Sunday, December 20, 2009

It'sThat Season

So no, no Vault yet again. Yesterday was the OSFW Christmas party, and I'm generally useless on that day. Plus the week leading up to it was hectic. I'm hoping for good job-related news next week. It would be a hell of a Christmas present, I tell ya.

Anyway, to make up for it, go here and watch this.

If you think I go on at length in my "Batman" serial recaps, wait till you see this guy. He does a 70-min takedown of "The Phantom Menace" that manages to be both a primer on good storytelling and a devastating critique of the Lucas film's shortcomings, while telling its own story about the reviewer himself. When I found out about it, it was through someone quoting Damon Lindelof, co-creator of Lost, who said to watch it all the way to the end. Turns out, I didn't need the instruction, because once I got into it, I was hooked and couldn't have stopped if I'd tried. So after you've watched part one, do yourself a favor and watch all the other parts from the Related Videos sidebar.

Now I have to wince from my use of the phrase "Turns out" above, because when we had our annual Writing Fragment contest last night, everyone knew which one mine was. Which wasn't a bad thing, because it wasn't as if I tried to make it hard to figure out.

But I figured they'd figure it out from the protagonist, a Scottish inventor in a steampunk tale (given the Scottish inventor I'm currently role-playing, and having a blast BTW). But no, when Sargon said he knew I'd written it, it was because of this sentence:

It had started out innocently enough, though he supposed you could say that about anything, couldn't you?

"That sentence is so you," Sargon said, and he's right. But it's depressing to think that my writing is descending into a series of easily recognizable verbal tics. Oh well, people liked it anyway, and I'm wondering whether it would be worth expanding into a real story.

Presented herewith is the fragment, and you tell me... finish it, or is it fine the way it is? (BTW, in case you're wondering, the "phlogiston" reference was part of the contest, an extra challenge word).


The centipede raced along the rutted dirt road. Its hundred segmented legs, driven by thousands of tiny gears and pistons, rose and fell in a smooth rippling motion that almost made them seem as one piece made of liquid rather than brass and steel. The shears that made up its mouth parts gnashed and slashed with a grating scrape that set MacBirnie's teeth on edge.

Bernie MacBirnie ran down the road in the simulacrum's wake, cursing as he went. He cursed the sun and the gritty dust in the air, he cursed the mechanical monster he was chasing and the real creatures that inspired its design, he cursed false pride and the ultimately hollow satisfaction of a well-mowed lawn, he cursed pianos and the bloody Germans, and most of all, he cursed Moira and himself. Moira, his beautiful maid, for causing this mess, and himself for both inventing the blasted thing and for wanting even now to turn back and comfort Moira with kisses, rather than run his infernal contraption down and stop its rampage.

It had started out innocently enough, though he supposed you could say that about anything, couldn't you? The bloody Garden of Eden had started out innocently enough, and look how that turned out. In this case, Moira had played both Eve and Serpent, wishing to see the workshop where MacBirnie built his wonders. He had acceded readily enough, eager to impress the bonnie red-headed lass and learn if she could kiss better than she could clean.

Moira had ooh'ed and aah'ed appropriately at his steam-driven calliope played by a steam-driven man, and had recoiled in shock at the power of MacBirnie's steam cannon. And then, of course, he'd shown her the centipede.

It was a lovely thing, its carapace of polished steel and copper gleaming in the sun. MacBirnie had built it to mow his lawns. He would wind it with a big key and then set it free to clip the grass with its mouth-shears, following the logic he had imprinted on its control roll. Moira had been fascinated to learn that it was controlled by means of logical parameters punched in a roll of paper, of the same type as those used in a Pianola. MacBirnie had waxed rhapsodic about the beauty of the maths involved, the logical structures that to him possessed their own type of music.

So Moira had proposed listening to the control roll on the autopiano in the music room. As it turned out, the logical structures had no discernible melody when played on the instrument. Rather, the sound was chaotic and dissonant, random notes plinking as if hailstones were striking the keys.

But when MacBirnie then proposed demonstrating the centipede itself, something had gone wrong. Rather than begin mowing the lawn in orderly lines, the centipede gnashed its mouth-shears in a fury and took off down the road as fast as its little legs would carry it. That was when Moira realized that she had inadvertently brought along the wrong paper roll. Rather than follow the immaculate logic MacBirnie had punched out for it, the mechanical insect had been driven to fury by the "Beer Barrel Polka."

Now the only bright spot was that the thing would wind down soon. Not for the first time, MacBirnie counted himself lucky that he hadn't gotten around to powering the thing with phlogiston. There would have been no stopping it in that case. As it was, though, the machine should wind down shortly after entering town, and if he was lucky, there would be no one on the street and he could retrieve his machine and be gone before anyone was the wiser.

But the sound of music and laughter brought an end to MacBirnie's hopes. He remembered now, there was a fair today. He should have brought Moira there, rather than this bloody insecto-chine. The centipede's mouth-shears gnashed eagerly and it redoubled its speed, as if thrilled to have found something to mow. MacBirnie tried not to imagine the entire population of the town falling over in sequence like bloody nine-pins as their legs were mowed off at the ankles. He sprinted faster in hopes of averting the disaster, and his cursing reached new heights of ingenuity.

Roll out the bloody barrel, indeed.


anachred said...

I was gonna ask for a copy of this!
Thanks for posting it.

I think there's a difference between predictable verbal tics and stylistic voice, btw. The one begins to annoy me pretty quickly, the other can make comedy more funny, emotion more grounded, you get what I mean.

Then again, what do I know?
The guesses on which story was mine (that were wrong) were by turns flattering and mortifying...

TheyStoleFrazier'sBrain said...

Well, maybe "depressed" was too strong a term. But the comment stuck with me. The most painful criticisms of your writing, I find, are the ones that are true. Of course, Sargon has also said of the last few things of mine that he's read that he couldn't predict where the story was going, so at least I'm not totally predictable and formulaic plot-wise. It's just that my voice might be getting stale.

Then again, I'm a worrier.

Bat-Cheva said...

I would love love love to see you finish this.

I personally do not find your writing predictable, you always manage to surprise me. I really enjoy your stories and always look forward to them.

sargon999 said...

You have an identifiable style. A STYLE! That is not a bad thing, it's a good thing.