Monday, August 26, 2013

"Speaking Parts" Excerpt From Technorotica and Rude Mechanicals

Here's a teasing taste from my ebook, Rude Mechanicals, and from the dead-trees book Technorotica (which is Rude Mechanicals: Technorotica plus Better Than The Real Thing: Technorotica): a bit from the novella "Speaking Parts."

Pell remembered seeing Arc’s eye—it was the first thing she’d noticed.

Tourmaline and onyx. Silver and gold. A masterpiece watch set in a crystal sphere, the iris a mandala of glowing gold. Her blinks were a camera shutter’s, as imagined by the archetypal Victorian engineer but built by surgical perfection not found anywhere in Pell’s knowledge. The woman’s left eye was jeweled and precise, clicking softly as the woman looked around the gallery, as if the engineers who’d removed her original wet, gray-lensed ball had orchestrated a kind of music to go with their marvelous creation: a background tempo of perfect watch movements to accompany whatever she saw through their marvelous and finely crafted sight. Click, click, click.

An eye like that should have been in a museum, not mounted in a socket of simple human skin and bone, Pell had thought. It should have been in some other gallery, some better gallery, allowed only to look out at, to see other magnificent creations of skilled hands. Jare’s splashes of reds and blues, his shallow paintings were an insult to the real artistry of the woman’s eye.

That’s what Pell thought, at first, seeing Arc – but only seeing Arc’s perfect, mechanical eye.

Pell didn’t like to remember first seeing her that way – through the technology in her face. But it felt, to her, like it had its own kind of ironic perfection to deny it. So Pell lived with the biting truth that she didn’t, at first, see Arc – for her eye.

But later, right after she got momentarily lost in the beauty of Arc’s implant, the woman looked at Pell with her real eye, the gray, penetrating right one – and Pell forgot about the tourmaline, onyx, silver and gold machine.

She had finally seen Arc, herself – the woman, and not the simple, mechanical part. Next to her, the eye was cheap junk: a collection of metal, old rocks, and wires.

* * * *

She wasn’t Arc at first. She began as just the woman with the perfectly created eye. Then she was the beautiful woman. Then she was the woman where she didn’t belong. Seeing her eye, then seeing her, Pell lastly saw her as oil, the kind of oil you’d see pooling in the street, that had somehow managed to make its way into a glass of wine. Agreed, it was cheap red wine – something out of a box and not even a bottle, but, still – she was oil. She didn’t belong and that was obvious, despite the cheapness of the gallery. She could tell, cataloging her bashed and scuffed boots, noting her threadbare jeans, her torn T-shirt, that amid clean jeans and washed (and too black) turtlenecks, she was a discordant tone among the harmonious poseurs in Jare’s tiny South of Market studio.

The woman was aware of her discrepancy. She wandered the tiny gallery with a very large plastic tumbler of vin very ordinare, stopping only once in a while to look at one of Jare’s paintings.

Holding her wine tight enough to gently fracture the cheap plastic with cloudy stress lines, Pell watched her, stared at the tall – all legs and angles, broad and strong – woman with the artificial eye. She tried not to watch her too closely or too intently, sure that if she let slip her fascination she’d scare her off – or worse, bring on an indifferent examination of Pell. Through a sad ballet of a slightly curved lip and a stare that was nothing more than a glance of the eyes, the woman would see Pell but wouldn’t – and that would be an icy needle in Pell’s heart.

Pell had already taken too many risks that night. She already felt like she’d stepped off the edge and had yet to hit the hard reality of the ground. Traps and tigers, beasts and pitfalls for the unwary loomed all around Pell. She moved through her days with a careful caution, delicately testing the ice in front of her, wary of almost-invisible, murky lines of fault. She knew they were there, she’d felt the sudden falling of knowing she’d stepped too far, moved too quickly, over something that had proven, by intent or accident, not to be there. Pell didn’t push on the surface, didn’t put all her weight, or herself, on anything.

But then everything changed. She’d seen Arc and her eye.

The plastic cup chimed once, then collapsed in on itself. Turning first into a squashed oval, the glass cracked, splintered, then folded, the white seams of stress turning into sharp fissures of breakage. The red, freed of its cheap plastic prison, tumbled, cascaded out and down onto her.

Pell had worn something she knew wouldn’t fit with the rest of the crowd. The official color of San Francisco, she knew, would fill the place with charcoal and soot, midnight and ebony. White, she’d decided, would pull some of their eyes to her, make her stand out – absence of color being alone in a room full of people dressed in all colors, combined.

"Looks good on you."

The shock of the wine on her white blouse tumbled through Pell as an avalanche of warmth flowed to her face. The decision to wear white that night had come from a different part of herself, a part that had surprised her. Now she was furiously chastising that tiny voice, that fashion terrorist who had chosen the blouse over other, blacker ones.

And so Pell responded, "Not as good as you would" to the tall, leggy, broad shouldered girl with the artificial eye. Which was beautiful, but not as beautiful as the rest of her.

* * * *

Pell’s reason for being at the gallery was Jare. Although she could never wrap her perceptions around the gaunt boy’s paintings, she still came when he asked. Jare, Pell, Fallon, Rasp and Jest. They weren’t close – but then foxhole buddies aren’t always. They weren’t in combat, but they could be. All it would take would be one computer talking to another – no stable job history, thus conscription.

All it took were two computers, passing pieces of information back and forth. Till that happened, they hid and watched the possibility of a real foxhole death in a hot, sweaty part of Central America fly by.

Foxhole buddies. It was Jare’s term – some fleck of trivia that’d hung around him. They didn’t have an official name for their tiny society of slowly (and in some cases not too slowly) starving artists, but Pell was sure that Jare would smile at his trivial term being immortalized among a band of too-mortal kids.

That was Jare. While the rest of them tried to focus on pulling their paintings (Pell, Jare, and Rasp), music (Jest), and sculpture (Fallon) as high as they could, there was something else about Jare – something, like his paintings, that refused to be understood. His techniques were simple enough, broad strokes of brilliant color on soot-black canvas, but his reasons were more convoluted.

Or maybe, Pell had thought earlier that evening (before turning a white blouse red and seeing the woman with the artificial eye for the first time) both man and his work were simple: broad, bold statements designed to do nothing but catch attention. He was like his paintings, a grab for any kind of attention – an explanation too simple to be easily seen.

In the tiny bathroom, Pell tried to get the wine out of her blouse. Contradictory old wives’ tails: first she tried cold, then hot water. The sink ran pink and so, soon, did her blouse.

The woman with the eye stood outside the door, a surprisingly subtle smile on her large mouth. Every once and a while she’d say something, as if throwing a bantering line to the shy girl inside to keep her from drowning in embarrassment.

"Who’s he foolin? I can do better crap than this with a brush up my ass.”

"You should see this chick’s dress. Looks like her momma’s – and momma didn’t know how to dress, either.”

"Too many earrings, faggot. What year do you think this is?

"Hey, girl. Get out here with that shirt. It’s better looking than this fucking stuff on the walls."

Cold water on her hands, wine spiraling down the sink. Distantly, Pell was aware that her nipples were hard and tight – and not from the chill water. Down deep and inside, she was wet. It was a basic kind of primal moisture, one that comes even in the burning heat of humiliation. Finally, the blouse was less red than before. Planning to run to where she’d dropped her old leather coat to hide the stigmata of her clumsiness, her excitement in two hard brown points, she opened the door.

The tall woman smiled down at her, hot and strong. In one quick sweep of her eyes, Pell drank her tall length, strong shoulders, columnar legs. She was trapped, held fast between the hot eyes she knew must have been staring at her, pinning her straight to her embarrassment, and the presence of the woman.

Her eye, the eye, clicked a quick chime of precision – as if expanding its limits to encompass the totality of Pell. Pell did not mind her intense examination. It added, with a rush of feelings, to the quaking in her belly, the weakness in her knees.

"Gotta splash. Wait right here,” Arc said.

Of course she waited.

After a few hammering heartbeats, the door opened and she came out – butchly tucking her T-shirt back into her jeans – and Pell was again at the focus of her meticulously designed sight.

"You live anywhere close? I’m tired of this shit. You?"

"Down the block. Just on the corner," Pell said, trying hard not to smile too much.

The woman downed the small sample of red in her glass and, looking for a place to put it down, and not finding any, just dropped it with a sharp plastic clatter on the floor. "Show me. It can’t be worse than here. Too many fucking artists."

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Orphans From Love Without Gun Control

I always liked this story - so I thought I'd share it with you. "Orphans" first appeared in Talebones Magazine and now, of course, is in my science fiction/fantasy/horror collection, Love Without Gun Control ... out in 'e' and paperback from the great Renaissance E Books.


Outside of Atlanta, after standing under the flickering fluorescent lights of a sprawling truck stop for almost an hour, he was picked up by a heavy faced man driving a ratting sixteen wheeler.  Red hair an angry mop on his head, brushy beard all wild and unkempt, the driver said “Glad for the company” before they’d even pulled out onto the dark highway.

     In a little town somewhere just beyond the Louisiana border, he was picked up by a middle-aged woman in a green station wagon, who seemed to delight in creating herself as the perfect housewife:  housecoat, hair in curlers, kid’s seat in the back.  She spent the first few miles prattling nervously, obviously just wanting companionship but frightened with herself for choosing the young hitchhiker to try and sate it.  He listened, hypnotized by the landscape blurring by.  Finally she asked, “Been on the road long?”
     “Not long,” he said, wishing again that it had been someone else who’d picked him up, “just getting out.  Meeting people.”
     “That’s good,” she said, innocently.  “Nothin’ worse than being alone.”
     To that he just nodded, still staring out the window.


     He’d never heard of a nut log, and would be damned if he was going to try some.  But the salesman, Lou Phillips, was so insistent that -- before he was even aware of it -- he had some on the end of his fork.
     “Now me, son,” Lou said, smiling broad and bright, “I ain’t a flincher.  You take that shit there on the end of your fork.  What’s the worse that could happen?  It taste like crap -- but that ain’t gonna kill you, is it?  But maybe it’s gonna be the best damned shit you ever tasted.  Ain’t gonna know till it’s in your mouth, right?”
     He didn’t answer, and instead stared at the tip of his fork, at the brown sticky mass.  Before he was aware of it he was categorizing diseases, vectors and transmission rates.  Closing his eyes, he breathed in, out, in and again, then put it into his mouth.  The sweetness was almost alarming, and without conscious control he opened his eyes -- and stared into Lou’s sparking brown eyes.  “See, that ain’t so bad!  Fuck it, son -- life’s too short to be scared.”
     A cup of coffee later, Lou confessed that he was a widower.  His wife of twenty-six years having passed away that spring.  “Some kind of virus got her.  By the time she went to the damn doc it was she was thin as a rail.  Didn’t last more than a month.”
     Sipping hot, bitter -- with a touch of slightly turned cream, he hung his head down, mumbling, “Sorry” like it was his fault.
     “I mean we all got to go, right?  When it’s our turn.  But what pisses me off is the shit those damned doctors put ya through.  Pretend that they know it all when they don’t know shit.  Tell ya what, kid, if I ever get something I’m just gonna drive out to the desert somewhere and just lay out there in the sun.  Damn sight better chance then letting them touch ya.”
     It seemed such a positive act that he smiled, despite himself -- masking it by sipping the foul coffee again and saying “Sometimes it isn’t that they don’t know -- it’s that it’s just not worth knowing.”


     Another big truck -- this time cleaner, almost polished.  Like a fighter plane, sporting a elegant pin-up on the driver’s side door.  Haulin’ Ass, scrolled under a cheesecake girl with golden blond hair.  The driver was gaunt, a narrow sketch of a man.  Peppered hair and the ghostly scar of a hair lip.
     They didn’t speak for many miles, then the driver said, unexpectedly, “What cha’ runnin’ from, man?”
     His first reaction was so say, “nothing” but the word didn’t come.  Was he running?  When he thought about it, watching the double-yellow vanish under the windshield, the direction wasn’t right.  “Not from, towards.”
     “What cha’ goin’ to, then?”
     He didn’t know.  He did know, though, that he couldn’t stay in Atlanta.  It was such a lonely place ... no, not right.  It was where he discovered loneliness. A dusty little room and files -- at first just one or two then more.  Some of them had faces, pictures charting their progress -- images to match the declining graphs.  Aside from the wasting, he’d seen something else in those faces, the sunken eyes, the fallen features -- loneliness.  In their worlds they’d been too few, not enough to matter ... to save.
     He’d managed a rough smile, trying to put a comedic face over tragedy.  “Just makin’ friends,” he said.


     Texas was hot, ghostly heat hovering above the roadway.  Sky too blue, too pure to be stared at for long.  Sitting in a McDonald’s, slowly sipping a shake to avoid going out into the hot, dry, he struck up a brief conversation with a young couple.  Too pressed, too clean.  A few miles beyond, the air conditioner in their older car cranked up to full, they started to talk about Jesus.
     He responded noncommittally, but soon their tone started to irritate him.  Looking out at the hot land, he could too easily see the ghostly hopelessness, the abandonment he’d first seen in Atlanta overlaid on every face they passed.  Maybe the harried father in the RV -- stricken with something that struck one on ten thousand.  Maybe that old woman, all blue hair and cautious hand on the wheel -- catching something that would waste her, slowly, horribly but only affected one in a hundred thousand.
     He listened, for a moment, about what they were saying -- instantly realizing that they were following a well-hewn grove.  Something like Parkinson’s, a horrible inlaw to the more popular disease: a gradual wasting of the mind -- something affecting one in a million.  He could too easily see them, parroting their beliefs till they had no more will, no more strength left to even move their lips.
     At the next town he asked to be left off, dismissing their offer of finding him a shelter, a meal, but he did take the money they offered, more than anything to get them to leave.


     Too many miles.  Still in Texas but the weather had changed -- high, turbulent clouds casting deep shadows onto the flat land.  Too many miles.  Maybe that was it.  A pressure.  They all saw him the way they wanted to, a young man traveling.  A bum, a threat, a homeless person, an object of pity, something to hate and blame.  The pick-up truck full of teenagers, throwing a half-empty can of beer as they passed, the too-helpful families that desperately wanted his absolution.
     So he told some of it to the bald man, the man in the jeans and stained tee-shirt.  He knew he’d been picked up for rough trade, but didn’t care.  He avoided his inquiring eyes and, at first, answered with only a few words, but as they drove and the driver’s interest became more and more obvious he found himself talking more, stringing together fact and fiction.
     To “-- where are you headed?” he said, “Los Angeles, my mom’s in the hospital.  Something wrong with her liver.”
     To “-- that sounds pretty serious.  What does her doctor say?”  he said, “They know what it is, some kind of hepatitis variant.  Rare, though, like one in a hundred thousand get it.”
     To “-- at least they know what it is.  They got all kinds of drugs and shit nowadays” he said, pausing “They know what it is, but not enough people get it.  So they don’t make a cure, not cost effective.  They call them ‘orphan diseases’ -- too rare to bother curing.  She’s going to die.”
     They rode in uncomfortable silence till the next town.  This time he was asked to leave -- and he did, stepping out into the darkness of a cloud’s shadow.  It had been the shortest trip he’d been on, but he felt lighter, less burdened.  That it had only been part of the truth didn’t matter; he’d spoken enough of it to get someone to understand, if maybe just a little.


     A long time and New Mexico.  He felt the fever start as he walked down dusty streets, passing stores selling fake Indian art, plastic tomahawks.  In a narrow alley, an old man with heavy features slept out the hot afternoon, a bronze-colored bottle by his hand.
     He went into a dark bar and sat in the corner, feeling his core temperature rise, his skin shimmy with cold shakes.  Taking deep breaths, he sipped a warm beer.
     He remembered its pathology, its transmission rates, preferred vectors.  He thought he’d have more time, and silently felt a heavy sadness at not being able to see the Pacific.  It hadn’t been a real goal, but had begun to be a kind of benchmark, a saccharin epitaph.
     He’d met some good people as he’d traveled from Atlanta, and felt sorry for them.  But he also remembered those faces on all those files.  It wasn’t virulent, but it did spread.  Airborne was tough, but it could manage.
     Too few to care about.  Not enough to bother curing.  It had almost been gone, at least to the Center for Disease Control.  Exiled to its refrigerator, the vault.  A rarity that claimed maybe a hundred, maybe two each year, almost just a memory.  So rare that they’d passed judgment on it:  extinction.  It had been his job to destroy the samples, to consign the virus to a few sad cases scattered around the world.   
     The faces on those folders.  Too few to care about.  As the shivers began in earnest, he tried to think about them, to hold each and every one of them in his mind.  Coldly told their wasn’t enough of them to bother, to care about, to cure.
     Sipping his beer, feeling his strength drain, he hoped that now -- after all those miles he’d managed, those rides, those hands he’d shaken -- they wouldn’t be so alone.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

M.Christian ... Science Fiction Reviewer?

I'm thrilled to be able to announce at the reviews I wrote for the always-excellent Dark Roasted Blend just went up! To start, here's some quickie capsule reviews of some classic cyberpunk titles ... with others going up very, very soon.

(right image credit: Huxtable)

Neal Stephenson
Snow Crash

Considered by many to be the ultimate cyberpunk novel (or second only to Gibson's Neuromancer), Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash has everything the genre requires: high-tech toys and low-life characters, a flash and dazzle style, a noir beat, enough concepts and ideas for a dozen other novels, and heaping helpings of bad boy attitude.

Set in a run-down LA in an archetypal "not too distant future," the novel is basically the story of Hiro Protagonist (wink, wink), the "Last Of The Freelance Hackers And Greatest Swordfighter In The World" and ex-pizza delivernator for the mafia; and Y.T., a nimble and nubile adolescent "kourier."

In the course of trying to survive a world run by corporations, and where the endless suburbs are lit by the omnipresent loglow of franchises like Mr. Lee's Greater Hong Kong, and CosaNostra Pizza, Hiro and Y.T. stumble into a plot by billionaire villain L. Bob Rife to... well, rule the world using a special brand of information warfare with its roots in ancient Sumerian mythology. Along the way, Hiro and Y.T. meet characters such as Ng, the technofetishist weaponeer, and Raven Ravinoff, the nuclear bomb-connected Aleut harpooner and assassin whose preferred weapons are molecular-sharp glass knives.

Snow Crash, when it rocks and rolls, which it often does, is like strapping yourself in for a dose a blisteringly fast anime: a near-chaos of cyberdelic images, methamphetamine-fueled concepts, quick bursts of characters and characterization, along with flights of pure digital fantasy. For those new to cyberpunk, reading a chapter of Snow Crash is like taking a shot of science fiction espresso.

Luckily, Neal Stephenson also knows when to put on the brakes, to pull over by the side of his roaring information superhighway of a novel and let the rest of us catch up a bit. For all its flash and dazzle, Snow Crash also has some great moments of humanity. The scenes, for instance, with Y.T. and Uncle Enzo, CEO of the American Mafia and Hiro's ex-boss as head of CosaNostra Pizza, are charming without feeling cornball. Other characters, some of them only featured for a few paragraphs, manage the same.

Some have criticized Snow Crash as a perfect example of style over substance, sarcastically saying that it's cyberpunk's purest form. Sure, the book has some serious flaws – like when it slams on the brakes to lecture Hiro, and the reader, about Sumerian mythology's relationship to linguistics and human information processing. But what saves Snow Crash from being bubblegum and instead makes it a satisfying literary meal is the inescapable sense that Stephenson is not taking himself, the book, or cyberpunk itself, very seriously.

Snow Crash is, in its heart, a cartoon: a laughing, giggling, fun time. The heroes aren't heroes. The villains – for the most part – aren't villains. The Metaverse – Stephenson's version of cyberspace – is a bold and colorful place full of animated characters, and the real world the stages and settings are too bold and outrageous to be anything but Stephenson's elbow to the reader's ribs with a chuckle of "Get it?"

To press the point, just look at Stephenson's other novels. Some have the same pop and sizzle -- like The Diamond Age -- but after reading Snow Crash it gets pretty clear when he's going for serious and poignant and when he's taking us along on a digital, cyberdelic, outrageous, dazzling, bizarre, animated, good-time ride.

(review by M. Christian)


K. W. Jeter
Farewell, Horizontal

Like most of Jeter's novels "Farewell Horizontal" is rich and vibrant, with amazing and engaging concepts, packed with imagination to spare, and populated with fascinating characters on bizarre yet human missions.

Set in a future where a large segment of civilization is living in – and on the outside of -- a monstrous building called Cylinder, Horizontal teases and tantalizes with a lack of detail, making the book seem more like a surrealist exercise than a traditional (quote) science fiction (unquote) novel. Still, there's enough intimate details present to draw you into Ny Axxter's strange world.

A graffex (which are sort of/kind of digital tattoos or markings) artist, Ny longs for the big time, a serious score that will lift him up – literally – from being a scavenging freelancer. And like everyone else who calls Cylinder home, he knows that his fame will come by not staying in the building, by being horizontal, but instead will come from what's on the outside, on the vertical.

The vertical is what makes Farewell Horizontal sparkle. Jeter has always had a brilliant imagination and with this novel, he lets it fly. Ny – and the rest of the outcasts and fringe folks of Cylinder – live their lives clinging to the building's staggering drop surface with a technofetish inventory of fun and interesting devices and technologies. It's when Jeter gets down – or up, as the case may be – with Ny and his life that the book really draws you in. You feel like you're there with him on the surface of the building, and when he sees what could be his score – a genetically engineered flying woman or 'angel' – you feel the exhilaration. The same goes when Ny is caught in a war between two warring gangs, a war fought on the same vertical he's trying to make his home. You are there alongside him as he tries to get through it all alive.

Unfortunately, Farewell Horizontal suffers from the feeling that it's just one part of a planned series, a series that was never completed: plot elements are left hanging, characters that are clearly meant to go somewhere go nowhere, and while the lack of details make the book refreshingly surreal (yet rich with cyberpunky elements), one gets the feeling that Jeter simply didn’t have the rest of the series he might have liked to set the stage and flesh out this fascinating world.

Still, Farewell Horizontal remains a very good book and deserves a read. While it might not be the perversely dark love poem to Philip K. Dick that his first book, Dr. Adder, was, or be a truly thought-provoking and sensitive book like The Glass Hammer, or – for that matter – a wickedly funny and strange thing like Infernal Devices, Farewell Horizontal is still more imaginative and vivid than many other books. If nothing else, it will change the way you look at skyscrapers … tripping your imagination into thinking what it would be like to live on the vertical and not just the horizontal.

(review by M. Christian)


William Gibson
Virtual Light

It's interesting that after he finished his masterpiece Sprawl Trilogy of Neuromancer, Count Zero, and Mona Lisa Overdrive, Gibson – the master not only of cyberpunk but of postmodern literature as well – would step back in time but remain in the future to write Virtual Light, the first of another three-part series, the so-called Bridge Trilogy.

Interesting, because Virtual Light is a fine and at times brilliant book that owes very little to science fiction, even though it has some elements in common. Set in a very near future, it follows the adventures of bike messenger Chevette Washington and disgraced cop Berry Rydell, who get caught up in a McGuffin chase when Washington impulsively steals a pair of special, high tech glasses. Their chase takes them all over California, most fascinatingly to a squatter city built in the decaying spine of San Francisco's Bay Bridge. Darkly comic, the novel has all of Gibson's trademark vividness and wickedly cool language but is much more of a noir novel with some surreal/science fiction elements than the ferociously dark and vicious Sprawl books.

Because of this, it's a much lighter and almost refreshing read, which threw a lot of Gibson's previous readers who may have been expecting something with a sharper edge. Still, when taken on its own or as part of the other Bridge books, Virtual Light remains a work by a master – a master who successfully took a different direction with a wonderful new book.

Review by M. Christian


Samuel R. Delany
The Einstein Intersection

As with all truly great science fiction novels, The Einstein Intersection is less about science and more about fiction – in this case, fiction told by one of the greats not just of science fiction but modern literature as well.

Surreal doesn't begin to describe the setting and characters of The Einstein Intersection. Ostensibly about aliens exploring and trying to understand human culture after mankind has either left the planet or died off, the book is much more about some of the more powerful human archetypes. From Lo Lobey himself, a goat herder based on the myth of Orpheus, to the subject of his quest, Billy The Kid (AKA death), the book is a literary stage, allowing Delany to explore the world of our myths, fables, legends and fantasies.

It's unfortunate that people often pick up the book only to be frustrated and confused by Delany's psychedelic style. But for those with imagination and patience, reading The Einstein Intersection can swing open a brand new universe of style, language, and story: it's a wonderful book by a magnificent writer, first, and a great science fiction author, second.

(review by M. Christian)


J. G. Ballard
Vermillion Sands

I want to live in Vermillion Sands. I want to wake up in the morning and look out my bedroom window at the hypnotic world J.G. Ballard has created.

A collection of short stories, Vermillion Sands is set, mostly, in a Palm Springs-type vacation resort. There are two kinds of people there: the rich and the people who serve the rich. More importantly, though, the resort is a way for Ballard – in these stories – to explore the artistic process via a whole plethora of new technologies, from cloud sculpting to sound jewelry and more.

But Ballard is Ballard, so just writing stories about a resort, the people enjoying it or working there, or even the arts, is not enough: each of the stories in Vermillion Sands is also laced with his trademark psychological depth and lyrical subtlety. Sure, the stories might not be as subversively perverse, emotionally enigmatic, psychedelically strange, or horrifically languid as some of his other books and stories, but these light and almost funny tales are still J.G. Ballard – and that means they will always be as a brilliant and elusive as the landscape outside of Vermillion Sands.

(review by M. Christian)

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Taste of "The New Motor" From Betty Came: The Mammoth Book of Erotica Presents The Best of M. Christian

Here's a teasing taste of my steam-punky erotic story "The New Motor" from both The Bachelor Machine as well as the (very flattering) Betty Came: The Mammoth Book of Erotica Presents The Best of M. Christian.

The New Motor

It is not our place, via hindsight, to say what exactly happened that one particular night. It’s easy to dismiss, with scorn or even a kind of parental, historical, fondness, that he was just visited by vivid dreams, a hallucinatory fever, a form of 1854 delusion (after all, we smile, frown, grimace, laugh or otherwise, this was 1854), or some hybrid kin of them all: a vision 1/3 unresolved traumas, 1/3 bad meal of steak and potatoes, 1/3 19th century crippling social situation. What we cannot dismiss—because it’s there with minuscule precision, in detailed blocks of blurry type in rag pulp sidebills, in the fine-filigreed pages of the genteel or just the skilled—was that John Murray Spear, a spiritualist of some quite personal renown and respect, did indeed depart Miss August’s Rooming House for Gentlemen of Stature (near the corner of Sycamore and Spruce in Baltimore, Maryland), and go forth to tell anyone who would listen—and some did, as those news- papers reported and those diaries told—about his visitation by the Association of Electricizers.

Close your eyes, metaphorically, and envision the images that might have fluttered through the expansive and trained consciousness of Mr. Spear as he lay, barely waking on a cheap mattress more tick than stuffing, the too-warm embrace of a humid Baltimore summer morning pouring through the thin gauze of the window. Amid the jumble and clutter of a day’s thoughts, they walk—as contemporary A. J. Davis expressed: “spirits with a mechanical turn of mind”—into the far-reaching mind of John Murray Spear. Perhaps gears lit with fairy energies, they turn and tumble through his waking, shining metal honed with eldritch tools, playing inadvertent peg-toss with his sheet- raising morning priapism. Maybe a great churning clockwork con- traption whose complexity echoes Medusa’s curse of knowing equally insanity or death. Or they might have taken the form of a Con-Ed employee in bedazzling ethereal refinements, in a saintly pose of divine grace while the animated logos and mascots of every power company that was, is, and will be flitted around his nuclear halo—commercial cherubs to His crackling, humming, arcing, power.

Their form was something that even escaped Spear himself, for when he spoke of their visitation—and he did, oh yes, he did from his own mount and other less spiritual soapboxes—a 220-watt gaze seemed to consume him and his articulations became less detailed and more abstract: “Their form,” he said to his breakfast companions and, often, for many weeks thereafter to any stranger on the street, “is fast and incorporeal. I don’t possess the mind to express their appearance in words, but their message, dear—” Sir, Madam, Officer, Friend “— is clear and ringing in my ears: Go forth, they spoke, go forth and with these two simple hands bring into the world a machine, a great work of engineering, that would take motive power from the magnetic store of nature, and therefore be as independent of artificial sources of en- ergy as this, our own the human body. Go, this conglomeration of spirits pronounced, and build the Physical Savior of the Race,The New Messiah... the New Motor!”

John Murray Spear did, indeed, say these words: from that rea- sonably expensive boarding house in summer heated Baltimore, to the swampy humidity of the capital, then upwards towards the cooler en- virons of the Northeastern states. He spoke of the visitation of the Elec- tricizers to a shocked and tutting crowd of theosophists in Providence, his hypnotic description of the coming glory of the Motor and how it would bring about a new Age of Man Through Machine ticking out of synch with their slowly shaking, disbelieving heads.

He spoke of the Motor in Boston before a hall not as packed as it had previously been for the spiritualist of some repute, and answered with complete sincerity questions of the Motor’s construction (“things of this earthly sphere coupled with the energies of transcendent mo- tion and ethereal force”), creation (“for a small donation you can speed its manifestation and arrival here, to us”), method of operation (“can one envision a locomotive, some new machine of human use and creation, that might come during the new millennium? The works of the Motor may be visible to some of us with the enriched spiritual vision, but the true powers of it will be as unseen as that machine of ages undreamed”), and patentability (“if the material servants of this, our Government of Country, should grant me the license of its man- ufacture then I see no reason not to accept”).

Coal-and-snow beard, hair wild with his feverish retellings, sup- ple (for a man of his forty summers) body bending wildly with each description of the glory of the Motor and his saving of mankind through its mechanical enlightenment, Spear made himself a sight as he traveled. For some he was a sight that brought smiles, frowns, or sadness at his state of affairs. But as he slowly, town by town, street by street, meeting by meeting, told his tale, made his claims, his en- treaties, he gathered people who listened earnestly to his description of the Mechanical Savior of the Race, the New Motor...


On a weird side note, the tale of the New Motor is based on reality - and you can read about John Murray Spear and his spiritual contraption in my non-fiction collection, Welcome To Weirdsville