Sunday, November 16, 2014

My thoughts on "Interstellar" (Spoilers-ish)

            In "Interstellar" aliens or highly evolved beings (think the Prophets from Star Trek) create a wormhole in our solar system to help humanity escape as ecological plague is destroying the Earth's ability to cultivate human life.  Using NASA's last hail Mary pass a crew sets out with an incubation system able to create hundreds of test tube babies on one of the worlds beyond the wormhole.  The movie is dense with character and motivation.  You see why these scientists need to go on what could be a suicide mission and I felt legitimately sad watching the hero, Cooper drive away from his home and family.

Also, I thought the score was great.
            In short it was great.  At no point did it feel its length, I was engaged throughout.  They dole out information in small enough bites that I never felt overwhelmed, while at the same time information is given out readily enough that I am never left questioning what is going on (this might be a side effect of having seen so many science fiction movies, read so many books, and so many comics, people less immersed in the genre might find the information coming too fast or not deep enough).  I have heard the exact same speech on how wormholes work in another movie ("Event Horizon") and as a kid watching "Star Trek Deep Space 9" I visualized how a wormhole would look to a human eye, envisioning tunnels, disks, cubes, and spheres.  I like science (especially astronomy) and "Interstellar" has lots of science.
            Much like "Man of Steel" there is an environmental message and a commentary on how the government lies to people to keep them from panicking, but that in turn only halts efforts to turn back the apocalypse.  I love that this movie has a sly sense of humor, lots of wisecracks especially from Case, one of the robots.  The robot's design is a really cool concept, maybe my favorite thing in the movie; an obvious homage to the Obelisk in "2001: A Space Odyssey" but able to unfold and move and communicate in such a way that makes them unique and full of character.  The fact that the robots are treated like members of the crew and people showing concern for them was great, serving to illustrate how to correct one of my biggest issues with "Prometheus" (which had a totally human android treated like dirt by crew members who acted less like scientists and more like impetuous asshole children).
            Scientists act like scientists, using rational thought to come to rational solutions, but at the same time they are people and they take actions out of love, madness, fear, or hope and rationalize them the best they can even if their actions are a huge danger to the mission.  I have heard people complain that the concept of capital 'L' Love being some kind of cosmic force that guides people is too irrational for a character like Anne Hathaway's, and that the idea is called back to in the climax betrays the hard science the movie is going for.  I disagree.
            Love is the explanation that is given, but as an audience member you don't have to accept it.  The aliens are time travelers, you can say that love is helping people navigate the time stream because love is so strongly keyed to memory, but at the same time the aliens could be responding to hormone levels that occur in a certain area.  Who knows?  Who cares?  It doesn't matter for the story it is just about a father trying to help his family live thru the apocalypse and in doing so becomes a ghost to them, vanishing from their lives when they felt all was lost.  But even if you take it as a canonical fact that Love is real and it is some kind of psychic force in the universe like gravity... Then that is just a sweet sentiment and the break with reality that makes this science fiction movie more fantastical in tone.  Why would that break the movie?  Doesn't for me.  (Not like there isn't precedence of love reaching across time, more if you include various movies I did not watch).
            The only real issues I had was two distracting choices in casting, Topher Grace shows up as a doctor in the third act, and Matt Damon as an astronaut with cabin fever who acts as the movies' second act complication/tension heightening device (like HAL in "2001").  Neither does a bad job with their roles, but seeing big name actors show up out of nowhere like that took me out of it a little.  But at the same time you need some big names because they are major characters in those sections of the movies, especially Damon's role (maybe we are supposed to act surprised to see Damon as the characters in the movie would feel a sense of awe at meeting a very heroic astronaut/scientist).  Not sure how to fix that complaint, but as I wrote the last sentence the issue bothers me less.

Kind of like Buzz Aldrin would be hugely recognizable to astronauts, Damon is recognizable to movie goers.
            People also seem to think "Interstellar" is too long, but like I said before it doesn't feel its length to me.  People complain that they explain too much, especially Matt Damon, but considering his character has been talking to himself for months and is a raving nut job I can't see an issue there either.  And this is a movie about explaining things.  What did you expect?  I think I will have to play the 'Robots in Pacific Rim' card, you have to accept certain things will happen in certain types of movies, you should have known that going into the theater.  Sure I heard a lot of it before (almost verbatim) but not everyone has, and imagine being a kid in the audience who has never heard a serious discussion on wormholes before, the last few "Star Trek" movies and shows were even less scientific than this movie.
            I also detect strange levels of vitriol directed at Christopher Nolan, who I find to be a fantastic filmmaker.  I haven't actively disliked any of his movies, and even his weakest ("The Dark Knight Rises") only failed for its ambition.  He has a distinct style, visuals, pacing, and dialogue scheme.  I found this movie to be a bit outside his comfort zone with the dynamics of parenthood which he only ever touched on in "Batman Begins" and as an afterthought in "The Prestige", but it is good to grow as an artist and he did.  Apparently "Interstellar" was originally intended as a Spielberg movie, and I can see it, but I am glad that they gave it over to Nolan, changed up the feel of what might have been too emotional a movie (Spielberg hits the parental issues a lot in his work.... almost all of it, "Minority Report", "Close Encounters", "War of the Worlds", "Jurassic Park", at least half of the Indiana Jones franchise, even in "Lincoln" there is a prevalent subplot about Lincoln's son)  This would have been another Spielberg science fiction movie, instead it is a broadening of Nolan's pallet.  That is good.
            I am actually liking the movie the more I think about it.  Yeah there is some stuff in there, like no one on the ship realizing how the time dilation would work on the first alien planet, but I write it off that they were experiencing tunnel vision because of the urgency of their mission.  Or the super nit picky: how in the world was that space craft able to go down to the surface of a world with such high gravity and then make it back to the ship?  Hell the extra gravity should have kept the landing gear from working, and landing in water would have caused them to sink into the ground unless they had exceptionally wide feet on the landing legs.  Escaping Earth's gravity is the big issue of the movie, let alone escaping the impossibly heavy gravity of tidal wave world.  Again: who cares?
            I also want to note this: it was better than "2001: A Space Odyssey".  "2001" is boring, soulless, and revels in its own dated special effects under the guise of letting the audience take it in.  While I respect the visuals (not really, the monkeys look fake even by the standards of the time, and the light tunnel to a nice apartment is lame) "Interstellar" has broader appeal, and is just as high minded without wasting my time staring at things.
            "Interstellar" is a movie.  It has a lot of science, a good bit of adventure, some high minded philosophizing about Love, and a very simple metaphor about how parents leave children behind and how those children grow into adults.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Preview Chapter: "Foresight", Chapter 19

A while back I wrote a short novelette.  It took me a very long time to write it, but I have written almost as much on this squeal in the last year as I wrote entirely for "Hole in a Field".  To show that I have been doing something with the little mystery I created I present you with a sample chapter for what will become "Foresight" (Ironic).
The last preview was of Chapter 9 and is linked here.

Chapter 19: Down to Business
            "Sir?" came the secretary's voice from a cracked door.
            The Man in the Suit was looking at the digital pictures of what had been found in the hole in the field.  A black pillar or stele covered in arcane writing.  It was vantablack and seemed to be emitting some kind of signal.  Four of the five people who had been investigating it had died, and the bodies of random people had been found in the underground chamber.  Was this what the Cloak had warned him about?
            "Yes?" asked the Man in the Suit.
            "I know it doesn't seem important," she said.  "But I wasn't able to cancel the meeting you had set up for this morning."
            "Which meeting would that be?" he asked staring into the black on his monitor.
            "It's with the TV producers about the show," she said sheepishly.
            His chin dropped to his chest and he buried his face in his hands, "okay."
            "I said OKAY!" he yelled.  Followed immediately by, "Sorry.  Sorry.  I'll do the meeting.  Sorry to yell."
            "It's okay," she said.  As the door nearly shut she said, "I heard what happened."
            Part of his job was the management of the image of the White Hats.  The organization was still seen as a group of weirdoes by the public, and those were the few who knew they existed.  As funded and official as they were, they were at best seen as cryptic specialists in investigative work, unable to get the funding necessary to be proactive in research and development constantly taking work outside of the stated mission of the group.
            The obscure hipster mystic image suited the founders of the group just fine, they had started it as graduate students and had spun it into an online community, that was all the fame they ever wanted and they liked doing the work.  But for the financiers, the management that knew how important the work they were doing really is, they needed the public to want the help, they needed the public to offer to help them, they needed more money, more applicants, more trust.  They needed a TV show.
            "Well if it isn't the notorious Man in the Suit," said the gleaming white smile that walked as a man, Tyler.
            "Such poise," said bombshell in a pantsuit, Judy.  "I could sell a horror anthology series with you as the Rod Sterling in an instant."
            Why did everyone always reference the Twilight Zone?  Thought the man in the suit.  "Tyler, Judy, we have spoken in email, good to finally meet you."
            "Ooh," said Tyler.  "Do you hear that voice Jude?  Sounds like Morgan Freeman."
            "I was thinking Yul Brynner," said Judy.
            "You are right, that is the voice of a pharaoh," said Tyler, sitting down first.  "Have you ever considered voice over work?"
            "No," he said.  "I've never managed to get out of management fields."
            "The world of movie trailers weeps for their loss," said Judy taking a seat.
            "We wanted to alk to you about what we see the show being," said Tyler.
            "So you have agreed to a show," said the Man in the Suit.
            "Tentatively," said Judy.  "You have enough material to fill three shows, case files for a police procedural, enough history to fill a history channel hidden mysteries series, and enough investigators to run a Cops style reality show."
            "So you want three shows?"
            "Not so fast," said Tyler.  "We are just worried that horror fantasy entertainment is getting played out.  We have shows that are deep into horror, we have shows that are deep into alternate history."
            "What?" asked Tyler.
            "You said 'alternate history'," said the Man in the Suit.  "It isn't alternate anything.  It happened, people just don't want to admit that."
            "You say that with such conviction," said Judy, smiling and fluttering her eyes a bit.  "Makes a believer out of me."
            "Thank you."
            "Point is," continued Tyler, his smile having never left his face, though his eyes weren't smiling completely.  It was a forced smile, he hated being here and hated the show ideas, he thought the whole thing was a farce, like every hack script with the words 'based on true events' written on the cover.  "The point I am trying to make is that you need a hook that sets yourself apart from those and I think we have the idea.
            "It's actually brilliant," said Judy, her smile was legitimate, she probably talked Tyler into coming, probably threw this idea at him to keep the project alive.  She was flirting with him.
            "We want the characters to be really relatable," said Tyler.  "But funny.  We were thinking a comedy like 'Seinfeld' but instead of comedians they are researchers.  The core of the show is actually the dialogue between the characters and them being in the various restaurants and hotels, but with the work they do being the background."
            "Stop a second," said the Man in the Suit.  "I had four people die in the last 24 hours."
            Tyler and Judy went pale, Judy's mouth dropped open and Tyler's forced grin broke.
            "I know you have to worry about media markets," he said.  "I know that things are about selling.  But the reason we want the show is because we want people to know that what we do is dangerous, and the things in the dark are real, and they are here."
            There was a shimmer in the room, just for an instant, and Judy started shrieking.  No, wait, Tyler was shrieking.  Judy was shivering and remaining motionless.  The room was covered in tiny wolf and daddy long leg spiders.
            "I'm sorry," said the Man in the Suit.  "I think I have another appointment that takes precedence."
            "I can come back," said the Cloak stepping out of his door that had materialized in the office.
            "I was talking to them," he said.  "Judy, Tyler, it was good talking to you, but my friend has something important to tell me I am sure, he never shows up for any other reason."
            "My apologies," said the Cloak, as Tyler ran shrieking out of the office, nearly going thru the Cloak's door into the place of harsh yellow light and discordant clicking.
            "It was a good meeting I think," said Judy standing in the most rigid way possible, she had a card.  "Here is my personal number if you want to get together later and talk.  I never got your name."
            "No one has heard his name in a long time Madam," said the Cloak.
            "I'll call you, Judy," he said, taking the card.  "I know it is a lot to ask, but I am going to need your help, I don't believe Tyler is going to have a lot of faith in the show."
            She smiled for a half second, before a spider crawled on her face causing her to cringe, and close her mouth and eyes.
            "Shall I fetch my creature to dispose of the little pests?" asked the Cloak.

            "Judy, we're going to get something to get rid of the bugs, going to need you to keep your eyes closed for a couple minutes," he said.  "Trade secret, has to be protected."

Monday, October 20, 2014

Fix the Scene: "Man of Steel"

Let's fix the scene.  There are some movie scenes that are fine except for some little thing, more often than not it is bad dialogue, so I will try to fix those scenes as best I can by putting in better dialogue.  To start, a scene a lot of people hate in "Man of Steel"

The Scene:
Clark has just rescued his school bus from drowning causing people to freak the fuck out about his strength.  Even having some fundamentalist lady calling it a gift from God (one of a thousand Christian allusions that exist in Superman movies made since 2000, because alien savior is an idea people get behind.... So long as it isn't Tom Cruise).
Not knowing why he is like this Clark is distraught and being consoled by his father, Jonathan.

This is a screen grab from the very film.  It is well acted and framed.  Zack Snyder knows how to hold a camera.
The actual dialogue:

Clark Kent at 13: I just wanted to help.
Jonathan Kent: I know you did, but we talked about this. Right? Right? We talked about this! You have...!
[calms himself]
Jonathan Kent: Clark, you have to keep this side of yourself a secret.
Clark Kent at 13: What was I supposed to do? Just let them die?
Jonathan Kent: Maybe; but there's more at stake here than our lives or the lives of those around us. When the world... When the world finds out what you can do, it's gonna change everything; our... our beliefs, our notions of what it means to be human... everything. You saw how Pete's mom reacted, right? She was scared, Clark.
Clark Kent at 13: Why?
Jonathan Kent: People are afraid of what they don't understand.
Clark Kent at 13: Is she right? Did God do this to me? Tell me!

That was not a good scene. It should have had Jon Kent saying something like this, rather than the very controversial choice of "MAYBE".

Jon: I know you want to help people, I am proud of that. That is the mark of a good person. But you have to know what a danger that puts you in. Abandoning your safety, your freedom for someone else might be asking too much of you, and that is the choice you will have to make as you grow.  I mean, it's not like you are saving strangers while wearing a garish costume or some kind of mask. At least then people might be too relieved or distracted to identify you.

Clark: Dad, what are you talking about?

Jon: I don't know son. I just know I don't want to lose you, even if it means someone else might have to lose their family. I guess I am selfish in that way. It is my weakness, and I hope you never see how far I would go to protect you from a world I don't think is ready.

Clark: Why am I like this?

Jon: Clark, I have something to show you.


I will happily accept suggestions for scenes to fix if people want me to.  Please comment with such suggestions.
I also have at least three other blogs about this movie.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Why I dislike "The Big Bang Theory" (The TV Show)

            I don't really like the show, "The Big Bang Theory".  While I will admit that the show does on occasion have some heart or development for the most part it is just a dumb farce that seems to have limitless contempt for the characters and the audience.  To illustrate this point I would like to point to an episode that for whatever reason really sticks out in my memory, "The Cornhusker Vortex" (Season 3, Episode 6; Nov 2, 2009).
            In this episode two of the characters, Howard and Raj play a game of kite battling (none of this is shown, that would be interesting and showcase something exotic and neat that their worldly jobs and education have yielded... can't have that, they are to only be the butt of jokes) somehow Howard fucks up because he gets distracted by a pretty woman and so Raj is mad at him.  Since none of the kite flying is shown I have no idea how he ruins things, but that is the "B" plot.

What do you mean we don't get to be characters rather than one-note jokes?  Not for another 3 seasons?  That's lame.
            The "A" plot though has to deal with Leonard (why doesn't he go by Leo?).  Leonard finds out that his girlfriend Penny is having a football party with her friends (friends that are never previously seen, and are never heard from again) and Leonard wants to participate, she just thinks he'll be bored because he doesn't like football (she is completely right and the mature thing to do is for Leonard to just admit that and they should just agree to have fun on their own with other friends from time to time, but he is emotionally retarded).
            For some fucking reason Leonard decides to learn football from textbooks and recites the rules of the game in exacting detail as he watches, and remains completely baffled by the game.  The clever twist of the episode is that the asperger's syndrome test subject, Sheldon knows all about Football having grown up in Texas, and teaches it to Leonard.  Ultimately Penny sees how Leonard is frustrated and does what she did originally and lets him go to spend his Sunday hanging out with Howard and Raj whose friendship is mended.

So the plot of this show is that a man who understands particle physics...
Can't understand the rules of a sport?
You know, lots of people don't care about lots of sports, its not that they can't understand the rules...
It's that they have no interest.  Like people who dislike jogging or broccoli.
            Why in god's name did they have to teach Leonard football at all?  Forget watching it, reading it, cultural osmosis, and Sheldon teaching him... All of that aside, "Madden NFL 2010" was released 6 weeks before this episode premiered.  It is a football video game.  Just buy a used copy of Madden 09' from Gamestop (there will be 10,000 copies there for $5) and have him play that for a few hours, Leo would have mastered the rules in a day.  The guy plays video games all the time there is no reason he couldn't learn to play a game for children... VIA PLAYING THE VIDEO VERSION OF THAT GAME FOR CHILDREN.

Use a video game to teach someone about a sport?  But how can football if not jock!?
            Even from a story perspective there should be some kind of contrast between the exotic sport of kite battle and football and how Howard and Raj get into a fight during it, and how Leonard forcing his way into the football party should cause a fight with Penny, but there is no real parity, no message beyond, don't watch shows you dislike... a message I had no trouble following as I have watched maybe an episode's worth of clips since then.
            I will admit that once there were more women on the show and they were treated like characters instead of objects the show improved.  And once they had Howard stop acting like a would be sex offender it improved.  And once they stopped with all the hack nerd jokes (there are only so many) the show improved.  But it is still crap.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

My First Impressions on "Ni No Kuni"

I bought this game during Black Friday last year and popped it in for about an hour this spring and I now realize I will never be going back. So while I wrote several paragraphs for my first impressions, planning to give the game a full run down, that is not going to happen, so here are some of my initial thoughts of disappointment and boredom. Maybe my expectations were too high from it getting recommended so many time. I can sort of see the appeal, but not really.

First Impressions:
Was playing the first hour of "Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch" (Why did they not translate the whole title?) on the PS3 and they really needed to bring in Neil Gaiman to do a punch up on the script. The number of "huh", "wah", "hmm", and various other mouth-noise filler is embarrassing. There is also the stupidly long installation period, load times, and opening credit sequence (just do the installation while playing the opening credits).

I got nowhere near even having little sidekicks and buddies.
They also have a very poor habit of sliding between 4 levels of exposition, there is the gameplay interactions without voices, those with voices, those that are in game cinematics, and then there are fully animated cut scenes, and then there are the fully animated cut scenes which happen in areas that the viewpoint character is not in, or those that flashback to another cut scene that we watched 5 minutes prior.
There was 45 minutes before the first bit of combat which consisted of me hitting a puppy with a stick 3-5 times... I like the art style and the character, Drippy, but this game has a lot of problems getting into gear.
Oliver the main character is shown as having helped build and then drove a car he and his friend made, this in part leads to the death of his mother who saved him when the car crashed into a river causing her heart to give out.  While this skill ever be used again?  I can't find anything in the promotional art or screen shots that indicates that it will.  Is this to establish character?  If so, what does it establish?  Oliver is practically dragged into the situation by his friend and does little aside from get rescued once the situation turns bad.  I guess it is supposed to make him feel responsible for his mother's death, but he is a 13 year old who drove a small car into a calm river at low speed, why did he even need rescuing?  This whole opener makes him seem sheepish and ineffectual to the point of being a loser.
There is a subtext that the fantasy world is Oliver's attempt to escape from the harshness of the situation, especially considering that Drippy the Lord of Fairies is a toy his mother made for him yet claims to have been transformed into the doll by the villain... But that subtext is under cut when supernatural things are shown to exist before the tragedy that spurs the adventure... that is bad writing.  The ambiguity of whether or not this is a dream or real is important to showing the character coming to grips with things.  This is why I mentioned Neil Gaiman who does a lot of modern fantasy with going-down-the-rabbit-hole elements and has included scenes that make the reader question what is happening to the character ("Neverwhere" had that confrontation be one of the big climaxes of the book).

I must state, that even though the game's pacing kept me from playing it again, It remains one of the most beautiful and imaginative games I have ever seen and it a credit to all of the artistic minds that worked on it in that regard.
If you want a positive review, please watch this silly European woman.  She really liked it and explains why, in a way that allows me to see how others could appreciate it very deeply.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Roads of Bone, Chapter 12: The Greatest Victory

(This is my 250th blog entry, I did nothing to commemorate this, and just continued with my random fantasy story.  Mostly because I have written 100+ blogs on my facebook before moving to this one so the idea of numerical milestones is a bit lost already.  Enjoy.)

I am doing a little experiment.  I am going to write a series of chapters in a fantasy world of my creation and see if it goes anywhere.  Since I have not prewritten this story and have no outline, it will probably end up a convoluted mess.  I do not know how often I will be able to update this or if it will ever finish.  This is the link to CHAPTER 1.  (I have also found that I have to go back and clean up very broken sentences in previous chapters.  This is why I need an editor.  I understand what I am writing, but I need to make sure other people do too.)

Chapter 12: The Greatest Victory
            "Apple," said Malachite.  "The first thing you must learn about being a soldier for hire, and I cannot emphasize this point enough: you never want to get into a fight."
            "What?" asked the girl.
            The day was hot, and aside from the flashes of the occasional fish the water was clear.  The Color Line was perfect for the sort of lazy lecturing every pontificating jackass never tires of.  As such Malachite was sitting in a wooden folding chair under a parasol drinking a bottle with a foreign label that looked beautiful with a fading wax seal and a shimmering, cloudy, and sweet smelling liquid in it.  Apple was sitting cross legged next to him in a big floppy hat that afforded her relatively the same level of cover, but she was drinking orange juice.
            "Fighting is an abhorrent activity," said Malachite.  "It is full of confusion, pain, loss, and death, far more death than anyone has any right to wish on anyone.  The key to being a successful warrior is to live a long time, collect a lot of pay, and tell great stories, none of which involves getting stabbed, burned, crushed, or having your foot cut off because you had the poor luck to step on something dirty while running thru a field."
            "But if you don't fight, what are you getting paid to do?"
            "The greatest victory is the battle not fought," said Malachite to the confused towheaded girl.  "So you have to do some calculation.  Which side is the one willing to fight the most?  Which side has the most troops?  Which side has the best fortifications?  The best weapons?  The best leader?  Or offers the most amicable peace?
            "If a group will fight no matter what, you want to avoid them, whether for or against, they will drag you into conflict that could be side stepped.  If a side has lots of other troops, then that means you are less likely to even be in the fight, you are insulated; same with fortifications.  You have to look at each situation and think of which side is going to win, and then just be there with a helpful little push, a rousing speech, that sort of thing.  Also helps if they have drab uniforms, allows you to make yourself look busy and everyone notices."
            "Isn't that cowardly?"
            "Sadly, yes," said Malachite.  "We live in a world in which physical conflict is glorified and lauded, so rational self interest is seen as a weakness of character.  I have been told more than once that the worst parts of hell are reserved for those who maintain their flexibility during times of great conflict.  Luckily, I have concocted the ultimate escape plan from such punishments, I have chosen not to believe in hell."
            "So are you going to teach me how to fight with a sword?" asked Apple.
            "I was getting to that part," said Malachite turning to frown at her a bit.  "But I needed to teach you the first best lesson: you never want to get into a fight, but if the other person is set, then you had better win."
            He let that hang in the air.  She was a little girl.  Surely she had had a hard life and understood the necessity of things, but fighting is a gruesome business, she should know that in the abstract before the immediate.  "And also, no you can't learn to fight with a sword yet.  You are too short for the one I have."
            Apple's mouth fell open in disappointment.
            "No," said Malachite.  "We'll have to start you out on a gun."
            He stood and walked over to a big long box.  Apple's mouth opened even wider in excitement and her eyes lit with delight.
            "Any damn fool can use a gun," said Malachite.
            The box was 4 feet long, 2 wide, and a foot deep, it had a gold name plate with the words "Blow Horn" written in the same swirling letters used on Malachite's "The Wonderful" codpiece.  Black with dings and scrapes the crate had two locks on it, each looked like they could weather raining blows from pick axes and not give up the treasure within.  "It is incredibly inconvenient but necessary for me to keep this secure to such a degree, so I am not going to teach you the numbers that unlock these, understood?" Malachite asked Apple.
            "Yes Uncle."
            As he popped each lock open Malachite took a second, strumming his fingers on the box looking across the water to shore.  This can't be a good decision.  But it isn't uncommon, I would have a squire already were I at home and this would be part of the training.  But I'm not at home, is this something I should just let be left there?
            "What?" asked Malachite coming out of his hesitation.  "Yes, let's get this show started."
            The box opened to reveal an abus gun.  Abus guns were first used by the Caliphate as tiny siege weapons, larger catapults would just get lost moving thru the desert and anything smaller wouldn't be able to knock down a door thru repeated or concentrated firing.  The gun Malachite had was made with some upgrades to style.  The barrel was gold plated and had flowing red lines swirling across is eliciting the gun smoke, or the spray of a hit artery it was also slightly smaller than most, firing a stone or led shot that was only 3 inches across rather than most that were in the range of 4 to 9.
            "Apple," said Malachite.  "this is the smallest gun they make that qualifies as a siege weapon, any smaller and it would be a rifle, since it is intended to be shot at walls and door, known for being stationary and huge, this thing is maddeningly inaccurate and should only be firing at something equally large.  Like a formation of troops.  At least when you are using a normal shot, I have made some modifications."
            The barrel was affixed to the wooden stock by silver rings and the butt of the stock had golden engravings of the Hasenburg two headed bull.  This was also one of only a handful of breech loading weapons in existence, allowing fresh ammunition and charge of explosive powder to be loaded via a trap door near the handle, rather than thru the muzzle like most guns.  "Let me show you how to load it."
            The rest of the case had gun powder that was black, different than any Apple had ever seen before.  "Why are you carrying soot?"
            "That is black powder," explained Malachite.  "It fires with less smoke and more power than the typical stuff, it was only invented in the last decade by the court wizard of the Shah of White Sand, a city in the Caliphate.  Getting that stuff and the formula to it was the week I ate nothing besides soup and harem girls.... Forget that last part."
            "You ate people?" Apple was aghast.
            "I misspoke," said Malachite backpedaling.  "I meant... You know what I can't think of anything to cover that.  When I said I ate them I meant that I kissed them.  Don't tell anybody that, I am confident there is some kind of death penalty in place for them and me if anybody finds out she met the Wonderful Malachite."
            The next thing Malachite removed from the box was a tripod covered in the same gold engravings.  "This thing is always a bitch to keep clean.  Every grove ends up with mud in it, but if I didn't take my fancy one into battle I couldn't bill whoever hired me for its use and clean up."
            "Also makes for a better story to have the best looking weapon," said Apple.
            "You're learning," said Malachite affixing the gun to the tripod and pointing it out to the river.  "An abus is a small cannon and should only be fired with a tripod to anchor it in place, the kickback of firing this one is less than most, which means you can aim, fire, and load quickly, but unanchored the kick will damage your shoulder and make the thing so inaccurate you might as well just throw the gun in anger.  More likely to hit something that way."
            "So never fire without the tripod?" asked Apple.
            "Never say never," said Malachite attaching a set of metal pieces and a lens to the top length of the barrel.  "If someone is standing as close to you as I am now, and he intends to hurt you, fire the fun, hope it hits, and expect a lot of blood to get on you."  Malachite paused a bit while aligning the lens.  "Also, if you are sprayed with blood remember to clean the gun soon after.  Blood is corrosive."
            "Corrosive?" asked Apple.
            "Between you and the wizard its like I am teaching letters," said Malachite.  "Corrosive means that it damages metal that it is left on.  So you clean it off before that happens, it is important to keep stuff clean."
            "Like boots," said Apple.
            "Precisely," said Malachite.  "Now let's continue," pointing to the lens and the metal bits he had attached to the silver rings along the barrel.  "These are sights.  Using them is said to improve accuracy.  Most people without sights just point the gun in the general direction of what they want to hit and fire the gun, but if you look down the barrel, so that the front sight sits between the tines of the back sight, and you make sure that a target is just behind those then you will almost certainly hit what you are aiming at.  Unless they move, there is too much wind, the bullet is misshapen, something gets in the way, the gun fails to fire, or any number of other stupid things that invariably happens just when you don't want it to."
            At this point Apple was salivating at the thought of getting to fire the Horn Blower.
            "Alright little one," said Malachite.  Good or ill, here we go.  "Try and hit that tree on the bank."
            Apple stood behind the gun, looked down the sight and listened as Malachite told her a hundred little things, "Move your foot here, no here" "Hold it tight to your shoulder" "Now look at the lines on the lens, if those cross over what you want to hit that is good, now look at the front and back sights..." and after what seemed an eternity of anticipation he said as softly as possible, "Remember every part of this, we're going to do it a hundred times before we are off this boat, but ultimately it needs to start here, because one day this will mean life and death... Now, FIRE!"

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Roads of Bone, Chapter 11: Grandfather

I am doing a little experiment.  I am going to write a series of chapters in a fantasy world of my creation and see if it goes anywhere.  Since I have not prewritten this story and have no outline, it will probably end up a convoluted mess.  I do not know how often I will be able to update this or if it will ever finish.  This is the link to CHAPTER 1.  (I have also found that I have to go back and clean up very broken sentences in previous chapters.  This is why I need an editor.  I understand what I am writing, but I need to make sure other people do too.)

Chapter 11: Grandfather
            Apple found Pasgard at his own table in the common area of the ships hold, with what appeared to be 3 human sized troughs filled with heavy stew and half a pitcher of sparkling juice.
            "Master," said Apple.  "How should I address you?"
            "Good question," said Pasgard, taking a minute to roll his shoulders and straighten his back.  "When I took my first apprentice I was still working as Caliphate, and was worried for rank and title, I had they call me Master.  My number two did the same because of habit.  Then I became a Vizier so I used that for the next three, keep it simple.  When I left being a Vizier they call me Pasgard, like everyone else, but some just calling me Master anyway."
            Pasgard paused for a while and looked at no particular thing on the table.
            "You might be my last apprentice," said Pasgard.  "What did you call, Lord Malachite?"
            "He had me call him, Uncle," replied Apple, still unsure what to call the wizard, and having a hard time following his broken speech, it seemed to be getting worse since she had first heard him talk to Uncle Malachite.
            "Hmm," hmm'd Pasgard.  "Don't think I could be 'Uncle' at my age.  How about grandfather?"
            "I would like that," said Apple.
            "I am glad," said Pasgard.  "Now let me start your first lesson."
            Apple beamed and took the seat opposite Pasgard as he gestured her to sit.  He slid the food aside for a moment, a reprieve not a pardon.  And then in his hand was a roll of paper.  He splayed it out across the table and pinned it down with little tacks that again appeared from nowhere.
            The paper was a series of circles and connections with words written in the Caliphate language.  "Do not worry little one, today will not require too much reading," his open hands then began to wave in circle gestures over the paper and all of the circles began to turn like gears in a clock.
            "This is what magic is," said Pasgard.  "Each circle is a part of the world, and each touches the next and pushes it and feel's its own movement slowed by the push.  This push can be followed back thru all of time to the first mover, a being we call Primal, the light of creation that shines into each of us.  It is what animates us, just as water causes a ship to float, the Primal light of creation makes us all live.  Do you understand?"
            "We are light?" asked Apple, more just mesmerized by the turning of the circles.
            "Yes and no," said Pasgard.  "We are the matter that the light animates, and we are the light which animates the matter, and the light within us is the same as the light in all others, just as the matter is all the same matter, only different because of how it is put together."
            Apple realized Pasgard no longer sounded like he had.  His words flowed like he had been a native speaker his whole life.  "Grandfather, how..." How do you ask without sounding rude?  "Why do you sound so differently?"
            "Apple," said Pasgard.  "We are speaking on a deeper level, you will learn this soon.  It is the Primal language, it is closer to the Primal Light, and thus understood more deeply than the languages of man.  It is as if we are souls speaking to one another.  If you look closely at my lips, you will see, they are saying something just a bit differently."
            They were.  His lips moved out of sync with the sounds he spoke.  "Uh," was all Apple could say, it confused her deeply to notice the break between the speaker and the spoken.
            "Relax little one," said Pasgard.  "It is just the fastest way to learn about this, and it will be how I teach you to read.  You will be able to read the light below the words on a page, you will grasp a deeper meaning.  I keep a little book filled with words I have learned, trying to keep them and understand the finer glow of them and the meanings of those who spoke them.
            "On the deepest levels, true understanding of the whole of creation is to be found, and the ability to awaken briefly in others the ability to see the rich light of creation."
            "Like the fish," said Apple.  "Back at the cafe you made everyone see their light."
            "And much more," Pasgard leaned back and began gesturing to the paper like coaxing mist from a censer, and the words began to float from the page turning in the air, glowing, and Apple could read some of them.  "Give me time, and you will understand."