Sunday, September 30, 2012

Dishwasher Safe II

Remember this incident from back in 2010? Well, it's happened again:
 It's a new home and a new dishwasher...and yet another glass from the same multi-hued set has been sundered with laser-like precision.
In 2010 I theorized that a temperature differential caused the mishap.
But now, having made my way through one-and-a-half seasons of Fringe, I wonder if there are less mundane explanations...


Saturday, September 29, 2012

Young Michaelangelo

Ah, the infinite potential of youth, when all seems possible. Sadly, I never learned to colour inside the lines, nor hammer nails true, nor join timbers into oneness. Indeed, when a home project ends without injuries or property damage I consider myself fortunate.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Last Trip to Greenwoods'

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold. According to rumour, there's a rough beast slouching toward Whyte Avenue's Greenwoods' Bookshoppe - permanent closure.

I was a regular customer at Greenwood's from 1987 until 1999 or so, but my visits grew less and less frequent over the years. It wasn't a conscious choice; I simply moved out of the neighbourhood. I shopped more frequently at Audrey's for a while, and then, after a few months' resistance, I found myself at Chapters more and more often. A few more years have passed and I've found that I purchase books online about 25 percent of the time, especially when I know what I'm looking for and physical bookstores can't or won't carry the often obscure titles I desire.

No one except the Greenwoods knows for sure, but it's easy to surmise that Amazon and other online vendors have contributed to the bookshoppe's pending closure. So this morning, burdened by guilt, I parked at the west end of Whyte Avenue today and took a long penitent walk east to Greenwoods'. There were only two people in the store when I arrived - both staff - and scarcely greater numbers of books. Most of the shelves have been laid bare, and posters declare "All books 50% off - All sales final."

I took a moment to wander up and down the aisles, but there wasn't much to see; just row upon row of empty wooden shelves, shelves that were once crammed to bursting with all manner of literary riches. I remembered all the happy hours I'd spent in the original location next to the Princess Theatre, times when I'd accompany university buddies to catch a show and then pick up some books, or vice versa. After graduation I struggled to find a job in my chosen field and wound up driving a parts truck around the city. I was depressed by the rote nature of the work and the abuse I often endured from a number of my customers, but every Wednesday afternoon I had one escape: I stopped at Warp One to pick up my week's supply of comic books, then crossed the back alley to the back door of Greenwoods' to browse for books. That weekly pleasure never failed to reinvigorate me.

Despite my ability to find all the books I've ever wanted online, I still lament the loss of Greenwoods'. Amazon and other online vendors are wonderful if and only if you already know what you're looking for. But they can't replicate the experience of browsing through the shelves and finding something new and wonderful via serendipity. I estimate fully half the books in my collection were discovered this way.

Now there's one last place to browse, and Edmonton is poorer for the loss. All these thoughts flashed through my mind as I handed over the one book remaining at Greenwoods' to catch my interest: Under the Moons of Mars: New Adventures on Barsoom. I'd never heard of the book before the lurid cover caught my eye on one of those near-empty shelves. One last escape, courtesy of a business that's been a portal to wonder for over thirty years.

Thanks, Greenwoods'. I won't forget you.


Thursday, September 27, 2012

Man with a Kite

Original photo by Tony Longworth, shot back in the early 90s in south Edmonton. Judging by the poster, would you guess this film will turn out to be a soul-searching drama about a man finding his place in the universe, or an action thriller about a maniac with a kite bomb? It's amazing how design choices can influence a work.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Rocket Cycle

I believe this is the only photo ever taken of the three-speed bicycle I owned for several years in the early-to-mid 80s. This bicycle is infamous for two moments seared into my memory.

One summer day, I met with my friends Paul, Jeff and Vern to cycle around my Leduc neighbourhood. Racing through back alleys was a common enough pastime in those days, careening around blind corners without helmets or padding of any kind. Many knees were skinned, many shins filled with tiny bits of gravel, many skulls bruised. On this particular occasion, Paul, Vern and I wound up far ahead of Jeff and we loitered at the end of an alley waiting for him to catch up.When Jeff came ripping around the corner, I shoved my bicycle forward a couple of feet, directly into his path. Jeff doesn't believe me to this day when I make this claim, but I really meant to pull back in time so he wouldn't hit my bike.

Sadly, my reactions weren't fast enough. Jeff's front wheel slammed into my front wheel. And then the world slowed down. My bicycle spun 90 degrees to the left with me still straddling the seat, giving me a perfect view of Jeff's shocked features as he careened over his handlebars. My jaw dropped as I read the betrayal creeping its way across Jeff's face; he screamed "Whyyyyyyy?" as he flew through the air. Jeff corkscrewed in midair almost gracefully, but landed flat on his back on the hard-packed dirt of the alley. A cloud of dust was kicked up by the tremendous impact, and Jeff's body left an impression in the dirt road, just like a Looney Tunes character.

After we finished laughing, we hastened to make sure Jeff was okay. Fortunately Jeff's body has evolved to absorb tremendous amounts of punishment over the years; his pride was more wounded than anything.

I got my just desserts a couple of years later, showing off for my brother Sean and our next door neighbour Keith, who were outside on the front lawns of our houses. I pedalled to top speed, intending to slam on the rear brakes in the driveway and skid to a stop. But when I angled into the driveway I squeezed the front brake rather than the rear and was flung over the handlebars as the front wheel locked up. I'd begun to scream "Rocketman!" as I approached the driveway; it turned into "RocketmAAAHHHHHHH" as I slammed into the earth, the left half of my body hitting soft grass, the right half hard sidewalk.

The impact left me with a nice set of bruises and it destroyed the bike. The front wheel was bent into a V, the brake lines ripped off the handlebars, the frame twisted. Considering the damage to the bike, I counted my lucky stars that I wound up just a little sore.

I miss that bike.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Manitoba Gothic

Mom and Dad, sometime in the late 60s on the old Etsell farm near Virden, Manitoba. Boy those were cold winters..!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Time Enough to List Again

On Saturday I wrote about Science Fiction: The 101 Best Novels, 1985-2010, revealing that I've read only 20 of the "best" novels as chosen by Paul Di Filippo and Damien Broderick. In the comments for that post Mike Totman mentioned the existence of a related book, Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels. Upon finishing The 101 Best Novels I suspected that I might in fact own the original David Pringle work, and sure enough it was sitting in the as-yet-unshelved nonfiction pile in my library. I read it Saturday afternoon to see if I'd read a substantial number of Pringle's choices for best SF novel written between 1949 and 1984.

While I haven't read a majority of Pringle's picks, I have managed to read over a third of his choices: 1984 (George Orwell), Earth Abides (George R. Stewart), The Martian Chronicles (Ray Bradbury), The Puppet Masters (Robert Heinlein), The Day of the Triffids (John Wyndham), The Demolished Man (Alfred Bester), Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury), Childhood's End (Arthur C. Clarke), Bring the Jubilee (Ward Moore), The Space Merchants (Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth), More Than Human (Theodore Sturgeon), The End of Eternity (Isaac Asimov), The Stars My Destination (Alfred Bester), The Death of Grass (John Christopher), The Door into Summer (Robert Heinlein), Alas, Babylon (Pat Frank), A Canticle for Leibowitz (Walter M. Miller), Rogue Moon (Algis Budrys), Hothouse (Brian W. Aldiss), The Man in the High Castle (Philip K. Dick), Way Station (Clifford D. Simak), Dune (Frank Herbert), Make Room! Make Room! (Harry Harrison), Flowers for Algernon (Daniel Keyes), The Dream Master (Roger Zelazny), Stand on Zanzibar (John Brunner), Nova (Samuel R. Delany), Camp Concentration (Thomas M. Disch), Heroes and Villains (Angela Carter), 334 (Thomas M. Disch), Walk to the End of the World (Suzy McKee Charnas), Michaelmas (Algis Budrys), The Ophiuchi Hotline (John Varley), Timescape (Gregory Benford) and Oath of Fealty (Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle).

35 out of 100 - not bad. As with The 101 Best Novels, several of Pringle's choices in The 100 Best Novels already exist in my library and I'll get to them soon: Mission of Gravity (Hal Clement), The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed (Ursula K. LeGuin),  High-Rise (J.G. Ballard), Man Plus (Frederik Pohl), Neuromancer (William Gibson) and The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Martian Time-Slip and Dr. Bloodmoney (Philip K. Dick).

Of the other books on Pringle's list, I find The Long Tomorrow (Leigh Brackett), The Inheritors (William Golding), A Case of Conscience (James Blish), Cat's Cradle (Kurt Vonnegut), Bug Jack Barron (Norman Spinrad), Tau Zero (Poul Anderson), Galaxies (Barry N. Malzberg), The Female Man (Joanna Russ), Engine Summer (John Crowley) and No Enemy But Time (Michael Bishop) most intriguing at this particular moment in my life.

Reading all these, at least, would enable me to cover more than half of Pringle's chosen ground. I wonder how many of these novels are still in print?

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Audrey's Kids

When I was working for the Official Opposition I was often upset by the provincial government's unwillingness or inability to truly recognize the value of special needs support staff in the public education system. My friend Audrey is one of these absolutely vital (and tragically underpaid) workers. She has an extremely difficult job, and without her and others like her the educational opportunities, quality of life and dignity of children with special needs is drastically curtailed.

Special needs staff are currently on strike. They're asking for a 1.5 percent increase; Edmonton Catholic Schools responded with a counter-offer of $200 as a lump sum payment. Steve's blog has more background.

I've known Audrey for two decades. She's one of the kindest people I know; she adores kids and devotes herself to meeting their needs. Audrey and workers like her make it possible for Alberta's children with special needs to do more achieve more and enjoy their lives more. She provides them with love and hope, and frankly I think that's pretty priceless. I'd be happy to pay higher taxes if the provincial government would pay these workers what they deserve and fund special needs programs to give these special children the best possible chance of living healthier, happier lives.

Alberta is the richest province in the richest country in the world. Surely we can adjust our priorities to put more emphasis on our children and those who care for them?



Saturday, September 22, 2012

Time Enough to List

In the classic Twilight Zone episode "Time Enough at Last," Burgess Meredith is at first delighted by the nuclear war he survives, because he'll finally have time enough at last to read all the books he wants. Of course he breaks his glasses at the end of the episode, because Rod Serling was a sadist.

However misguided the priorities of Burgess Meredith's character may have been, I'm sure most bookworms sympathize with his desire to have enough time to read everything that catches our interest. I consider myself reasonably well-read, particularly within my favourite genre, science fiction, but in truth after forty years of reading I've barely scratched the surface of even that single narrow discipline.

I didn't need to read Science Fiction: The 101 Best Novels 1985-2010 to come to this conclusion, but doing so did illuminate the gaps in my coverage rather starkly. Of the 101 novels listed by Damien Broderick and Paul Di Filippo, I've read precisely 20: The Handmaid's Tale (Margaret Atwood), Ender's Game (Orson Scott Card), Queen of Angels (Greg Bear), Barrayar (Lois McMaster Bujold), Jumper (Steven Gould), Red Mars (Kim Stanley Robinson), A Fire Upon the Deep (Vernor Vinge), Permutation City (Greg Egan), The Diamond Age (Neal Stephenson), Forever Peace (Joe Haldeman), Salt (Adam Roberts), Light (M. John Harrison), Altered Carbon (Richard Morgan), The Separation (Christopher Priest), The Time Traveler's Wife (Audrey Niffenegger), The Labyrinth Key (Howard V. Hendrix), The Plot Against America (Philip Roth), Spin (Robert Charles Wilson), In War Times (Kathleen Ann Goonan) and Steal Across the Sky (Nancy Kress).

I own several of Broderick and Di Filippo's chosen 101 and I'll doubtless read them soon: Use of Weapons (Ian M. Banks), Sailing Bright Eternity (Gregory Benford), The Cassini Division (Ken MacLeod), Perdido Street Station (China Mieville), The Road (Cormac McCarthy), The Yiddish Policemen's Union (Michael Chabon), Boneshaker (Cherie Priest) and The Quantum Thief (Hannu Rajaniemi). Even if I read them all this year, though, I won't have made my way through even a third of this particular list.

On the other hand, lists like these are by their nature subjective and therefore debatable: Di Filippo and Broderick include no works by several important SF authors, including John Scalzi, Jack McDevitt, Larry Niven, Catherine Asaro and Robert Sawyer. Had any of these writers or a number of others been included I would have "scored" higher.

On the gripping hand, if these lists are imperfect they're also quite useful for leading readers to authors they may have missed. Having read the book I'm now eager to read This is the Way the World Ends (James Morrow), Life During Wartime (Lucius Shepard), Brittle Innings (Michael Bishop), Galatea 2.2 (Richard Powers), The Golden Globe (John Varley), Cave of Stars (George Zebrowski), Super-Cannes (J.G. Ballard), Under the Skin (Michael Faber), Natural History (Justina Robson), River of Gods (Ian McDonald), Never Let Me Go (Kazuro Ishguro), Air (Geoff Ryman), Accelerando (Charles Stross), My Dirty Little Book of Stolen Time (Liz Jensen), Blindsight (Peter Watts), Harm (Brian W. Aldiss), Little Brother (Cory Doctorow) and The Windup Girl (Paolo Bacigalupi), among others.

This, to me, is the great tragedy of a limited lifespan: there simply isn't enough time to enjoy even a limited selection of even one genre, let alone the broader range of all literature. Some people claim that immortality would get boring after a while, and that attitude baffles me. Reading and watching movies alone would keep me entertained for hundreds if not thousands of years. And then there's travel, meeting new people, discovering new hobbies, learning new skills...

I wonder if I could blog every day for a thousand years straight? One year going on two has been taxing enough...

Friday, September 21, 2012

Long Expo-sure

I was 17 when we visited Expo '86, and I remembered just enough of the camera tricks I learned in grade eight Industrial Arts to try holding the shutter open for a second or so. I had no tripod so the effect is blurrier than it should be, but the lasers, at least, are pretty.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Purple Datsun Quest

I loved growing up in northern Manitoba, but sometimes winter up there in the 1970s got to be a little much. When you're at the edge of civilization with only two television channels and the temperature drops to minus 50, greener pastures start to look pretty good.

We owned the purple Datsun for a brief time while living in Leaf Rapids, but the poor little car couldn't handle the weather, at least according to these photos and my hazy memories. Back then we needed frost shields for the windows because in-car heaters of the era simply couldn't keep the windows clear of ice. It looks as though the front grilles were covered as well, presumably to keep cold air from freezing the block in transit.

Humans shared the town with bears, ravens, timber wolves (one chased me to school one day) and a multitude of voracious insects. Despite what the poster claims I never did see a UFO or a robot (save a few Micronauts toys), but I did imagine a Sasquatch once. Or did I..?

The poster was really just an excuse to play with layers, fonts, blending options and the custom shape tool. I now have a custom Manitoba outline in my library, which I'm sure will come in handy again.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Cranberry Portage, Purple Datsun

Here we are visiting Grandma and Val in Cranberry Portage, Manitoba.  My shirt reads "Silence Please - Genius at Work." I'd never have the nerve to wear something like that today. Sean's Smokey the Bear shirt is far less arrogant and far more socially conscious.

"How long did we have the purple Datsun?" I asked Mom a few minutes ago.
"Not long, it was a terrible car!"

I barely remember this car. According to Mom, we sold it when we left Leaf Rapids. I do like the colour, though. Cranberry Portage, purple Datsun.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Monday, September 17, 2012

Tesseractivity



I found the second of two stories I was once sure I'd posted before, but which I must have held back for some reason. I was about to post it here tonight, and in fact the text was already in place when I reconsidered. Instead, I'm about to submit the story for consideration in Tesseracts 17

I've only sold one work of fiction in my life, but perhaps this will be the second. The story is, at worst, free of the sort of embarrassing errors in science and logic that marred "One Second Per Second." Wish me luck!


Sunday, September 16, 2012

Bad Science

Yesterday I posted "One Second Per Second," my attempt to write a short story about time travel. Shortly afterward one of my scientist friends, Michael Snyder, pointed out an embarrassing error: I'd given my main character prion-based disease, only to suggest that the solution was to send him back in time to correct a genetic disorder. Oy! Of course that's completely illogical - you get CJD and FFI from ingesting contaminated meat; it's not a hereditary disease. Oddly enough, I know this already; I can't explain how I made such an elementary mistake in science and internal story logic.

Of course there are ways to fix this, along with the other, subtler problems Michael pointed out. I'll post a more logical version of the story soon. For now, I just want to thank Dr. Snyder for his careful reading. This is why I share this stuff! Writing fiction is still new to me, and I need all the help I can get.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

One Second Per Second



I found one of the stories I wrote about yesterday! I've revised it a little, cutting some bits in the introduction that didn't fit the tone of the tale.

It was my first real vacation in ten years and likely my last, so I was determined to make the most of it. I had three weeks to experience New York, no itinerary, just a nice hotel room and ample time to visit all the tourist traps. I left my laptop behind, didn't even bring a book, nor a change of clothes; I wanted nothing to weigh me down, not a single reminder of home or what awaited me there. Anything I needed, I'd buy here. 

I had one advantage over other tourists: I couldn't sleep. My approaching doom would at least give me enough time to enjoy my final trip. 

On the fifth day of sleepless frenetic sightseeing, I attended a performance of Cats. The show left me unmoved, but in the lobby I caught a young American woman staring at me. When she saw that I'd spotted her, she beckoned me over. Since I had little to lose in these final days, I approached her and introduced myself: "Adam Cranch."

"I'm April," she said. "I couldn't help but notice - you're Canadian?"

I was bemused. "What gave me away?"

"You move through a crowd very...deferentially."

I shrugged in my most charming and self-effacing manner. "I could use a coffee," I said.

That was how it began. Thanks to her local savvy we burned through my tourist itinerary at breakneck speed, one landmark after another, a blur of images from film and television finally made tangible. I enjoyed her company by day, saw her to her door and continued to explore the city by night. I explored without fear, my death sentence a perfect shield against caution. April was amazed by my stamina, and I discovered that the only fear that remained was the idea of telling her the truth.

But on the third day of our brief friendship, she insisted that we take a walk through Central Park. We stopped to feed the pigeons, snuggled together on a wooden bench.I felt a deep and sudden surge of affection for her, and I realized it was terribly cruel to hide my truth. I told her I had only days to live.

"I have a condition called Fatal Familial Insomnia, or FFI for short. Like Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, it's a brain disorder involving prions, which has something to do with proteins, don't ask me what; I'm a salesman, not a doctor. The prions change shape and causes a kind of plaque to form in my thalamus, which is the part of the brain, the doctor tells me, that controls sleep patterns."

Her face was very pale, and she clutched my forearm hard. "That's why you can't sleep...but what else?"

I sighed. "Insomnia is just the first stage. Eventually I won't be able to sleep at all, then I'll develop dementia and eventually paralysis and death. At least I'll die with my eyes wide open."

The half-hearted joke fell flat.

"How long?" Her eyes were wet.

"I may not make my return flight to Toronto."

She turned away. I expected her to slap me, and I wouldn't have blamed her if she had, but instead she stood up.

"I have a friend I can talk to."

I was touched. "That's very kind, but really, I've seen the best doctors in the country already. I am going to die, and in less than a week."

"He's not that kind of friend." And then she walked away.

The next day, there was a knock at the door of my hotel room. I answered it, expecting April, but instead I saw a short, nondescript man in a black shirt and khaki shorts. He looked like a tourist.

"Can I help you?"

"Actually, April sent me to help you. I'm Edward Wynn. Will you come with me, Mr. Cranch?"

I had nothing to lose, and April obviously wanted to feel useful. I saw no reason to resist her good wishes, and so I went along with Wynn. He led me down to the parking garage, to his car, an unremarkable black Primus.

"Where are we going?" I asked, climbing into the vehicle.

"It's not far," he said.

But we drove for over ninety minutes, the buildings getting older and seedier as we travelled. Wynn turned down a narrow alley, shut off the ignition, and said, "We're here."

We left the car and Wynn led me to a pale yellow door. He pointed to the sign that adorned it: "Institute for Advanced Psychenergetic Studies." He raised an eyebrow, tapped the sign with his outstretched finger and asked, "What do you think this means?"

I thought about it. "Judging from the word 'psychenergetic,' I suppose it must have something to do with psychic energy. Moving coins around with your mind, bending spoons, that sort of thing." I suppressed my annoyance; I'd thought April had more sense than to send me to faith healers.

"Indeed. What if I told you that this is where it all began - or where it will all begin, depending on your perspective?"

"Where what began?"

He smiled in such a way that I knew he looked forward to my reaction to his next words.

"Time travel," he said.

This time, I allowed my annoyance to show. "Mister Wynn...really."

"You have plenty of reason not to believe, and I wouldn't blame you if you demanded to leave right now. But for April's sake if nothing else, will you at least listen to some friends of mine?"

I shrugged; if nothing else, I was willing to experience the new and strange in my last days. What else was the time for?

He led me through the door. I half-expected some remarkable high-tech complex, such as you might see in a film by Spielberg or Sampson, but to my eyes it looked like a simple office - perhaps a bit old-fashioned. Wynn and I walked down a half-lit corridor, turned left, then paused before another door, labelled, simply, "Operations." Wynn knocked on the door, and someone inside told us to come in.

Wynn opened the door and introduced two men: one pale, one dark, both wearing, strangely, eyeglasses. No one wore glasses anymore; they must have been eccentrics.

"Doctor Funkwright, Doctor Gurda, this is the man I told you about, Adam Cranch."

We shook hands. "Can I ask what this is all about?"

Gurda, the dark one, responded. "Edward tells us you have FFI."

"That's right."

"Your doctor must have told you that it's a hereditary disease."

I nodded.

"Edward has told you that our work involves time travel."

I smiled, making no effort to hide my disbelief. "Mmmm hmmm."

He ignored my derision. "Mister Cranch, to begin we'll need a blood sample..."

I went along with it. They drew blood, then disappeared for a while, Edward refused to answer any further questions, but brought me lunch and let me borrow his phone to call April. But she didn't pick up.

Gurda and Funkwright returned, all smiles.

"We've traced the gene that causes FFI back in time. The first carrier is a man named Marc Kastios, your great-great-great-great grandfather."

"Really," I said. I rolled my eyes.

"If you want to survive, you must travel back in time and ensure that he does not meet your great-great-great-great grandmother, one Medea Lessing. If someone else impregnates her, the gene will never appear in your DNA. You will be cured, because you will never have had the disease. You never could have had it."

I waved my hands in the air in protest. "Wait, wait wait. That's ridiculous. It's the grandfather paradox, you can't go back in time and kill an ancestor - which is what this amounts to - because then you'll never be born. It's preposterous."

Funkwright smiled, as if he'd heard this argument before. "Kastios contributed only a small fraction of the genetic material to the person that is you. Substitute another man in his place, and yes, you will be a different person - but only in the smallest respect. Perhaps you'll have green eyes instead of brown. Perhaps you'll be taller."

"And perhaps I'll wind up with a disease even worse than FFI!"

"A very small possibility, Mister Cranch."

I threw my hands up. "This is silly. It's all a mad dream anyway - you have no time machine." I moved to leave.

"But you, Mister Cranch, are the time machine."

I stopped, turned. "What are you talking about?"

"It's difficult to put in layman's terms, but while investigating the temporal lobe of the brain, my colleague and I made important discoveries about the observer effect in quantum mechanics, especially as it relates to the physiology of the brain, and more importantly, the mind. The prions will have spread to your temporal lobe by now - the very part of your brain that determines your perception of time. Only people with your condition, Mister Cranch - or similar conditions, such as CJD - may travel through time, for your brains are now fundamentally different from those of the rest of humanity."

"I've never used this word before, but I can't think of a better opportunity: balderdash."

Funkwright shrugged. "The choice is yours, of course. Will you resign yourself to a very uncomfortable death, or will you entertain a pair of eccentric cranks and a woman who cares for you very much?"

When faced with nonexistence, anyone is liable to weaken. I was out of time; my last days may as well be interesting. I nodded my assent.

Gurda clapped his hands together, smiling, and Wynn put a hand on my shoulder, nodding at me like I'd made an incredibly wise decision. I felt like a fool.

They took me to another room, a lab. It was empty but for a reclining chair, a pair of computer workstations, and a short countertop with an espresso machine. Funkwright gestured towards the chair; I took it. Then, each scientist took a position at the workstations.

"You won't feel anything. The chair will attune your brain to a different part of the space-time continuum."

Wynn opened a drawer in the counter and brought me a pair of still photos. The first was a head-and-shoulders candid shot, fantastically clear, of a dark, handsome man in what looked like early 18th century finery. "There's your man. You want to keep him from meeting this woman -" he showed me the next picture, of a startlingly beautiful, raven-haired girl, surely still a teenager - "Medea. She'll be sitting at an outdoor cafe, alone. All you have to do is keep the two of them from meeting."

"But...what about my clothes? I'll look completely out of place..."

"You'll look a little odd, but you won't be there long enough to cause too much of a stir. Besides, in this kind of situation, such distractions aren't necessarily bad."

"Ready for translocation," Gurda called out.

Wynn smiled at me reassuringly. "Don't worry. The really cool part is, you won't really be travelling anywhere at all; the rest of the universe is going to travel, relative to your position. The mountain is coming to Mohammed. Wild, huh?"

"Keen," I replied sardonically, but then I was falling, falling hard on my ass on a dusty gravel road. I picked myself up and goggled; Wynn was gone, Funkwright and Gurda were gone, the lab was gone. I was outdoors, on a plateau overlooking the sea, and there, a few meters away, was Medea, sitting as promised, alone, gazing over the water, sipping tea.

There was a shriek behind me. I jumped, spun around, and there was Kastios, face pale with terror. He must have seen me arrive! I tried to calm him, spreading my hands wide, but he broke and ran, and that was the first and only time I laid eyes on my distant relative.

My distant former relative, I thought. I took a few steps toward Medea, noting her beauty, wondering if I should try to replace Kastios as her suitor. What delicious irony if I impregnated her, becoming my own ancestor - and then passing on the FFI gene to myself!

I'm like a character in a story, I thought to myself. This is marvellous!

But then, before I could even inhale one final breath of the brisk, most air, the world spun around me again and I was back in the chair. Gurda, Wynn and Funkwright were regarding me with unreadable eyes.

"I did it!" I said, and tried to rise. But then I felt faint, and terribly weak. Something had just happened - something important. But it was fading...

***

Wynn took Cranch away, back to April. Whether she would find the new man as appealing as the old was an open question - but at least now they had the time to find out. The differences were small indeed, but the measure of a man can be had in the smallest increments - tiny alterations could make a strong man weak, could make a kind man cruel. Or they could make a good man great.

Gurda and Funkwright shut down the lab, another day's work well done.

"It's a shame the process destroys short-term memory. There have been millions of time travellers, but no one remembers," Funkwright said.

"Count your blessings," Gurda replied. "Without time travel, the death toll from CJD would be in the billions by now.

Funkwright nodded. "One of these days, someone will figure out why there are so few cases, despite the fact that nearly all beef in the industrialized world is infected. But aren't we killing the victims, in a sense? No one who makes the trip comes back as the same person, after all."

Gurda turned off the lights as they left the lab. "No one is the same person Friday that he was Thursday. Time has its way with us no matter what you or I or any of our colleagues do. We grow, we change, our old personalities die and are replaced, either in an instant, as with Cranch, or the old fashioned way, simply by moving forward through time...one second per second."

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Case of the Missing Short Stories

While reorganizing the blog yesterday, I found myself unable to locate two short stories I'm sure I posted a couple of years ago: one about a saint that wakes up from cryogenic sleep to find himself loathed by the people of the future, and another about time travel and disease. I could swear I posted both because I seem to remember Mike commenting "...and we have a title!" as he is wont to do when a story's title shows up in a story.

But neither story seems to exist anywhere in the blog archives. Did I imagine their existence, or does anyone else recall them? I haven't found the stories on my hard drives, either.

"The Case of the Missing Short Stories"
The twitching index finger of Earl J. Woods tapped nervously against his mouse's scroll wheel. It was a telescope vainly searching an empty sky, for scroll as he might there was no sign of stories he was sure he'd written and shared. Had they been so awful, he wondered, that the universe itself rebelled and erased them from memory?

"Actually, that's probably what happened," Earl thought, and pressed the bright orange "Publish" button.


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Sheep Trading

I taunted Jeff and Susan with promises of lamb, but I was only kidding; I pulled the wool over their eyes and handed it over to Sylvia. I had to keep my negotiating skills sheep-shape!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Mowing the Lawn

There I was with green grass growing, grass that must be mowed
Time to start the weekly shearing, from the sidewalk to the road
Even though I don't care if it's brown or green
Neighbour standards won't let up so I've got to play this scene

Mowing the lawn, mowing the lawn
Mowing the lawn, mowing the lawn
Mowing the lawn, mowing the lawn
Mowing the lawn, mowing the lawn

How I hate this stupid mower, it won't even start
It's full of gas and I pushed the choke, is it missing a special part?
Pull the ripcord engine coughs, just before it rains
I'd be cozy and warm inside if only I had any brains!

Mowing the lawn, mowing the lawn
Mowing the lawn, mowing the lawn
Mowing the lawn, mowing the lawn
Mowing the lawn, mowing the lawn

Now I've shorn the grass down to nubs, it's been trimmed but good
Manicured and neatly trimmed, I did the best I could
But in just a few short days it shall grow again
Mowing the lawn is meaningless, a source of never-ending pain!

Mowing the lawn, mowing the lawn
Mowing the lawn, mowing the lawn
Mowing the lawn, mowing the lawn
Mowing the lawn, mowing the lawn

(With apologies to Judas Priest)

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Sentimentalist Version Two

Judging by its view count, not many people read last month's short story, The Sentimentalist. Two who did read the story remarked that they liked it, but judged it unfinished. This is fair criticism, so I've attempted to flesh out the story and give it some polish with a few carefully considered alterations. The story remains essentially the same in tone and theme, but I've tried to give it a little more weight and colour. Have I succeeded? Perhaps not, but I found the exercise very valuable, so thanks to Bruce and Jeff for their comments. 



The Sentimentalist

Six hundred years after she lost her one true love, the young woman in the faded blue jeans and the tan leather jacket returned to Cherryville. She’d stopped to shed her last vengeful tears at the way station ten miles back; now, cheeks dried and eyes clear and hard, she was ready.

She rolled into town on a weathered black sociable, its left seat long ago removed and replaced by a battered old rivercane basket, currently filled with an assortment of dried fruits, nuts, jerky and a faintly glowing data tablet, resting languidly atop this humble bounty. 

Her tires kicked up dust and small stones as she braked to a halt in front of the first of three skyscrapers that loomed over Cherryville’s only street. In thirty seconds' ride she could put tiny Cherryville over the horizon behind her, but duty and destiny demanded their due.

She leaned her sociable against a hitching post and stepped onto the boardwalk, pausing a moment to stamp the dust from her black over-the-knee boots. She removed her black Stetson and with an offhand, almost lazy gesture flung it to land precariously balanced atop her sociable’s handlebars. For a moment it seemed a gust of wind would topple the battered old hat into the road, but the breeze subsided as if in deference to the visitor.

She gazed up at the towers of glass and steel before her. GENERAL STORE, pronounced the easternmost tower in bold block letters of carved and cracking obsidian. SALOON, read the middle tower in fading jade. And POST OFFICE, read the last in letters of worn marble. High above the skies began to roil, clouds of ochre and violet twisting impatiently beneath the silent glittering starscape waiting at altitudes incomprehensible, waiting on her and on Cherryville. Over the horizon other clouds rumbled their discontent, and she knew she’d allowed time to grow too short.

And yet she hesitated before the saloon doors and the murmuring voices beyond. One slightly callused but meticulously manicured hand brushed against the pistol holstered at her hip. Its deadly weight was cold comfort, leeching the heat from her body, a malevolent force pregnant with ugly potential. It had been her partner for half a century, and there was no ending their dark contract now. She took a breath and entered the saloon.

The skyscraper was mostly empty space, its one hundred fifty floors merely ringing the inner walls, ornate balconies of gilt stone open to the interior. On the ground floor hundreds of townspeople lined the bar or lounged at round oak tables as they dined, played cards, or, more commonly, ignored each other in favour of consulting their smart phones, eagerly devouring distractions that had ceased to matter centuries gone. There was no music, only the low rumble of conversation.

She stood at the saloon entrance until, one by one, all eyes were fixed upon her. At that moment she pulled her jacket open to reveal the large, polished black opal pinned to her blouse. The last echoes of conversation died away.

She spoke in the old formal tones, her voice initially cracking from long disuse.

“Hello,” she said. “At precisely noon today the extension granted you by the Confederation of the Living expires. Per the agreement, you will now surrender yourselves for conversion in an orderly fashion.”

She attempted a smile, a way to soften the blow.  

“Congratulations on your perseverance. You are among the last corporeal –”

But the crowd didn’t let her finish. Time seemed to slow to a crawl as the first terrified citizen drew his primitive sidearm, his blue eyes bloodshot and bulging with panic, beads of sweat glistening on his pale skin.

He was only halfway out of his chair before the young woman and her gun were one being once more, her arm extended, eyes half-open, her expression serene but sad. The first conversion slug burped from the barrel of her pistol and sailed across the room and through the citizen’s heart, its recording devices transmitting the sounds and sights of the man’s death to the young woman’s tablet on the street outside.

She would have preferred if the first violent conversion could have persuaded the others to surrender, but this crowd was too attached to this plane. Bullets, flechettes, darts and bolts crisscrossed the room in search of her flesh. She felt something bite sharply into her left side; an instant later another missile grazed her cheekbone, leaving a shallow gash that oozed a slow trickle of blood.

It wasn’t enough to distract the partnership. Her body moved with the grace of a dancer, long dark hair whipping in an arc as she pirouetted through the saloon, conversion slugs ripping through guts and brains and faces and lungs, every atrocity duly recorded. Once or twice an especially gifted citizen nearly managed to kill her, but her reflexes and the gun’s silent psychic warnings kept her injuries to a shameful minimum.

It was over in minutes. The carpet was soaked with blood that squelched under her boots as she left the saloon.

The Cherryville postman was standing beside her sociable, holding her data tablet, eyes agog. He looked up at her as she stepped down from the boardwalk, taking the tablet back.

“Anyone else in town?” she asked, gesturing with her chin at the post office and the general store. Her eyes were wet again, her vision blurred. Tiny rivers of blood dripped down her pale cheek to her jawline.

“Just me,” he said. “Everyone else was waiting for you in there. They thought maybe they’d have a chance if everyone...well. I thought I’d go with a little dignity.”

She nodded, wearing her mask of indifference through the tears. She reached out with her left hand, the polished black surface of her pointed nails shifting and whirling to reveal vast star fields, a universe on every fingertip. But before she could touch his grizzled cheek, he raised a hand to ask a question. She waited.

“Why do you take those awful pictures?” he asked. “Surely it’s not necessary, and who’s going to watch them...you?”

Her thin lips twisted in a sad smile. Tomorrow night she would indeed watch the replays, as she had watched all the others to remind herself of what she’d stolen, what she’d given, and what she’d sacrificed. When Earth at last was empty, someone must bear the burden of remembrance.

 “I’m a sentimentalist,” she said.

The postman frowned, light years from understanding. Then starry fingertips graced his cheek and he burst into wisps of silver smoke, lost on the wind.