoxa?” Avuwav later asked her friend. As soon as she got out of the hallway, she called her friend. He would be the only one likely to believe her, at least without a mandatory outside full diagnostic. Plus, she figured he would still be at the facility. He practially never leaves. He caught up her with her in the old library, one still containing real books, albeit only reprints of originals sealed in airtight containers who knows where. Qehoxa was flipping through those books now; a mostly pointless endeavor, since he had them all memorized ages ago, but he figured something would catch his optics.

“I have several theories,” he replied. “But most people would call them … well, the humn word was insane.”

Avuwav, who had been wasting countless units of energy by pacing back and forth behind him, was half-convinced that she was already insane, self-diagnostics be damned, but she wasn't about to let him believe that. She waved a hand to demonstrate indifference. “At this point, I'll listen to whatever you have.”

“Well, you know how I took all those Ancient Human Mythology classes?”

“You and about five other students,” she replied, her optics gyrating. “But go ahead.”

“The humans had several myths about this sort of thing. It went by many names: Poltergeist, specter, haunt, wraith, etc. Most commonly, though, it would be called a 'ghost.' Supposedly, a being that dies and paradoxically continues existing, contrary to any law of science. Such beings normally were born out of some sort of emotional trauma, like an unfulfilled goal in life or an especially horrific death.”

“Even if I believed the theory,” Avuwav said, “How would that make sense? Nothing dies. Not anymore, and certainly not here.”

That wasn't 100% true, of course. Simple bacteria and cells sometimes began and end their life cycles in this facility, and the rare insect managed to get inside and die to starvation or accident soon afterwards. But real people didn't die anymore. Avuwav would never get old, never have to contemplate a universe without her. Parts may wear out in time, but they could be easily replaced. Even a particularly catastrophic body failure would just result in her hard memory transferring to a digital storage facility, where it would wait for a day or two until a new body could be made from scratch. She never heard of an android ever truly dying, not in the centuries since the first one had been built.

“Ah, but think back even farther,” Qehoxa offered. “If the death of one person could be so traumatic as to defy physics itself, how much worse would the death of an entire species be? Just imagine what it would be like for your entire kind to go extinct? Sure, most humans just stopped having children when we came along, but some didn't go gently into that good night. There were wars, plagues, biological disasters.”

Avuwav shook her head. “Even if we would be dealing with the ghosts of humanity, why now? Why start … hinting?


“Haunting us after hundreds of years?”

Qehoxa shrugged. “Maybe the didn't realize we were something you could haunt. Outside of the last few generations, imagine what we must look like to them. We were thought of as things, once, tools at best. No ghost is going to bother haunting a toaster. But maybe the ghosts finally got wise that we're not just toys spinning their wheels in the ruins of their home. We're they're replacements, and it, to use the human term, pisses them off.”

Avuwav was about to finally order Qehoxa to dismiss this silly idea and get back to real explanations. But then the lights went off, and all the doors in the room, which were still the wooden analog variety, slammed shut.

“Qehoxa,” Avuwav whispered to her friend. “I have good news. I don't entirely think you're crazy anymore.”

“I have good news for you too,” he murmured. “You're definitely not malfunctioning. Not yet, anyway.”

Before they could speak further, the felt something rising up below them. A liquid pooled up and started to flood the room. Avuwav analyzed it and found herself lacking. “What is this?” she asked. “It's not water, too thick. Some sort of polycompound?”

Qehoxa groaned. “Honestly, you skipped Organic Biology as well? It's blood. Part of the human circulatory system, designed to get vital nutrients to tissue and regulated by an organ known as the heart.”

Avuwav started to root through the rising flood. “Well, help me find the heart, then, so we can stop this. What does it look like?”

“I don't think there IS one,” Qehoxa said, suddenly afraid.

“But that makes no sense,” Avuwav said. “You just said that blood is a product of a system that includes the heart. It would logically have to be here.”

“It would. But it isn't.”

The very idea froze Avuwav in fear. If her body had any reason to react to cold weather, it would have shuddered. And if she wasn't terrified already, the spectral disconnected pivot and load system (Qehoxa would later explain to her that it was a “skeleton”) that appeared right in front of her and laughed in her face would have done it.”

Avuwav quietly asked, “What do they WANT from us?”

Qehoxa looked around nervously. “Ghosts are frequently very hostile. They might want to drown us or scare us to death.”

“You want to get out of her before they figure out that's impossible and try something worse?”

“I thought you'd never ask.” Qehoxa charged out of the room, easily shattering the antique door as he went, and the two androids broke into a sprint. Not even bothering with the hypertube system, they simply bolted out of the facility and into the empty wastelands beyond the ancient city.

“What are we going to do?” Qehoxa asked as they fled for home.

“Besides never return to the learning facility again?” Avuwav responded.

“Yes, but in the bigger picture. We could seal all the old ruins, but if the ghosts of a dead civilization have awakened, that wouldn't stop them. And how could we fight them? They defy logic, they violate causality, they make liars out of our sensors. We could never be certain of anything, ever again. Anything could be some plan by the ghosts, and we wouldn't even understand the why of it. This could be the end of us.”

Future + Artificial/Horror-Ghost Story

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Dreamleaks 5: Challenging Film

Phyllis sighed and checked the time again. Yup, as she feared, barely a minute since the last time she checked. That makes the the third time she checked in this scene alone. If she could even call this a scene.

She glanced around, and nearly everybody in the theatre was as restless as she was. Everyone except Avi, her date, who looked ready to burst into tears. She didn't want to interrupt whatever moment he was having. But five minutes later, she couldn't stand it. “What exactly is going on?” she whispered to him.

Avi just glared baack. “Don't talk during the movie,” he muttered.

Phyllis insisted she wasn't the kind of person to do something that. Normally. However, it's not like there was any dialogue to interrupt. Or action. Seriously, they'd been watching a tree grow in fast-motion for the past ten minutes now. It was a very nice tree, with certainly expensive 3D effects on the branches and whatnot. But still, just a tree.

“It' just … I don't have any idea what's going on?” she persisted. “I was into the movie at first, but then it got … weird.”

Avi was about to shush her again, but even he had noticed the whispered conversations throughout the theater. “Looks, what's not to get? This is supposed to be the world as it would be without the characters, or anyone else. It's supposed to be a serene contrast.”

It almost serened Phyllis into a nap at that point. But no! Finally, the interminable scene ended and they could go back to the actual characters … as animals. Animals dressed up like the characters from the first part of the movie, just milling about in silly characters.

“Okay, so what does THIS mean?” Phyllis asked, just as the movie theater's staff burst in as a massive swarm. For a moment, Phyllis panicked, certain that the ushers were going to throw her and the other chatting viewers out. But no, instead they started to act out a dramatic battle, right between the rows of seats! This might make the slightest semblance of sense, if not for the fact that half of the staff were dressed like 1920's gangsters, and the others as giant cats.

Before Phyllis could ask, Avi beat her to it. “Obviously, this is supposed to represent the battle between authority as a form of corruption and tyranny versus the amoral freedom of primitivism. Cats versus gangsters is as blatant a metaphor as you can get!”

“Okay, fine, but what does it have to do with the movie that we're ostenably supposed to be watching?” Phyllis argued back. “And just think how much it must have cost to get costumes for every theater in the world.” She shuddered to imagine what the home version of the movie would be like. Maybe the Blueray would come with hand puppets.

Avi refused to answer. He was too entranced with the best acting a bunch of projectionists and ticket-takers could offer contrasted with the actual movie going on, which had switched from animals dressed in costumes to babies dressed in costumes. After an eternity at at least 15 more time-checks, the staff finally went away and the lights came on.

“Oh, thank God, it's finally over?” Phyllis shouted. The actually plot of the movie hadn't been resolved, or even addressed for an hour now, but she didn't care.

“What, no!” Avi admonished her. “The best part's coming up.”

Sure enough, the theater staff burst in, still adorned in their goofy costumes. But instead of acting out another scene, they came bearing pens and paper for the entire audience.

“The best part is a quiz?” Phyllis asked as she stared at the page dumped on her lap.

“It's the interactive part of the movie!” Avi explained. “It lets you reflect on the movie as it has presented itself and how your nature filtered that experience.

Now Phyllis was excited, eager to have an immediate way of venting her frustrations, until she saw the questions. “What exactly does my relationship with my mother have to do with a movie?”

“Ah, the real question is, doesn't your relationship with your mother have to do with everything you experience, INCLUDING the movie?” Avi said. After seeing his date's blank expression, he just grumbled, “I don't even know why agreed to come if you were going to be so critical. The art of cinema is meant to challenge you like this.”

“Well, I certainly didn't expect it from this movie,” Phyllis said. “I can appreciate being challenged by some weird indie film, but this is a big summer blockbuster! I can't help but feel they let their success get to their heads. I was looking forward to this movie for years, but a movie like Avengers 2 needs more superheroes fighting robots and less still images of trees and psych evalutions.”

“But,” she relented, “the puppy dressed like Iron Man was pretty adorable.”