Monday, February 27, 2012

Flash Fiction - Build Your Own Hero

Good evening,

 Something quick and dirty for the time being.

***


“Fix that arm into place!” Nen cried, screwing on the last two fingers. Vax pulled the wrench from his belt and wound the bolts frantically. Alarms sounded throughout the cargo hold. Fearful announcements echoed across the room and no doubt across the ship.
Nobody predicted the attack. Nen was on the bridge when it happened. She was there when the scanners detected the jatman pods flying towards them. Their speed was uncanny. Newer models, she suspected. Before they were within twenty tiks, she ran. She had to get to the cargo hold.
She and Vax had been working on mobile artillery for the past month. It had been a pet project the captain allowed them to experiment on since they boarded. Nen and Vax excelled in engineering, but wanted a chance to prove their skills. Neither expected an invasion would be ideal for their purposes.
Nen took a step back and wiped sweat from her brow. The headless giant was almost complete. She was proud of its titanic legs and its wide body, its powerful arms level at its sides.
“Paragon, forgive me,” she muttered, “but this is beautiful.
“We’re running out of time!” Vax cried out, drilling bolts into the robot’s shoulders. “They’ll be here any minute!”
“Then stop panicking and screw that arm in!” Nen told him.
“We don’t even know if this will work!” he called out, “It could fall apart the minute we launch it! What then?”
“Then we either die screaming or live out our lives in a chaos mine!” Nen called back, “That incentive enough?!”
His hand pounded against the shoulder joint. “I think it’s –”
Something slammed against the bay doors.
            Vax paled. Nen faced the doors, “They’re here.”
She ran to her right. A control panel sat on the side of the giant. “Step back!” she called to Vax, “We’re taking this baby for a ride!”
Vax rappelled off of the robot, “You sure about that?!”
She hit a string of buttons on the panel and reached up, “No!”
Nen pulled a lever.
Clamps released themselves from the limbs and body of the massive machine. A whirring screech sounded as gears beneath its shell winded and ground into each other. Steam hissed out of its joints.
The doors split. The hundred legs of a slathering nalmasek forced their way into the cargo hold. Its gaping, rotating mouth opened and emitted a shrill roar. Vax ran behind a crate and screamed.
Nen pointed at the creature and shouted her first command: “UNIT HRO! DESTROY TARGET! GO!
The robot burst forward. Wide hands seized the alien’s jaws. The beast’s legs danced and struck at the iron body of its opponent. The front part of the robot’s chest flipped open. A cylinder slid out, aiming at the creature’s face.
It fired into its mouth. Legs and teeth and bits of skin flew as the thing exploded. Smouldering remains collapsed in front of the door. The robot relaxed, straightening up with its arms falling to its sides.
Nen took a moment to admire its efficiency. Not even she could have predicted its speed. She shook herself awake, grinning as she called out another command to her creation: “Unit HRO! Secure crew! Go!
It buzzed. Nen knew it was accessing the crew database she loaded into its memory banks the night before. Arching its legs, the giant thundered forward. It crushed the still-burning cadaver of the nalmasek as it jogged into the hallway and rounded a corner.
Watching the robot storm off, Vax stepped out from behind his crate. He turned to his friend, “Shouldn’t we follow it?”
Nen struck a match on her leg and lit the pipe she placed between her teeth, “It’s got it covered.”
“We don’t know what it’s going to do without us!” Vax reasoned, “What if it starts mixing up the crew with –”
A blast fired down the hall. A long, multi-jointed leg bounced off of a wall in the distance.
Nen took another drag of her pipe and breathed deep, “I rest my case.”

***

 Next week, something completely different.

See you next time,

-RWI

Monday, February 20, 2012

PostScript - Marco and Robert vs Teahouse (NSFW)

Good day,

 I've been behind as a number of projects I can't quite talk about yet are eating up my time. In the meanwhile, do enjoy my latest conversation with fellow Schlockenzian writer Marco Attard:


Robert: What was this gaysex manga you were reading though
Marco it's this thing called The Teahouse
    about a whorehouse with mostly gay whores
    gay man whores, I guess
    of course it is written by women for women
    and the women have no idea what gay dudes really are
    so it's all sorts of weird and hilarious http://www.teahousecomic.com/
 Robert This looks silly
 Marco it is total silly
    it's like Medieval descriptions of strange animals from foreign lands
 Robert Also, everyone is an effeminate pretty boy except for one lumberjack.
 Marco "these are the 'HOMO-SEKSUAL MANS'"
    dude even the lumberjack is effeminate
    i know enough about gay culture to know what a bear dude is
    and that effeminate is NOT a bear
 Robert They're often fat
    Isn't that the case? Big and hairy?
 Marco yep, huge hairy dudes
    also the lack of penises disappoints me
    i wanted the comic to shock my straight white male sensibilities
    instead it just makes me go "at least SOMBODY'S havin' fun!"
Robert haha
    This comic is suffering from a cock deficiency
 Marco makes me want to go to its comments board
    all shoutin WHERE IS THE COCK
    I AM VERY DISAPPOINTED YOUNG LADIES
    YOU GET A C- FOR EFFORT
 Robert C-?!
    MORE LIKE
    MINUS COCK
 Marco hahahaha
    YES



See you next time,

-RWI

Monday, February 13, 2012

Let's Talk About - Endings and Length


Good evening,

                I’ll be entering Spoiler Territory now and again, so you might need to turn back.

                All good things have to end. This is a general truth, but it’s something that plagues story-tellers regularly. That long-running soap opera will eventually use up all of its plot threads. One day, Captain America will die and stay dead. Some book series will go unfinished by their creators and be left in the hands of fanboys and cruel publishers to complete – hell, some already have.

                It’s all a question of when and how, though. How long are you willing to stretch out a project? Have you figured out where it’s all going to lead? How do you plan to wrap everything up?

                For me, I prefer open endings – something that closes a lot of doors but has enough material to keep readers or viewers guessing. Watchmen did that very well: Dan and Laurie ride off into the sunset, a new world order is formed under the threat of interstellar war, and Rorschach’s notes have been found by a young intern at a local newspaper. Everything that happens after is total speculation. Watchmen’s length was also ideal; twelve fleshed-out chapters that added to the overall complexity of something that sure as helldoes not need prequels, DC.

                ...Sorry.

Not every story needs to be open, but if you can wrap up everything without having to resort to an hour of exposition then that’s a gold star. Mystery stories or horror stories or magical realism stories need to have that openness in particular. It adds to their mystique. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle would not have had the same impact if Toru Okada pulled a Sherlock Holmes and tied everything together after leaving the metaphysical hotel his wife stayed in. Similarly, Pan’s Labyrinth wouldn’t have been as heartbreaking if Mercedes cradled Ofelia as she passed away and exclaimed either “SHE MADE EVERYTHING UP” or “WHO THE SHIT WAS THAT GOATMAN?”

Let’s switch gears for a second and focus on length, because in order to talk about one side of this coin we have to address the other side.

There are very few stories out there in the world that can afford to be long-winded, rambling yarns. There has to be a point to length. I mentioned soap operas before; as much as I don’t care for them, I do have to commend the idea behind soap operas. You hear about shows that go on for decades with no end in sight. People get their hackles up when they hear that. ‘How long can they go on like this for?’ cries the audience, ‘How many stories of adultery, death, and unexpected twists where the man who drove off the cliff was actually the main character’s half-clone twice removed can these idiot writers pump out?’

And the answer is, as many as they can, because soap operas are about life.

Okay, fine, they’re a jazzed-up, sexed-up, melodramatic kind of life that sometimes makes deals with Satan or all turns out to be an elaborate dream sequence, but its life all the same. In real life, we don’t have arcs. I’ve had plenty of moments that could have been straight from a romance movie, but not once did a roll of credits fly by my face as I pulled in my lady-love for a kiss. Life never ends on a perfect moment. Life ends when life ends. So, in a way, while I don’t care for the ridiculously overcomplicated love affairs of Harry Lovetackle and his wife Marissa, I can at least applaud soap operas for showing the painstaking passage of time.

What I can’t abide by is padding; filler; stories overwrought with nonsensical arcs that add nothing to the overall narrative. I don’t mind episodic stories. I actually find them very endearing and fun. I don’t like it when a writer puts together a massive story, figures out all of the characters and the style of it, and then says “You know what this needs to be? Four-hundred chapters longer!”

This, dear reader, is what grinds on my nerves about most manga. I en joy Japanese comics and cartoons and the like, but creators need to know when enough is enough. I know it’s mostly editorial pressure to stretch out a story and milk it for all it’s worth, but it’s inconsiderate and insulting to all parties involved. Who actually enjoys a twelve-issuefight scene? Who appreciates lead characters who endlessly dance around confessing their love for each other?

This is not to say that Western comics are immune to stretched-out and overused plotlines. You still get instances of a reader being punished for not reading the backlog of issues leading up to that particular moment in time. At least with those, however, you get the odd comic where you don’t have to concern yourself with canon and previous arcs and crossover events or whatever else.

What am I getting at? I’m saying that writers have to know their story, inside and out. They have to know if there’s room to expand the universe, but they should apply reason as well. They have to know its style and its limits. They have to know what connects best with their audience and themselves. A writer has to know how far to go. Without that, you’ll have either the most dedicated legion of fans in the world or the most dedicated legion of critics. With that, you’ll have a more positive ratio if you play your cards right.

Be brave, writers. Know when to say it’s over. We’ll all thank you for it.

See you next time,

-RWI

Monday, February 6, 2012

Flash Fiction - Conquest

Good evening,

 I'm a day late and I threw this one together in a hurry.

***


            Where was I when it happened? Well, that’s a story.
            I was at home with my husband. Aaron was mowing the lawn and I was making quiche for a big dinner event we were going to that evening. It smelled nicely enough. Ham and spinach and cheese blended together to make a nice aroma. I had some hard rock station on. A man with a gravelly voice screamed over a guitar that was out of tune. I fought through it.
            The radio cut out. I heard a broadcast. Aaron came in and wiped the sweat from his brow and we listened. A man was saying that something was breaking through the sky above Denver, Colorado. Reports were coming in that similar objects were appearing over other cities across the world. Initial descriptions claimed it resembled a meteor at first, but when it stopped in mid-air the true bizarreness of it became clear.
We thought it had to be a hoax. Aaron had the smart idea of running to the T.V. and turning it on. A news station showed a camera focusing on a massive shape floating between two buildings. It was round and huge, covered in ridges like a cauliflower. Long feelers from its sides were brushing against the windows, as if it groped through the streets blindly. The camera panned back as shapes fell out of its bottom and started running through the streets.
            I recognized the downtown core it hovered over. I felt fear.
            That’s when they arrived. We heard the windows break and the doors splinter and they had us surrounded. We would know them as the hkahnm, mere drones, but back then we didn’t know that. To us, they were just scores of bulbous, horrible non-things built not unlike ants and frogs and apes, their bodies held together in ways we could not believe to be possible.
            They grabbed our arms. I remember the rubbery skin seizing my wrists and being pulled outside. They brought us to a hole in the earth, a pulsating mouth covered in bristles. Aaron and his captors went in first. He screamed my name. As the hkahnm dragged me inside, all I thought was that my quiche going to burn.

            I remember Aaron and me being led into that big room where King Horror sat. We were stripped naked and pushed into a crowd of our neighbours. I saw the old man who ran the corner store, his skin hanging weakly from his spindly body. A local football star was wedged between two terrified teens, covering his balls with his hands. The hkanhm had us surrounded on three sides.
On our fourth was what we called Death Mountain. It was a pile of bones stacked a mile high; human skeletons charred to a crisp. Two large things supported on legs too thin for the rest of their fat bodies guarded it, long arms reaching into the crowd to throw people towards it. Another set of limbs would force them towards a set of hkanhm who dragged screaming people towards its top. We saw the odd burst of fire. Each time, we howled and wept.
Our time came soon. Aaron and I were seized and flung to the bone hill. The hkanhm on the hill grabbed our arms, brought us to our feet and kicked us all the way up. There was a preacher ahead of us, one of those televangelists who scared people for money. He was jabbering and blubbering incoherently.
We were dragged to Him in almost no time. They brought the preacher in front of King Horror’s seat. One of His hundred mouths opened and emitted something long and loud and high-pitched. The man fell to his knees and screamed back. I couldn’t tell what he was saying. I think it was a prayer, or a curse, or maybe one last primal yell of defiance.
It made no difference. Another one of King Horror’s mouths opened. A wave of flame hit the man and reduced him to ash.
King Horror’s hundred mouths chattered as we were pushed forward, forced to stand on the smouldering remains of the preacher. One mouth moved its way to the front and shrieked at us for half a minute.
Words fell into my mind. Live or Die, they said.
My heart raced. “I want to live,” I whimpered immediately, “Please let me live.”
One of His great mouths opened wide and let out a long cry. It sounded agonized. It wanted me to die. Two hkanhm came to my side and took my arms, but I struggled and looked to Aaron. My thrashes slowed them down. My eyes locked with his and begged him to do the smart thing. The mouth that spoke to me screamed at him next.
He was quiet. His body shook. He looked at his feet. He always did that when he panicked. I started crying. I thought of the preacher. He took too long, I thought, he took too long and they killed him. I saw Aaron’s face rise. The burning mouth grumbled impatiently. Aaron looked miserable.
But then he said he would live.
The angry mouth screamed again. Two more guards came and dragged him to me. He looked at me and he said, “David, I love you so much and if you’re going to live in Hell then so am I.”
I slipped out of my captors’ arms and kissed him. Gingerly, the hkanhm ushered us to the side. I didn’t take my lips off him, even as they pulled at us, and even when they put the collars on us.
That’s when they put us in the Districts. The webwalls were grown overnight. Aaron was one of the first to do hard labour on a globeship. He was lucky to come back. He was always one of the few who did. I was usually set to work separating nutrients in the food-vats.
We never found out what happened to our old home. It didn’t matter. We were put up in a new home, a hive we shared with the Nguyens and the Jamesons. They weren’t comfortable with Aaron and me being, well, us, but they got used to it. Worse things to worry about when half the world’s been conquered, I guess.
            And you know what?
            After a while, it wasn’t so bad.

***

 Expect another rant by next week. I seem to have a lot to say now.

See you next time,

-RWI