Fiction: Scrim’s Story

As she had promised, Kate followed Aunty Jean into the robot-proving ground without a word. Beats testing robots in a transport parking facility. They waded the ebb-tide round the wall, separating the scientists’ dormitory village from the proving ground, where it ended in the sea to prevent errant robots ingressing. On the beach Kate read a sign, Welcome to Hell-city. Huh? I thought we lived in Zinc City? How is it a hell?

Aunty Jean mouthed words. No questions now. Aunty Jean entirely too good at reading Kate’s expressions. They started down the dusty uneven road that ran parallel to the wall. Kate glanced stealthily at the ground. Wait? Was that …? A robot’s footprint? Aunty Jean frowned. Shook her head. No stopping now! Too dangerous!

Too dangerous? When Aunty Jean talked Kate’s parents into allowing Kate to participate in her latest project, she’d stressed the benefit to Kate’s dream of getting a summer job helping to train robots. How would “too dangerous” every five minutes help with that?

Aunty Jean took Kate’s arm and pulled her alongside for them to walk together into a street running into a westerly direction. Every street corner had a tall egg-shaped steel sentinel. “The Nubian-class robots, at present folded-up and at rest,” Aunty Jean said. “They are one hundred percent smarter than the Martian-class robots.” Common wisdom said there was nothing to fear from the Nubians while they slept. Duh. So the Nubians were dangerous to humans when they were awake?

Finally, Kate saw what looked like the garbage mountain Aunty Jean had installed to discourage snooping. “This way.” Aunty Jean led Kate into a narrow alley between two concrete house-and-yard walls that ended at a T-junction, down two right turns and they were in a backyard. Two large chicken-wire clad aviaries, both filled with cooing pigeons, left only a narrow path between to a house door.

“Make yourself at home. I need to go out and I may be gone the rest of the day.” Aunty Jean showed Kate the guest room and bathroom. “Okay if I go out too? Explore?” Kate said. “Any other humans in this town?”

“Other than the robots, everyone is human,” Aunty Jean said. “Explore? Without knowing how the proving ground, the robots, or the people work? You’re to stay at home. Your grandfather’s marine telescope is in the comm-room. You can look out of any window so long as you stay out of sight. And also, out there I’m known as Harmless.”

Kate laughed. “People think you are harmless?”
“Out there my name is Harmless,” Aunty Jean said.

#

Scrim stood by the window of his high-up, chewing the crust he found. The whole top of a loaf of bread. And he got a half-eaten fruit this morning. He looked out over his ground. Two Nubies sat folded up in their steel egg-shapes, one at each end of the street. One of them Yellow Leg–his leg had yellow steel–who supposedly slept, but probably knew everything going on.

When he finished the bread, Scrim was still hungry. He raced his mind over the hell. Where is there more food?

Fingers sat folded in his tall egg-shape at the bottom of Scrim’s high-up. Always there, always guarding. On his way out, Scrim laid his hand on his friend’s ID pad, so Fingers might know Scrim had left the high-up.

When Fingers felt Scrim’s hand, he raised his head and slid his steel shoulders-and-arms free from the egg-shape. Every couple-of-months Scrim asked the same. “Why did them scientists put men, all-you, in steel cans and call you robots?”

Fingers got his name when Scrim-friend replaced his left-side finger blades with toe bones off a dead Nubie. He was the only Nubie who could handle things without cutting them. But Fingers still talked by skitzing his finger blades. “Some-of-we can sense their every part. They teach us to know that we are still whole men. More secrets to keep, Scrim-friend.”

A no-answer meant the Nubies-themselves still dint know. Scrim put the secrets in his heart alongside all the things Fingers told him for Scrim’s future. The dolphinate mate for life. The silver is magic. The mud is alive. Fingers and Scrim are of the dolphinate. “Whisper me about the three cities,” Fingers said.

Scrim leaned against Fingers’ shoulder where the mic was. “Humans say we are a hybrid. Human-dolphin, at first equal shares. For twelve generations, only the dolphinate lived in the delta. Our people were made by the scientist who brought us to the delta after she bought it from an overlord. He died, the three cities grew, and farmlands spread into the old floodplain. Farmers come into our creeks to swim and fish …” he stopped. Sometimes he remember-dreamed how Hell-city’s hunters stole little-Scrim. “The hunters come into the delta to make us fewer?”

“The cities force them to take a quota of us in return for hay from the delta for their camels,” Fingers skitzed. “These things I heard while serving them in their tents, while we traveled here.”

Scrim’s stomach grumbled. Give me more food it said. Out in the street he heard Harmless talking here and there. “I have to go,” he said. “Get more food.”

Read the rest of this story–by Arit Reede, my username on the Worldbuilding Magazine site–in the Gender & Relationships issue of https://www.worldbuildingmagazine.com/

‘Pantsing’ versus Planning

One of my typical ‘pantsed’ embroideries. Even the frame surrounding it was unplanned. Proof is in the areas where it touches or goes over the inner design.

This week I started to rewrite my work-in-progress before I have even written the last two chapters. Since I already know how they must proceed, it didn’t seem as important to finish the work as fix the holes I was finding while re-reading.

Some of these holes are places where I need to ‘seed’ facts to familiarize readers with concepts that will later be used as part of the plot. About five of them, so far.

For example, in Meld, the novel I’m working on, I’ll be writing a time-jump scene. There’s a space shuttle involved that I can’t just have appearing out of the blue … I’d be accused of using a plot device known as a deux ex machine ‘whereby a seemingly unsolvable problem in a story is suddenly and abruptly resolved by an unexpected and seemingly unlikely occurrence …’ (Wikipedia)

I’ll need to ‘seed’ the shuttle earlier in the story to show that it belongs.

A second problem are the areas of credibility stretched thin by an over-use of descriptive detail, or an over-use of dramatic elements. The former is easy to fix. I just need to decide which bits of description the story can’t do without, and delete the rest.

The latter, the dramatic elements, are more difficult. In several cases these consist of personal characteristics of one or other of the characters and as such have been used to influence outcomes of behavior throughout the novel.

First I had to plot all main characteristics of each of the 6 most important characters … I hear you asking … why wouldn’t you do that before you start writing? And I would say to you … there speaks a planner. Which I am not. I’ll always will be doing this kind of thing half or three-quarters of the way through a project because I am a pantser.

I get an idea for a story in the form of a piece of dialogue between two characters. Or a thought. And I start writing. Dialogue and narrative are the first of my output. I plot and plan down the track. Insert and rewrite. Often.

Pantsing is a lot like sketching. I write and rewrite until a distinct story/image forms among the crowded words/pencil marks. How do you get your story out?

Blog Post Titles

Every so often we all need to revisit lessons from the past. I’ve been blogging for over nine years now, and have learned a thing of two about the tagging system as used by Google and now WordPress.

Titles are more important than tags!

I’ve often thought that a blog post, to be read or even just glanced at, hardly needs any other tags than a really good, snappy, catchy title.

Five days ago I posted a blurb with the sort of milk-coffee title that has much more milk in it than coffee. We all forget ourselves sometimes. And as can be expected that post gained no hits whatsoever.

Google and or WordPress just weren’t interested. The phrasing was wrong. It started with a pronoun. Had no keywords in it. I could go on and on with the parsing.

Usually I prove my point by posting up a great title with either no tags, or just a couple of seriously general ones. No problem getting hits.

As this is an experiment about titling, I won’t even include an almost obligatory interesting image. We’ll see how I go.

You’ll Have Noticed…

…a dearth of anything. Am dealing with a bout of influenza. The doc said, go home two weeks in bed. This after I already spent eight days ailing, including an overnight stay in the local hospital.

All else is the fluttering of leaves in the wind.

Twin ink caps (fungi) that dried on the windowsill while I had my attention on other things

Writing, what else?

When I’m My characters out of time, in the first draft of Meld are stuck in a patch of mud and I ,part 2 of the Doomed series, as I am today, and don’t yet know how to write my characters them through that experience. I nowadays turn to another project.

Drat. The sentence above had 45 words as it stood. Why can’t I write long sentences in my fiction? (Editors and beta readers often complain.) But I guess I’d better unpack it in the interests of readability.

Something to look at in the meantime … one of my embroideries … Fleeing the Heat

Yes, so I murdered my first first sentence. I’m limited showing you exactly what I did, not yet knowing all the possible ins and outs of what I can do here. The new first sentence reads …

My characters in the first draft of Meld are stuck in a patch of mud and I don’t yet know how to write them through that experience.

When I’m in that kind of situation, I don’t call it writer’s block. That story-stew is merely waiting for new ingredients. Because it was a time jump that got them into their present predicament, the characters need to have a ‘where-are-we-in-space-and-time’ discussion while at the same time protecting themselves from the wild life. I need to research all the ways in which they can discover ‘when’ they are.

In the meantime it’s OK to write a blog post, work on a short story, or even re-organize your media collection so it can be housed on the internal hard drive. It’s all part of writing.

Hurdy-gurdy, the instrument

This hurdy-gurdy player from Joe’s Retirement Blog on Blogspot

A hurdy-gurdy features big time in Meld, the second book of the Doomed? series. The one pictured above is quite a historic instrument with its wooden keys stretching the six strings. Two strings either side of the bridge — I’m tempted to call it the superstructure it is so imposing — and two strings across the top. The wooden wheel at the right-hand-side acts as a bow, and strokes the strings, leading to the hurdy-gurdy also to be called a ‘wheel violin’.

Those of you into gleaning will feel right at home on this blog.

I’ve been writing this series for a such long time that when I googled hurdy-gurdies just now — to find the owner of the above pic — a website promoting its business of making hurdy-gurdies also came to the fore, http://www.altarwind.com

In Meld, the hurdy-gurdy is a hollowed-out electronic ‘modern’ (2150 +/- AD) version with the deeper box that will accommodate the rolled-up bane.

According to my trusty thesaurus, a bane is a ‘scourge, plague, curse, blight, pest, nuisance, headache, nightmare, trial, hardship, cross to bear, burden, thorn in one’s flesh/side, bitter pill, affliction, trouble, misery, woe, tribulation, misfortune, pain.’

The bane under consideration is all those, and more, to the much put-upon hero of the series. It’s possible to get started reading that series with Doomed? Book 1: Mongrel available now as an ebook, and in the not-too-distant future as POD paperback.