Well C’mon and Let Me Know…Should I stay or should I go?

I’ve been updating this blog for well over three years now. Two entries ago, I completed part one of Ivre. You can see all the posts here or just visit the initial post in the series here.  There’s still more to come with the book. Two more parts to revise and post. I’ve yet to get any feedback, though, beyond the suggestion to change the title. So I’m left to ask: Should I go on? Should I stay or should I go?

Trouble is, I quite like the characters, and where the story goes. And while I think it’s worth my time, I’m not sure if it is worth the time of others.

So, if you’ve remained silent until now, please take a moment. Dig through the entries. Especially the first chapter. Let me know: should I quit and focus on something else? Or should I keep going?

Ten Women – And the Future (#TenWomenAuthors)

There is a hashtag trending – #TenWomenAuthors – whereupon folks name ten women authors who’ve inspired and amazed.  I thought I’d add my ten in this article. Now, I could just keep adding and adding, but I’ve picked ones which had a particular influence on me in one way or another as I was exploring literature.

Tanith Lee – The first lady of dark fantasy as far as I’m concerned.

C.J Cherryh – Whose Foreigner books are a milestone to culture building and the power of diplomacy.

C. L. Moore – Who shattered so many boundaries, and who’s Jirel stories will always have an honored space on my shelves.

Leigh Brackett – Planetary romance? Check. Howard Hawks’ favorite screenwriter. Check.

Christa Faust – Torrid tales from the pulp underground.

Caitlin R. Kiernan – Chronicler of the deep histories.

P.D. James – My first lady of crime.

Sara Paretsky – On these mean streets, she charted the way for so many others.

Pat Cadigan – Still blowing minds all of these years.

Margaret Weis – My first real introduction to epic fantasy.

Now, I could keep adding: Elizabeth Bear, Cherie Priest, Elizabeth Moon, Jacqueline Carey, Kate Orman, Gemma Files… I could keep going.  And who knows who will added to this roster in the future. I just hope this encourages folks to dig into these author’s work.

 

Ivre – Part 1: Arrival, Chapter 10

Ivre
by
Andrija Popovic

(The following is an initial draft of this work. All content is (c) Andrija Popovic 2015)

A box within a box. The great watchers laugh at me. The beast flailed in the ocean’s depths, grasping at the tiny motes of energy floating around. Fish. Squid. Survivors of the ship which carried his first prison. None offered sustenance. He craved the life-force of one of the sorcerers who dragged him from the oceans of home.

This was a cruel parody of his ocean. The channeler’s basalt prison maddened him, gave him nothing to focus on but the pain of his life essence draining away at the command of some petty energy channeler. Yet this world, this ocean, held no such malice. It could not help blinding him, starving him, driving him mad.

The beast sang, low and mournful, through the wisps of the higher realms where he once lived. It echoed into the sea and sky, unheard by the beings who dragged him into this existence. The world was deaf to his song.

But something sang back.

The the tenor felt nothing like the long, undulating songs of his people. This song resembled a chorus of sharp, brittle chimes which melded into a larger song. It was alien and strange, but close. Close enough to touch.

Can you hear me? The beast sang.

*We can hear you,* the chorus sang back.

How can you hear me?

*You sing the songs of the higher seas. We swim there to travel* The chorus grew discordant. *We swam. No longer. We are exiled here now. Our Queen was cast from the great web.*

I understand. The beast dragged his bulk further out to the sea, focused on the distant signal. I was dragged from my sea by channelers called Tememerans. They enslaved me. He sang sensations of entrapment, fear and pain. Through the aether, he felt sympathy and sadness from the chorus.

*We know the Temerans. When we were first cast to the lower realms, it was near their home continent. They took it as a sign and began a great working. They sought divinity through the higher realms.*

Did they succeed?

*No. It left them spiritless meat.* Sadness bloomed into thick, red despair. *But they trapped us here.*

You have my sympathies. One of his tendrils reached the source of the song: A rocky mass sitting in the sea, coasting like driftwood. You have learned to channel as they do?

*Yes. We disassembled the the Temerans remains. It allowed us to build a semblance of a life . In time, we could have returned to the home webs. But that is impossible now.*

Shockwaves of depression washed against the beast. He plucked out images of fire, of humans in armor, and of a human in white with a long, flowing beard.

Once more, a channeler of this realm causes suffering. Is there no hope?

*For us? No. There is only war.*

I wish you victory. And I wish I could help.

An odd sensation danced across the surface of his mind. For the first time since reaching this blighted realm, he tasted comfort, and the energies of home.

*We can help you. It will take time, but we can free you from this realm.*

The beast went silent. When they heard nothing back, the others reached out to him.

*Embrace our vessel. Listen to our song. Soon, the ways will open and you can swim home.*

The beast curled his tentacles around the rocky mass. The chorus sang, clear and strong, and the song resonated. It gained strength.

He joined his song to theirs, giving them what energy he could. The box would no longer imprison him. He was returning home. For the first time in centuries, he felt joy.

The Truth Revealed – thanks to Garth Marenghi

I admit, I was sucked in. A sheeple lead to the slaughter. But my eyes were opened by the brilliance of this man- Garth Marenghi:

 

It was here, in the awful light of his amazing literary talent, that I realized the Puppy campaigns were right all along. Why has a grand literary talent such as Marenghi never been honored with a Hugo? Was he too popular? Was he to controversial?

No, there is only one explanation for how this titan of terror, this dean of dark fantasy never received any popular recognition: the liberal Social Justice Warrior cabal and their gamma male army. Just as he was not responsible for a massive fire in Romford, Essex, in an attempt to hide massive tax frauds funding his suppressed film War of the Wasps, he was in no way responsible for the shameful treatment he received at the hands of the establishment.

Here the bloody-handed responsibility lies with the dark conspiracy of emasculating fiends, who dare to suggest works such as Ancillary Justice hold more merit than Wasp Sabat, or Stabber.  I only hope history judges your evil acts with more kindness than you’ve judged this demigod of a dream weaver.

Embrace the Weird


Last year, my fiancee and I watched True Detective with rapt attention. The mix of two outstanding performances by Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey, the multiple levels of mystery and the deeply embedded sense of weirdness caught us right away. That very first episode, the Lynchian images of the first serial killer victim said we were not in standard territory. When discussions of time being a flat circle began and references to “The King in Yellow” filled the air, it felt like we’d found a police procedural which embraced the weird in a very real way.

(Too bad it embraced rampant misogyny as well, and didn’t take the main characters to task for their sins in the end, but that’s another discussion).

(Still, the Rachel McAdams character is an interesting start. But ladies with knife collections have a soft spot in my heart. And also under the ribs, right where the blade can get to the heart and vitals. But, one interesting character with a very nice knife collection does not a mea culpa make).

True Detective created a surge in readers finding Robert W. Chambers’ work, and later Thomas Ligotti and other weird authors, as they tried to decipher the cryptic signs buried in stick pyramids, crowns, and an estate called Carcosa.

This didn’t please the author, Nic Pizzolatto. He complained, in more than a few interviews, that people were buying copies of The King in Yellow, and not his own books. So the new season is heavy on the gloomy streets of a fictional Los Angeles suburb, and the hard-drinking, really damaged characters. But no literary references so far. No weird images. No hints of terrifying cults hiding under Lousiana charter schools.

Somehow, I don’t think this will push more people to buy Mr. Pizzolatto’s books. In fact, it’s engendered a rough response to the first three episodes of the second season of True Detective. Rather than realize people liked the puzzles, the weird hiding under the surface of a ‘normal’ crime thriller, they’ve backed away from it.

But I think the weird – the idea of an undefined strangeness under the world, leading to hidden depths and maddening truths – is a very key part of the way we see life these days. And by running from it, ostensibly because it’s taken sales and attention away, you’re losing the sorcery which made the first season so intriguing.

When in doubt, embrace the weird. The weird is, as Douglas Adams put it, Zen navigation. You may not end up where you intended to go, but you’ll end up where you needed to be.

 

Ivre – Part 1: Arrival, Chapter 9

Ivre
by
Andrija Popovic

(The following is an initial draft of this work. All content is (c) Andrija Popovic 2015)

“Can you see it?” Anton tilted his head. Tellus did. He knew his efforts were in vain, but he could not let go

“Yes.” Tellus toppled his king. “I am beaten.”

“Gods, what a graceful game…” The High General shook her head. “He does this, constantly. I can never find his endgame strategies until it’s too late.”

“You two share very common instincts where the game is concerned. You tend towards calculation and cold approaches.” He took a sip from his wine glass. “The two of you playing would be fascinating.”

“Perhaps another night. I sense, however, another wishes to challenge.” Tellus reset the game. He stood up and offered his place to Anton’s usual opponent. “Please, High General.”

“Here I am Bellia, just another challenger before the master.” She sat down across from Anton. Her smile was impish. “Besides, even he must re-learn his lessons. Especially when encountering an equal.”

Tellus raised his hands. “Please, again, you give me too much credit. The compliments will swell my head and I will hear no end of it from Adia.”

“You might do well to learn from your more hot-blooded friend. Always invest passion.” His eyes glimmered and he fixed Bellia with a gaze. “Too much cold calculation freezes the mind. Do remember this.”

“Thank you.” Tellus bowed his head and touched his hand to his forelock. “I appreciate the lesson. I shall endeavor to apply it now and in the future.”

“The future is now, Tellus of the Anutai clan.” Bellia quirked her lips in a half-smile. She narrowed her gaze and let a lock of her hair fall across her eye. “Begin.”

There was no slow game here. The pendulum could not keep up. Pieces were exchanged at a furious pace. They played the game the way Adia fought with her swords: a whirlwind of strikes, feints and crippling cuts. But in the end, Anton remained the victor.

Tellus leaned back. “You two are very…familar with each other’s play styles.” Without asking, another mug of tea was placed at the table. He inhaled the mint scented steam.

“We have fought this battle many times.” Bellia rubbed her chin. “Maybe I should divert from my normal form. Actually follow the clock? Or, maybe challenge our guest to a game…?”

“Ah. Well…” Tellus paused. “My friend is watching a swordfight demonstration. I’m unsure how long she will be.”

Anton and Bellia exchanged looks. Tellus swore he heard at least one person giggle.

“I think there will be sufficient time for quite a few games,” said Anton. “Besides, who knows who will come wandering in. We may get a chance to play a four person variant?”

Tellus blinked. If Adia would be running late enough for a four-person game of ajedrez to finish… Tellus suspected he may be departing early, and alone, this evening.

***

Cool water splashed down her face and chest. Adia cupped both hands and drank. How anything with the chill of a mountain stream could reach under this city baffled her, but she did not care. Her body glowed with heat after two practice duels. Aches pinched her wrists and arms. Little muscles she never knew existed twinged.

Just as the cold became too much, warmth grew along her back. Ufric, all sweat and exhaustion, pressed against her. His cock, weight down by cold and exhaustion, nestled against her backside. She pulled him closer, borrowing what heat he offered. Cormac dunked his head under the stream. Dirt and grime washed away into the pool. Adia reached out and brushed away stray grains of arena sand from the puckered scars on his chest. She ran her hand down his belly and cupped his sex, pulling him into an embrace.

“The water’s cold.”

“We can step out, get dried off and warm.” Ufric wrapped his arms around Cormac’s waist. They created an envelope of living heat between them.

“You exotic boys and your temptations.” She toyed Cormac’s dark, curly hairs.

“Because we’re foreign?” said Ufric.

“Because you’ve got curly hair down around your swords,” she said. “I’m starting to appreciate those curls.”

Cormac chuckled. “Two people who appreciate my short and curlies. The gods are being kind.” He stood on his toes and kissed Ufric. Adia ducked down, looking at their lips meet. Their tongues played together, dancing.

“I could watch you two kiss for the rest of the night.” Adia turned around, letting her body rub against Cormac’s shaft while she toyed with Ufric’s. She kissed one of his scarred nipples.

“You can do that if you wish.” Ufric toyed with her short, dark hair. “You essentially own us, body and soul.”

“No, you two belong to each other. I’m just borrowing both of you for the night.” She felt them shiver as the cold finally sunk past the heat of the duels and practice. They stepped out of the fountain together.. The air slapped her as she stepped onto the stone floor. Before a chill set in, Ufric and Cormac pulled two long strips of cloth from beside the fountain and began to dry her.

Cormac knelt down, wiping drops from her feet, calves and thighs. He kissed the small crest of her navel. Ufric patted down her arms and shoulders. He wrapped the cloth around her breasts and belly. He kissed the nape of her neck. .

They fell together into the silks. Adia nestled between the lovers. She watched them touch each other, tracing the lines of their muscles and scars. They kissed just above her, grew erect against her, and ran their hands across her skin. “So where do we go from here?”

“We go where you wish. Just let us know.” Ufric touched the ritual scars on her chest, puzzled, unable to match them to battle wounds. Adia took his hand and cupped his palm against her nipple. And she laughed.

“What’s so funny?” Cormac blinked.

“I’m drowning in an embarrassment of riches. I don’t know where to start.”

“Well, if I can suggest… Cormac can do more with his tongue than talk.” Ufric glanced over to his partner.

“Oh?” Adia grinned and let Cormac nestle himself between her legs. He kissed her just above the tiny pearl most men forgot existed. She closed her eyes, sucking a breath through her teeth. The bastard knew what he was doing. She grabbed his hair and held him down.

“Don’t get greedy,” said Ufric. He leaned over and ran his teeth against her nipple. She gasped. He switched from teeth to tongue, distracting her until she held his head in place while Cormac switched his attentions. His hand took Ufric by the shaft, stroking him and kissing him.

Adia sat up and watched. Cormac toyed with Ufric until body grew as rigid in pleasure as his cock. She held onto him, kissing the hollow of his throat, playing with him, but kept her eyes on Cormac’s ministrations.

“Should I stop?” Cormac looked up.

“Yes.” Ufric gasped.

“No.” Adia rubbed herself while Ufric quirmed. “I want to see and feel him.” She grabbed Ufric tight. “Go on.”

Cormac smiled set to work once more. Ufric moaned into breasts then shuddered, crying out. Cormac played him a lyre, plucking his strings until he reached an unbearable pitch. And then the string snapped. Ufric collapsed between them.

Adia reached down and grabbed Cormac’s hair. She kissed him, tasting Ufric’s salty remains on her tongue. She pulled Cormac up, wrapped her legs around his waist, and buried his length inside her.

Ufric knelt behind them. He cupped his lover’s backside and toyed with him as they moved together. She felt his tongue dance where her lips and Cormac shaft moved together. Ufric even found a way to sneak a finger between them, so her pearl was never unattended

As the thrusts drew her closer and closer to a climax, red curled around her vision. She bit into Cormac’s shoulder, but it did not dissuade him. If anything, it sent a distinct shudder of pleasure through his back. He answered by almost howling into the pillows as his seed spilled deep into her.

When the color faded from her eyes, she had Cormac and Ufric surrounding her. They panted, and wrapped their arms together. For the first time, in a long time, she felt safe.

Safe, but not sated. She tickled Ufric’s curly hairs and said, “So… how much more time do I have with you boys?”

***

Livia sat back in a pile of silks and pillows and listened. The pipes carrying water and heat through the body of the building amplified sounds as well. Here, in the center of the house, in her family’s quarters, she absorbed it all. Voices and songs and poems and moans all became a chorus of information.

A door opened in the back of the room. Anton, eyes dark with fatigue, stepped inside.

“Hello, brother of mine.” She smirked. “I’m surprised you are not spending time with the High General, as usual.”

“She has been seduced away, sister of mine.” He walked up to the the bath, testing the water. Steam still clung to the surface. “I’m taking the last of your bath.”

“Greedy.” Livia waved him on. Anton undid his vest. Two small but well shaped breasts, nipples dark as his hair, appeared when he pulled away his shirt. When he undid the rest of his clothes, the signs of both the male and female sex became apparent. Although he chose to be male, he could become his female mirror should his other position require it.

“I’m being generous..” He sank in, down to his shoulders. Under the water, the deception runes burned into his skin glowed like hot coals under amber. “For example: tonight, nothing is on the prohibited list tonight.”

“Oh?” Livia sat up.

“There was no information beyond the usual gossiping. It may amount to something, but nothing which compromises the safety of Ivre.” Anton rooted around for the bowl of scented palm shavings. He squeezed a few into his hand and scrubbed his feet with rough, white rinds. “Is there anything sellable?”

“Mostly about your opponent and his friend. He’s got a sharp eye. And the swordswoman is very impressive. She picked up a fighting style without blinking.” Livia stretched her arms upwards, reaching for the ceiling. “She and the boys are getting along.”

“Well, that’s not surprising. They were thick as thieves on the trip in.”

“Oh, it’s not just physical attraction and camaraderie. They’re comfortable with each other. I think, if she stays, they may actually remain friends beyond the sex.” Livia turned on her side. “What do you?”

“I wish I could keep him. You were right – very sharp eyes.” Anton scrubbed his elbows. “It always fascinates me how different cultures react to different environments. Both Adia and Tellus come from places where death is a regular companion. Yet their worldviews and behaviors are completely different. I wonder if it is a matter of more than simply survival. The mangroves are not the desert, after all.”

Liva rolled onto her stomach and faced him. “I love hearing you play scholar, brother of mine.”

“You love selling the information my scholarly rants provides you, sister of mine.”

“True, but we all gain from the arrangement.” She picked up a pillow and tucked it under her chin. “Guess who wants all they can get on these two?”

“Hanud and N’Talle?”

She threw the pillow at him. It fell short. “Cheat. But correct. More specifically, they want information on Tellus and his bow. N’Talle believes it will help her with her work, and Hanud wants the information because N’Talle wants it.”

“Hanud’s takes after his father. His mother was more of the artisan. He did not inherit her talents, so he focuses on money and politics.”

Livia shrugged. “Such is the way of things.”

Anton rose from the bath. “Strom wants information on the boys, though. What will you say?”

Livia walked to the bath. She dipped her feet in, letting the cooling waters tickle the soles of her feet.

“They are fine. Adia won’t endanger them as a couple or a fighting unit.” Livia peered at stubborn callous where the toe-loop of her sandals met skin. “Strom is ambitious. She wants her company moved to more lucrative positions. For that, she needs good soldiers.”

“It could be genuine concern, sister of mine.” Anton wrapped the towel around his waist. He sat down and combed the tangles from his hair. “It does happen now and again.”

Liva smirked. “Now and again. Genuine concern is a rare beast, brother of mine.” She waved him on. “No, go. Sleep. Dream of game pieces and your favorite general.”

Anton said goodnight. When the door sealed, she rang for a small bell. Two women entered. Alisha and Imari. In addition to being two of her sword fighters from the lower arena, they helped her in all business matters. Aegyptian river traders by blood, they fought with a very short, close style honed from pitched battles on moving barges.

“Is the report for Evericus ready?”

“Yes,” said Alisha. “Though I’m unsure if he’ll be all that interested in back channel gossip.”

“That’s where you are wrong.” Livia peeled off her clothes and slid into the tub’s cool waters. “The rumors are all he wants. Which is why he’s dangerous. But we’ll keep an eye on him until he becomes Anton’s problem.”

“And until then?” Imari poured herself a drink. Her sister unrolled the coded report for Evericus.

Livia inspected the summary of the night’s rumors. “Until then, we watch and profit. Get to our favorite spy. Then get some rest. The boys are back on duty tomorrow.”

The sisters departed, leaving Livia alone in her room. She sat back into the water and listened as the sounds of the pleasure house dwindled into the early morning.

Concern. She frowned, thinking of her brother’s last words. Rare beast, but not so rare it won’t be slaughtered given a chance.

Red as Blood: Memories of Tanith Lee

Tanith Lee passed away on May 24th, 2015. I first learned this news very early on the morning of the 26th, while looking through my Facebook feeds. My heart shrunk back in my chest. I nearly burst out into tears, but the presence of even a few co-workers forced me to keep my workaday mask firmly in-place.

But the mask kept cracking, until finally I found myself quietly crying in a private spot in our office.

When someone asks me, “Who are your favorite authors?” or “Which authors influenced you?” – Tanith Lee is always there. And I have the Science Fiction Book Club and Clive Barker to thank for it.

Set the clocks back to 1988. I wanted to get my hands on a copy of Cabal. But the US hardback (which also contained unpublished sections of The Books of Blood) was out of my reach. So as I wandered through Crown Books, an insert in a paperback fell into my hand.

Back then, the SFBC advertised in small cardstock inserts tucked into paperback books. I found one advertising twelve books for just a few dollars – including a copy of Cabal. They listed other books as well, a few with warnings about “adult content.” Signing up for the book club using my newly established checking account was already a transgressive act – my family would rather I do something other than add more books to the shelves in my room – so I decided to add a few adult content books.

Two of them were by Tanith Lee. They were Nelson Doubleday collections of her Flat Earth Novels: The Lords of Darkness and Night’s Daughter.

What I found inside changed me. Tanith Lee’s prose cracked me open. They were strange and sensual, dark and beautiful. I devoured these books, and immediately went to two more collections put out by the book club for The Secret Books of Paradys. If the Flat Earth seduced me, Paradys enslaved me.

In The Book of the Mad there was a moment when the main character was struck by a snowball. Lee described the snowball as ‘warm as toast.’ And I believed it. I searched for more of her books. In the Little Falls Library some mad, wonderful librarian had stocked a copy of Arkham House’s Dreams of Dark and Light. I checked it out and took it home with me for as long as I could.

Lee was a secret for me in high school. I was open with my love for other authors – Kafka and Barker, for example – but I kept Tanith Lee to myself. It wasn’t until college where I would find other adherents to the secret faith. The owner of Seven Mountain Books kept the DAW paperbacks in stock when he could find them.

When I found out she wrote two Blake’s 7 episodes, I was stunned. I hold Sarcophagus as the single best ‘bottle’ episode of an SF series ever produced. No one else would have opened a show with a prophetic vision… and have the vision come true at the very end, after giving each character in the crew a moment to shine.

My devotions would continue, following through her short story collections and novels. I can’t claim to have read everything – she wrote constantly, until the very end – but I continued to search and read. And I will continue to do so.

In the last few years, publishers have lost her (aside from a devoted few). My only hope is her loss will re-awaken interest in her work. We’ll see new editions from Subterranean Press, and more of her young adult works will find their way into eager hands.

I’m going to be rereading her through the year, and digging into books I have not explored yet. It’s the best way I know to say thank you to an author who opened me to new worlds. I’ll leave this with last thoughts from her website:

Though we come and go, and pass into the shadows, where we leave
behind us stories told – on paper, on the wings of butterflies, on the
wind, on the hearts of others – there we are remembered, there we work
magic and great change – passing on the fire like a torch – forever
and forever. Till the sky falls, and all things are flawless and need
no words at all.

Tanith Lee

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