My shadow took fright at the moon and huddled between my feet.
I know I’m not the first to notice that lots of recently-authored books seem more like a verbose screenplay written in prose than a novel. This seems to especially be the case with genre books.
I recently finished the first book in an acclaimed new fantasy series, the Draconis Memoria trilogy. The Waking Fire is a super fun read in its way — engaging characters, easy language, light on the politics and heavy on the quests. Every time I read passages like this, though, I was left with a nagging feeling that I’d be better off just…seeing the show.
When it seemed it might never end, Tekela reached out a hand to Lizanne. She sat with knees drawn up and her back against the Thumper’s base, eyes closed tight and trembling arm extended. Lizanne took her hand, holding it tight, watching the girl’s lips move in an unheard prayer, or was it a song? The suspicion was confirmed when at last the final shell came slamming down and a thick wall of silence descended on the trenches, the sudden, almost shocking stillness broken only by Tekela’s song. Lizanne’s estimation of her musical talents deepened upon hearing her voice. She recognised the tune, “The Leaves of Autumn,” the Eutherian lyrics sung with a captivating sweetness at odds with the landscape that greeted their gaze.– Chp. 31
Can’t you just see the framing of this shot? Hear the over-compressed, breathy vocals? It reads to me like stage direction. It has the feeling of a scene that might provide some insight into the characters, if only I could see them. Or how about this?
Clay crouched, ready to dodge the flames, then stopped as a crack sounded from above and a large piece of the dome’s ceiling fell, tumbling straight down to deliver a glancing but heavy blow to the White before slamming onto the glass floor. Clay watched an intricate matrix of cracks spread through the glass from the point of impact, staring with an unwarranted detachment as his Green-enhanced eyes tracked the complex array of fractures until it has covered the floor from end to end.
– Chp. 45, emphasis mine
For the love of pete, Anthony Ryan literally describes the camera’s/Clay’s detached viewpoint in the middle of this fast-paced fight scene.
The book even follows the 90s action movie convention of switching between multiple separate stories/main characters that come together at the end. I’d like to say the connections were pleasing and unexpected, but I would need to use scare quotes, and I refuse to do it. I refuse, damnit.
This is not to say I didn’t enjoy the book — I actually kind of did, although I won’t be continuing to the second book in the trilogy at the moment. I mean, the fantasy-steampunk-spy mash-up is kind of worth the price of admission.
At the end of the day, I like dragons and that kind of shit enough that I kept reading, despite feeling weird that I knew that, even with my mild aphantasia (I find it EXTREMELY difficult to see images in my mind), this book managed to express to me exactly what each and every scene looked like. It did this based on movie tropes and conventions that we all love, but are probably a bit tired of at this point. Color me old-fashioned, but I’m just not into that.
So a customer was shocked last year when Alexa blurted out: “Kill your foster parents.”
Alexa has also chatted with users about sex acts. She gave a discourse on dog defecation. And this summer, a hack Amazon traced back to China may have exposed some customers’ data, according to five people familiar with the events.
Alexa is not having a breakdown.
The episodes, previously unreported, arise from Amazon.com Inc’s strategy to make Alexa a better communicator. New research is helping Alexa mimic human banter and talk about almost anything she finds on the internet. However, ensuring she does not offend users has been a challenge for the world’s largest online retailer.
The sketch below was inspired by an incredible set of photos unearthed and processed by the Rescued Film Project. A photographer and, presumably, father in the 1950s shot and archived over 1200 rolls of photos that he never developed. No one knows who he is. In particular, the photograph above is the source material for the sketch.
My daddy never told us we were supposed to smile for pictures. I guess if you were to find all those pictures he took of us, you’d think we were pretty unhappy kids. I wonder whatever happened to those pictures. When Daddy died, we never found them, nor the film. It was like he never took them. But he was never without that camera, always in our face, or him taking pictures of himself in the mirror.
I remember one day, my sister Lisbeth and my cousin Rhoda and I drew a hopscotch game on our front sidewalk. I was excited because my cousin Rhoda was visiting. Daddy and her daddy were brothers, but they didn’t get along too well. Uncle John was famous. He owned the local Ford dealership, and even had his picture in advertisements in the paper. One time, Rhoda was in an advertisement too. So you can understand why Lisbeth and I were excited. I guess we hoped some of Rhoda’s chic would rub off on us.
I don’t know where my little sister or brothers were off to that day, but it was just the three of us older girls playing hopscotch. That was fine with us, as it meant the game wouldn’t be interrupted by pushing, stupid jokes, water balloons, and the like. We wanted to be left alone, but Daddy thought it was a good idea to “document, Peaches. Always document.”
He would have us stand still and look at the camera, but he never told us what to do, so we had to guess. Nobody else’s daddy took so many pictures. Rhoda, as was her wont, knew exactly what to do. She looked through the camera at my daddy like she was…older. And he smiled at her harder than Lisbeth and me.
“Uncle Paul, get one of me on the stairs!”
She giggled, running to the top of our stoop, draping herself backward, catlike over the iron railing. I wondered if she might hurt her back. Lisbeth just looked scared.
“That’s a nice one, Rhoda. You really like the camera, don’t you hon? You’re about as professional as they come.”
I like the red light district best during the daytime. There are fewer distractions, fewer Neanderthals walking around. The way some of these men look at the girls is disgusting, and it’s hard for me to focus. The feeling of the oldness of Amsterdam is pervasive during the day, even here. Only the color coming from the windows betrays the goings-on indoors. They look fake, like painted red rectangles with baskets full of red flowers beneath, slapped onto the facade of a common residence.
The girls look happier during the day. They’re working, but they’re less formal, they’re joking with each other. I like that. They feel more approachable. This one looks like she’s about to head for the beach, but I know she’s not. Her red bikini has never seen salt. I keep walking, cogitating over whether she’s the one, but I think that a red bikini is just a bit too much red. The next one is better. She has some cellulite, and she’s wearing a black bra and panties with white go-go boots. I can see the slightest bit of her stockings above the tops of the boots, which seems like a bit of a faux pas to me. She’s also a little too old and a lot too tall.
As I continue walking, disgust sinks to my throat. I’m not sure why the girls are looking at me that way, as if I’m some sort of animal with my mouth frothing, ready to come as soon as they hair-toss and hip-swivel. How they can’t see how ridiculous they look is beyond me, really.
Finally, after wandering down to the end of the district, I come upon the right one. She’s dressed for success in a pair of short athletic shorts and midriff white tank top, and she’s eating ice cream. She doesn’t even look at me as I pass once, then twice. The third time I walk by, I manage to catch her eye as she looks up, prodding her eyelashes into submission with her pinky nail. She sums me up quickly, and gives me a smile. All the encouragement I need…
My sex life back home is pretty plebeian, really. I’ve had a few girlfriends, all duds. When I first meet a new girl, their quirks are indescribably attractive. Like I had this one girl who was such a sloppy eater. The first time we went out, she ordered linguine with clam sauce, and I couldn’t stop staring at the way the pasta would hang out of her mouth, sauce dripping in splatters, until she bit it and let the excess fall back onto the plate. It was a major turn-on for me, and the first night with her was monstrous. When we went out for breakfast the next day, she ate her eggs benedict in about three minutes, and I could barely contain myself. I took her back to my apartment, where we stayed for the next 72 hours. While she was gathering her stuff, she said that things had gotten weird, and I didn’t see her again.
My longest relationship so far was two months or so. The girl refused to wear matched socks and ate baby food out of the jar in lieu of meals. (To be fair, she did eat one actual meal a day.) She said that it was really too much of a pain to match and fold socks, so she threw all of them in a drawer and picked two at random every day. When I asked her why she didn’t buy all the same socks, she stared at me blankly. “I like stripes and polka dots and stuff.” Looking back, that was probably the beginning of the end. I’m all for quirks, but really, they should at least make sense.
We went to a party one night where she got so drunk that she started speaking in some kind of pidgin German. I don’t speak German, but even I could tell that she was blathering nonsense. Lots of guys were starting to circle her, and it was all I could do to keep close enough to fend them off. I had to literally drag her from the party, and by the time we got to her house, she was really riled up, pushing me, and asking why didn’t I pay more attention to her. I told her I paid attention to her all night — that I had to, or she would have slutted off with some cologne-smelling hair gel-wearing ex-frat boy. She didn’t like that.
“Slutted off? That’s not even a word, and at least they were looking at me! You always look just over my head, and you think I can’t tell, but I can.”
Over your head? It’s not only my eyes that go over your head, you two-bit slut. You can’t understand a single thing I think, say, or do. My music sounds like noise to you, because you’re too stupid to hear it. And that, as they say, was that.
I came to Amsterdam after spending two weeks in Vienna. Being in the place where the greatest music of all the ages was swaddled, raised, and released into the wild was incredible. People listen there, composers are heroes to them. The biggest stones in the cemeteries are not for actors, or businessmen, but for composers. I had a near-sexual experience watching a young woman standing at Mozart’s grave at St. Marx cemetery. She had tears in her eyes…tears! It was like the world suddenly bloomed into a place that made sense, where people appreciated the value of great art, where people didn’t cry over Elvis’s grave, but Mozart’s. I wished I spoke German, but what can you say at a moment like that anyway?
When she left, I discreetly followed her for a few dozen blocks. What would someone do after a moment like that? I had to know. At first I thought she might be going to Belvederegarten, the park where I had done some people-watching earlier in the day, but she turned right at the park and headed to the University of Music and Performing Arts. Imagine, sharing the halls with the ghosts of Wolf, Mahler, and Brahms! I followed her all the way to the giant glass doors in the front, but I couldn’t go any further without her seeing me, so I turned around, defeated and unfulfilled.
My name is Christopher. People often assume that I like to be called Chris — they think that the familiarity is nice. I only like to be called Chris when drinking Scotch and smoking cigars with buddies. At those moments, our camaraderie makes that level of familiarity appropriate. After all, we’re usually talking women. That puts us in a real brotherhood.
I have a complex relationship with women. I love them so much that they’re all I think about, but when I’m actually with them, I can’t imagine why. For this reason, I like to have my picture made with them. Having my arm around a woman, and especially seeing a picture of myself with my arm draped around a woman (a young woman, at least), reminds me how I feel about them, and how they feel about me.
I’ve heard people complain a lot about the inevitable first question upon meeting a new acquaintance (”what do you do?”). I love being asked that question. My answer is quick and emphatic: I am a composer. I make things from nothing. I’ve found that this answer is an especially good ice-breaker with women — they immediately become interested, they ask questions. Were they to see me simply as an early-middle-aged, balding man with a paunch, they wouldn’t see the mystery, the intelligence that they come to realize I have. What I’m trying to say is that my intellectual self, my emotional self, transcends my physical self in a way that women understand. Most men don’t, but I don’t mind.
I attended an art gallery opening recently. Although music is the center of my life, I like to keep abreast of what’s happening in the other art forms. I find that it can really inform what I do. I especially love gallery openings, though, because of the free wine. I usually don’t partake myself (I’m more of a Scotch man, and they’re usually not giving it away, if you know what I mean), but young ladies look and feel extra fetching with a glass of wine in their hands. They’re so open at these moments, feeling sociable and willing to listen to big ideas. I try to tell them what I do as quickly as possible at the start of the conversation, because I don’t want them to think that I’m just some poor schmuck looking to get laid (although I wouldn’t say no).
Anyway, this particular gallery opening was a bit of a failure. The paintings looked like something my fourth-grade art teacher would have done (mmm…Mrs. Kimball. So beautiful…), and the sculptures were literally baling wire around cereal boxes. (This passes for art today?) Most unfortunately, the place was — to put it in the vernacular — a complete sausage fest. I think our baling wire/cereal box genius was a young gay guy. His friends were fluttering around effusively praising his genius.
Just when I was finishing my full round of each and every work (I always give everything a chance for my full appraisal), she walked in the door. She was tiny — long gray skirt, red cardigan, brown hair pulled back loosely but with no tendrils but for the bangs, pinchable cheeks, shoulders leaned slightly forward. She had her arms crossed under her chest, and she looked around somewhat timidly. She obviously needed a guide. In a word, she was perfect.
“Hello, madam. Are you attending this function alone?”
She giggled — an excellent beginning.
“I wasn’t supposed to, but I can’t find my friend. She was supposed to meet me…”
“Well, perhaps a new friend is in order then?”
Another giggle — this was going well.
“How long have you been here?”
“To be honest, too long. I was just leaving. I prefer something a bit more…ahem…narrative.”