Nobody likes a boring zombie

I had one of my favorite beta readers take a look at the zombie story. Verdict: reads more like an exercise, or an informational appendix to a larger novel about zombies.

Interesting observation, since this piece was spurred by a chain of thought I had with respect to another novel I'm working on. The novel has people's souls being stolen as one of the things the hero has to address & correct. It got me thinking, though. While my hero is off fighting the bad guys(s) and winning the day, what will these poor people be doing in his absence? Sitting and staring at the walls? Obviously, as the author, I can make them do whatever I want - go berserk, shuffle gracelessly, gamble compulsively, whatever. However, what would really happen? What would I do if I were suddenly bereft of intellect and socialization?

In short, what motivates zombies? What do they want?

This is the kind of thing that separates hard sci-fi from soft. In hard sci-fi, you try to obey as many of the laws of physics as you can. In soft sci-fi, pretty much anything is possible, and you just sort of hope that the author is consistent.

The better fantasy books follow the same precept. Just because there is magic in this world doesn't mean you can do whatever the hell you want and explain it all away afterwards with, "Oh, I just used some Powder of Perpetual Wakefulness. Here, have some."

Anyway, I'm going to have to rethink my approach here. This piece is an exploration of some of that. I still want to put it up, but it needs a clearer plot and purpose, more action and it need to be more engaging.

First draft of a zombie story completed

First draft is done. Need to sleep on it, whittle it down from 1400 to maybe 1200 or less. I hate to throw away text, but theoretically its the dross I'm skimming off and throwing away.

Mood in life, mood in writing

In the remake of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the candies that Willy Wonka makes have a flavor that reflects his mood.

This little bit of magic is perfectly implemented in the literary efforts in the real world. I don't think I could write something authentically cheerful if I tried.

If I do manage to get any of these pieces completed, they will all come out so bleakly depressing that they won't even make for good horror.

Writing 45 words

You wouldn't think it would be so hard to write, but the constant interruptions at home make it about impossible.

I need my own space. Quiet, warm and clean, with a lock so people won't mess around with my files and stuff.

Yeah, right.

Fiction Playlist

A sampler of Tony Noland's creative writing pieces

NOTE: If you like anything you read here, feel free to comment on it and tell people about it. Every post has a permalink, or you could just link to this page.

If you really like something you read here, you could also send me ( $1.98 via PayPal. It's not obligatory, but money is like love... even a little bit is greatly appreciated.

If you really, really like something you read here, I'm available for freelance work...

#FridayFlash fiction ~1000 words, posted on Fridays (F=Fantasy; H=Horror; L=Literary; S=Science Fiction)Nanofiction Standalone microflash stories written for Twitter and Twitter-based litmags.
Short stories ~1000-4000 words
Poetry ~Enter at your own riskNovellas and excerpts >4000 words
  • Introduction to Magic An excerpt from a novel in progress, "One Thousand Candles" (YA fantasy).
  • Needlework An excerpt from an novel in progress, "The Blood of Yesterday's Heroes" (sci-fi/action)
  • Rosetta An opening for a novella (scifi, gov't conspiracy)
The Tonka Football saga An ongoing attempt to get off a mailing list (linked in order of increasing snarkiness)


Twitter Fiction: Orbital Insertion and Assault

This is a collaborative Twitfic piece written by myself (@TonyNoland) and fellow twitterer @Shadow_Wrought, at his suggestion. It was mostly spontaneous, with each of us responding to what the other had tweeted. We did very little in the way of discussion in sidebar about what direction to take the story. In that sense, it was rather like improv. FWIW, here it is in it's entirety.

TN #OIA Drop from orbit went well. Lost one guy, and a gap in my armor meant a nasty burn on my right thigh. Still, we set up the beachhead OK.

S_W #OIA No rest for us tonight. Scouts report enemy movement so we're expanding the beachhead another 10 klicks to get the 82nd inserted early.

TN #OIA Why the hell the 82nd Sustainment Brigade is dropping ahead of the Combat Brigades is beyond me. It's still pretty lively down here.

S_W #OIA Gen Noland ordered us to "help" the 82nd by "advancing their supplies to a forward position." Looks like we're going to need them, too.

S_W #OIA We've advanced to a lave field that's like wrinkled obsidian for miles. No one's sneaking up on us, but you have to blast it to dig in.

TN #OIA It'd make things easier if the recon sats were functional. Or if the locals showed up on infrared. A cold beer would be nice, too.

TN #OIA Word just came down. The new ambassador wants to come down sooner rather than later, to "send a message of strength". What an idiot.

S_W #OIA The Ambassador's grandiose arrival certainly got their attention. We can hear the damned things skittering all over the lava field now.

TN #OIA Recon says some kind of delegation is coming out from the village/hive 35 clicks north. ETA is 90 minutes after first sunrise.

S_W #OIA The talks were a ruse. The firefight's over now, but they burrowed between us and the 82nd. Our losses were light but the 61st is gone.

S_W #OIA The Ambassador thinks it was a "misunderstanding." Even though the 9th was lost too and the sappers are still destroying their tunnels!

TN #OIA Bad guys look just like friendlies, except for the swirl pattern on their beaks. Trouble is, you only see that pattern under UV light.

TN #OIA The colonel made a speech tonight. Sarge translated it: "Rumor all you like, but don't write anything down." I wonder who's in trouble.

S_W #OIA The colonel's speech makes sense now. Reinfocement's arrived, but they're local! Sarge ordered us to check each one with UV to be safe.

S_W #OIA Some enemies snuck in with the locals but they took care of it themselves. No guns, but their beaks and talons make up for it up close.

TN #OIA How will the local theocracy regard our arrival? As an indication of divine will? Sounds naive, but faith is a hard thing to parse.

TN #OIA It's hard to watch our "allies" in action. Firefights are one thing - removing the right foreleg of every prisoner seems excessive.

TN #OIA KkrAlk's convinced the CIC to flatten the loyalist village. The bugbirds can't wait for the assault. Ours is not to reason why...

TN #OIA Up close, their blood smells almost sweet, like boiled treacle. All of us humans were puking after the first house to house sweep.

S_W #OIA The village is secured but found tunnels underneath. Heading down now hoping it'll lead to more loyalist forces. It smells just putrid.

TN #OIA Radios don't work for crap down here! I hate tunnels - I've got a healthy respect for having my 6 covered, which it presently ain't.

TN #OIA Standby - did you hear that? What was

S_W #OIA They burst through the walls all around us, but the plasma throwers were ready. Their exoskeletons loudly pop before becoming charcoal.

S_W #OIA The plasma throwers are empty and our ammo's almost gone. Even if we find their nest I don't know what we're going to fight them with.

TN #OIA Cut off from the surface. At least now we know why KkrAlk wanted the orbital insertion to secure a village in the middle of nowhere.

TN #OIA The village was only a front porch for this place. There must be millions of them just in this first cavern.

S_W #OIA The tunnel ended at a deep caldera hundreds of meters straight down. We can't see them down there, but we can hear them. And behind us.

TN #OIA the bugs treatd us like theire own prisonrs. fickrs hav a lpt to learn asbout droptroops. taks more thanm losing an armn. kill for this

TN #OIA The end.

I felt that the final "The End" was necessary, since this was completely tweeted. It was an interesting experiment. More thoughts later.

I should really be writing

A span of an hour... do I read or write?

Revising is also an option, isn't it?

Where is my book deal?

Mary Robinette Kowal wrote a book for NaNo'06, then revised it. Today, she announces that it's been sold to Tor in a two book deal.

You know, I wrote a book for NaNo'06, too. The difference between us is that she kept working on hers, whereas I have a thick sheaf of notes on how to fix my novel, but I haven't actually done it.

As I look inside, I find no resentment, just a bit of envy. The plain fact is that I'm going to need to take this more serious than I have been doing if I want to get these things off the ground.

Repost, Kindle review

Since Amazon introduced the Kindle 2 today, I thought I'd repost a review I wrote of the Kindle. The curse of the early adopter strikes again.

The Kindle isn't so much awesome as it is incredibly, amazingly unobtrusive. It's kind of like air, or the strong nuclear force. You marvel at it when you are actively contemplating it, but mostly, you don't pay any attention to it at all. I just finished reading one of the books I got from Tor in their big book giveaway. For the first chapter or so, I was very conscious of turning the device on and off, reading text on a screen, pushing a button to turn the page, etc.

Quickly, though, surprisingly quickly, I came to feel like I wasn't reading a book on a Kindle. I was just... reading a book. The device disappeared, and it didn't mean much more than the peripheral difference between reading a hardback vs. a paperback. Different size object requires different grip, different heft, etc., but that was it.

The screen was very legible, the nifty features like changing font size, annotating, etc. were irrelevant once I'd gotten it set up. Outside, inside, daylight by windows, incandescent bulbs, fluorescent lights, the screen had good contrast and was very legible in all contexts.

I've gone several days, reading for hours each day, without the battery indicator changing much. If I'd left the wireless on, it would no doubt drain quicker. Charging it is about as much hassle as charging the cell phone, just something you do every now and again.

I loaded it up via USB with a bunch of the instructional books and training manuals that were the primary purpose of getting it, and then tossed on all of the Tor books that were given away earlier this year, as well as all 5 HHGTTG books, the Hobbit + LOTR, a number of the classics (Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, Tale of Two Cities, Anna Karenina, etc.) and a dozen P.G. Wodehouse books from Gutenberg. There's enough material here for weeks, if not months of reading, none of which cost me a dime. I could have downloaded the .txt files from Gutenberg over the wireless connection, if I were ever stuck someplace with nothing to read. I also put on some of my own files (MS Word saved as .txt), and they read just like normal.

It comes with ~180MB of available memory, and an empty SD slot. I stuck in an 8GB SD card, and now have a superabundance of storage space. A typical book takes 1MB or less. File formats are txt, mobi, the Kindle native format. Converting PDFs is no big deal, either by saving-as-text or by other means.

One thing that I had to learn, though. The jacket (a leather-type sleeve with an elastic strap) looked like it would be cumbersome, so I didn't use it. After carrying my Kindle in my briefcase for a few days, though, I noticed a slight scratch on the screen. I started using the jacket, and found that its ergonomics are as good as the Kindle's. It didn't interfere with reading, carrying, using or charging the device. Now, I just leave it on for the protection and peace of mind.

The Kindle is very cool, but it is not cheap. The price tag is ~$360, a nontrivial outlay of cash. If you read a lot of new items straight off the bestseller list, or read a lot of e.books already, this may make sense to get. On-line magazines, newspapers, websites are updated and sent to the Kindle automatically with a subscription. Similarly, if you have a need to carry with you a ton of reference information - sales documents, technical references, etc., this would be a good way to do so, much better than a laptop for showing info to a few people informally.

It includes a keyboard, browser and audio capabilities for media files and audiobooks, but this is primarily a device for reading text, not websurfing, texting or e.mails. If you do a lot of reading, this is worth considering.

An ambiguous review

I asked someone who read Hurricane what they thought of it. "Hmmm... I'm trying to decide if it's a good story or not."

That's the problem with allegory. Would it help if I said that:

hurricane = Obama
continent = Washington D.C.
earth = electorate
heron = Clinton
older hurricane = whoever will be elected in 2012

Or, fill in your own interpretation.

Ah, well.

Story: The Hurricane

The Hurricane

Know, my child, that in a far distant sea there was once a hurricane. Its energy and strength was immense, yet was still growing, for this was a young storm only recently attained of full hurricane estate. Compact and powerful, the hurricane drew sustenance from the sea and sun to expand its reach and influence.

The earth, seeing the young hurricane’s strength and speed, spoke to it, saying, “Hurricane, I see that thou hast the power of full estate, though thou art but recently attained of it. There is ought that I would have you do for me. The warring nations on yon shore are an abomination to me, as their constant bloodshed poisons the land on which they stand. It is a most foul society. They have prayed to me for relief, and have told me that they yearn for freedom and peace, for an end to violence. Go, hurricane, and use thy power to stop their warring. Let thy rain cleanse the land and let thy winds level their cities, that a better people may rise up in their place. This task is within thy power. Go, and know that I will be with thee always.”

The hurricane knew of the warring nations, and knew somewhat also of the structures that their generations of conflict had built. He knew of it more closely than did the earth itself, for this bitter land was but a fingernail of the earth’s domain, and the attention of the earth was much divided. Had the hurricane sought first to assay its strength against the task laid before it, the tale would be a happier one in the telling. Alas, what mere hurricane can resist the power of the turning earth and the force of its equatorial winds? The hurricane bent itself to the task and threw itself fully upon the blood-stained continent, trusting in the judgment of the earth and in its own strength.

From the first, the hurricane spent its energy as gently as the art of a hurricane will allow. Its rain stopped armies in their marches. Its winds blew arrows and spears from their courses. Its floods stove in the galleons and slave-ships. Amid the press of the hurricane’s might, warring ceased. The hurricane spoke to the people, saying, “See, I have stopped your conflict and brought the chance of peace to you. Spill no longer the blood of thy neighbors. Let this be a new beginning for you all, and I will cause your fields to flower and your rivers to run clean and fast forevermore.”

But the warring leaders of the land cried out, each of them in turn, “Leave us, thou cursed hurricane! Thou knowest not what thou hast done! We prayed to the earth that we might have victory over our enemies, not simply that the war be at an unfinished end. Our cause is just, and thou hast aided our enemies by thy interference. Can we withdraw our swords when we have them at our enemy’s throats? Thou art made an enemy to us also by thy foolish actions. Nay, go hence from this land, thou strange and alien devil. Return to the sea and let us fight, as we have always fought. We will water our fields with blood, and with nought else.” Saying this, the people renewed their strength and fought on, wading through sucking mud and blinding wind to lay the lash on each other’s backs.

The hurricane was saddened that war and pain was the delight of these twisted and broken people. It looked to the earth for guidance, but the earth had turned its face upon another land and another sea, leaving in its place a heron to council the hurricane. The heron spoke of a distant land, clean and pure, where powerful winds and rain kept the people low and quiet. In that land, warring was unknown; the heron counseled the hurricane to exert itself more fully in its task, that it might also see an end to warring hereupon. Seeing that the heron was the favorite of the earth, and trusting in the heron’s experience and wisdom, the hurricane redoubled its force and expended upon the warring people at a prodigious rate.

Alas for the hurricane! Though the people were forced to lay down their arms, still they spouted venom at each other, and promised vengeance and suffering to each other. Worse still, the shamans and priests, held close to their altars by the hurricane’s force, convinced themselves that prayers to the earth were of no avail. They lit hidden candles and instead whispered dark prayers to the gods of the underworld. They cursed the hurricane to these ancient powers, laying every manner of evil action and wicked intent upon it. The force and repetition of these false entreaties were shameful, and matched the maddened urge of the treacled tongues that uttered them. In the depths of underworld, far removed from the earth, the sea and the sky and with nought to hear but the lies that dripped in their ears, the first gods bethought themselves that the hurricane was bent on chaos and destruction. They stirred, so as to confront the earth.

All unaware of the actions of the old ones, the hurricane was beset by grief that it was failing in its task. With each passing day, its strength waned, and the people's hatred grew. The people despised it for having stopped their fighting, for they loved above all else to suffer and cause suffering. Such were the wormwood lessons of their fathers and their forefathers. This too, the hurricane saw, and though it knew that such madness was alien and hurtful to all living things, the people would not see their dread folly. Rather, they cried to the earth to banish the hurricane from their land, that they might return to their wars in full vigor.

The earth chose not to hear the people, but sent the heron to speak on its behalf. The heron and the hurricane had many councils to decide on how best to convince the people. Supported by the calm winds of the hurricane’s eye, the great white bird had flown in the fullness of its splendor across the land. It proclaimed that the earth found favor with the hurricane. In a great cawing voice, the heron echoed the hurricane’s calls to lay down arms and embrace peace and forgiveness. This, the people would not do. They turned inward, raving to each other that the heron was as much an enemy as the hurricane. In the darkness, their shamans and priests began to speak evil also of the heron in their low mutterings.

Urged by the heron, which it saw often, and by the earth, from which it heard seldom, the hurricane sought the cause of the people’s corruption. Each generation had built cities of power, to dominate and enslave the surrounding people. If I can but remove these, thought the hurricane, the people may yet be able to know freedom. The hurricane moved over the land, past castles and citadels that were ever more densely sited. On and on it pushed, seeking the center of the corruption. Farms and open land were entirely gone, covered over by roads and cities. The buildings grew massive and towering, and so close that they touched, extended ramparts abutting against each other as interlocking death-grips.

Still the hurricane pushed, now climbing upwards among the cemented canyons of the great cancerous city at the heart of that land. Age upon age of brutal venality was layered into these mortared stones, and they climbed to a height that was terrible to behold. With what effort had this been built? How much health and happiness had been sacrificed to construct such a monument to despotism and hatred? Far behind was the realm of field and flower. Far below was the realm of soil and life. Upwards and upwards the hurricane climbed, trying to find the height of it, seeking some crack or crevice to begin the work of clearing away the old to make way for the new.

Finally, though the mountainous pile of crudely cut stones rose higher still, littered on every level with the dried bones of old enmities, the insanity of the quest could no longer be denied. The hurricane saw at last that there was no hope, and no possibility of hope. In that killing vacuum, beyond the reach of water and warmth, the hurricane admitted defeat. All of its energy and substance had been poured out in this last attempt. With a final dying gust, the hurricane ceased to be.

Quickly, far more quickly than it had climbed, the scrap of wind that had once been a hurricane slid down the unconquered slope. The last of its lifeblood fell unregarded, and served only to feed the glaciers that guarded the gates of that man-made mountain. The scrap of wind moved down and away, back across the city’s towers, back across the fields.

The scrap of wind heard the people cry out that the hurricane was no more. It saw their celebrations in the bright clear day turn instantly to renewed violence and murder. The scrap of wind had no strength to intervene. It called to the heron for aid, but the heron had none to give. In the hurricane's absence, the great bird had seen that the cause was lost. He knew that the people were utterly venal and corrupt, beyond redemption. Calmer lands to the west called to the heron, and it sought to govern over people might allow themselves to be governed. It turned its face toward them, away from the scrap of wind moving across the plain.

The earth called out to the scrap of wind as it moved, “Stay, do not go! While thou were in the heights of the city, I was approached by the gods of the underworld. I had occasion to speak of thee with the old ones who are the power beyond all powers. I have told them of the mendacity and calumny of the people of this land, for the old ones were unaware. I have told them of thy efforts to free these people from themselves, and of the price thou hast paid in working it, for of this too were they unaware. They have agreed not to interfere in my work, for the present. The task I set upon thee is not yet complete. Stay, O hurricane, and try again to bring peace to this land.”

The scrap of wind cried, “I am a hurricane no longer, O earth! I am destroyed by this land and by these people. I have given all, and it was not enough. I am ruined, and have accomplished nothing.” The earth shook, and replied in anger, “Is this thy full answer? To refuse me? There is more that thou might yet give, though thou hast given much. Know, O scrap of wind, that I am the earth. I do not ask lightly. I have determined to change these people, and changed they will be.”

So saying, the earth turned its face to the sea and to an older, infinitely wiser hurricane. The scrap of wind heard little as it flew beyond the shore, but it saw the vast and powerful hurricane try to resist the task laid upon it. In thunder and lightning did the hurricane seek to remain at sea, bellowing to the earth that the scrap of wind should have been sacrifice enough for such a hopeless cause. Alas, what mere hurricane, no matter how vast and wise, can resist the power of the turning earth and the force of its equatorial winds? The hurricane was flung upon the shore, and the rains fell again on the blood soaked earth.

O, my child, would that I could say that the people learned and became righteous, but they did not. Season upon season, hurricanes are sacrificed by the earth in the attempt, but the people of that land are as they ever were. I tell you this that you may learn from the hurricane, from the heron, and even from the earth.

Creative Commons License
"The Hurricane" by Tony Noland is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.