Posted in Life, Uncategorized, Writing

Inspiration and the Idea of the Muse

I am sure all the writers out there have different ways for finding inspiration. It isn’t a one size fits all type of thing. For me, I often use headphones and music to help me get in the  mood. For action scenes I often use tunes that are taken from soundtracks. These soundtracks are often movies, but also video games or even television shows. Defiance has an amazing score that I can listen to looped. Bear McCreary also did the soundtrack for the Battlestar Galactica Reboot, and I just love how he uses instrumentation with synth type sounds. It just says, “this is sci-fi, buckle your seats.” Defiance Soundtrack.

If I want a more fantasy style drama, anything Lord of the Rings will do. Or Enya, or Yanni, or anything by Yasunori Mitsuda, the composer responsible for the unforgettable and unbelievably amazing ChronoCross score. For those that are  not into video games, or older video games, ChronoCross was a game for the Playstation, a Sony console that came out around the same time as the Nintendo 64. This was the system that launched Sony into gaming and finally gave Nintendo some competition other than Sega.

Mitsuda often mixes almost Celtic style sounds with American Indian, mixed with Japanese and a hint of new age. And it works. Amazingly well. So well, you can still get the soundtrack even though the game itself is not that popular, plus it is like twenty years old or more now. For those that may be curious : Chrono Cross OST

There are a few orchestral versions out there as well, that are very well done. Video Games Live put out a  Through Time and Space compilation that has a beautiful version of Scars of Time, one of the defining songs of the game. Of course, Final Fantasy also has a ton of amazing music that I listen to as well, especially orchestral versions of FF7 and older. I just prefer the oldies. But Chronocross has a special place in my heart perhaps because it is a little more obscure. Video Games Live Scars of Time.

Now, if I want something like a tragic love scene, I listen to everything from Adele, to the Carpenters. I have a sad love song playlist just for this. And, a happy love song list, and a dramatic list, and a more action like list. The headphones also help block out the distractions of the television, the cat and whatever else may be going on. It kinda makes me focus and set aside time that is undivided and just for writing which I find useful.

How do you get inspired? What helps kick start your writing? Do you believe something or someone can be your muse? I have been inspired by people more than once, sometimes they don’t even know they actually inspired me. Actually, that is usually the case.

Overhearing bits and pieces of conversations at coffee shops or in the laundromat is why I love writing in public spaces. But sometimes, a certain person will inspire me more than most. That is my muse, and the music of course always helps. I find I am most inspired when I get inspired by people and the music and life experiences. It all helps. I would say not one person or thing is my muse, but the collective environment around me is usually my muse.

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Posted in Fiction, Uncategorized

Writing Prompt –Parallel Universe

Inspired by James Mascia’s Other Worlds.

Your character or group of characters has walked through a dimensional rift and finds himself/herself in a parallel universe where almost everything is the same except for several minor details. However, these details have a huge impact on the way the world has formed.

“Okay team, you ready to go through? This is only the second time the rift has been opened. We tracked Mushroom the monkey for a week before his transmitter failed so we know the rift itself won’t kill you. What is on the other side, well, we got a hand full of images sent back before the signal died. And, the good news is the place is so much like here, except it appears the air and water quality are much better. This might be the future. You have been chosen to assess the risks and possibilities.

“The goal will be to explore, but make it back here in exactly a week’s time, at 0500 hours. That is when it will be open again, so it is imperative that you make it back to the rendezvous on time. Else, you will have to stay until we send another team. If one of you is compromised, make sure the equipment makes it back with somebody to the point so we get the data.

“We can plan a rescue mission if need be, but we need that information.” The old man took a moment to drink from a glass of water, handing the glass to an assistant who quietly walked away with it. “Any questions?” The five of them looked at the  blue and purple swirling mass a few feet away, scientists and robots zoomed about making adjustments.

This was it, another universe so like their own. The future lay in the hope that this may be the answer to their prayers. “One question, sir.” Lilly raised her voice looking directly at the old man, the leader of this mission. A mission that few knew about, but could affect millions. “Yes, Ms. Neil?”  He glanced at his watch, a timer for the rift set and ticking away.

“Do we know what happened to Mushroom?”

“No, he may have disconnected his collar walking around, we have no recordings or information of violence. It just stopped sending, so it is hard to say. If you happen to find Mushroom, it would be useful to bring his gear back so we can find out what happened. If not, your information should of course be enough. I will say again, this only works if someone makes it back. So, no unnecessary risks.”

Lilly and the rest of the team nodded, facing the rift before them. This was their duty to their country. It was an honor as well. Gershwin and Trombone were military and trained for survival, whereas Lilly and Severn were more scientific minded intellectuals. Nigel was sort of a cross between the two, a former military NASA astronaut. He would lead the mission as he understood both parts of it.

Should something befall Nigel, Lilly was supposed to take charge, although she hoped she wouldn’t have to. Gershwin and Trombone had largely been silent and uncommunicative with her. She couldn’t help but wonder if they had special orders that were kept from the rest. Again, she hoped she wouldn’t find out.

“Good luck ladies, and gentlemen, take your packs, there should be enough rations to survive a week. If you  befriend any locals, even if they seem just like us, be aware that they aren’t. We don’t know their motivations or even if they will react kindly to our arrival.”

They each picked up a heavy hiking style backpack with rations water, and an emergency kit.  They were a well oiled machine. They had been preparing for months for this moment. They lined up and slowly walked up to the portal and one by one passed through it.

Lilly felt a cold sensation and a pin prickling feeling all over and before she could think much more about it she was on the other side with the rest of the team. They backed away from the portal as it flickered and finally disappeared. They were alone.

It was a rocky area with shrubs. Reminiscent of Arizona, she thought. “I used to go running and hiking in Arizona.” She said aloud to no one in particular. The sky was a vivid blue with fluffy white clouds. She breathed in deeply. Fresh clean air. She let it out feeling the sensation in her lungs.

“Let’s set up camp, set our receiver here. We cannot afford to lose the rendezvous point. After we have a perimeter set up, we can explore a little in teams. Meet back here in ten. Everyone has a walkie on them right? We have to keep in touch, any sign of Mushroom let me know. So, first set up, then we explore a little, don’t go too far out.” Nigel looked at each one of them. Lilly set her pack down, started to get the tent out.  She saw the others do the same. Severn started to wander off.

“Severn? Where you going? Nigel wants us to set up first?”

“I am not going far, I thought I heard something.”

“I think we are supposed to go in pairs or not alone.”

“You see where I’m heading right? I am not going far, I promise.”

Lilly watched Severn go over the hill and walk down with rocks sliding about and he disappeared from view.

“Hey, Lilly, you need a hand setting up?”

“No, I’m okay, I just watched Severn head down there.”

“By himself?”

“Yeah, he claimed he heard something.”

Nigel frowned a little. “Hey, Gershwin, can you go after Severn? Just make sure he doesn’t get himself in trouble, he went that direction.” Gershwin nods, shouldering a rifle, and his pack setting off carefully in the direction Severn went.

“Don’t worry, Lilly. Gershwin is a great tracker, and I am sure they both will be fine. In the meantime, we gotta get the fire going, and all the tents up, plus our receiver and beacon so we can transmit. This looks like a pretty empty area, which is good, we won’t have to explain any of this to the natives. ”

Lilly smiled and tried to sound unconcerned. But, something about the way Severn acted seemed off. She hadn’t heard anything. Yet, he heard something. They were just told not to go alone and to keep in touch. “Nigel.”

Nigel turned around and looked at her and saw where she was pointing. Severn’s pack lay on the ground, his walkie peeking out of it. “Why would he not take water? Why leave everything?  Can you help me get some kindling, not much here, but some brush, maybe we can use that. Try not to worry.”

“He didn’t seem right, he didn’t seem like himself. Something seemed off.”

“You think going through the rift made him forgetful?” Nigel laughed as he went about breaking pieces off the sagebrush with a snap. Trombone was setting up a perimeter fence, a  serious frown on his face. “How much do you know about Trombone and Gershwin?”

“I know those aren’t there real names. I know they are military of some sort, and we need some people who know how to protect us. I trust them. They are all about the mission. And it succeeding.”

“What if their mission isn’t the same as ours?”

Nigel shook his head. “Are you sure the rift didn’t make you paranoid? We have only been here, maybe 30 minutes tops, and all ready you are worrying. I know as much as you do. It is just information gathering.”

Lilly nodded again, keeping him close. “Shouldn’t Severn have been back by now?”

“You know how he can be, if he is on the trail of something he can lose track of time. That is why it is so important to take your walkie. The only cell tower we got here is our receiver and it fires information into the portal at intervals where they open it briefly. So, we have to do it the old fashioned way, with radio frequencies, which is why I am mad at him for not taking his.”

Night was beginning to fall all ready, the air began to take on a chill air. Trombone and Nigel worked on the fire, while Lilly finished setting up the receiver. There was still no sign of Severn or Gershwin. The receiver had a green light come on as the generator kicked into life, generating a heater. She held her hands to it. “Who knew the desert could be so cold.”

“Do you want the actual answer to that, because you should know how that works, you know, once the sun sets.” She smiled at Nigel. He was the only likable one on the team since Severn had left.

She found herself increasingly nervous. The fire crackled and spit sparks. It was a safe distance from the machinery. It was mostly to keep any animals away. The heat from the generator plus the electricity it provided for their tools and materials and machines would ensure they stayed near. The fire also helped light up the edges of their perimeter, where Trombone was on duty pacing it with his rifle at the ready, watching and waiting.

“I hope he doesn’t accidentally shoot the others.”

“Gershwin and him have a signal, I am sure they won’t shoot each other.”

“What about Severn?”

“Do you always worry about him so?”

“Nigel. Severn is my brother. Half brother, actually. or Step brother. My father remarried, so, yeah, I have been worrying about him since he was like nine. I haven’t ever really stopped. He has always been a dare devil. But, he is normally more cautious. He isn’t stupid, nor is he usually careless.”

“You need to stop, Lilly. You are worrying way too much. As far as we know, there is nothing to be afraid of here. We have seen no evidence of any settlements. Nor even any animal sightings. Have you checked the soil readings yet? We know the air is pretty good, and we haven’t found any water yet, but there must be some around here, because Mushroom found some.”

“We also do not know what happened to Mushroom.”

Suddenly she heard a loud squeal, it sounded like a whistle or an animal call. “What was that?” Nigel laid a hand on her arm briefly, putting a finger to his lips gesturing for silence.

She saw him glance toward the fire, seeing Trombone’s silhouette, rifle out. He had stopped pacing, was listening as well. Suddenly an arrow whizzed by their heads. “Get behind the apparatus, hurry.” Nigel picked up the arrow and got to the ground, pulling Lilly along, and pushing her down into the reddish dirt. He handed her the arrow. “What do you make of that?”

“It’s. It’s an Indian arrowhead. Like the kind that was used in the nineteenth century against Custer.”

“Quiet. You got any kind of weapon on you?” Lilly flashes a small knife. Nigel looks at it, and kind of frowns. He slowly gets a small gun out, cocks it and makes sure it is loaded. They hear gunfire near the fire. “Trombone.”

Suddenly they hear horses. The hoof beats were loud and the warriors were making loud noises as well and more arrows and additional gunfire erupted around them.  Lilly got nearer to Nigel, her hand shaking gripping her knife. “We have to get them to open the portal now. Have to enter the emergency code.”

“Nigel, if you get up now, you will be killed.”

“Can you fire a gun? You can cover for me.”

“They have guns too, there’s more than just Trombone’s shots going off.”

“This explains why the air and the water are in such good shape. The British settlers, the Europeans in this place did not make it. They must have died off from diseases instead of the native populace. Or some other situation. These people continued to live as they always had, except with guns and horses of course. So, there had been an invasion, but it was unsuccessful here. But they must remember, because of this hostility. They know what invaders are now, they aren’t naive or trusting. Nor are they taking any chances.”

“I don’t want to die like this.” Lilly looked up at Nigel in fear, he handed her his gun. “Then don’t. Cover for me, let me get us out of here.”

“But my brother?”

“Lilly, we have to get out of here now. We will come back, I promise.”

“He’s dead isn’t he?”

“I honestly don’t know.”

They heard Trombone’s gun click, saw his silhouette go down to hatchets and shrieking. “It’s now or never.” Nigel jumped up and ran to the console. Lilly slowly got up pointing the gun at the natives who were surrounding the fence and knocking it down in places. She saw one warrior place a pike near the fire. He held up Trombone’s head and placed it on it, loudly. Lilly felt her stomach start to grumble uneasily, choking down her vomit tasting the acid bitter taste.

“Almost done, Lilly. They don’t seem to be paying us any mind anymore.”

“Maybe it is because we aren’t shooting at them.”

“Well, I think they were distracted with Trombone, as soon as they realize we are here, I am not sure they will bother talking to us.”

Lilly watched a couple warriors setting fire to the tents. She grabbed up her satchel with her notes in it. “We didn’t have time to get many samples.”

“We can’t worry about that now. It’s okay.”

“You promise?”

The rift flared open, at the same time an arrow thudded loudly nearby. Lilly ran for it firing an occasional shot. “Nigel, come on, it’s open!”

He was slumped on the panel, an arrow in his back.”Go, go ahead. Run.” Lilly stopped and turned back toward Nigel, firing shots in the direction of the natives until the gun went click. She dropped her satchel, grabbed him by the arm and with her adrenaline running in her veins pulsing and  throbbing in her ears enabling her to find strength and speed unknown to her, not thinking merely doing, her legs poetry in motion she carried him like an oversized sack of potatoes. Arrows and bullets whizzing here and there, fire consuming the tents, the receiver began to spark wildly and the rift started to flicker and on she ran.

“Only a little farther, you should just drop me and go. The mission.It is more important.”

She didn’t reply because she couldn’t spare the breath or think of the words.  She sprinted carrying the man she knew in this moment she would love until she died. They both crashed into the rift into a pile on the other side, the metal floor crashing into their bruised bodies. Soldiers had guns pointing at the portal as it was shut down an arrow whizzed into the room. Lilly felt her brain go fuzzy, and things started to go blurry and dim for her.

“Get these two some medical attention, now.” The old man bellowed.  He picked up the arrow looking at it carefully. “So much like our world, but more pristine. Unplundered, unpolluted. Underpopulated. No sign of Mushroom, I take it?”

“Sir, both of these members of the team are unconscious. We are still receiving a signal from the other side, further away from the campsite. Are we to assemble a rescue team?”

“Wait until we have these two debriefed. They might give us more information on possible survivors or what exactly happened. Mushroom could still be out there since he isn’t a human, they might not have killed him. I still think his collar was removed or damaged. The signal is coming from Gershwin I suppose?”

“Yes. He was following the other scientist, I think that scientist was attempting to track Mushroom, actually.”

“Interesting. Well, we will try to get these two fixed up and see what they know, and go from there. This just got interesting, gentlemen.” The old man handed the arrow to his assistant who again took it quietly and walked away with it much like the water glass earlier.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Life, Uncategorized

Happy Valentine’s Day — The Day After

I have  mixed feelings this time of year. I miss having a partner or a shoulder to lean on and this particular day always seems to make me more self conscious that I am a single mom. I know if I wanted someone with a pulse I could have someone easily.

I am not bad to look at, I would even call me pretty. I am fairly intelligent. Not the smartest person I know, but I would still think I am above average for sure. I try to be kind, respectful and understanding. Do I always succeed? No, but that is part of being human.

We are flawed, but I have always believed doing your best was good enough and all one can expect. I like to reach for the stars, but I don’t beat myself up for not quite getting there. Because I know that isn’t realistic.

But somehow when it comes to dating and finding someone; I am way too picky, and I just don’t find many people I can relate to. And, often when I do, they are either taken, or not interested, or somehow unavailable emotionally or somehow unable to show affection in some capacity.

I guess my picker is broken as they say. I guess I feel I have to be picky because the last serious relationship I had ended unexpectedly and suddenly for me. The signs were there, if I had been paying attention. Little hints, comments mixed within casual conversation, a sudden edginess or irritability that when I asked what was wrong I was told repeatedly “nothing.”

Of course, something was wrong, but the communication pathways were all ready being shut. The escape plan was all ready set in motion. The replacement was all ready found. When the end came, I didn’t see it. Maybe because I didn’t want to, maybe because he didn’t want me to.

People often don’t want to hurt my feelings because I seem nice. What they fail to understand is, not telling me, not explaining things, walking away without explanation or any sort of closure, does way more damage than hurting my feelings.

Your mind does crazy things when you have no answers. You tend to fill in the blanks with reasons and excuses. You tend to make up reasons, and you wonder what is happening and how all this came to be.

Eventually things fade, and go away, but the damage in this instance was pretty bad. The collateral damage done to my young son lasted years, as the thoughtless promise “I always come back” the young toddler took literally. He waited years for this person to come back. No explanation from me seemed to work, only time has helped and I am still left with some separation anxiety, and worries about abandonment.

I have been on dates since that time. Get back on the horse and try again and all that. But, I am reluctant to get serious because of what happened and have found myself increasingly picky about who passes muster. Perhaps gravitating toward unavailable people is a way of protecting myself from getting hurt, but it hurts all the same.

I hope this year enables me to find someone willing to work with me and see the diamond underneath the damaged exterior and is willing to stand by me as I rediscover my strengths because I do have a lot to offer and I do believe in true love.

I am an optimist at heart and I can’t stop believing somewhere there are people out there who can appreciate a sensitive kind soul who just wants to love and be loved in return. Not looking for someone with wealth or to be taken care of, just someone to share the journey.

Good luck to all, and much happiness to any that pass this way. I love love, but it is a difficult topic for me at times. Most of the time I am not lonely, but this time of year just seems to bring up the bad as well as the good.

But if I have learned anything, it is that things can always change and that the future is full of hope and that life is what you make of it and I am proud of how much writing I have been doing and of what a wonderful person my son is becoming.

Life can be hard but it can also be beautiful and I am learning to treasure the moments and see the light instead of the darkness. Because my life has been pretty blessed and I have to make myself stop and think how it could be always be worse and that my life is only getting better. I have a roof over my head and food and the love of my family and a decent income. My life is actually pretty good. Perhaps I work too much, perhaps I tend to take things for granted, perhaps I could be wiser, or more frugal at times.

Perhaps I can improve. I am trying to focus on me and improve my physical health and organize around the house, and I have been meditating and trying to learn patience and generally be a better person. I don’t know the future, but I know I have learned from my past and I feel it is time to let the past baggage go and try again. So, I am going to be braver, and take more risks.

I am also going to be smarter and think carefully before jumping into things. I am going to take my time. Time is precious but you tend to miss warning signs when you are in a hurry. And, I feel that love is very important. I want to make good memories and have no regrets.

Posted in Fiction, Uncategorized

Writing Prompt — An Overcrowded Place

Earth is overcrowded and a scientist is tasked with coming up with a solution. From James Mascia’s Other Worlds writing prompts.

“We are all depending on you, Derrick. We have about five years left as far as sustainability goes, and then it all goes to hell. So, with that in mind, good luck. You will have access to the latest equipment, the best we can find as far as assistants and techs and anything you feel you might need that isn’t all ready here.” Mr. Gibson walked briskly through the lab gesturing toward the tables and computers  in pristine condition along the walls.

Techs walked by in white coats with clip boards in their arms hurrying about. A large screen had numbers tabulating changing by the minute. This was the  most space Derrick had seen in years. It almost seemed excessive, this room to maneuver.  The cleanliness of it was startling.

Something tended to happen with over crowding, people started to care less. About their environment, each other, things like cleanliness, like taking care or notice of others, of being human beings tend to disappear.

Survival of the fittest comes to mind. Yes, it all becomes a large Darwinian experiment. Which rat will churn the butter and which will drown in it. Only, Derrick couldn’t recall what real butter tasted like. There wasn’t room for actual cows anymore. They require too  much grain, too much land, too many resources. Starving kids were a common sight now, not just in far off places, but right here in Washington. Their eyes begged him, find a way, save us, we are the future. The future of what, though? A garbage heap?

Many of the upper class had been heavily investing in space travel in the hopes of leaving this dirty tattered Earth behind for other places to plunder. The poor and less fortunate were stuck here, with what is left of this world, too many hungry mouths like baby birds opening wide shrieking for food.

He had to brush past the homeless  clawing at his clothes to get in the building, their eyes hungry pleading, find a way, find a way, saying in their own way: “This is your future, you will be stuck and die down here with us…unless you can find a way…”

All the education in the world wouldn’t make him a part of the upper tier. He had been born in the wrong neighborhood, the wrong shade of brown. He was doomed to rot here with the undesirables which made him uniquely suited to solve this problem. He had everything at stake as well. He was in between the worlds of the top and the bottom, educated and financially in a fair place, but not included in the club because of his lowly birth. A go between of sorts. A last hope, so much pressure, so little time.

“Derrick? Any initial thoughts?”

“Is this whole mission just a distraction, or is it really possible? Am I part of a token solution to alleviate panic, or do you believe in this? That we can solve this?”

“To  be honest, I don’t know if we have enough time left to solve this. But we have to try, right? If we don’t try, we will fail for sure.” Mr. Gibson patted him on the back, and nodded and walked out in his  dark grey suit. Derrick heard the door shut with a click, his fate was sealed it seems. Too many people not enough resources.

You cannot create something from nothing, how to solve this dilemma without resorting to something truly evil like mass death? Derrick sat in a chair at a long table a blank computer screen waiting for him to put in his credentials a yellow legal pad next to it with a freshly sharpened pencil on it, waiting.

“Would you like some coffee, sir?” A woman in a white coat asks him with a cup in her hand. “Coffee? I haven’t had any coffee in so long. Sure.” He looked at her a moment, saw the fear in her eyes, the fear of failure times a thousand. All these people depending on him and his team and whatever answer he came up with would undoubtedly be bad for someone.

Energy cannot be created or destroyed, merely transferred from one place to another. Perhaps there is something there. If we could harness our garbage, and somehow make it into food, somehow  make it sustainable. That might be food for thought. He tapped the pencil a few times on the pad, writing down “waste. this is what we have the most of. Food is what we need. How to turn waste into food, and have it fulfill nutritional needs?”

 

Posted in Fiction, Uncategorized, Writing

Early February Birthdays — Dickens and Verne

dickens-david-copperfieldAgain, we have a couple classic authors who have influenced literature, sci-fi and fantasy.

Charles Dickens wrote many novels of which I have read David Copperfield and some of his short stories including the A Christmas Carol, as well as a few others. I think I read a part of Great Expectations but I would have to read it again. I have seen so many movie versions of it that the novel would be obscured for me, and I’m not sure I currently own a copy. My David Copperfield is pretty old, I think it is a paperback from the fifties or sixties. One of my finds, and I have read it a few times adding my creases to the ones it had before.

His characters in the stories I have read were often over the top and had at times bizarre sounding names. He also dealt with in his writings, the many ills of the early industrial era, most notably, work houses, debtor’s prison, homelessness, child labor, and poverty. He wrote with a purpose. Bleak House was another of my favorites as it had spontaneous human combustion in it, which alone would make it interesting, but also dealt with the ridiculousness of British bureaucracy and the insane albeit exaggerated, amount of time and money to collect an inheritance from the courts.

Sadly, Dickens experienced a lot of these situations first hand. He had to live with his family in a real debtor’s prison, and he eventually was sold into an apprenticeship doing hard labor as a child so his family could eat. If he didn’t end up with a benefactor, he would not have gotten the education or had the ability to become a journalist, and eventually, a writer.

The modern equivalent of a benefactor would be something like the National Endowment of the Arts in the United States that allows some writers to actually survive working as writers. It is slated to be de-funded by the current administration and seen as a waste of tax payer’s money. I do not know if we have many patrons around that will replace this, but hopefully, some well-to-do philanthropists will step into the void. Otherwise, some potential Dickens will be working two part time jobs and in debt to his eyeballs trying to scrape together money for community college tuition. And just not make it. This kind of thing can make someone believe in their dream and succeed, or give up on it and settle for the day to day grind.

As far as influencing sci-fi, unless we count the spontaneous human combustion in Bleak House, I have to say Dickens has not influenced it much. However, he has considerably influence in fantasy through his direct influence on Mervyn Peake.

Peake’s characters in Gormenghast and Titus Groan have the dickens like quality in their names, and their over the top nature. At the time they were published, and I have editions from this time, fantasy wasn’t really a label. Most published fantasy was directed at children. This was the late sixties, Tolkien was changing the whole market, but it hadn’t happened quite yet. Peake’s novels which were called “Gothic Novels” for lack of a better term, were fantasy as we think of it today but not much like the Tolkien variety or the C.S. Lewis version.

Peake was an atheist. And, he had some shorter works included in my omnibus edition of the Gormenghast novels that use heavy allegory with a lamb used in a sinister way. I would say being that these authors were all British that this was a direct attack toward Lewis, or a rebuttal to Narnia of sorts. The villain in the novels, Steerpike, is based on several characters. Satan for one, but also Steerforth, a character from David Copperfield, and the Phantom of the Opera as well. Steerforth isn’t evil like Steerpike, but, he is reckless, ambitious, and doomed in the end. But, Dickens influence in the characters and their exaggeration has made its mark on the Fantasy genre through Peake.

Jules Verne who was born on February 8th, 1828 is one of the founders of science-fiction. He along with H.G.Wells is often given credit for making it a viable genre. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea introduces Captain Nemo for the first time, one of my favorite characters. Nemo is Latin for no one and is an alias for a man from India. That conjures a  bit of a different image of the character when you consider his background, he experienced colonialism first hand, at least in theory. Verne leaves Nemo very mysterious, the story is told from the viewpoint of a visitor or prisoner on the Nautilus, and Nemo is left an enigma. He is re-used in Mysterious Island as well. Around the World in 80 Days is another Verne classic. The fact that he used submarines before they were a viable technology, which at the time they were thought a far fetched idea, is what science-fiction would be known for in the future: attempting to predict the future.

1984 is a good example of this, attempting to show what a future totalitarian state may be like, also Brave New World, and most dystopia novels you may find. Now, this is being considered a viable sub-genre with the recent surge in popularity that it is enjoying due to the fear of the future many have right now. I would say venturing into this genre right now would be a good idea, although soon there may be an over abundance in this category like Vampire Fiction experienced some years back after Meyer’s Twilight success.

To  sum up, both writer’s were ahead of their time, dealing with possible technology on one hand, and using writing to detail society’s issues with the other, and both heavily influenced future genres that had not existed when they were writing, at least as we think of them today. I would easily add any book from either of these authors to my collection without a second thought. They are both easy to read given they were writing in the nineteenth century, and they both hold up today unlike many of their contemporaries.

Posted in Fiction, Uncategorized, Writing

A belated Birthday post for Edgar Allen Poe and Philip Jose Farmer

philip-jose-farmerBoth gentlemen were born in late January. Poe on the 19th and Farmer on the 26th. Both have influenced the genre of Science Fiction, and both were very interesting individuals.

The real cause of Poe’s death is still unknown, although alcoholism is the one that I hear the most. Still, his short stories along with his contemporary Nathaniel Hawthorne, influenced my own quite a bit. Most of them tended to be “Gothic” a precursor to horror and suspense. But he did write a few that could be called science fiction-like and actually he did influence Jules Verne. Poe was actually more popular in Europe than America. He was a literary critic, so he made some enemies of his fellow American writers. Longfellow was an example of this.

I once edited the science-fiction section of an E zine which no longer exists called Nevermore Magazine, named after the line in his poem The Raven, probably his best known work still. Even “The Simpson’s” covered it in a Halloween special. His contribution to genre fiction extends to the detective genre as he influenced Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who wrote the Sherlock Holmes stories.

I always found his short stories, another thing he popularized in America, to be dark, brooding and a little bit melancholy. “The Fall of the House of Usher” has always been one of my favorites. It is just haunting, and tragic, and it is like all the characters are destined to this final ending, which they can’t avoid. They are all stuck, inexorably drawn into the destruction of the house and the family all in that one moment.

The Raven is also rather sad. Death is a frequent theme in his work. I think the reason I like Hawthorne, is a lot of his short stories in “Twice Told Tales” are a bit more light-hearted, or magical. They aren’t all doom and gloom, although some deal with ghosts and the like, his writing tends to be more hopeful. Less dark. When there is darkness, it is mostly attributed to the Puritans, and their religion interestingly.

Poe seems to have this darkness in the background, this sadness permeating most of his Gothic stories. I have to assume he influenced Lovecraft with the idea of making the setting itself creepy, the family residence of Usher and the town in The Shadow Over Innsmouth both take on a creepiness beyond any action of the characters themselves.

The Masque of the Red Death is another classic, dealing with the plague and how death once let in, chooses its victims at random. Of course the Pit and the Pendulum and The Black Cat deal with suspense. Using the sound of scratching in the wall to reveal the body  buried in the wall was pure genius. Poe often used sounds to further the horror and action.

In Usher, the scratching of the lady of the house on her coffin attempting to get out, causes the suspense. Perhaps his background of reading and writing poetry caused a  preference for sound instead of merely sight being the most important driving force of the action in these works.

Premature burial was a common thing he used to instill horror and suspense and it actually did happen back then as people could be presumed dead and buried and not actually be dead. Sometimes the most horrific fictional things can be inspired by actual events.

Part 2: Farmer, a modernizing influence on Sci-fi.

Philip Jose Farmer wrote in the sixties and seventies and beyond. He died in 2009. I have bought a few of his books in the past but I think they were all lost in my paperback trade in fiasco. He is known for introducing sex to science fiction. He also would deal with religion and would write stories under pseudonyms of fictional characters, most infamously, he used Kilgore Trout for Venus on the Half-Shell.

He had originally got permission from Vonnegut to use his character, but offended him in the end, so he couldn’t use it again. There is a daring in his choosing to write this way, and he also did mash-ups of genres, blending Melville’s Moby Dick into science fiction, using a descendant of Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. Nothing was sacred. He used Jesus as a character as well.

Heinlein thanks him in the forward to A Stranger in a Strange Land, which deals with sexual themes as well, and that makes sense as I learn more about Farmer. I read Stranger, and when I first read it I wasn’t sure I liked it, when I read it again, and then read Left Hand of Darkness again as well, it all sort of clicked with me. Farmer opened some doors that were closed to sci-fi before. He broke barriers on what was considered off limits or taboo.

Some considered him a great writer in the genre, others just another sci-fi writer among many like Frederick Pohl, Lester Del Rey, and half a dozen others who some may know or not know today.

I think I read part of one of his paperbacks before the great trade in fail, but it has been so many years. I may have to venture to my local library and see what I can find. Or perhaps find one of those awesome anthologies of works that I adore. I feel like learning about Farmer helps fill in some of the many gaps in my science fiction education  between H.G.Wells and Jack Vance. So much to learn, so little time.

We are all just adding our own stories to the human story, and the more we know where we came from, the more we can know where we are going. The pioneers of the past assist the pioneers of the future. I truly believe knowledge is power. We are influenced by the past and we influence the future and I believe additional knowledge and resources into past writers actually inspires us to push the envelope and to keep on creating this tapestry of many ideas and colors and people. I believe speculative fiction is the key to understanding the human psyche.

Speculative fiction is the descendant of philosophy or the step child of literature and philosophy. That infamous red haired step child that causes so much turmoil and activity. Causing people to think and use their brains to further thought to see what we are doing and where we are going. Not peacefully but with all the voice raising and shouting that has to be done in times like these. Keep the ideas flowing and keep writing my fellow writers.

Any of you could be the future Poe, or Farmer, or Heinlein, or Verne, or Le Guin. But best of all, you can be the best version of You, and I would like to think there will be an aspiring writer maybe writing about me and what I accomplished someday, or maybe one of you that is passing this way. I have great hope for the future. For all of us. For humanity.