Saturday, December 22, 2012

16875--Irreconcilable Differences

Once again, finding myself pondering the crossing paths of good and evil, often manifesting themselves through the antagonists and protagonists of our entertainment.  Some are more treasured than others, the characters' relationships resonating within us in their own special ways.

A truly challenging villain whose complex character forces the hero to rise with the best of his inner strength will always be appreciated and can easily steal the show.  The best of the worst can go so far as to carry a story all their own, becoming anti-heroes in some cases.  How many of James Bond's villains make great conversational fodder outside the context of being one of James Bond's villains?

Heroes so tortured they have to overcome their personal conflicts as well as whatever dastardly fiend has dared to threaten his world will undoubtedly earn our respect.

Throwing these two into the mix together will almost guarantee the creation of a dance as memorable as it is iconic.  Usually one of these two can find the other staring back from the mirror.  Superheroes make the best subjects to study for this sort of thing because the best ones will have an array of colorful villains, each a twisted reflection of the hero in his own way.  They're easy to spot because they're the most memorable.  They make an impact on the psyche and you get an automatic set, protagonist and antagonist, in one stroke.  On the downside, many of them lose a lot of their mojo without their opposite to contest.  Reverse-Flash?  Venom?  Red Skull?  OK, Red Skull is pretty bad even without Captain America, but you get the idea.

Bizarro is a blatantly flawed attempt at copying Superman here on Earth, resulting in tragic and often dangerous consequences.  Self-made orphan Lex Luthor uses his intellect and cunning to seize all the power and glory he feels that Superman has stolen from him, but seeks the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.  Daunting as they are, as reflections of the hero, they are incomplete characters without him.

Joker embodies irrationality and madness.  Scarecrow demonstrates the negative application of fear as a weapon.  Mr. Freeze has become cold and detached after the tragic loss of a loved one.  The Penguin is a shunned socialite who falls prey to his own obsessiveness.  To prove his intellect, Riddler is pathologically driven to create puzzles.  Catwoman craves the thrills she finds while in costume.  They all reflect facets of Batman, but show a twisted path he managed to avoid.

What dark twists of the heroic soul have stood out in your mind?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

16838--Predators Don't Whine

I realized that one of the things I really love about predators, as opposed to those cute things they eat, is their dedication to personal responsibility.  The food animals will reproduce as much as possible, even to the point of populating beyond the capacity of their environment to sustain.  Predators not only keep themselves to manageable numbers, but thin the herds of the cute critters, too.  It's the wolves that keep idiot deer from overbreeding themselves into starvation.

I appreciate the animal kingdom's evolutionary ability to develop stronger and faster members of the myriad species.  When it comes to adapting and surviving, though, I don't see a lot of sitting around and waiting.  Polar bears aren't joining with fanatics to complain about the vanishing arctic ice.  No, they make their way south and mate with grizzly bears, which is what they are, anyway.

Maybe they'll end up producing brown and white cubs like those black and white cows, but the important thing is that they're not going extinct.  Not only are polar bears not going extinct, but their adaptation into grolar bears proves that their toughness and badassery extends into taking their genetic and evolutionary destiny into their own paws.

I have to respect that.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

16829--But Is It Art?

Derrien walked with his hand squeezing Kyrian’s, their fingers entwined. Derrien had been struggling for weeks to impress her. His latest attempt had them taking an after-dinner stroll through North Park, the largest in the city. The northernmost city in Zadiasam, Bakar enjoyed the cooling effect of the North Sea’s temperate southern breezes. Given the time of evening, they only passed three other people as they made their way past the deliberately placed trees and bushes. At the park’s center, the winding paths led them through lush greenery to open on a large plaza.

“Here it is,” he told her as they came upon the ten-foot-tall marble sculpture, presenting it as though it were a gift. “I still can’t believe you’ve never been here before.”

“No, I really haven’t,” Kyrian assured him. “Stop laughing at me.”

“And you’re sure you’ve lived in Bakar your whole life?” he asked.

“You know how it is,” she said. “It’s one of those sightseeing things. You only go see it if you’re a tourist.”

“Well, yeah, for some things,” he agreed, “but this is art and one of the landmarks the city’s famous for. I mean, if nothing else, Bakar‘s famous for its art. We have more renowned museums than even down in Azirta, the glorious capital city.”

“I get it,” she said. “Some people come from the far ends of Tarakk for things like this and I‘ve only ever seen it in pictures before. It looks like a couple of blobs…hugging.”

“They’re the lovers, silly,” he said, laughing again. “The whole thing’s sculpted from a single block of marble.”

“It‘s more red in person than I would’ve thought. I‘ve never seen red marble before. It really makes the curves stand out. Lovers‘ Rock in Lovers‘ Plaza…”

“Yeah, but you know that’s just what it’s called,” he said. “That’s not its real name.”

“This isn’t Lovers’ Plaza?” she asked as they walked around the towering red and black marble.

“No, it’s Lover’s Plaza,” he said. “It’s not the Lovers’ Rock.”

“So the whole country, everyone in Zadiasam, and all around Tarakk, calls it by the wrong name. Alright, so what’s its name?” she asked.

He smiled knowingly, certain he had her full interest, before responding, “For that, there’s a story. This was back in ancient times and the artist, Rasbel, wasn’t famous yet. Anyway, he lived around here and found this block of marble in the hills. He spent days admiring it and trying to imagine what true shape was trapped inside it. He spent another week with hired workers moving it to his home. It was over three tons and a chore even for six men and a team of horses to move through the hills and forest. When he got it home, he was as frustrated by it as he was enthralled by its beauty and potential. Still, he had no idea what was waiting for him inside the stone.

“One day as he sat contemplating the patterns of the marble,” Derrien continued, “a stranger came walking through the woods. He was eight feet tall and his chest was as wide as two grown men’s. He didn’t speak at first, just walked to the stone without a sound. Rasbel watched the stranger, draped in green silk robes with mystic circles and symbols all over them. He had talismans hanging from his neck and bracelet charms around each wrist. His fingers were long and slender. Everywhere he’d touch the stone a magical symbol would appear then fade away after he moved his hand. The stranger looked down at the artist with glowing amber eyes and smiled at him, saying ‘You have no inspiration to guide this transformation.’ The artist confessed his frustration and asked who the strange giant was. He identified himself as…Valtanir.”

“The old Corican god?” Kyrian asked, smiling with polite disbelief. “Come on, really?”

“This is the story,” Derrien told her. “It’s all I’ve got. So, Valtanir said, ‘You must elevate yourself to hear vibrations higher than your own to know the essence of the stone.’ Rasbel felt a truth in Valtanir’s words and asked what he needed to do. How could he achieve such a state? ‘Walk away from the stone,’ Valtanir told him. ‘Embrace whatever you find with openness.’

“So Rasbel picked a direction and walked off into the woods. After a short time, he came upon a beautiful girl sitting beneath a tree. Her name was Tyla. She had gotten lost running from a wild animal and had twisted her ankle. He carried her back to his home and Rasbel saw the stone in the light of the setting sun. In that moment, realized that Valtanir had meant for the girl to be his inspiration and asked her to stay. He set up a comfortable bed for her near his work and attacked the stone with his artistic passion. Suddenly, he had no doubt that he could see the essence of the stone eagerly awaiting release. His heart soared to the heavens on the rapture of a song. She watched him as he worked into the night and he watched her to guide his hand even as she slept.

“As he worked on at a frenzied pace, Rasbel saw the rise of the sun and the return of Valtanir. He was excited to show Valtanir the progress he had made, but found his patron unimpressed. Again, the towering man-god caressed the stone, listening to it, maybe even looking into it, with his touch. ‘This is superficial,’ Valtanir told him. ‘You must reach deeper, beyond this juvenile effort.’ Rasbel, however, argued that the girl Valtanir had guided him to find had inspired him and that in touching his heart she had opened him to hear the stone. Valtanir laughed at Rasbel’s obvious infatuation, telling him that until he had learned to embrace all aspects of emotional experience available to him, the bitter as well as the sweet, the dark as well the bright, then he would never understand the full scope of passion and art. Fearful of Valtanir’s intensity, Rasbel recoiled from him. He staggered backward, stumbling into the half-finished sculpture. Somehow, despite the stone’s great mass, it moved. Almost certainly, it was Valtanir’s will.

“Anyway, the stone fell over, crushing Tyla as she slept and his heart as he watched, powerless stop the horror he beheld. Rasbel could still feel the thunderous tremor as he flew into a panic. He was unable to move the huge piece of marble and equally unable to move Valtanir with his pleading. ‘Now, search deeper,’ Valtanir challenged. ‘Use your anguish. Probe your pain. Let that guide you to cut the stone.’ With that Valtanir left Rasbel to his desperate work. By the time Rasbel’s brother arrived to visit him, he found his artist brother furiously cutting at the marble. He had been working it smaller, changing its shape and balance. He was nearly exhausted, his hands spreading his own blood on the marble as he worked to free a girl who was almost certainly dead. Once he had explained to his brother what was happening, the brother ran to get more help. When his brother returned, though, Rasbel had completely collapsed, later reviving only long enough to finish telling his story. Once the people were able to move the stone, they buried Rasbel and Tyla together where they had died. This sculpture was Rasbel’s last work.”

“The marble made red from both their blood,” Kyrian said, looking up at the time-worn artwork. “It’s so sad. And it’s very impressive you know all that.”

“Well, I paid attention in school a few times,” Derrien said modestly. “A couple of bits stuck with me.”

Just then, they almost walked into an impossibly tall man. They were stunned, looking up at him in his bright green jacket, almost unable to see his head past his huge chest, and wondering how they had managed not to notice him before nearly bumping right into him.

“Oh, um…excuse us,” Darrien mumbled.

“It really captures the moment of passion, don’t you think?” the tall man said in an odd, rumbling baritone.

“Oh…yeah,” the young man agreed.

“Still so evocative after so many years,” the tall man said. “I forget, what did they end up naming it?”

“Ummm…I…” Derrien fumbled, his mind reeling as he began to take note of the many talismans and charms that dangled from the giant’s wrists and neck.

He glanced down to see if magical words and symbols were scribbled on the ground at the tall man’s feet, but there was not enough light to be sure. Kyrian shook her companion’s arm, attempting to remind him that he was supposed to know the answer to this question.

“Oh, right,” Derrien said. “Rasbel’s Despair. Rasbel’s Despair.”

“Rasbel’s Despair,” the stranger echoed thoughtfully. “Perfect. I think she was some sort of an addict, if memory serves…Ahhh, no matter. Story’s better without it. Keep that one to yourself.”

With deliberate care, his long fingers plucked a golden chain from among the charms on one of his wrists. It snapped with a shower of sparkles, wriggling like a tiny snake whose mouth had just released its grip on its own tail. With a graceful toss, the shimmering strand flew to Derrien’s left wrist where it became a snug circle once again. A rush of dreamlike images flashed before the young man’s mind’s eye.

“A reward to complement your lovely gift of storytelling,” the tall one said, his amber eyes flaring. “Have a lovely evening.”

“Th-Thank you,” Derrien stuttered as Kyrian pulled him by the arm, leading him back toward the path that had brought them to the park’s center.

Derrien looked back as they walked away, but the stranger had gone, vanished into the night. Only Rasbel’s Despair remained.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

16823--Barlow's Barren Land

The sun hung low against the orange sky as another day drew near its end.  John Barlow stood on the porch his great-grandfather had built. Abe Barlow had started the farm and his family had worked it ever since. John Barlow grew up working the land with both his parents and his grandparents. Time had overtaken them until John was the only one left above ground. When he worked the land he liked to feel that something of them all remained within him.

Standing at the top of his porch steps, John Barlow watched as an uninvited pickup truck drove onto his farm from the main road.  With the late afternoon light being what it was and that the truck was bouncing along the dirt driveway largely obscured by his fields of wheat, Barlow could not tell whose truck was approaching.  Following the cloud of dirt rising behind it, he could only tell how close it was and that it was coming in fast.  Seeing heads occasionally bouncing above the level of the crops, he was sure that he was about to have several visitors.  For a moment, he considered greeting them with his shotgun in-hand, but decided he could handle whatever was coming without it.

“Barlow!” the driver of the dirty red truck shouted out to him as it skidded to a stop outside the farmhouse.

“Ellis,” he responded to the agitated driver, “where you and these boys off to in such an all fired hurry?  Billy sellin’ nickel beers down at the bar?  No, wait, I know: there’s another buffalo downtown and you’re gonna watch the sheriff try to run him out.”

“No,” one of the men in the back of the pickup said, “we’re on our way over to old Sitwell’s and we figured you’d want to come with us.”

“Old Sitwell’s?” Barlow asked.

“Yeah,” Ellis said.  “Harlan’s wife saw that hag out near their farm two nights ago and today all their cows’ milk done dried up.”

“What? You think she made that happen?” Barlow asked.

“How about the day I tilled the field I left fallow last season,” Pete Wilson spoke up from the passenger seat, “the very day, the corn in the next field dried up.  Then, overnight, all the grain in my silos disappeared. An it ain‘t like we‘re the only ones.  There‘s some kinda curse over this whole area.  Look at your own field, Barlow,” the man said, pointing at the scorched acreage north of the farmhouse.  “You gonna tell us that just happened by itself?”

“A meteor fell on it, Pete,” Barlow told him.  “Sometimes that stuff happens.”

“Maybe,” Wilson said, “and maybe not.”

“Well, those two city fellas said it was,” Barlow said, “and I don’t see ‘em writin’ checks with all them zeroes for any rocks that come from around here.”

“Yeah, Lord gave me a field full of rocks ain’t nobody payin’ for,” Ellis said.

“OK, so it was a space rock, so what?” Wilson asked.  “Just because you got some money for it don’t mean it wasn’t part of a curse.”

“Alright, so you think she can drop rocks on us from space,” Barlow proposed, “and you’re on your way to do what?  You gonna tie her up and take her into town for a trial and get her to confess?  You think she can cast spells to wither your crops and cattle and you’re gonna go scare her outta town?”

The men in the truck fidgeted and looked about sheepishly.

“What happened to you, Ellis?” Barlow asked.  “Your fields catch fire?  The barn collapse?”

“No, but…Carol told me she saw lights in one of the fields,” Ellis told him, “and…somebody dancing.  Then, she left me.”

“Well, that’s weird,” Barlow said, “but weren’t you two fightin’ all the time, anyway?”

“Things wasn’t that bad,” Ellis insisted.

“Alright, sure,” Barlow said.  “So, y’all gonna blame Georgia Sitwell for all your ills?”

“That old witch--!”

“Is the same age as us,” Barlow reminded them.  “She went to school with us!  Maybe she was weird, but we’re not in high school anymore, guys.  We’re grown men and sure as shootin’ too old to be actin’ afraid of the dark.”

“Well…” Ellis said.

“If you see Georgia out walkin’ near your land,” Barlow said, “try bein’ neighborly.  Offer her a ride.  Say ‘Hello’.”

“Not if she’s wearin’ that creepy cape,” Harlan said.

“It ain’t a crime, Harlan,” Barlow said.  “Maybe she’s just cold or she thinks it’s gonna rain.  Try askin’ her.  She might tell you.”


“Y’all go on home,” Barlow said.  “Sounds like you’ve got some things to tend to and so do I.”

“Alright,” Ellis said, putting his truck back into gear.  “We’ll see you soon, John.”

“Alright,” Barlow said, giving a nod.  “You boys stay sane.”

The truck vanished in the distance as the sun dropped below the horizon.  Conversely, as darkness fell and the wait began for the respite of the moon’s silvery light, a glow rose behind Barlow.  The screen door opened for a slender blonde, though she never laid a hand to it.  What little clothing she wore, a diaphanous weave of silk and dew, barely seemed to touch her, instead hovering and swirling just above her radiant flesh.

“You were right,” she said to Barlow, “that one and his wife don’t belong together. Now, if we could only find someone to suit you…”

“We’re like soap operas to you folk, aren’t we?” Barlow asked her.

“You say the strangest things sometimes,” she smiled.  “You should try the honey,” she said, taking another sip from the jar he had brought her.  “The bees made it extra-sweet today.”

“Soon, thank you,” he said.  “Your gifts have brought me such bounty I have to milk the cows and collect from the hens again before dinner.”

“I know how you like the eggs and the extra creamy milk,” she told him, running a hand through his thick black hair.  “It was the least I could do after all you’ve done for me.”

“Good hospitality’s just the way I was taught,” Barlow said.  “Flaming rock falls out of the sky and wipes out your home, a neighbor helps out.”

“And I’ve been feeling a little stronger every day,” she said.  “Your family’s always been good to our folk.”

“Truth be told,” Barlow said, “I think my grandpa was always partial to the moon dances.”

“He was.”

“I’m sorry the others didn’t learn better,” Barlow said, half-mesmerized by her sparkling glow.

“That’s their fault, not yours,” she said. “The price to be paid for their offensiveness is theirs. You were very kind in defending the woman they hate.”

“I don’t think she’s ever hurt anyone her whole life,” he said.  “She may be odd, but she’s certainly no witch.”

“If I’m going to help you with the rest of the harvest,” she pointed out, “you’re going to need a bigger barn or another silo.”

“At the risk of sounding unappreciative,” he said carefully, “if we only harvest what’s left on my land, the barn should just be able to hold it.  I don’t want you hurting yourself with overexertion while you’re still healing.”

“Oh, John, that‘s so thoughtful,” she said, glowing a little brighter as she touched a hand to his cheek. “Thou art sweeter than honeyed cakes and forever friend to the fey.”

“You’re too kind,” he said, smiling broader at her irresistible radiance.

“That means I’ll have extra time tonight to decide which one of those guys loses his hair, which one becomes impotent and which one gets warm skunky beer for the rest of his life," she said with a mischievous gleam in her violet eyes. "Think about it. You can give me any suggestions when you come in for dinner.”

Barlow chuckled softly as he walked off toward the barn, pondering, “I don’t know what those idiots ever did to piss off the faeries, but I’ll bet they’d have been better off if they were trying to negotiate with a witch.”

Thursday, October 25, 2012


   Magic!  It's a loaded word, carrying more weight for some than others.  Likewise, it bears the possibility of meaning something different to virtually everyone.  When I'm writing stories, I give thought to how superhuman abilities (those outside mundane experience) will be portrayed and their capacities.  Any writer who is going to use such abilities as significant elements of their stories should do so.  You may have a detailed system formulated or you may be in the early stages of doing so.  You may have no idea how to proceed at all.  Below are some of the ways I handle magic in my writing.  Maybe something there can help you or just amuse you.  If you have any questions or would like help solidifying rules of your own, I'm always happy to help.

Psychic abilities are, naturally, consigned to the realm of the mind.  Those I treat as tools of the brain.  Some writers use them interchangeably or synonymously with magic.  Some plots may have characters using one system to fake the portrayal of another (using psionics or magic to create the illusion of some physical prowess or pretending that a mental ability is actually a magical one, for example).  They're extraordinary ways for the brain to interact with the world without having to use the normal systems.  Telepathy allows the brain to bypass speech and hearing.  Psychokinesis lets the brain bypass the use of hands.  Pyrokinesis saves the brain a trip to gather fuel and matches.  The supercharged brain really starts to show its stuff when it allows someone to do things he couldn't normally do with any amount of skill or practice, such as reaching and perceiving through solid barriers or evacuating a room of its air.

Magic has other capabilities.  Magic allows for simple shortcuts, but with the proper use of will and imagination it also allows physics to be ignored or at least taunted.  Some users of magic make this sort of thing look easy, while the cost to others can be seen more readily.  By that, I mean, some are born to magic: faeries, dragons, even the rare human adept.  For such beings, use of magic comes so naturally that any cost for common exploitation of their special communication with the universe seems negligible.

For those without such easy access, things become more complicated.  That's when the traditional concepts of sacrifice become involved: years of study, items of rarity or unique sentiment, blood, lives...  One of the common sacrificial items I decided to incorporate into stories was precious gemstones, with different spell effects requiring specific stones that would be consumed with the initiation of each spell.  Different rules, of course, apply to enchanted items that may have been imbued with the power to generate a specific spell effect or to take on a unique quality in perpetuity.

Beyond the quick and dirty spell there will exist effects of signifcance that require more effort and power.  That's where the ritual comes in, which calls for one or more magic practitioners to perform a spell of grand working.  It will, of course, be something done in more than one part and call for the use of many more spell components than normal.  A magic circle and ancient symbols of power are certain to play a part.  Depending on the nature of the ritual, fire, water or blood will likely be essential elements, possibly all of them.  Then, we get into the most dangerous part.  It's something that may have been going on since the use of the simplest of spells a given magician has been using, but when moving up to castings of greater power, additional assistance and higher costs go along with the action.  That's when your characters get into talking with the mysterious entities from other dimensions.  To such beings, mere mortals may have pledged all manner of things tangible and not in exchange for access to fractions of their vast unknowable power.  These relationships tend to create situations where a character is beholden to another in some manner of intractable bargain, which is a source of great tension or conflict when properly utilized.

Additionally, the nature of each type of magic relegates it to a specific universal alignment that is connected to a dominion of influence.  Within each alignment are subsets of discipline governing the uses of the magic.  Lastly, each alignment is also associated with a color.  These details make the creative aspects seem rather dry and technical when spelled out like that, but breaking them down in that manner affords consistency to a subject that could, by its very nature, run out of control if not properly managed.  Assigning specific areas of influence allows me to know ahead of time things that a particular magic slinger might do and things that might be beyond her ability.  Some facets of your planning may produce results that are never again seen by any eyes beyond your own, but I don't think your characters or your stories can suffer from you knowing too much about them.  Consideration of such rules and limitations is something I feel to be important because of a memory I devoted its own brain cell to long ago: if anything can happen, who cares what does?

Allow me to illustrate the result of my machinations with a few characters from Theobroma: Child of Fire and Blood:
   The necromancer Attan relies on both years of study and his devotion to Death to empower his practice of magic; Attan's invocations are facilitated through his raven familiar Dalar, especially anything requiring greater complexity or effort; he dresses largely in red, the color of the alignment of Dark Order and thus the color of any of his magical special effects; aligned with Dark Order, many of his spells are associated with Time as well as Death; because he works with one of the Order alignments, his workings have a foundation in dedicated study and preparation (including carrying a hefty personal grimoire and numerous powders, potions and spell components)

   Kieren Sha is part-faerie, aligning her with Bright Chaos; any visible manifestations of her magic use are as purple as her eyes; the use of specific magical effects comes to her easily, but cost her in physical stamina; because she is associated with a specific alignment by virtue of her birth, magical effects of other alignments are particularly difficult for her to access; because her magic stems from a Chaos alignment, it has a foundation in emotion rather than study (cracking a book to learn a spell is foreign and in some cases loathsome to her).  Born a child of Bright Chaos, her connection to Coyote, the realm of Magick and any attendant gifts have not required her to make any bargains, but still put her under the immortal trickster's special notice more often than she finds convenient.

   Lar Kwa and Bobalaren are both less disciplined users of the enticing golden light of Dark Chaos magic; the alignment gives both men special access to the dominion of Souls, Bob uses that magic primarily for detecting untruths and reading auras while Lar Kwa practices manipulating and enthralling others; Bob's uses of magic are relatively minor (mostly relying upon enchanted items), Lar Kwa's are far more intense and costly (draining years from his life) driven by boundless ambition and eagerly indebting himself to ancient and merciless gods with whom he has...special relationships.

Every magic user takes it upon themselves to find their way, discerning some path by which they feel they may get the universe's attention, for good or ill, and dealing with the consequences later.  The writer who would deal with such characters, as always, has the privilege of squeezing as much entertainment out of their journeys and choices as possible.  That doesn't mean letting utter chaos run amok, but imposing limitations as one would on a willful child.  Certainly, display the incredible, but never forget that such things are most interesting when the event the audience sees as fantastic impacts on the characters as a fantastic pain in the ass.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

16815--Zen and the Art of TV Archery

Taking another shot at adapting an A-list superhero from comic books to TV, executive producer Marc Guggenheim has launched a new visioning of Green Arrow at audiences. Some might debate my assignation of A-list status to a low-tech hero with no superhuman abilities, but I’ll argue that he’s carried his own title, been a long-time member of the Justice League and has a name that the average citizen-at-large won’t respond to with “Who?”. Even without a version of him appearing on the now-defunct “Smallville” for several seasons, he’s a well-known quantity who has never been shy about working in the ranks of the comic universe’s heavyweights. Like his fellow mere mortal Batman, that similar list of credentials is more than enough to qualify his Tough Guy status.

Like others of his costumed stalwarts, the details of his backstory have been tweaked as much as any urban legend. This time around, he’s been presented with a live mother and a dead father, the circumstances behind that being only a part of making him into the heroic figure he has had to become. Still a part of the Gilligan’s Island travel plan, wealthy young socialite Oliver Queen was stranded on a remote island that would serve as the crucible in which he would be tempered. Marooned as the result of sabotage to his yacht this time around, the playboy-reborn-as-Tough-Guy has come back to civilization with an attitude and a secret agenda worthy of the Count of Monte Cristo. Add in the fitful sleep of a troubled soul and they are clearly making the effort of presenting a nuanced protagonist intriguing enough to hold everyone’s attention. Certainly, that’s something the Green Arrow who first appeared in More Fun Comics back in 1941 could not have done in the modern era.

While the hero of “Arrow” may take on gangs of thugs, loose arrows with skill enough to make an Olympic archer go slack-jawed and Parkour like a monkey on Red Bull, executive producer Guggenheim is nothing less than adamant that superpowered heroes like Superman and Green Lantern won't have a place on the show. Wow. What happened to helping your buddies share in the wealth? Courtney Cox may have had plenty of her old co-stars show their faces on “Cougartown”, but it looks like Guggenheim has other ideas about how “Arrow” will play out. Conversely, he also says the show will try to utilize as much of the DC Comics universe as humanly possible:

Sorry, pal, they said...uh...our greens would clash.

"We've got a lot of different characters and then there are characters you may not recognize unless you're a diehard comic book fan. One of the things we've done, mainly because we're fans, is we've thrown in a lot of Easter eggs for the hardcore fans. If you're a big fan of the DC Comics universe, you'll see a lot of familiar names and places: Big Belly Burger, which is a hamburger chain from the Superman comic books, makes a regular appearance on our show and we have a Big Belly Burger franchise as one of our standing sets. You'll still hear about characters from those worlds and from those cities. We're imagining a DC universe without super-powered characters, but that doesn't mean that in our parallel universe that there isn't a Metropolis or a Gotham City. There are references to places like Corto Maltese (a war-torn island) and Markovia. I would listen and watch carefully if you're a comic book fan because some of the references are really subtle and will go past a lot of people."

Now my opinion on this is if they're imagining a DCU without super-powered characters, they‘re not imagining the DCU.  If you’re going to piss away the unique infrastructure that goes along with Green Arrow, why bother building a show around that character?  It seems ridiculous to waste elements of story that others can't offer in the midst of such a competitive market.  The audience may as well go watch “Nikita”, “Revenge” or “Person of Interest”.  Or the evening news.  Why spend time on a another new series when we already have proven products who've passed their first season hurdles?  Oh, it's Green Arrow, you say?  Hey, there's a quantity with some potential!  Oh, just Green Arrow?  You know, we already have plenty of non-super action and drama.  We live in it. 

Green Arrow lives in a different reality and has the opportunity to explore themes using levels of depth denied to mundane genres.  Ignoring that reality sounds like the same error “Smallville” started with when the ultimately ousted producers insisted that “no tights, no flights” was the only cool way to present Superman to the 21st century and a generation that had outgrown such heroes.  In time, the people making the show got over themselves and “Smallville“ improved. One of the notable additions to the show, ironically, was Green Arrow (though I hear they really wanted a young Bruce Wayne, but were denied such lofty access). After all these years of adaptations, you would think TV producers would’ve learned by now that acknowledging the integrated universe of such characters works far better than yanking a single thread from a tapestry and pretending that their chosen hero is the only one. I’m waiting for the day someone brings us an adaptation of some popular vampire story, but without all the silliness of biting and fangs and supernatural stuff.

Meanwhile, “Arrow” doesn't have to show people leaping tall buildings, but could slip in references to superhuman activities in newscasts and the odd urban legend mention without letting the idea overrun the show. That sort of thing would certainly put a bigger smile on my mug than a trip through Big Belly’s “drive-thru” lane. I trust “Arrow” and Oliver Queen will prove tough enough to endure creator egos and the rigors of TV ratings to become even better than the better than average showing it has already given us.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

16805--Settling Differences Between Good and Evil

Phantom Limb: "We're not so different, you and I."
Brock Samson: "Yeah, I don't need another 'We're not so different' speech.  I get those a lot."
Phantom Limb: "Yes, I'm sure you do."

There's a strange intimacy that exists between antagonists and protagonists.  The dynamic interplay of their differences creates both attraction and friction in a dance of interconnectedness.  Despite their enmity, they are drawn into each other's orbits, each one's movements influencing the other.  One is driven to create Chaos while the other's passion is to preserve Order.  One is driven to commit the crimes that the other is dedicated to stop.

They are Lex Luthor and Superman, one striving to freely exploit as much of the world as he can while the other champions life and freedom for all.

They are Moriarty and Holmes, linked by the crafting of criminal intrigues versus the drive to unravel challenging puzzles.

They are any politician's image and the image of the politician's opposition, each contesting to propagate the best lie.

In characters, the simplest form of the dynamic may exist between one character seeking a goal and the other blocking the attainment of that goal.  Very often, at least one of the two will hate the other.  In the more complex dynamics, the two may have begun as friends and, though their choices have put them at odds, there could still exist a measure of respect between them--if not mutual, at least one for the other. 

Their backgrounds often serve to highlight the friction between them, whether they perceive themselves as having come from a loving family environment or one fraught with tension.  Do they consider their formative years to have been easy or difficult?  A protagonist will usually see their life experiences as the foundation for positive growth.  Some of the most bitter antagonists can go through the same experiences as the protagonist they oppose yet find excuses not to grow at all.  The  most complex antagonists will find justification to respond to their struggles in such an extreme fashion that while the hero might consider their paths to differ greatly, the hero can still understand the choice of his opponent.  Perhaps more importantly, readers can accept it as a viable choice that they themselves might have made.

Professor Xavier and Magneto are prime examples of opponents locked in a dynamic where two friends came to be at odds by choosing differing paths to achieve similar goals.  Both characters want to see the world grow into an environment where mutants can live safely.  Xavier believes this can be achieved through peaceful coexistence between mutant and non-mutantkind.  Magneto believes this is only possible if mutants rule over society.  He respects Xavier's efforts, even supports them, but his own suffering at the hands of Nazis has soured his faith in the potential of humanity's goodness and a special intolerance for racism.

In a relationship of such complexity, hero and villain might ultimately come to a point where, even though they continue at cross purposes, they recognize a validity in each other's mission.  By that, meaning that while they don't kiss and make up, they don't go out of their way to oppose each other directly either.
Is there a hero-villain pairing that resonates with you as being particularly profound?

Friday, October 12, 2012

16804--Welcome to Write Club...

The first rule of WRITE CLUB is you do not talk about WRITE CLUB.  Writing is about writing, not talking about writing or finding a hundred other easier to perpetrate distractions.  You have a large and important job ahead of you and only you can get it done.  Your work will be humanity's mirror.  Your work will help humanity keep from tearing itself apart for another day, even if it only serves as a distraction during the reading.

The second rule of WRITE CLUB is  you do not talk about WRITE CLUB.  See the first rule.  You're not a talker, you're a writer.  Stop trying to impress people with what you plan to do someday.  Go do it.  Don't wait for inspiration.  You're not a waiter.  You're a writer.  A writer writes to get the writing done.  It's an active, dynamic process that produces a result because you hunted it down, clubbed it and dragged it home to be your bitch.  That's when you'll take those words and put them together with the fit of a verbal jigsaw puzzle, painting a picture that only you could've made.  You don't do Show-and-Tell.  You just show and let your writing do your talking.

The third rule of WRITE CLUB is if someone says "stop", goes limp or taps out, the writing is over.  Because you weren't a real writer, anyway.  If you were, quitting would never have been an option.  Some writers seem to spill words onto the blank page with ease.  Good for them, but there's no promise that coherency and quality are going to come together with ease.  What you've undertaken is supposed to be one of the hardest endeavors known to man.  Do it anyway.  Look into yourself, go where the pain is and poke it with a hot, dull spoon.  Take what you've found there and put it on your page.

The fourth rule of WRITE CLUB is you're alone with your writing.  There's endless inputs into your raw material, churning and filtering through the magical processor atop your neck.  There can be as many helpful hands as you like proofing and editing, but between your brain and the stringing together of words into coherent art there is only you.  No one can get your work to done better than you.

The fifth rule of WRITE CLUB is write one at a time.  Focus on your goal.  Finish whatever's on your mind before going on to something else.

The sixth rule of WRITE CLUB is shirts and shoes don't matter.  You're not a fashion model.  You're a writer.  Kick off the shoes and socks.  Write naked.  Or wrap up in a parka or a blanket.  Get comfortable and get to work.

The seventh rule of WRITE CLUB is writing will go on as long as it has to.  Give it all the time it needs, but don't rewrite forever.  At some point, you need to call it finished and show it to somebody else.

The eighth rule of WRITE CLUB is if you're going to be in WRITE CLUB, you have to write.  Writing is what writers do.  It doesn't get any simpler than that.  If you're going to write then do it.  Write or die.  You can plan all you like, but you never know what'll unfold while writing until you're writing. That's not something that comes by waiting for inspiration but by just getting on with writing.  Start it.  Then, finish it.  Not half.  Not some.  All of it.  You don't know what writer's block is because that's something whiners get, not writers.  In fact, from now on, let's just call it "whiner's block".  You write every day you breathe.  You have to.  You wouldn't feel right if you didn't.  You write, therefore you are.

Monday, October 8, 2012

16797--Sowing the Seeds of Chaos

Every now and again, you may feel that your personal life, the world around you or one of your writing projects has fallen into a rut of stagnation.  How can you fix it?  Change your normal routine.  Yes, big scary change.  Embrace the change.  It can be good.  It can stimulate new ideas and ways of doing things.

Static systems tend to produce static results.  That's often just fine.  Predictable results are frequently what we seek.  Sometimes, though, you're going to be searching for something new, even if you don't know what it is.  I would also suggest that when you go shaking things up, have some fun doing it.  Give your imagination a little challenge, though, and you might come up with some more creative ways of shuffling your deck. 

In the spirit of my recent writing about tricksters, I'll share a couple of my own past shake ups.

Once upon a time, I worked as a radio DJ.  It's a job that can be fun, but it has its own particular thorns, too.  Hey, that's why it's work and you get paid to do it.  Anyway, one particular afternoon, I decided to play Queen's "We Will Rock You".  Most of you familiar with it know that it is normally followed by "We Are the Champions".  This makes sense because it's the very next track on the album and the gap between them is so small that the first flows into the second very well.  People have become accustomed, almost programmed, to hear them together.  Well, that particular afternoon, I made note that the two separate tracks are just that: two separate tracks.  When "We Will Rock You" finished, I spun something else.  It was a nice smooth transition into another bit of rock and roll that I don't even recall at this writing.  What I do recall, though, is that we got a pretty fair idea of just how many people were listening to my show that day because the phone lines rang like I was giving away money.  Not playing "We Are the Champions" was apparently enough to incite an emotional riot because that was suddenly the most important thing in their world.  I even got to talk to some some station executives who usually didn't care about talking with me.  Who knew they had such an interest in what I played?

Another fun upon a time came way back in 1993.  That's right, the twentieth century.  Some friends of mine had gotten terribly excited about the opening night of "Jurassic Park" and called a couple of dozen of us together to go watch it.  It was a real event.  The box office lines were long, spotlights were sweeping the sky and news crews had come out to do their little feature pieces.  One of my friends who had called us all together had arrived about the same time as I had.  As we were getting our group organized in the very long lines, we chatted to pass the time.  To make the wait more interesting, he said we should "Sow the seeds of Chaos."  What could I do but accept such a lofty challenge?  I put on my 3D glasses. 

Now, let me explain at this point that earlier that very day I had come upon a stash of 3D glasses.  These weren't the slick Men-in-Black-looking 3D glasses we enjoy in the twenty-first century.  No, these were their primitive forebears, made of colorful cardboard and sporting one red and one blue lens.  I had found a box of them at work that no one else wanted.  I was told I could have them and shoved them into my backpack.  Between the time of that find and the movie showtime, I found that those 3D glasses didn't just enhance 3D films.  They also made the world a brighter place as well as the covers of comic books.  So I was already having a fun Friday afternoon.  Since we were going to see this great new film with groundbreaking computer effects, I had to give it a try with my new glasses.  And I had enough for everybody.  As more of our friends arrived, I gave everyone their own 3D glasses.

With the challenge aired and accepted, I encouraged the rest of the group to begin putting on their 3D glasses.  Then, I waited.  At first, there were a few curious finger pointings and giggles, but I held my ground and acted "normally".  Soon, the questions started.  "Why do you have 3D glasses?  Is this a 3D movie?  Do you have any more?"  "Well," I said, reluctantly reaching into my bag of tricks, "I have a few extras..." and began handing out 3D glasses to grateful strangers.  As that spread, more inquiries came, people asking "Where'd you get those?  Is this a 3D movie?  Where can I get a pair?"  "I really need to hang on to some for my friends," I told them, "but you could ask at the box office."  Grateful for the guidance, they'd trot off to bother theater management.  As I recall, we even made it onto the news as the curious reporters began to wonder why no one had told them "Jurassic Park" was being shown in 3D.  The movie theater personnel were too busy to respond to the inquiry, but I was happy to give out some of my extra pairs of glasses to the local media.

As we drew near to getting our tickets, my friend conceded his challenge when he asked, "What the Hell are you doing?"  I reminded him, "You said, 'sow the seeds of Chaos'."  "Well, yeah," he said nervously, "but I didn't think you'd be so good at it." 

It was all in good fun.  No lies were told and there were no casualties that I heard about.  Plus, we all enjoyed the show.  It seemed like those dinosaurs were ready to leap off the screen.

How do you shake things up and turn the mundane into something fresh?

Sunday, October 7, 2012

16796-Conundrums of Prophecy

Stop me if you've heard this one:
     Oedipus was born to King Laius and Queen Jocasta. Laius was given a prophecy that he wished to thwart.  It said that his child would grow up to murder his father and marry his mother. Sure, it sounds crazy, but "Why take the chance?" he figures.  Thus, Laius fastened the infant's feet together with a large pin and left him to die on a mountainside. Killing the baby would open a whole other can of worms and I guess he didn't have any towers or dungeons available.  Naturally, the baby was found by shepherds and raised by King Polybus and Queen Merope in the city of Corinth.  Growing up with privilege in spite of being abandoned to the wilds, Oedipus eventually consulted the oracle at Delphi and learned the same thing that Laius had, but believed it meant he was fated to slay Polybus and marry Merope.  Like any good Greek of the time, he also respected the warning and left Corinth.  Heading to Thebes, Oedipus met an older man in a chariot coming the other way on a narrow road.  The two quarreled over who should give way, which resulted in Oedipus killing the stranger and continuing on to Thebes.  He found that the king of the city (Laius) had been recently killed and that the city was at the mercy of the deadly Sphinx, frontrunner in what would become a long tradition of Earth's supervillains.  Even in self-imposed exile, he was still a prince so Oedipus rose to the challenge and answered the monster's riddle correctly.  Apparently more mentally unstable than anyone knew, having its riddle solved drove the Sphinx to leap from a cliff to its death.  Supervillains, huh?  Anyway, ridding Corinth of the threat won Oedipus the throne of the dead king and the hand in marriage of the king's widow, Jocasta.
Sure, there was more tragic bloodshed yet to come, but the point was made: individuals were powerless in the face of destiny.  You can't run from it, hide from it or stand your ground and shoot it.  Still, the oracle was a popular concept in times past and receiving knowledge of the future remains something for which people hunger.  The traditional prophecy is no mere tea-leaf reading or the voice of a departed spirit in a candle-lit room, though.  Prophecy is a non-negotiable message from the gods.  Maybe they're being generous enough to share with you the shape of things to come.  Maybe they're just messing with you to see what you'll do.  Maybe they feel it's amusing, tormenting their characters the same way writers do.  What do we know? 

Well, we know they're gods and a divine prophecy is going to happen whether we sit on our hands or strand ourselves on Gilligan's Island.  Something will happen to set the confluence of events in motion to make sure the punchline plays out accordingly.  The funniest ones are when the fearful individual's own attempts to thwart the future bring it all into being like a self-fulfilling time-travel paradox.

I say all this, of course, to remind us storytellers to remain aware of the differences, assuming we're going to respect the traditions of the foreshadowing hammer.  A probable future is not the same as an inevitable one.  If you want to chum the water of your story with red herrings, make sure they're just clues that don't set anything in stone.  If you do, rest assured that some sharp-eyed reader is going to call you on it.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

16793--Not For Kids

Adults love tricks, too.  It stands to reason that we would also love tricksters.  To be clear up front, I'm not talking about illusionists putting on shows at the Bellagio.  No, this time I'm talking about that special class of roguish heroes and flawed deities that we adore for their colorful ways.

They take on different forms, but their methods of operation share similar patterns: interceding between gods and man, playing games for their own amusement.  Sure, sometimes they benefit the heroes of the stories, but that payoff is often incidental to their intent.

One of the virtues we usually hold in highest esteem is their cleverness.  Whether its Odysseus outsmarting Polyphemus, Prometheus pulling a fast one on Zeus or some clever scheme woven by Anansi on behalf of his father Nyame the Sky-God, the highlights of their tales focus on outthinking others.  Noted exceptions regarding this particular characteristic include stand-outs Loki and Coyote.

Loki's mischiefs often bore the twist of malice, but for all he did to draw the enmity of Asgard there were also times he would redeem himself through the use of his cunning against the giants who opposed the gods.  With that and being Odin's adopted son, the punishments he received over the years were mild enough to enable his survival to the time of Ragnarok, Asgard's prophesied final war.  When the foretold Twilight of the Gods fell, Loki aligned himself with Asgard's enemies.  Given his track record, it should've come as a surprise to no one.  When I was a kid, one of my schoolmates who lived next door to me could've been Loki's avatar.  He lied, bullied and drove his father nuts.  If you had teams in a snowball fight (something we liked to do), about five minutes into the battle you could count on him to throw snowballs at his teammates and run to the other side.  A little while later or maybe the next day, he'd be playing on our goodwill and get chummy again.  He always seemed like someone destined for ever more trouble.  I may have to track down whatever became of him.

  For my money, Coyote has always topped the trickster ranks.  Can he be bullying, willful, forgetful, greedy, gluttonous, arrogant and profane?  Of course.  No matter what form he takes to romp through life sowing the seeds of Chaos, though, he's also a creator and a teacher.  He's seldom accused of cleverness.  In fact, he never learns any of his own lessons, but he can be a great teacher to men and spirits alike.  Sometimes he gives and sometimes he takes.  Whether he's Father Craft or Coyote (or even Wile E. Coyote), he's always quick to bounce back with some new ploy designed to bring him a meal or a laugh that may just blow up in his face again.  That's OK, though, because he's nothing if not dauntless.

That appears to be another trait the tricksters seem to share, especially the deific ones.  They're not just resourceful, they're resilient.  Whatever karmic payback they might incur, they come back for more and more.  Are they gluttons for punishment?  Are they insane?  Maybe they're just not done teaching yet.  Perhaps they're puppet masters letting other gods think they're running things.  Who are we to say?  We only know the angle of their stories that we're allowed to perceive.  Never be quick to write a trickster off as a simpleton.  Illusion is their conversation.  What we call reality is their toy.  You may never know an immortal trickster's long-game.

Prometheus is not only a Titan, but one who can see probable futures and is willing to suffer torture rather than give up information.  Loki is a manipulative strategist.  Coyote...sees humor and complexity at which we can only guess in a very limited number of dimensions.  Even Wile E. Coyote is a super-genius.  Just ask him.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

16779--He Just Didn't Deserve to Die

Ghastly murder in the East End. Dreadful mutilation of a woman. Capture: Leather Apron

Why was I going to kill this guy?  It seemed a simple enough question, but if I already knew the answer, I wouldn't have been asking myself and it would've already been done.  That's how I operate.  If I've raised the question, maybe I'm not done with this fellow yet.  Maybe he just needs to be maimed.

These are the things some characters will put you through.  Do you write a scene to accomplish a particular death in a particular manner?  Perhaps you're giving another character the opportunity to display something about himself through this killing.  Will it be difficult to do?  Maybe he can't do it at all.

What sort of an impact are you trying to make, not just on the victim but the audience?  Will it be a messy death?  Will there be last words?  Will it be quick or will Mr. Body linger on like Rasputin, requiring multiple efforts to put him down and keep him down?  Did he suffer?

There have been times when I've found that I wanted to kill off minor characters to demonstrate not just an antagonist's willingness to kill people but also to alert readers that they shouldn't get so comfortable as to think I wouldn't kill off characters who seemed safe.  Conversely, in another story I'm working on, I changed an opening fight sequence completely.  Instead of having the protagonist kill attackers to show off her fighting prowess, the situation was changed to one that was important enough to her to fight but no longer life-threatening.  In that way, the protagonist could show her skills and any killing that needs to come up later won't have it's impact lessened through overuse.

Scrawled and misspelled note reading: From hell—Mr Lusk—Sir I send you half the kidne I took from one woman prasarved it for you tother piece I fried and ate it was very nise I may send you the bloody knif that took it out if you only wate a whil longer—Signed Catch me when you can Mishter Lusk
You don't have to explain it to the audience.  You might find that it works better to leave the readers wondering why Joe had to go.  If you're going to write it, though, you should know.  You will only enhance your ability to tell whatever story you're writing by being able to answer any such question that comes up.  That way, whatever situations arise and whatever choices you make to navigate them, you'll be able to know you had a good reason for it.  If you happened to have made notes, when someone asks "What were you thinking?", you'll even have a prepared response.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

16774--"My name is Logan"

My name is Logan. I’m a man. I suppose if you’re reading this, I “was” a man since this is my last testament. I figure it’ll be a while before anyone ever reads this, if ever, but I convinced the warden to let me use this transcriber so…if anybody ever gets ambitious enough to look for this…Let’s get real. The feds try to keep everybody drugged to the hairline, so it’s more likely that anybody who sees this will have stumbled across it by accident, hidden away in the virtual universe of information.

That’s alright. I’ve done my damage. I kicked city hall where it counts. I felt so good that I asked for the use of this transcriber. My jailers haven’t had experience with handling dissidents or last requests, but they weren’t given any specific orders that said I couldn’t have a transcriber. They were just told I couldn‘t leave. I guess they also felt sure that I couldn’t do more harm. Well, if they’re going to continue to underestimate me, any additional damage I might do is hardly all my fault. HA!

My name is Logan. I said that already. Sorry. I’ve been alive for the past three hundred and sixty-seven years. Considering that, I look pretty good. Physically, I’m thirty-two. The memories from back then are still pretty clear. I guess it sticks in your head when your doc tells you to start making funeral arrangements. I mean, I thought it was just some back pain and he’d give me some pills…ha! Probably nothing as good as what they hand out like candy now, but back in my time we had to get special orders from doctors to get drugs because the government tried to keep them away from us. Weird, huh?

Well, anyway, the pills didn’t fix anything. There was no cure for what I had. I was going to die. One night, apparently, I took too many pills and didn’t wake up. I ended up in a hospital and somebody made a decision to freeze me as some kind of experiment, I guess. Whatever. I was supposed to die, anyway, so what was to lose? Anyway, about a month and a half ago, some clerk ran across my file and found my freezer tube in a basement or something and, next thing I knew, I woke up cured in 2347.

If I don’t sound like I was grateful and happy to be alive, don’t get me wrong. I was happy. I tried to adjust and learn the new stuff they wanted me to learn, but…Well, here I am an enemy of the state. There are apparently some differences between being a 20th century man and a 24th century citizen and those differences can end you up with a death sentence.

Everything seemed OK, at first. They saved me from my existence as a popsicle and some nasty freezer burns. Once I was back on solid food, I was set-up with a physical rehab program. I felt like I was in one of those screwy sci-fi movies I never used to go see.

I did what I could to start catching up on history and learning how things worked now, since I’d missed out on so much, but there wasn’t much to look at. What I mean is, the facts were there, but there was stuff missing. There was no depth or insight. It was like the entire history had been polished over. It was subtle, but there was something else I couldn’t put my finger on until I found out what they’d done. Following the last cycle of social, economic and political upheaval and collapse, the people had turned control of their lives over to a group called the Prime Council.

Under the Prime Council, the state took the position that all human suffering was the result of too much disease, emotion and thinking. With that decided, it didn’t take long for them to institute a campaign to eradicate all three through the magic of chemistry. I was never been big on philosophy, but it sounded to me like they were trying to get rid of human suffering by getting rid of the humans. That left me, the asshole from out of time, to be the monkey wrench.

I was never a big fan of chemistry, so I knew there was gonna be a problem at some point. If that wasn’t bad enough, it was while I was still getting re-educated that I met Jane. There was one thing I knew about chemistry and that was that women were one of the most potent catalysts a man could find. For me, Jane32971 made things happen to me that hadn’t happened in over three hundred years. At first, I thought the effects were simply physical, but as time went on I realized she was having an effect on my mind as well. What could I do? I was only a man after all, not some mindless product of the Prime Council’s conditioning.

I’m still a man. That, of course, is why I’m composing this as a prisoner with only a few hours remaining until I have my character assassinated. I’ve been sentenced to personality execution. Since the passage of my sentence and during my incarceration, I haven’t found any greater fondness for chemistry than I started with.

I’m getting off the subject, though. Jane32971, I’ll just call her Jane from here, was one of my counselors. She was really something. She was a very pretty…zombie. She came to see me at the medical facility every morning for our sessions.

“Good morning,” I would greet her. “You’re looking gorgeous today.”

“My designation is Jane32971,” she would tell me.  “I am your assigned rehabilitation counselor. The weather is pleasing.”

“Your hairstyle’s nice. They used to call that a crew cut. It actually used to be popular when I was a kid. It’s very sexy on you.”

“Have you taken your morning joy? We may have to have your dosages adjusted.”

I did mention not being a huge fan of chemistry, right?  “We used to call it ‘afternoon delight’,” I told her one time.  “Maybe we should get together for a nooner.”

That bit of humor went over about as well as any other.  She reminded me to self-administer with my midday nutrition.  “Thank you for your support,” I said.  “You nourish my spirit.”

Her eyes were simultaneously a beautiful brown and lifelessly hollow. They stared through me blankly as she told me, “I’m an insignificant part of the great whole of the state and our great society. Take your vitamins. They are your nourishment.”

Her voice was almost beautiful despite being a strange monotone. Every single day, I half-expected to find out she was some kind of robot. Every day she would come in and tell me her designation and job. Sometimes, I would mimic her tone when I told her, “My name is Logan. I’m a man.” I was the only one who found me funny…or seemed to care. Of course, I’d gotten used to that. After three centuries out of circulation, nobody was laughing at my jokes anymore. Granted, they weren’t all that great even when they were fresh, but even my attempts didn’t get giggles.

She took me out for walks every now and then, showing me the city so I could get familiar with it again. Maybe they were going to set me up with a delivery job. As I got to know one building from another, I slowly began to realize that I never saw a single museum, art gallery, park or even a scrawled bit of graffiti. No music either. Not inside or people playing on the sidewalks. People used to play musical instruments in public. Of course, I guess if you‘re alive and reading this now, I‘m going to have a hard time explaining music to you without sound. Never mind. We’ll move along. The city was cleaner than I remembered. I never saw any homeless people or hippies. Nothing at all out of the mainstream. Even the teens were well-behaved. Still, the city was full of people, but devoid of life. Everyone was working and everyone we saw had the same blank look. They were either drugged or, maybe if they were smart enough, faking being drugged. I don’t know. If there’s a secret bunch of clear-thinking people walking around loose, I haven’t found them yet.

Anyone we spoke to made the same standard greeting usually followed by a mindless comment about the pleasing weather. I wanted to let loose and laugh, but I knew I might never stop. Technically, I was still in the process of recovery, anyway, so I might have gotten away with it. My modern fellow citizens would be about as lost in the face of an emotional outburst as a dog being tossed a set of car keys and a toilet plunger. In a moment of weakness, though, something in me decided to become obsessed with Jane, instead. Oh, sure, I knew emotions were illegal, but I wasn’t thinking that far ahead.

The Prime Council had decided to handle thinking ahead for people, anyway. Driven by my new obsession, I subtly worked the subjects of couples and reproduction into one of my education sessions.

Jane very flatly explained that “The council has unburdened us from messy and unpredictable sexual activities by taking charge of population stability using genetic engineering and gestation pods. With the resultant minimal need for daily interpersonal physical contact, hygiene and disease management have also subsequently improved. It is for the good of all.”

She might as well have thrown me under a truck right then. As she explained how the government had even managed to ruin sex, I realized how bad the new government had to be if it was able to make the one I’d left behind look good. Back in my time, we used to say that the “good old days” were good because they were gone. I was starting to believe that wasn’t entirely true.

I tried, session after session, to wear Jane down or maybe wake her up. I looked forward to seeing her each day, even if it was just for the challenge of trying to get her to smile or blink funny. There weren’t anymore weekends or even names for the days, so we met every day for seventeen days. Still, there was no penetrating her armor of chemically induced smiles and brainwashing. That was only fair, since I wasn’t buying into the party line or drinking the fruit punch chaser. I smiled and nodded a lot. It bought me time while they added more societal activities to my days to see where I would fit best. Ultimately, I was put to work as a clerk in some public office, which explained why the drugs went over so well. I could see how it was easier to get through the drudge if you were numb from the neck up.

At work, I did whatever they told me needed to be done. An army of chimps could’ve done the job. With a clear mind, I had lots of free time. For about five minutes one day, I thought about mounting a coup against the Prime Council, but I couldn’t really see an upside to being King of the Living Dead. I could only see an increase in my personal insanity factor. Instead, I went for a walk and thought about Jane. Jane and I were still meeting every other day, so the days without her gave me time to myself. That was the day I managed to get myself into the trouble that ended with you reading this.

On my walk that day, I ended up wandering into a greenhouse hydroponics lab. It was someplace Jane had never taken me and probably never would’ve. People still needed to breathe and eat so I should’ve figured that the government still needed plants. They didn’t produce anything pretty, just very efficient. There were plants high in protein, plants that grew crazy fast and even plants that grew on the water they sucked out of the air. I was the most excited I’d been about anything since my thaw. I’d never been a big fan of chemistry, but gardening I loved since the first time my grandfather had turned playing in the dirt into something special.

I engaged the head horticulturist in a monotone conversation about hearty breeds of grass, algae and hemp they had developed. Some of them could produce three times the oxygen output of their parent plants. I was impressed. The next day, I mentioned to Jane that “I have extensive experience working with plants. It occurred to me that I might serve society better were I employed in such a capacity.”

“You have never mentioned such experience before,” Jane said. “That information could have facilitated a more logical occupational placement.”

“I apologize. I hadn’t been inclined toward such personal discussions, I guess.”

“We have had forty-seven discussions centered on personal topics,” she told me.

“I’m not always in the mood to be probed, Jane.”

“You initiated the discussions,” she said.

“I did that? Are you sure?”

“I have notes.”

“Oh. Notes, huh?”

“Extensive notes,” she said, showing me her data tablet.

“I see,” I said. “Forty-seven, you say?”

“Forty-seven,” she confirmed. “I will investigate a new occupational placement to facilitate the optimization--”

“I’ve already spoken with the head of a greenhouse near here,” I told her.

Within a few days, I was working in the greenhouse lab as an assistant. I considered it a minor triumph to get to work with actual living things for a change, instead of zombies.

I threw myself into the work. I worked through breaks and stayed late. I learned how to use the computers to design new strains of plants to help keep the air clean. I was so excited, it was all I could do to pretend to be unemotional and detached every day. That was especially true after I secretly started making things of my own design.

It took a little while. I lost track of how long, but once everything was ready, I left a box at the door to Jane’s apartment. Later, about halfway through the afternoon, when I was walking to the Central Plaza. I heard Jane’s voice behind me. Sure, it was a flat monotone like everyone else’s, but I’d spent enough time listening to her that, I suppose, on some subconscious level I heard some quality that was familiar enough to make her stand out from what other little background chatter was happening. As I started to pay attention to her words, I realized she was identifying me to a pair of Peace Guards. The bitch was turning me in. Can someone be a terrorist when people can’t be scared?

She told them I’d been acting strangely and needed immediate psychiatric evaluation before becoming a greater danger to myself or others. The cops were super polite and looked really confused when I started throwing punches. I’m not a fighter, but the law enforcement guys were zombies who were only geared for handling more zombies. Jane looked confused as she tried to reason with me like I was attempting suicide. Naturally, she suggested I needed more drugs. Her robotic, passionless pleading prompted me to slap her and run. It was probably a safe bet that she’d never been hit before. I was pretty sure I hadn’t hit anyone since elementary school and there I was, after a three hundred and sixty year lull, hitting everyone who talked to me.

No one seemed to pay me any notice as I trotted along with my gray duffle bag. At the time, I figured that if there’d been an alarm raised, they sure were calm about it. Still, I didn’t want to waste any time. Since I’d offered such decisive resistance, I was pretty sure that Jane would be helping the Peace Guards rally and run me down sooner than later. As I hustled through the crowds of pedestrians shuffling mindlessly along, I finally reached Central Plaza. It was at the heart of the city, overlooked by four of the Prime Council’s central buildings.

At the center of the sprawling plaza, I reached into the duffle bag to grab the portable digging tool I had brought from work. It was a fancy name for a shovel, but since I’d woken up three centuries in the future, it looked more like a hand-held cannon. Yay! Fun for me! Still, no one around seemed to be paying any attention. My hand tightened on the pistol grip and I pointed the business end at the smooth gray stone that easily withstood thousands of footsteps a day. The digger didn’t even kick when I pulled the trigger and unleashed a focused stream of plasma and vibrations. For all the damage the thing was doing, it was eerily quiet and vibrated less than my old vacuum cleaner. A cloud of dust began spreading along the ground as I guided the digger in chopping the stone to fine powder, creating a gaping hole about twenty feet around. It took a few seconds to get through what looked like about two feet of rock and find what I’d come looking for: dirt. I could smell it even through all the dust. It was rich, healthy soil. Oh, it smelled so good. It was just what every garden needed.

People were finally paying attention. They were stopping and staring all around. Some of their jaws were hanging open and some were pointing, but none of them knew what else to do. The disruption to their daily monotony was one thing, but the new smell was waking up their brains. All that mattered to me was that I had their attention when I completed my act of civil disobedience. I dropped the super shovel and started scattering my new seeds into the hole. The aggressive little hybrids were a supercharged mixture of hemp, kudzu and roses. They were engineered to have a rapid sprouting phase, so they sprang to life in seconds to start taking root.

Thorn-covered stalks grew up and out in minutes, getting thicker and tougher as broad leaves sucked up sunlight and soaked moisture from the air. The hole was filled with a deep-rooted, emerald bush with more thorny vines creeping out in all directions. The tallest stalks were already taller than me when the deep red flowers started to bloom. I felt a rush like I’d never felt before. It was like something out of a storybook or a dream. It was beautiful, all red and green and at least twelve feet tall. I loved it. The surge of fresh oxygen the bush was pumping out mixed with the heady floral scent probably added to my euphoria. Even when my arms were being restrained behind me, I couldn’t stop smiling and laughing. To the mind-wiped citizenry, I must’ve looked like some sort of mad scientist as I was being dragged away.

At the tribunal, they said I was jumping and cheering. I knew I must’ve been at least twice as happy as that kid with the magic beans, but I must’ve gotten a little delirious because I couldn’t remember that part so well. There was some issue about them trying to kill off my roses. They were having tough time destroying them since the plant fibers were almost as strong as steel. Even if they blasted it to pieces they were just going to spread it around and increase the chaos. The Prime Council declared me an enemy of the state, a Morlock loose among the Eloi. You probably don’t get that reference either, but I was ecstatic.

I sat under a spotlight in an otherwise black room. I don’t think the whole thing lasted more than an hour. They didn’t have Jane there to testify against me. I don’t think they had anyone else in there with me at all. They probably figured I’d done enough damage without giving me access to anyone else. The tribunal process wasn’t anything that looked like what I remembered of courtroom trials. No more civil rights, just me and sentencing. Still, they were always polite about it. They weren’t even insisting on a public admission of how right they were and how insane I was. They weren’t going to try to break me and get me to tell them how much I loved them for it. There would be no torture and no screaming.

I was sentenced to twenty minutes in some brainwashing machine that would make me a non-disruptive part of society, smoothing off all my rough and undesirable behaviors with a focused chemical infusion. My mom used to tell me: you can’t fight city hall. Around here, they made sure no one even wanted to think about it.

Still, I guess, I had fought city hall. Maybe I didn’t win. It remained to be seen if my beautification program would have an impact, but I did fight. The fact that it was possible, that the government could be openly defied, was out there now. There were people who had seen that no matter what the Prime Council chose to say had actually happened.

I leaned back on the bed in my tiny, bare cell, suddenly feeling the absence of a harmonica. Again, no music. All the harmonicas probably got melted down years ago and I‘d never been much of a whistler. There was a scraping at the door and a small window slid open. I knew they weren’t going to feed me and it sure wasn’t gonna be a priest. They probably melted them down with the harmonicas and the lawyers.

I looked up at the silent, shadowed eyes staring through the little window. I sat up to take a better look. There was something different about those familiar eyes.

“You came all this way just to make sure I was locked up and neutered?” I asked her.

There was a slight crinkling around the corners of her eyes. I couldn’t be sure, since I couldn’t see her mouth, but I could almost swear she was smiling.

“Wait,” I said, a light bulb flaring up in my head. “You got the box, didn’t you?”

She nodded, then looked about to make sure she wasn’t being watched too closely. Then, she slipped a piece of paper through the window. Our hands touched as I took it from her. Her hand was warm and soft and trembled a bit as she squeezed my fingers. I looked at the scrap of paper and smiled. When I looked back at her, she smiled more and then recomposed herself before she left quietly. She finally understood.  I couldn't see her, but it made her more gorgeous than ever.

I flopped back to the bed and read the note again. On it was printed, “My name is Jane. I’m a woman.” That would have been enough to make me happy, but it also had my appointment time for my next rehabilitation session with her. Amazing the headway you can make with a box of roses and a bunch of seeds. I imagined the coming sessions with Jane would be much more interesting.  We would have a lot of work to do.

If you’ve read this far, your mind isn’t as clouded as the council would like. You might even know someone else you can pass it along to. Just be careful. You don’t want to end up writing one of these yourself.

My name is Logan. I’m a man. I’ll try to hang on to that thought. Maybe I can resist what they’re about to do to me, drowning my radical thoughts and emotions in drugs, or at least recover from it with time. With Jane’s help. Damn! I forgot to tell Jane what the flowers are called. Shakespeare said it didn’t matter, but I always liked the name, especially now that I’ve managed to weaponize roses. I was so busy keeping it secret, I didn’t think to write it down or tell anyone. I'll have to try to hang on to that, too.  People should know the name. Names do matter.

My name is Logan.