Tales of the Storage Space, Part 93

Martin was still talking. And talking. And bloody talking. He was telling No Name all about all the money he stole from the charitable organization he and Jennifer both worked for, and how he’d stupidly told Jennifer about it. He was explaining how he needed the money to fund his addiction to gambling, and how he’d gotten more money from Frank, the really dangerous loan shark he’d killed. And how Frank had turned out to be the husband Martin’s friend-with-benefits Karen was escaping when she showed up at Martin’s apartment.

No Name’s hands were shaking when she handed him her first, home-made-for-him, vanilla latte.

It was terrible, but Martin took one look at Jennifer, who was still leaning against the wall where the T-rexes had been and guzzled it gratefully.

Glaring at Jennifer, he told No Name about how Jennifer had blackmailed him into getting back together with her, but that he’d found “stuff” on her phone that meant he was actually in the better position to blackmail her.

But for all that talking he knew there was something important he’d forgotten to say about killing Frank, something important about how he’d been justified, and something else important, something about No Name’s name.

“Mo chuisle! My darling!” No Name was all over him.

But what did something that she’d said came from some overly violent American Clint Eastwood film have to do with “my darling”? Something about her name… Something about her trying to trick him…

“Let me help you!”

Yeah, sure. Tears in her eyes and everything.

“No one else needs to ever know. We can go away!”

Where? And then it came in on him: Who was this No Name anyway? Women… Karen, married to Frank the ruthless loan shark. Jennifer… And now No Name? What did she want? Was he always so taken in whenever some woman was gobsmacked with him that he never saw women were nothing but trouble?

He swatted the vanilla latte, spilling the rest on the floor. And he talked even more, talk he felt sure would un-gobsmack her. He told her about his past over-indulgence in hallucinogenic drugs, what his parents said, and all the hallucinations he’d been seeing recently. Then he yelled at her for letting Jennifer into her bloody flat.

No Name wrinkled her brow, and looked around…obviously pretending she couldn’t see Jennifer. This made Martin furious. He tried to think quickly of some place, some possible place in his life, where no women would ever be allowed. “There’s only one place I’ll be bloody safe!” he yelled at her, amazed to find he was both yelling and crying at the same time. “Prison!”

Tales of the Storage Space, Part 45

Frank felt himself freeze, then laughed at his word choice.  Fuggettaboudit!  How much colder could a fuckin’ ghost get?  But what had stopped him in his tracks, though green mists didn’t leave fuckin’ tracks, was the sight of a woman…one Frank thought he recognized…stabbing a man in the neck with the broken-off stiletto heel of a shoe.  Jugular?  Frank knew exactly what that felt like, as he watched the man’s green eyes go wide.  Vaguely he remembered some other man put something over the woman’s nose that closed her eyes, though not fast enough to stop what must have been a reflexive defense mechanism that got the wrong man.  But Frank hadn’t been paying attention then, and he was still struggling to get used to this 360-degree vision that seemed to see both everything and nothing.

Fucking A!

Now that he concentrated he could see that the man who’d knocked the woman out…with chloroform most likely, knowing his ways…was none other than his crazy partner Alex!

But Frank didn’t give a flying fuck.  His partner Alex, after all, wasn’t the one in danger.  Frank…what…flowed?…oozed?…whatever the fuck, but sure as shit didn’t walk on.

All Frank gave a shit about was that for one fuckin’ brief moment he’d been startled out of thinking about Karen.  But now he paid for it big time as it all came crashing back down on him like an avalanche of pain.  Martin.  She’d eaten, admittedly by mistake, Frank’s life’s blood and all she could think about was fuckin’ Martin.

Frank had sworn to himself that he would never again flow/ooze/whatever-the-fuck back to Karen in that storage unit.  He had sworn to himself that he no longer cared if that Shakespearean ghost lured her into death.  Fantasies of her ghost…scared, unable to adjust to 360-degree sight…seeking him out only to have him pretend he didn’t know she was there felt so good.  At least that’s what he kept fuckin’ telling himself, while the stomach he no longer had did somersaults.

Where the fuck was he?  Maybe he could distract himself again by finding some righteous bastard getting the better of some asshole in a fight, or a poor loan shark getting his money back by murdering someone.

That fuckin’ storage space building!  He could still make it out in the distance.  All this time.  All this fuckin’ time.  He could go anywhere:  Europe, Asia, the moon.  But, no.  He’d just been going around and around in circles, in orbit around Karen.

Altering America

Had enough, at least for now, of “writerly” writing that self-consciously struggles to be glib/cute/witty?  Oh…and by the way…feeling the first little nips of winter tugging at your getting-a-bit-cold-now toes?

Click here:  Altered America; Steampunk Stories by Cat Rambo

Then either prop those tootsies up in front of the fire or at least cuddle them up under a snugly warm throw.  Relax.  Let Nebula and World Fantasy Award nominee Cat Rambo draw you gently into a melodically shifting kaleidoscope of steampunked faerie tales with teeny, miniature gears.

A delightfully imaginative retelling of “Sleeping Beauty.”  Different worlds told of with convincingly different voices.  A dilapidated house, one side of which “drooped like the face of a stroke victim.”  Wisteria “in frothy purple drifts.”  A land of “folds and wrinkles.”

Contraptions abound, “each more cunning than the last.”  But perhaps, however hard to choose, the first story, “Clockwork Faeries,” has stayed with me the longest.  As a writer myself, I was quite impressed with a story in which the sole viewpoint character…utterly oblivious to his own chauvinism and yet (very real life, these apparently illogical inconsistencies) perfectly comfortable with racial diversity…so effectively communicates the errors of his ways (that he himself doesn’t see) to the reader.

Stories in which things that should always have been accepted as perfectly natural are presented as perfectly natural are wonderful and necessary.  For instance, new-SFWA-member Eneasz Brodski’s masterful “Of All Possible Worlds” stands up to Voltaire with a completely convincing character whose homosexuality is presented, as it should be, as being a perfectly natural thing that no one questions.  On the other hand, if all stories that deal with recently taboo situations treat it this way, is it possible that it becomes a bit like preaching to the choir?  Are some opportunities to alter America lost since those who might benefit most by having their horizons expanded won’t read beyond the first page?  Perhaps something can be accomplished by telling stories that explore characters with opposing points of view.

And no, I didn’t make a mistake when I entitled this post “altering” instead of “altered” America.  Because “altering” is just what I think a book like Cat Rambo’s can do.

Browne Barr: Vocation?

The poem below was written in the late 1930s by my father when he was an undergraduate student.

Vocation?

My friend, upon the world that lies below,
Now, look, this night, and think of all it knows.

The shrieks of sunlit sounds have passed away.
All joy in life is here at end of day.

A song we’ve sung; a prayer we’ve said; the crowd
Dissolved; the night is here; our faith we’ve vowed.

Today a politician’s pimple broke
And shot its friendly filth on simple folk.

The statistician raved and said we might
All be extinct before the fall of night.

The dietitian thought we could not live
Without the vitamins she had to give,

That clean and purge and make men strong.  She said
The children were obnoxious if well fed.

The politicians, statisticians, too
Know only of the Lilliputians’ view.

Perhaps they’ve never thought at end of day,
When shrieks of sunlit sounds have passed away

That there is not abidance in the facts
When they alone administrate our acts.

Perhaps they’ve never felt the warmth of night
That mitigates all aching in its light

Or seen the hills that lie around their town
And heard their deathless call to eyes cast down,

“Lift up unto the hills.  There find the source
Of power, strength, tenacity and force.”

Tonight, my friend, we think of life ahead.
We see some bodies ache, some minds ‘most dead.

Let’s go awake their minds, relieve the pain
Of Lilliputian views that never gain

For them a favoured hour at end of day
When shrieks of sunlit sounds have passed away.

Final Favorite Films (for foreseeable future)

If you need to search a little to find these, I think it’s worth it.

  1. THE THIN MAN (1934).  The camera makes its way through the tuxedoed gents at a posh bar to find our leading man, William Powell, the most elegant of them all.  So what if the character he plays is such a consummate alcoholic he can hardly stand?  Or if he’s living off his rich wife and sprawls across the sofa Christmas morning to amuse himself with his new BB gun by shooting the ornaments off the tree?  None can match this couple’s gentility with the possible exception of Astor, their dog.
  2. DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944).  Sizzling tale of insurance fraud.  Possibly the classic film noir of all time.
  3. DEAD RECKONING (1947).  Speaking of noir, this one with Humphrey Bogart includes Lizabeth Scott, the queen of noir.  I just hope I remember Bogie’s advise at the end when it’s my time to die.
  4. BLADE RUNNER (1982, original theatrical release with the old gumshoe-detective voiceovers).  Moving right along to neo-noir and in anticipation of Blade Runner 2049, the sequel to be released in October, please don’t miss my all-time favorite film for many years.  Director Ridley Scott’s steamy, deliciously exotic but grubbily believable future haunts me still.
  5. THE TRIPLETS OF BELLEVILLE (2003).  Worth it for the artistry of the animation alone, but a delightfully weird romp overall.

Further Favorite Films

You may also need to search for some of these.  Again, in my opinion, it’s worth it.

  1. GUNGA DIN (1939).  Not to have seen this rollicking, Saturday-afternoon-matinee-style tale of British India isn’t an oversight; it’s a crime.  Afterwards (spoiler alert), treat yourself to both the Rudyard Kipling poem it’s based on and its 1939 movie review in The New York Times.
  2. D.O.A. (1950).  Starts with a guy staggering into a police station:  “I want to report a murder.”  Cop:  “Who was murdered?”  Guy:  “I was.”
  3. HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR (1959).  Nothing has ever illustrated with such accuracy the nutty, optical-illusion-like reality shifts in a relationship.
  4. NIGHT ON EARTH (1991).  When I saw the Rome sequence with Roberto Benigni the first time, I laughed so hard I honestly feared choking.
  5. HORATIO’S DRIVE:  AMERICA’S FIRST ROAD TRIP (2003).  Folksy, fun and imaginatively convincing reconstruction of the true story of the first person to successfully cross the United States in a car in 1903.  The best part is that Horatio had no qualifications whatsoever to do this…starting with only a whim, a $50 bet, and no car.

 

Five Favorite Films

You may need to search for some of these.  In my opinion, it’s worth it.

  1. PICCADILLY (1929).  What could be better than seeing a gorgeous black-and-white exactly as it was seen in 1929?…which is to say not in black and white.  This rare theatrical-release version is tinted blue for the exterior shots at night, where stately vehicles discharge elegantly clad customers in front of a posh London nightclub.  The interior sparkles with warm, peachy brilliance from its amber tint.  The absolutely luscious Jameson Thomas, as the swanky nightclub owner, drips elegance with every move.  Anna May Wong, the immigrant kitchen worker who claws her way from rags to riches, is the consummate femme fatale.  Finally, the newly composed music for the soundtrack is magnificent.
  2. NOTORIOUS (1946).  Hitchcock directed this sizzling noir with a notorious Ingrid Bergman, Cary Grant, and Claude Rains.
  3. THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI (1947).  Poor Orson Welles is no match for Rita Hayworth.
  4. SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950).  How can you resist a film that starts with the camera looking up from the bottom of a swimming pool at the main character…who’s floating face down, dead, and about to tell us how he got that way?
  5. LIMELIGHT (1952).  You thought The Little Tramp was a soulful charmer in silent films?  Wait till you hear Charlie Chaplin talk!  He wrote and directed this story of a fading performer that fits him like the proverbial glove.

A Christmas in the Fifties

Christmas 1947 in New York, New York, had its Miracle on 34th Street.  But for my brother John and me, exactly ten years later, Christmas 1957 in Hamden, Connecticut, had its miracle on Giles Street.

It started when something I would never have believed possible occurred:  Instead of my brother John and I waking our father up on Christmas morning, he woke us up.  Then, before we could even get out of bed, he gave each of us the strangest possible gift, a teeny ball of string.  And it wasn’t even all wrapped up.  Groggily I got out of bed to wrap up the rest but realized it went all the way across my room and out the door.

My father called after me, “Promise me that, no matter what, you won’t look up from that string till you find its end.”

“I promise,” said I, with no idea what I was in for.

I tottered along the upstairs hallway, wrapping the string up as I went.  The teeny ball was getting bigger.  I heard my older brother John up ahead of me somewhere, wondering where the end of his string was, but I didn’t look up.

The string I was following led into the spare room.  Ah, thought I, it must end with something that’s hidden in here!  But no.  I followed the string over boxes and under old furniture and around a cracked mirror, but then it lead me back out of the room.  The teeny ball I kept adding to, as I rewound the string I was following onto it, wasn’t at all teeny any more.

As I followed my string down the stairs, I realized without even looking up that the whole house had been festooned with string like cobwebs.  John and I were crawling under and over everything from the furniture to the dog to each other.

Finally we arrived in the living room where I followed the instructions exactly but John looked up just before he got to the end of his string.  I heard his sharp gasp of surprise.  Then my hand came to the end of my string, against what seemed like an oddly opaque window, slightly green.   Looking up at last, I saw that the window had a large picture-like frame, but it wasn’t anywhere near an outside wall of the house.  Instead it was part of a huge, boxlike piece of blonde-wood furniture.

Our father turned it on.  The Lone Ranger called, “Hi-Yo, Silver!” as his white horse reared before galloping across that green-tinted window.  It was our first TV.

Five Great Spec Fiction Books Amazon Ships for Free

Twisted (new author's edition 2015)

Even if those people you still have to get holiday gifts for aren’t great speculative fiction fans, I think these personal picks of mine will please just about any intelligent person with an active imagination.  Some aren’t even technically speculative fiction, or purely speculative fiction, but rather a “slipstream” mix of speculative fiction and mainstream which should appeal to all.  And all qualify for free shipping on Amazon if your book order totals $25 or more.

  1. ALL THE NAMES BY JOSÉ SARAMAGO.  I don’t think anyone else would classify this as even slipstream, let alone speculative fiction, but I argue any book where a character lies in bed and talks to the ceiling…and the ceiling talks back…qualifies!  While certainly not for the hardcore fan of military sci fi (no photon torpedoes), I believe most will be charmed by the gentle whimsy of this tale of a lonely and lowly clerk by an author who won the Nobel Prize for literature.
  2. ENDER’S GAME BY ORSON SCOTT CARD.  This one’s definitely speculative fiction, in fact sci fi.  Many, including the author, seem to prefer the next book in the series, Speaker for the Dead.  While I agree that Speaker for the Dead is an excellent book, I fear it sometimes eclipses Ender’s Game, a fate Ender’s Game does not deserve!  Personally I prefer the greater power of story and plotting I found in Ender’s Game.  This is a book that I believe both teens and adults can appreciate, and I don’t think one has to have read any of the previous books in the series before reading Ender’s Game (though I did, and they were good, too).  Ender’s Game won both the Nebula and Hugo Awards.
  3. 2312 BY KIM STANLEY ROBINSON.  This is an amazing feat of science fiction writing, which opens with a sequence set on a colonized Mercury that is sheer perfection.  Among its many achievements is the author’s way of segregating longer scientific explanations into separate sections that are really enjoyable and interesting…but also very easy to skip if one just wants to keep going with the story.  2312 won a very well-deserved Nebula Award.
  4. ROCOCO BY SUE HOLLISTER BARR.  What?  You doubt my objectivity?  It is sci fi, set in a future I think you’ll find amusing if your sense of humor, like mine, is a bit on the dark side.
  5. TWISTED BY SUE HOLLISTER BARR.  This one’s horror, and it could be argued I went overboard by making it really sick horror.  But many have enjoyed this tale of 60s hippies attempting to escape a fate they can’t outrun since it was first (conventionally) published.  And I believe my new author’s edition, published in 2015, is even better.

Ink Splatters 3