Thursday, August 23, 2012

How to Imagine a Billion

Carp on a tarp, who would've thought a book about how we know things could be so research-intensive to write?  The problem I'm running into now is that every time I'm like, "Wait a minute, I should look this up," I end up going on a wiki walk where I kinda-sorta get my question answered but find way more interesting things along the way.  So, OK, now I know how ejection seats work, and I have a reasonable guess as to where the USS Eisenhower was in the spring of 2000, but I'm also finding out all kinds of things I don't really need like stuff about the new robot we put on Mars and how plots of various movies could have been solved in minutes (or would have been solved if the main characters did nothing).

Anyway.

I was talking about space & stuff with a friend, and we were going on and on about how so many people have a really poor grasp of just how astronomically large astronomical distances are.  At one point, it was alleged that humans can't even conceive of a million, let alone the billions and trillions required to understand space.  I thought about that for a while, and as it turns out, yes I can so too imagine a billion - and so can you!  Here, let me teach you how.

First, a teaching tool.  Did you ever use these little yellow blocks to count when you were in gradeschool?  I did, at least in the fifth and sixth grades (I went to different schools every year before that, so I don't know how far back they use these).

Wait, you mean tiny yellow cubes a centimeter on a side are chokeable?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Tabula Rasa, Chapter One



Chapter One
Friday, May 5th, 2000.  8:15 AM, Eastern Time.

Samantha opens her eyes.

She blinks spastically, disoriented by the light.  Incoherent shapes and unfamiliar colors cloud her vision.  Noise fills her ears, her skin prickles, and her breath comes in awkward gasps.  After a few moments of abject confusion, she recognizes the color dominating her vision:  white.  A few moments more, and she grasps the purpose of that white shape:  ceiling.  Her head jerks about to take in her surroundings:  she is in a room, laying upon a bed.  So far, so good.  She takes a moment to breathe and collect herself.

Samantha sits up, rubs her eyes, rolls her head around on her neck and then stretches her arms upwards, interlocking her fingers and popping her knuckles, elbows, shoulders.  She lowers her arms and breathes deep, smelling dust and something herbal-oily and a little bit of sweat. The noise in her ears gradually resolves into birdsong and the occasional breeze rustling through the trees outside.  Her right knee feels funny, a little loose, like it needs to be adjusted.  She flexes her leg back and forth, back and forth, hears a muted pop and feels a brief pang followed by relief.  The walls around her are covered in brightly colored patterns, but near the ceiling is a procession of strange shapes in black and white, wrapping around the whole room.  Samantha looks at them carefully:  they are at once intensely familiar, yet utterly alien.  Names for the shapes slowly well up from she knows not where: Aa Bb Cc Dd...

Painfully slow, Samantha recites the alphabet in her head with the aid of the childish frieze.  Sounds for the letters tug at her mind, though they are many and varied.  She is dimly aware that the words “white”, “ceiling”, “window”, and “birdsong” now have spellings and are no longer floating abstractions in her stream of consciousness.  As she repeats the alphabet in her mind, she hums a simple tune, and the tune makes her think of the night sky, twinkling and jeweled.  She looks around at the objects in the room, not quite sure what to make of them.  One shape stands out to her:  a rectangle, with smaller rectangles running lengthwise across it, and little circles at each end.  Samantha has no word for it, but it's got clothes in it, and she is suddenly aware that she is wearing a white tank top.  She pulls back the blanket from across her knees and sees that she is wearing pajama pants with a splotchy pattern of greens, browns, and near-blacks.  Blaze orange letters run across the amorphous shapes, and Samantha slowly sounds out the words:  “YOU CAN'T SEE ME.” She reads the words again, uncomprehending – she most certainly can see them!


Monday, August 13, 2012

Tabula Rasa


Friday, May 5th, 2000.  6:54 AM, Central Time.

Glory’s left arm twitches, once, twice.  She immediately leans left toward a chair at the dining table, falling roughly into it as her eyelids begin to flutter.  She knows what’s coming next.

Her legs hang crooked to her right, her arms splayed out across the table.  As she stares out at the world, mute and paralyzed, Glory is surprised to see that her few remaining party guests are having troubles of their own.  Clutching their heads and staggering, Len and Hannah lean on each other behind the island in the open kitchen; the lights flicker, and Keith takes a knee in the middle of the rug.  Someone on the couch, at the edge of Glory’s vision, has her head between her knees.

It passes.

Glory rubs a clammy palm over her forehead, absently straightens her hair.  That was short, thank the stars.  She sets her feet in front of her to stand, sets her hands on the table, and rises to her feet.  Her left arm trembles again, and it’s back – staring at the table now, she can’t see her surroundings.  The lights are suddenly much brighter to her, she hears the microwave running, the ceiling fan’s motor whum-whum-whums in a quickening crescendo.  Seconds go by, and it eases enough for her to sit in her chair, but does not pass.  The lights dim, everything’s quiet, someone gasps.  As Glory raises her head, it comes on again in a slow wave, brightening the lights once more.  She can definitely hear the microwave running.  That’s not right.  It’s never like this.  Alarms sound, the shrill beeps of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.  A dull thump as someone falls to the ground.  One by one, lights begin to pop and flare, her stereo screams a burst of static and dies, the detectors drop out, and Glory registers one brief moment of silence as she slips away.


Sunday, August 12, 2012

Back from the brink of death!

Ugh.  Martian Death Flu is no fun.

The first & second of August, I thought I was just having my seasonal allergy attack rather later than normal. But then I was full-on sick, and even had to take a couple days off of work.  I'm also reading The Stand, so I couldn't shake the irrational thought that Captain Trips was coming for me.  The next few days I was possibly too sick to work, but definitely too poor to not work, so I toughed it out.  I seemed to get better like three days ago, but then had mad allergy symptoms once again that came to a peak last night.

And now I'm perfectly fine!

So I guess I'm officially caught up on my quota of illness for the last two years.  I was missing some, you see.  This would be a perfect time to dust off that bit I've been saving up on the immune system... but I don't feel like writing about the immune system.  In fact, all I wanna do now is write Tabula Rasa.  Somewhere along the line, the plans for Tabula Rasa got mixed up with my plans to re-write Rendezvous into Breath to Breath, so I think I'll just go with it because it seems like a good idea (mainly because it takes elements from a story I like and transposes them from a setting I no longer like [horror] into a better one [adventure]).  It's also been marinating for over a year, which is a good indication that it's a worthwhile idea and not going anywhere.

In all honesty, I never really tried to set it down, it just kinda slipped through my fingers and fell to the wayside.  But I have been working through the major issues I had with it - mainly how to get from one plot point to another, since it was conceived (like all my stories) as a flotilla of vignettes and not a single coherent narrative - and I think it's in a state where I can drop all of Chekov's Guns without needing to backtrack preposterously through a bunch of established story.  I've also been reading apocalyptic fiction (I mentioned Lucifer's Hammer and The Stand) to give me some grounding in the genre and see what else is out there.  Mainly what I've noticed is that authors can get away with quite a bit of stereotyping as long as there's sufficient characterization to balance it out, and that Stephen King's editor needs a finer-toothed comb.  I mean, I can't tell Stephen King what to do, but when I read something like, "He shivered a little, and the wind danced a spiral of fire out of the fire and up toward the black starshot sky" (p. 439 in my edition), I can't help but think, "You don't need the word 'fire' twice in such close proximity.  Use 'flame' the first time, or 'blaze' the second, or fucking anything else."

Anyway, that's that.  I've got some stuff written up already, just not the first part, so I'm gonna finish that.  But I open tomorrow, so I need to get to bed at a reasonable hour, and I doubt I'll get through it all tonight.  So that's tomorrow, and then I've got the next part written already, and then it's just a matter of putting the vignettes in place and stitching them together with something approaching skill and aplomb (I'd sure like to write it all in order, but even so, I'll probably end up with Un-Deleted Scenes like in The Quantum Mechanic).  Wish me luck!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Stupid Rhinovirus...

I am super-ill.  :p

Can't breathe.  Can't think.  Can't sleep.  Just so everybody knows.