Entropy: Ordinary People in Extraordinary Circumstances

The urban fantasy series that I’m writing under the working title, Entropy, thrusts the world into chaos. A modest percentage of the population acquires extraordinary abilities, call them superhero powers if you will, however the “gifted” largely do not handle it well. Bryson Finney and Jared O’Shea, whom I’ve introduced in previous posts, are two of those ordinary folks. Their case is peculiar, though, in that they each have premonitions of strange events from the future time of the change: millions of birds braining themselves into buildings overnight, grounded air travel, disrupted internet, television signals, cellular service . . .

They don’t know what this means or when it’s going to occur. That’s the situation when Jared [narrating the scene] wakes up one morning at Bryson’s where he is dog-and-house sitting.

Ripper is whimpering, but he has food and water. I open the backdoor a few inches to let him slip outside. I’m not going to be playing with him while I’m in my underwear. The neighbors don’t need a show.

My bagel pops up at the same time that Ripper starts growling and barking. This is his serious bark reserved for raccoons, bats, opossums and the neighbor’s Doberman. Squirrels, robins and the other neighbor’s poodles get a more playful bark. I should check on him. With my luck, I’d be enjoying a bagel barely an hour after Bryson and Kate leave for a week’s trip to Texas, and their dog would get carried off by an eagle due to my negligence.

Ripper paces alongside the back of the house to the right of the door. He’s fine and barking at a clod of dirt. There seems to be a few clods right at the edge of the lilies. Or, they’re lumps of fur. “Ripper, come on! Come back in!” Don’t make me come out there in my underwear. Maybe I should go grab a pair of cut-offs. Is that a mouse? One of the clumps is moving. “Rip! Come here! Now! Ripper! Rip. Rip.” It moves in a funny way, like—BATS. “Ripper COME here!” Neighbors be damned. I’m out the door ready to scoop up the stupid, obstinately deaf dog. It’s comfortably cool out. It must have rained last night. Fog still shrouds everything beyond two houses away. Ripper starts to back away from a bat feebly crawling with a wing outstretched like an awkward crutch. The pup backs towards me. The multiple clods of dirt I saw are all bats—there could be five in the yard. Only one moves. I wish I were wearing shoes or at least socks. And maybe shorts. Grounded bats equal sick bats. With a lunge, I scoop up Ripper. I waste no time getting back inside and bolting the door behind me. I’ll deal with the bats later. When I’m dressed. Or after work, even. I wish Bry had left me a note about the bats; I wouldn’t have put the dog out.

My cell phone waits in the living room not charging. It contains a text from Bryson: “Craziness at O’Hare. Fog! Ambulances on the tarmac. Don’t think a plane crashed. Check the news. ETD is not changed yet.” He could have mentioned the damned bats. I respond, “Downed bats in the backyard. What gives? Rip’s OK.” I look at my phone for a good half-minute waiting for a return text. Nothing.

My bagel’s cold.

The news conjectures about the incident at O’Hare, though details are slow to trickle in: One ground crewman is dead. . . .One full luggage cart is destroyed. . . .No reported injuries on the plane involved. . . .The pilot’s taken in for questioning and drug-testing. . . .The air traffic controller is taken in for questioning and drug-testing. . . .The dead ground crewman is identified as Alicia Fuentes—mother of two. The picture forms of a landing gone horribly, freakishly wrong. By mid-morning, half a dozen other pilots in the air over O’Hare and Midway at the time of the accident have reported instrument anomalies lasting for some minutes. Heavy, early fog didn’t help.

Review: Said Beauty To The Blues

Said Beauty to the BluesSaid Beauty to the Blues by Bill Campana
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Emerging from the slam poetry scene in Phoenix, this uneven collection is filled with light humor throughout [though trying too hard at times]. Many of the poems clearly arise directly from the poet’s experiences

“luckily the concrete floor broke my fall”

i fell down today

i misjudged the bottom step
while walking down a concrete staircase

nobody was there so it didn’t make a sound . . .
well, i was there, but i wasn’t listening

plus, it was in pitch darkness
so not only did i not make a sound
but there was also nothing to see

don’t ask me how i know it even happened

While humor is the main voice, at times a clear poignancy rears its head. In “light and darkness but mostly darkness and then light again” the poet cuts through sentimentality: “when i die the birds will sing / the same songs they sing now / not one note bluer.” Mortality appears again in “morning song late at night”: “but if you want time / i’ve got plenty / i count seven clocks that have stopped / and two that no longer care / but i’ve got plenty / i feel the hours leaving / and i know just how many / it takes to fill up an empty morning.”

The observational poems, of which there are many, find their strength in challenging perspective. In one case the perspective is twisted fully around to distantly observe the poet.

“upside down”

that spider
has been hanging
upside down
for so long
that it appears
i am the one
suspended from the ceiling
in my chair
binding my saliva
around a spinning chicken leg
until i crawl
into another room

One observation-turned-“list poem” is darkly playful.

“reasons you find a wheelchair in the dumpster”

someone has decided
to start walking again

it wore out and was replaced
with a new one

it wasn’t fast enough

someone is being very cruel

Nature is not a major component of this collection, however there are some surprisingly fresh lines on old muses. [From “the sun, the moon, you, and a brief appearance by me”]: “i saw the moon / sneaking around / faintly visible / while the sun / was still in full bloom / at the other end of the sky / but thinking it over.” Likewise “dust devil ’13” takes a similar tone in showing human impact and un-naturalness: “the dust devil whips it up / in the middle of the street / the field, the steel yard // sending trash high flying / like wild plastic birds / into the thermals / where they hang like hawks.”

Though most of the poems were very short, my favorite was probably the longest, “the go go sixties”. The social commentary is superficially light and deeply penetrating.

[from “the go go sixties”]

. . . the sixties taught me a thing or two

how to make a joke
how to take a joke
how to throw a punch
how to take a punch
the sixties taught me how to be a boy

and to take assassinations like a man
watch the replay as if it were sport
i’ve never seen anything bleed like the sixties
the sixties could overcook a city as if it were a bad meal
and leave a taste in your mouth . . .

I received this collection through Goodreads First Reads.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Review: “Invisible Planets” by Hannu Rajaniemi

5 of 5 stars.

A sentient darkship considers the civilizations of six planets in quick vignettes as the ship passes into the intergalactic zone beyond Cygnus 61. Like the gods they are named after, the planets’ civilizations are culturally diverse and yet paralleled here poetically, and beautifully. Like looking into a broken mirror, the glimpses intrigue as well as conceal.

Oya–the wealthy live longer at the expense of the dead. Corpses host xenocatabolic bacteria that prolong the lives of the living as gut microflora. A culture of who can preserve the dead and who can afford the dead.

Lakshmi–home of the wealth race. Personalized space detritus converts cosmic rays into the only viable currencies, quantum cryptocurrencies then transmitted to the smart-phones below.

Ki–a world that truly exploits the 3 dimensions having long ago left the limitations of their planet’s surface. They now needle time itself and pick at the curled micro-dimensions.

Glaukopis–where everyone sees through others’ eyes, a constantly-traded commodity. The blind are the ones looking forever outward to space with fixed eyes.

Seshat–everything is words to be read: texts, DNA, computer code. The landfills overflow with all the read objects. Now Seshetians explore the language of neutrinos and dark matter.

Zywie–silence. Empty husks of great cities with machines still churning. More machines whirr on land, at sea, and in near-space. Lower creatures stir . . .

“Invisible Planets” appears in The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2015 edited by Rich Norton and published by Prime Books. It first appeared in Reach for Infinity.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Writers and Word Aversion: It’s Moistly in Your Head

Moist has a problem–it’s become the expression non grata. Hate groups have formed on Facebook. How I Met Your Mother even ran an episode about it. The problem is called word aversion. And you probably don’t have it. Most don’t, but it’s a social phenomenon and spreading.

Word aversion is not to be confused with verbal and written pet peeves. Most writers do have those. Verbal pet peeves are annoyances or moral outrage at the misuse, mispronunciation or misspelling of words. If you dislike the overuse of “like,” or feel a migraine emerging with a confuddled use of there, their, and they’re that’s just a pet peeve.

Word aversion is akin to a phobia in that it evokes a visceral response such as nausea or disgust. Linguists and writers are less prone due to the increased awareness of the word as a symbol, the arbitrariness of the association. We do tend to have favorite words, but not vomit-inducing words. [Interestingly, women are more prone to experiencing it.]

What are common words that cause this reaction?: moist, panties, fudge, ooze, pus, crud, crevice, slacks, ointment, navel, phlegm, and mucus. These words all have general meanings or slang associations with bodily functions, often sexual. But others are less clear the association: squab, cornucopia, brainchild, and meal. Yes, meal.

Slate had a great article on this topic a couple years back. In it they describe a study in which a hamburger was served on a plate that had the word “rat” printed on it. Some people avoided eating the parts of the burger that touched the letters of the word. Not liking rats is understandable, or at least not wanting to eat food that a rat has touched. But, avoiding the letters that arbitrarily represent the sounds of the word that itself arbitrarily represents the rat . . .

But for writers, maybe this isn’t all bad news. Who doesn’t want to create a visceral reaction in their reader in poetry or fiction? Knowing that certain words could create an aura of discomfort or disgust would be handy, to either use or avoid.

I do have a word that has disgusted me since middle school. I remember babysitting and cringing to my charges asking to play with–stickers. So, I’m guilty of being a head-case. And I love words. I studied linguistics. Stickers. Have you ever experienced a word aversion?

Review: “The Scrivener” by Eleanor Arnason

4 of 5 stars.

Unabashedly updated meets folktale in this delightful, allegorical yarn. Halfway between helplessly idyllic and the big modern cities, lies a village with a scrivener who wished to be a storyteller. He’s a single father with 3 [naturally!] daughters: Ima [Imagination], Orna [Ornamentation], and Plot. His desire is for them to now be storytellers in his stead. They are less inclined, but aim to please their father. They each write a pathetic tale and then head to the elephantine, chain-smoking reviewer in town who dismisses their talents predictably [Respectively: All imagination with nothing to rein it in. Beautiful words choices but no syntactic sense. Driving action but zero development of character or mood.] She, the reviewer, recommends they visit the witch who resides deep in the dark woods aside the village.

Ima goes first. Her imagination has her terrified of the woods come dark. Luckily, she is found by a kindly woodsman who takes care of his mother. Ima is invited to spend the night in their cabin. That night, Ima discovers that they are werewolves, but they mean her no harm. The woodsman helps her find her way back out of he woods.

Orna goes second. She immediately discovers a nest of female forest spirits and spends weeks in a drunken orgy:

She had never experienced anything like this before. Of course it overwhelmed her. She dove into it like a kingfisher into the river and brought up her first real orgasm like a struggling, silver fish.

When the dryads start to hibernate for the winter, Orna returns home.

Plot goes third, right at the start of winter. She finds the elephantine witch efficiently and stays the winter to apprentice . . .

Pleasantly, the fable does have a moral or two. The lesser one being: story reviewers are siblings to evil witches–noted. The tale did not go where expected.

“The Scrivener” appears in The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2015 edited by Rich Norton and published by Prime Books. It first appeared in Subterranean, Winter 2014.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Review: Mermaids and Other Mysteries of the Deep

Mermaids and Other Mysteries of the DeepMermaids and Other Mysteries of the Deep by Paula Guran
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another excellent Paula Guran anthology! This time thoroughly exploring the breadth of folklore and mythos surrounding water-based entities: rusalka, selkies, mer, nereids, et al. Whereas vampires often personify passion and sex, and zombies claw at the very definition of humanity, these creatures often personify longing, dysmorphia and gender-dysphoria. Creatures with a foot in two worlds rarely fully sync with both and that discomfit makes for great story telling.

There are a few stories of science fiction in which humans have modified themselves to exploit the oceans, and not without consequence. Three give perspectives on the celtic lore of selkies, the seal people that can strip off their seal skin and appear as human. A couple tales highlight the slavic rusalka, water spirits born of the violence when a young woman purposely drowns herself. Many of the stories are haunting. Not surprisingly, many also contain a heavy queer element due to the dysmorphic nature of mer.

I’ve reviewed each story contained within. My favorites were:
Delaney, Samuel R.–“Driftglass”–5 stars
Lee, Tanith–“Magritte’s Secret Agent”–5 stars
Monette, Sarah–“Somewhere Beneath Those Waves Was Her Home”–5 stars

Bear, Elizabeth–“Swell”–4 stars
Gaiman, Neil–“The Sea Change”–4 stars
Kiernan, Caitlin R.–“The Mermaid of the Concrete Ocean”–4 stars
Slatter, Angela–“A Good Husband”–4 stars
Taborska, Anna–“Rusalka”–4 stars
Valente, Catherynne M.–“Urchins, While Swimming”–4 stars
Wise, A. C.–“Letters to a Body on the Cusp of Drowning”–4 stars

Also included:
Barzak, Christopher–“The Drowned Mermaid”–3 stars
Beagle, Peter S.–“Salt Wine”–3 stars
Downum, Amanda–“Flotsam”–3 stars
Howard, Chris–“The Mermaid Game”–3 stars
Lanagan, Margo–“Sea-Hearts”–3 stars
Rambo, Cat–“The Mermaids Singing Each to Each”–3 stars
Wolfe, Gene–“The Nebraskan and the Nereid”–3 stars
McGuire, Seanan–“Each to Each”–2 stars
Sherman, Delia–“Miss Carstairs and the Merman”–2 stars
Valentine, Genevieve–“Abyssus Abyssum Invocat–2 stars
Yolen, Jane–“The Corridors of the Sea”–2 stars
Hannett, Lisa L.–“Forever, Miss Tapekwa County”–1 star

I received my copy of the anthology directly from Prime Books. This collection is highly recommended. Previously, I’ve reviewed two other Paula Guran anthologies:
After the End: Recent Apocalypses–4 stars
Extreme Zombies–4 stars
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Review: “Magritte’s Secret Agent” by Tanith Lee

5 of 5 stars.

The uncanniness of a Magritte is both what this tale describes and accurately depicts as a young store clerk and art student, the narrator, becomes enamored with a beautiful, yet unresponsive young man in a wheelchair. The man’s mother and caretaker, Ms. Besmouth, is an uninviting woman. However, the narrator takes the opportunity to deliver goods to the Besmouth house so that she can see the man, Daniel, again.

The Besmouth house sits at the end of a lane atop a cliff overlooking the sea. Oddly, their house has a brick wall built up around the side of the house facing the ocean so that it can never be seen and all the windows on that side of the house have been boarded over. The young woman gets begrudgingly invited inside where she finds out that Daniel does not talk, nor bath himself, nor get himself into or out of bed.

The narrator finds another excuse to go to the house. This time to offer service to do shopping for the family. After returning from the errands for the family, the young woman and the mother get drunk and the mother admits that she never married, Daniel was shamefully born after a rape on the beach. The beautiful, naked perpetrator disappeared into the surf after the attack never to be seen again.

A week later, and still obsessed, the narrator shows up drunk to the Besmouth house and kidnaps Daniel, taking him down to the sea that he has never seen. And he responds . . .

The descriptions of Magritte paintings and the familiar yet “not right” essence of their surrealism is beautifully in sync with the speaker’s loose grasp of what she experienced so many years before in that frenetic week. Coupled with the speaker’s altered state, she still can never be sure what exactly happened creating a wonderful sea-side urban legend with supernatural underpinnings.

This story appears in the latest anthology edited by Paula Guran, Mermaids and Other Mysteries of the Deep, published by Prime Books. “Magritte’s Secret Agent” first appeared in Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone Magazine, May 1981.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Review: “Urchins, While Swimming” by Catherynne M. Valente

4 of 5 stars.

The Eastern European folktale entity, the rusalka, gets an uncanny 1st person update in this tragic tale of a generational curse exemplifying that the sins of the parent can be visited upon the child. The rusalka is a water spirit created by the suicidal drowning of a young lady.

Kseniya loves the odd, intimate habits of her mother who apologetically wakes young Kseniya in the middle of each night to pour steamy water over her daughter’s hair and then comb through it while singing a lullaby. Then, before being put back to bed, they crawl into the brim-full tub and nestle into each other. One night, Kseniya wakes on her own to find her mother unresponsive. Even pulling her mother into the full tub cannot revive her.

Years later, Kseniya has fallen in love with a good man, Artyom.

One day he was not there, the next day his laugh was a constant crow on my shoulder. One day I did not love a man named Artyom, the net day I loved him, and between the two days there is nothing but air.

She asks him to wake her in the night to pour steamy water over her hair and to sing to her. Then, she tells him the story of her mother, Vodzimira, who once fell in love with Yefrem. Upon finding herself pregnant, she went to Yefrem and requested a priest in order to marry and name the child, but Yefrem forsook her for the priesthood. Mira, in despair, threw herself off a bridge–while heavy with her only child–and drowned . . .

This story appears in the latest anthology edited by Paula Guran, Mermaids and Other Mysteries of the Deep, published by Prime Books. “Urchins, While Swimming” first appeared in Clarkesworld, December 2006.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Review: “Forever, Miss Tapekwa County” by Lisa L. Hannett

1 of 5 stars.

This is a shallow tale about a shallow girl, Verralee, whose single-minded focus is to win the Miss Tapekwa County crown that eluded her mother, Kaylene. Verralee’s boyfriend, Simon, is afraid that winning the pageant, or even entering it will change her for the worse, forever.

The story takes the issue literally in that Verralee has to transform her body to an unrealistic degree in order to win. And her single-minded focus erases all other thoughts. The heroine makes for an easy target in this cautionary tale, especially when no depth is given to her character to explain why any of this matters to her.

This story appears in the latest anthology edited by Paula Guran, Mermaids and Other Mysteries of the Deep, published by Prime Books.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Review: “The Corridors of the Sea” by Jane Yolen

2 of 5 stars.

Bad science masquerades as science fiction or speculative fiction in this short fantasy tale in which humans are pushing their settlements deeply into the sea with scientists leading the way.

Hydrospace IV, an underwater lab, is working to better adapt humans to sea life. Whereas, Hydrospaces I, II, and III are considered successful with bubble settlements and advanced technology, Hydrospace IV aims to free humans of apparatuses for more efficient synchronicity. The two main scientific teams are respectively working on physically adapting the body for gill-based respiration and for creating fluid-dampening skin for better underwater movement.

The lead scientist on the respiration team, diminutive Tommy Eddystone, has undergone surgery to implant gills and valves. He’s since done 3 test swims of 20, 40 and 60 minutes without scuba gear to test his new abilities. Now, his best friend Gabe will lead the press conference to announce the promising results.

However, Eddystone’s body has quickly accepted the gills and is now transforming at a rapid pace giving him fluid-dampening skin, secondary eyelids, webbed fingers and toes . . . because, all it takes is a few hours breathing ocean to quick-start evolution apparently?! Eddystone now hears the siren-call luring him further from the sea-lab. But is he ready?

This story appears in the latest anthology edited by Paula Guran, Mermaids and Other Mysteries of the Deep, published by Prime Books. “The Corridors of the Sea” first appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, September 1981.
[Check out my other reviews here.]