Sunday, April 27, 2014

From "Interlude"

Another extract from a work-in-progress. Earlier: a street scene. Send me examples of your favourite street / crowd / city / Mos Eisley Cantina type scenes? I definitely won't have read them, the only thing I've ever read is Jock of the Bushveld.

This bit's about a ballad.


On the wyrdweave web, Cavan shared the ballad she had stolen from the chapman.

O hang-man hold your hand, he cride,
O hold it for a while,
Methinks I see my ain dear faither
Come riding by the stile.

「WTF is」
「shhhhhh. just listen. listen」

O faither haue you brought me gold
For tae set me free?
Or haue you come tae see me hangd
All on this dule aspen tree?

O no I haue not brought thee gold,
And I’ll not set thee free,
For I am come tae see my ain son hangd,
And hanged you shall be.

O the prickly bush, the prickly bush,
It prickd my heart full sair
Euer I get out of that prickly bush
I’ll neuer get in any mair.

「TRUE LOVE SETS YOU FREE,」wove Epeorenthe.
「no. If you listen to the lyrics I think it was a trick to teach him a lesson,」wove Cladha, a girl from the province of Ballywort.

O hang-man, hold your hand, he cride,
O hold it for a while,
Methinks I see my ain dear mither
Come riding by the stile.

O mither, haue you brought me gold
For tae set me free?
Or haue you come tae see me hangd
All on this dule aspen tree?

O no, I haue not brought thee gold,
And I’ll not set thee free,
For I am come tae see my ain son hangd,
And hanged you shall be.

O the prickly bush, the prickly bush,
It prickd my heart full sair
Euer I get out of that prickly bush
I’ll never get in any mair.

「my mother would saue me then kill me,」wove Thandiwe.
「His mother and his father prick his heart till the v. last moment,」wove Cladha of Ballywort.「They prick it & they prick it, but only because they care for him. THEY WANT HIM NEVER IN THE SITUATION AGAIN」
「have you even actually HEARD the ballad? 」Epeorenthe wove back to Ballywort.「ummmm it’s his girlf who saves him, NOT his parents?」

O hang-man, hold your hand, he cride,
O, hold it for a while,
Methinks I see my ain true love,
Come riding by the stile.

O true love haue you brought me gold
For tae set me free?
Or haue you come tae see me hangd
All on this dule aspen tree?

O yes I’ve brought you gold, she cride,
And I will set you free.
For I am come tae see you saud
And saued you shall be.

「no, his parents KNEW his sweetheart was coming, that’s my point. They’re making him afeared on purpose. maybe it was they gave his sweetheart the gold」
「you’re reading too much in,」wove Epeorenthe.

O the prickly bush, the prickly bush,
It prickd my heart full sair
Euer I get out of that prickly bush
I’ll never get in any mair.

「This thing goes deep,」wove Cladha of Ballywort.
「headfuck,」wove Tegwin. 「also: headdesk. so therefore: fuck desks.」
「Ok but wait, dule trees stand at crossroads,」wove Cladha of Ballywort.
「more like DESKS do,」wove Tegwin.
「Why wouldn’t mother and father ride out TOGETHER from the village?」wove Cladha of Ballywort.
「they did only he rode faster – the dad,」wove Epeorenthe.
「no hate each other hate hate hate,」wove Thandiwe.
「REALLY?」insisted Cladha of Ballywort.「his parents hate each other, yet neither willing to support the son, not even to annoy the other? ALSO, why would his true love ride out SO LATE? He would already be hanged, but for the mum and dad. It’s a set-up, yes, the ballad is a set-up」
「at the end it’s like he’s still in the bush?」wove Thandiwe.
「because no, anyone is an idiot if you think you can get killed by a thorn bush,」wove Epeorenthe.「no amount of thorn bushes can kill anyone」
Tegwin wove,「I think the point is more: who can you trust?」
Cladha of Ballywort wove,「To me it is that feeling when you’ve done amiss and you just want one more chance.」
「what crime did he even commit?」wove Thandiwe.

A moment’s pause.

Cladha of Ballywort wove,「Nothing bad. He got in debt and that’s why he needs gold to save him. not murder」
Cavan, who had not been involved, now wove,「No, Cladha of Ballywort. Even if it was murder, the hangman might still be bribed with gold. Cladha, a mere two pricks does not make a heart full sore. Does the man to be hanged have no family but two? If he has a brother or a sister, why aren’t they part of the trick? Methinks because he's slain them. Only his sweetheart could care not he has murdered his kin」
「You’re reading too much in,」wove Cladha of Ballywort.

A moment’s pause.

「what’s dule」
「omg sorrow」
「the style is pointless」
「they have to be in that style it’s a fucking ballad」
「your guys’ credibility on this ballad has taken some massive hits,」wove Cladha of Ballywort.

Monday, April 21, 2014

A Riff on the Seeing of Sales

I've been meaning to read Ian Sales's hard SF novella Adrift on the Sea of Rains (independently published: Whippleshield 2012) for a while, whilst also being a bit wary; some puff quotes made me wonder: will I forced to read some numbers, politely pretending to myself they were as interesting as words? Or will I have to read some paragraphs of a physics textbook laid out as dialogue and larded with "But wait, surely ..." / "As you probably know ..." / "Impossible! Because ..."?

It does sometimes read a little bit like research, and perhaps that's a weakness. At the same time, those glittering clusters of acronyms, designations of military hardware series and models, and other techie terminology, are arranged tastefully, lending an appropriate sense of estrangement from an impersonal, hostile beauty. The same linguistic precision and technicity which tends to withdraw its immediate objects of reference to somewhere temporarily out-of-sight leaves behind the cadences, the shapes, the composite of associations, whose abstraction reaches out towards the transhistorical. Almost as if it is the text that is deeply natural, and it is you, dear reader, who are merely well-researched.

That technical vocabulary is also (now I'm sounding very #protip, but anyway) very convincingly rooted in the characters' consciousness; it would be silly to have these astronauts talk in potted popular science explanations.

And I think that's part of how Adrift doesn't flaunt or get hung up on its hardness: the physics reveals itself where relevant, and Adrift doesn't do zero-g somersaults trying to make it relevant all the time. Likewise, though there is what I think is a pretty Golden Age-ish engineering puzzle at the heart of the story, it isn't announced with a big fanfare as the Puzzle at the Heart of the Story; that is it isn't endlessly paraded around so stranded astronauts can throw failed solutions at it like confetti. The characters just get on with it, solving it steadily and quite quickly. What little struggles they have with it are just as much rooted in their distinctive personalities and social dynamics as they are inherent in their subject matter.

(Perhaps this is what many engineering puzzles feel like: you don't really know how fiendish it is until you've solved it, because the process of understanding the puzzle, of mapping it correctly, overlaps significantly with solving it. The puzzle is never something that's splayed out before you, like a crime scene; it's something that accumulates incrementally behind you).

But most importantly, the presiding spirit of Adrift is consistently one of quiet, elite, elegant wit.

The rest of this note is pure spoiler, and Adrift isn't much longer than this post, so if you haven't read it, go on, off you go.
[...] put his thumb over the "kill" button on the stick and waited for the lock-on tone; and his wizzo protested but he ignored him, and the reticule on the Projected Display flashed, so he pressed with his thumb -- gently, as if it were a hunting rifle's trigger and not simply a button which triggered an electric signal and so fired actuators which pushed hydraulic rams. He heard with satisfaction the grinding of the bay doors opening, the thud of missile release [...] he saw the impact, the sudden blossoming of flame on the T-4's flank, the enemy bomber shedding shattered panels which spun mirror-bright in the sun as they fell, the curving smoke trails of debris as the aircraft broke apart; and his wizzo said, Jesus Christ, you sure as shit should'nt've done that [...] (49)
Part of the wit of Adrift is actually a bit more than wit: it is tragedy. The deadpan, weirdly heartbreaking catastrophe of the novella's final moments is dripping (maybe not "dripping" in microgravity -- "spinning off in orbs" or something) with dramatic irony. Peterson has probably come to a Glasnost timeline, so even according to his own peculiarly awful values, his decision to -- to ram the space station Mir? -- is just plain wrong. It is a lamentable waste any way you look at it, and with hard-won salvation finally within his grasp. If only he knew what we, the audience, are pretty sure of!

Specifically, I think Adrift conforms very well to the influential early 20C Bradleyian understanding of Shakespearean tragedy (which notoriously Shakespeare seldom does). There is a great hero with an interesting and emo tragic flaw, which leads to his downfall, and actually he's probably brought enough downfall to share with the whole class.

(Perhaps Sales also gives us a hint of the tragic hero being retrospectively aware of what he's done, something else Bradley was also fond of. Peterson will have several hours to meditate on his unprovoked and under-evidenced attack on a space station named "world" and "peace" before he dips low enough to burn up against the atmosphere).

I'm not sure how best to sum up Peterson's tragic flaw: anger? -- or "combustibility" lol? Or "never really getting his head round the 'continuum of force' criterion on his Rules of Engagement card"?

Obvious Peterson has a propensity to a kind of hawkish militaristic tantrum, but there's aesthetic pleasure as well as moralising anger: Peterson's flaw seems to have to do with mistaking the voluptuousness of predation for an irresistible existential revelation. Whether he's ill-advisedly smoking a T-4 or Мир itself, Peterson acts as though his agency has been suspended at the critical moment, as though he were now already an instrument of Fate, a weapon rather than someone with the option of wielding one.

In both cases too there's a kind of macho territorialism: plainly so in the case of the T-4 straying into Canada, and more tenuously in Peterson's proprietorial attitude to the alt-Earth's orbital space. It resonates with Peterson's decision to undertake the mission himself and the growlingly patrician manner in which he imposes that decision.

Finally, Adrift is also a novella which -- despite involving a magic Nazi gateway to dimension X on the moon -- is thinking hard about hard SF. I'm intrigued that Peterson is just about brushing against reality (where, he speculates, they have no Bell). Perhaps reality is a kind of limit condition for hard SF. Perfectly hard SF stops being SF anymore.

Peterson of course would just sacrifice himself and his lunar fraternity by pointlessly ramming this unbreakable fourth wall. What a Мирpet.


"No one ever closes the book with the feeling that man is a poor mean creature. He may be wretched and he may be awful, but he is not small." -- A.C. Bradley


PS: I'm thinking a bit about alternate histories and complex / chaotic causation at the moment, and I've been trying to figure out the significance of covariance for the indicativeness of particular facts or categories of facts. How confident should we be that Мир is our Мир and the timeline our timeline? What would covary with the presence of Мир? How many "alternate paths" are there to having a space station up there named Мир?

PPS: Adrift is the first of a quartet, three of which have been published so far. I'm not sure yet how closely connected they are, or if the current narrative thread has been decisively snipped or not. Maybe Paterson will be rescued by a tragically flawed sexist hallucination of George Clooney after all?

Invocation: the regendered remix

I did some quick-and-dirty hacks on the Invocation text, to shuffle around pronouns for all characters roughly at random. Here's the PDF & I will do a Kindle version some time (& maybe even dead trees too).

Some background: when I started writing Invocation, one of the main things I wanted to explore was the relationship between memory and gender. Gendered memory; mneumonic gender; the way both gender and memory relate to performance, inscription, repetition and overdetermination; and I was interested in gender fluidity, but also in a fantastically enabled gender hybridity without necessarily an associated fluidity. Shards of gendered memory materialising in a person by magical authorial fiat. A kind of non-binary gender that wasn't quite post-binary, if that makes sense: the binary is still there, at least provisionally, and the routes out or onward or beyond the binary are not marked, but the binary is Rubick's-shuffled, it's anagrammatized.

I totally didn't really get round to doing any of that. It was all supposed to be so simple: the soul-anagrams would be a solution to, or an extreme example of (or I guess, in TV Tropes lingo, an averting of) the one really big mystery of paranormal romance: how did the heroine know this supernaturally annoying douche would spasm into a supernaturally decent crush object? But by the time the souls were interfused enough for it to matter, it was late in the book, and I was already amateurishly juggling everything that had emerged along the way, so that certain early aspirations were neglected. 

The regendered remix is a gimmick and it doesn't in any way address the rueful abstract above, but I find the way it reads pretty irresistible. It makes an already confusing story even harder to follow, since post-remix subjects and objects are often ambiguous, so who the hell just said that or did that or what's going on whaaat? -- but your negative capability-fu is strong, and you are just not easily posed. 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

From "Interlude"

A longish extract from Interlude. A street scene set in Irontown. Who else shall I have? 

(Some of these folk may not stay. Not sure about the skin-trees. Anyway, even if they're not mentioned, they're secretly all there).

Also (backchannel, perhaps), any recommendation of city-walk scenes I should read, from any genre?


The previous evening Gurm’s stomach was literally thungabungling so she threw on a raggedy-ass mustard-yellow cotton jacket and skated down the teeming hu-t’ung, reciting the jaw-dislocating phrase that probably meant ‘anything for the special, honoured vendor’ over and over under her breath. She could have taken the job with her, but she was on something of a solitude kick just now. Reason for renting the hu-t’ung garret in the first place, right?

It was too crammed, and the hu-t’ung climbed too steeply here, so Gurm sucked her wheels into her shoes. Around the edges of her sensorium she still extruded feelers for Pruri Y but didn’t hold out much hope. Bunnybee – on some serenity kick halfway up a mountain, for fuck’s sake – supposed Pruri Y was a ghost. Gurm knew better, though maybe a ghost would have been easier to find.

Still, Gurm wasn’t exactly paying detailed attention to her surroundings.

If she had, whom could she have discovered? A steadily thickening throng. Hollowcheeked human jakies. §hit junkies. Dataheads. Warp Drives, winking into solidity mid-deranged monologue. Huddled holograms betting on jellylike battle-bots. Illicit AI, automata-dwellers, defiant in daylight. The dying. Half-beggared Fain sherpas scouring for tourists on boda-boda bikes and every manner of honking, smoking, tuk-tech. Fully beggared Fain newcomers, their oozing chitin bodies held together by masking tape. Tomworm (yes! No more of that). Spiny-furred Geffen immigrants, gone all ogee-rigid with cerebral ticks or sitsit §nowscrypt, fretted over by §cryptnet-deputised gendarmes and ransom-seekers. Hard-times piebald Geffen immigrants, vertebrae jutting, fewer teeth than mouths, whimpering polyphonically. Rentxens edging at career changes.

Above the awnings, smart-scaffolding was crawling delicately along the wall, steering for a building site in west Irontown. Three vanilla-furred and jade-scaled raccoon minimals, none any taller than three inches, hitched a ride, grimly hugging rivets as the scaffold performed its perambulatory cat’s cradle. A red-crested pipistrel minimal, several times bigger than the racoon minimals but batbrained, no match for their bravery and wits, perched with thrumming satisfaction, was unsettled, perched again, was again affronted, and so on, across the top of four shop fronts, before finally he flapped off in mortified confusion, eventually tucking himself into a cracked solar panel, to seriously reconsider his direction in life.

Gurm might have discovered a sentient and very formally dressed fragrance, like joss-stick jasmine robed in endlessly hinged reek-garb, floating in the air of a stair-snicket, afraid to waft forth. She might have found the cohort of Alien Aesthetics 366 (PGP) offworld impresarios and artists, academics and impestors, dealers and collectors (and at least two Locklany spies) who’d made the fatal error of booking the cheaper accommodation nearer to the conference centre, almost all of them currently in one sort of complex predicament or another.

Demonosopher veterans left over from glitching wars, semi-obedient to their inlay spam, the voice of Brass having now accrued a querulant and quasi-divine quality. Involuntary and unvoluntary actors, shudderers and tiquers and entities essentially tics all the way down. Mercenaries and bounty hunters, striding tall in spindly, whining exo-rigs. Brigands and kidnappers. Nullbrood sabre-toothed Fain burlesque performers, gossiping territorially from the mouths of back-stage step-snickets, or somehow twitchingly napping just a few steps down.

Gurm's sensorium predicted a path and her shoes morphed back into skates.

Highbinders and civil servants on publicity drives, checking boxes marked “squalor” and “despair” in their sensoriums, gravely crouching or squatting or floomping, dilating their assorted faculties of pointed compassion, chronicle and analysis. Students and smugglers. Swivel-eyed wilderness witnesses. Pushers and stall-keepers. Folks. Drunks who had to be drunk to do what they had to do. One mercenary, rigged up, stepped out of her garret with very little of her usual swagger. A second gangly powered exo-skeleton, slaved to hers, followed her tentative steps exactly, carrying her artillery ops colleague, dead of wounds during the night.

Gurm glid by.

Gurm was skating through something of a bodymod district now, not that she really knew it. Groggy toddlers, fitted with inlays for the first time and apprehensive of the solicitations of their new take-it-slow sensoriums. Stitched-up punks wrestling mortally with medusiform muscle tissues chestbursters, bystanders yelling and gingerly borrowing butchers’ cleavers. Cosplayers and modplayers, the spit of Sylvester Lady of Risk, or the House Locklany golem, or the new Darkspawn Dawnspark, or some other needled-in pin-up, each to their own personal degree of insane devotion and fidelity. A celeb or two, subtly disarrayed, on a double-bluff incognito trip. Tentative tweens, proud and hot beneath new Dally MacFarlane Durians and Banyans, succulent marketing, twisting from their red-raw shoulder-soil, speckled with untaxonimised fungi. Dirigible drones and triple-rotors skirring overhead on deliveries, yawing in shockwaves as corsairs dogfought escorts.

Soon Gurm passed her first fab lab. In its doorway a blue-scaled xen was swaying proprietorially, thin and fluid like an upright serpent, crested with a small, pinstriped crescent, resembling the horns of a ram, and tripedal, with feet resembling boar trotters. Nah. Gurm wanted that crisp, cool, fancy fab lab farther along the mini-map. Dwarflust Enterprises or something.

The xen looked hilariously hopeful. Gurm grinned as she barged past.

Dandyish Curlies wormed painstakingly onward in kid gloves. Shimmering jale and purple Musteds, taking it just as slow, magnificently genteel, wreathed in rictuses, their species claustrophobia thoroughly bottled up itself. Providentialist almoners bounded frantically off the hu-t’ung, clattering down step-snickets after the complicated life stories of bugs and vermin. Second gen Hyder charlatans with plexiglass jars of megascopic ingredience dustbunnies chatted to one another, drawing dry wit from the year’s Repentercurls Games at an infinitesimal grain. Gregarious gladiators strutted and loafed, their proferred flesh all albino, incarnadine or wine-dark with scar tissue, their spectral orreries of overcome foe offal orbiting them in full boast-ghostcast mode. A mobbed purveyor of Geffen meconium kept her customers at bay by brandishing a hacked gladiatorial v-halberd. Sensorium mini-map showed not far now.

Jump Drives nervously phasing in and out as they chatted up tourists and students, and gladiators and sellswords and traumatised vets, self-sabotaging their pick-up artistry with nauseous giggles and erratic, broad-spectrum libidinal investment. Fanfanners. Swivel-eyed wilderness witnesses, AH-gain. Inventive parents. Chibi didappers. Whipjack cons and PUAs posing as Warp and Jump Drives. A-list celebs, B-list celebs, and on down the abedecary and annexes, test-sauntering their newly acquired celebrity identities. Journalists and pundits embedded in their own lives. Cool hunters. Pets. Chibi minimals, nipping from one obvious hiding place to the next, intent on snarfing crumbs of rice, blowing up the beautiful forest-mountain in the heart of Irontown, or seizing the throne of distant Ambershadow.

Crushes. Prowling proto-beloveds. Love’s soldiers bivouacked. Pet-keepers – some petless, their pets now with sitters, walkers, flyers, simulators, vets, bodymodders – conscious of the silliness of certain pet-related feelings. A panicking parent. An elf crone yelping in cluster pidgin about her accelerated heart-rate.

Gamers and workers. Leaderboard junkies grinding task categories. Hatchet-faced Game Theory dogmatists. A pair of bickering macropodine xens, ash-discoloured and the last of their species.

Chefs. Turnspits and sous turnspits. Pulled-pork-and-coleslaw-waffle scoffers and squid-slice scone aficionados. Gunkers, digesting dinner externally. Huffy peace legations of eyestalked lupine minimals, looking like bad taxidermy, their traditional tribal dress flicking in the tuk-tech wind, and their Fain drivers grinning and honking and sirening more than strictly necessary. Imprecators. Cannibals. Hereticastors. Zealots. Fouled and shunned wretches. Xens extending baffling cheer every-which-way via systematically wrong, evolutionarily stable translation interfaces. Wimps. Bigots. A really, really wide range of recruiters and Satans. Fourth Wall panderers and Fourth Wall side-eyers. Fourth Wall frotteurs. Trolls and famicides. Newbies to the Telluric Devolve, the frontier of the §crypt currency zone, stunned in the streets of Irontown, in total thrall to their first §crypt Pelfie, as they checked their balance and recognised for the first time the complexity of the concept of "balance."

Grey robed hominid xens, indeterminate, systematically wandering and huffing out burrs, analysed as inert. Someone should get on that.

Slaves and servants. A few chattel slaves, dressed in the latest smart-casual fashions, collared, glittering rivulets of remote explosives visible like extra veins, plus a few off-duty footxen, heavily powdered inside their hermetic bio-suits – evidence Empire was in town tonight. But mostly humans running errands, at the ends of reins that ran to a closer node, the neighbouring moons of Locklany. Someone should get on that.

That was pretty much it, apart from humblebraggers and attention-gardeners, editors and détraqués. Geeks and winnowers. Fain agent provocateurs, false flag operatives and askefises. Workaholics and ergophiles, obviously. Jubilarian activist gamers, and social worker gamers, annoying, endangering, liberating and propagandizing the slaves who moved about Irontown on their masters’ business. Trail-etchers, criers and whifflers. Replicant androids, banned from having sentience or personalities, mixing along as best as they could manage. Slab-passers. Butchers. The benevolent. Canters, encrypters, bohemians, pyromaniacs and ciplinarians. The tendril-torn, the bruised and split-lipped. Innumerable shades of jobbing bombasters, pandars, cotton-woolsters and situation-defusers. Innumerable shades of jobbing interpreters and translators, inscribers and transcribers, white liars and typhlophiles. Entities spewing sense data for innumerable senses. The overloaded and the ennervated understimulated. Lubricators and labour dispute arbitrators. Fuckers and lovers. Fasters. Luddites and inlay-shunners. The infected and the allergic, the convulsing. Flyting husters, sessile in scaffold lecterns, or fleet upon casterboards. Redemption spotters. Engineers and tech people who definitely knew what the problem probably was now. Bottom-wipers. Clumsy greeters. Dump-tacklers. The thick-skinned skinned raw by the sensuousness of the turn of the seasons. Confidantes on frostiness gambits. The inarticulately vulnerable. Griefstricken. Flâneur prosthetics. Autos-da-fé. Phenomena, including personages, not strictly present, but edited later into collective memory. Developers and terrorists. Spoilt Fain finance brats riding on hella hu-t’ung-inappropriate bounce-orbs, and mammothrept Curlies in crystalline, fairytale carriages, splurging §crypt on sight-lines and personal space. Pheremone lattices. Unexplained luminous sails. Hick fortune-huntsters wading, with sinking hearts, through ominous backlog of chat from backwater kaleyard orbital.

In a pothole, an escape pod smouldering, fringed with melted vegetables.

Indecipherably exotic fugitives.

Sneering second-gen Fain solicitor and engineer aristocracy, fanatically urbane, disrobing the lamentably-disguised minimal freedom fighters, upright leverits and toads, sporting that bad taxidermy look, by means of tiny bespoke tridents, as the Fain whizzed by on diademed street-luges on their way to do something far more important. All manner of debtors. Some debtors but browsing picaroons, dabblers and compers, picking and choosing, perhaps merely pollarding a Hyderworld fasttree infestation first thing this morning, then knocking off till tomorrow when it was time to pass a redeye ambassador of the Poor Empire their Fainshell comb or butcher’s cleaver or baker's rolling cudgel. Other debtors were on the cusp of peonage, able to dent their principal only provided they outcompeted the debtors crowding that cusp alongside them, grasping and struggling, and begging solidarity.

The sky was full of rainbows and machines. Gurm WiPped openly.