Mon, May
22
2017
Mon, May 22, 2017

Soundtracks

A sign that one of my fiction projects is coming together is when I end up gathering a decent “soundtrack album” for it. With the exception of The Young City, every one of my published works was written to a soundtrack of songs that fit the mood of the story I was writing. I’ve already talked about how I’m indebted to the Quebec singer Jorane for the music I played for Fathom Five and The Dream Kings Daughter, and I have to thank Cameron Dixon for introducing me to Zoe Keating, whose music dominates the soundtrack to Icarus Down.

I now have decent soundtracks to both The Sun Runners and to The Curator of Forgotten Things, and it’s interesting comparing the two. The Sun Runners is dark and angry, and its tunes are sung by Lana Del Rey, Woodkid (thanks to Andrew Flint for pointing me his way), MS MR and Zella Day. They match a story that is more action oriented and explosive. Whereas The Curator of Forgotten Things

It’s dark too, in some ways, but it’s more melancholy. The tunes are softer, and some take on the theme of giving ourselves over to the computer. I’m including a list below; it is a work in progress:

  1. Deeper Understanding, by Kate Bush, The Sensual World
  2. Elephant, by Hannah Georgas
  3. Immune, by Groenland, The Chase
  4. From Darkness, Light: III Prelude, by Emily Howell
  5. Arsonist’s Lullaby, by Hozier, From Eden
  6. Somebody, by Hannah Georgas
  7. 26 September, by Groenland, The Chase
  8. From Eden, by Hozier
  9. Our Last Shot, by Groenland, The Chase
  10. Enemies, by Hannah Georgas
  11. It Will Come Back, by Hozier
  12. Paris or Amsterdam, by Basia Bulat, Tall Tall Shadow
  13. Criminals, by Groenland, The Chase
  14. Ode to Mom, by Hannah Georgas
  15. Hurt, by Johnny Cash, The Man Comes Around
  16. Pendant que les Champs Brulent, by Jorane, _Un Sorciere Comme les Autres**
  17. Waiting Game, by Hannah Georgas

My biggest discovery trawling for soundtrack songs was Hannah Georgas, and this video below gives you an example why…

Sun, May
14
2017
Sun, May 14, 2017

Ludicrous Science Shows

I discovered two science programs on Netflix — no, not Bill Nye’s new series, although that’s kind of cool. Watching them again, I’m reminded of the difference between PBS and commercial television, and how hard some people think they have to work in order to try and keep people watching.

Nova is still the gold standard when it comes to science documentaries. They play to the PBS style of decorum and dignity as they present their material, although they’re not above goosing things in order to attract eyeballs. I still remember the episode where they were talking about the coming switch of our magnetic poles; the trailers gasped, “Are we due… for a FLIP!” Turns out, yes. In fact, we’re overdue. And what happens when we get such a flip? As one scientist puts it, “a statistically significant increase in cancer rates, and some of the best auroras you can imagine.”

Outside of PBS, though, the producers don’t seem to have that dignity. One particularly laughable show currently streaming on Netflix is Deadliest Space Weather. In each half-hour episode (as opposed to the hour format PBS uses that gives subjects more depth), the show highlights the most extreme weather in the solar system. Most extreme winds! Most extreme pressures! Most extreme meteor storms!

And, as if that’s not enough, they then use the best special effects their limited budget can buy to show credulous viewers what would happen if, oh, the conditions of Venus SUDDENLY TRANSPORTED TO EARTH!!

Well, yeah, if the atmosphere suddenly became thicker and heavier than the bottom of the ocean and spontaneously began to rain pure acid, I suppose the Eiffel Tower would be kind of toast. But what, really, is the likelihood of that happening? Why are you giving this so much time and energy?

The sad thing is, there are interesting facts among all the dross. I didn’t know, for instance, that the surface winds of Venus blow barely above five miles per hour but, because of their thickness, they have the force of a hurricane. I didn’t know about the twin cyclones that regularly appear at Venus’ south pole. These are interesting things, and I wanted to know more — no, I don’t want to see what happens if we spontaneously thicken the Earth’s atmosphere and turn up the heat to 900’C!

All in all, Deadliest Space Weather is worthy of being given the Rifftrax treatment.

Far better, though, is How the Universe Works. Although written for commercial television (apparent given its pauses for commercial breaks), it spends more time on its subject, and doesn’t do ludicrous things like show a special-effects apocalypse every ten minutes. Their material tends to the more extreme, but they stick to the facts, offer interesting explanations, and generally don’t insult the audience’s intelligence.

Thu, May
11
2017
Thu, May 11, 2017

Mid May

I haven’t had much energy to keep this blog going of late. I have been writing, but it has been primarily client work. I haven’t worked on fiction either. My juices must be at a low ebb, and I’ve been concentrating on just what needs to be done, rather than things I’d like to have done.

Erin has gone to Saskatchewan with Rosemarie and Vivian on a TD Book Week tour — 17 school and library visits in five days. She’s going to be tired when she gets back, but it’s the sort of thing that’s on any writers’ bucket list. It’s an author tour boot camp, something to be proud of doing, even if you wonder how you could possibly have done it (at the time, you don’t fret about whether you can do it, because I suspect you just don’t have the time to fret).

That leaves me with Nora, my father and Michael. I’m trying to make sure that I cook at least some times this week, and have Nora’s grandparents over. So far, that’s been going well.

It’s been a hard slog, and it still feels hard. Last month, I had my first birthday where my mother wasn’t present. This Sunday is Mother’s Day, and while my mother was decidedly not into celebrating Mother’s Day, it’s still a thing to think about, and remind you of who isn’t here anymore, and that drains you.

Still, I sometimes feel there are sparks happening at last. I may not have touched The Sun Runners for months, or even listened to the “soundtrack album”, but I’m listening now, and thinking about where next to take the story. And, strangely enough, The Curator of Forgotten Things has started to earth up ideas. I’m only 4,000 words into this story but, critically, the last 1,000 came in the past week.

There are still grey skies as I write this, but we’ve had some sunny days at last, and the promise of more to come. Someday soon, summer may finally arrive.

Thu, Apr
27
2017
Thu, Apr 27, 2017

Ruth Gillespie (1949-2017)

I think most people, when they settle down to have a family, find some friends who are also forming a family, and unite, meeting often for many social occasions. The children of the two families grow up as close as cousins if not closer. They become, in fact, more than friends, but part of a family that goes beyond simple genetics.

Ruth and Paul Gillespie were that family for my parents, and I grew up with their daughter Michelle and their son Justin as special playmates that I trekked to Mississauga for. Ruth and Paul had emigrated from Ireland a few years before I was born and became friends with my parents after Paul and Eric met at the civil service office that Eric worked at. As I learned from Paul and Ruth, and as I learned from gaining Irish-American in-laws, when you are befriended by an Irish person, you gain a friend for life, fiercely loyal and enthusiastic. There are few better gifts.

Paul and Ruth were, in many ways, yings to my parents yang. They were exuberant where we were soft spoken. They were passionate where we were thoughtful. And it worked. The two sides meshed well. And in many ways, I think Ruth and Paul had a similar ying and yang relationship. They had different styles and different ways of thinking that complemented and completed each other.

I was sorry to learn, some months ago, that Ruth had become ill, but she didn’t let that slow her down. I remember seeing her at my mother’s funeral, having travelled some distance with Paul to get there. It brought back memories of dinner parties, birthday celebrations, going to see Irish Football at the Skydome, them showing up at my first Communionand more. Despite the sombre occasion, she smiled, as one should, to have all of those memories.

Ruth passed away on April 21st and the memorial service is today in Milton, Ontario. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made in Ruth’s name to the charity Development and Peace’s Share Lent, Women at the Heart of Change Campaign. She will be sorely missed.

abandoned-2041218_1280.jpg

The image above is used in accordance with its Creative Commons license

The writing below is the first bit of fiction I’ve written in several months. Strangely enough, it’s for The Curator of Forgotten Things and not The Sun Runners. I do want to get back to The Sun Runners, but I suspect that when I do so, I’ll get back to it by doing a rewrite — one where I take a print-out of the previous draft (which reached 57,000 words before I stalled), and type in the story again. By re-typing, not only do I get to perform a mild edit on what I’ve already written, but I build up some momentum for when I push beyond 57,000 words.

But since writing this opening piece, Curator… has been on a slow burn in my mind. The story starts with our hero, Lucy, coming to a job at a warehouse when everybody else has been laid off. She ends up keeping her job in the empty place and struggles to find things to do, and occupies her time by gathering all sorts of defunct technology she finds in the storeroom and making a personal museum.

Why have all the people been fired? Who does Lucy fall in with as she moves on in her life and in her story? Another element that appears to be adding to the story is the concerns over rampant automation and the loss of all jobs, and a phrase that came to mind: what if, when the robots took over, they were nice?

Curator developed an ending that really is another beginning: the robots take over because most of humanity let them. A strange dementia has swept over the planet, leaving the robots to take care of everyone. Only people like Lucy are immune (why? That’s something I’ll have to figure out).

The section below features a trip to the store for Lucy in this strange new world of silence and automated attendants. Lucy has found a group of like-minded people who are holed up in a library with a green roof. Fortunately, they still have credit cards, their balances paid off thanks to the National Minimum Income (instituted after all the jobs vanished). There are still things to buy in the stores — though, since Lucy is the only person to shop in the stores, the automated inventory becomes very specific.

This is basically a first draft, written over an hour at a coffee shop. I hope you like this…

The supermarkets doors were locked when Lucy arrived.

She checked her watch. “Oh. Right.” She’d arrived five minutes early.

She stood by the doors, at the edge of the empty parking lot. The wind whistled, and a stray plastic bag whipped across the pavement.

Lucy looked up as she heard a rattle and clang, and saw a shop-bot shoving a line of shopping carts into place at the cart return shed. The three rows of carts gleamed in the rising sunshine, the rows even and symmetrical.

At precisely nine o’clock, the doors clicked and slid open. Lucy stepped through, picking up a basket beside the door. she pushed through the gate, then stumbled as a Rhoomba hastened out of her way.

She glanced at her list. “Right. Let’s do this.”

She looked up at the empty store.

She’d seen this a few times before, but it was still a shock. All those empty shelves, kept perfectly clean, the fruit stand with their green pressed paper, the empty meat display fridges.

But it wasn’t totally empty. She glanced down at her list and up again. Her times shopping at this specific store had paid off. Looking at the one or two items that can be found in the otherwise empty displays, she mentally ticked off all the items on her list.

Around her, the muzak warbled. The ventilation ducts hummed.

She strode through the store, picking the remaining items on display, matched to her tastes by some algorithm that had monitored the stores inventory after all the humans were laid off. A sack of apples. A sack of oranges. Three packages of salami, one of them Halal.

The price of milk, she noticed, had gone up again, and there was a sale on beef. Clearly the machines had had difficulty automating the cows. Helpfully, though, a single carton of soy milk sat beside the carton of two-percent. It was three dollars cheaper. Lucy picked up both cartons and compared their nutritional values.

“Soy will do,” she muttered, and put the two-percent back. Next week, it would probably not be there. And possibly beef would be even cheaper.

She grabbed the lone package of toilet paper before heading to the self-serve cashier. Beside it sat a display marked “We think you might like…!” On it was a package of kumquats.

Lucy considered the kumquats a moment, then put the package down. “Nice try, robots,” she muttered. “Try again.”

She pulled the products through the scanner and tapped her credit card. The screen flashed green. “thank you,” the machine intoned. “Have a nice day!”

“Whatever,” Lucy muttered, and gathered up her purchases. Out front, Emily’s car pulled up, back from her expedition to the clothing store.

Lucy swept out into the silent city.

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