Web Search nikon coolpix digital cameras The Miserable Annals of the Earth: Fear Masters (4)

Friday, October 31, 2008

Fear Masters (4)

Rolling right along: After the jump, the next three chapters. I actually have 16, 17, 18, and some of 19 done, too, but may go back and revise some of those, I dunno. But right now, the novel is at 36,659 words, although, with the three chapters below, I've only posted 29,664 of them. So y'all are behind me about 7000 words... which seems like a lot, I guess. But I'll get 'em up when I'm reasonably happy with where they point me, I guess.



XIII.

Looking out from the inside of a space-time quantum vacuole is a lot like trying to see what’s going on in someone’s bathroom by pressing your face against a steamed up window, which is to say, it’s pretty unsatisfying. Add in the fact that I, at least, felt a kind of greasy nausea that seemed to permeate every cell in my body as soon as Eddie goosed the accelerator, which got steadily worse the longer we were in there, and you end up with a ride that seemed a whole lot longer than the few seconds it actually took.

After what seemed like at least several minutes of steadily worsening discomfort, though, the autopilot cut the accelerator. We found ourselves floating in space – presumably at L5, the fifth, most stable, and therefore, most extensively commercially exploited, LaGrange point in the Earth-Moon system.

I’d assumed that a craft with no method of movement besides a fairly standard anti-gravity initiator would have no way of getting around in deep space. Veronica disabused me of that notion; all an anti-grav engine needs to function is a nearby gravity field to refract, and while L5 was a natural balance point between the Earth’s and the Moon’s gravity fields, that simply meant it was a ‘gravity rich’ environment. Our biggest problem wouldn’t be motive power, but, rather, picking Ubdov’s orbital home base out from all the other sky junk cluttering up L5.

To that end, Veronica had researched the known dimensions of the orbital residence-laboratory Ubdov had had built shortly after his parole from the Russian Federation’s one time space gulag. As soon as we came to ‘rest’, Eddie had the radar set warmed up and pinging local space looking for anything that matched the parameters Veronica had given him.

Like any Sky Marine, I’m fully checked out for zero gee combat. Veronica doubted deep space conditions would bother her much, but Eddie is a ground pounder through and through and he wasn’t going to deal with free fall if he didn’t have to. A standard anti-grav initiator can cut a local gravity field up like so much parsley; keeping us in a half gee field oriented to pull down towards the floor of the car, even in free fall, was easy-peasy.

“Got it,” he said, after a minute or so. “Spherical object, 300 meters radius, 17 kilometers and a ball o’ twine… thatta way,” he said, pointing at an oblique angle down through the floor of the flivver. “Um… 12 degrees off true.” He started fiddling with knobs and buttons on the control panel. “I can get us a double refraction up here, and ride in on both the Earth and the Moon’s gravity vectors… maybe six minutes transit time.” He looked up at Veronica. “Do you have any idea if this guy has any defenses? Missiles, vacuum mines… whatever?”

Veronica shook her head. “His residential and commercial permits and purchase orders are matters of public record,” she said. “Missiles or other explosives or defensive arrays… they would be illegal anyway, so they certainly wouldn’t be anything you’d find recorded in any accessible archive.”

“I really hate that answer,” Eddie said. “Okay, let’s just hope the mad scientist doesn’t have any death rays.” He pushed a button and the stars stopped revolving slowly around us. He reached to push another – and something came out of the endless night to sprawl across our windscreen with a horrible thump.

All of us jumped in our seats; Eddie swore comprehensively in Farsi. Lying across the flivver’s front windscreen, arms and limbs splayed out like a starfish, was a corpse. The body was wearing a t-shirt and shorts made of some sort of durable plas-weave; the shirt’s left breast had a stylized K on it. That ‘K’ looked familiar to me, but I couldn’t immediately place it.

The corpse could have been floating out there for fifteen or twenty years; there was no way, short of testing in a lab, to be sure.

What made my stomach draw up into my throat, though, was that the body was moving. The hands opened and closed, batting and clawing at the reinforced ceram-glass of our windscreen. The ruined head rolled back and forth, as if the empty, vacuum exploded eye sockets were trying to see us inside.

Somehow… maybe by vibration through the chassis of the vehicle, although I’d swear it was louder than that; maybe it transferred directly to our minds from… whatever the creature used instead of one… I could clearly hear the hungry moaning growling groan made by every zombie I’d ever met.

“GodDAMN it,” Eddie swore again. “I can’t…” He was staring at the dashboard controls. “I don’t know how to get it off of there. However I invert gravity, that zombie is inside our own local field. It will stick like glue…”

Veronica was staring in fascination at the space suited thing writhing on the other side of a windshield that suddenly seemed far too thin for comfort. “I should have known any bodies in orbit would also reanimate,” she said. “It didn’t occur to me… but this confirms my hypothesis. It is indeed some unearthly source of energy, bathing the entire planet… and our orbital path, apparently…”

“That thing is from the Krupp habitat,” Eddie said, and I realized he was right, that was what the stylized K indicated. 12 years prior, the biggest disaster in space settlement had occurred when a five mile long cylinder being constructed by a German transnational hypercorps named Krupp had blown out five hours into its fourth spin test, sending over 1200 working crew members spilling into hard vacuum. The accident wouldn’t have been so cataclysmic if not for the fact that all three previous tests had gone perfectly, and this last one had shown no flaws or undue stresses for several hours of full 1-G rotation. At the start of each test, everyone had been ready for something to go wrong, with pressure suits or emergency pods close to hand… but four hours into an obviously uneventful test run, they’d all relaxed and gone back to their normal routines. Barely one in three hundred had gotten to pressure gear in time to save themselves. For the rest, it had been mass slaughter.

Krupp’s stock had tumbled on the international market and never recovered; the wrecked cylinder itself had eventually been bought as scrap for pennies on the kilobuck by some other transnat – General Circuitry, maybe – and broken up for spare parts. Nobody had even tried to recover the vast majority of the bodies; it just hadn’t been cost effective, although the peculiarities of the LaGrange gravitonics had kept most of them floating along captive ballistics relatively nearby.

My train of thought was interrupted when the undead former construction worker abruptly spun backwards off our windshield. I figured Eddie must have figured out some way to repel it with our anti-grav, until I saw that there was something behind it… some kind of vehicle, orbiting a few hundred yards in front and to the right of our own. Something with bluish white cones of standard chemical maneuvering thrusters silhouetting its underside, and with long metal tentacles of cable waving around it like cilia. It had snared the zombie with one of those cable-tentacles, and was pulling the corpse back towards itself.

Eddie whipped collapsible binox out of his agent’s vest, popped them open and used them to study the strange thing. “Some kind of ‘bot,” he said, finally. “Fully automated, it has to be… there’s no room for a human operator. But it looks like it’s got at least a dozen corpses in tow already… somebody must have set it to gathering up all the bodies that have piled up out here at the LaGrange point over the last couple of decades.”

“Wonder who?” I asked, my voice very dry.

“Yeah,” Eddie responded with equal acerbity. “Okay, well, that solves that problem… I’m not sure I want to know what Ubdov is doing with space corpses, but I imagine we’re gonna find out. So…” He pushed another button on the dashboard and we began to move forward through space, although you wouldn’t have been able to tell without looking at the instrument panel.

Or so I thought, until Veronica gasped and pointed forward, through our front windscreen. “What… that can’t be what it looks like… can it?”

A spherical object with a radius of 300 meters is actually 600 meters in diameter, of course. At 17 kilometers distance, such an object is about the size of a Global half-buck, or one of those old time Anthony B. Susan dollar coins, held out at arm’s length. Except this particular disc didn’t show either a stylized Earth symbol, or the silhouette of some famous 19th century politician. This looked like… well… like…

“It’s an eye,” Eddie said, his eyes narrowing. “It’s a goddam giant eyeball floating in the void.”

That’s exactly what it looked like; a big ol’ greasy eyeball just hanging there against the black, star sprinkled backdrop of outer space. Fear of disembodied body parts is a fairly common human phobia, which is why we see so many severed heads, chopped off hands, and, yes, popped out eyeballs, in horror viewsees. Looking at it, I felt an atavistic shudder wash over me, and knew that, without a doubt, I was looking at the home base of Vassily Ubdov – the man the commissars had nicknamed “Dr. Fear”.

“He must have spent a fortune on glow-paint,” I said, finally.

“Or the shell is transparent and lit from within,” Veronica added. “How does he get it to STARE right at us, though…? It must respond to any active radar scan that touches it.”

We all looked at each other. We knew what that meant… Dr. Fear would be aware we were out here. And closing fast.

“I guess the ol’ boy ain’t tryin’ to hide from anyone,” Eddie said grimly. “Six minutes, ETA.”

Eddie had assured me several times that the car’s cabin would be rendered effectively vacuum tight by a minor adjustment in the EM field thrown around us by the anti-grav initiator, and he’d also said that even without any kind of atmosphere scrubber or rebreathing apparatus, it would hold enough breathable air to last us several hours. I’m sure he was right; Eddie studies that kind of thing for recreation – back in the 20th Century, he’d have been what they called a ‘survivalist’. So it was no doubt just my imagination that the cabin grew perceptibly stuffier over the next six minutes. Nonetheless, I was uneasily relieved when we nudged gently up against the outer hull of the Great Space Eyeball, as Eddie had dubbed it, and a circular hatch eight meters across immediately irised open, revealing a small landing bay just beyond.

Eddie goosed the flivver inside. The hatch irised closed again behind us; after several seconds, I could hear the heavy armor plating on the flivver’s hull resettling all around us with slight pings and groans. Somebody must have opened an air conditioning vent somewhere to give us some atmosphere. A nice welcoming gesture… or a trap.

“Air outside,” Eddie said, looking at the pressure gauge on the dashboard. He looked at me, and I had a pretty tough decision to make. We’d jumped up here without anything like space suits on us… our agent’s vests contained nose filters as a defense against airborne chemical attacks, but they wouldn’t do a thing to protect us from vacuum. If we piled out of the car and Ubdov decided to open the hatch again behind us, we’d all get sucked out into space and die pretty grisly deaths. On the other hand, if we just stayed in the car, we weren’t going to get anything accomplished…

“All right. Load Glasers, Eddie… no sense ruining our host’s paneling if we don’t have to.” I suited actions to words. Glaser rounds were invented back in the 20th and nobody has improved on them in 50 years. Basically a copper tube full of tiny ball bearings in a jelly suspension; when they hit flesh they expand dramatically and do tremendous damage through sheer hydrostatic shock. But they’ll just splatter if you miss your target and hit something hard.

Eddie nodded, following my lead. He understood what I hadn’t bothered to say out loud – that using explosive ammunition in a sealed, pressurized environment was a spectacularly stupid idea. And heatseeking homer rounds unfortunately do not work on the living dead. Helluva good way to cap the living agent providing you with back up, though.

“One at a time,” I said, after we’d finished. “That way he can’t get us all at once if he pops the seal. I’ll go first…”

Eddie had already opened his driver’s side door, rolled out onto the metal flooring, and kicked the door closed behind him. I glared at him through the window. He stood up, looked around slowly… then waved back to me. “Standing orders,” he said, almost cheerfully. “The ranking officer never goes into a hazardous situation without prior recon.”

Another hatch, leading further into the Eyeball, slid open a few yards behind Eddie. He caught the movement out of the corner of his eye and turned to look. “Okay,” he said. “Looks like we’re invited to tea. You ladies coming?”

It appeared Ubdov didn’t want to kill us… at least, not at the moment. Maybe he was curious about us. Veronica and I got out of the car simultaneously, both of us doing our best to see in every direction simultaneously.

XIV.

Eddie edged cautiously through the new opening, gun preceding him in the classic two handed grip you see on all the well researched cop and military viewsees.
I could tell Veronica hadn’t had any weapons training from the tentative way she held her own gun, but she was carefully copying what she could see Eddie doing, which was smart. Real people who have to shoot real guns at other real people really do use that grip, for the profound and simple reason that it’s extremely effective. It gives you excellent control of your weapon, a good aiming point, and the widest cone of perception possible.

I brought up the rear. Beyond the hatch was a hallway running to our right and our left, that curved gently away from our entry point… most likely, it was a perimeter hall that ran all the way around the inner diameter of the habitat.

As soon as I’d taken two steps past the hatch, it snicked closed behind me. “Lead to the right, Eddie, I’m rear guard,” I said, turning to watch over my left shoulder… or, at least, I started to. I got about to the first syllable of Eddie’s name when my voice was abruptly drowned out by a rolling glissado of strange, deep, booming electronically synthesized musical chords, for all the world like the sinister soundtrack music in an old black and white horror viewsee, apparently emanating from hidden speakers in the walls around us.

I felt a thrill of pure raw terror pulse through my nerve endings, and realized instantly what was happening. “He’s got subharmonics to stimulate fear buried in the music,” I said, shouting to be heard over it. “Don’t let it get to you—“

I saw Eddie’s mouth open in surprise and looked in his direction. I could see something… a horde of somethings, actually… scuttling along the floor plates towards us, coming from around the bend forward of Eddie. It looked as if there were dozens of them; with the weird music playing, I couldn’t hear if the horde of… whatever they were… were making any noise as they came towards us. I could hear Eddie, though, as he shouted, a raw edge of fear in his voice:

“SPIDERS!!! GIANT GODDAM SPIDERS!!!” He looked a little spooked; I don’t think I’ve ever seen Eddie so shook up before.

The creatures – whatever they were, they sure weren’t the zombies I’d been more than half expecting – did look vaguely spider-like, but when I think of spiders, I generally imagine them as black, or at least, quite dark. These things were flesh toned – not Veronica’s pale, creamy British-North European flesh tone, but something more like my octoroon, coffee with cream shade, I mean – and didn’t look quite like spiders. But it wasn’t until they were nearly on top of us that I realized what they were.

“Frak frak FRAK they’re HANDS they’re goddam disembodied hands,” I gasped. I could feel some essential fabric inside me starting to seriously unravel. All the shit I’d been through in the past day or so, including being dead and then alive again, and now we were besieged by a horde of living human hands –

Eddie was shooting at them. I took aim and started pegging shots as well. The Glaser rounds worked wonderfully on the hand-things, blowing gaping holes in them, or sometimes simply exploding them like dropped water balloons… but it didn’t matter, there were dozens of the things and however many we shot, the rest just kept scrabbling towards us. Now they were practically all over us. No, scratch that ‘practically’ – as I emptied my first magazine and reached to reload, several of them were clawing their way up my legs, and one had somehow jumped off its finger-legs and grabbed the wrist of my gun hand in a tight, hard grip that was painful even before it suddenly twisted, forcing my hand to open and let my gun drop with a clatter to the floor.

I felt strong grips at both my ankles yanking hard in opposite directions and couldn’t keep my feet. The creatures swarmed over me as soon as I went down, and I had to lock my teeth to keep from completely losing my mind in a long hysterical scream. After a minute or so of utter chaos and confusion, I felt my body somehow lifted and held perpendicular a few inches off the ground. I rolled my head around frantically and saw that Eddie and Veronica had both been grabbed and were being held the same way. I could see the hand-creatures much more clearly, too.

They weren’t actual hands, although the resemblance was so uncanny it had to be deliberate. Their five legs coming off central bodies were configured exactly like human fingers and thumb, and a stump-like protuberance sticking up from their backs looked a great deal like a severed wrist. They had no actual fingernails, though, and up close their color wasn’t quite the standard dark skinned flesh tone I’d thought at first, but instead contained a slight brownish green tint. They didn’t seem to be composed of bone, tendon and muscle sheathed in flesh but were apparently some sort of root-like construct, made out of a tough, fibroid vegetable matter.

Their method for holding us was simple; sets of two hand-creatures had somehow joined themselves together at their wrist stumps, and the upper fingers were grasping our bodies, while the lower ones provided motive power, cooperatively scuttling us along the floor rather quickly. Each of us had about a dozen of the joined two-hand pairs holding and transporting us; we couldn’t have been more helpless if we’d been trussed hand and foot with piano wire. The strange music continued to thunder from the walls the whole time the three of us were being carried by our macabre captors through the habitat. How long that was I couldn’t tell you; I couldn’t see my wrist watch and my sense of duration was pretty much shot to pieces by shock, disgust, anger at myself, and sheer unadulterated fear.

They carried us into another tunnel, up that for several seconds at least, then through another hatch, where abruptly they let us go, dumping us all onto the floor while retreating rapidly away from us. The chamber they’d dropped us in was very dimly lit; the hand creatures quickly vanished into the gloomy darkness all around us, to the accompaniment of a strange, almost cricketlike series of clicking noises. The strange music ceased, leaving a ringing silence in my ears.

I rolled to my feet. I couldn’t see more than five meters in any direction except directly ahead of me. There, maybe twelve meters away, I could see some kind of chair, illuminated by a reddish glow of some sort that seemed to originate behind or above it. The chair was massive enough to seem almost thronelike, and there was someone sitting in it… someone bulky, whose body I couldn’t clearly make out. The head, though…

It had to be Ubdov, and if so, he had to be in his seventies. I couldn’t say he looked his age; his head was completely hairless from the nose up. A heavy grayish white beard covered his lower face, seeming to float strangely around his head, as if he were in zero gee… I realized, with a start, that there was some kind of clear, bowl-like helmet around his head, which must be full of some kind of liquid, causing his beard to swirl around like that.

Lights began to flicker and flash all around us; the walls of the room were apparently paneled floor to ceiling with meter wide viewsee-screens which Ubdov must have activated all at once. Their displays flickered on, strobelike, bombarding us from all directions with horrific images and sounds -- newscasts and broadcast video from all over the world. The zombie apocalypse was in full force; half the viewscreens showed buildings, vehicles, and other human artifacts going up in flames, while the remainder displayed hordes of the walking dead shambling through abandoned streets and parking structures and shopping malls, stalking up and down city streets and suburban roadways, attacking people, dragging them down, devouring them as they screamed for help.

It was sheer chaos, it was hell unleashed, it was mind boggling, terrifying global calamity. It was awful and gruesome, stomach turning, heart breaking.

Ubdov’s beard split inside his weird liquid filled helmet in a grotesque grin.

He spoke, his voice beautifully modulated, his English without a trace of accent. “Fear,” he said. “It is the ultimate weapon. It has destroyed your world. Fear that I have helped to create.”

From thirty feet away, his bright blue eyes met mine. “I am glad to see I have not been entirely forgotten down on the surface.” He laughed, a dry, eerie chuckle nearly as scary as everything else in that room.

Veronica and Eddie had gotten to their feet, too. I tried to think quickly. Ubdov might very well think Eddie and I were helpless, as we had no guns. If so, he was wrong. We still had our agents’ vests, our laser fingers, various other goodies hidden around our persons… we could do some damage, if we needed to. But if Ubdov felt secure, he might just get chatty. It was possible we were the first living people he’d seen in years.

“Not… entirely forgotten, no, doctor,” I said, finally, in response to his question. “So, you admit responsibility for the worldwide reanimations and attacks?”

His head nodded joyfully. “I designed the projector,” he said. “It was my inspiration. Do you have any idea how I managed to make it work?”

Veronica cleared her throat, stepped slightly towards him, looking away diffidently. “Ah,” she said. “There is a form of energy whose nature and origin I do not understand, that is reanimating the bodies of the recently deceased. I hypothesize this energy has an unearthly origin. You were responsible for a much smaller scale attack by reanimated corpses back in the 1980s… but these do not utilize the same technology you used then…”

Ubdov was nodding gleefully, faster and faster, his eyes bright inside his helmet full of fluid. I gestured slightly and Veronica immediately went quiet. “Hold on a second,” I said into the sudden silence. “You said you ‘designed the projector’ – that it was ‘your inspiration’. That makes it sound like it was work you did for someone else. So you’re… what… just hired help? For who?”

That pissed him off no end. “I am UBDOV!” he boomed at me, his face suffused with rage. “For my grand experiments, for my brilliant researches into the nature of terror, I was exiled from the entire planet Earth to this deep space mausoleum… meant to die in obscurity, a washed up, forgotten relic. But none of you ever understood the truth of it.”

He was breathing hard now; oddly, while I couldn’t hear him doing so, I could see clouds of silver bubbles streaming from his mouth and starting to fill the fluid around his head. “I am no lackey,” he nearly screamed. “I am UBDOV – Dr. Fear! Such was my genius, even in childhood, that in my teens I was contacted by those outside, the dwellers in darkness –“

“The masters,” I said… whispered… almost involuntarily.

“They spoke to me, in my mind, in my dreams,” he went on, almost crooning now. “They inspired my devices. Long had they come to Earth, for millions of years, at times when the surface lay in darkness, seeking bodies. The dwellers in the dark are not material, not solid, as we are. Light itself is anathema to them, a toxic radiation that will instantly kill them. Within a human body there is comforting darkness, shelter from the killing light… but living bodies they could not take. A living brain is suffused with electricity, not so much, no, a few volts only, perhaps, but enough to ward them away. But a newly deceased body, still mostly intact, without too much brain damage… this they could take hold of, re-energize, operate to suit themselves. Within such forms, the dark ones could taste solid, material existence… at least briefly, until these bodies rotted away and became completely unusable.”

“Yes,” Veronica said, slowly, thoughtfully. “Since prehistory they have come, under cover of the night, and possessed our dead, attempting to simulate life… this is the basis for most if not all of our legends and myths about the dead rising again to attack the living… ghosts, revenants, vampires… zombies.” She looked fascinated and revolted at the same time. “But inhabiting… controlling a rotting corpse for a few days, or even weeks… that’s a poor imitation of actual life.”

“Yes,” Ubdov agreed with relish. “They hated you for being alive, for having warmth and sensation, for feeling pleasures they could not even imagine, there in the endless cold and dark where they had come into existence and were forced to dwell. So it was that the dead they possessed attacked the living, for they could not live, and begrudged true life to all others… but in me, they saw a brilliant intellect that could be of aid to them. They knew things about energy, and physics, that no human could ever have observed or learned. They helped me conceive my first apparatus for reanimating corpses. I hoped to provide them with better receptacles, richer experiences here… although none of my Soviet sponsors knew of them, of course. Those authoritarian fools merely saw in my mind, my interests, another tool, a bizarre one, granted, with which to bring down the running dog capitalist democracies.”

“But you went too far,” I said, trying to think through what he’d told us. “Too far, even, for those cold, calculating old Russians you worked for. What were you doing, I wonder…? Attacking the West with techno-zombies wouldn’t have offended them…”

Ubdov scowled. “Feh. I could have brought the West to its knees, given enough resources… but in the end, in their hearts, even the hardest, the purest of the Party, those to whom individual human life meant nothing… they were Puritans, clinging to outdated, obsolete, superstitious morality. Narrow minded, judgmental, priggish… they called me perverted… vile… unnatural… they did not know I was merely following the directives of my true sponsors…”

My imagination recoiled from thinking of what Ubdov might have done to offend his Communist masters, that they would have found ‘perverted, vile, or unnatural’. Mass, necrotic orgies of the Undead, attempting to experience the pleasures of the flesh, aping the antics of their still breathing counterparts… living political prisoners, turned over to Ubdov, forced to couple with reanimated corpses, possessed by the greedy, malevolent psyches of bodiless evil from between the stars…? It was stomach churning to even contemplate.

“Even now,” Ubdov went on, his voice rising again, “even as I speak to you, dark ones walk the Earth, inhabiting nearly undamaged bodies… bodies killed only by the invading parasites of the virus I invented and designed for them, a virus whose particles calls out to the dark ones like a beacon. They move in daylight at will, unafraid. Their bodies can experience the entire range of human sensation, and they are all but immortal, in death. It is as close to life as they will ever come… and they will have it for eternity. Thanks to me.”

“So, what,” Eddie spoke up, for the first time. “Couple more days, weeks, months, whatever… it’s just gonna be you and the dark ones, huh? And then, a few years or decades later, it’ll just be them…”

Ubdov laughed, a deep, booming sound that sent chills crawling through me. Within the shadowy bulk of the huge chair he was sitting in, I sensed more than saw movement… and then, he flung himself to his feet, with an odd, mechanical series of creaks and whirrs. As he did, the lights came up fully in the room we were all in, and we saw him plainly for the first time.

His head was fully encased in some kind of fluid filled bubble-helmet, as I’ve already described. But his body… it was gigantic, and asymmetrically bulky, covered with metal plates and writhing cables and blinking lights and swirling gauges. Here and there, between bits of metal and plastic, I could see pallid swatches of milky flesh, but the bulk of him was artificial. He had augmented his human form with machinery, cybernetic accessories far beyond anything even Science Sector had ever dreamed up. He was a 21st Century Frankenstein, stitched together from pieces of his own body and countless advanced machines of clearly inhuman inspiration.

His arms and legs seemed entirely prosthetic, vast, limb shaped engines grafted to what little remained of his original torso, which itself was mostly lost within an artificial barrel of chromed steel and chemical synthetics.

“I was dying, you see,” he said, servomotors humming and whirring as he balanced delicately on his massive metal legs. “Inoperable cancer, diagnosed in my teens… but the dark ones provided me with the knowledge I needed to prolong my life, and, in the end, even as my body died, to reanimate it with machinery no human could ever have conceived. I am, now, as much one of them as I am one of you… perfect intellect, bound to a perfect, all but immortal body. I will live forever, alongside them, sharing their revels and their pleasures, learning all that they know… and we do not plan to wipe out the human race entirely.”

He stopped, and laughed again. “No, we have no such plans. We will destroy your civilization, your technology, your tools and weapons, certainly. But a few humans will be suffered to live… to serve us. After all, we will need something to play with…”

The mechanical thrumming from his body’s internal engines rose to a higher pitch, and he stepped towards us, big hands outstretched, like a child reaching with both hands for a long promised treat. “As I will now play with the three of you,” he intoned, a look of gloating anticipation on his face.

He never should have called those hand things off of us, if he’d wanted to mess with us. I’m sure he thought there was nothing we could do, unarmed, against his armored, no doubt superhumanly powerful bulk. But that was a mistake.

He closed in faster than most humans could have moved, covering the intervening distance between us in three colossal strides. But there’s only so quickly you can move a few thousand pounds of mass in a normal one gee field, and when you have that kind of inertia to overcome, it’s hard to be as precise as you need to be when you’re trying to grab someone. Or so I fervently hoped as I dove forward and rolled under his left hand. His segmented fingers closed with metallic grinding noises just behind my head, gripping nothing but a few hairs that I barely noticed being pulled from my scalp as I completed my forward somersault. I came back to my feet, still rolling, and pivoted on my right foot, turning my own momentum into a fast spin, driving my left heel in a roundhouse axe-kick to the back of his knee, where a small patch of pallid Ubdov-flesh still showed between armor plates and bracing wires.

As humanoid knees will when struck from behind regardless of cybernetic enhancements, Ubdov’s gave way. He’d been bringing most of his considerable weight down on that leg and with it suddenly folding under him like a cheap card table, he hit the deckplates with a crash like a cast iron stove dropped off someone’s balcony onto a concrete patio. Even as I struck on my forearms and rolled forward again, I saw Eddie, in perfect synchronization with my movements, going up and over Ubdov’s falling body, flipping forward in a perfect somersault to come down in a vicious two footed stomp that had all his weight and momentum behind it on Ubdov’s helmet.

Which shattered, spewing oily greenish fluid and shards of plexiglass across the deckplates.

Eddie’s booted feet continued on down into Ubdov’s head, smashing it hard against the metal decking. Ubdov’s skull actually crumpled inward under Eddie’s heels, and I could see yellowish shards of bone and grayish green brain curds bulging through new cracks in Ubdov’s flesh.

He should have been dead… well, deader than he’d already been, anyway; the kind of dead where you stop moving and making a nuisance of yourself. And we both figured he must be.

“What do you think,” I panted, getting back to my feet again and reaching a hand out to haul Eddie up, “gold medal in the Synchronized Cybernetic SuperVillain Stomp?”

Eddie hesitated for a second… not even a second, but it seemed longer… then shook his head and grabbed my hand and let me pull him to his feet. “We got style, we got grace, and we always know our place,” he responded, grinning, “but you know how that goes… the goddam Lithuanian judge always marks us low, especially when we go after the ex-Soviet bad guys…”

Like I said, we’d been sure Ubdov was dead – head all but crushed like that, he’d pretty much had to be. But it turned out he was tough as a metal studded razor strop. Abruptly one huge steel segmented arm swept around at us. I yelled a warning and ducked, trying to shove Eddie out of the way. Eddie, his footing uncertain in the goo from Ubdov’s shattered helmet, couldn’t dodge it fully and it knocked him across the room and into a bank of viewscreens with a jangling crash.

And then Ubdov, hydraulics shrieking, mouth writhing horribly in his battered, broken face, one eye hanging from its socket down onto his grayish-green cheek, rolled up to one knee… tottered back to his feet… and stood there, swaying, servomotors whining and smoking with overstrain.

His left hand came up to his chest, fingers scrabbling spastically, reminding me horribly of his hand-creatures. He was doing something, though… pressing buttons, pulling switches, turning dials… something, to some doubtless sinister purpose.

Somewhere, deep in the habitat, I could hear machinery responding. There were clunks… hisses… thumps.

And, from a distance nowhere near distant enough… a nearly soundless, almost psychic mass growl of hunger and rage.

“You… you won’t… YOU won’t…” Ubdov swayed on his feet, his misshapen, broken head lolling on his metal reinforced neck. “You shan’t… outlive me… long…” he gasped, finally.

And went to his knees, with a big iron thump. Then, slowly, metal rasping on metal, he slid down onto his face, one good eye finding me, transfixing me with a glare of seething hatred.

“Diiiiiiiiiieeeeeeeee…” he gasped, exultantly. His hand spasmed, clutching and opening, clutching and opening, on nothing.

Then the light went out of his eye. One by one, the lights dancing on his machine-body followed suit.

I looked at Eddie; he was getting up again, slowly and stiffly. Two of the walls that had been covered in viewscreens now had hatches gaping open in them. Curved hallways stretched away from both. From beyond where those hallways curved, still out of sight, I could hear the shuffling of dozens… maybe hundreds… of feet.

And the growling.

Coming closer.

And we didn’t have our guns.

XV.

Eddie stared at me in dawning horror. He was a mental step or two behind me; I was already as close to paralyzed with fear as it was possible for me to get. Ubdov must have had a horde of zombies stashed aboard his sanctum sanctorum, doubtless recovered from nearby space. Whatever vile researches he’d been conducting on them, now, in an act of dying retribution, he’d opened a passage between us and them, and however it was they sensed such things, they knew we were here. And they were coming for us, an unstoppable, predatory mob of the living dead.

And we had no guns.

I was, as I said, nearly paralyzed with fear… but, as I have also previously noted, I’m one of those freaks of nature who don’t actually freeze up, no matter how terrified or shocked I am. In fact, at that moment, I was mentally cataloguing the contents of our agents’ vests. Our laser fingers would take out maybe three zombies each, if we were lucky and made every shot count. Gas pellets wouldn’t have any effect on the walking dead. We didn’t have time to set plastic explosives, and, anyway, setting off detonations in a fragile, pressurized environment like Ubdov’s orbital headquarters was almost certain suicide. Which also eliminated from consideration –

“The mini-bombs,” Eddie finally gritted out, pulling his three out of an inner vest pocket to hold in his hand. Grenades the size and shape of metric 5 gram weights. Standard Science Sector issue; we each had three. Lobbed into an oncoming mob at correctly timed intervals, they’d blow dozens of the slow moving bastards into mostly harmless hamburger… but if we ruptured a pressure seal, we were all dead.

But if we just stood there and waited for the horde to arrive, we’d get dragged under by sheer numbers. We had agents’ gloves that would effectively turn our hands into spiked, armored maces, and I had no doubt that between Eddie and I, we could crack a few dozen undead skulls in hand to hand… but eventually we’d get tired and they wouldn’t. They’d pull us down, and then…

I couldn’t stand to think about ‘and then’. “All right,” I said, my mouth gone completely dry. “We’ll throw them one at a time, specifically targeting the leader of the mob…”

“No,” Veronica said sharply. “Don’t be crazy; you can’t start throwing grenades around in here.” She took three long steps over to Ubdov’s former throne, head moving minutely back and forth as she looked it over for something. She nodded as if satisfied, and snapped her portable computer into a socket on the throne’s left arm I hadn’t even noticed. Then she tapped briefly on her keyboard.

Abruptly, the room was filled with that same eerie electronic music we’d heard before, right before Ubdov’s army of hand-creatures had swarmed over us. “Don’t move,” Veronica warned me and Eddie, right before I heard that same series of metallic clicks which had accompanied the hand-swarm’s vanishing into the shadows.

This time, I saw panels lining the base of each wall click open, revealing dark access shafts behind them, for all the world like mechanized cat doors. Out of those shafts came Ubdov’s hand things, swarming again like giant spiders. I wanted to scream; Eddie did give a half hysterical little yip, which he choked off in his throat before it could get out of control.

The hand-creatures ignored us completely this time, scuttling around our feet like a vast, horribly insectile river, pouring through the room we were in and down into the two open access halls. I looked up, and coming around the curve in each hall just at that moment was the first of the oncoming zombie horde, lurching and stumbling along, moaning and groaning, arms outstretched, undead hands clenching and unclenching in anticipation of grabbing and tearing our flesh.

The zombies I could see were all dressed for either deep space, in shredded, broken remnants of what had once been pressure suits, or in the shorts and singlet more typical of controlled orbital environments. Most of them were eyeless – pressure deaths nearly always explode the human eyeball – and several had big irregular swathes of reddish black long since dried on their chins, necks, and chests, where they’d coughed out most of their lungs into vacuum. They were, as a lot, even more hideous than similar zombie hordes on Earth.

The hand-creatures took them neatly – well, ‘in stride’, I guess, is the best way to put it – employing the same swarming technique as they’d used on us, leaping and crawling up the zombies before the zombies even knew they were there, knocking them off their feet, immobilizing them. Within ten seconds, it was all over. The moaning, groaning, psychically slavering undead continued to writhe and ululate helplessly in the grips of the hand-creatures, but they were completely immobilized.

I could see Veronica mutter something to herself with a pleased half smile on her face, but couldn’t hear what she said over the sinister chords of the blaring music. She tapped another sequence into her miniature keyboard. The music changed in pitch and tone, and the hand-things, joined stump to stump once again, scuttled away down the corridors, hauling their immobilized undead prisoners back the way they’d come with shocking speed.

Veronica hit another button and the music seemed to follow the hand-horde away down the corridors. “That will do it,” she said. “The hands will drag the zombies back to the chamber they were originally penned in… according to the internal map I’m accessing from Ubdov’s own databases, that room is his main lab. We should check it out.” She looked up at me, all bright eyed, like a puppy waiting to be patted.

“Veronica, you’re a miracle worker,” I said fervently. I badly wanted to kiss her but that was going to have to wait.

“You got my vote for any office you ever run for,” Eddie added, his voice just as urgently appreciative. He probably wanted to kiss her, too. I tried to repress a sharp, incredibly stupid pang of jealousy I felt at the thought, wondering if Veronica would like him to. That nonsense would get every one of us killed if we weren’t careful.

“We need to backtrack and get our guns,” I said. Eddie flicked a glance at me, then nodded enthusiastic agreement, doubtless feeling the same imperative need to have a loaded weapon in his hand as I did. Veronica frowned, then turned one hand over and opened it in acquiescence. She wasn’t a soldier like we were; to her, weapons were at best an intellectually noted advantage, not a compulsive emotional need. But Veronica’s most effective weapon was always going to be her brain, anyway. Us killer apes, on the other hand, needed our sticks and rocks to be really effective out here at the sharp end.

“Will your Ubdov-lab wait a minute or two?” I asked her. “Are those things secure?”

Veronica tapped on her keyboard again, and several of the monitors currently showing zombie-driven carnage down on Earth switched to what were obviously calmer, more sedate views of the interior of Ubdov’s habitat. On several of them, a horde of involuntarily recumbent zombies writhed, undulated, and ululated in a frustrated frenzy atop a swarm of grasping, disembodied finger critters. It was a frankly revolting spectacle.

Veronica tapped in another code. I didn’t see anything change on the monitors, but she looked satisfied. “The lab is locked down, now,” she said, “and those things shouldn’t be able to damage anything. Let’s get your weapons.”

“Our weapons,” I corrected her.

“I have my weapon,” she said, picking up her portable computer. “But you’re the boss,” she added, hastily, probably seeing a glower starting to congeal on my face. “I’ll carry a gun, too. No problem.”

I’d had a horrible thought that Ubdov might have had his hand critters grab our weapons and bring them along with us; just because we hadn’t seen it happen didn’t mean anything. And if they’d carried those guns off into the bowels of the station, it wasn’t likely we’d ever see them again… but no, they were laying on the floorplates right where we remembered being initially overrun. I sighed in relief, and am pretty sure Eddie did the same, as we snapped our guns back into their holsters. Nothing makes a trained agent feel better than the weight of a loaded gun riding sweet and heavy at his or her hip.

“I need to check out Ubdov’s main lab,” Veronica announced, once we’d all tucked our weapons safely away again.

“The one with all the hand-things and zombies in it?” I asked. I suppose my revulsion was pretty obvious in my voice; I hadn’t tried to hide it very hard.

“My portable has made a complete analysis of the vibrations Ubdov uses to control those hand creatures,” she told me rather waspishly. “There is no danger to us, I am in complete control.”

“Everybody says that, right before the monsters get ‘em,” Eddie observed. I wanted to agree, but it wouldn’t have accomplished much.

“This is not a viewsee, Agent Barrow,” Veronica said dryly. “This is real life… although I can understand how anyone could be confused.”

“Seems a lot like a viewsee to me,” I said. “Which is okay; in most of the classic zombie viewsees, the black character is the one who survives all the way to the end. You cawkays could be in a lot of trouble, though.”

Eddie grinned at that. “Ving Rhames never had nothin’ on you, Chief,” he said, mock saluting me.

“That was the remake,” I said. “Ken Foree was mucho zappier in the original… all right. I guess we need to check out Ubdov’s lab. Eddie, you’re on point. Doc, I assume you can provide directions…?”

She could, and did. Five minutes of echoing footsteps through empty metal corridors took us to the lab, the inside of which was awrithe with perpendicular zombies struggling futilely against the horde of Ubdov’s hand critters holding them immobile.

Eddie and I exchanged glances; we really didn’t want to go in there. On the other hand, neither of us were going to let Veronica go in there alone, and she didn’t seem at all troubled by the notion. So we took a deep breath, and then Eddie went in first, with me coming up behind Veronica. Both of us had our guns out, and I’m pretty sure neither of us was more than a nerve spasm away from shooting the jesus out of anything that moved in our peripheral vision.

Then I wanted to punch her; after all her insistence that we had to go there, she didn’t do anything while she was in there. Well, she walked around. Took some threedees with her portable of the room and the various incomprehensible machines and devices in it. Glanced at the zombies clamped down, ankles, neck and hands, on the metal tables, some of whom had had their heads cut open in precise, surgical sections. That was maybe the worst; two zombies with geometrically precise slices of their brains missing, still struggling against the metal bands that held them down, eyes rolling over towards us, moaning and slobbering, fingers clenching and unclenching, teeth gnashing with hunger.

Then she said “All right, I’ve seen it all, I think” and walked absently back over to the door we’d come in by. Ten minutes in the room, and that was all she needed. I exchanged another look with Eddie, saw the same baffled fury I felt mirrored clearly in his eyes, and we both followed Veronica out of the room.

“What the hell was THAT about?” Eddie exploded in the hallway. I was grateful to him; I’d been about to say much the same in near exactly the same tone, and it wouldn’t have been leaderly.

“Ubdov had no security on his data files,” Veronica said calmly. “I got everything his central processor had when I jacked into his chair… that throne thing… whatever. But some of the notes didn’t make sense to me. I needed to see his machinery, as well.”

“And now you know what he was doing?” I asked, keeping my voice calm. I love Veronica more than life itself, but she can be incredibly exasperating sometimes. “Well, report, dammit!”

She looked surprised. “Oh. Yes. I’m sorry, I thought it was obvious…” She must have seen a look cross both our faces, as she immediately looked down and flushed. “I AM sorry. You too are so overwhelmingly competent in your fields that I simply forgot you don’t have my training or experience.” She looked back up again, looking genuinely chagrined. “If you’d seen the way you took out that monster robot Ubdov… the ease, the simplicity…” She shrugged. “I apologize. I… give me half an hour in a quiet room to format things and I will have a report for you.” She started to punch numbers into her portable, then looked back up at me quickly. “Ah. Chief.”

As it turned out, there were several small rooms off that particular hallway that would do for Veronica’s purposes. She went into one and sat down at what was obviously a heavily modified personal processor that had originally been manufactured maybe fifteen years ago, slotted her portable into its exterior drive, and started playing its keyboard. Eddie and I both glanced around the room – it was more a cubicle than anything else with no entrances or exits besides the one off the hallway we were in – then took up guard positions on either side of the open doorway. Just like old times.

It actually only took her fifteen minutes. Then she called us, and when we looked in, nodded and hit a point on the keyboard. A three dimensional holo field lit up with something I recognized as a molecular diagram… probably something organic. That was about as much as I was going to get out of it without more explanations.

“This is the complete molecular structure of the ‘lord zombie’ virus particle,” Veronica told us. “I had most of this from my own analysis of your tissue, Chief, but this is complete… certain parts of the lattice weren’t lucid without Ubdov’s specialized scanning equipment.” She paused, and looked up. “Oh,” she said, in a tone of sudden realization, “that explains why the q links all went down at the same time!” She tapped quickly on the keyboard for a few seconds. “Okay, that makes sense.”

She looked up into twin glares from me and Eddie. “Sorry again,” she said. “The reanimation energy… Ubdov refers to it as Z energy…”

“Z for zombie?” I asked.

“Z, I think,” Veronica answered, “simply because he didn’t want to call it X or Y… I think he flattered himself that it was some kind of ‘ultimate’ energy. Anyway, it is transmitted on the quantum level. The analogy isn’t exact, but basically, the transmission is so strong it was drowning out our local communications that also went along the quantum band.”

I thought about that. “So, in other words, we find a way to turn off this Z energy transmission, and the Q links all work again?”

“Exactly,” she said, beaming at me like I was her prize pupil.

“You figured out where it’s comin’ from?” Eddie asked laconically. You’d never have known from his tone how important that question was. “If the transmission is so strong, can you triangulate on it somehow?”

“Quantum linkages don’t work that way,” Veronica said, “as I mentioned, the radio wave analogy isn’t exact. In fact, it’s rather misleading when it comes down to details. However, yes, I do know where the transmission is coming from; that’s in Ubdov’s notes. He designed the apparatus that generates and transmits the beacon here, and then sent complete schematics out to…” She paused, as if unsure what words to use. “Out to his clients,” she said, finally. “The masters. The Fear Masters.”

“And they built this thing and pointed it at us and pulled the trigger,” Eddie said, a muscle twitching slightly next to his mouth. “Where?”

“Where?” I repeated. “Out where?”

“The halfway point between them and us,” Veronica said. “The edge of the solar system.”

“You don’t mean…” I couldn’t believe she meant what she seemed to mean.

Veronica nodded. “Pluto,” she said. “The zombie ray is coming from Pluto.”

8 Comments:

At 12:08 PM , Anonymous X said...

(Since you’ve encouraged me to make not-necessarily-for-publication comments- some irrelevant-to-this-post stuff that might make a topic for a future post)

I saw your post of something like three years ago about the Crimson Cougar and his likely inspiration, and it reminded me of something I’ve been curious about. How did you reassemble your head after Triathlon was introduced? I assume it exploded.

Worse, Slappy stuck the powers of your gaming persona onto a lame pet character, or so I gather reading rec.arts.comics. (Pet character: ones pretty much only that writer cares for and stubbornly uses a lot. Morgan McNeil Hardy and Turner D. Century for J.M DeMattis, female Captain Marvel [to a lesser extent] for Roger Stern- Mantis for Steve Englehart [sorry]. I’m sure there are a lot more examples that escape me right now.)


Strikes me as fodder for a rant- or analysis, depending on your reaction.

Also, I’m curious if any of this sounds familiar:

***
On 2005-08-05 14:40:53 -0700, Rob Hansen said:



> On Thu, 4 Aug 2005 22:32:13 -0700, Kurt Busiek
> wrote:

>> On 2005-08-04 08:42:57 -0700, "Charles E. Lange III"
>> said:


>>> Is THIS a ng about Marvel comics?


>> Sue. Any minute now, we'll break out into a discussion of MASTER OF
>> KUNG FU, K'un-Lun and the Himalayan funky monks who helped Doc Doom
>> built his tinfoil tux.


> Yeah, who were those guys, anyway?



The funky monks?

I think they might have been seen in a later Doom story, but I don't
recall that we ever learned anything much about them. Back in college,
a friend of mine whiled away one summer plotting SUPER-VILLAIN TEAM-UP
up to #100, and one of the stories he came up with was a war between
the funky monks and the Great Refuge, which I thought was a great idea.


But they seem to be an element of Marvel history that's remained
largely unexplored.


kdb


20. Kurt Busiek Aug 23, 6:16 pm show options

Newsgroups: rec.arts.comics.marvel.universe
From: Kurt Busiek - Find messages by this author
Date: Tue, 23 Aug 2005 15:16:18 -0700
Local: Tues, Aug 23 2005 6:16 pm
Subject: Re: Various Unrelated Marvel Questions
Reply | Reply to Author | Forward | Print | Individual Message | Show original | Report Abuse

On 2005-08-23 14:18:53 -0700, vega said:



> Ever tempted to get the Cap book, create a new Bucky each issue?


No, but a friend of mine wanted to do a WHAT IF where Cap survives the
war and spends his life training police depertments in unarmed combat.
If he could teach a 15 year old boy to take on the Wehrmacht
repeatedly, usually unarmed, and live, imagine what he could do for the
cops!

Admittedly, they would have looked silly in the outfit (top half kinda
like a dress uniform, bottom half kinda like a women's figure-skating
outfit), but they'd be hell on crime!


kdb
***

…Just thought I’d throw all that out there and see if you wanted to comment. No pressure.


I’ll read the latest installment of FEAR MASTERS and get back to you soon.

 
At 12:46 PM , Blogger Doc Nebula said...

Whew! I'm right in the middle of trying to implement some of your suggestions in FM, and I get a comment like this. Okay:


I saw your post of something like three years ago about the Crimson Cougar and his likely inspiration, and it reminded me of something I’ve been curious about. How did you reassemble your head after Triathlon was introduced? I assume it exploded.


No, but I can see where you'd feel that way. As I explained in the Crimson Cougar post, while the Red Tiger was far from original in terms of powers and, well, stupid ass hero name, nonetheless, he felt very much like MY character, and Kurt knew that. He also greatly admired the Tiger... Kurt always had a near-fetish for what he called 'basic superheroes', essentially, characters with moderate super-strength, super-agility, etc... your classic rooftop leapers, who were just slightly superhuman in most human regards.

So Kurt loved the Tiger, but he knew I loved the Tiger, too, and when I saw what had to be a deliberate Red Tiger rip off, and realized Kurt knew damn well only I would know that that was what it was, it just seemed extremely mean to me. However, as I said, given all the other big creative minds Kurt has ripped off over the years in ASTRO CITY and elsewhere, well, I'm in good company, and I'll leave it at that.

Now, as to Triathlon -- that character... well, first, he SUCKS, which I think is punishment enough for Kurt. Second, though, he's not stolen from D.M., Hired Gun, he and D.M., Hired Gun are based on the same template -- the 3-D Man. Kurt always loved the basic concept and especially the power template of the 3-D Man, and I did, too. So we both based characters on his power set up. It's that simple.

Kurt introduced a character in one of his LIBERTY PROJECT issues (a villain) who was much closer to D.M., Hired Gun, and that bothered me, especially since that character was part of a concept Kurt ripped off entirely from Jeff Webb. Jeff had created a supervillain with a team of minions for a shared CHAMPIONS campaign we all played in, and Kurt has mined that shared campaign for ideas like a gold digging dwarf over the course of his career, swiping directly not only from me and Jeff, but also from our other co-DM, a guy named Brent, too. It's just his way, though. Like Glen "Larceny" Larsen, Kurt has LOTS of idea... ::pointing towards the entire Silver Age of comics, as well as all 20th Century heroic fiction ever done on TV or in the movies::

Now, to some extent I can understand using a great idea if no one else is, which is how Kurt always explained his approach. I certainly wouldn't mind if someone out there (someone good) decided to do a Silver Age Fantastic Four type team, and in fact, I invented one with a buddy of mine named Mike Norton. The FF aren't like that any more, and no other team has ever been like it, and I miss it, so I'd like to see someone good take a shot at it. I'd love to see someone good do a good version of the Silver Age LSH, too... that's another idea that no one is using right now.

Kurt, however, seems to have confused "good idea no one is using" with "good idea I feel like using regardless of any other considerations". And with ASTRO CITY, he's taken that basic working concept and applied it wide spectrum, full volume, large bore, and WARP TEN MR SULU!!!!

I guess, if you're going to be a criminal, you may as well do it on as broad a scale as possible. They lock you up if you steal a hundred bucks, or a thousand; if you steal a billion, on the other hand, they give you an Order of Merit and offer you a Cabinet Post... or an Eisner Award.


(Pet character: ones pretty much only that writer cares for and stubbornly uses a lot. Morgan McNeil Hardy and Turner D. Century for J.M DeMattis, female Captain Marvel [to a lesser extent] for Roger Stern- Mantis for Steve Englehart [sorry]. I’m sure there are a lot more examples that escape me right now.)

I understand the 'pet' character. Kurt has a few; he created a few characters for POWER MAN/IRON FIST that nobody else ever used and that immediately lapsed into obscurity when he left. I personally think that the greatest measure of a comics writer/artist is how many writer/artists in the future use what that writer/artist has created? Englehart's work on nearly every comic he has ever written has been picked up and run with by pretty much every writer that ever succeeded him, so, yeah, Mantis sucked, but what the hell, he has a lot to fall back on.

(On the other hand, my measuring tool may require some recalibration; Len Wein is one of the worst hacks ever to work in comics, but he created... sigh... Wolverine. And Gerry Conway created the Punisher, and he may be the worst comics writer ever.)


Strikes me as fodder for a rant- or analysis, depending on your reaction.


Well, there you go. Thanks for the oppo.

Also, I’m curious if any of this sounds familiar:

**The funky monks?

I think they might have been seen in a later Doom story, but I don't
recall that we ever learned anything much about them. Back in college,
a friend of mine whiled away one summer plotting SUPER-VILLAIN TEAM-UP
up to #100, and one of the stories he came up with was a war between
the funky monks and the Great Refuge, which I thought was a great idea.**


Here's something I don't understand about Kurt. If I were making that exact same statement anywhere, I would always, always, ALWAYS include the name of the friend in question. I would say, "Back in college, a guy I was friends with named Jeff Webb came up with this really cool idea..."

Kurt NEVER does this. He never gives credit by name for anything. I have to imagine the only reason he didn't claim credit for Jeff's idea is he doesn't want me to jump in his shit over it and make him look like a turd, but, really, would it kill him to type out Jeff's name? The guy is dead, but he came up with many brilliant ideas, some of which Kurt has shamelessly stolen. I don't expect him to admit to any of that, but he could use Jeff's goddam name. As far as I know, Jeff hasn't done anything to piss him off for the last twenty five years.

And, yeah, Jeff did plot out a hundred issues of SUPER VILLAIN TEAM UP, because SVTU was Jeff's favorite concept. And those plots were brilliant, and Kurt frequently said so, although he also frequently derided Jeff by saying "Yeah, Jeff, great idea, we'll put that one with a hundred issues of Super Villain Team Up"... meaning, here's another concept that we could never actually implement in comics, if we really had jobs.


> Ever tempted to get the Cap book, create a new Bucky each issue?


***No, but a friend of mine wanted to do a WHAT IF where Cap survives the war and spends his life training police depertments in unarmed combat.
If he could teach a 15 year old boy to take on the Wehrmacht
repeatedly, usually unarmed, and live, imagine what he could do for the
cops!***

I wanted to do a WHAT IF where Bucky, not Cap, got frozen in ice and revived by the Avengers in the Silver Age. In my WHAT IF, Bucky and Rick Jones eventually became a crime fighting team as well as a popular singing duo, and Bucky did eventually meet an elderly Cap.

I don't remember the 'Cap training cops' bit, and honestly, that seems like a classic bit of Busiek plotting. I think he may have come up with that to add in to my plot. We used to kibitz each other's ideas like that all the time, which often made it very hard afterwards to sort out just which part of what story a particular person had originated. Which is no big deal when everyone gets along, but becomes an issue when people start fighting over credit.


I’ll read the latest installment of FEAR MASTERS and get back to you soon.


Glad to hear it. But thanks for the opportunity to analyze/rant.

 
At 2:00 PM , Anonymous X said...

And now, for something completely on-topic:

Hard to be sure, since you'd already explained to me how your flying car can move in normal space, but I think you deal with it adequately here.

Since you have it that there are a lot of habitats and what-not - and that works, as I understand objects near enough to the L4 and L5 points will basically orbit the center- in the area, It strikes me that something like a 'tower' with some 'space traffic controllers' would be necessary. The consequences of crashing on someone's house there would be pretty dire, as some of the 'houses' are cities... Maybe our heroes just don't have the radio on.

Getting a body that's been exposed to vacuum for years to animate would only be slightly easier than animating the Ritz cracker it resembles in texture. If I may, instead perhaps most of those workers were still suited up, many even got their helmets closed in time, but had taken off their heavy backpacks (unlikely as it is that suits would be built so they could- bet Krupp got in trouble for that) and suffocated in minutes on the thin air trapped in the helmets. Some might have only trapped vacuum at that, but a sealed suit would keep the body from getting hopelessly dry and leave all the disgusting signs of explosive decompression. Even the bodies with a little air trapped might not decompose much that way and wouldn't be all crispy/dry/brittle.

The vague movie my brain makes up as I read was playing Bach's Toccata in D minor during the hand sequence. (It would make a good movie sequence, especially given the ease of showing, not telling.) I'm not suggesting Myrna knows the name of the SHOCK THEATER theme music, though she could well be familiar with the show. (On the other hand, I tend to dislike characters in the future referencing stuff from my now and past. It's inherently illusion-breaking and a bit antithetical to the point of escapist fiction. I kinda hate when a character is established as something like an old movie buff so they can do that.)

The passage describing hands joined at wrist didn't scan well at all. Initially, I thought you were describing forming handcuffs, (a bad, bad pun lamentably inherent to the thing). You weren't clear enough that one hand of each pair was on the floor under another that grasped/held the prisoners up in its palm.

Did you resume writing about the time they met Ubdov?

“gold medal in the Synchronized Cybernetic SuperVillain Stomp?”
Funny.

There was a little continuity disconnect when they retrieved their guns and Veronica and Myra had forgotten the conversation of a few minutes before (much more time than it took to read the intervening paragraphs) about going to the lab. It read like unsubtle recap from the previous chapter in a serialized format. How about instead of

[“I need to check out Ubdov’s main lab,” Veronica announced, once we’d all tucked our weapons safely away again.

“The one with all the hand-things and zombies in it?” I asked. I suppose my revulsion was pretty obvious in my voice; I hadn’t tried to hide it very hard.]

try

[“I still need to check out Ubdov’s main lab,” Veronica announced, once we’d all tucked our weapons safely away again.

“Where all the hand-things and zombies went? Do we really need to?” I asked. I suppose my revulsion was pretty obvious in my voice; I hadn’t tried to hide it very hard.]

Oh.

Myrna's black? I don't know why it would have come up any sooner, but there's a big issue there with the movie in my head. My fuzzy image, though as reader I'm looking out of her eyes, had been of a compact, athletic white woman with short brown hair and this is a pretty major disconnect. (Classic early {and even some middle} Heinlein protagonists were often white [one assumes as the default] boys of good character and resourcefulness but vague and/or generic personality, perfect for the boy scouts he was aiming at to cast themselves as the star the head-movie was happening to. I know- HAVE SPACESUIT, WILL TRAVEL, for instance, happened to me. I was Mike's friend Emmanuel in THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS to an only slightly lesser extent. There are others. Myrna has some of that quality, despite being a woman- lesbian- soldier/cop- who is also black. I guess that says something about how well the story is working.)

'Veronica nodded. “Pluto,” she said. “The zombie ray is coming from Pluto.”'
-That is such a freakin' brilliantly perfect pulp line to end a chapter on! Oh, so wonderfully, perfectly, beautifully cheesy.

---

It's probably obvious that I've never read THE PUPPET MASTERS. I'm sure I would have if I'd ever laid eyes on a copy- if you can stomach his world view (never a problem up to STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND) even bad Heinlein is like bad sex- still pretty good.

-Except FRIDAY. That was a textual turd. I own a copy, and I'm not sure I've even read it twice. I usually read anything I own a copy of at least three times eventually, if it's readable.

---

It pleases me to no end that you find my thoughts useful.

THE ZOMBIE RAY IS COMING FROM PLUTO!!

 
At 6:58 PM , Blogger Doc Nebula said...

Since you have it that there are a lot of habitats and what-not - and that works, as I understand objects near enough to the L4 and L5 points will basically orbit the center- in the area, It strikes me that something like a 'tower' with some 'space traffic controllers' would be necessary. The consequences of crashing on someone's house there would be pretty dire, as some of the 'houses' are cities... Maybe our heroes just don't have the radio on.

You're right -- hadn't occurred to me, but you're right. However, I don't think it's the kind of detail (or lack thereof) that most readers will ever notice, and my instinct is to think that if I pause the narrative flow to insert something, I'll lose more than I gain. But I'll mull it over. Maybe it will get me something useful in terms of verisimilitude to put it in.

Getting a body that's been exposed to vacuum for years to animate would only be slightly easier than animating the Ritz cracker it resembles in texture.

I wondered about that. Yet, still, we're talking about 'magic' energy that makes a corpse get up and attack the living... worse than that, actually; if it was magic, I wouldn't worry about it in the slightest, but honestly, it just baffles me how any 'energy' can make a dead body do ANYthing, much less lust after the flesh of the living`.

If I may, instead perhaps most of those workers were still suited up, many even got their helmets closed in time, but had taken off their heavy backpacks (unlikely as it is that suits would be built so they could- bet Krupp got in trouble for that) and suffocated in minutes on the thin air trapped in the helmets. Some might have only trapped vacuum at that, but a sealed suit would keep the body from getting hopelessly dry and leave all the disgusting signs of explosive decompression. Even the bodies with a little air trapped might not decompose much that way and wouldn't be all crispy/dry/brttle.

If I turn the t-shirt/shorts into a future fabric coverall, will that be satisfactory?

(On the other hand, I tend to dislike characters in the future referencing stuff from my now and past. It's inherently illusion-breaking and a bit antithetical to the point of escapist fiction. I kinda hate when a character is established as something like an old movie buff so they can do that.)

Uh... well... um... I don't know why you're reading MY stuff, then, but I have to say, I'm sure not gonna stop doing it, as it's one of the things I enjoy most when I'm writing. It may well be a huge flaw in my writing, and perhaps someday if I ever get to do this professionally I'll have to do something about it, but for now, making the writing I do for fun less fun for me to write would be counterproductive.

The passage describing hands joined at wrist didn't scan well at all. Initially, I thought you were describing forming handcuffs, (a bad, bad pun lamentably inherent to the thing). You weren't clear enough that one hand of each pair was on the floor under another that grasped/held the prisoners up in its palm.

Yeah, I was afraid of that. It's a tough description to rock. I'll make another pass at it.

Did you resume writing about the time they met Ubdov?

Uh... maybe. I can't remember right now.

“gold medal in the Synchronized Cybernetic SuperVillain Stomp?”
Funny.


Yeah, I liked that.

There was a little continuity disconnect when they retrieved their guns and Veronica and Myra had forgotten the conversation of a few minutes before (much more time than it took to read the intervening paragraphs) about going to the lab.

Fixed.

Oh.

Myrna's black? I don't know why it would have come up any sooner, but there's a big issue there with the movie in my head.


Yeah, I know. Myrna is kinda-sorta bronze; her mom was black, her dad was white. I mentioned her skin color obliquely when I talked about the color of the hand things; it was the first real chance I had to work it into the narrative.

I agree that things like that should be worked in as soon as possible, and I'll look for a place sooner in the narrative where I can make it work... maybe when she's talking about fashion when they're all getting new clothes, I can work in a reference.

Anyway, she's only 'black' by American standards; she's actually very light skinned. But she thinks of herself as black, when she thinks of it at all.

I know- HAVE SPACESUIT, WILL TRAVEL, for instance, happened to me. I was Mike's friend Emmanuel in THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS to an only slightly lesser extent.

Well, we're all Mannie when we're reading that book, but I never had any trouble picturing him look vaguely Hispanic.

'Veronica nodded. “Pluto,” she said. “The zombie ray is coming from Pluto.”'

-That is such a freakin' brilliantly perfect pulp line to end a chapter on! Oh, so wonderfully, perfectly, beautifully cheesy.


I had exactly the same reaction when I typed it. Thanks.

It's probably obvious that I've never read THE PUPPET MASTERS. I'm sure I would have if I'd ever laid eyes on a copy- if you can stomach his world view (never a problem up to STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND) even bad Heinlein is like bad sex- still pretty good.

Er... well, come to think of it, the Heinlein books I loathe the most all came after STRANGER... I think... although maybe FARNHAM'S FREEHOLD was before. But it's FREEHOLD where, to me, everything repugnant in Heinlein's worldview comes through most clearly.

-Except FRIDAY. That was a textual turd. I own a copy, and I'm not sure I've even read it twice. I usually read anything I own a copy of at least three times eventually, if it's readable.

I enjoy FRIDAY because I like the characters and am fascinated about the world they live in. Also, coming out right after NUMBER OF THE BEAST, it was enormously reassuring to find Heinlein still knew how to run a coherent plot.

It pleases me to no end that you find my thoughts useful.

Glad to hear it.

THE ZOMBIE RAY IS COMING FROM PLUTO!!

Yes sir, it is.

 
At 11:07 PM , Anonymous X said...

I don't think it's the kind of detail (or lack thereof) that most readers will ever notice
-Sure, it's more focus group thinking- but you'd know.

No, contact with 'space traffic controllers' would slow the story- (though maybe they're distracted watching the news and our heroes are ducking them to avoid Dr. Fear maybe being tipped off prematurely. A sentence would cover it.)

If I turn the t-shirt/shorts into a future fabric coverall, will that be satisfactory?
-Entirely, provided it's really air-tight with a sealable hood designed to give them an extra minute or two to be rescued in a vacuum emergency. If any skin at all was exposed, all the water would boil out of the flesh in vacuum, and you've got a crispy man-cracker again. The space coverall gives all the options I mentioned before, too.

Like, I'll buy the ZOMBIE RAY powering rotten meat, (there's probably nanotechnology involved, though I dunno how it got to the space stiffs- space darts?) but not brittle pork rind men being able to move without crumbling. I think you should limit the absurdities where you easily can, anyway, so we can swallow/grove to the SuperVillain and the -ZOMBIE RAY FROM PLUTO!-.

Talking story is fun.

um... I don't know why you're reading MY stuff
-You don't do it much, and your stuff is good journeyman entertainment. Look, I am your natural audience; we clearly share somewhat similar fantasy lives.

It does break the illusion when characters in an escapist fantasy reference the here and now-- most of the jokes on that awful HERCULES show relied on that, and you wanna be better than those hacks, don't you? Still, don't stop writing on my account, but don't expect me to give your story "MR. SPOCK'S STAND-UP ROUTINE: BUSTIN' ON O.J." a good review either.


Well, we're all Mannie when we're reading that book, but I never had any trouble picturing him look vaguely Hispanic.
...But Heinlein made it clear pretty early, as I recall. His full name was a big clue. Anyway, more specifics make the character less generic and that much harder to identify with. This isn't a nit-pick though, merely an observation. I sorta was gay black woman science enforcer Myrna Loy Hannigan, and that's what matters.

(My complaint is that I'd spent a really long time running around thinking I was a white girl before I found out- it was jarring.)

I had exactly the same reaction when I typed it. Thanks.
...In fact, THE ZOMBIE RAY FROM PLUTO strikes me as a title worth considering. I'm actually pretty serious. Yes, it gives way too much away up front; it's stupid-sounding and all, yeah... But it's catchy and has some ineffable pulpy something that would draw attention.

Like, if I was an editor I would pick up the manuscript immediately to see if you were retarded or crazy or what. -And then I'd find out you were a solid writer with a sense of humor. I kinda seriously think it's worth trying.

PAGING S.M. STIRLING: am I right or am I right?


I enjoy FRIDAY because I like the characters and am fascinated about the world they live in. Also, coming out right after NUMBER OF THE BEAST, it was enormously reassuring to find Heinlein still knew how to run a coherent plot.
-An otherwise dull plot, waaay too casual about rape, and I don't remember much else except she's a genetic superwoman (agent?) on the run and I didn't believe in her or any of the characters. Ask, say, SuperWife or Opus to read it and respond if you don't agree about the rape. (Also, you could send Ragnell a copy just to hear her head exploding from Germany.)

Now, FARNHAM'S FREEHOLD (Yes, perhaps Heiny's worst.) we hate for different reasons. (I believe Heinlein said somewhere -it seemed a bit apologetic- that he wrote the book in a rage over a weekend or so at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis. STRANGER was very late 60s, I think, and I see it as a transition between his middle and late periods.) I wasn't nearly so put off by the insensitivity of the cannibalism/slavery inversion metaphor he was making (about which you've assuredly got a point) as I was by the depth and breadth of the 'my way or the highway' crap on the part of the protagonist. I hate to see anyone treat anyone else that way in real life- or in fiction.

Not one of the things I like about Heinlein in general, and as ubiquitous in his later work as multi-page passages of incest-obsessed dialogue.

Come to think of it I own a copy of FARNHAM'S too, and I've read it twice or so. And I remember details pretty well. I hated it more, sure, but FRIDAY was a twofer: offensive AND boring.

Please don't make me reread the thing to defend my position.

---

So, is the book suggestion too dicey for the light of day -I'd agree if you thought so- or does this mean you're considering it?

---
I write worst when I'm giving out big chunks of expository dialogue. Chapters 17 and 18 are nightmares that way. The problem is, I love reading expository dialogue, so I tend to create stories where I need a lot of it. It's something I need to work on, certainly.

-You'll note that my comments on this part didn't touch on that. It scanned fine.

 
At 5:51 AM , Blogger Doc Nebula said...


No, contact with 'space traffic controllers' would slow the story- (though maybe they're distracted watching the news and our heroes are ducking them to avoid Dr. Fear maybe being tipped off prematurely. A sentence would cover it.)


I took a look at the point where they first arrive in space. There's no place I can easily wedge in another sentence. A lot of times when I'm 'writing hot', each sentence or paragraph is like a brick in the wall; it builds on the sentence or paragraph immediately before it, and to break in to the middle to provide information coming from another angle requires smashing a lot of already dried mortar and knocking a lot of bricks out and then redoing a whole lot of that section of the wall. In this case, I just don't think it gets me enough.

-Entirely, provided it's really air-tight with a sealable hood designed to give them an extra minute or two to be rescued in a vacuum emergency. If any skin at all was exposed, all the water would boil out of the flesh in vacuum, and you've got a crispy man-cracker again. The space coverall gives all the options I mentioned before, too.

Yeah. But I really want the space zombies to have gaping, empty eye sockets and big dried blood streaks down their fronts. It may be a truly stupid aesthetic decision, like the fact that the vampires in 30 DAYS OF NIGHT have wet blood all over their faces every second we see them, despite the fact that it's like 20 degrees below zero and they're out in the weather for 30 goddam days. But it LOOKS cool, and makes them truly horrible predator-monsters.

As the story was originally plotted, the 'fear masters' were just standard alien types, hanging back beyond the Moon's outer orbit, bathing the Earth in a 'zombie ray' to soften us up for invasion. Ubdov was going to be a pathfinder/spy they'd sent to Earth decades before, and Doc Hansea was the same thing, although she'd 'gone human'. Once the agents got to Ubdov's space-base, they'd learn all that, then go on to the main, city sized invasion ship, where they'd be captured and they'd all be thrown into a big GOLDFISH BOWL type cell together and eventually Doc Hansea would be taken off to be interrogated and never return, and Myrna Loy and Eddie would be left alone together for weeks and have to confront their feelings for each other, before finding a way to break out and destroy the ship.

But I realized that that would switch the 'zombie apocalypse' movie I was writing into an 'alien invasion' romance-pulp that happened to start out with a few zombie apocalypse sequences. I made a conscious decision to move away from that and find a way to keep zombies as a monstrous, sinister presence throughout the story. So... space zombies. And I need space zombies to be grisly and monstrous. So I'm walking a fine line, here.

I think you should limit the absurdities where you easily can, anyway, so we can swallow/grove to the SuperVillain and the -ZOMBIE RAY FROM PLUTO!-.

I hear you. I'm just not sure that's an absurdity too many in my reader pool are going to care about, given the overall frame of the story.

Okay, more later.

 
At 8:04 AM , Blogger Doc Nebula said...

SuperWife's gone to work, SuperAdorable Kid is still asleep, so it's later. However briefly.


-You don't do it much,


Are you crazy? No, seriously, are you CRAZY? I do inside joke pop culture references ALL THE TIME. Everywhere. I think that perhaps you just hate certain types of them (old movies, apparently) and don't notice other types, because you find them funny.


and your stuff is good journeyman entertainment.


I have no idea what that means. Okay, I have some idea, but it sounds like you're saying I write like an amateur, which I suppose is fair.

Look, I am your natural audience; we clearly share somewhat similar fantasy lives.

My fantasy lives, when I have time for such any more (marry into a wife and three kids, two of whom are teenagers, one of whom is 8, all of whom are very strong minded women, and you'll find you have little time for anything but the real life that they encompass and embody, too, and that's great, I'm just saying, I haven't had a lot of time for personal fantasy the last few years), or when I had time for such, always involved me being a hypercompetent, often hyperpowerful, person. Back when I was single, I usually did roll some kind of good looking, smart, funny chick who was into me into that fantasy, too, but that was a different era in my life. But what I have almost never done was fantasize about being someone else's character. Which is to say, much as I like James T. Kirk, I have honestly never fantasized about being James T. Kirk. I might like to be a recurring character in the original Star Trek franchise, or captain of my own ship, but I don't want to just take the place of some Other Guy. I want to be me, with a better bod, more charisma, a phaser, and a hot yeoman of my own... at least, in that fantasy. Which I rarely have, as superhero fantasies made a deeper impact sooner and longer in my childhood.

It does break the illusion when characters in an escapist fantasy reference the here and now-- most of the jokes on that awful HERCULES show relied on that, and you wanna be better than those hacks, don't you?

That's an absurd comparison. HERCULES and XENA are supposed to be set in mythical historical times, and neither show is meant to be taken entirely seriously. I would have enjoyed either show more (and could hardly have enjoyed them less) if the historical setting had been taken more seriously, yes, but I was not those show's target audience. Those shows were aimed at sf/fantasy fans who didn't want to think very hard, or at all, about their entertainment.

FEAR MASTERS is none of these things. It's set in 2032, in a civilization that is continuous from the one we currently enjoy. There have been no breakdowns, no interregnums, no paradigm shifts in the culture. Saying that having Myrna Loy (a character with a name taken from early cinema history) be an old movie and TV show buff because her father was one, is the same thing as having a mythological character living before Christ making jokes about, I don't know, Star Wars or breakfast cereal, is such a monumentally, mind bogglingly absurd statement that, honestly, it simply stands out in a sea of what seems to be otherwise reasonable, rational criticism. I have to assume that this is a huge emotional button for you, and, again, have to wonder how you can enjoy reading my stuff so much? Especially WARREN'S WORLD, which is entirely composed of pop culture references in a time frame some decades ahead of FEAR MASTER's?

Given that, I'm just going to kind of shrug at this and move on.

Still, don't stop writing on my account, but don't expect me to give your story "MR. SPOCK'S STAND-UP ROUTINE: BUSTIN' ON O.J." a good review either.

Another utterly ridiculous comparison, although, I grant you, not quite as bad as the HERCULES one. I'm moving on.

...But Heinlein made it clear pretty early, as I recall. His full name was a big clue. Anyway, more specifics make the character less generic and that much harder to identify with.

Yeah. I'm going to try to finish up the patches you've suggested and then post the most recent draft somewhere you can see all of it. I get in some racial self identification pretty early on, now, and I've changed Myrna Loy's last name, so that should help you.

It may be worth noting, or worthless, but it's possible that all of FEAR MASTERS began with a fragment of a dream I carried with me back into consciousness one morning... nothing to do with zombies, just the sing-song cadence "Myrna Loy, Myrna Loy, don't know if she's a girl or boy". I kept playing with that in my head. I knew somebody male had said it to someone else who was female, and they were teasing this person about their sexuality... but that was all I knew. So... were they being mean? Hostile? Provocative? Trying to make a pass? I kept thinking about it, and eventually sat down to type a paragraph about it, and what came out was a couple of hard cases, one male, one female, shooting at an attacking zombie mob. And now, here we are. But that's one reason that I may change everything else in this story, but I will never change the name 'Myrna Loy'. And if a character in an SF zombie adventure set in 2032 is going to be named 'Myrna Loy', her daddy had better be an old time film buff.

This isn't a nit-pick though, merely an observation. I sorta was gay black woman science enforcer Myrna Loy Hannigan, and that's what matters.

(My complaint is that I'd spent a really long time running around thinking I was a white girl before I found out- it was jarring.)


I know, and it's a valid complaint... the same thing happened to me 2/3s of the way through CAT WHO WALKS THROUGH WALLS, and frankly, the way Heinlein shoehorns in "oh, by the way, the narrator is blacker than the ace of spades" bit at that point in the narrative is fargin' ridiculous. Especially since, you know, he's the grandson of Lazarus Long... I mean, um, wtf, dude? I don't mind Heinlein giving us a black viewpoint character, but he needed to let us know that that character, and that character's family, whom we meet a bit later, are all black. It's important. As it is, it's pretty obvious that Heinlein never gave it any thought until very late in the writing process, which feels like a cheat.

I knew Myrna Loy was 'high yellow' early in the process, when I did a (bad) cover mock up and her skin color came out bronze-ish. But I should have broken that out earlier in the narrative. And now I have. Thanks.

...In fact, THE ZOMBIE RAY FROM PLUTO strikes me as a title worth considering. I'm actually pretty serious. Yes, it gives way too much away up front; it's stupid-sounding and all, yeah...

Gives away too much up front, yes. Stupid sounding, hell to the no. I love shit that sounds like that. THE ZOMBIE RAY FROM OUTER SPACE works better for me, though.

But it's catchy and has some ineffable pulpy something that would draw attention.

Like, if I was an editor I would pick up the manuscript immediately to see if you were retarded or crazy or what. -And then I'd find out you were a solid writer with a sense of humor. I kinda seriously think it's worth trying.


Okay.

PAGING S.M. STIRLING: am I right or am I right?

I don't think S.M. is hanging around much any more. I can't blame him, he's only writing something like seventeen different series at once right now. Jesus Christ, I wish George R.R. Martin could write as fast and as well as Steve Stirling...


-An otherwise dull plot, waaay too casual about rape, and I don't remember much else except she's a genetic superwoman (agent?) on the run and I didn't believe in her or any of the characters.


The book is WAY too casual about rape, yes.

Now, FARNHAM'S FREEHOLD (Yes, perhaps Heiny's worst.)

Heinlein's worst... nrm. Either FREEHOLD or I WILL FEAR NO EVIL is Heinlein's worst real novel. BEAST, CAT, and especially TO SAIL BEYOND THE SUNSET are hands down Heinlein's worst output, but they aren't 'real' Heinlein. They're really really crappy Heinlein soft porn fan fic that happen to have been written by Heinlein himself, probably when he was out of his mind on pain meds.

(I believe Heinlein said somewhere -it seemed a bit apologetic- that he wrote the book in a rage over a weekend or so at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

So Bill Campbell and some other raving Heinlein worshipper informed me a while back, while lambasting my THE MAN, THE MYTH, THE WHACKJOB article. Of course, it doesn't really matter WHY someone wrote a bad book; the bad book is still self evident.

STRANGER was very late 60s, I think, and I see it as a transition between his middle and late periods.)

Oddly, while everyone instinctively thinks that (I did myself) STRANGER was written in the late 50s and originally published in 1961. It accurately presages nearly the entire emotional/cultural/social/economic gestalt that has come to be thought of in our culture as 'the 60s' (although it's worth noting that when we think of any particular decade, we are always thinking of the last half of that decade and the first half of the succeeding decade. 1960 through 1964 was a time very much like what we think of as 'the 1950s'. 1946 through 1954 or so was pretty much what we think of as 'the 40s', while 1935 through 1944 are very much 'the 30s'. And so on; 'the 70s' starts around '75 or '76 and runs through the early '80s; the Reagan era 80's culture starts around Reagan's second term. Etc, etc.)


I wasn't nearly so put off by the insensitivity of the cannibalism/slavery inversion metaphor he was making (about which you've assuredly got a point) as I was by the depth and breadth of the 'my way or the highway' crap on the part of the protagonist. I hate to see anyone treat anyone else that way in real life- or in fiction.


Hugh Farnham is by FAR Heinlein's most obnoxious 'hypercompetent alpha male' prototype, but it's worth noting that this is simply because he is that prototype stripped down to its most raging extremist conservative elements. Raging extremist conservatism works fine in a lot of SF, especially 40s-50s-60s SF from the Unenlightened Era in which strong defiant white males rebuild civilization after a global apocalypse, or spread civilization throughout the savage stars. When everyone besides the hero (and his dependents) is a murderous monster, and you must KILL -- OR -- DIE!!!!!!, raving nutball conservatism makes perfect sense. It's why Limbaugh, Coulter, Malkin, et al, spend so much time fantasizing about Us Vs Them, World War V, Total All Out War. They're not emotionally capable of seeing the drawbacks of living that way, but they instinctively understand that in a world like that, their social beliefs are largely validated, while liberals really are traitors, weaklings, and saboteurs.

The problem is, of course, in the real world, Total War isn't like the propaganda paints it. Even the worst enemy we've met is still a human being underneath who most likely just wants to get back home to his or her spouse and kids and watch something cool on TV. And in Total War, real people die, get maimed, get crippled, get permanent, debilitating diseases... it ain't all flags and medals and glory, glory, glory.

This bizarrely distorted, cartoony perception of the world extends all through conservative idealogy. They look at the world through these lenses, and at our history through them, as well. And any time anyone tries to pull those goggles off their faces for a minute, they get murderously defensive about this insanely sicko lala land they want everyone to live in, and start calling everyone who disagrees with them traitors and demanding that the FBI or someone lock them all up immediately.

Sorry, sidetrack. But that's why Hugh Farnham is such a loser.

Not one of the things I like about Heinlein in general, and as ubiquitous in his later work as multi-page passages of incest-obsessed dialogue.

I really do wonder where all that incest stuff came from, but in all probability, I suspect it was just Heinlein trying to honestly posit what kind of taboos might continue to wither and fall away in the future, as developing technology allows humanity more and more control over their own reproductive cycle. Apparently, Heinlein and his first wife were covert swingers (at least, there is much indication that he and Leslie and another married couple from the early days of SF did some recreational wife swapping from time to time), and I often think he must have felt very guilty about that later on in life. Or Virginia gave him a lot of shit about it; I find it impossible to imagine her being involved in any such shenanigans, or tolerating her husband doing such, or even being wistful for the good ol' days with Leslie. Ah, well.

Come to think of it I own a copy of FARNHAM'S too, and I've read it twice or so. And I remember details pretty well. I hated it more, sure, but FRIDAY was a twofer: offensive AND boring.

I hear you, but I like FRIDAY fine.

Please don't make me reread the thing to defend my position.

Okay, but I wish you'd read PUPPET MASTERS. I think it's the best thing Heinlein's ever written... the first published, edited, 75,000 word ms, I mean. The bloated, uncut 150,000 thingie that's on the shelves now is, well, bloated and fat laden.

I have 3 copies of PUPPET MASTERS... one of the 60s paperbacks, another copy of that version in a book club hardcover called THREE BY HEINLEIN which reprints that book along with DOOR INTO SUMMER and DOUBLE STAR, and then a more recent, 'uncut' paperback version. If you had an anonymous mail drop, I'd be happy to send you one.

So, is the book suggestion too dicey for the light of day -I'd agree if you thought so- or does this mean you're considering it?

It wouldn't be any fun to write. I don't have time to write anything that isn't fun right now, unless someone wants to pay me to do it. And no one does.

 
At 11:27 PM , Anonymous X said...

Good news! Sibling X asked me what I wanted for Christmas a couple of days ago, and has pretty much promised me a non expanded edition copy of THE PUPPET MASTERS.

...Also FATAL REVENANT by Stephen R. Donaldson (the latest in a series where the rape wasn't casual at all- and besides it was just once 10,000 years ago, and the wench is dead now.)

 

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home