Overlong shorts! Overshort vlogs! Overtime! Oh my! All this and more (not much more, but more) in this week’s writing vlog!
Category Archives: Uncategorized
About four or five years ago I discovered the SCP Archives, a fascinating collection of short stories in the “creepy pasta” genre. The SCP Archives are “found document” stories, framed as a series of procedures, bureaucratic files and research notes that compose the history of a single paranormal or preternatural person, place or thing. They’re full of inventive ideas, people and terms. While the SCP Archives themselves were never something I really wanted to write in the idea of a set of found documents that contained the pieces of a story but unspooled them in a nontraditional way. It took a long time but eventually “Lost Words” became the first result.
We’ve been working on decoding the information on the artifact for the last sixteen years, since we pulled it out of Saturn’s rings. We’re not sure how long it was sitting there, playing dead among the debris and we may never be certain. Frankly, it’s a miracle it’s still in one piece.
What we do know for sure is that it is electronic and has something like an onboard computer although we haven’t been able to make much of it. Here’s what we’ve got, along with notes from the researchers.
INITIATING DATA RETRIEVAL…
FILES 82% CORRUPTED
ATTEMPTING FILE REPAIR…
RECONSTRUCTED DATA WILL BE DISPLAYED [IN BRACKETS]
INITIATING DATA PLAYBACK…
The data retrieval and file repairs are things referenced in the artifact’s onboard memory, not something we did when we got it back to Earth. We find it unlikely we will ever be able to repair or replace any of the data lost.
SI[TUATION] REPORT: Drop Sphere 3
REPORTIN[G OFFI]CER: Te[data lost]
STAR SYSTEM: [data lost] 5 Phase 2 Star
Coordinates: 322.[data lost] off Galactic Plane
PLANETARY SURVEY: Tertiary Planet
Typology: Nickle-Iron Core
2/1 Ocean/Landmass Ratio
Satellites: [data lost]
It’s unclear what kind of coordinate system the artifact uses, or what kind of Galactic Plane they’re referencing. Based on the information available, the logical conclusion is that they’re referring to Earth although we find that eventuality unlikely for reasons that will become clear.
Chronomark – 928.4482.4
Multiple settlements confirmed on each continent. Civilization’s power distribution network consistent with a Type 2 Industrial society. Multiple orbi[tal structures] detected, suggesting the native population has been making [data lost] for some time. Survey of outlying planets did not reveal signs of permanent settlements on outward planets. Conditions on [inward pl]anets do not appear hospitable to life. Further information in fu[ture surveys.]
We conclude that the native species is most likely confined to this planet at this time.
The onboard records suggest that the bulk of the lost data in the artifact’s files were lost here. Roughly 40% of the data the artifact was trying to receive was from this chunk of lost files, which suggests that they spent a lot of time surveying the planet. What’s particularly interesting is that the context around the missing data suggests the missing information was entirely about the population and civilization on the planet’s surface.
Unclear how many sapient species are native to the planet. Initial scans show no signs of coherent architectural [themes] computer analysis cannot determine if differences are wide enough to suggest a differences in species. Communications [data lost] have not yet been deciphered.
Planet shows typical biodiversity for a Type 2 or Type 3 Industrial society. Standard sapience development studies show they should have larger settlements in the oceans suggesting the entire population may be mildly thassalophobic. Further details will [require closing to] close orbit.
The idea that a civilization is thassalophobic just because they don’t settle their oceans is interesting, particularly given things we will see later.
Chronomark – 928.4482.6
I have submitted a request to remain in high orbit. The stories about first contact with Type 2 and Type 3 societies are nightmares. [data lost]
It would be nice to know what kinds of things the Sphere commander was worried about but whatever it was seems lost to time.
Issued: 4th Fleet [data lost]
Recipient: [data lost]
Chronomark – 928.4484.3
Your objections to further surveillance are n[oted and show a comm]endable consideration for your crew and ship. We hereby override them. Deploy a communications relay and keep it updated in accordance with Hazardous Contact Protocols then approach to a [data lost]
You’re out there to detect potential threats to the Commonwealth, Commander. Do you job.
It’s interesting that whatever Observational Command was, they had protocol for these kinds of situations but still managed to lose the artifact – which appears to be a communications relay based on what we’ve learned – in spite of the protocols they put in place. What happened here was apparently well outside their expectations.
Chronomark – 928.4484.5
Our sphere has begun braking orbit, we are [data lost] and proceeding under Hazardous Contact Protocols. Our attempts to break the native communication codec is still [underway]. Fortunately we’ve discovered a series of analog broad[casts that appear to be unfiltered] audio and we’re working on translating the language. So far it seems we’ve avoided detection by the natives.
Several of the major structures have been firmly identified as orbital telescopes.
This is another major section of lost data – it represents about 12% of the lost data and presumably describes more of the planet’s orbital technology.
We believe the largest to be some kind of orbital space station, although what purpose the station serves is unclear. It’s not attached to a space elevator nor do we see large space vessels under [construction.] We’re adjusting our approach to avoid visual dete[ction by these install]ations.
So far we only have one new significant piece of information. Our analysis of the audio from the planet suggests only a single species lives there as the phonemes we’re detecting are all similar enough to come from a single type of [vocalization organ.] Based on what we know of the galaxy, that suggests a single sapient species is producing them.
At this point most of the missing data is accounted for. From the corrupted data on hand my analysts suggest at least part of the analog audio the drop sphere recorded was stored here. It’s possible we can still make something out of that and learn something.
[Chronomark] – 928.4484.6
[data lost] approaching standard orbit, two tanks compromised.
Definitely not a space station. What we thought were [just] telescopes do double duty as gathering arrays that focus [data lost].
The station then serves as a focal point for the weapon. Primary habitation module was compromised. Casualty list is attached:
– and I doubt our hull will stand up to the strain. Against the better judgment of my officers, I’m ordering us to abandon ship. We’ll keep in touch with the comm relay in accordance with Hazardous [Contact Protocols] but [data lost]
May heaven have mercy on us.
The reference to heaven is heavily debated by the translators. Most of them think we’re projecting our own culture on the aliens and worry we’re dumping a lot of cultural baggage onto this part of the records where it’s inappropriate. I’ve chosen to leave it in place for reasons you’ll see shortly.
Chronomark – 928[data lost]
Drop Sphere 3 has been abandoned. Find rest in the silence of space, old friend.
We’ve launched both of the sphere’s life pods and are making for the [data lost]
Current crew compliment of this pod [data lost] for a total of five survivors.
Five survivors in one pod led to a lot of speculation on the sphere’s original crew count. Since it’s a very small data point to draw any kind of conclusion on I eventually stepped in to end the discussion and removed that debate. Interested parties can pull the detailed files from the project archive if they’re really dedicated to reopening the issue.
Chronomark – 928.4486.1
In spite of maneuvering at minimal thrust for the past thirty hours [data lost]
The telescope is im[possible to] shake. We’ve raised our acceleration to the maximum safe rate and are maneuvering towards the system’s fifth planet, a gas giant with [data lost]. Hopefully the [local sapiens] conclude we’re trying to shelter there. In truth, I just hope we distract them from [data lost]
We’re not sure what the sphere commander was hoping to distract them from but our consensus supposition is they were trying to keep the planet’s telescopes from picking up their communication relay.
Chronomark – 928.4486.4
It seems [data lost] and salvaged some of the data we’d collected before our Drop Sphere was destroyed. I’ve assigned my team to work on analyzing it to keep them busy while [data lost.] I’ve told them maybe we’ll learn something that will help us survive, although privately I’m not optimistic on that front.
Pretty industrious people in that pod.
Chronomark – 928.4487.3
They scrambled a pursuit ship incredibly quickly. As near as we can tell it’s a [chemically pro]pelled ballistic ship, which is shockingly primitive compared to [data lost]. Even so, it’s closing fast enough to be here in three days. Things have been tense. Morale is dropping quickly and I have to admit that I don’t think we have any way to avoid [capture].
Given how vicious the [data lost] avoided at all costs. We will continue to report what we learn from our scanning and analysis.
Chemically propelled ballistic ships are shockingly primitive compared to their drop sphere but somehow they still managed to destroy it. I’m not sure what bothers me more. That they think our level of technology is primitive, or that they still got destroyed somehow.
We’re still not sure what the artifact’s Chronomarking system means, but given the pretty clear timeline laid out in these last few entries we’re optimistic we can crack them eventually.
Chronomark – 928.4487.8
A potential breakthrough, although [data lost].
The value of that analytical method is questionable but I’m operating on the premise the results are reliable. It’s the only thing with the potential to improve our sit[uation] anyway. [data lost]
We’re monitoring their communications now. We hoped that would help us evade pursuit but the new codec isn’t helping us since we still haven’t translated their language. [data lost] … understanding of basic machine commands based on what we’re seeing but that’s it for now.
We’re not sure how they cracked a communication codec without knowing the language it contained. Perhaps in one of the lost data sets they translated an analog audio segment and used it as confirmation. We don’t know.
Chronomark – 928.4488.6
We’re testing the new codec against their voice transmissions. It’s interesting because, even though we can’t understand them, we’re all able to mimic all the sounds we’re hearing. I’m starting to think that [data lost]
I think at this point the people in that pod were starting to suspect. That’s why they’re testing all the language they were hearing.
Chronomark – 928.4489.1
The alien ship is getting very close, close enough that we can make visual contact with it. We expect it to match velocity with us in four hours. After some debate, I’ve issued sidearms to all survivors on board. There’s already joking about saving a bullet for ourselves, which is an accurate reflection on the current state of our morale.
[data lost] and transmitted it. If the alien ship has any idea what we said or that we were talking to them they haven’t given any sign of it.
Too bad we don’t have the other ship’s records to tell us how they reacted to this.
Chronomark – 928.4489.4
The alien ship has launched some kind of grapplers and drawn us into contact. I will try and record as much of our encounter with them [data lost]
… some kind of diamond tipped drill to pierce the hull before establishing a seal and moving their personnel over. We’re bracing for their entry.
… fallen back and are regrouping. I don’t think they were expecting resistance. Frankly I’m surprised, too. We’re scientists here, not fighters, but [data lost]
We’ve got just enough time to pull the helmet off one and – my god, they’re human. They’re human just like us. That’s not possible. If anyone reads these logs [data lost]
When we reached this point we were extremely confused. The translators went over this dozens of times, we’re almost 100% certain whoever created this log found creatures like themselves on a planet they were totally unfamiliar with. Whether they were actually a human civilization that discovered another human civilization where they shouldn’t have is open for debate.
Did the artifact arrive here through some method of time travel? Is it a very elaborate, very expensive hoax created by one of the billionaires playing with space flight? Did the artifact just drift into the solar system after it was lost countless eons ago? We don’t know.
I would love to be able to confirm one of those theories. It would remove the possibility that some other human civilization on Earth rose up, took to space and had an encounter with an even older, more advanced human civilization from far flung stars only to vanish for reasons unknown. What does that say about what’s waiting for us out there, if it’s true? And what will we do about it?
For now, I’m proposing we head back out to Saturn immediately and begin looking for other pieces of technology comparable to the artifact. Hopefully we can learn more before it’s too late.
Weekly Writing Vlog – 03-16-2023
This week’s update on everything I am writing.
Writing Vlog – 02-22-2023
This week’s vlog update is very brief. I feel the creativity sparking through me right now and I’ve done a lot in the last seven days. Gonna try and do just as much over the next seven.
Writing Vlog – 02-15-2023
Lots of opportunities for short stories of late! I’m working on them as fast as I can. More in this week’s writing vlog:
Writing Vlog – 02-08-2023
A few updates, few details available now but projects are starting to unfold.
A Double Edged Story
The power of story to uplift often necessitates we first confront the darkest parts of the world, whether the real world we live in or a world that only exists in fiction. Depicting the darkness of the world is very difficult. It’s difficult for a number of reasons. You have to learn about the darkness, which is decidedly unpleasant, you have to depict the darkness without running off your audience and you have to expose the darkness without reveling in it. Beyond that there’s one final problem.
There may be nothing to learn from passing through the darkness.
Last year I was told that if I really wanted to understand scifi fandom in general and the Science Fiction Writer’s of America specifically then I needed to read a book called The Last Closet: The Dark Side of Avalon by Moira Greyland. I had never been that interested in the SFWA and fandom has always struck me as a tad… obsessive. But I do enjoy scifi and I was given to understand Greyland had unique insights into what made some of the biggest scifi writers of the last generation tick. So I decided to check out the book by reading Amazon’s free sample.
Let me start at the end: I can’t recommend this book to anyone outside a very select group of people. Greyland has survived some of the darkest things I have ever heard. Her survival in and of itself would be a superhuman feat, the fact that she lives a wholesome life, creates beautiful music and has forgiven those who tormented her is truly, genuinely inspiring, a testament to the grace of God to redeem even the worst of circumstances. Many who have endured similar things say reading her book has helped them.
I believe this to be true, because I am in no place to contradict it. In fact, that testimony meshes well with what I’ve observed of human nature myself.
That said, I don’t know as The Last Closet has anything to offer anyone else who reads it. Those are my thoughts on the book broadly speaking and, before I delve into my reasoning deeper, let me give you a chance to jump off this ride here, dear reader. Greyland’s story is disturbing even removed by several layers of discussion. If you don’t wish to delve into very disturbing topics, now is the time to get off this ride.
Moira Greyland was the daughter of Martin Breen and Marion Zimmer Bradley. Breen was an early participant in scifi fandom, contributing to many fan magazines and appearing at many scifi conventions in the early years of these events, long before TV shows like Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica put the genre out for the general public. Bradley was an award winning fantasy writer – fantasy and science fiction have long been related genres and there was less of a barrier between them in the past – who published dozens of novels including The Mists of Avalon, which is her most famous work.
Breen was also a convicted child molester. His wife was aware of and covered up for his crimes, facts she testified to during Breen’s trial. If Greyland’s testimony is to be believed – and I see no reason it shouldn’t be – Bradley was also a child molester. Neither parent spared their own children their predations. The Last Closet is a complete accounting of their crimes, as far as Greyland can recall them and supported, as much as possible, from the public record.
To the extent I can praise the book, I find Greyland’s work in sourcing letters, articles and court transcripts to supplement her own narrative quite impressive. It speaks to her strong desire to be as fair as possible. I am also staggered by what reads as real, genuine pity and compassion that the author has for her subjects. Martin Breen and Marion Zimmer Bradley both suffered terrible childhoods and, as is so often the case, were themselves victims of the horrors they visited on others. These events doubtless warped their outlooks and poisoned their attitudes.
The prose of the book is very readable. In fact it feels very much like blog writing, a very folksy, easy to read kind of writing that blunts some of the force of the things it describes. Greyland does run a blog and her experience with this kind of accessible prose shows. She intermixes the factual narrative with pieces of poetry she has written over the years to help her process her trauma. These pieces are, frankly, terrifying. As someone who has never come close to the level of trauma Greyland has experienced, reading those verses felt a bit like walking over cracked ice, wondering if I was about to slip through into the trauma beneath.
As I said before, Greyland survived her childhood. Amazingly she even managed to live out her own dreams – she got married, had children and is a professional harpist with several albums of music available. She has forgiven her parents. Yet I cannot recommend anyone, outside her fellow abuse survivors, deliberately read her book.
Listen. The world is often a horrible, depraved place. Although it is rarer than it should be, people do survive the depravity of the world and bear witness to the goodness of God and the potential we all have to survive the worst circumstances. I have never doubted any of these things.
I wish that I could say Greyland’s story shocked me. Whether it is because I am cynical, jaded or just too aware of what my own sinful nature could do if unchecked, I have to say it did not. I always knew these things were happening somewhere. What it did do was sadden me and enrage me. Having read The Last Closet I now know a whole series of things about scifi conventions and the people who run them that only serves to stoke empty anger and grief. There is some consolation in knowing the victim has overcome these things.
However, I was not a victim of Greyland’s suffering. I have no one to forgive and only one lesson to take away from the story: Some things are beyond my control.
So I cannot recommend this book to most people. I wouldn’t even suggest reading the free sample – the story has that captivating quality of many horror stories that makes it difficult to look away once you’ve begun. It will leave you with very little deeper understanding of human nature, unless you are one of those who believes we are fundamentally good, and will leave a great deal of emotional baggage you’ve picked up quite vicariously. I’m almost certain that’s an unhealthy trade.
All that said, I also cannot suggest you avoid this book. In her introduction, Greyland states that she thinks one of the biggest benefits of her book is that it overcomes denial. It helped her make peace with what happened to her in part through her admitting it had happened. In the detailed recounting she stripped off some of the varnish she’d put over the ugliest memories. Abuse survivors also found it helped them admit the truth of their experiences.
One reason Breen and Bradley got away with their predatory behavior for so long was that so many people were in denial about it. I do not believe in widespread conspiracies to silence victims. I do believe that widespread abuse can be met with equally widespread denial that makes dealing with the abuse impossible. It is possible that The Last Closet can become a sword that helps people clear away denial that stands in their way. It may be that some will need to read it to convince themselves.
And some people will have to read it just so they know that the resource exists and how it can best be used.
So in the end, I find myself in a very strange situation. I can’t really recommend Greyland’s book but I also can’t say you won’t find a use for it if you do read it. So, for perhaps the second or third time in my years of blogging, I must simply place these facts about the book before you, dear reader, and leave them for you to make up your own mind.
Writing Vlog – 01/25/2023
A short examination of outlines, folk songs and found documents.
Story has the power to inspire, to enlighten and to persist in our minds far longer than simple learning. For these reasons many ancient cultures considered storytelling to verge on magic. Storytelling has kept all of that power through the ages and, even now, it endures as one of the most fundamental pillars that make humanity truly human. At it’s most simple, story is what points us to our highest potential and our deepest depravity.
As an author I am generally drawn to the inspiring side of storytelling. However as I have struggled to craft the most inspiring stories I can I have come to appreciate the importance of contrast in that undertaking. While a gross oversimplification, the idea that heroes are defined by their villains is a straightforward example of the utility of contrast in sketching a story or characters. However contrast is not limited to functioning in scenarios about good and evil.
You can contrast people’s goals, people’s actions and people’s reactions. The last is generally not something I think about – one of the hazards of “writer’s brain” is to think about your stories through a single lens. My preferred lenses are actions and goals. The ways different characters react in different ways to the same stimulus is not something I often think about and when I do it is as a matter of world building or as a subset of the character’s goals, rather than as a genuine intent to examine a character’s inner life. This happens in my writing, of course, but it’s rarely intentional.
The best stories need to be incredibly intentional.
I only started to think about reactions intentionally during the writing of my last project, The Gospel According to Earth. During this story I needed to show Lang, a returning protagonist, as he reacted to the death of another character. That brought me to the topic of today’s post – shame. (Yes, we are just now reaching the thesis statement.) You see, I wanted to end Lang’s story on a high note but I worried that I couldn’t get him there without a contrasting low note.
The general approach to creating a low note is failure. Your protagonist fails at something and then has to suffer the consequences and build themselves back up. That’s fine. However, a common error in approaching the building up phase of the story is to show actions that build the character’s situation up but not the introspection that repairs the character’s mind. I am guilty of this failure myself on many occasions, not the least of which was my treatment of Lang in Schrodinger’s Book. I decided to try and rectify it in Gospel by showing how Lang struggled with his new responsibilities after being promoted, as he would naturally feel his failures of responsibility directly led to the loss of his allies in the previous installment.
In writing these things out I was forced to examine how I process shame. It wasn’t a comfortable experience. And I do have a lot of shame to process, after all, I’m a writer with a good education in that field, ten years of work and very little in the way of audience or fiscal success to show for it. That’s just the state of my shameful professional career, before assessing all my personal shame on top of it!
Nor do I always process things in healthy fashion, in fact based on my own introspection I’ve realized I tend to offload my own sense of shame onto other things that are easier to ignore. This gave rise to Lang’s sudden onset thalassophobia. It also resulted in the roundabout boxing that Lang has with Priss on several occasions – it turns out shame is a thing that is hard to recognize in yourself and is probably best dealt with at a certain remove. Dealing realistically with these things is rarely direct.
Confronting shame in fiction is usually handled by trying to lift a person up out of it. I didn’t want to do that because I have found all the attempts to haul me out of my own shame – whether I recognized them or not – offensive. That’s in no small part because, on some level, I recognize my shame as rooted in something real. I’d rather deal with that real problem than have my injured feelings addressed. Hence my decision to have Priss push Lang towards active decisions, taking steps towards concrete, attainable goals rather than focusing on his very real but unchangeable failures.
My hope was to write a story where we could see Lang cementing his character growth and leaning in to growth and meaningful achievement while still acknowledging that he was hurt by the things that happened to him. I’m not sure I entirely succeeded on that front but it was an instructive exercise. My hope is to develop these storytelling techniques in further writings and develop clearer uses of shame as both a motivation and a contrasting low point against potential high points.
Writing shame proved to be a worthwhile endeavor, even if it doesn’t land as hoped and even if I didn’t enjoy the process of putting all this together. Writing isn’t the hardest job on Earth but its uncomfortable hurdles are unique. Turning away from them is a great way to ensure that your writing stagnates and fails to reach its full potential. Don’t be afraid of your shame, or any other unpleasant emotion you may need to explore.
Weekly Writing Vlog – 01-19-2023
I’m writing again, and working on my next major fiction project. Details in this week’s vlog: