Expansion

“Pardon my progess!”

“Here we grow again!”

Meh.  Platitudes.  Point being: The blog’s expanding.  To get fresh meat into cyberspace (especially in this odd interlude between Doctors) I’m going to draw on SFFH (science fiction, fantasy, and horror)  more heavily.   The theme of the blog stays the same, though: I’ll take a snippet from a favorite book or show, and contort it to the point that it’s both unrecognizable and fairly confusing.  I’ll also continue to give my thoughts about everything, the universe, life (42).  If you’re curious (which I doubt) here is a (long) list of material I’ll draw from —

  • Star Trek: The Original Series
  • Doctor Who
  • The Hyperion Cantos by Dan Simmons
  • The weird fiction of Lovecraft, REH, Derleth, Bloch, et al
  • Stephen King
  • The short fiction of Joyce Carol Oates, Neil Gaiman, Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison
  • The Foundation Series by Asimov
  • Back to the Future
  • Planet of the Apes
  • LOST
  • Neal Stephenson
  • Firefly and Serenity
  • The reimagined Battlestar Galactica
  • Babylon 5
  • Aliens
  • Forbidden Planet
  • Primer
  • Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure
  • Groundhog Day
  • Peggy Sue Got Married
  • Pleasantville
  • Star Trek IV: The One about the Whales
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
  • Slaughterhouse Five.

It’s a weirdly eclectic mix.  But what’d’ya expect from a button-down science fiction fan?

If it has a contemporary setting putting ordinary characters in extraordinary situations, then I’ll love it.  If it has time travel I’ll probably love it, too.  But if it’s dystopian (or has zombies) I’ll hate it.  If it’s too damn weird (or has zombies) I’ll hate it.  If it’s set in outer space with plastic aliens (or zombies) I’ll hate it … unless the characters are freakin’ amazing.  If it has zombies I’ll hate it.

But, I’m not abandoning Doctor Who at all, and just to prove it to you, here are some quotes I’ve collected for my not-famous #DoctorWho QOTD, @keith0363

  • “There’s no point being a grown up if you can’t act childish sometimes.”
  • “You’ve been watching too much television.”
  • “We’re all stories in the end.”
  • “I’m clever, and I’m listening. Now don’t patronise me, ’cause people have died and I’m not happy.”
  • “Always bring a banana to a party, Rose.”
  • “I love humans. Always looking for patterns in things that aren’t there.”

My plan’s to post on Fridays.  Whether I do so weekly or biweekly is up in the air depending on how things go with my novel.

So, until next Friday, peace (but not hair grease) from Keith.

Copyright © 2013

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Humour

cartoon-ghost-clip-art-vector-online-royalty-free-public-funny.jpg

EDIT: The BBC announced today that Peter Capaldi will play the twelfth Doctor.  We, of course, knew this beforehand and after-hand and simultaneous-hand.  It’s really hard to surprise time travelers.  Now, on with the post …

This week’s Fish and TARDIS Sauce newsletter will look at the use of humor in Doctor Who, and ways that you might be able to apply this technique in your everyday life.

In “The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe” (s06e24), Doctor Who travels back to 1940s London, where he meets Madge Ardwell, her son Cyril, and daughter Lily.   Madge comes home to tell the kids that she is going to help The Doctor return to his time machine, as if this happened every day (who knows, maybe it does).  While there at home, Madge asks Cyril what he’s is doing up so late looking through his telescope.  When Lily makes a snide comment it begins this brief but quite funny exchange among the characters.

  • Cyril — It’s astronomy.
  • Lily — Don’t make up words.  He’s always making up things … and breathing.
  • Madge — Where’s your father?
  • Cyril — In the garden.
  • Madge — What’s he doing in the garden?
  • Cyril — Agriculture.
  • Lily [off-camera] — You’re not fooling anyone.

And you see?  Like that.  Or three scenes later, which is also three years later, the family is standing in front of an ancient house somewhere in the English countryside, and the kids say —

  • Cyril — Is it haunted?
  • Lily — Is it drafty?

Another sharp, understated exchange.

But if you’ve seen this episode you know this episode is not all fun and games. The kids’ father is killed when his bomber goes down over the English Channel (although that’s not quite the whole story), leading to nightmarish grief and stress for Madge.   This leads to a poignant scene where Madge admits this to The Doctor and reflects on her short temper around her children.

  • Madge — I don’t know why I keep shouting at them.
  • The Doctor — Because every time you see them happy you remember how sad they’re going to be.  And it breaks your heart.

What we see here is a dramatic turn, where the dry wit of British comedy gives way to the realities of life during World War II (or anytime for that matter).  And once again, Doctor Who, the show, and Doctor Who, the character, offer us a glimpse into the human condition.  After all, why do we love a rose?  Because it’s blooming but will not do so forever.  Why does it smell so divine?  Because its thorns are so sharp.

It’s always been my opinion that humor for the sake of humor gets stale after a while.  Even the best comedians — the Steve Martins and  Richard Pryors and George Carlins — cannot sustain me for long unless I have a break.  It doesn’t have to be something morbid or maudlin, but it does have to be balanced.   And I love humor.   In fact, I was once asked why I don’t watch Comedy Central all the time.  The answer is simple, really.  I don’t watch Comedy Central, or any other 24/7 source of laughter, because I don’t usually turn to comedians for jokes.  The best humor grows out of drama, to relieve the tension, or out of horror, to dispel the terror.  That’s why, in that famous line from Steel Magnolias, the characters reflect on the wonder of laughter through tears.

Which brings us back to “The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe.”  Doctor Who, the character, looks at Madge thoughtfully in this episode, and finally offers his advice.  And this is one of the many reasons I love this show.  The characters get to the heart of the matter so damn well.  In the scene I’ve described above, Madge is momentarily distracted by the distant sounds of the children’s glee, leading Doctor Who to say this:

  • The Doctor — What’s the point of them being happy now if they’re going to be sad later?  The answer is, of course, because they are going to be sad later.

Pretty good stuff for science fiction, eh?

Until next time, remember: Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can procrastinate about today.

Years truly,

Keith Parker, CEO, COO, CTO, CCO, CAC, COCOA of The PITTS*

Please visit my hometown bloggers at our Rocket City Bloggers website!

* The Parker Institute for Time Travel Studies.

Copyright © 2013 Keith Parker

Doctor Who is copyright © 2013 BBC

Clutter

Rose and Jack“All the world’s a stage” ~ As You Like It, Act II Scene VII, by William Shakespeare, used without his permission.

It’s been a stressful couple of months for a number of reasons (long hours, stomach flu, etc.), and during this time I’ve noticed that my mind keeps circling back to the famous Doctor Who story arc in “The Empty Child” and “The Doctor Dances.”

  •   Are you my mummy?

As I daydream these two episodes get mingled with a conversation I had with a friend over the holidays.  It was one of those “tough love” kind of conversations (I was on the receiving end), which sought to knock some sense into me about the stresses in my life compared to those of others.  There is no doubt that my friend was right:  Others have it far, far worse than I.  We throw away enough food here in America to feed entire continents.  We have electricity, heat, air conditioning, and we even still have Twinkies.  And I am grateful.  I’m grateful to everyone, from farmers to HVAC mechanics, who help make us a first-world country.   So, no, I’m not living in desolation.  But even those who’re the same demographic as I am have their own burdens of stress, grief, disease, and turmoil on a daily basis.  Knowing this, however, does not comfort me.  Knowing that everyone else is going through hell just makes me wonder if I’m the victim of a gargantuan prank.  I’m not — I’m not that jaded — but it does make me wonder.

Which brings us back to

  •     Are you my mummy?

this two-part Doctor Who episode.  It’s a compelling, kitchen-sink mix of science fiction, history, humor, and horror.  We get to see a new character: The swashbuckling and handsome Jack Harkness.  We get to see Rose out of character: Freewheeling and whimsical in a delightful way that brings balance to the plot.  And we get to hear The Doctor’s name again: Not his real one, of course, but the time-worn (as it were) John Smith pseudonym once again.  And the story, like life, is a mountainous journey, with high peaks and shadowed valleys meant to

  • Are you my mmmmmmm-ummmmmmy?

scare the bejesus out of us.  But my goal is not to rehash the plot.  My goal is to say that the episode is CLUTTER!  In a good way :)

Like our lives, it is overwhelming — a city being bombed to rubble, a nano-virus on the loose, paranoia of not becoming “like them.”  Steven Moffat and his crew at the BBC took this confusion and turned it into a classic piece of entertainment.  For those of us who’ve never fought in a war or been helpless victims as bombs erupted in the sky we cannot possibly imagine the

  • Are you my mummy?

terrors of battle.  From the explosions that will blow your eardrums out, to the sights of rubble and carnage and blood, to the smells of death — the latter being the one thing that TV will never, I hope, provide us — the episode imagines destruction on a planetary scale and fright on a human scale.   But it’s all fiction.  It’s all smoke and mirrors.  It’s … all … a … play.  So, yes, for most people understanding that you’re not alone in your struggle helps to deal with an unpredictable world.   But that doesn’t help me.  What does help is story-telling, in all its forms.  Those media (books, film, TV) provide a sanctuary for my personal stress.   And they allow me to take a step back and project my life onto a stage, while I take my seat in the audience.  It helps me to know that Shakespeare was right: The world really is a stage.  It keeps me from going crazier’n a shithouse rat.  And that’s the “therapy” I need.  I don’t need tough love.  I need fantasy.

And you know what else helps, friends and neighbors?  Sneaking up on people and whispering, “Are you my mummy?” in a creepy British accent.

Years truly,

Keith

Copyright © 2013

Smith and Jones and AHHHHHH!

Smith and JonesCross-genre fiction … ever heard of it?  That’s when a writer mixes a couple of different types of story into a single piece of fiction: a novel, short story, screenplay, etc.  A good example is the science fantasy of the Star Wars movies or the science-fiction-romance of  The Time Traveler’s Wife.

But those are the exceptions.  Believe me.  The last time I tried to publish a short story that overlapped the boundaries of science fiction, fantasy, horror, mystery and humor, the publisher took one look at the manuscript and said, “Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh!”

But evidently the producers at the BBC were a tad more open-minded to this kind of story.

A great example is the Doctor Who episode “Smith and Jones” (s03e02), with David Tennant as the Doctor.

This is the episode where we’re introduced to a delightful new Companion, the staggeringly smart medical school resident Martha Jones.  And we get to meet her in a hospital.   Oh, and on the moon.  And being threatened by an extraterrestrial plasma vampire.  And among a race of humanoid-rhinos.  And … oh, that hospital?  It was on the moon.

No, this episode wasn’t a reject from Space:1999 or a 50s’ schlepp flick. This was the critically-acclaimed 3rd-season opener for a British TV drama that’s been on the air for 9713 years and 5 months.

Since a gazillion words have zigzagged over the globe describing the characters’ chemistry, which is undeniable, I wanted to give my thoughts from a different angle.  I stared with wide-eyed incredulity while a plot unfolded not unlike the story I’d written that caused the publisher to go, “Ahhhhhhhh!”

Every damn rule of fiction was broken in his one, single episode. Every last one of them. The writer, Russell T. Davies, threw the kitchen sink into this flick and … it worked.  I threw the kitchen sink into my own story and it was rejected.
Ahhhhhhh!

Here’s a brief list of things that happen in this show.  I’m going to play devil’s advocate for a second and provide snarky remarks as if I were someone who hated SF and wanted to throw rotten tomatoes at the screen.  But these snarks are not how I really feel, as you shall see.

  • Doctor Who removes his necktie, shows it to Martha, and says, “… like so!”
    • Chekov’s gun disguised as menswear.
  • Doctor Who refers to himself as John Smith, an homage to the very first Doctor Who episode (1963) and his granddaughter.
    • Quiz: Was she a Time Lord also?
  •  The first Doctor’s granddaughter was listening to a rock-n-roll group called “John Smith and the Common Men.”
    • No worse than The Quarrymen, I suppose.
  • Martha is a resident at a London hospital and witnesses rain falling up.
    • At least I didn’t expect that.
  • There’s an alien vampire in the hospital who has body guards dressed in motorcycle gear.  Their helmets make them look like Roswell aliens
    • Shouldn’t people be changing channels about now?  But they’re not.  And neither did I.
  • The Judoon are chasing the  vampire creature because she killed one of their princesses.
    • BLANK STARE
  • Laser beams
    • Ditto
  • To their credit, the characters in the hospital, which is now on the moon, ask how and why they have air.
    • Well, this is science fiction, after all.
  • The Doctor is asked if he has a brother and he says, “Not anymore.”
    • sniff, sniff
  • The hospital is inside a domed force-field
    • No.  No cliches here.
  • The vampire’s victim is a Mr. Stoker
    • BRAVO!
  • The Vampire modifies an MRI machine to destroy all life on the moon.
    • Kinda makes you pine for reverse-tachyon beams, doesn’t it?
  • The Judoon leave, but transport the hospital back to earth before the atmosphere gets too low.
    • Waste not, want not.
  • After a bad fight with her maniacally-dysfunctional family Martha spots the Doctor and the TARDIS.
    • Wonder where this is going?
  • To convince her he is indeed a time traveler the Doctor travels back in time, reappears, and tells Martha that he can’t make a time travel trip into existing timeline …
    • wait for it …
  • “Except for cheap tricks, … like so!”

So how’d they do it?   How does really good drama emerge out of that much campiness?  We all know the answer: Character.  But damn, does it really take 49-frakking-years to establish a set of characters so you can write any kind of plot you want?  Maybe so.

What I do know is that I love this episode.  On a scale of 1-to-10, I’d give it a 9.1.  For comparison sake, I’d give Doctor Who’s “Blink” a 9.8, and Star Trek’s “The City on the Edge of Forever” a 10.0.

Once again, I find myself mystified as to exactly why I like it, but if I had to guess it’d be because … oh, yeah!  It’s because Martha Jones is hot!  And I reckon the Doctor is okay, too.

:)

Pax,

Keith

Copyright © 2013

Don’t Be a Dumpster Fire

ImageYou don’t write to get rich.  You write because writing is a fundamental part of who you are.  Your odds of becoming Stephen King or Sue Grafton are longer than your odds of winning a multi-state lottery.

The basic idea behind any form of art is to express emotions.  You’ll notice I write a lot about time travel, science fiction, horror, and love.  I write about love and romance because I have a sentimental streak.  I write about horror because of panic attacks, and people are drawn to things that scare them (counterintuitive, but true).  I write about science fiction because I grew up watching the original Star Trek, and it’s like comfort food for me.  And I love time travel for some reason I can’t really explain.  Maybe I have a lot of regrets and want to right some wrongs.  Who the hell knows?  Or maybe I’d just like swap one-liners with Groucho Marx.  “After two days in the hospital I took a turn for the nurse.”

I also dish out writing advice.  You know where I get that wisdom?  Failure … sometimes epic.  Or, as we say on Twitter, #dumpsterfire fiction.  If you try to imitate bestsellers, your novel is going to be a disaster, a dumpster fire in kids’ lingo today.  And you’ll feel like one, too, after spending all that time and effort to produce something no one wants to read.  Believe me, I’ve been there.

Caveat: This does not mean you set your sights low.  No.  Aim to be the very best writer you can  be.  Every sentence you write should be exactly what you want to read.  Anything less and you’re being dishonest.

But if you’re trying to become Dan Brown or Suzanne Collins, forget it.  We already have a Brown and a Collins and a King and a Grafton.  Mimicking them is not going make you rich and famous.

If you want to get rich you need to be flipping houses and bootlegging whiskey.

Writers are artists, and we get paid the same.  Would you like fries with that?

Peace, from Keith

Copyright © 2013

Rocky Edge (A Short Story)

rockYou are standing at the edge of a cliff and looking out at the gray, churning water 30 feet below as waves crash over jagged rocks.  You back away, half-dizzy, stomach pumping with vertigo.  Behind you to your right is an outcropping of grim boulders, weathered from wind, flattened by time.  You thrust your hands into the pockets of your Levi’s and wince as your dry knuckles scrape against the hemline of the blue jeans’ stitching.

You shuffle and slide across black soggy leaves over to the boulder that grows out of the ancient Alabama mountainside.  Your hiking boots give you footing, but you still feel uneven, with pressure in your ears.

You turn and sit on a tongue of rock that forms a chair unusually well-suited for your thin frame, one of those natural seats that doesn’t seem real somehow, but that you know has been there since prehistoric times, before anything that we know as intelligent walked or slithered on earth.  And for some reason you remember a children’s bible illustration where Jesus, sitting on a similar rock, gestured His eight beatitudes to a throng.  You  can’t remember the commandments, but you know you are not among the blessed.

But thinking of childhood Sunday school does make you think of the word love, and you know you didn’t love Allisa, and you know that you never really loved her, that you were merely

horny

obsessed by her.  And it was not even by her looks per se.  While not ugly, she would never pass Madison Avenue’s tests for looks.  Her crystal blues under those thinning black bangs turned you on.  But did they work on others?  Her Cuban accent and cravings for Thai food, her encyclopedic knowledge of architecture multiplied your

lust

romantic longings, which she did not reciprocate.  Not until that final night.  Not until her passion boiled over and set you on fire.  Her friendship had been platonic and yet, and yet … there was always the “ooh ah” factor in your favor.

Allisa had giggled at the first sight of computer eye candy.  When was that?  1990? ’91?  You’d shown her the shiny new Windows 3 splash screen as it zoomed across your monitor.  Techie stuff won her heart as often as roses.  She broke out in a huge grin when you told her you were going to email something to yourself.   That was her first Internet epiphany, circa 1994.  Years later, last week to be exact, she texted a picture of herself to you.  In the photo she stood beside a mural at the art museum — a mural of a twisty mountain road — hand on her hip, a smile in her eyes, one black pump up in the air.

The fundraiser at the museum had gone well into the night.  You waited up for her.  She’d texted around 11:00 or so, admitting she’d had three glasses — and counting — of Merlot, admitting her date was a creep, admitting she really wished you were there.

Drunk yourself from a twelve pack of beer and no food, you called her cell an hour later.  She’d answered on the first ring with a sweet, “Hell-lloo.”

“I only have sex with good-looking guys,” she’d told you. “That son of a –.  It’s always like that, isn’t it?  They’re always like that.  Sex.  Drugs.  Rock-and-roll.  All of them.”

You didn’t follow her train of thought, muddied by wine, or yours, sullied by beer.  But your eyes had lit up.  Your face had brightened.

Unlike now.

Now your face sags, hangdog eyes.  You feel scaly, eyes bulging like a fish’s.  What was it the nerd said in the office last week?  The guy with the letters MISKA-some-shit-or-other on his sweatshirt that casual Friday?

“You’ve got that Innsmouth look going, buddy.”

You had no idea what that had meant.  You didn’t care.  You didn’t care then, and you don’t care now.  Your mouth is hanging open, though, so you can take in big gulps of air.  Mouth-breather.  You roll your

bulging

eyes.  Well, you are from Alabama.  That’s what people expect to see.  Mouth-breathers.

You sigh.  Your thoughts are gloomy, pre-winter clouds, roiling like a too-hot November day that presages tornado outbreaks.

You snap out of your daydream when you realize your hands are tingling.  They’re still in the pockets of your jeans. You’d sat down with them like that.  Now you wiggle them out, and the dry skin on your hands finally cracks, and two of your knuckles bleed.  You grip one hand with the other, worried you’ll get blood all over your North Face jacket and people will stare at you later.  Either that, or the coroner will ponder your bloody hands after they fish your body from the waters below.

There isn’t much you can do, is there?  Your mind is numbed by data entry and bad nutrition and subtle musings about madness.

“Do you want to come over?” you had said to Allisa Fuentes that night.

And Allisa Fuentes, from Santiago de Cuba, where communist revolution had been born, had giggled like a conservative white American schoolgirl of the 1950s.

“Sure!  I’m turning around now, and we can –.”

The phone had gone dead in your hand.  You gawked at it, a stupid grin on your face.  You tried her number again.  You tried it over and over, assuming she just hit a dead spot in coverage.  No signal.

“I’m turning around now, and we can –,” had been Allisa’s last words when, distracted, she lost control of the car, and plunged 1000 feet into the roaring mountain river below.

She was still holding the phone when they found her.  It was her right hand.  You’re looking at your own right hand now.  It’s still bleeding.  And scaly.   It’s the color of a fish.

You stand, roll your head, and shuffle away from the rocky edge of the cliff, wondering if the words “Innsmouth look” have any real meaning.  Maybe they do, but weird crap like that doesn’t matter.  You walk back and get in your car, a high-tech SUV that’d been idling, waiting for you, and when its display lights up, telling you your own cell phone has been detected by its Bluetooth rigging, you grind your teeth, take the phone and sling it as far as you can out the car window, over the bluff.   As you put the car into drive you think you hear the goddamn thing die on the rocks below.  You hope so.  You’re going to pretend you do, anyway.

The End

Copyright © 2013 Alan Keith Parker.  This is a work of fiction.  Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Jackie is Moving Quickly Now (A Short Story)

Jackie is jogging now, her size 5 tennis shoes squeaking on the tile floor of the mall, her breath quickening as her heart pounds away in her throat. His footsteps, the ones from the black, sound like metal on the tiles, like sadistic tap shoes following her down the aisle. She breaks into a full sprint and whacks her thigh on the corner of some serving counter — a Starbucks? McDonalds? Sbarro Pizza? Doesn’t matter. It hurts, and it’s in her way, and it slows her down, bruises her pace even though Jackie is moving quickly now. Ahead of her is a row of chairs. They sit near the escalators, but Jackie wrinkles her brow at that escape route because escalators tripped her up when she was little, when she got her skirt caught in its

teeth

treads. That saved Jackie’s life, but it didn’t matter because back then the man was after her mother, not her, unlike the man in the steel-toed boots who’s chasing her now.

boots

Everything is surreal, nightmarish. Is she moving or is the row of the chairs? They rush forward, like oncoming runway lights. Old people sit here, talk about young people these days. But they are empty of any people right now. The black is behind her. He turned the corner and he missed the coffee counter. The villain always has the best luck. Click, click, click go his shoes. Jackie turns her head quickly left, then right, her eyes begging for help from people who are not in the shoe stores and the jewelry stores and the You’re-Not-Wearing-the-Latest stores. Only the mannequins watch her. They seem more alive than

Jackie will be

any of the salesmen who put up the 1/2-Price ONE DAY ONLY signs earlier.

Dizzy from the glittery goodness of kiosks Jackie’s shoes squeal to a halt beside an overstuffed mall chair. Whoever said tennis shoes were silent was just a damn-fool-liar in Jackie’s book, yes sir-ee, Bob. She leans on the chair, out of breath, her throat burning. When she blinks she sees the cane, propped neatly beside a chair, and a half-open James Michener resting over the arm of another, and an empty Starbucks cup on a side table. But it’s not empty, is it? No. Steam rises from it, as if the owner forgot about it because he

got killed?

got up and left to go home.

Cold, bony fingers wrap around her shoulder. Bony. Bone. And that’s when bile catches in her throat. The man takes — took — his victims and did something to their bones, with a hammer. She sees his pink-skinned hand with its thin, blue veins sticking out of his Member’s Only black jacket. She doesn’t turn around. She doesn’t need do that. Instead, Jackie grabs the steaming coffee, and wheels about on one heel.

She flings the scalding coffee in the man’s face. He screams. It’s a dark, angel-of-death scream.

Later the detectives ask her how she knew, because the crime against her mother had happened 30 years ago, in 1984. The man in the black coat was in his 50s then. He’s in his 80s, now. The people at the mall thought she was sadistic, attacking an old man like that. Little did they know. So the detective asks her — has to ask her — what clued her in, probably wondering how he’ll deal with the vigilante justice angle even though she’s caught the man who’s been wanted for decades.

“The shoes,” Jackie says. “Those awful steel-toed boots. When I fell on the escalator he kicked me. I was just a little girl. He kicked me when I was down.”

The detective brings her some tissue. Jackie nods, begins to sob. Tomorrow, she thinks, she’ll sign up her daughter for tap lessons. Jackie will finally be able to tolerate the sound of metal clicking on a floor.

The End

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events, is purely coincidental. Copyright © 2012 Alan Keith Parker, All Rights Reserved.