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Friday, October 31, 2008

The Friday Challenge - 10/31/08

Okay, we've got a nice field to pick from this week. The entries received for the 10/24/08 Friday Challenge are, in no particular order:

Snowdog, "The Night of the Obamanation," which was submitted as both an mp3 file and in print form. (Actually, Snowdog not only posted his entry in two media forms, he also posted it days before anyone else. I guess we'll have to stop calling it "snowdogging," huh?)

Al, "The Qwatsch"

Ben-El, "Khaki Shorts: An Alternate History of the English Speaking Peoples (Part I: Mushroom Cloud)"

Vidad, "The Big Guy," which is presented both in print and on YouTube and purports to be "a zombie hip-hop opera," God help us

Henry, "Lord of the Hunt"

Rigel Kent, "Blaze of Glory"

As always, you are invited to read | watch | listen to the entries, comment on them, and vote for your favorites, with the winner to be announced Sunday night — and this time around, in honor of the coming election, we're doing it by Chicago Rules, so vote early and vote often!

I might add that my mom's family comes from Chicago. I was driving by a cemetery there once and saw two guys with shovels standing on my Uncle Charlie's grave, digging like mad. I stopped the car and yelled, "Hey, what the Hell do you think you're doing?!" One of them yelled back, "Never mind us. We're just getting out the vote."

And we have (another) winner...

Meanwhile, as I continue to clear the backlog of accumulated Friday Challenges, it pleases me to announce that we have a clear winner in the 10/10/08 Friday Challenge, "Ten Words," and that winner would be Snowdog, for his story, "Armstrong." Excellent work, Snowdog, and if you're interested, I'd recommend polishing and tuning that one just a little more and then trying to get it published.

Vidad, nice try, but some of your puns fall horribly flat. The rest of you, interesting wordplay but nothing that really stands out, except for —

KTown! You started out writing a great sonnet, but then in the last line blew it and started making sense. Don't you know anything about modern poetry? What were you thinking?

The 10/31/08 Friday Challenge

For this week's challenge, we're going to swing over to the sci-fi side of the house and give you an idea that's so hard, it clanks. Picture this...

Wait. First, in fairness, I should tell you up front that I'm also working on a story related to this idea, and if you come up with something that really knocks me out I'm apt to appropriate your idea and give you just a few meager words of credit in the dedication, if it ever sells. And with that warning in place:

Picture this...

You are a lone astronaut returning to Earth, the sole survivor of the first manned expedition to the Jovian system. But as you approach Earth, it begins to become apparent that there's something weird going on, something wrong. Maybe it was that strange and disastrous energy surge that hit the ship as you were leaving Europa; maybe it was something much cooler-sounding that Bethke hasn't bothered to figure out yet. But after you land, the truth, however incredible, becomes inescapably obvious. Somehow, you have been pushed through a wormhole into an alternate universe

A strange, horrible, stupid universe, where Kennedy won the 1960 election, not Nixon. Where some guy named McNamara canceled the nuclear propulsion program in the early 1960s, along with the X-20 Spaceplane, and yet the idiots still managed to get to the Moon — in fact, they even did so a decade earlier than in your world — but they did it riding extravagantly wasteful and dangerous chemical rockets, and then they never went back again. A world where the U.S. went back into Indochina after Eisenhower successfully got us out; where President Johnson (Johnson?! You mean that corrupt cracker who went to prison in the Billy Sol Estes scandal?) launched some kind of crazy expensive experiment in social engineering called "The Great Society;" where the western world experienced massive social upheavals in the 1960s, and where the U.S. fought a long, so-called "Cold War" with the Soviet Union ("You mean the USSR didn't collapse in 1968 after the Prague Spring?"). A world where atomic power was never developed beyond a rudimentary level; where it almost seems as if society turned its back on technology in the 1970s; and where nobody even cracks a smile when you drop that old Vulcan proverb: Only Nixon could go to Moscow.

(Yes, Star Trek exists in both universes. But in your universe it starred Jeffrey Hunter as Captain Pike and there were no "space hippie" episodes.)

I could go on and on — and on some more — but in the interests of brevity, let's cut it off here. You've just been thrown into our world from a parallel universe in which the 1960s as we know it never happened. What is the one thing that strikes you most strongly about this world, and how do you react to it? Alternatively, what is the one thing (aside from that ten thousand pounds of triethylborane fuel you need to get off this stupid rock and back into space) that exists in your world but not here that you miss most?

As always, we're playing for whatever is behind Door #2, and possibly a bit of credit if I ever succeed in getting this thing published. The deadline is midnight Central time, Thursday, November 6. And with that said: I'm really interested to see what you come up with that I haven't thought of already.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Science Fiction as Political Prognostication

This strays perilously close to putting a serious dent in my "no politics" rule, but over on Fraters Libertas Chad the Elder writes:
Today, I received an e-mail from Al Gore on behalf of In the midst of his plea for Obama volunteers was this gem:
But the stakes this year are too great for any of us to sit it out. We're facing two wars and an economic meltdown. The climate crisis, in particular, is worsening more quickly than predicted and without strong leadership from the next president, we could face consequences right out of a science fiction movie.
No one knows science fiction movies like Al Gore.
Perhaps so, but the all-important and thus far unasked question is: which science fiction movie? Silent Running? Soylent Green? Lord of the Flies? Godzilla vs The Smog Monster?

Personally, my money is on The Manchurian Candidate.

Your thoughts, s'il vous plait?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

And the winner is...

Actually, I was hoping to headline this one, "And the winners are...," but I'm still wallowing through the backlog. Lest you think all your work is going for naught, though, I'm determined to get at least one Friday Challenge winner announced today. Therefore, it gives me great pleasure to announce that the winner of the Vox Day Write-Alike Contest is...

Jamsco, for The Visit Several Years Before, which does wonderful, horrible things to the Arthurian legend and the Lady of the Lake, along the way offering at least one trenchant insight into The True Vox Style. Jamsco, come on down and claim your prize!

Coming in a close second was Ben-El with A Day in the Life, which made me laugh — a lot — but in his depiction of The Wrath of Angels: The Movie, Ben-El produced a story that was really more about Vox than in the style thereof, and while it was quite good, it didn't quite meet the spec.

Honorable Mention to Equus Pallidus for this post, which outdoes Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards, and Dishonorable Mention to NotVox for this post. He knows the reason why.

I'm hoping to finish clearing out the Friday Challenge backlog in this coming week, and as of tomorrow, I'm also starting a new series of posts in which we explore the question: Is science fiction really just the pretentious member of the horror family?


Friday, October 24, 2008

The Friday Challenge - 10/24/08

URGENT UPDATE! Vox cross-linked to this post, and one of the comments on Vox's post smacked me upside the head and got my attention. Strange that I never noticed it before, but Bane really hated Halloween. I mean he really, seriously, deeply, hated Halloween. If you want to verify that and have a high tolerance for profanity, go to Bane's blog and search for "Halloween" or read his posts from late October of any year. The man truly, passionately, and profoundly hated Halloween.

Therefore, honoring him with a Halloween-themed story contest now seems like a truly bad idea.

However, the challenge still stands. The guy had a great gift for the scare-the-heck-out-of-you moment and the turn-your-guts-to-ice scene. I understood why he chose not to write for professional publication — I disagreed with that choice and tried to convince him to change his mind, and failed — but I think that talent of his magnitude warrants some kind of appropriate recognition. Somewhat sheepishly, then, I now rename this the First Annual Bane Memorial Frightening Fiction Contest, and we'll look for a more fitting date on which to hold it next year.

But as I said, the challenge remains. We're looking for the best short story that makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck. You can try to write it in Bane's style, if you think you can, but his was a remarkable talent, and if you don't think you can pull it off you're better off aiming for the style of a lesser writer, like Stephen King or Edgar Allen Poe.

P.S. And if you really want to do something worthwhile in his memory, consider visiting his blog site and chipping in a contribution to the medical expenses fund.

With much embarrassment,

No doubt many some a few of you are might be wondering what's going on with this blog in general and with the Friday Challenge in particular. At present I'm up to my armpits in a First Rule* situation that originally promised to keep me insanely overloaded through the end of November, but now, thanks to a rejuggling of the workload, a reshuffling of priorities, some changed design parameters, and some adjustments to various project schedules, it promises to keep me oversubscribed through at least mid-December.
[The First Rule of Being a Professional Writer is: Paying work on deadline always comes first.]
I'm not complaining. I have paying work to do, and in economic times such as these I'm not about to turn up my nose at any legal work.

Still, while I've not been ignoring your contributions to the Friday Challenge, I certainly haven't been holding up my end of the conversation, either. I will try to get caught up on all of that this weekend, but in the meantime, I have a new Friday Challenge for you that must be announced today. Introducing—

The First Annual Bane Memorial Frightening Fiction Contest

That's right. Bane is gone — for real this time, sadly, but that's another story — but love him, hate him, or fear him, you must admit, the guy knew how to tell a creepy tale. Ergo, in honor of the passing of our late mutual friend/foe/sparring partner/bête noire, that's this week's challenge: write a genuinely scary story.

The deadline for this challenge is midnight Central time, Thursday, October 30, with all entries to be posted on the morning of Friday, October 31. As always, we're playing by a penumbra of emanations from the official Friday Challenge rules, and playing for whatever is behind Door #2, unless I happen to think of something more fitting in the next few days. Any questions?

Bane wouldn't have wasted time asking questions...

Henry and Vidad are Revolting!


In case you've missed it, Henry and Vidad have staged a successful palace revolution and seized control of The Curse of the Were-Weasel.

As outgoing Benevolent Dictator of that site, I heartily approve of this change in leadership and recommend that you all visit The Curse of the Were-Weasel to show your support for Henry and Vidad. They're writing some really good stuff. It's definitely well worth a click.

As for me, never fear, my dear comrades. Your beloved former El Presidente shall be quite content to set aside the burden he has so long borne for you, the little people, and sit quietly on the beach in his humble island home of exile, alternately puffing on a fat Cuban cigar and taking sips from a tall drink made with much pineapple and Meyer's dark rum while Nastassja Kinski rubs Bain de Soleil on his weary shoulders. He will neither form a government-in-exile nor indulge in counter-revolutionary plotting; rather, he applauds the boldness and daring of the young men who are carrying forward the endless work of la revolución tonta.

Saludo! Viva Henry! Viva Vidad! Viva la WCA!

(Oh, and Nastassja, darling, my drink is most nearly empty. Otros, por favor?)

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Friday Challenge - 10/17/08

This wasn't what I'd originally planned for this week, but it was just too good an idea to pass up. Jamsco writes:
I have been looking for a story challenge into which I could sink my teeth, but I have been too busy or not knowledgeable enough about the subject matters to enter in.

But I have a suggestion for a challenge: Vox Day Fan Fiction.

Over at Vox Popoli a couple weeks ago, Commenter MouseyTung asked Vox the following question:
“Do you have any interest in allowing other writers to write in the setting if they can do it right or perhaps writing about a protestant movement?”
And Vox responded:
“I don't mind that sort of thing, so long as it's properly credited. I've never known anyone to write any fan-fic before, to be honest. But the basic notion doesn't bother me”
This is nothing short of significant evidence that he would love this idea. And by the way, in response to Vox’s comment, regular commenter Crom stated:
“Fan-fic eh? We are about to see a storm of Amorrian wereseal stories the likes of which even God has never seen.”
My first thought about it – Oh, He has seen it. More than He* would like**.

My second thought is that this is not so great a prediction - So far, nothing!

My third thought is that if you ever wanted proof that more than one person might respond to this challenge – there it is. Although it may be only one or two more than one. Okay, maybe it would be just me, but then everyone's a winner.

I request this because I have a story (based in Wrath) already in mind. My goal would be to make you laugh. What do you think?


* I’m talking about God, here, Not Vox. I’m guessing no amount of Amorrian wereseal fiction is too much for Vox.

** And I’m talking about God’s Prescriptive Will here, not his Perfect Will, obviously.
What do I think? I think it's a great idea! Not only that, I've discussed this with Vox, and he (lower case 'h') has given it his blessing. Ergo, this week's Friday Challenge is: write a short story or pastiche set in one of the worlds of, and using the almost but not quite inimitable style of, the one and only Vox Day!

If you need more background information, you can pop over to Vox Popoli, scroll down a bit, and in the right column find links to downloadable versions of all of his books. The Amorrian world Jamsco mentions is the backdrop for Vox's latest novel, Summa Elvetica, but you'll find forerunners for that novel in The Altar of Hate and Other Stories. (If you can't read .pdb files, you'll find html versions of most of these stories on the otherwise moribund Eternal Warriors web site.) As always, we're playing by the rather lax rules of the Friday Challenge and playing for whatever is behind Door #2, unless I happen to think of a more fitting grand prize between now and next Friday.

And thus, with far more background information than I've ever provided before, we now declare this Friday Challenge issued. Have fun!

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Friday Challenge - 10/10/08

I've been remiss, and for that I must apologize. I've been ridiculously busy since mid-August, with no end in sight before late December, and by my reckoning still owe you judgment and prizes for the following Friday Challenges:

8/15/08: The Ultimate Snowdogging Championship
8/22/08: Gary Seven Meets Logan Five At The G8
8/29/08: Your Favorite Labor Day Weekend Story
9/19/08: The One Car You Most Hate

I'll try to get all these loose ends tidied up this coming weekend, but as of this morning, it's time to post a fresh challenge.

To reboot something like the Friday Challenge, it's often helpful to revisit roots and fundamentals. Ergo, this time I've gone way back and selected a real "deep roots" exercise. Taking my Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary off the shelf and flipping it open at random, I've produced the following list:
The challenge? Somewhere in these words there is a story. You have one week to find and tell it. And just to make things interesting, you must use all of these words at least once in your story.
Helpful hints: At first I was just going to leave it at that, but given the presence of two non-English words on the list and the ambiguities over their proper transliteration, I decided to give you a titch more help. Yen-shee is the Cantonese word for the residue left in the bottom of an opium pipe after it's been smoked, and if you Google that one you'll come up with some really disturbing links that I'd just as soon spare you. Paush, on the other hand (or Pus, Puus, Paus, Poush, Pushya, etc.), is the tenth month of the Hindu calendar, which generally starts right around the Winter solstice. The Hindu lunisolar calendar is a fascinatingly obtuse thing that makes Western ecclesiastical and astrological calendars look simple, and you can learn lots more about it here. (0h, and in case I forgot to mention it, Happy Navaratri, everyone!)
As always, we're playing by the published Rules of the Friday Challenge, and any others I happen to think to make up, and we're playing for whatever is behind Door #2. The deadline is Thursday, October 16, and always remember: the object here is to have fun.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

In the October Country

And here it is, the 7th of October already. It's a cold, gray, soggy, hunched-shoulders sort of day, here in Minnesota. The rain pours down in cold, fat drops, thinning from time to time to a fine mist that seems to penetrate everywhere and chill everything, but the ecstatic cloudbursts of spring and terrifying thunderstorms of summer are only memories now. These are the fall rains; the autumn rains: the cold-soakers, the day-long worm drownders, that fall as quietly as rain can fall and beat the dying leaves off the trees, churning them into a soggy brown mass in the gutters and plugging the downspouts with something that resembles great wads of well-chewed tobacco.

Not a good day to have arthritis. My left hand is more like a claw than a fine manipulator today. Me and Django Reinhardt, we have a lot in common.

The geese have for the most part flocked up and left, streaming south in great formations. The egrets and herons seem to have vanished overnight, as if one of them one day looked up, sniffed the wind, and said, "Pass the word. It's time." One day every pond and pothole around here seemed to have at least one snowy white egret, wading through the shallows in search of frogs and minnows. The next day, they were gone.

Maybe they just got cold feet. There was frost on the ground in the low parts of the cow pasture, twice last week.

The cornstalks in the fields are turning dry and pale, and getting impatient to meet the harvester. The ash trees and box elders have gone to yellow, and some are even bare already. Most of the oaks are still mostly green, but here and there some of the more highly stressed maples have shouted, "I can't take it anymore!" and gone up in a scream of red. Entire hillsides are abaze with staghorn sumac.

It would be beautifully and brilliantly colorful, if only it would stop raining.

This past month has been... interesting. The Kid's new school schedule is proving problematic. Dawn comes at about 7:15 these days, and the sun, when it does appear, now crests the horizon on the south side of the road. To catch his bus he's got to be up and getting fed and dressed in the dark — we have them newfangled electric lightbulb thingies here, and I don't know why he doesn't turn a few of them on — so by the time I'm up and have made sure he's fed, clothed, and out the door in time to catch his schoolbus, my morning writing time is pretty much shot. I'm making a special exception today, because I've fallen so badly off my schedule, but I'll pay for this on the back end of the afternoon.

The housing crisis has ceased to be an abstraction for us. One of the adult children got overextended, lost the house, and had to move back in with us for a while, in preparation for rebooting into adulthood. I understand people of my parent's and grandparent's generation routinely had three or even four generations living under the same roof. I don't know how they did it. My grandmother eloped when she was 16; my parents when they were 19. I have no points of reference on this journey. I'm making it all up as I go.

I've been doing a lot of interviews lately. The reason I've been so in-demand eluded me until one interviewer pointed out that as of November, it's officially the 25th Anniversary of the first publication of "Cyberpunk." Good Lord, has it really been twenty-five years? No wonder I feel so old.

Or maybe it's just the rain, and the work schedule. Blogging is going to continue to be light and variable for the foreseeable future. I've got three major writing projects to get wrapped up and delivered in the next three months, and we're reevaluating Rampant Loon's project plans, as about 30% of our working capital has simply evaporated in the past two weeks. I will get the Friday Challenge back on track; I promise you that. I've got four winners to announced, and a really good Halloween challenge in mind that I think you'll like. But my goal at this point is simply to get back to doing one major post in the Sunday/Monday time frame and to jump-start the Friday Challenge.

Just thought you might want to know what's been going on lately.


Saturday, October 04, 2008

Movie Review: An American Carol

Karen and I saw An American Carol, David Zucker's patriotic respin of Dickens' A Christmas Carol, last night. We dragged The Kid along with us and he enjoyed it, too, despite having to be seen going into the movie theater in the company of his parents. Could there be anything more mortifying for a 13-year-old?

An American Carol is one very funny movie. It is not Airplane!-grade funny, because the underlying subtext is far too serious, but there are plenty of times when you will be laughing out loud. At first you will do so a little nervously, because of Political Correctness, but then when you realize that everyone else in the theater is laughing at the same things you are, you will really laugh, because it will be such a blessed relief to do so.

This movie is definitely one I will be buying when it comes out on DVD, just to watch again so that I can spot all the sight gags and bits of background business I missed the first time.

There are a couple of things about this movie that are worth special mention. Kelsey Grammer does a terrific turn as the ghost of General Patton; so good, in fact, that when we got home I wanted to pull Patton off the shelf and watch it again. Fortunately, Karen's desire to get some sleep prevailed. The fake movie trailer for a documentary by "Rosie O'Connell" on the Christian Terrorist Threat is a scream. ("Oh no! It's a nun!") The scene where Kevin Farley, in the lead role as the Scrooge-like filmmaker "Michael Malone," who hates the 4th of July, is trying to speak to an anti-war rally on a campus and can't make himself heard over the crowd's mindless chanting cracked me up many times over, as I think I've been at that protest or one just like it. (Hint: try to read all the signs the "protesters" are holding.) Penultimately, Dennis Hopper's extended segment, which might best be described as The Night of the Living ACLU Lawyers, is falling-out-of-your-seat-laughing funny.

And then, crowning it all, if John Voight's turn as the ghost of George Washington doesn't choke you up, you'd better check in with your doctor, because you just might not have a heart.

A few words of warning, though. The language in this one does get a bit rough. Not Team America-grade rough, and in fact The Kid said it was considerably milder than the language he hears every day in public school, but this film does subscribe to the theory that it's hilarious when a cute little girl swears like a sailor. Eh, what can you say? Humor is subjective, and one man's hilariously witty riposte is another man's stale fart joke.

But all the way around, I'd have to score this one a 3.5 out of a possible 4, and say that my wife, The Kid, and I all thoroughly enjoyed it. Highly recommended.

Two postscripts, though. If you have any thought of seeing this one, go see it now. Movie makers, theaters, and distributors all watch the opening weekend box office numbers very closely, and if you want to see more movies like this one made, you need to put your dollars behind it. The showing we went to was nearly full, and as we walked out there was a line waiting to get in for the next showing, but it was only showing on one screen at the cineplex, and only at one cineplex in the area. This movie is not going to be given time to "develop legs," as the expression goes. If you don't see it now, it will probably vanish from the theaters inside of two weeks.

Conservative-oriented movies, and Christian-oriented movies in particular, are frequently victims of a self-fulfilling prophecy. The audiences complain that "they just don't make the kind of movies we like anymore," while the movie-makers say, "there's no point in making those kinds of movies, because nobody goes to them." Well, this time a nice Jewish boy, David Zucker, has made a nice, funny, patriotic little movie that appeals not only to conservatives in general but is surprisingly sympathetic to Catholics in particular. So if you want to see more movies like this one — or preferably, better than this one — here's your chance to let the movie-makers know that people do go to movies like this, if they get made.

The second postscript is: I cannot believe CAIR is not screaming from the rooftops and staging protests everywhere to let everyone know how horribly, stereotypically, racially insensitively evil this movie is, in the way that it mocks the sincerely held beliefs of Arab terrorists and Islamic suicide bombers. So if for no other reason, go see this one now, before CAIR gets some idiot judge to grant an injunction banning it!