Monday, December 31, 2012

2012: Anno Populi

You know how I'll remember 2012? This was the year of people. Some I met for the first time, and will treasure their friendship forever. Some I have not seen for far too long, and got to see this year, and hope to see again, soon. Some I've seen every day, for years, and never really knew -- until now. Here's to 2013: things are bound to get better, now that the world has ended.

Oh yeah, I got some writing done, and some of it was published amid the roar of the adoring crowd (my sincere thanks to the entire dozen), and after all is said and done, it is never too late to have a happy childhood.

Come to think of it, maybe I should make that my resolution for 2013.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Cherrypicking in an Apple Orchard

Mea Culpa.

One of the occupational diseases of speculative fiction writers is a tendency to speculate and write fiction, and I seem to have had a doozie of an attack last week. The post I put up yesterday, "Gained in Translation,"contains more than a set of factual errors. It is full of unwarranted conclusions based on cherrypicked data points, its faults compounded by a lack of understanding of the historical context of the attempted analysis.

In short, I retract, and apologize for, my attempt at a glib generalization of a relationship between, on the one hand, the structure and grammar of the Chinese language, and on the other, their effects on the works themselves, extrapolated to a wide range of works and authors. The fault therein is mine. I will not delete that post, or redact any part of it, as that would be dishonest, but if I could un-write it, I would, and better yet I wish I could un-think it. Whether or not I have offended anyone with my ill-considered comments, they were an offense against truth and integrity, and I apologize for that.

Still leaves me with Russian, though. I speak the language, read it fluently, I worked my way through Princeton as a teaching assistant in the Slavic Languages Department, I switch from Russian to English and back again hundreds of times a day as part of my day job and family life, and much of the time I run against the simple and undeniable fact that many phrases, concepts, implications fall trippingly off one tongue and not the other. There are no words for "privacy" and "appointment" in Russian while English lacks  the capacity for the multiple levels of diminutives built into every Russian-language interaction, but for most of my students back in Russian 101 it was the cascade of cases and the deluge of declensions that brought them a semester's worth of misery.

Consider a simple sentence: "A dog bit a boy."

In Russian, "dog" is "sobaka," "bit" (verb, past tense, masculine - yes, verbs have genders!) is "ukusil," and "boy" is "mal'chik." So it's "sobaka ukusil mal'chik," right?

Not exactly. "sobaka" is feminine so the verb has to agree with that, and "mal'chik" is in the accusative (because you have to accuse someone before you bite them, right?) so it's "sobaka ukusila mal'chika."

Let's make this a little more complicated. "A dog bit a boy with teeth at home." This obviously brings us to locative and instrumental, so we end up with "sobaka ukusila mal'chika zubami doma."

Or do we?

Let's scramble the English sentence. "Home bit dog with boy at teeth." Uh... no.

What if we scramble the Russian? "Doma ukusila sobaka mal'chika zubami." Which makes perfect sense, as the literal meaning of the sentence did not change at all. What changed is the emphasis, the connotation, the shading: it isn't the subject that goes first, but the focus, the most important word. So if your point is, you aren't even safe in your own home anymore, you'll put "Doma" first; if you are implying it's the boy's own fault you'll start with "mal'chika;" and if you start with "ukusila" you are probably writing poetry and you need your meter to come out right.

This is not to say you can't express the same sentiments in English, but the techniques are different. Nabokov certainly expressed a measure of contempt for English in the introduction to Lolita: 
My private tragedy, which cannot, and indeed should not, be anybody's concern, is that I had to abandon my natural idiom, my untrammeled, rich, and infinitely docile Russian tongue for a second-rate brand of English, devoid of any of those apparatuses — the baffling mirror, the black velvet backdrop, the implied associations and traditions — which the native illusionist, frac-tails flying, can magically use to transcend the heritage in his own way.
And this, upon a single word:
Toska - noun /ˈtō-skə/ - Russian word roughly translated as sadness, melancholia, lugubriousness.

"No single word in English renders all the shades of toska. At its deepest and most painful, it is a sensation of great spiritual anguish, often without any specific cause. At less morbid levels it is a dull ache of the soul, a longing with nothing to long for, a sick pining, a vague restlessness, mental throes, yearning. In particular cases it may be the desire for somebody of something specific, nostalgia, love-sickness. At the lowest level it grades into ennui, boredom.”
And so it remains: my Russian language in the back of my head, its siren song pulling at my sentences to extend them beyond all reason, shooing at my words to make them play leap-frog, tempting me to suffixate perfectly good verbs and nouns to add scintillacula of meaning not implicit in their original configurations.

On the other hand -- the closest I can come to saying "I value my privacy" in Russian is something along the lines of, "I like to be left alone" or "I appreciate peace." Not quite the same. Is there a relationship? Is toska something one feels when one's existence is devoid of privacy? That would be an elegant explanation, so neat one could almost overlook its obvious falsehood for its esthetic attraction.

How often do we say things in a certain way simply because we can? Or because we can make it sound good?

I made a big mistake in my previous post: I tried to speculate upon a subject I knew little about. It did not come out at all well. There is no question in my mind that language does not control conscience: the lack of a word for "privacy" does not in any way imply that Russians enjoy being spied on, nor is there the slightest hint that the imperfect correspondence of Russian "uyut" and English "coziness" changes the way one relaxes at a fireplace with a comforter and a cup of Glühwein. But how we write about it -- I think that's something worth considering.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Gained in Translation

 I wrote this in an email to Ken Liu all the way back in February of 2011, almost two years ago, and let me start with an apology:
Just finished PAPER MENAGERIE.  Brilliant!  And gutsy.  Speaks to every first-gen kid who ever cringed to hear his parents mangle English.  Or cook ethnic food.  Or wear ethnic clothes.  Shares a theme with SIMULACRA -- reconciliation from beyond the grave.  That's certainly universal, Hamlet to Dune. [...]  Just an exquisite story.  I think this is the year you'll [...] possibly pick up one of the [...] major awards.
 Possibly pick up one?! 

Two mistakes in one short sentence. "Possibly" should have been "For dam' sure," and as for "one of the --"

Ken swept the major awards with PAPER MENAGERIE - Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy award, becoming the first short story writer to achieve this triple crown of speculative fiction. So much for my wishy-washy forecast.

One thing Ken's writing and mine have in common is that we are both bilingual - and even that is not a major similarity: Chinese (in which Ken is fluent) and Russian (which is my second language) are very different, opposite perhaps, in ways they influence writing patterns and sentence structure.

Let's take one of Ken's translations - from The Fish of Lijiang, by Chen Quifan:

In the waterways of Lijiang live schools of red fish. Whether it's dawn, dusk, or midnight, you can see them hovering in the water, facing the same direction, lined up like soldiers on a parade ground ready for inspection. But if you look closer, you'll see that they aren't really still. In fact, they're struggling against the current in order to maintain their position. Once in a while, one or two fish become tired and are pushed out of the formation by the current. But soon, tails fluttering, they struggle back into place.
And here is a passage from his own Paper Menagerie:
She turned the paper over and folded it again. She pleated, packed, tucked, rolled, and twisted until the paper disappeared between her cupped hands. Then she lifted the folded-up paper packet to her mouth and blew into it, like a balloon.
"Kan," she said. "Laohu." She put her hands down on the table and let go.
A little paper tiger stood on the table, the size of two fists placed together. The skin of the tiger was the pattern on the wrapping paper, white background with red candy canes and green Christmas trees.

 Deceptively simple, clear, declarative sentences; a sense of being in the middle of the story, an immediacy, a closeness - such is Ken's linguistic legacy. It goes without saying that he is easily a good enough writer to transcend it; but he is also good enough to employ it to magnificent ends when that is called for.

My own legacy is rather the opposite: the highly inflected nature of the Russian language that tags each word with its role in the greater sentence, allows the sentence to be scrambled in a variety of ways to change the nuances of meaning without changing the informational content, and leads to the unbridled, exuberant verbosity of, to name its most proficient practitioner, Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol:
"Wherever, across whatever sorrow sour life is woven of, a resplendent joy will gaily race by, just as a splendid carriage with golden harness, picture-book horses, and a shining brilliance of glass sometimes suddenly and unexpectedly goes speeding by some poor, forsaken hamlet that has never seen anything but a country cart, and for a long time the muzhiks stand gaping open-mouthed, not putting their hats back on, though the wondrous carriage has long since sped away and vanished from sight."
And, in a nod to Gogol's Dead Souls, I wrote this monstrosity of a sentence (exceeded in magnitude since then in the entries to the One Sentence Stories contest) for a story called "The Choir Invisible:"
 In an incalculable loss to the record of electronic creativity, it proved impossible for Unit 108763458 to provide a description of the look on its owner's face when he read the congratulatory epistle addressed to him; nor his mien when he considered the check attached therewith; nor several expressions, one after another, as the owner, for six long seconds – an eternity in electronic terms – stared at 108763458 itself before picking it up off the floor and summarily throwing it out the window.

None of which has much to do  with why I am writing this blog.

A funny thing happened to "Paper Menagerie:" it got translated into Russian.  Having experienced its magic in print and in podcast, I expected nothing new from the translation.

Boy, was I ever wrong.

The translation was better than fair; it was quite good. In technical terms, it did not reach the levels of Bulgakov and Pasternak translations (but then, nothing ever does) -- but its effect on me was shattering. It hit me like a ton of bricks aboard a speeding train, its emotional effect unblunted by my familiarity with the text or by the minor flaws of the translation.

I wrote Ken to tell him that, and he replied that of his several Chinese translations, there is one which he likes more than his own original. Which validates my point:

Language matters.

The term "First language" is ambiguous -- in my case at least, Russian is my chronologic first while English is the language in which I find it easier to speak, read, write, and communicate. And yet it is Russian that carries the most built-in emotional content, in which the words are spring-loaded and booby-trapped with meanings I do not entirely understand but certainly feel more than adequately.

Phrases in Russian push my buttons -- perhaps because the buttons were installed before I spoke any other language. I understand what loaded words are, I use them to the best of my ability, but what I realized when reading the translation of "Paper Menagerie" is the ineffable, unquantifiable, and perhaps unpredictable effect of language, of the way, perhaps, the first language to which a developing mind is exposed can leave its imprints even when another language supplants the first in the superficial layer of the consciousness.

There is a deeper layer than that, which is a matter for a later post, suffice it to say that not only is it non-verbal, it's also neither auditory nor visual.

And here is the story that tapped into that. With a vengeance.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Subtext BY the Simple-Minded

Lots of questions arose about my previous post which appeared to have confused a fair number of very perceptive people. I will therefore demonstrate the pathophysiology of subtext by deconstructing one of my published stories. Which one? Hmmm. Let me think.

See what I did there? I just bragged that I have so many published stories I have trouble choosing among them. That's subtext! Truth is, I've sold just over 20, at this writing, and only 5 or so at professional rates. Nevertheless, the subtext is there to impress you with my prolificity. Prolificicity. Prolificality. Whatever. I'm picking "Karlsson," published online by Kasma.

"Where is Charlie?" I asked.
Lynne didn’t look up from her laptop. "Watching his stupid cartoons, I think," she said.
"I’m going to work," I said. "Night shift."
"Bye," she said.
She used to say, ‘Be careful.’
"Bye." One word. One syllable. The subtext is in what isn't said.

Infodump begins:

"Karlsson," I said. "Is that your first or last name?"
The dome light strobed off his grinning face: red, blue, yellow. His eyes were wide open. He had a coverall on. No hat.
"Just Karlsson," said the man. "Karlsson who lives on the roof."
There was a propeller hanging off the back of his coverall, and a big red button sewn on the front. The button didn’t look like it belonged there. It looked like he’d sewed it on himself. The button, and the propeller, too.
"That’s not what your wife says," I said. "She says your name is Arthur Quinn."
"I have no wife," said the man. "I live on the roof. Wives don’t live on roofs. If they knew how wonderful roofs are, they’d live there, too."
"You don’t live here at all, any more," I said. "On the roof, or under it. Your wife has a restraining order on you."

"You, too?" said Sergeant [Emily] Smith.
"You mean there is more than one?" I said.
Her chuckle sounded a bit forced. "These damn Karlssons are all over the place," she said. "Damn loonies. Family court is swamped."
"Where did they all came from?" I said.
"Google it," she said. "Karl with a K, double-S, O, N. Look under ‘videos.’" She hung up.


Someone did a hell of a job dubbing into English a fifty-year-old Russian cartoon based on a Swedish children’s book. Karlsson, a kindly, fat, jolly fellow, lives, as advertised, on a roof, best - only - friend to Little Boy, only protector from the evil housekeeper Frekken Bock. Flies through the window with the help of a little propeller attached to his back. Which he turns on with a red button sewn on the front of his coveralls.
Oh, and it runs on raspberry jam.
Which, by an odd coincidence, is what one of my Karlssons would look like if he tried to fly off a roof of anything higher than a chicken coop.

End info dump;
Begin demo of subtext:

Emily quarter-smiled - half her mouth turned up, both eyes hooded. "Why don’t you go Karlsson yourself?" she said. "Charlie would like that."
"Why don’t you?" I said.
How would she answer that?  "Can't you see I'm lonely?" "No one needs me as their best friend?" "I've never met anyone I've cared enough about?" Sergeant Emily Smith does not say such things. She does not even say them to herself.

Unable and unwilling to cry, she does the only thing left to her:

 "I don’t have a roof," she said, "that I’d want to fall off of."
She laughs.

Now, it's a funny thing about subtext. I was going to end this post right here, really I was. But now I can't. A memory just popped into my head, and I swear it hadn't been there - not as an overt recollection - when I was working on "Karlsson."

There's an excellent Indian restaurant to which I go every chance I get. The owner, Farouk, knows each customer by name, down to their tastes and tolerances for capsaicin,  and loves to introduce people to each other.

He introduced me once to a really cool person, a police officer named Lydia. We had a great talk about our jobs and our lives, and how different reality of our jobs is from anything people imagine, and how hard it is to find a person who understands. She had that been there, done that, got the tee shirt look about her, and eyes that looked right through me searching for my inner perp and seemed quite happy with his absence. Yes, now that I think about it, Lydia was the model, the inspiration, for Sergeant Emily Smith.

Over the next few years our paths crossed, in the same restaurant, a few more times. And then I did not see her for a while. So I asked Farouk if she'd been back.

And he said, "No." And it wasn't a regular "No." But it was a "No" all the same. So I dug deeper.

It was a "No" all right. One word. One syllable.

Lots of subtext.

So, in a way, the subtext of Karlsson - wheels within wheels, thoughts within thoughts - is, I wanted Lydia's story to have a different ending.

I wish she'd found something - anything - to laugh about, that night.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Subtext for the Simple-Minded

 Had a nice conversation today with my friend and awesome writer, Alex Shvartsman. It was about subtext.

Apparently, some people don't believe in it.

To which I say: that may be so; but in [Soviet] Russia, subtext believes in you!
"What terrible food," said Sue.
"Yes," said Ann. "And such small portions!"
One evening he was dining in the gardens, and the lady in the béret came up slowly to take the next table.[...] He beckoned coaxingly to the Pomeranian, and when the dog came up to him he shook his finger at it. The Pomeranian growled: Gurov shook his finger at it again.
The lady looked at him and at once dropped her eyes.
"He doesn't bite," she said, and blushed.

Irina Asanova (a cinematic costumer):
The director of that film promised me a pair of new boots if I went to bed with him. Think I should?

Arkady Renko (a police officer):
Well, the winter's almost over.
-Martin Cruz Smith, GORKY PARK

"...Well, what I was nearly forgetting is this: that, though I am aware that you can't forgo your engagement, I am not going to give you up—no, not for ten thousand roubles of money. I tell you that in advance."
Here he broke off to run to the window and shout to his servant (who was holding a knife in one hand and a crust of bread and a piece of sturgeon in the other—he had contrived to filch the latter while fumbling in the britchka for something else):
"Hi, Porphyri! Bring here that puppy, you rascal! What a puppy it is! Unfortunately that thief of a landlord has given it nothing to eat, even though I have promised him the roan filly which, as you may remember, I swopped from Khvostirev." As a matter of act, Chichikov had never in his life seen either Khvostirev or the roan filly.
-N. V. Gogol, DEAD SOULS 

There is a reason most of these quotes are either by Russian writers or by Russian characters: few things are more thoroughly ingrained into the Russian mind than talking over a censor's head, around a police informant, or through a monitored telephone line. Subtext isn't a luxury, it's a necessity. This makes it easy to write in subtext.

All you have to do is censor yourself.
"What terrible food," said Sue.
Ann, for whatever reasons, is unable to disagree, though the food is pretty good, and she is hungry. She is hunting for a negative comment to make about the food for which she is still rather hungry. What is the first thing that pops into her head?
"Yes," said Ann. "And such small portions!"
As an exercise, think about the underlined speech in each quote:

-What did the character want to say?

-What keeps him or her from saying that directly?

-What what is the character thinking, that makes them say what they actually said?

-What quotes can you come up with, from your favorite works, that work with subtext in similar ways?

-You can live in America and write exactly what you mean? What a great country!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Down to a Sunless Sea is out!

Down to a Sunless Sea, one of my fairly early stories, is finally out - Locothology, by Loconeal Publishing, is available on Amazon as of right now, and I am expecting my contributor's copy any minute. I have a soft spot for this story; my absolute favorite thing to do with genres, assumptions, paradigms, and other shibboleths is to subvert them, and this story lets me do this with several tropes: Steampunk (I threw in nuclear power,) love stories (this one takes place in a bordello,) and Chekhov's gun.

The sad part is, in spite of having fiction by some great writers in the TOC, this book is woefully under-promoted. Hey, guys, just because my story is about ancient submariners, does not mean the book should run silent and deep after its release! Let's make some noise!

Oh, and the cover shows a moonlit seascape. What's my piece called? "Down to a Sunless Sea!" Dare I say mine is the cover story? If so, a disclaimer: there is no bat in my story. I guess I'll have to read the book to find out who wrote about the Chiroptera on the cover.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

A Very Good Question.

James Bambury asks a very good question:

Nothing but speech?

I've read three dialogue only sf stories over the last little while. They all have slightly different conceits and approaches but have no text markers save for section breaks or denoting a speaker. It sounds like the kind of experiment that should go very wrong most of the time but have possibilities within the constraints of flash to shorter-short story word lengths.

So, dialogue only stories: Do they work? Do these?

Judge - James Will Brady
Ideomancer -

Geoffrey W. Cole - Michel "The Meteor" McLure
AE Scifi -

The Pleasing Shapes - Franco Raud
+Kasma Science Fiction Magazine   -

I think they do work. I think they work very well. I think they have worked very well since well before Aristophanes, Plautus, Terence, Shakespeare and Gogol: since the first cave dwellers made shadow puppets in the dying firelight on a long winter night, and pitched their voices to match the bear's roar and the wolf's howl.

I think there's a time and a place for a description, and then there is the time to let the reader imagine the place and the dramatis personae.

I have a few stories in which the narrator's voice got in the way of what the characters were doing. If this is a new thing, I applaud it; and though it's not I applaud it still. Because - the play's the thing...

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Just another day in the E.R.: a reblog

What do you mean you haven't contributed to the UFO Kickstarter campaign? Get thee to the nunnery, go! Wouldst thou be a reader of dull fiction? And if it is immortality you seek, well, you've come to the right doctor: for only a $100 contribution you could be Tuckerized  in a story by Ken Liu, James Beamon, Nathaniel Lee, Matt Mikalatos, or yours truly.

And, having read a bit of slush lately, I am reminded of a post I did for The Friday Challenge recently:

What? Too lazy to click? Well, OK, just for you, here it is:

Just Another Day in the E. R.

by Anatoly Belilovsky, MD

There was nothing we could do for the man with the shuriken embedded in his forehead: it had penetrated eleven millimeters into the vital subcutaneous lobe of the brain. Death had been instantaneous. I wrote DOA on his chart and turned my attention to the people with less-severe injuries.

“Here is a man with a GSW to left shoulder,” said Yolanda, my medical student. “That could be serious.”

I gifted her with a benign smile. “Gunshot wounds to the shoulder are rarely serious,” I said. “Here in the Fiction General Emergency Room, you will find that bullets usually enter the subclavian fossa just under the collarbone, make a hairpin turn to avoid the subclavian artery and vein, then navigate the maze of nerves in the brachial plexus, and finally exit just under the glenoid fossa, narrowly missing the head of the femur.”

“Isn't that humerus?” she asked.

“Severe or not,” I said sternly, “gunshot wounds are never humorous.”

She giggled uncontrollably. Some people never develop much of a bedside manner.

A woman walked in on two broken tibiae, using a furled umbrella to support herself. I left her to Yolanda's ministrations while I attended a female police officer who had been shot point-blank with a .50-caliber machine gun. Her flak jacket stopped the rounds, but their kinetic energy propelled her through a brick wall and down two floors to land on the roof of a taxi. While she was unconscious I took great pains to ascertain that her 38DD's had sustained no damage; not even a bruise, in fact. When she awoke she attempted to accuse me of groping, remembering my name from my badge, but since she could not remember her own name, her words were not given due credence.

Near the end of the shift a man ran in. “I have been poisoned!” he shouted. “You must find the antidote! I have 43 minutes to live!” We did our best, but as the 43rd minute chimed, he paused in his recitation of the story of his life, his eyes rolled, and he fell over dead, on cue to cut to the commercial.

In the ensuing silence I heard Yolanda mutter, “...said 'femur' instead of 'humerus'” as she glanced in my direction. “Epic boner,” Nurse Cassie replied.

I smiled.

All in all, an unremarkable day. Straight out of Harrison's Textbook of Stochastic Medicine.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Quasi-Vogon poetic reflections upon wading through UFO slush

Story 1:

For thought
   it's food:
So bad,
   it's good.

Story 2:

Of laughs, there were a few,
But then again, a few is plenty.
The two thousand words, I put to you,
Should be cut down to a hundred twenty.

Story 3 (apologies to Ogden Nash:)

Not quite a laugh, but surely a smile
I had, while reading about a crocodile.
May I suggest that in a later
draft, it be changed to "alligator?"

Story 4

Never forget (if you know what's best)
"Homo homini lupus est."

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Poetic Acceptance

Now, this will, in all likelihood, only work for Alex's excellent UFO anthology; the sense of humor necessary to write a winning Unidentified Funny Objects story is also indispensable to taking this acceptance in stride:

Your submission is totally evil,
Pure as driven snow drivel,
Eye of newt and slime of frog,
wallowing warthog, mangy dog,
Awful, nauseating trash,
Train derailment, NASCAR crash,
Chamberpot full of night soil,
Cowpats broiled in tinfoil,
Squeezings from teenagers' pores,
Think that's bad? your story is worse.
So of course I'll buy this piece.
Contract is attached forthwith.

And since we are on the subject - don't miss Answer Man by A. J. Barr, online at DSF!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Poetic Rejections

Alex Shvartsman:

used a poetic rejection I wrote! On a real person, I mean:

So I guess I'll just have to write another:

I am in "like," though not in love
With your submission. Not awful stuff,
Not poorly written, not too rough,
I guess it just wasn't "not bad" enough.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


Kasma's latest offering is an excellent story called Nuclear Family which should be on everyone's holiday reading list.

And this bit of fruitcake also appeared 2 years ago on the Drabblecast forum:



by Anatoly Belilovsky

“I don’t care how nice it is,” said the Inspector. “It’s still a transgenic recombinant product. Frankenfood. I have to take it away to be incinerated.”

“But…” the farmer sputtered. “It’s so sweet! So…”

“Large,” the Inspector said. “It’s a single, five-hundred-pound strawberry. I’m sorry. You know the law.”

“I got friends!“ the farmer threatened. 

“I got a warrant,” said the Inspector.

The farmer sighed. “How can you do this to a beautiful fruit like this? Tell me – I’d really like to know what you think - ”

The Inspector shrugged. “I’ve come to seize your berry, not to praise it.”


Saturday, June 16, 2012

Wee bit o'Eng Lit Wit: Hope You Read... It.


by Anatoly Belilovsky

Dear Mr Jones:

In your midterm paper on MACBETH there were several answers with which I had a bit of a problem. First of all, Macbeth's initial answer to his wife's demands that he kill Duncan was not STFU. Secondly, WTF was not what Macbeth said when he saw Banquo's ghost. Thirdly, Macbeth did not ROTFLMAO when he found out that Macduff was “from his mother's womb untimely ripped.' However, the answers were not entirely wrong, and this is a Shakespeare class, so I decided to give you a grade of A. For brevity is the soul of wit...

Friday, June 15, 2012

Taking a walk on the dark side: the UFO anthology.

Oh no, not me! Writing buddy and all-around awesome guy Alex Shvartsman is putting together an anthology called UFO: Unidentified Funny Objects. His call is pretty much funny enough to be included in the anthology itself:

And in honor of that, a poem, by me, first posted on the Drabblecast forums:

To His Coy Mistress

by Anatoly Belilovsky

An alien invasion won't make me run or scream,
I'll be the first to welcome them, of this I often dream.

I'll happily assist them when they fall from the sky,
Requiring the smartest men, such, for example, as I.

To run this world, after it's been destroyed and built anew,
I will need someone beautiful, such, for example, as you.

You'll only think of musclemen while reading “To Serve Man”,
You'll save your admiration for my long attention span,

Together we will travel the world while righting every wrong.
Oh aliens, dear aliens, what's taking you so long?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Cat in the Hat Howls

With apologies to Dr Seuss and Alan Ginsburg, we somewhat-less-than-proudly present the first in the "Not ready for the prose" series of occasionally poetic interludes. This one is a little dark.

So, without further ado:

Cat in the Hat Howls (first posted on the Drabblecast forum:)

The sun did not shine, it was cold, and the rain
Bashed open our skulls and ate up our brains!
I sat there with Sally, screaming under the stairways,
When who do you think shoved his %*#$ in my face?
Moloch! Solitude! Filth! It was Cat in the Hat!
With a yellow paper rose twisted on a barrette!
"Don't cower unshaven looking at me like that,
My tricks are not bad," said the Cat in the Hat.
"Why, we can have loads of good fun and frolic
With a hip game we can play called "'Waking Nightmares of an Alcoholic'!"

I like dark. It's perfect for hiding a banana peel.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

One Sentence Story, or #1ss

Though brevity is the soul of wit, long-winded is my middle name.

It all started with a story I wrote called Infinite Variety which I sent to Alex Shvartsman for a critique.

While reading it, he tweeted:

Dude there is a 90-word sentence in your story. I had to go find a snack in the middle so that I could get through it! :)
And, in the critique I got later:
This is an enormous run on were-sentence that makes me want to go out and find stakes, and garlic, and whatever else kills were-run-on sentences. 
Which I then Tweeted.

There was much speculation as to exactly what kind of sentence would warrant termination with prejudice, and as a result,  #1ss was born-- The One-Sentence Story Contest. 

Look for the #1ss hashtag on Twitter for details (and keep in mind it probably means something different in other languages) - in the meantime, here is my 242-word entry.

Good Thing I Did Not Tell Them About The Dirty Knife

by Anatoly Belilovsky

While it is true that most people believed in space aliens long before there was any compelling evidence of their existence, and many thought such features as empathy and sense of humor might turn out to be universal to all sentient beings who achieve spaceflight-capable technology; while many wondered what bands of the electromagnetic spectrum such aliens might monitor from afar to gain an understanding of Earth culture and human psychology, and what conclusions they might reach from their exposure to, inter alia, Hitler’s speeches, the dead parrot sketch, and “boldly go where no man has gone before;” while waves of frenzied speculation inundated all informational channels and filled all Terran minds with awe of one kind or another in the weeks after the alien spacecraft, retros blasting incandescent across the vacuum of space, was detected as it crossed the orbit of Saturn and tracked the entire way to its rendez-vous with history -- with all that has been said and written and considered in preparation for first contact between mankind and extraterrestrial civilizations -- it did, nevertheless, render the hand-picked, all-star, international reception committee dumbstruck and speechless when, upon landing on a dry lake bed in the New Mexico desert, the alien exited his ship and, facing an enormous, silent crowd, produced a battered volume marked “Hungarian-English Phrasebook,” peered into it intently, and intoned, in English but with a faux-Eastern European accent: “I will not buy this record, it is scratched!”

The End

And, yes, I did reuse the punchline.

PS:  Here is the latest link farm for the contest:
  •   AB

Monday, May 28, 2012

Epic Win: #1ss number 3 - recycled ending

Epic Win
by Anatoly Belilovsky

A small private smile played on Cleopatra’s lips as she waved to the departing Roman quinquereme bearing Caesar home to the Eternal City; first, in Egyptian, she delivered, for the benefit of the gathered crowd, a wayfarer’s benediction honoring the ancient gods, and then, in Caesar’s honor switching to Latin, she whispered: “Vidi, Vici, Veni...”

Saturday, May 26, 2012

#1ss Installment II: a REALLY epic one-sentence story

De Gustibus Non Disputandum Est

289 words

As the distant roar of the volcanic eruption drowned out screams of animals and people trapped on the shore in front of Porta Marina and the hissing splashes made by gobs of molten lava falling all around his madly racing trireme propelled across the Bay of Neapolis by dozens of terrified oarsmen, and as a cloud of ash descended to the foot of Mount Vesuvius to shroud the dying metropolis in a roiling gray mound that would become a mass burial ground for thousands of inhabitants of the soon to be forgotten city of Pompeii, Marcus Pontius Gladiolus took another sip of a mediocre vintage of Falernian that would have been quite drinkable but for the dust that fell into the wine cup during his escape, looked about for his wine steward before remembering he’s left the boy at the villa to guard the family heirlooms of the Pontii clan from looters and other plebeians, emptied the krater overboard with a sigh, walked across the deck to refill it from the half-empty amphora tied to the mast, raised it, poured a libation, splashing his steersman’s feet with wine and drawing from the stalwart sailor a muffled malediction, and drank deep as he wondered just how much he would miss his twice weekly visits to the Lupanarium and whether the ladies of pleasure in its Neapolitan sister establishment were as good as the hetairae (well, pornae, actually, but, as they say, De mortuis nihil nisi bonum, and it’s not like they could charge an extra as after a posthumous promotion) of Pompeii, and if so, how much of a volume discount he would be able to negotiate in Neapolis for services of copulatory nature.