Four Liars

This is a story that was published originally by the most excellent K.C. Ball waaay back in 2009. It was the premier issue of 10Flash Quarterly, an excellent but sadly short-lived venue for themed flash fiction. The theme for the premier was “librarian on vacation in a foreign land.” Being invited to write for it was one of the cooler moments of my writing life.

The story was inspired, if I recall correctly, primarily by the very real Church of St. Anne, a clock tower with four clock faces, each of which is slightly off from the others.

Reprints are a tough sell and I haven’t had much luck with it, so it’s just sitting in my Dropbox gathering dust. I thought I’d reprint it here for your amusement. I have one more from 10Flash that I’ll post next week.

Continue reading Four Liars

Busy Season

My 9 to 5 (7 to 4 actually, but whatever) has been insanely busy of late. I thought we were over the hump, but it hasn’t really eased much. So that explains why you haven’t seen any new Critique Fantastique lately, if that’s what you’re looking for. I have, like, half of the next one written. Those take some work, though, and I just haven’t been able to finish. My apologies! I’d intended for it to be a more regular feature, but it’s hard to find the time. Those articles are more work-intensive than they seem.

Even now as I write this, there is a report sitting here I have to look at. Guh.

I’ve managed to finish a new story, though. It’s a little bit about being a dad, and a lot about being a robot trying to solve a murder. It’s out at the writing group for review! More on that as it develops.

Drive Friendly

traffic 2The autobus stopped at the border for gas, the driver giving us a quick warning not to wander too far as it keyed up the request for fuel. Fuelbots deployed from the station to plug the bus into the charging station. The station on the Oklahoma side of the border had been out of order, the driver explained. Even a robot could sound apologetic.

I stepped out to stretch. Dusty, flat earth sprawled in every direction, as though reluctant to exist under a beautiful, clear blue sky. We were in a far-flung western stretch of the state, between Oklahoma and New Mexico, well away from the ruins of the old central Texas metroplexes. Heat rolled in from the distance, like some weird, dry ocean.

“Christ,” Bill, one of the other passengers, muttered, shading his face and looking away. “It’s one of those fucking tourismbots.

Sure enough, rolling toward them on a plastic sphere encrusted with dust was a tourismbot. It had big, molded plastic hair and spindly arms that waved a little too enthusiastically. I was too slow to look away, and my fellow asshole passengers melted away as the robot pinned me against the side of the autobus.

“Welcome to Texas!” the tourismbot warbled through its aging, cracking audio port. How old was this thing? It thrust a hand into his and shook him vigorously. “Don’t we just have the best big state you ever did see!”

“State?” I asked. “You don’t get much news out here I guess.” I tried to pry my hand free, but the thing seemed desperate for human interaction and wouldn’t let go.

“Welcome to Texas!” it repeated. “Drive friendly! The Texas way!”

“Oh, hah. I actually, er, I actually don’t really drive…”

“Drive friendly! The Texas way!” It repeated. The grip tightened. I pulled on its hand, but the damn thing was intent.

“I usually take the train, you kno-OW!”

“Drive friendly! The Texas way!” The grip squeezed. Some sort of fluid started leaking from the ocular sensor ports. I looked around, and by this point the other passengers had stopped pretending to look at other things to stare at the tourismbot.

“Drive friendly! The Texas way!” The plastic wrapped around my hand started to buckle. Thankfully, I seemed to be stronger than it was. Still hurt like hell, though. The exosframe, once probably a really nice, clean white but was now faded and smudged with dirt and sand,¬† folded up on itself to expose the thin endoskeleton beneath.

Bill sighed and walked up, putting a hand on the tourismbot’s shoulder. The round head swiveled to look at him, but it didn’t let up on its grip of my hand.

“Walkable,” Bill said. “Bicycle trail.”

“Drive friendly! The Texas way!” the robot’s voice seemed tinged with horror, but surely that was my imagination.

“Streetcar. Sidewalk.”

“Drive friendly! The Texas way! Drive friendly! The Texas way! Drive! Drive! Drive! Drive! Texas way!”

“Train. Subway.”

The tourismbot’s head began to spin as it kept screaming “Drive! Drive! Drive! Texas way!”

Bill leaned close and whispered, as if to a lover, “Agenda. Twenty-one.”

The grip suddenly was gone. The tourismbot flailed, its head spinning out of control. Smoke poured from the joints connecting the hairpiece to the robotic skull. The robot kept screeching a garbled version of its slogan as it rolled away toward the little shack at the side of the fueling station. I massaged my aching hand and nodded my thanks to Bill, who shrugged.

Our driver signaled, and we all began shuffling back into the nice, cool interior of the autobus.

“A reminder to passengers to keep your passports at the ready,” the driver spoke through the autobus speakers. “While there is no longer a standing government in this region, certain automated border defense stations may still require documentation to pass. With any luck, though, we should pass through to friendly territory with no further stops.”

The autobus hydraulics hissed, and we were on our way.

Have a seat

The good folks over at StarShipSofa have seen fit to produce Iron Privateers for their podcast, and it’s out! You can listen to it here, or find it on iTunes if you like.

This is a pretty incredible honor. These guys won a Hugo a few years ago and a perusal of their archives reveals stories from guys like Michael Moorcock, China Mieville, Gene Wolfe, Kim Stanley Robinson, and Niel Gaiman. So, yeah, pretty cool.

The story is read by Anne-Marie Czajkowski, who brings a whole new level of class to this story and just absolutely nails it. Even if you read the story already, I suggest checking it out, it makes for pretty exciting audio.

Rules of the Road

The Coyote / Road Runner shorts were my favorite of the old Warner Bros. cartoons. I loved them as much as I hated Tom and Jerry. Tom and Jerry just seemed cruel and spiteful, and the violence was never clever. There’s no animosity between the Coyote and Road Runner, though, you know? They don’t hate each other. The Coyote just wants something to eat – his greatest enemy is himself and his failure to perceive that the laws of physics are not his friends. The Road Runner doesn’t want to be eaten. The Coyote was my favorite cartoon character and so I found this delightful.

Hat tip to Mark Cognata (@markedly on Twitter) for this photo from the Chuck Jones exhibit at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York.

Ironed

Every Day Fiction has kindly published a new flash piece of mine, Iron Privateers. Go read! Rate! Comment!

Do you like explosions? Robots? Robot pirates? The creeping sense that you are an insignificant part of a system that routinely exploits you and your talents against a metric that values you not by your intrinsic worth as a person but by how much wealth you bring in to people who already have vastly more than you will ever have? Then this one might be for you!

While you’re there, consider signing up for their mailing list or becoming a patron. They’ve done well by me over the years and deserve the support.

Mercier takes flight

Mercier’s Flight is out! The story I wrote as a Christmas exchange for writer’s group comrade Erin is available for purchase now over at Big Pulp, in Child of Words Issue 2. You can get an ebook version over at Amazon pretty cheaply. You can preview the issue and read a portion of my story for free – but not the end! You have to read to the end!

This story spent a while earning an honorable mention over at the Writers of the Future. If you like the idea of dragons stalking the machine gun-riddled trenches of France during the Great War, it might be a thing you like.

I’d totally forgotten, but I actually wrote a good chunk of another story set in the same world. I’ll have to see if I can find that file and investigate whether there’s anything there worth expanding and exploring.

Welcome to the Fantastique

I’ve created a new set of pages for my Fantastic Four recaps that I hope is a little easier to navigate and organize, and won’t clutter the main page for the odd person or two who wanders in here from my regular fiction writing. You can find them all under the “Critique Fantastique” drop-down on the upper right there. Probably I’ll have to further nest the menu to keep it usable, as we get into the double digits, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

People seem to like them, so I’ll keep it up on as regular a schedule as I can manage. It’s actually a lot more work than it seems, so I may have to settle down to doing them every two weeks.

In writing news, I just the other day sent in a few minor corrections to Bill over at Big Pulp for Mercier’s Flight. Mine is the very first story in the issue! Probably it’s just an alphabet thing, but whatever. I’ve seen the cover and it’s pretty awesome.

I have two other stories out looking for homes at the moment. More on those rejections as they appear.

She’s got jokes

A bit of the old non-genre today! You should head over to Every Day Fiction for an excellent reading of “Monologues” by the (still) incomparable Folly Blaine. (It is entirely possible that I just copy-pasted my last post and changed up the links.) Previous link with a little behind-the-scenes if you missed it before.

I was worried this one wouldn’t work well in audio, but Folly pulls it off, as per standard operating procedure. Any flaws in the work are my own.

Side note: hearing your story read aloud, even by someone else, is exactly like hearing your own voice on an answering machine and is super weird and mildly embarrassing.

In other news – we are about a month or so out from the publication of the next volume of Big Pulp, in which my “Mercier’s Flight” will appear. I’m excited!

Also, I have…I think two stories out looking for homes right now. Hope to have more good news for you guys soon.

Also you should go see Guardians of the Galaxy because it’s great.

That is all.

Wait…

No yeah, that’s it.

Wait, oh! I’ve started using Scrivener lately, as a replacement for Word, and it is pretty damned sweet. It is entirely possible that I have put together a project labeled “Chaykin – novel”.

I have been listening to a lot of Sparks Nevada lately (my wife suggested that Thrilling Adventure Hour is like Prairie Home Companion for nerds and I’ve never been so insulted in my life).

Revolting(ly Awesome)!

So if you like putting things into your ears, as all right-thinking citizens do, you should head over to Every Day Fiction for an excellent reading of “The Fimbulvinter Revolt” by the incomparable Folly Blaine. This one is a couple years old now, so this is a good chance to check it out if you missed it before.

Trivia on this story: this was the last story I wrote¬†before my daughter was born, just a couple weeks prior, written as a story I put into our Christmas cards that year (because obviously I wasn’t busy enough with a baby about to be born). Later (much later, because I had to wait for the season to roll around again), I polished it a bit and sent it in for publication. It’s a fun story, and one that marks the beginning of my somewhat more radical political storytelling voice that would continue in stories like “It Could Be Us” and “For the Empire.”

a writing sketchbook

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