Symbols, shapes, and puzzle pieces–
Queer and ancient Formulae–
All appear upon the crumbled desert wall.
Obscured with sands from Eastern breezes,
Here are signs, but none can see
What things they signified before the fall.
The All-Seeing Eye, the Winged God;
A haunting vigil they are holding here,
Exuding pow’r where’er their shapes recur.
This is the ground that prophets trod–
And fled as well, perhaps in fear,
As many a fallen Idol will aver.
At the base, a bony memory
Holds forth the remnant of a hand,
Bleached white from innumerable days.
Whether he is cautioning, or he
Is beckoning–who can understand
The meaning of that vacant gaze?
[AUTHOR’S NOTE: I’m still working on my next book. In the meantime, enjoy this little flash-fiction sci-fi/horror tale, written in the Lovecraftian/Alien vein.]
It is with sadness and trepidation that I present for the first time since the shocking events of May 24th, 2077, the final transmissions between the on-site Tech Specialist and myself during that fateful expedition aboard the A-57 Research Station.
Everyone is pretty familiar with the station’s sad state prior to that day—how it was gradually developing minor flaws and breakdowns in key systems. It was these breakdowns which ultimately led to the Board’s decision to defund the station. Had it not been for the untimely failure of the station’s onboard data transmission system, it would not have been necessary to send a specialist up to the station to manually retrieve its last recorded findings.
The specialist was equipped with standard space exploration suit, a typical array of nano-machine tools and networked data collection devices for such a mission. It was, all in all, a completely routine assignment, and as his handler I was not expecting to deal with some of the situations which we ultimately confronted. What follows is the transcript of our communications, up to the point at which I lost contact with him:
“My systems show you’re at the docking bay entrance now. Confirm?”
“That’s right. Looks like most of the power must be gone from the place—there’s only emergency lighting. There’s a viewport here—I can see the earth. Wave so I can see you.”
“Heh. Can you open the door?”
“Roger that.” [Sound of hissing, buzzing as he apparently rewired the door.]
“Okay, I’m inside now.”
“What can you see?”
“Not much. Main corridor seems even darker than the last one, can barely see in here. Looks like it’s… decaying. What the…, is that rust?”
“No, it couldn’t be—it’s not made of metal. It’s strange that it’s only emergency power—the readings show full energy levels. In any case, the layout says you’re a couple corridors away from the data lab. Go down the main corridor and go left.”
[Clanking of his magnetic gravity boots on the stations floor.]
“It’s so damn dark, and—there’s some kind of… goo or something coating the floors. Like oil.”
“That’s really weird. Might explain the weird auto-transmissions we’ve received. The energy signatures suggested it was overloaded, but I don’t…”
[Distant crashing and hissing sounds.]
“What was that? Hang on a minute.”
[Heavy breathing, more clanking. Sound of hiss as door opens.]
“I went through this door at the end of the hall. Where should I be now?”
“You should be in the observation room. Should be a big window.”
“Well, it’s closed. Emergency light here too, and—[expletive]!”
[Sound of fighting, then heavy breathing.]
“I just saw a head—it was flying around the room! I—I didn’t know what I was seeing. “
“A head? A human head!?”
“No—a, uh, animal or something. Did they run animal experiments up here?”
“I think so—maybe they forgot to throw out their trash or something.”
[More clanking, heavy breathing]
“What would have caused the windows to all seal?”
“Some kind of emergency warning might have gone off—again, could be tied into why we got those signals.”
“Too dark—no emergency lights even. I’ve got my flashlight and—whoa!”
“This area’s demagnetized or something—I’m floating.”
“There should be two doors—try to reach the one on the left.”
[Long silence, followed by hiss of doors opening and a metallic clang]
“Ok, this area seems better lit, although it’s… flickering. I can’t, uh, I can’t see the source of it…”
[Slow clanking of his footsteps. Strange hissing or growling noise heard. A few seconds of silence]
[Weird scrabbling or scratching sound]
[Sound of metal screeching]
“What’s going on up there?”
“Answer me, man! What’s happening?”
(whispered): “Be quiet. They might hear you.”
[A minute’s silence. Distant scratching or hissing heard. Grunting or yelling; inaudible words, and then a howl.]
“Are you there?”
[More hissing and growling, ending in a final, metallic grinding or crunching sound.]
That was the last of the transmissions received from him. I cannot speculate as to the meaning of his final words. We can only conjecture whether this bizarre and abrupt ending had any connection with the sudden degradation of the station’s orbit, and its furious plunge into the Pacific ocean, many weeks ahead of its scheduled destruction. Most of the station’s wreckage was incinerated of course, but among the few pieces recovered, one unusually large section of its hull survived relatively intact. The research team sent to recover the debris found it had a strange hole torn in it. Obviously, all debris is expected to be badly damaged, but the hole bore the appearance of having been torn deliberately from within.
Perhaps it is only a strange coincidence, but the specialist’s final words lead me to wonder if there is some unknown sentient force at work. In connection with the new reports of deep-sea divers glimpsing bizarre creatures lurking beneath the sea, and the sudden decimation of the whale shark population that has recently occurred in that part of the ocean, it leads me to feel it necessary to urge caution when exploring that region, and I think sending Naval forces to the area is advisable. Some may argue that it seems unlikely anything dangerous may lurk down there, but while it is certainly true that the darkest depths of the sea are very inhospitable to life, I contend that something which had once resided in the blackness of space itself could easily survive the extreme conditions of the ocean floor.
As promised, I’ve been working on my next book. I hit a bit of a rough patch where I wasn’t sure how much exposition to give. It’s a new thing for me because previously I’ve only known two different scenarios in my writing:
Writing a section that is just really fun to write.
Writing a section that I need to have, but am not enjoying and am just slogging through.
Needless to say, the things in category 1 are much better done than those in category 2. The latter inevitably end up needing to be revised.
But I reached a point in my new book that was really neither. I felt like I could go either way on this section; I could linger a bit and give some more atmospheric exposition, or I could just say what I needed to say and move along to the next part. I’m torn about how to go–part of me wants to move on, and I have read advice for writers that says not to put in unnecessary stuff.
On the other hand, I think (and have been told by multiple readers) that my earlier stories fell into the trap of moving too quickly and not lingering enough on certain things to set the scene. So I am inclined to spend more time on stage-setting than I ordinarily would, to try to correct for this tendency.
One thing this forces me to do is really picture the scene in my mind. This is harder than you would think. In the past when I have written stuff, I have had a general sketch in mind, but nothing too detailed. This caused me to try and get away with saying some pretty vague stuff. This way, I’ll now have a more firm idea in mind, and can communicate it better to the readers.
The scene I’m currently writing is also important because (not to give too much away) it is setting up a location that the protagonist will return to later, where the majority of the action in the story will take place. So it’s a good opportunity for some foreshadowing, and I don’t want to miss out on that.
So, I am currently in the early stages of writing a new book. It’s going to be much longer than the last one–probably will end up being a novella, but maybe a novel if I’m lucky. It’s already about as long as the longest story in my first book, and I’m still introducing the main characters and conflicts.
I’ve tried to incorporate the helpful suggestions and critiques I’ve received from my first attempt–many of which came from Blogger friend P.M. Prescott, to whom I’m very grateful. The book so far is much more like the last story in the collection, ‘The Quarry”, in that there is more dialogue, and the dialogue is used to convey information about the characters and setting, rather than just using the description.
One of the hardest things about writing fiction is that I’ll get stuck with a certain”voice” in my head, and it gets translated to the page it permeates the whole story. In the last collection, the “voice” was very much like H.P. Lovecraft’s, and Lovecraft rarely did dialogue. And regardless, when you have a single authorial voice, it can make it hard to write dialogue that seems like it’s really multiple people–you have to be careful to differentiate how they speak, so it’s clear who’s who.
That is not to say there is not any description. The other thing that I’m working on is putting a little more thought into the descriptions, to try to do a better job of painting a picture for the reader. In previous work, I’ve consciously shied away from doing too much in the way of description, because I think that too much can bog the story down, and that sometimes the most effective way of scaring somebody is to leave some things unsaid or just hinted, so their mind fills in the blanks with the scariest things they can imagine. But it’s a delicate balance, and I may have gone too far in the direction of vagueness before; making the scenes seem too clinical and detached.
The other thing I’m doing differently this time is what I’m doing right now: occasional blog updates on my progress. I’ll maybe even post an excerpt or two, depending how it goes.
As I promised when I reviewed the movie, I finally read Stephen King’s novel. Interestingly, I’d say I have about the same overall opinion of it as I had of the movie: it was interesting, but very flawed.
That’s not to say, though, that they are similar–there are huge differences between the book and the movie. Let me start with the ways I though the book was better than the movie:
Wendy seems like less of a shrieking idiot, and more of a fully-realized three dimensional character.
Mr. Halloran has more of a role to play than just “show up and die” so that Wendy and Danny can escape at the end. The scariest part of the book was the moment when the malign influence of the Overlook briefly tries to take hold of his mind, just as they are about to escape. (However, there are also problems with Halloran’s survival–I’ll get to that.)
The suspense of whether or not Halloran will reach the hotel in time is very, very well done.
But then are the things the movie gets right:
Getting rid of the stupid attacking hedge animals–that would have been even worse on screen than on the page.
Also, getting rid of the wasps. Actually, most of the hotel’s early attempts at harming the characters are pretty laughable in the book.
In my review of the movie, I complained that Jack Torrance seemed “like a blundering, angry buffoon”. This is lessened in the book, but there is an even bigger problem–a problem so big I’m going to drop the bullet point format to discuss it.
The problem is that instead of Jack seeming like a buffoon, the hotel itself seems like a buffoon. At the end, when the Overlook has almost fully possessed Jack, it forgets about its own boiler, causing it to explode.
If you accept the strong suggestion that the Overlook is a conscious entity, then this is equivalent to someone forgetting to make his heart beat. This makes the hotel seem less scary and more of an obnoxious idiot. Which is even worse than Torrance seeming like an obnoxious idiot.
Then there was the problem of Mr. Halloran’s survival. I was sort of conflicted about this, because I really liked the character; but in the movie the fact that he is killed by the possessed Jack makes the supernatural forces seem like a more credible threat. In the book his survival cheapens the haunted hotel’s powers even more.
Finally, the other thing that annoyed me were the repeated references to Poe’s Masque of the Red Death. I felt like it was suffering the same problem I noted in the movie Prometheus and its references to Lawrence of Arabia: “this story isn’t so great–maybe inserting a few bits from something better will spruce it up.”
Both the book and the movie had interesting concepts in them, but neither one quite works. I read that King apparently disliked the Kubrick movie so much he backed a miniseries that was more faithful to the book. I’ve yet to see it–I’d be curious to see how it handles the hedge animals.
There are two books I consider to be “Great American Novels”, and one of them is To Kill a Mockingbird. (The other, by the way, is A Confederacy of Dunces.)
So you might think I’d be excited that a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird is being released. But I’m not. It strikes me as bizarre, more than anything else. Supposedly, Harper Lee wrote this book–entitled Go Set a Watchman–prior to Mockingbird. According to Wikipedia: “It was set aside when her editor suggested that she write another novel from the young Scout Finch’s perspective. The manuscript was then lost for many years, until being rediscovered by her lawyer in the fall of 2014.”
Now, how could they possibly misplace the sequel to one of the most famous books written in the last half-century for this long? If that’s actually true, it suggests that somebody screwed up royally. This article says “Lee’s lawyer found it affixed to an original typescript of To Kill a Mockingbird.” Huh. An original typescript of To Kill a Mockingbird. Where was this typescript? Something like that would very valuable, even if it had no other forgotten sequel attached to it. So I would presume it would have been kept somewhere safe in the years since Mockingbird became one of the most famous books in the world. And I would think whoever was keeping it would have been careful to keep it in good condition, and thus noticed the other book attached to it long before now.
But it seems crazy to me that, even after it became one of the most widely-read books in American history, even after it was made into an award-winning movie, Lee’s editor never thought to say “hey, what about that other book you were working on? Since evidence suggests people like your writing, maybe you ought to give that one a go.”
It strikes me as very, very hard to imagine that people in the book business are that sloppy.
So, what else might have happened? Did Harper Lee get conned into agreeing to release something she didn’t want to release, as this article suggests? Did they have somebody else write it and have Lee agree to put her name on it? I have no idea, but the whole thing looks weird.