Happy Pride Month!

Published June 14, 2019 by Iphis of Scyros

(Okay, yes, I know, the month is almost half over.  But better late than never, yes?)

My Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp character, Chibi (in Black Lady form because I’m still jazzed they added stuff so I could transform her into her evil adult form), in her Pride Garden.

Since I don’t really have a lot to say right now, I thought I’d randomly present a post of LGBTQ+/Pride-related Kickstarters that are currently running.  Because it gives me something to post about.

Some of these are projects I’m backing, some are ones I haven’t decided about yet, some I’m not interested in, and I wouldn’t call any of this an “endorsement” as such.  I just want to spread the Pride.  Listed by end date, with the ones that will end first being listed first.  (Disclaimer:  a lot of these are enamel pins.  That’s not my bias; that’s just how it is.  I actually left off some for various reasons (too focused on a single group within the LGBT community, too vague, too angry, too meme-dependent, et cetera) but they still dominate the list.  Kickstarter has a vibrant enamel pin community.  Too vibrant:  I now have way too many pins in my life, and far fewer dollars than I’d prefer…)  All the pictures below belong to their respective campaigns.  Click on the picture to go to the campaign.

Ends on June 14:

 Funhouse Frights 2:  “An 18+ NSFW comic series where a twisted fun house transforms into the kinky desires of it’s pass holders, and you’re invited!” (Quoted from their campaign page because it’s late and I’m tired.)

Ends on June 15:

 ‘Con Pride Enamel Pin Series:  Pride-flag colored enamel pins for Transformers fans.

 Happenstance Episode Three:  “The third installment to Happenstance, an award-winning web series about a successful, young and gay male.”  (Quoted from their campaign page because it’s late and I’m tired.)

Ends on June 16:

 LGBTQ+ Kissing Unicorn Acrylic Pins:  “An LGBTQ inclusive line of acrylic pins that focus on the beauty of different sexualities within relationships.”  (Quoted from their campaign page because it’s late and I’m tired.)

Ends on June 18:

 Greek Orthodox LGBT Film:  “Κύριε ἐλέησον (Translated: Lord Have Mercy) A short film about a Greek Orthodox LGBT girl.”  (Quoted from their campaign page because it’s late and I’m tired.)

Ends on June 21:

 Witches Brew:  “A Fantasy, Crafting, Roleplay game. Play as the local witch trying to establish her place in town by helping the local villagers.” (Quoted from their campaign page because it’s late and I’m tired.)  Contains lesbian romance.  And I think it has NSFW content, too.

 Queer Dragpaca Pins – The Dragon Alpacas of RRC:  “Queer pin set featuring my critters, the Dragpacas!”  (Quoted from their campaign page because it’s late and I’m tired.)

 Gaysper and Friends, Fighting Hate, One Sticker at a Time:  “A series of Vinyl, Waterproof Stickers in support of LGBTQ+. Let’s fight hate with stickers….cover your town!” (Quoted from their campaign page because it’s late and I’m tired.)

Ends on June 22:

 Shame or Honour:  “Raising money for film production.  Two, young Muslim gay men have an eventful first date at a night club, following a terrorist attack.”  (Quoted from their campaign page because it’s late and I’m tired.)

Ends on June 28:

 After I Met That Catgirl My Questlist Got Too Long!:  the title sounds like a Japanese light novel, but it’s actually an RPG with strong visual novel components (or a visual novel with strong RPG components?) and it hails from Belgium.  Qualifies for this list because all its romance elements are lesbian ones.  The character design is a bit much, but the RPG part looks solid.  Contains NSFW elements.

 Botanical Love: A Pride Themed Enamel Pin Set:  subtle enamel pins of flowers with Pride flag colors (the subtlety being for those who are closeted so they may remain closeted but still show their pride) and pronoun pins.

 Morningdew Farms: part farming simulator (more simple than Stardew Valley, though) and part gay dating sim, with a heavy emphasis on NSFW content.  Very tongue-in-cheek text.

 Elliot, 2009:  “LGBTQ+ Short. During the Great Recession, 11yo Elliot creates a refuge for self expression & queer exploration inside foreclosed homes.”  (Quoted from their campaign page because it’s late and I’m tired.)

 Soulfire:  Book One of the Soulfire Chronicles:  “An LGBTQ Upper Middle Grade Fantasy Novel”  (Quoted from their campaign page because it’s late and I’m tired.)

 Stop Going to Homophobic Churches:  The Sticker:  “Remind church goers that attending a church that doesn’t affirm queer people is bad and they should stop.”  (Quoted from their campaign page because it’s late and I’m tired.)

Ends on June 29:

 Tripping Over You volume 5:  this is for the physical edition of a charming webcomic about a two young men who go from friends to lovers over the course of the early volumes.  I discovered this series with the previous volume’s Kickstarter, and I really love it.  It’s sweet and funny without being saccharine or feeling phony.

 Trade Winds Ensemble in Detroit:  “TWE in Detroit, working with students at the Ruth Ellis Center (a residence for at-risk and homeless LGBTQ+ youth) and planning ahead.” (Quoted from their campaign page because it’s late and I’m tired.)

Ends on June 30:

 The Invasion of Big Angry Red:  this is funding a children’s book called The Invasion of Big Angry Red.   It’s a sequel to another children’s book, The Boy with the Rainbow Heart.

 PRIDE IN SPACE! Enamel Pins:  space-themed enamel pins with Pride flags.  (The thumbnail only shows the standard rainbow Pride flag, but there are other flags awaiting unlocking.)

 Blind to See:  “I plan to produce a short film drama about faith and LGBT. This is the first British Sign Language (BSL) film on this subject.” (Quoted from their campaign page because it’s late and I’m tired.)

Ends on July 1:

Pride Pins:  enamel pins of cute animals holding Pride flags.  The flags are screen-printed on, so every animal can carry every flag.  And there are a crazy number of animals available, plus the option of commissioning new ones.  I think every enamel pin collector on Kickstarter who even vaguely intersects with LGBTQ+ (even as an Ally) is backing this.  I’m not sure I’ve ever seen so many backers for a pin Kickstarter before.

  Hero Pride:  enamel pins of superhero masks colored to fit various different Pride flags.

 Sappho’s Hands:  enamel pins showing hands, each with a quote from Sappho.  (Which I had to include because Sappho.)

 Pride Heart Emoji Enamel Pin Set:  hearts with Pride flags and two little gold “sparkles” on them.  (Not sure what makes them “emoji” exactly…)

 Gamer Pride Pins:  enamel pins in the shape of cute gaming console controllers and handheld systems (all with little smiling faces on them) in the colors of various Pride flags.  As a gamer, I have to admit to being tempted by this, except I’m also sort of frustrated that I have no control over which console my flags represent.  (Ace is a SNES controller, which is fine by me, since the Super Nintendo was the birthplace of some of the greatest games of all time,  but why is Aromantic a Game and Watch?  Ack.  Also, why is the Playstation not represented?  That was the first console I ever owned, and a lot of great RPGs were born on the various Playstation systems.  If the Aromantic pin was a PS1 controller, I’d probably be all over this.)

Ends on July 2:

 Samsara, Volume 4:  “The new chapter of Lasse and Mason’s story: joined by everlasting love, pulled apart by fate.”  (Quoted from their campaign page because it’s late and I’m tired.)

Ends on July 3:

 My Universe is You Enamel Pins:  another “sequel” Kickstarter campaign, this time funding a Sapphic version of an earlier pin, as well as funding a reprint (as it were) of the earlier pin.

 Pride Birds Enamel Pin Set:  enamel pins of birds colored to match Pride flags.

 LGBT D&D:  stickers and enamel pins in the shape of 20-sided dice, with the colors of Pride flags and text identifying which flag is represented.  The gradient colors shown on the mock-up designs can’t be done on enamel pins except as screen printing; I’m not sure if they plan on using screen printing, or if these are the sticker versions and the enamel pins will have sharply delineated stripes.

Ends on July 4:

 LGBT+ Pride Moths:  enamel pins of moths colored to match Pride flags.

Ends on July 5:

 Flora Borealis:  “An animated short about two gay men struggling with depression in a ruined environment, and a botanical glassblower mourning his wife.” (Quoted from their description because it’s getting late and I’m tired.)

Ends on July 7:

 Help. – LGBTQ Short Film:  “Follow the life of Alex in this melodrama short film about a pre-op MTF transkid.”  (Quoted from their description because it’s getting late and I’m tired.)

Ends on July 8:

 Pride Cake Enamel Pins:  cake slices colored like Pride flags, in order to make some Pride merch that was low key enough that people with homophobic family members can show their pride without being harassed by their own family.  Some of these designs are making me hungry…

Ends on July 9:

 Pride Pins:  rainbow Pride pins based on the NASA logo.  This campaign has something I’ve never seen before:  the pins are being sold at their cost (which is about $1 per, because they have a large order size, the pins are pretty small (1″) and they’re using soft enamel, which is cheaper (and less attractive, IMHO) than hard enamel) because their goal is not to make money, but to produce as many pins as possible, with the intention of distributing them either free or at cost to students and young scientists in the space science field, to increase the visibility of LGBTQ+ people and allies in that field.

Ends on July 10:

 Fusion Man:  The Birth of a Superhero:  “Fusion Man is here! A gay superhero for all ages. Discover the mystery of Fusion Man’s origins in a new comic book.” (Quoted from their campaign page because it’s late and I’m tired.)

 Crush:  First Love, New Talent:  “A comics anthology from up and coming queer comics creators about those first forays into romance.”  (Quoted from their campaign page because it’s late and I’m tired.)

Ends on July 11:

 Pixel Pride Pants & Skirts:  pants and skirts with Pride flag colors.  I hadn’t seen this one until I ran a search for “Pride” to do this post.  These are really cute.  Too bad I don’t wear skirts and haven’t got the courage to wear such flashy pants…

 The Prometheite:  A Lesbian Tragedy:  “A reimagining of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as a lesbian romance.”  (Quoted from their campaign page because it’s late and I’m tired.)

Ends on July 12:

 Closet Door Hard Enamel Pins:  hinged pins showing a closet door (either reading “Ready!” or “Open When Ready!”) on the outside, and a closet interior colored to match a Pride flag on the inside.

Ends on July 13:

 LGBTQ Hard Enamel Pins Pride Flames:  I can’t believe I hadn’t seen these before today.  Cute little flame-creatures colored to match the Pride flags.  Even has a Straight Ally pin (frequently skipped) which is really cute.

 China’s LGBTQ Culture in Fashion:  LYAN SS20:  “Smashing the cultural taboo of being openly gay in China. A non-labelled androgynous collection.”  (Quoted from their campaign page because it’s late and I’m tired.)

Ends on July 15:

 Pride Mural in a City of Churches:  seeking funding for a LGBT-friendly mural in Fort Wayne, IN, partially in honor of this being the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots.

Ends on July 18:

 Hot & Bothered:  Season 2:  “What does an inclusive black LGBT space in Dayton Ohio look like? Guess it’s time to find out!” (Quoted from their campaign page as it’s late and I’m tired.)

Ends on July 19:

 LGBT+ Pride Bracelets:  bracelets made of semi-precious stone beads in the colors of Pride flags.

Ends on July 23:

 Synthetic Lover:  a visual novel about a synthetic being (seems to be akin to Blade Runner‘s replicants, only with more biological components) whose function was as a male prostitute when one of his customers accidentally grants him full sentience.  There are two (non-synthetic) men he can get involved with romantically in the game.

Ends on July 25:

 Roots of Our Pride Enamel Pin Series:  a series of Pride flag-themed pins in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots.  The initial goal pin is based on the all-inclusive Pride theme, which adds brown and black stripes to the standard rainbow in honor of people of color, and adds the pastel blue/pink/white of the trans flag as well.

Ends on July 30:

 The Accords:  The LGBT/Ally Comic Book we Need:  “The Accords comic book is a political/psychological/metaphysical action packed Avengers like comic birthed from current events.”  (Quoted from their campaign page because it’s late and I’m tired.)

Ends on August 9:

 Rainbow Quest, LGBT Board Game:  “Engaging, affirming, educational, and FUN! Perfect for any GSA or school or just for fun! For all ages, genders, and orientations !”  (Quoted from their campaign page because it’s late and I’m tired.)

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Books, Spaceships and Krikkit

Published June 6, 2019 by Iphis of Scyros

If you’re sitting there thinking I’ve misspelled one of the words in the title of this post, then you probably don’t run in comedy sci-fi circles.

As the first (non-manga) book to read in my comfortably post-grad school existence, I chose Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen, because I’d been wanting to read it for some time.  (I’m not sure why I hadn’t gotten to it before the semester started, but…)  Of course, on reading it, certain passages were so very familiar that I had to reread Life, the Universe and Everything next, for reasons which will be obvious to anyone who’s read it.

For those of you unfamiliar with any of this, let me give you some background information.

1976.  Tom Baker is the fourth actor to play the Doctor on the television series Doctor Who.  (The fifth actor total, of course, because there were those two movie adaptations of the first two Dalek stories where they replaced William Hartnell with Peter Cushing, but I don’t think anyone liked to talk about those…)  One of the writers working with the BBC on the program is the young Douglas Adams, who pitched a script for a Doctor Who movie in which Tom Baker’s Doctor would go up against the Krikkitmen, white robots whose armor happened to look like cricket gear.

Over the course of four years, the idea became more detailed (and the companion in the treatments became more vague because the Doctor had gone through several companions in the intervening years), until it ended up a bit over 30 pages long.

And then nothing happened with it.  Tom Baker left the program, and Douglas Adams had his hands full with his own brilliant hit, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which had started out as a BBC radio program, then transitioned to one series of television and a short series of novels.

By the time Adams got round to writing the third novel, the Doctor’s meeting with the Krikkitmen was off the table for good, and there was no reason to let a good story die in obscurity, so Adams adapted it into Life, the Universe and Everything.  With a good many obvious changes, as Slartibartfast is not much like the Doctor (not like any version of same, in fact) and the starship Bistromath is not much like a TARDIS.  In fact, not at all like a TARDIS except for the fact that neither one of them looks like something that ought to be a spaceship.  (And no, the mouse on the cover is not the Bistromath.  Nor is it the Heart of Gold, nor is it a Krikkit ship.  I don’t know what the heck that thing is.  Some artist just thought it looked funny, I guess.)

Fastforward many decades to 2012.  Another of Douglas Adams’ Doctor Who projects that was never fully realized, the story “Shada” that had been intended to be the season finale (which was scrapped part-way into filming due to a strike), is released as a novel written by Gareth Roberts, in a narrative style that is comparable to Adams’, if not quite as brilliant.  It’s a huge hit (as such things go), and the BBC starts casting about for anything else they can release in the same vein.  Eventually, they hit on the Krikkitmen.  (First, of course, they had to novelize a couple of stories that were broadcast.  Haven’t bothered reading those, because why bother?  Especially with “City of Death.”  You can’t improve on perfection.)

So, what is the story of these books?  Well, short version:  far back in the mists of galactic history, the planet Krikkit really didn’t like the fact that the rest of the universe existed, and built robots to wipe it all out, but they were eventually defeated and now have become horrifying bogeymen parents use to frighten their children, and only one planet is gauche enough to talk about anything relating to Krikkit, even if they do happen to spell it slightly differently, but of course that wouldn’t be a story unless the robots suddenly returned to put the universe at risk once more.  Only there’s so much more to it than that.  I mean, even to the set-up there’s so much more to it.  Really, it’s something one ought to read for oneself.  If you haven’t read the Hitchhiker’s trilogy, you really probably ought to, unless you’re utterly allergic to comedy and/or…well…what do you call it?  “Soft sci-fi”?  I know “hard sci-fi” is the stuff that tries to be as realistic as possible, which is kind of the opposite of Hitchhiker’s, which has its own set of logical rules of physics, which don’t really correspond to ours on a 1-to-1 basis.  (Ours, after all, are not very funny.)  The Doctor Who version is slightly less soft in sci-fi terms, but only very slightly.  I mean, even the show in its most serious moments is pretty far from being hard sci-fi, and this is anything but its most serious moments.  (He’s facing off against robots called Krikkitmen.  How could it possibly be serious?)

But perhaps more importantly for this post, how does the Doctor Who version compare to Adams’ own version?  Well…it’s hard to compare them, really.  I mean, Adams’ prose is more brilliant, and funnier, but beyond that, the comparisons become more awkward.  The story is really better suited to the Doctor Who universe, which only makes sense given that it was first intended to be told there.  It features Romana II as the companion, of course, as is only fitting, since it was in her time on the show that Douglas Adams was the script editor, and “City of Death” aired (and “Shada” would have aired).  The book also includes the longest of Adams’ treatments for the Krikkitmen movie (ironically, the one title he had ruled out for it was Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen) and the opening chapter of Goss’s earlier draft of the novel in which Sarah Jane Smith was the companion (as she was when the story was first pitched), only not the Sarah of the 1970s, but the Sarah Jane of the modern show era, with a paragraph that referenced meeting not only 10, but also 11, 6, possibly 12, and I think there was at least one other only I’ve forgotten now and the book’s already been returned to my father’s house.  (However, the reference to meeting the sixth Doctor was completely inappropriate:  the tenth Doctor’s reaction to seeing her made it very clear that he hadn’t seen her since “The Five Doctors.”  Which, come to think of it, already ruled out older Sarah Jane as a companion for this story, given the fifth Doctor’s outfit…)

All in all, I would definitely say that the Doctor Who version is worth reading, if you’re familiar with the original series.  If you only know the new stuff, it might be a bit jarring.

I have to say, though, it raised some questions in me that I don’t think it intended to.  Not directly reading it, mind you, but thinking about it afterwards.  Because I sat down and thought, “I wonder if we’re supposed to take this as canon?”  And then thought that would be mighty weird if we did, given that as the fifth Doctor is trying to decide on his new look, he comes across a room full of cricket gear, and decides that would be perfect, and even passes comment on how the cricket bat needs tending to.  So, if the English sport cricket was a demented race memory of the horror of the Krikkit wars (which it couldn’t really be a “race memory” per se, given that they ended long before humans evolved on Earth), then why in the world would the Doctor have so much cricket gear?  Though the Doctor can be pretty weird and even a bit perverse, so that’s not a huge problem with its canoninity.  (Yes, not a word, I know.)  The bigger problem is the inclusion of the fabulously beautiful planet of Bethselamin, which is of course well known to any who know Hitchhiker’s.  And we’re not meant to take it as coincidental; it’s definitely meant to be the same planet, just earlier in its history than we know it.  Which implies that maybe somehow the Doctor Who universe and the Hitchhiker’s universe are the same one.  Almost plausible, in the light of “Destiny of the Daleks” having a scene where the Doctor is reading a book by Oolon Colluphid.  (Less plausible in light of the destruction of the Earth at the beginning of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, naturally.  And its redestruction at the end of Mostly Harmless.)  But if they were the same universe, what would it mean when the tenth Doctor mentions Arthur Dent at the end of his first episode?  Surely that was meant to be referring to a fictional character, not a fellow space-traveler, especially not one who gets so little respect and recognition as Arthur does.

Honestly, after having that thought, I can suddenly no longer fully reconcile that episode (or that line, anyway) with “Destiny of the Daleks.”  I realize that’s kind of crazy, but…they don’t mesh properly.  (Admittedly, that moment of “Destiny of the Daleks” was one of a couple of comedic filler moments that Adams provided because the script was too short to fill the show’s runtime (which actually ticked off Dalek creator Terry Nation), but still.)

…and, yeah, I think I wanted to post this “review” more so I could go into that ludicrously convoluted path to the “wait, what?” moment at the end with contrasting Oolon Colluphid being real and Arthur Dent being fictional in the same universe.  Because apparently I wanted to showcase the fact that I put way too much thought into this sort of thing.

IWSG – Trying to get back in the habit

Published June 5, 2019 by Iphis of Scyros

The good news is I am finally through with graduate school.  (I don’t officially know that I graduated yet (obviously, I skipped the ceremony, because it was attend graduation or go to work, and I would rather be paid for a day’s work than pay money for a graduation robe and waste all morning sitting in a gym full of strangers.)  A side effect of this good news is that I am slowly getting back in the blogging habit.

The bad news is that it’s been so long since I had time to write that I have completely fallen out of the habit.  Lost the knack, even.  I have so many plots sitting around waiting to be expanded upon in full fiction form, but every time I turn my computer on to write, I end up re-reading my rough outline for a plot and then going “hmmm” until I say “nah, not feeling it today” and do something else.  Or I look over one of my drafts that need revision, with a thought to fixing it up, and still end up saying “nah, not feeling it.”

I’m trying my hand at writing prompts to get back in the groove again.  I’ve written (and posted to this blog) a couple (oddly, both turned out as sci-fi, though I usually don’t write sci-fi), and will probably write some more before I get myself back into the same writing headspace I used to be in.

It’s very frustrating, though, knowing that I’m no longer able to just sit down and start writing the way I used to be.  This has never really happened to me before, and I’m not sure how to deal with it.  It’s not that I’m out of ideas — I have lots of them.  Part of it may be the feeling that I need to fix up those old drafts before I start on anything new, but I don’t think that’s all of it.  I don’t know what it is.  (Though finally being free to tackle my backlog of unplayed video games is not helping, I don’t want to lay all the blame at the feet of gaming.  Especially since Persona 5 has been annoying the heck out of me, and is therefore not proving terribly addictive.)

Anyway, I’m gonna keep plugging along.  And I’ll be signing up for July’s CampNaNo, with a time-based goal rather than a word-based one, and no specific project.  (I do love the flexibility of Camp!)  Hopefully by August, I’ll be more myself again, in terms of writing.

Has anyone else ever had to deal with this?  Being jarred out of the writing habit so badly that it’s hard to get back in it?

Writing Prompt Session 2

Published June 4, 2019 by Iphis of Scyros

Today I am posting my second writing prompt session using Pitchstorm.  (Check out the first writing prompt session for an explanation.)  As before, I have not edited this beyond fixing a few spellings.

The prompt

Character:  A stoic family of pioneers

Plot:  flees from a tribe of cannibals.

Notes:  We want some really cool 3D scenes for this.  What can we make pop out at the crowd?


The Resulting Short Fiction

 

They said, once upon a time, that there was prosperity to be found in the stars.  “Go up, young one, go up,” was the clichéd catchphrase of several generations.  Then the reports started coming back.  No precious minerals, no sexy aliens to trade with, nothing but empty space and empty planets, most of which couldn’t even support life.

The lives of the pioneers of interstellar colonization were harsh, boring, and the kind of long that made the pioneers wish for a nasty, brutish and short life.  The whole idea of colonizing other worlds became first passe, and then a forgotten joke.

Until it happened.

Some said it was the economy at fault.  Some said it was a groundless, rose-colored fantasy of the “glorious” past of the 1980s.  Others said the human race was just a toxin, bound to poison its host eventually.

Whatever the case, the Earth was dying, even more so than it had been for all these millennia.  The near-death escape of the 2020s so often described by her grandparents looked like paradise by the time Evangeline decided it was time to take her family and leave the planet.

So she and her wife packed up their most important belongings, did their best to explain to the children, and they bought the best interstellar ship they could afford.

It was roughly the equivalent of a rusted-out 1920s jalopy with a flat tire.

The ship shook so hard on take-off that they all thought they were about to die in a gigantic fireball.  But somehow they escaped the grimy Earth’s few remaining shreds of atmosphere, and sluggishly made a few orbits before crawling their way up to escape velocity and hurtling out towards the stars.

Evangeline set a course towards Alpha Centauri, where there was supposed to be a massive space station built during the last outward wave of colonists.  If there was anywhere they could go for help and direction, it would be there.  Once the computer was safely guiding the ship, Evangeline tucked the children into bed and turned on their stasis pods, then went to join her wife so they, too, could go into stasis for the long journey to the Earth’s nearest star.

“Did we really do the right thing?” Tracy asked in a tremulous voice as Evangeline laid down beside her.

“What choice did we have?”  Evangeline shook her head.

“We could have waited and boarded the next commercial flight,” Tracy said.  “What if something goes wrong while we’re all in stasis?”

“We’d never have been able to afford a ticket.  Commercial flights are for the rich.”  Evangeline sighed.  “We’re just going to have to hope the computer can handle it, or at least manage to wake us up before anything goes permanently awry.”

Tracy didn’t seem to like that answer, but she didn’t argue.  There wouldn’t have been any point in it, even if she had argued.  Even if they turned around and went back to Earth, no one would have given them any money for the broken-down old ship that had cost their whole savings.  They’d be even more trapped than they had been before.

Evangeline gave Tracy a kiss, then turned on the stasis pod, drifting off to a comfortable sleep beside her beautiful wife.

 

***

 

A vague, droning sound in the distant recesses.

Dim light flashing somewhere outside consciousness.

A voice, indistinguishable, faint.  Alarmed.

It wasn’t until the shaking started that Evangeline managed to rouse herself from her years-long slumber.  The low light and the muffled sounds did nothing to help her orient herself.  “Tracy…?” All she could think of was her family.  Where were they?  Were they safe?  Was she safe?

“Evangeline?”  Tracy’s voice in her ear filled Evangeline with a pleasant warmth, despite the fear in the voice.  “What’s going on?  Why did the computer wake us?  Are we there?”

The memories of their flight from the dying Earth suddenly flooded through Evangeline’s consciousness, and she scowled, shaking her head.  “I don’t think so.”  Cautiously, she felt along the walls, looking for the light switch.  She couldn’t find it.  “How do I turn the lights on in this bloody contraption?” she demanded.

The lights came on, full brightness, causing Evangeline to wince, covering her eyes.

Tracy recovered from the light sooner, and soon Evangeline could hear her moving out of the stasis pod, and over to the nearest computer terminal.  “We’re in the middle of nowhere,” she said.  “I can’t tell from these read-outs if we just haven’t gotten there yet, or if we got knocked off course.”

Evangeline managed to pry her hand away from her eyes, and followed her wife over to the computer.  “I think we’re a little off-course, but not too badly.  Not sure, though.”  Her crash course on interstellar navigation hadn’t really covered things like emergencies.

“At least there’s another ship we can ask for directions,” Tracy said, then bit her lip.  “Unless they’re the reason we’re off-course.”

“They’re probably the reason we’re awake, at any rate.”  Evangeline tried a few of the other menu options on the computer screen, and found that the other ship’s main drive was disabled, and that it was sending out a distress call.  Also that the computer was in the process of docking with it automatically.

“I guess we should wake the children and see if we can help,” Tracy said sadly.

“They’re probably all dead,” Evangeline countered with a grim chuckle.  “That distress signal’s been going for fifty years.  “But they might have something we can salvage.  If they’re dead, they don’t need it, right?”

“I don’t think we can take much on this tiny ship.”

“Probably not,” Evangeline agreed, “but let’s see what they’ve got.  Maybe they died so fast they couldn’t evacuate to their nice, shiny lifeboats.  From the looks of it, this was a luxury vessel when it left Earth.”  And everyone knew that the lifeboats on those fancy starliners of the last generation of attempted colonization were the sports cars of spaceships…

The children were excited to wake up again, but their excitement dwindled when they heard they hadn’t yet arrived at the space station.  Milly was thrilled by the prospect of exploring the dead spaceliner, but Timmy whined that he wanted to go back to bed and leave it alone before any aliens jumped out of the corpses of the crew.  To demonstrate what he feared was going to happen, he held his hand under his shirt, and then suddenly thrust it out the neck hole in his mothers’ faces.

“There aren’t any aliens living in corpses,” Evangeline sighed.  “We’ve obviously let you watch too many silly fantasy movies.  Space is just empty and dead.  You know that.  No aliens or fairies here.”

“Maybe we can fix what’s wrong with the ship and travel in style,” Milly suggested, with a dreamy smile.  “Ooh, ooh, or we could become pirates!”

“No one’s going to become a pirate, and none of us know how to fix antique spaceships.  Just put your space suit on and stop talking nonsense,” Evangeline said sternly.  She hated having to play lawmaker, but who else was going to do it?  Tracy was never going to be the hard one.

The family was suited up and in the airlock before the computer had quite finished docking.  “Remember, no matter what, we stick together,” Evangeline reminded them as the two airlocks began the complicated process of matching pressures.  “No wandering off, even for a moment.  If you see something you want to investigate, you tell the rest of us, and we all go together.”

“No need to tell me,” Timmy said, shuddering.  “Splitting up is always how they die.”

“No talk of dying, please,” Tracy moaned.  “It’s bad juju.”

“It’s movie theater candy?” Milly asked, turning to look at her.  “How’s that work?”

“Not jujubes, juju!” Evangeline snapped.  “It’s an old saying.”

“What’s it mean?”

Evangeline shrugged.  “No clue.  Eyes forward.  We’re almost in.”

Indeed, the airlock door was in the slow process of sliding open, and they were soon making their slow way into the airlock of the other ship.  Despite the elegant and sleek exterior, the interior of the once luxury vehicle was absolutely filthy.  As they left the airlock and stepped into the unfamiliar hallway, Evangeline’s eyes were greeted by walls covered in grime, and floors littered with vines and dead leaves.

A display lit up on the glass of her spacesuit’s helmet.  “Looks like the air is basically breathable, but there are a lot of odd things in it.”  She tapped the other side of the glass, as if that would make the readings clear up.  “Lots of ‘pollen,’ whatever that is, and other plant detritus.  We haven’t been tested for any of these things, so we’d better leave our helmets on.”  She scowled.  “How in the world have they managed to get such a high amount of oxygen in this air?  I think we’d be left light-headed if we breathed it.  Earth hasn’t got anywhere near this much.”

“Maybe it’s just because there’s no pollutants?” Tracy suggested.  “We had to bring along regular atmospheric air, after all.  I think if you buy it tanked, it’s much more pure.”

Evangeline shrugged, and had another look at the read-outs hovering seemingly in the air before her eyes.  “It looks like there are actually life readings.  This way,” she added, turning to the right down the corridor.

The further they walked down the corridor, the more Evangeline wished she had some kind of defensive…well, anything really.  She’d have settled for a large hunk of dead tree she could use as a shield.  Though she’d have preferred one of those super-fancy real shields made from those ultra-light, ultra-strong polymers blending plastic and metal in some impossible science that she hadn’t a hope of understanding.

The corridors continued to be filled with plant garbage, and the further they went along, the more they saw less easily identifiable forms of garbage, including the occasional bone, even if it was too hidden by vines and leaves to identify what kind of animal it came from.  Evangeline hoped desperately that they were chicken or pig bones left behind by messy humans, not human bones left behind by messy plants that had been made sentient and mobile by excessive genetic enhancements and/or cosmic radiation.

Soon enough, part of the answer came to greet them.  The life signs were moving towards them, and on rounding a bend, Evangeline and her family found themselves staring, bewildered, at a group of the most bizarre creatures they had ever seen.  They were human, as far as Evangeline could tell, but they looked like they were in the process of devolving into something else.  They had huge shaggy bits of hair crawling down from their faces — Evangeline was pretty sure that was what was known as a ‘beard,’ though she had never seen one in person before, and never seen such aggressive ones in pictures or movies — and the hair on their heads was every bit as wild and uncontrolled, and looked as if it had never been washed or even brushed.  (Evangeline didn’t doubt that it also smelled as if it had never been washed, but thankfully her spacesuit prevented her from smelling anything.)  Rather than spacesuits, these things before them wore ragged garments made from some flimsy-looking type of…actually, Evangeline couldn’t even begin to guess what they were made of.  Particularly thin synthetic leather, maybe?

“Looks like we’s got us some more visitors,” the one in front said, with a wide grin that exposed only a few teeth, brown and stained.  “Jebidiah, you go on an’ see to them folks’ ship,” he added, turning to one of his fellow hairy creatures.

The other one grinned, too, revealing more teeth, which were stained more of a yellow than a brown, but looked no less disturbing.  “Yes, Paw,” he said, before setting off at a lope along the corridor back towards their ship.

“Our ship doesn’t need any tending to,” Tracy said, her voice trembling slightly.  “We came to see if we could help.”

Evangeline nodded, setting a hand on her wife’s arm.  “We got your distress signal,” she added.

“Oh, that thing?”  The one identified as ‘Paw’ laughed.  “Not ours.  Folks who owned this ship set that off.”  His grin widened, making Timmy start to whimper.  “C’mon, we’ll show you ‘round.  Go on and make yerselves to home.”

Paw began leading them down the corridor, with his fellows crowding around beside and behind them, preventing them from fleeing back to their ship.  As they walked, Paw began talking about how long it had been since they had last had visitors, and how hungry they were for company, especially of “them soft lady-types,” and so on.  After a while, they came into an open area filled with living plants.  “This is where we grows our food,” he said.  “Got taters, mostly, with some corn and squash and black-eyed peas.  What all you brought to grow?”

“Um, we don’t have anything that grows,” Tracy said.  “There isn’t much left growing on Earth…”

“Shame, shame,” Paw sighed, shaking his head.  “Garden could use some fresh seed.”

“We wants meat more anyhow, Paw,” one of the others said.

“Well, now, that’s true,” Paw agreed, turning to look not at the one who had spoken, but at Evangeline and her family.  “You gals go on and take those helmets off.  Let us get a good peep at ya.”

“According to our read-outs, this air is likely to affect us negatively,” Evangeline said firmly.  “Our helmets are staying on.  And if you don’t need help, we’ll be going back to our ship and heading on our way.  It’s still a long flight to Alpha Centauri.”

For some reason, that made the things surrounding them laugh in a disturbing manner.  Evangeline had a sinking feeling she knew why, but she couldn’t bring herself to say it out loud.

Milly was not so timid.  “What happened to the other people who answered the distress call?” she asked.  “What happened to the people who set it off in the first place?”

“Oh, them, they died,” Paw chortled.  “Most of ‘em dead when we gots here, I’ll have ya know.  Not us what done ‘em in.”  He grinned, licking his lips.  “As to them other folks, well, Jack there, he was one oncet, wasn’t ya, Jack?”

He gestured to an older man who sat on a bench nearby, carving something out of bone.  “Yeah,” he said, in a sad voice.  “I had the finest cruiser in the galaxy, good crew, the works.  But this life ain’t so bad, either.”  He didn’t sound one bit like he meant that, not to Evangeline’s ears.

“And the rest of them?” Milly insisted.  “What did you do with the rest of them?”

“Oh, depends,” Paw replied, with a wink.  “We allus needs more breeding stock.”  He leaned closer, peering into Tracy’s helmet with a wide, near-toothless smile.  “You’d like breedin’ with us.”

Tracy shook her head, fear creeping into her eyes.  “I’m a married woman!”

“An’ your husband ain’t come into space wit’ you?” Paw exclaimed, sounding shocked.  “Deserves what he gets, then, don’t he?”

“You leave my wife alone,” Evangeline said, pushing Paw away from her.  “She doesn’t want to ‘breed’ with you or anyone else.  Neither do I, and anyone who touches my children dies.”

“Ain’t no one gonna want to breed with you,” one of the other men guffawed, looking at Evangeline.  “You so brown, you look like you already been cooked.”  He shook his head.  “Them kids, too.”  A disturbing grin covered his face, revealing that his teeth had been sharpened.  “Fine by me.  Kids have such tender young flesh.”

The other men started laughing, deep belly laughs.  Evangeline took the opportunity, and shoved Paw as hard as she could.  He fell under her blow, leaving them a path of escape.  “Follow me!” she shouted, and leapt over the prone man.  Tracy and the children followed, and they were dashing down a corridor before all the laughter had stopped.

They hadn’t turned the first corner before they heard angry shouts, and cries for weapons.            “Everyone keep up!” Evangeline shouted.

“We’re doomed,” Timmy moaned.  “They’re gonna eat us!”

“Not if I can help it!”  Of course, Evangeline knew there wasn’t really a lot she could do about it, but…well, this was a big ship.  There must be places to hide, and there couldn’t be that many of them.  If they could just find a weapon, they could defend themselves, maybe fight their way back to their ship…

“What do you think they do to the ships that come here?” Milly asked.  “Could they still be on board?”

“Let’s hope so,” Evangeline agreed.  “Computer, bring up schematics of this ship!”  She wasn’t entirely certain that was possible, but thankfully, a very rough diagram of the ship did indeed come up on the screen in front of her face.  It showed them headed towards the back of the ship, their own ship halfway to the front, and lifeboat pods at the front of the ship.  “We need to get to their lifeboats,” she suggested.  “Those should be faster than our ship…”

Cautiously, she began to steer them towards the front of the ship.  With every turn they took, Evangeline saw their pursuers fall a bit further behind in the pursuit, and soon she saw their energy readings splitting up, searching in different directions for them.

Some of those energy readings had split off early enough that they lay in the path of the escaping family.  In fact, one of them was so close that Evangeline slowed them to a walk, realizing the foe was just around the next bend, not fifty yards away.  “Anyone have any idea what we can use as a weapon?” she whispered.

“Can’t we just punch?” Milly suggested.

“I doubt it,” Evangeline sighed.

“I’ll handle it,” Tracy promised, with a warm smile.  She walked confidently up towards the corner, and when the enemy came around it, she laid him out with a kick to the head.  “I wasn’t kickboxing champion of New Detroit for nothing, you know!” She said, with a light giggle.

Evangeline smiled.  “Remind me to give you an extra deep kiss when we get out of this,” she said, as she and the children approached her beautiful wife.

“You would need reminding?” Tracy asked, in that false pouty way that was so adorable.

While her mothers were flirting with each other like a pair of horny teenagers, Milly bent down and picked up the knife the man had been carrying.  “Looks like it’s made of bone,” she said.  “Eew, gross, is this someone’s leg?”

“Try not to think about it, sweetie,” Tracy said.  “We might need it.”

Evangeline nodded.  “For now, let’s get running again.”

They ran on and on, and the life sign readings mostly became further and further away, except for the one that had gone straight to the lifepod docks.  That one must have been the leader, surely.  The only one smart enough to realize where they were headed.  Many of the others were now milling about their ship, clearly expecting them to be stupid enough to go to the most obvious place in their flight.

The one life form in front of them on the ship was in the nearest lifepod dock, so Evangeline had them bypass that one and go to the next one.  Inside, they found the scrapped remains of half a dozen different ships.  In the next lifepod dock, they found a shrine surrounded by gravestones.  The center of the shrine appeared at first glance to be a scrapheap, but on further examination, Evangeline realized it had to be a very primitive spacecraft.

“That’s the ship they came here in,” a man’s voice said from behind them.  They all spun around, and Milly brandished the bone knife at him.  Looking utterly uncowed by the twelve year old girl’s bravado, Jack smiled ruefully.  “I’m not going to hurt you,” he said.  “I didn’t want to stay here, you know.  They tricked me into sharing a meal with them, not telling me I was eating my own co-pilot.  After that…how could I have returned to human society again?”  He held up an item.  “Here, catch.”  He tossed it to Evangeline.  “Key to my ship.  She’ll get you wherever you want to go.  These guys don’t have any working ships but yours.  And that thing’ll never catch up to mine.  She’s in the hangar on the end.”  He pointed back towards the lifepod dock he had been in earlier.

“Why didn’t they take your ship apart they way they did the others?” Evangeline asked suspiciously.  There was such a thing as too easy

“Couldn’t.  She’s too tough for their primitive tools.”  Jack laughed.  “Best ship in the galaxy, I told you.”

“Were you a pirate?” Milly asked eagerly.

“Well, I dabbled a bit.”  Jack grinned raggedly.  “The warrants for my arrest should have long since expired; I don’t think you’ll get in trouble for showing up in my ship.”

So he wasn’t staying out of guilt at eating a friend.  He was hiding from the law.  By joining a band of cannibals.  Well, of course.

There wasn’t time.  The life signals were beginning to head their way, fast.  “Thanks,” Evangeline said, then looked at her wife and children.  “Let’s get the hell out of here.”

The others nodded, and they ran the short distance to the dock where Jack’s ship was waiting.  It was truly a sleek and beautiful craft, painted hot rod red, with gold accents, and massive weapons.  It was the kind of ship that showed no sign of any join between the armor plates, had no visible welds or screws or anything else an amateur could open.  Hell, it didn’t even show any sign of a way on board.

“How do we get on?” Timmy whined.

Evangeline looked at the key fob that Jack had thrown her.  There were a lot of buttons on it.  A lot of buttons.  If she had to try every single one of them, they’d all end up in the bellies of those disgusting men.  “It’s got to be one of the big buttons,” she muttered aloud.  There were three:  red, blue and green.  Red was surely a bad thing.  Probably activated the weapons or the self-destruct.  She tried the blue one.  A blue shield flashed around the ship momentarily.  A force shield…?  But had she just turned it on or off?  Trying the green button made a ramp lower out of the ship.

Timmy started running for the ramp, and bounced right off the shield, making his sister laugh at him.

Evangeline hastily pushed the blue button again while Tracy helped Timmy back to his feet.  Then they all ran aboard the ship, and Evangeline pushed the green button again to close the ramp.

The controls were numerous and complicated, but a friendly on-board computer with a very sultry voice helped them take off without a hitch.  “Let’s blow that ship up so they can’t kill anyone else,” Milly suggested.

“That’s not right,” Tracy sighed.  “We can’t take the law into our own hands.  And it wouldn’t be a very nice reward to Jack for helping us if we killed him.”

“Yeah,” Evangeline agreed.  “We’ll tell the authorities on the space station at Alpha Centauri when we get there.  They can handle it.”

Milly was a little disappointed that they weren’t going to go in for a life of space piracy, but she relented soon enough.  Evangeline asked the computer about stasis pods for the journey to Alpha Centauri, but the computer laughed.

“This ship is not equipped with stasis pods,” it told her.  “Instead, we are equipped with hyperspatial inertia wave riders.  We will arrive at the Alpha Centauri solar system in half an hour.  Which space station did you wish to dock with?”

“Er…we didn’t know there was more than one.”  Evangeline looked over at Tracy, who just shrugged.  “I guess whichever one is most appropriate for a family emigrating from Earth to go to as a first step into the new universe.”

“Understood.  We will arrive at Alpha Centauri Station One in thirty-three minutes and fifteen seconds,” the computer said.  “May I do anything to help make your journey more pleasurable in the mean time?”

“Er, we’ll just explore the ship between now and then, thanks,” Evangeline said.

It didn’t actually take them the full half hour, but Evangeline was grateful for the relaxed pace.  By the time they arrived at the space station, they had all finally calmed down from their near-death experience, though the armed contingent of guards awaiting them when they disembarked brought their heart rates right back up.

“Where is the owner of this ship?” one of the uniformed men asked, looking at them suspiciously.

“He’s back on a derelict half-way between here and Earth,” Evangeline said, before explaining everything they had been through.  By the time she was finished, all the guards had put their weapons away.

“Thank you for informing us of this hazard,” the leader of the guards said, saluting her.  “We will send a patrol ship to deal with the cannibals.  And his generosity in helping you escape will be taken into consideration when the fugitive is brought to trial,” he added, with a wry smile.  Then he gestured to one of his underlings.  “Take these four to the nearest registry office,” he said.  “They will need to be registered as galactic citizens.”  He pulled a device off his belt, and began tapping buttons on it.  “They are to be compensated for the hazard they suffered, and for the loss of their spacecraft.  The receipt is number 546,314,823.”

“What about this ship?” Milly asked.  “I like it.”

“As the property of a wanted fugitive, it is impounded until further note.  Following the criminal’s trials, it may be returned to him or placed for sale at public auction, depending on the results of the trial.”

‘Thank you for your help,” Tracy said, smiling at the man and shushing Milly’s complaints.  “We’ll be going now.”

The officer saluted again, and the four of them headed out of the space port, following the guard to the registry office.  Evangeline was curious to learn just how far the human race had spread through the stars, and wondered why no one on Earth knew that the colonization had been so successful after all…


Yep.  There’s a lot that went wrong there.  (And I only managed the one thing to fit the “Notes” part of the prompt, but who really cares about that?)  Still, considering I got a prompt that was 100% outside of my comfort zone, I think I did…kinda…sorta…okay…ish?  If you squint real hard?

Didn’t help that the “character” prompt immediately said The Oregon Trail to me (not so much the real one as the computer game from the 1980s), which was not something I could easily work with on short notice, and as to the plot…ack.  Just ack.  I should take that card out of the deck so I can never encounter it again.

Book Reports: Some Read Harder Books…

Published May 29, 2019 by Iphis of Scyros

Now that I’m finally done with school, I can get back to reading and writing whatever I want.  So I can start tackling this year’s Read Harder Challenge.  But in the course of this semester, I have read some books that qualify (three for class and one just because), so I’m just going to lump them all together in this post.  Partially because some of them were a while ago and my brain has already moved on too far to write much about them.

One of the two books we had to read for the first class meeting also meets Challenge 1 “An epistolary novel or a collection of letters.”  The book is Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther, which technically didn’t fit the scope of the class, as the class was the history of Europe in the 19th century, and it was written late in the 18th century.  Yeah, we read a combination of histories and novels from the period.  I’d actually been worried about having only a week to get through hefty 19th century novels, but I ended up enjoying them a lot more than the histories.  Except this one.  This one was really a pain.  (And it was about a third the length of the others, btw.)  It wasn’t that it was bad, just that it was incredibly frustrating to read.  Not merely frustrating, but downright claustrophobic.  Unlike most other epistolary novels I’ve read, it consisted only of the title character’s outgoing mail (except for a few pages), and he made references to letters that had been written to him, but we never got to hear the other character’s actual words.  The main sorrow plaguing young Werther is, of course, a romantic one:  he’s in love with a woman who’s already taken.  Given that I’ve become bored with the entire heterosexual romantic narrative, this was already a point against it, but not an insurmountable one.  What was insurmountable was the fact that we never got to know her.  Werther assured his friend that his precious Lotte was just so beautiful and pure and innocent and witty and basically perfect.  But he rarely ever actually wrote down anything she said to him, so we could only take his word for it.  The longer it went on, the more I thought about a line from Shakespeare in Love, when Viola is first rehearsing as Romeo, and putting all her passion into bemoaning the loss of Rosaline’s love, and Will comes over and tells her that she’s talking about “a baggage we never even meet.”  That was how I felt about Lotte:  we never even met her, just heard Werther drone on about how much he loved her and loved her and ached for her and…argh.  Once I’d finished reading it, I went back and read the Introduction, which explained that much of it was semi-autobiographical, based on the experiences of Goethe and another man he had known about the same time, but knowing that doesn’t make it any less frustrating to read.  I’m going to have to read his Faust sometime, because Goethe is supposed to be the greatest of German authors, and I’d really like to read something of his that I could like.

(The library copy I read didn’t actually look like this, as it didn’t have its dust jacket. It just had the book itself, which was yellow.)

One of the books I read for my final paper fits Challenge 9 “A book published prior to January 1, 2019, with fewer than 100 reviews on Goodreads.”  This book, Munby:  Man of Two Worlds was published in 1972 and has a grand total of 9 reviews on Goodreads.  (Obscure history books to the rescue!)  This fits nicely with the theme of the previous book, in that it was a frustrating read.  Arthur J. Munby was a minor civil servant in the latter half of the 19th century and a mediocre poet with friends among the literary elite, and he was also a dedicated diarist:  the papers he left behind (with a rider on the papers that they were not to be opened until 1950) included daily diaries for 39 years.  Obviously, this book does not contain nearly 40 years of diaries, so there was much edited out, which of course is where the frustration comes in.  But first, let me explain just why I was interested in reading this guy’s diaries in the first place.  Munby was obsessed with working class women.  He would go over and talk to them whenever he saw them on the street, and he literally took trips to the countryside to meet women who worked on the pit brows at coal mines.  (Repeatedly.  Like, that was his favorite vacation, and he would visit the same mine several times, and all the pit brow “girls” knew him.)  Since my paper topic was on working women in Britain during the Industrial Revolution, his diary was a natural fit for me…only the guy selecting the entries to put in this book cut out most of the ones about the working class women.  He seemed to think his main duty was to make sure the book did a proper job of relating Munby’s life story, rather than that it make these otherwise lost voices from the past, representing an all too often overlooked demographic…despite that he actually commented how Munby’s diary had done such a great service to social history by preserving the stories of all these women.  On top of omitting the majority of the information I actually wanted from the book, he also omitted a lot of things that any normal person would say “heck, yeah, let’s read about that!”  Like, for example, Munby went to France in 1872.  For those well versed in French history, you know the significance of that, but for those who aren’t, let me tell you about a few key events that had just transpired:  in 1870, there was the Franco-Prussian War.  The actual war part lasted about six weeks, and ended with Napoleon III surrendering to Bismarck in Sedán, but Paris held out against a Prussian siege from September until January.  (Prussia, btw, became Germany during the siege.  The Prussian king had himself crowned as Kaiser (that is, emperor) Wilhelm at Versailles, which was the Prussian headquarters during the siege.)  The Parisians had been utterly unprepared, didn’t have enough food and had actively discouraged people from fleeing the city before the Prussian army got there.  In fact, people from the surrounding countryside had come to take shelter in the city, so its population was actually about half a million higher than normal.  By the end of the siege, they were eating dogs, cats, rats and zoo animals, having already eaten most of the horses as well as the actual food animals.  And the Prussians had been bombarding the city for weeks (or was it about a month?) before they finally surrendered.  One of the conditions of the surrender was that the Prussians got to have a victory march through Paris.  The people of Paris were outraged by that, and the people of one working class district decided to take a bunch of cannons out of the main section of the city and hide them in their own district to keep them out of enemy hands.  (Despite that the enemy had much better cannons.)  Somehow (even in reading about it in detail it never made 100% sense to me) that led to the Commune, in which a revolutionary government took over and basically tried to have Paris secede from France.  It’s more complicated than that, of course, but it lasted a few months, and by the end, the French government was bombarding Paris with even more devastating effects than the Prussians had been, and the retreating Communards in the several days of street fighting decided on a scorched earth policy and burned every section of the city they retreated from.  (Though their leaders twice ordered them to spare Notre Dame…and the week after we read about the Commune, it caught fire.  Eerie.  Especially since the book we had read that week (and it caught fire on a Monday, the day our class met) had ended in the street battles as the Commune fell apart, so it too was in the midst of a burning Paris…)  Between the artillery attacks, the massive sections of burning city and of course the reprisals by the French government, at least 20,000 people were dead.  And evidently when Munby was in Paris, he still saw lingering signs of all that devastation, and spent several pages describing it.  But this moron who compiled the book didn’t bother to let us read those pages!  Aaaarrgggghhh!!!  I mean, it’s not like that would have helped my paper any, but I would have liked to read it for pure historical interest.  Especially since I’d read a letter from a young American man on Grand Tour in Paris in 1872 who didn’t mention anything at all about signs of destruction.  (Though the fact that he was writing to his fiancee may have had something to do with that.)

Wow, I went way off topic there.  Anyway, like I said, very frustrating read.  But despite all the omissions, there’s still a lot of good information there.  Someone really needs to do a proper release of Munby’s diaries, though.  No omissions whatsoever.  Just a really detailed index, and/or a searchable digital version.  If I ever lose my job and end up moving to England, I could see myself trying to do that.  (Though I’d obviously prefer someone else did it.)

Right, so, moving on.

Wow, that is a really crappy copy of the cover image.  Dunno why Goodreads didn’t have a better image for this edition.  Anyway, this is for Challenge 10 – “A translated book written by and/or translated by a woman,” and in this case it’s the translation, not the book, which was by a woman.  Since there’s a very good chance no one else can read what the words on that book say, the book is The Condition of the Working Class in England, and it’s by Friederich Engels, first written in 1844 in German.  Sometime in the 1880s, it received an English translation for an American edition, and then an edition in England followed shortly thereafter.  (Or was it that the American translation was around the 1860s, and the English one wasn’t until the 1880s?  I’m too lazy to go check…)  This is that translation, and the translator was a woman.  It’s hard to know how to describe this book.  Engels’ father owned several factories in both Germany and in England (I think the English ones were all in Manchester, but he might have had some elsewhere as well), and Engels worked in the offices of his father’s factory, but he hated seeing how the workers were treated.  He spoke to them, got to know them, and went around to see where and how they lived, and the more he saw, the more outraged he became, and after much more research (both in person and in consulting various governmental reports that were made publicly available) he wrote this book to tell everyone just how bad it was.  And if he wasn’t exaggerating, it was certainly very, very bad.  Some of it is so horrible that it’s hard to picture it; he describes families living in such conditions of filth that you would only expect the worst of prisons to provide, and I mean that filth literally, in the “no place even for a chamber pot so they just had to use the corners” way.  It’s hard to imagine that people could have been living in conditions that bad in 19th century England, and yet evidently they were.  That’s why there were so many uprisings and such all across Europe in the middle of the 19th century (1848 saw revolutions in about half the countries of Europe, though the French one was the only one with results that stuck for more than a few weeks, and even it only lasted a couple of years), because things were this bad pretty much in every industrialized nation at the time.  This is definitely not a “feel good” read (unless, I suppose, you’re a sociopathic sadist), but it’s definitely an eye-opener.  And absolutely vital to any labor history of 19th century Britain.  (I think it must have made up at least a third of the citations for my final paper…)

And changing the tone incalculably vastly…

Challenge 11 is “A book of manga.”  And I read a lot of those, so this wasn’t much of a challenge.  😛  Technically, since this post has taken me so long to finish (started it ten days ago now!), I should have added Omnibus 3 to this, because I’ve now read it, too, but I doubt it matters.  Dragon Half is a comedy-fantasy manga about a girl whose mother is a dragon (capable of taking on a humanoid form) and whose father is an adventurer who decided to marry the dragon instead of killing it.  (Like you do.)  Anyway, I’ve long known the OVA of Dragon Half, which is very funny and cute and stars Kotono Mitsuishi (probably best known as Sailor Moon and Excel (title character of Excel Saga)) and Yasunori Matsumoto (probably best known as Gourry Gabriev from Slayers), and has one of the silliest ending credits songs imaginable, as most of the lyrics are about eggs and beer, and yet the music is an adaptation of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.”  (Really.)  Anyway, the material that went into the OVA was entirely in the first Omnibus volume (the first two of which each contain two volumes of the manga, and the third of which has three), so this volume was entirely new territory to me.  And it pretty much was just what I was expecting of Dragon Half:  silliness with a little bit of fantasy violence, and the old-school style of “fan service” which somehow doesn’t bother me nearly as much as the newer type.  (The old type being more “let’s have our fantasy girls run around in chainmail bikinis” and the new one being more “let’s flip up the school girl’s skirt to show her panties, or have the hero walk in on her while she’s just wearing her underwear!”)  One thing that really struck me that I hadn’t expected from the OVA is the naming scheme in place for most of the smaller characters.  The magazine this manga originally ran in is (was?) called RPG or some variation thereof, which may be why so many of the characters have names borrowed from RPGs, though the translators dropped the ball on that, because they didn’t get that those two characters in volume 3 were supposed to be “Rosa and Rydia” not “Rosa and Lydia.”  (I guess they’d never played Final Fantasy IV.)  Most of the names I noticed are ones no one’s likely to miss (like, for example, Link), but the one that really hit me was Bufu.  Which is the name of the ice spell in Megami Tensei games.  In a way, that makes Bufu my favorite character, just for the sheer obscurity of the name. 😛

So, that’s where I currently stand on this year’s Read Harder challenge…

…though depending on how you classify “A humor book,” I suppose you could say I’ve already met it with Dragon Half‘s third volume, because it’s certainly humorous!  I’ll probably not count it for that, though, since it’s not purely humor.  A more slice of life or absurdist comedy manga would count (Non Non Biyori or City, for example, if I can ever remember where I left off on those), but I think a fantasy adventure comedy might be a bit far afield.  Oog, though, Challenge 17 will be tough.  I do not want to read a business book.  At all.  I wonder if there are ways around that.  I should see if the Goodreads forum have come up with anything that skirts that.  (Huh, maybe I should count the Engels book for that, instead, and use something else for the translated book.  I know there are several manga I read which are written by women…and in some cases also translated by women.  I’m not sure if “book about the results of business” counts as a “business book” though…oh, wait, what about a book about industrialization?  I wonder if that counts…)  Oh, hey, a couple of them suggested using Dilbert books for the “business book” challenge.  Sounds like a plan! 😀

Writing Prompt Session 1, Part 2

Published May 28, 2019 by Iphis of Scyros

Picking up in a new scene that follows immediately where I left off last time


As the shuttle passed over the vast emptiness of the lunar desert, Akira decided to look  up just who the man in the portrait had been.  E was soon sifting through a particularly boring biographical entry, informing er that the man had lived altogether forever ago, and had written some book about money.  Well, no wonder the obscenely wealthy wanted his picture!

The buyer, like so many who wanted to buy illegally gotten goods, lived in the City of Darkness, the most massive of the domed cities on the moon, located in a deep crater on the dark side of the moon, using the natural walls of the crater to reduce the amount of dome they had needed to build.  Because the crater was so particularly deep, the lower levels of the city never saw natural light, a condition that suited the less cooth segments of the criminal world very well indeed.  As e liked to think of erself as the most cooth of criminals, Akira detested the City of Darkness, and particularly detested the lower levels of it.  (Akira was also not entirely certain that “cooth” was a word by itself, as it quickly started to sound ridiculous after being said one or two times.)

Naturally, the meeting place where e would be handing over the painting to er buyer was on the lower levels.  Not, thankfully, on the lowest level, but in the lowest quarter of the city, far lower than Akira would normally venture.  E tended to prefer the upper quarter, where there was better chance of escape if something should happen to the dome, and less chance of being crushed by falling debris if something happened to the city itself.

The hallway outside the meeting place demonstrated just what the criminal element often liked about the lower levels of the city:  the hall was lit by five massive bulbs, three of which were out, and one of which was flickering.  If that one steady light went out…Akira didn’t like to think about it.

The meeting was in the back room of a particularly seedy tavern.  As always, in a joint that classless, it was about half-full, most of its patrons already completely stinking drunk.  The patrons were also all obviously quite poor.  Akira went over to the bar and got the bartender’s eye, but wasn’t quite sure what to ask.  E could hardly ask if a rich, unscrupulous man had been by!

The bartender looked Akira over as e was hesitating.  “You a man or a woman?” he asked.

“No, I’m not.”

That only made the man look confused.  Apparently, everything Akira had heard about the lowest segments of lunar society was true.  Eventually, the bartender shook his head.  “You want a drink?”

Akira shook er head.  In a nicer establishment, e would gladly have bought a drink to grease wheels.  This place was far too unhygienic for that.  “I’m looking for someone.”

An eyebrow was raised.  “The ghost?”

Akira nodded slowly.  Thankfully, the way the man had phrased the question made it unclear if e was admitting to being the infamous art thief, the Ghost, or if e was looking for said thief.  One could never be too careful.  Security drones were everywhere.  Either way, of course, because this jackass had merely mentioned er criminal nickname, any drones or informants in the joint would now be 100% focused on er.  Well, fine.  Watching someone and catching them were very different things.

There was a long, pregnant pause, as if the bartender expected Akira to say something in addition to nodding.  Then the man jerked his head towards a door behind the bar.  “He’s waiting for you.”

Akira made er way around behind the bar and opened the door the bartender had indicated.  Sure enough, er buyer was waiting there, looking impatient.  “It took you long enough!” the man exclaimed, as soon as the door was shut.  “And where is my painting?!”

“Calm down,” Akira sighed, shaking er head.  “Don’t shout so much; people will hear and want a piece of the deal.  I have your painting right here.”  E removed the painting from the fourth dimensional pocket, and laid it on the table between them.  “Now, the rest of my payment?”

“Let me check that this is the real thing,” the buyer insisted, picking up the painting and inspecting it, front and back, a ludicrous gesture from a man with no knowledge of art.  Signan Platz owned half the factories that dotted the landscape of the dark side of the moon, and the ruins of his workers swarmed the lower levels of its cities in such numbers that Akira was surprised Platz wasn’t afraid to be seen in public, lest a mob of them attack and kill him in a savage expression of frontier justice.

Eventually, Platz was satisfied, and tossed a dozen or so credit sticks onto the table.  Akira gathered them up quickly, and checked their contents.  The amount was precisely correct to the last decimal point.

“Did you kill that old fool to get this?” Platz asked.

“I don’t work that way,” Akira said, shaking er head.  “I pride myself in leaving my victims unaware they’ve been robbed for months.”

“That’s not what I heard…”  A callous laugh followed the words, setting Akira’s teeth on edge.

“When things go awry, I have sometimes had no choice but to leave a trail of corpses in my wake, but that is never my plan going in.”

“Pity.”  Platz shrugged.  “I’ll have to hire someone else to deal with him, then.”

Oh, lovely.  Now e was an accessory to murder.  Because er rap sheet really needed something extra on it.

Platz was soon leaving the bar by the back door.  Akira waited until he was gone, then switched er bodysuit from its “disguise” setting to its “invisible” setting, and slipped out the door after him.  Initially, er plan had been simply to leave first the bar and then the city, but now e was curious.  E wanted to  know just why this man wanted such a boring painting so badly.  No matter how much the man in the painting had written about the amassing of obscene wealth, it didn’t make sense that these people would want to hang his unpleasant portrait on the wall.  Especially not if they had to spend this kind of money to do so.  Something was just wrong.

And if something was that wrong, Akira wanted to know what it was.  There were many reasons for this, but most of them boiled down to er inquisitive and even nosy nature.  But there was also the very real fact that if something was wrong, it might become hazardous, and if there was anything Akira wanted to know about in advance, it was something that might cause er harm.

So Akira silently followed Platz through the dim city streets, gliding unseen past countless cameras and security drones.  The people were less unaware of er:  it was easier to fool an electronic eye than a human one.  They didn’t see er, nor some cartoony outline of er, but they were dimly aware of some shimmering something passing by, as if a heat mirage was moving down the street.  Most of them were the lunar poor, so they really didn’t care. They were much too busy either begging Platz for money or spitting curses at him to wonder about the patch of insubstantial air following him.

To Akira’s surprise, they didn’t head to the residential district, but to the industrial zone, and one of Platz’s factories there.  Fortunately, the factory had a spiral moving walkway to get to the top, rather than a lift:  if there was one place er “invisible” setting was bound to get er caught, it was in a lift, particularly one with only one other person in it.  Though Platz seemed too lost in his own thoughts to have noticed er even if e was completely visible anyway:  he walked right past people attempting to speak to him—even one of his foremen—without seeming to register them at all.

Eventually, he fetched up at a brightly lit meeting room, where an entire conference awaited him.  Every person sitting around the conference table—and it was at full capacity, every seat filled with a grotesquely rich individual—wore robes of black velvet with collars woven of pure gold.  (All of Akira’s detectors were going on full overload at all the gold and other valuable trinkets in that room.  E was very glad e had set them all to silent.  Even so, e kept one hand over er wrist, trying to make sure nothing of those alerts seeped out to where they might alert these rich conspirators.)

“Took you long enough,” one of them sneered.  “Let me guess, that’s another pathetic copy.”

“No,” Platz replied with a sinister smile and a sickeningly proud-of-himself look in his eyes, “this is the holy portrait.  The real thing.”  He placed the painting on a waiting golden easel.  “Feast your eyes on the proof that I have seized the presidency.”

Several of the men rose and went over to examine the painting, a few of them with magnifying lenses, and even one with a pocket microscope.  One by one, they sat down again, murmuring their agreement that it was the genuine article.

“If we are in agreement, I would like to begin this long-overdue meeting,” Platz said, taking a seat at the head of the table.  “Now that I am President of the Society of True Laissez Faires, I am finally going to start steering us in the one true direction.”

Numerous heads around the conference table nodded assent, and Platz started a slide show on the wall.  He must have been planning this for quite some time.  The first dozen or so slides were boring introductory material, including at least three on Platz himself and all his financial victories.  Surely everyone in the room already knew all of this information (except Akira, who knew only the most well publicized parts of it), but the people around the table paid rapt attention regardless.

Eventually, Platz moved on and reached the meat of his presentation.  “As you know, our ancestors first came to the dark side of the moon in order to carry out the divine orders of the one true god’s messenger,” a gesture towards the painting indicated who Platz meant by this absurd statement, “and at first they were free to act unimpeded by governments and their interference in holy finance.”  He shook his head with a bitter solemnity.  “Alas, government eventually extended its reach even to the dark side of the moon, and they have begun imposing their tyrannical will upon us.  But no more!”  Platz slammed his fist down on the table.  “Our former president refused to act out against the government, but I will not follow his weak and cowardly example.  Our security guards have more experience and better weapons than the government’s peacekeeping forces, and we have far more security drones than they could ever dream of having.”

“They haven’t any,” one of the women around the table chortled.  She was an old hag now, but Akira could see she was once at least moderately attractive.  “They buy all their security drones from me.  And I always build an override code into my robots.  At the press of a button, they all revert to my exclusive control.”

“I knew I could count on you,” Platz said, honoring her with a smile.  “Then we are in agreement?  We take over from the government by force if it will not capitulate.”

“Don’t begin your reign with a break from procedure.”  The words were spoken in a creaking voice that emerged from a man so old that he looked more like a mummy than a living person.  “Put it to the vote.  Follow the protocol.”

Platz scowled, but duly asked for a show of hands in favor of his foul plot.  Every one of the wealthy bastards sitting at the table raised a hand.  The video camera Akira kept on er headset was recording all of it, but e wasn’t sure there was much point to it.  If these people really did have the power to take over from the government, then who could ever arrest them?

“I do wonder, though,” a middle-aged woman wearing diamonds the size of her eyes said, as she lowered her hand.  “Do you plan a simple coup, or are you going to wait until they provoke us?  I feel as though the latter might be better public relations with the other colonies, to say nothing of the miserable sods still living on Earth.”

Platz nodded.  “Oh, don’t you worry.  I will give them ample time to cooperate with us peaceably.  But the first time the attempt to suppress our holy mission with interfering laws, we will wipe them out!”

His exclamation met with applause.

“I have been studying the holy texts,” Platz said, producing the remains of a book.  It looked like it had once been a leather-bound Victorian affair, what was left of its surface mottled with gold and other decorative fripperies that served no function on a book.  “And I see nothing to forbid us from acting in our best interests as we have discussed before.  But we must act as one, or it will destroy us all.”  The others nodded solemnly, and Platz continued.  “In one week’s time, we will all make the announcement, then, that we will no longer be paying our employees.  They get time in our lovely, sparkling-clean factories, and we give them the opportunity to make our products.  On top of that, we even feed them lunch.  That is much more payment than they need.”

Most of the people at the table cheered this announcement, even as it made Akira’s stomach churn.  However, the youngest person at the table—an androgynous and attractive person, mid-twenties at most—raised a timid hand.  “But, Mr. President,” the young person said, in an alto voice, “won’t the people rise up against us if we refuse to pay them?”

“Let them rise!  We have all the weapons!”

“But who will run our factories if we kill the workers?” the youth objected.  “Robots are too costly.  We should at least provide housing for the workers if we aren’t going to pay them.  Otherwise they’ll either rise up or simply quit.”

Murmurs ran around the table, some agreeing, some disagreeing.  “I suppose you may have a point, Tinnock,” Platz sighed.  “Perhaps we need to be more subtle about it.”  He smiled at his compatriots.  “We are already renting them their homes.  We simply need to adjust their rents to match their paychecks.  They won’t even notice.”

Thunderous applause.

“Once and for all, we will prove his holy superiority over the anti-Smith!” Platz roared, and the slide show moved on to a last slide, showing a grainy, black and white photograph of an older man with a massively bushy beard.  “The workers will obediently and gratefully accept their destined position as our unpaid labor, and our holy work will begin!”

As the cheering continued to a fever pitch and the people at the conference table all rose to gather around Platz in a throng, Akira took the risk of opening the door and slipping out of the room while they were distracted.

As e passed, still invisible, out of the office building and into a plaza filled with the lunar poor, Akira’s stomach churned.  These people were already used up and spat out, broken and beaten, and now they were to be treated as slaves, too?

No.

Even a thief couldn’t stand for that.  These people worked themselves to death for nothing as it was.

Akira stepped into an alleyway and reprogrammed er disguise.  When it finished churning, the image projected around er was no longer a slight recalculation of er own features, but the best recreation e could provide of the man in that last slide, who Platz seemed to view as the antithesis of his cult’s divine messenger.  Who else to blame for what Akira was about to do?

E walked out of the alley again and found a group of the lunar poor who had gathered in front of the building.  Once e had their attention, Akira began speaking to them, calmly, confidently, convincingly.  Explaining how the bosses running this colony had been abusing them all their lives.  How the abuse was about to get worse.

How it was time for a revolution.


Okay, so my thoughts on this first Writing Prompt experiment:

  1. I kind of failed to meet the criteria of the prompt, as the fighting against the evil and dangerous cult is left for after the story is over.  This is just the prologue, the matter leading up to the hook in Act 1 of a movie, the opening of the game where you’re still badass before Death takes away all of Alucard’s equpiment, etc.  But this is just me trying to get my hand back in at writing fiction, so I don’t see anything wrong with that.
  2. This is the first time I’ve written the POV of a nonbinary or agender character, and while I think it mostly worked all right (with a few spotty exceptions where I was definitely trending more towards something gendered) I’m not really happy with the e/er pronouns I decided to go with.  They looked all right wherever it was I saw them before (like I said, I think it was in a game, but I’m not sure), but trying to write with them was really awkward.  Next time I have a character like this, I’ll pick different pronouns.  (But not they/them, because it always makes me uncomfortable to use a plural pronoun as a singular, and it sets off the spell checker every single time.  (English really does suck at this.))
  3. My characterization was almost non-existent, and Akira was way too perfect at handling absolutely freaking everything.  (Though, as I said, this is the opening of the story — or would be if there was going to be a full story — and without that magic equipment that allowed disguise, invisibility and carrying a painting around without being spotted carrying it, Akira would be much less perfect at handling things.  And if this was something full length, Akira would surely lose that equipment promptly.)  I’m not worried about it, because this was just an exercise, but it’s definitely something I need to watch out for in the future.
  4. I feel like the real star of the story was this weird, Industrial Britain on the moon world I set up.  Nothing particularly special about it, really, but the combination of Victorian callousness towards factory workers with shiny-future domed cities felt like one you don’t see very often.

Writing Prompt Session 1

Published May 23, 2019 by Iphis of Scyros

Since it’s been so long since I’ve done any writing and I hadn’t been feeling motivated to write in the entire week since I turned in my final paper (despite all the plots I have stashed up waiting to be written!), I decided to try forcing myself to write with some writing prompts.  I had my first session this morning, in the hour and a half between breakfast and when I had to leave for work.  (Well, I set my alarm for 6:00 and I don’t have to leave until about 9:00, and it only takes me about half an hour to get ready to leave, so I’ve got a lot of time on my hands!)

What I used for a writing prompt was actually a party game I backed on Kickstarter called Pitchstorm.  You draw three cards, and then have to make up a movie pitch to match them.  I’ve never played it as it’s supposed to be played, because I’m not a party person, but I bought the game, after all, to use it for writing prompts.  Anyway, the three cards are “Character”, “Plot” and “Notes,” the latter being the terrible notes given by a studio executive.

I figured I would go ahead and share these writing prompt exercises as I go, because….well, because.  Now, please keep in mind that this is a) incomplete, b) something I literally wrote this morning with no preparation and c) has received no re-writing whatsoever.  (Except that I’ve gone through and fixed misspelled words so you won’t be hammered in the face with my lousy typing skills as well as my sloppy writing.)  Even as I was writing I realized a few things in the early paragraphs didn’t agree with things in later sections of the story, but I didn’t want to waste time fixing it.  It might end up changing later on anyway.  Oh, one other thing to keep in mind is that because I decided to make the lead nonbinary, I decided to use e/er pronouns.  I’m not sure where I saw those.  Possibly in a visual novel?  Well, wherever it was, I thought it was less awkward than xe/xir or ze/zeir or whatever the other other nonbinary pronoun sets are.  (English really sucks for talking about nonbinary individuals.)

I will be finishing the story, btw.  (Whether anyone wants to read it or not.)  This is just as far as I could get in an hour and a half.  We’ll see how far I get tomorrow morning before work.  (And yes, I will eventually post those book reviews.  I’ve started the post even.  It’ll go up eventually.)


The Cards

Character:  A suave art theif [sic]

Plot:  fights to take down a dangerous cult.

Notes:  Let’s set this on the moon!


The story!


Akira pushed a loose strand of hair back into position as e stole a casual glance around the corner.  On a typical day, the marketplace bustled with life and artificial life, and today was a typical day.  Wealthy people in glistening, holofoil suits strolled casually between vendors’ machines, idly instructing others to do their buying for them, while the lunar poor scurried about hoping for a little spare change or rushed to get to the sweatshops where they earned less than spare change.  Robots confidently shopped for their masters, and transstellar slaves plodded up to the machines to purchase fineries for their human oppressors.

Nothing out of the ordinary.

It would have been easier for Akira if this had been an atypical day and the market had been deserted.  But if Akira had wanted easy, e would have become a dentist.  Art theft was not a career for the faint of heart, or the lazy in disposition.

The target’s massive complex was on the far side of the market, near the edge of the dome.  The main entrance was gated and constantly watched by security cams and armed robots, the roof access was guarded by laser turrets, and the kitchen entrance was surrounded by a small contingent of the lunar poor hoping for a handout in food from the transstellar slaves working in the kitchens.  If Akira felt e had the luxury of waiting until the dome’s solar shield created an artificial night to fool the human mind into thinking it was time to sleep, e could have put on a rocket pack and gone up to the roof:  that brand of laser turret was notoriously incapable of hitting a moving target (or any target at all, really), and what did Akira care if the dome was breached, especially since it would be patched up within minutes?  But waiting wasn’t an option.  Akira had to be on the shuttle that afternoon to reach er rendezvous with the buyer.  This had to be done quickly.

A clamor started by the kitchen doors as several of the slaves emerged, and were immediately beset by miserable humans who had an even worse lot in life than they did.  Transstellars honestly didn’t seem to mind having been enslaved by the human race:  as intergalactic refugees, they had fled from something much worse than mere humans, and as their average lifespan was a few thousand Earth years, their time in slavery was barely a blip on their inner radar.  They had only come through the portal in numbers of a few thousand, so they made very expensive property, and the wealthy who could afford them made sure not to damage them; corporal punishment was unheard of, and they were always well fed.  Their lives were as different from the lunar poor as their bodies, their slow and methodical duties in cooking and cleaning as different from grueling factory work and dangerous outdoor duties as their six arms and slimy chartreuse skin was from the maimed and starved humans crowding around them.  The elite of the lunar colonies had no interest in whether the poor lived or died, and set them to working in factories where they were mutilated by machinery, paying them so little that they were lucky if they could afford even one meal a day, and had to lived huddled up in tiny, squalid underground homes with almost no ventilation, four or five families to a room.  Those that had lost enough limbs to the machines that they couldn’t do factory work anymore could turn to begging in the streets (never even slightly profitable) or, if they were still mobile and still had a working hand, they could get a job working outside on the moon’s surface.  They could rent — at their own cost, of course — air bubbles to protect them from the vacuum of space, and scour the surface outside for valuable hunks of space rock that might provide a few minerals to feed the factories, or — if they weren’t missing many limbs at all — they might find a zealous lunatic patron to send them exploring the caverns looking for signs that the moon had once been inhabited by lunar natives.  Akira had never been sure if those lunatics were looking for women in beehive hairdos, giant spiders, or the ruins of Sailor Moon’s castle, but e didn’t really care, either.  They were valuable patsies who wanted to buy odd artifacts, and they tended not to be dangerous.

Unfortunately, today’s target was not one of those lunatics.  Today’s target was decidedly dangerous.  Akira would have to approach with caution.

Not sure what else to do, e headed over to the kitchen entrance, and stepped over a few of the lower-to-the-ground beggars, bringing er in easy conversational distance to the nearest slave.  “Is the house hiring?” e asked.  “I’m skilled in all manner of work.”

The transstellar slowly turned its huge head in Akira’s direction.  Like most humans, Akira was often unsettled in dealing with a transstellar that was looking right at er.  The six eyes weren’t at all an issue, but why were they lined up on top of each other like that?  What kind of view of the world did they get from eyes like those?  Akira never knew quite where to look, and e felt that e just couldn’t be er full, charming self without knowing where to aim a killer smile.

“The master is away,” the transstellar said, every word drawn out with laborious slowness.  The way the transstellars talked always made Akira think of an extinct — or was it legendary? — Earth animal called a sloth:  each word was formed with a slow, careful precision that made it feel like the conversation lasted forever.  The fact that each word came out of a different mouth than the word before it only added to the frustration:  e never knew quite which of the transstellar’s four mouths to look at in anticipation of the next word.

“Surely he hasn’t left you behind alone, with no one to guard you?”  The man owned no less than five transstellars; a fortune like that left unguarded would tempt almost anyone willing to touch the aliens long enough to steal them.

“The mistress is in,” the transstellar replied, every word dribbling slowly out of its mouths with the glacial pace of the night before a child’s birth celebration.  “Do you wish to speak to her?”

“Yes, that would be delightful.”  Wives were one of Akira’s specialties.  “Could you announce me, please?”

“The mistress does not allow us in her presence,” the transstellar said, its comrades producing an unsettling laughter as it did so.  “You will need to go to the front door.”

Akira did er best to smile.  “Of course.  Thank you so much for your time,” e said, even as e wished very much to get er own time back from that bloody transstellar.  On the whole, Akira felt sorry for the transstellars, but having to deal with them was utterly intolerable.

E was already approaching the front gate before the transstellar had finished telling er that e was welcome.  The robotic guards all aimed their weapons at er.  “Halt!  Identify yourself!”

“I am Monsieur Legrande,” Akira announced, with a sweeping bow, “the finest art dealer in the solar system.  I would like to speak to the master or mistress of this fine home.”

A whirring sound informed Akira that the robots were transferring er claims to a device inside that would consult the mistress.  Eventually, a panel on the chest of one of the robots lit up with the image of a woman in her late thirties, beautiful in a very artificial way, with an air of ennui that told Akira the hardest part of this job would be getting the wife to give er a moment’s peace.  Predictably, the wife’s whole face lit up when Akira smiled at her image.  “My husband is away at the moment,” she said, “but maybe you would care to come inside and wait for him?”

“It would be my pleasure, good lady,” Akira said, with another sweeping bow.  E could practically hear the woman’s bored heart swooning.

A robotic butler was soon emerging from the house and leading Akira inside and up to the parlor where the mistress of the house was lounging in a very contrived manner, as if she thought it very important to her upcoming attempt at seduction that she look casual while simultaneously finding a way to expose both her legs and as much of her cleavage as she could.  “Mistress Mary, I have brought the visitor,” the butler announced.

“Yes, thank you, I can see that,” she replied, in an annoyed tone.  “You may go.”

The butler bowed its head, and rolled back out of the room, the door sliding shut behind him.  “Please allow me to introduce myself, my dear madame,” Akira said, producing er most suave smile yet.  “I am Monsieur Legrande, art dealer to the rich and royal throughout the solar system.  I have heard of your husband’s fine art collection, and hoped I could aid him in expanding upon it.”

“Do sit down,” Mary suggested, sitting up and patting the divan beside her.  “You can tell me all about yourself — and your business, of course.”

“I should like to see the collection, if you don’t mind,” Akira said, finding erself less than interested in romancing this mindless twat.  “I shouldn’t like to waste your time or mine if the collection is so great that even I can add nothing to it.”

Mary didn’t like that one bit, judging by the scowl that crossed her face, but she knew her role as gracious hostess — the only job she had ever had, by the look of her — and rose to her feet.  “Of course.  This way.”

She led Akira to a door on the back wall, which opened only with her handprint, and into a long hallway, each wall of which was covered in paintings, with a row of statues forming a parade down the center of the hall.  The art ranged from masterpieces of great antiquity from the most revered of ancient artists like Leonardo da Vinci and Chuck Jones, to things some artist in a soil-side garret had thrown together just last weekend with more wine than paint.  Mary, of course, had a comment for almost every one of them, mostly about how much her husband had paid for them, or about which fellow rich person had failed to outbid him in pursuit of the piece in question.

At the end of the hall, hanging on the far wall in a position of special prominence, Akira found er target, but why er client wanted the painting was a mystery to er.  It wasn’t an appealing piece:  the portrait of some ancient scholar or mathematician or whatever he was, looking every bit as boring as anyone would expect.  The artistry was only so-so, and the artist was unknown.  Yet it wasn’t just Akira’s client who valued it highly:  it rested on the wall surrounded by sumptuous velvet curtains — such an absurdly ancient motif! — and Mary beamed at the painting fondly.  “This is our favorite piece,” she informed Akira.  “The portrait — taken from life! — of Adam Smith himself.”

Akira had no idea who that even was, but knew better than to admit it.  “It is quite a work,” e said, nodding thoughtfully.  “May I take a closer look?”

“There’s a field protecting it,” Mary said, “but I can turn that off for you.  Just don’t touch it, or my husband will kill me.”

Hoping that was an exaggeration, Akira stepped up towards the painting as Mary turned off the force field, stroking er chin as if in thought.  On the way up to er chin, er hand had brushed against the flower on er lapel, activating the scanner inside.  E stood there “contemplating” the painting until the scanner had enough time to take in the painting’s every detail, then turned back to Mary.  “Where did your husband acquire such a piece?  It must have been very expensive.”

“Oh, no, he inherited it, along with his position in — well — society.”  That was an evasion if ever Akira had heard one!

“Ah, of course.  I should have heard about it if such a piece had ever been on the market.”  Akira nodded sagely, then looked at Mary as if noticing her for the first time.  She blushed at Akira’s sudden attention, and stepped closer with an eager light in her eyes.

The process of seducing a lonely, bored housewife was one that felt tedious to Akira.  E never liked doing it, no matter the wife’s starting position.  When they were too reluctant, Akira felt like a homewrecker.  When they were too eager, Akira was just disgusted by the whole thing.  This time was particularly disgusting to er.  But fortunately Mary was so eager that they didn’t take even one step away from the painting, and soon Mary was contentedly sighing as she slipped back into her clothes, and saying that she would go call the butler to bring them something to eat.  Akira agreed that was a fantastic idea, and Mary turned to leave the gallery without waiting to see if Akira followed her.

Akira knew e had only a few minutes at the most before Mary realized something was amiss.  Hastily, but with perfect precision, e removed the painting from the wall, and placed it in er fourth dimensional pocket, then removed the flower from er lapel, putting it on the wall in the painting’s place.  A brief tap and the painting generated a perfect holographic copy of the missing portrait.  With luck, the theft wouldn’t be detected until the flower’s batteries wore out sometime next year.  A second flower was quickly withdrawn from Akira’s pocket to replace the one now on the wall, and Akira was following Mary out of the gallery before two minutes had elapsed.

The repast brought by the butler was so sumptuous as to be obscene, and Akira fought to eat even a quarter of the food laid out before er.  As they ate, Mary droned on at him about her childhood back on Earth, about her father’s myriad factories and mines, and about her husband’s factories here on the moon.  She was so disgustingly wealthy that she had never breathed real air, having lived in a domed castle back on Earth, outside the polluted and poisonous air the poor had to deal with.

With only an hour to go before the shuttle was to depart, Akira triggered er phone, and quickly gave Mary an appealing and apologetic smile.  “Do forgive me, but this might be important.  The art world moves at the speed of light, after all.”

Mary nodded understandingly, and Akira stepped off into a corner to flip on the phone.  A tinny recording played through it, carefully created to be audible to others in the room without being understandable.  Akira nodded several times, and finally said “Yes, I see.  I’ll be there as soon as I can,” then returned to Mary’s side.  “Do forgive me, my dear, but an emergency has just come up, the instant auction of a particularly fine piece.  I have to be there.  You understand.”

“Of course.  But you’ll be back soon?”

“As soon as I am able.”  Akira added a winning smile to er lie.  “Hopefully long before your husband returns.”

Mary’s cheeks turned a delighted crimson, and she expressed her excitement at the idea in gushing words that Akira didn’t bother to mark.  Er mind was already on that shuttle…


Yes, I know, there’s no cult-fighting in it.  But there will be.  Well, maybe not fighting, per se, but there will be an evil and dangerous cult.  I promise.

Oh, and about the previous post?  I’ve decided that I’ll just start a third blog (omg, even though I’m not yet back in the habit with the other two?) to talk about tarot and/or Vocaloid.  (Because of course those two things go together like a lime in a coconut.)

Randomly, Tarot!

Published May 19, 2019 by Iphis of Scyros

Okay, I know this is out of nowhere, but in the time since I was last posting more than once a month, I started seriously collecting tarot decks, almost all brand new decks that were being funded with Kickstarter.  And over the past month or so, I kept thinking I wanted a Vocaloid deck.  Only there sure weren’t any on Kickstarter looking for funding.  (I don’t think I’ve checked Etsy for pre-existing ones, but I have a feeling there aren’t any.)

So I thought “why not try putting one together myself?”  I mean, I can’t draw (outside of stick figures), but I can do a little bit with a simple 3D animation program called MikuMikuDance, or MMD for short.  I hadn’t used it in years (still don’t remember most of the controls), but since I couldn’t focus to write the past couple mornings, I found myself playing around with it.

And now I have a preliminary rough draft of “The Fool” card.

TDA Mrs. Pumpkin Miku model by nene megurine, Star Purse by deidarachanheart, and I have no idea where I got the stage or the Tako Luka, and I think the leek came with MMD.

I’m not 100% happy about any of it, but in some places I think I’m on the right track.  I do absolutely like the stage, especially that view of a tower in the distance.  And I like having her holding her signature leek in one hand.  I don’t think Tako Luka was a good replacement for the dog after all, and the bag doesn’t seem to be working at the moment.  I feel like maybe a backpack would be more appropriate, but it would have to  be the right backpack.  The pose is still pretty stiff, too.  For that matter, I’m not sure if Mrs. Pumpkin was really the version of Miku I should use or not.

EDIT:  Mrs. Pumpkin and Tako Luka are both going to be traded out.  I want to use the Little Red Riding Hood-like costume from “Clover Club,” which includes a little plush wolf sitting on Miku’s head, so it’ll take the place of the dog, too.  END EDIT

I need to find a better source of information about the symbolism and meaning of each card so I can tailor the choices of model and other elements better.

Anyway, I had fun with this, and I’m hoping to do all the cards eventually.  I could put the graphics up as a “print and play” kind of thing.  (For free, of course.)

Just felt like sharing.  (Also didn’t feel like tackling my book reviews yet…)  Is anyone out there interested in seeing the rest of the progression of the deck, or should I just keep it to myself?

So, I’m back…

Published May 17, 2019 by Iphis of Scyros

Class is over.

I wish I could say “yay, I’m graduating tomorrow!”  But everything that could go wrong yesterday (when my final paper was due) did.  And I mean, yeah, I got the paper turned in.  But I know by now to listen to omens when they’re that overwhelming.  (Seriously, I was crying on my drive home.  It was that bad.)  And those omens were saying “you are an idiot if you think you’re graduating.”

So, rather than getting a diploma mailed to me in a few weeks, I think I’m going to get a letter saying “oooh, no, sorry, you counted your credits wrong!  We could have told you before, but we didn’t, because lolz.”

Okay, yeah, a university would never send a letter that said “lolz,” but you get the idea.

It might not even be that I counted my credits wrong.  What if some jerk pulled my paper out from under the professor’s door and threw it away, just because they thought that’d be a funny prank?  (Yes, the professor actually asked us to just stick the papers under the door to his office.  It’s pretty typical of him.)  Imagine failing your final class because some passing creep decided to have a laugh at the expense of hard-working students!

Anyway, doesn’t matter.

Even if — when — the inevitable letter comes to say I didn’t really graduate after all, I’m done with school.  I can’t handle another semester.  I’m not smart enough.  I was a fool to think I ever had the brains to try getting a Master’s Degree in the first place.

So, now that I’m free from my student responsibilities for good — one way or the other — I’m going to get back to  blogging again.  I’ve been looking over this year’s Read Harder list, and I’ve already met four of the challenges, so I’ll post about those in the next few days.

Other than that, I also want to post my final paper.  Not until I’ve heard back from the school, of course!  (I don’t know how plagiarism checkers work, but if they scan the internet as well as published works, then I could get accused of “plagiarizing” myself.)  It’s not a great paper, but I got a lot of really interesting material, stuff people don’t tend to know about.  If I ever lose my job and win the lottery (lol, like I could win the lottery, especially when I don’t usually even enter it), I think going to England to cull and publish a lot of the primary documents that I didn’t have available for this paper would be a great use of my time.

Posting the paper will probably be three or four posts (it was 27 pages long), and hopefully by then I’ll have figured out how I want to keep going with this blog.  I mean, I know I want to keep posting reports on the books I read for Read Harder (and noteworthy ones that aren’t for Read Harder), but I’m not sure what my “usual” posts will be.

I need to get back in the habit of writing — I definitely plan on taking part in July’s Camp NaNo session — so I may post about that process, and/or post some of the results.

Other than that…I dunno.  I’ll see if I get a new rhythm going, or if the blog just becomes “random eclectica.”

IWSG – Almost There!

Published May 1, 2019 by Iphis of Scyros

So, basically, I still have had no time for, you know, writing.  Because I’m still in my final semester of grad school.  Final paper due in a bit over two weeks.  I plan to start doing a lot of writing again once I’m free.  Also to start blogging again.  So next month I should have a real post for IWSG.

Can’t say I’m feeling too good about myself as a writer right now, though.  This last class is on the history of 19th century Europe, and we’ve been reading novels from the 19th century as well as history texts, to give us a real feel for the period.  After reading so many novels in such a short period from Goethe, Stendhal, Dickens, Flaubert, Zola and Dostoevsky, it’s hard to accept one’s own pathetic talents again, y’know?  And yes, I know it’s neither helpful nor a good idea to compare oneself to other authors (especially people on the genius scale) but it’s also hard not to.  Once I get done with class I’m going to go back over the reading list and see how many of the books will work for the Read Harder Challenge this year and write up reports on them for the blog, btw.  (I know at least one does…)

Meanwhile, I have some more suggestions for other writers looking for something to write about.  In a word:  history.  Most major events presented with historical accuracy are so complex that they don’t even need embellishment to be full of plot twists and excitement.  I think in the past I’ve already suggested the wars of independence fought by the Spanish colonies in South America, but now I can add a few more that are just begging for a thorough, blow-by-blow treatment:  the Congress of Vienna in 1814 and the Siege of Paris/Commune de Paris in 1870-1.  These would also be really great for long, involved television treatments, having all the backstabbing and violence Game of Thrones fans want, and the former presenting a lot of opportunities to cast a hot guy and pretend a gross historical figure was sexy treatment a la The Tudors.  (Amusingly, I’m actually planning a Congress of Vienna historical alternate universe fan fiction for a movie that happens to star the guy who would later be cast in The Tudors…)

And, just in case anyone reads this who writes for Hollywood, and/or happens to know a screenwriter, there’s a movie someone needs to make.  Er, maybe I should rephrase that.  There’s a movie I really, really, really want someone to make.  I only have part of the set-up, though.  It’s about a Beatles-like band with Rolling Stones-like longevity, so they’re still recording together by the 1980s.  Only two of them are lovers, and so obviously the main focus of the plot is about someone from the press finding out that they’re gay, or stopping someone from the press finding out, or whatever.  Three requirements:  it can’t have a tragic ending (they don’t break up, neither of them dies or contracts AIDS, etc.), one of them has to be played by Ewan McGregor, and the other has to be played by Christian Bale.  Oh, and they have to have an on-screen kiss.  Because they didn’t kiss in Velvet Goldmine, and I’m very frustrated by that.  Bonus points if Ewan’s character is actually Scottish, because the poor man never gets to use his natural accent in movies!  (Seriously, has he played any Scottish characters outside of the Trainspotting movies?  I can’t think of any.)  Double bonus points if Christian Bale’s character is from Manchester; I loved that accent.

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