Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Hell Next Five Exits

Where things come from ...

My sons are taken with the world described in "The Collapse of the Levels," and Bram, my oldest, keeps pitching ideas at me. One day he asked if there were freeways in the Levels, and I thought about it. "Maybe during the Republic of Potsdam," I offered.

Do the freeways just run in Middle Earth, or do they go across Heaven and Hell? I allowed as how they might cross the Levels ... and he grinned. "Hell, Next Five Exits," he said. "There's a guy who's getting chased, and he drives to Hell."

Now, this is the essence of plotting: this happened, and then this happened, and then this happened ... I've met adults who had problems plotting, but I've never met kids who did.

I had a piece laying around for quite a while, about a guy being chased along the edge of the Grand Canyon, by vampires ... it worked well enough.

During the same walk on the beach where Bram threw "Hell, Next Five Exits" at me, he got off some cynical observations about life, the universe, and everything -- and I quoted at him more or less the text that opens this piece.

This is set about 70,000 years before the events in "The Collapse of the Levels."

Hell, Next Five Exits

All creation is ultimately an act of romanticism. This is true even for the cynics, perhaps especially so. To assert a world barren and brutal, a world of nothing but betrayal and bad faith, is to impose on what is.

Some people can be trusted.


The Freeway Naranda runs across the edge of the Canyon Loss. Where the Loss crosses Middle Earth it is, as most school children can tell you, two hundred miles long, forty miles across at its widest, and nearly four miles deep. The River Definite that cut the Canyon (so teach the stonebenders in those schools) runs down out of the mountains, twining together out of a myriad of small streams into the great River, and thunders down through the Loss on its way to the Desert Infinite. In olden days – before the Sixth Republic, in any event – that water passed through a dozen small towns on its way to becoming nothing, out among the Infinite’s fractal mirages.

But no longer, and not in my lifetime nor that of your grandparents. My Sulhola ancestors killed those small towns, stole the Definite’s water and watched the towns dry up and die: and for three hundred years now the Definite has come to its end at City Arch, where fourteen million souls drink and wash and farm that river into oblivion.


The world is one hundred and eighty thousand years old, so the earth witches and stonebenders say – some few historians agree with them. And they may be right, I don’t know. More historians agree that is has been one hundred and fifty-five thousand years since the Fracture, but there is disagreement there, too.

That the Republic of Potsdam is twenty-four thousand years old is a certainty: my family traces its lineage to the Republic’s founding and like most of good ancestry I can recite mine, root and branch, to the Morning Republic.

In twenty-four thousand years, or one hundred and fifty-five, or one hundred and eighty, what was happening to me had most likely never happened before to anyone else.

The Naranda runs mostly through Middle Earth. But it starts in Heaven, and it ends in Hell.

A crush of vampires had chased me almost two thousand miles down that freeway, from the edge of Heaven to the edge of Hell. I was a hundred miles past Arch when I saw the sign that says, to any soul less desperate than I, turn back:

Hell Next Five Exits.


The crush burst in on us at our lodge in Tajan. The lodge was newish, having been in my family perhaps ten generations, and was nestled half a mile high in the Near Northern Mountains, with a one-lane partially paved road, unmarked and with certain discouragements for the casual traveler, winding its way up from the Naranda. Tajan is a small town on the lower slopes of Saternly Mount; it has some four hundred rope people, perhaps two hundred lorun like myself. The tree people pass through occasionally, and there are some number of dragons at Satlake – they come and go as dragons will, and I could not tell you within a dozen how many there were at a given time, despite my family’s hereditary rights of passage over Tajan. We had never pushed for an accurate count – would you?

There’d been trouble with vampires further north, up near the River Ruby, so we should have given some thought to them – but we didn’t, not I nor our retainers nor Captain Balsam Remane. No crush had been as far south as Tajan in living memory …

Everyone is dead now -- Gurn, Remane, Ahjan, Terrero, even little Uadalure – everyone, as I say, except me, so placing blame elsewhere is both pointless and ungentlemanly. The blame is mine, because I’m alive to bear it.


They came on the night of my youngest sister Ahjan’s anacator. In olden days she’d have actually been married at fourteen, but civilization has advanced somewhat since those darker times; now, among our class, a cator is an assumption of some adult responsibilities and privileges, and an excuse for a party. Father and Mother were due to arrive the morning of her birthday, leaving Ahjan and her friends to have their more traditional unstructured fun the day before. And they did – Ahjan had two dozen of her friends with us, and a few of the boys got a little more drunk than was seemly, and a few of the girls got kissed rather thoroughly – but in all no harm. One boy whose name I did not know conceived a passion for Ahjan’s best friend Olinia, and we had to throw him in the lake to restore his senses; but once he’d dried off and perhaps sobered some he apologized, and in round Ahjan’s anacator was a success.

Gurny and I watched the sun set from the front porch that evening. Ahjan and her friends were inside the lodge putting on a play – decent work, some of her crowd were the children of professional entertainers and knew the business of it. They’d invited the lorun townpeople for audience, and about forty had come; and a dozen of the rope people as well. Gurny was worn and I was restless – I’m only three and a half years older than Ahjan, but Gurny was my grandfather’s man and he’d been principle chaperone to Ahjan and her friends in addition to managing logistics and transportation for some forty people – by the time the younger crowd had gone inside for their show, Gurny was moving slowly and was plainly grateful to settle into the biggest of the wooden chairs on the long redwood porch.

I pulled a chair more suited to my size over and sat beside him, a bit upwind. Gurny made a small gesture with two fingers, and I shrugged – he smokes flatweed, and my parents disapprove. I don’t care as long as I don’t have to breathe it. The cigar shook slightly as he lit it – exhaustion, more than age, though the exhaustion was the result of age….

Getting old is unpleasant, Gurny said sometimes, but all the alternatives are worse.

We sat in a comfortable silence while the blue sky took up streaks of pink and orange. Gurny was easy to be with; he’d taught me to read and ride, to hunt and shoot, to fight with and without weapons; had taught me more about being a soldier and a man than my own father. I didn’t resent it, much; Father was a busy and important man and I liked Gurny. Gurny had even taught me the little bit of military magic he knew – not much: witch sight to see in the dark; how to find true West; how to minimize hunger and fatigue; how to find water.

There was enough of a breeze to be comfortable, to stir the Lake off to my left into choppy small blue waves whose peaks caught the sunlight with orange and then red accents, as the sun sat across the long stretch of the Desert Infinite.

Gurny smoked half his cigar before saying, “Your parents are coming in the morning, first thing.”

Even a couple of years ago he’d have known he didn’t need to belabor the obvious to me. “I’ll see things cleaned and boys and girls bedded down in their own wings, before heading to bed myself.”

“Good boy,” said Gurny absently, which might have cost another man his teeth.

I smiled. “And I’ll see Remane posts a guard or two on the corridors.” Later that comment haunted me – the knowledge my only thought for safety had been to put our troops in between the youngsters, rather than around them.

Gurny nodded and puffed away at his cigar. I heard small footsteps behind us, and found my youngest sister Uadalure in her night clothes, fresh from her bath and her hair still wet, her nanny Terrero trailing behind her. Uadalure was four years old, dark-haired and dark-eyed and Middle Earth’s happiest child.

It was already near her bedtime and she’d had a busy day. She climbed up in my lap and whispered, “Tell me a story, Tari.” She curled up against my chest, rested her wet hair against my shoulder, and closed her eyes. “A story about Fluffy,” Fluffy being her ted who’d been left behind in Arch. I’d never thought there was anything much fluffy about her ted -- or anyone else’s – but she doted on him and it was the name she’d chosen.

Gurny closed his eyes and smiled a bit as I started in on the tale. It was the same story every time, Uadalure had objected strenuously the few times I’d tried to introduce changes. “When Fluffy was a baby,” it began, “he wanted a little girl of his own. And he was luckier than any other ted, because the little girl he got was the smartest and nicest and prettiest girl in all of Arch or Tajan--”

Arch was about twenty thousand times the size of Tajan, but they were the two places Uadalure knew.

“Nicest,” she mumbled, half asleep already. “Me.”

“You,” I agreed, and kissed her on her damp forehead. She snuggled a little closer, and her breathing gentled. “When Festival came, Fluffy made sure he was there, because he knew Uadalure’s mother would take her there to play. And because he was so handsome, so pretty, so fluffy, all the little girls who saw Fluffy wanted him to be theirs. But Fluffy said no!”

“No,” came the whisper of agreement.

“Fluffy knew that Uadalure would come and love him and have him forever, if only he was patient. And teds aren’t very good at being patient”—for my measure they were the dumbest creatures that breathed–“but Fluffy knew how important it was that he be patient for Uadalure, because Uadalure’s mommy didn’t like to go the Festival too early in the day. So one little girl after another came and saw Fluffy and wanted him to be hers, one after another after another, but every time Fluffy said …” I waited a beat. No sound came from her but her rhythmic breathing.

“No,” said Gurny very softly. “He said no every time, because Uadalure loved him more than anyone else, and he loved her just as much.”

I stood and handed Uadalure back to Terrero. “Put her in our parent’s room. She should wake up about the time they arrive.”

“Very good, sir. Good night, sir.”

“Good night, Terrero.” I turned to Gurny and held out my right hand.

The faint smile died. “I need help getting out of my chair now?”

“No, Gurny, I know you can get out of the chair on your own. I also know you won’t and I’ll have to wake you after you’ve stiffened and you’ll be unpleasant about it.” I paused and amended, “More unpleasant than you’re going to be anyway.”

Gurny observed that I was impertinent and that my parents had been unmarried when I was conceived. I nodded. “So my father has indicated on occasion. But I’ve seen the paperwork, and it appears to indicate a decent interval between wedding and birth.”

“You can pay special for those sorts of papers,” growled Gurny, taking my hand. I hauled him out of the chair. It was much easier than it would have been even a year ago – I was stronger, and he was lighter.

“You can pay for anything in Arch,” I agreed, and something in my tone struck him – he peered closely at me for a moment, not letting go of my hand.

“What have you been paying for, young sir?”

“Nothing unseemly,” I said, without changing expression. “Those sorts of things cost more than Father is willing to release from my accounts.”

He barked laughter and released me. “You’re old enough to work.”

“I’m old enough to fight, too,” and Gurny merely nodded at that, and clapped me on the shoulder.

It was nearly dark out, so we lit the porch lanterns and went back inside as the thin line of scarlet on the horizon faded to black.


I'll probably finish this soon. It's a discrete little story arc and my son's waiting on it. It does feel like the opening of a kid's book, though.

Yes, there is more Long Run coming. Probably a couple days.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Say It Ain't So, John

After we liquidated things with Quietvision, they (quite decently) sent me the remaining copies. We've got two boxes of "Last Dancer" hardcovers, 20 copies, we're going to get rid of. $50 apiece, shipping included inside the U.S. -- an extra $10 outside the U.S. I've seen them going on Ebay for lots more than that. Drop me a line in the comments if you want one. They go in order requested.


Say It Ain't So ...

I've always admired John McCain. (Don't misunderstand; I'm not voting for him. I can't imagine voting Republican at the moment. But that's policy, and has nothing to do with McCain's quality as an individual.) As to McCain's quality as an individual -- he's an asshole, but that's not the worst failing for a politician. I'm sure, temper issues and all, he's a nicer guy than Bill Clinton, another guy with a volcanic temper. McCain's pragmatic and you can do business with him, which I've always liked -- I'm not a big fan of "bipartisanship," which is a longer post than I have time for at the moment -- but I do like pragmatic, and pragmatic married to something like character is the best you can ask for out of any politician.

Politics is an ugly business, and the first requirement is that you win. I don't have a problem (a moral problem, anyway) with much that McCain's done up to this point. Ditto Obama. A lot of what McCain's done so far has been a mistake, but that's just a judgement issue, not a moral one.

In 2000 robocallers in North Carolina, during the Republican primaries, called voters and told them that John McCain had fathered an illegitimate black child. It was the nastiest possible libel; McCain has an adopted daughter of Indian background. Bush's operatives took that adoption and used McCain's daughter as the bsis of a smear intended to inflame the racist sentiments of Republican primary voters.

My longtime admiration for McCain took a hit when he embraced Bush on stage at the 2004 convention. Screw the politics of it; Bush used McCain's daughter, lied about her, to pick up the votes of racists. And McCain embraced him four years later. Imagine being the daughter, watching that on television?

But life is full of compromises. OK, that hug was one. But yesterday I read that John McCain hired the firm that executed that racist smear against his own daughter. Hired them. Paid them.

I'm hard to surprise, when it comes to politics. Steve Barnes, who I admire, thinks Obama is a "political philosopher" -- I don't think so. I think Obama is a Chicago pol, a street fighter -- better than a philosopher. See Al Gore, who I do admire: but as a politician your first responsibility is to win, and Obama's so far willing to do what it takes to win. Gore wasn't. (Which doesn't change the fact that he did win -- the only time all the votes were ever counted in Florida, Gore won by every single standard that actually involved counting all the votes .... of course Bush was in the White House by the.)

But even politicians should have lines they won't cross. The contempt I always felt for Bill Clinton was an artifact of my inability to see where that line was, for him -- the admiration I always felt for McCain came from what was, I thought, a pretty clear set of lines he wouldn't cross, not even to win. He's blurred a few of those, running for President -- fair enough, ambition can make even good men do things they wouldn't brag about.

But I don't see how you parse this last as anything but a betrayal of his daughter. It wouldn't have surprised me from Bill Clinton, but it sure does surprise me from McCain.

Shame on you, John McCain.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Caine Black Knife

At Amazon.

I Still Believe ...

Well, no I don't. 3-1 is a pretty big hole, and while I won't count them out, the Dodgers will need a lot of luck to get past this Phillies team. There are three games left, if the Dodgers are lucky, and two of them are in Philadelphia, and the Dodgers need all three.

That Game 4 loss is a classic sign of an overmatched team. Win the first two games at home, go on the road and drop Game 3 -- pretty normal. The underdog usually wins Game 3, because the implications (down 3-0) are so disastrous for them if they don't. Then, good teams win Game 4 and things are pretty bleak for the underdog from that point forward ...

This certainly counts as success for the Dodgers, however. Short of a World Series appearance I'm skeptical they keep Manny Ramirez -- he's old, which isn't that big a deal in the American League, where a big hitter can move to the designated hitter and be productive in his declining years, than it is in the National League, where a slow, aging player on the field is a danger to the team.

But after 20 years they've won a series, and even without Ramirez they have a young, talented squad. That's something.


Matt Stover's new novel, Caine Black Knife, is out. More about that tomorrow, but the very short form is, go buy it now.


Things have indeed settled down -- and my schedule has lightened up considerably -- I'm up to around 20 hours a week writing time right now, and if things stay the same, my output should rise dramatically. (It's been ~4 hours a week the last couple years.) may not blog much more -- I suspect everyone would rather see Trent text than blog text.

I'm going to issue the first complete half of AI War as an e-book -- my November 30 date's looking unlikely. Sorry, I should have known better than to make that post. That move ate up most of a month, unfortunately, but the first half of AI War is in clean shape and leaves the story at a good stopping point -- not a lengthy stopping point, I hope. I'm talking to Outpost Press right now to produce bound copies of the novel, but I'm not clear on timelines yet.


Yes, there surely is more coming on the Alan Rodgers front. I'm waiting until after the election, because no one'll be paying attention until then anyway, but post-Nov. 4 we're going to do a fairly large push on that situation. The Alan Rodgers Experience is back online -- no new posts, as I say, I've been busy, but some of the material that's coming there is an update on the last year or so, interviews and blogs with my daughters, profiles of some of the people inhabiting the Los Angeles Family Court system, scanned copies of various documents generated in the last few years, a review of two years of posts by Alan Rodgers and Amy Casil over on, including the part where she sought a restraining order against him and he had a bugfuck flipout over it and started threatening her and her surviving child and then demanded she apologize to him publicly ... the list of people Alan's demanded public apologies from is striking, going through all his posts. After killing their little brother, he demanded that Alex and Andrea apologize to him as well. This hasn't happened yet but doubtless he's still waiting ...

The part of my deposition where Alan Rodgers lawyer asks if Amy Casil might have gone down to Alan's office and caused that explosion of filth in a drunken bender after the baby's death is priceless. If they'd just go away and leave be people who want nothing to do with them, watching them fuck with each other would itself be a form of entertainment. At one point in his posts, Alan mutters that Amy Casil is accusing him of things that would require legal action if she said them publicly. I can imagine what that could be -- something to do with intentional homicide, maybe? She certainly already knew he'd killed that baby through negligence.

After Alan threatened to kill her daughter, Casil left him. After Alan killed her baby, Casil left him. And then sought a restraining order against him and Alan responded by threatening her and her daughter again, publicly. And then she went back to him, again. Fascinating woman, at least in a clinical sense.

There's material relating to recent court developments I haven't covered yet, but that's coming. Dr. Jane Ellen Shatz, a court ordered reunification therapist, thought it would be valuable to put the drunken, abusive, mentally impaired baby killer into therapy with his surviving children: we've quite thoroughly declined to do that. It's possibly unfair of me to note that she only got paid if the kids went to reunification therapy, but I take note, and will add that some therapists don't threaten their "clients," which Shatz did to my daughters. My daughters may have more to say on their experiences with Dr. Shatz.

I'm surprised by none of this. This is the court system that found O.J. Simpson a competent parent to take his children back, after he cut their mother's head off. It's a good place for monsters like Alan.

(On a mildly unrelated note, nice to see O.J. heading away to lockup. Couldn't happen to a nicer guy. Gives one hope for karma in other areas of life.)

If you're a blogger who'd like to blog about this, drop me a line in the comments. If you are or know a reporter for a meaningfully sized media outlet, ditto. I've got contacts within NPR and the L.A. Times, and I'll be following up with them as well. The Group News Blog is already on board to cover this after the election.


Along with the Matt Stover post, some politics coming tomorrow too. Interesting times.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Hello ...

We moved in September, and as those of you wish large families know, this is a major production. So I haven't been posting much. But we're settled now and I should be around a bit more. Some interesting things to discuss, too .....

Great time to be a Dodgers fan.

Yes, will be more AI War up sometime this week.