Monday, February 24, 2020

Bayani Part 5

Kerala, Traditional, India, Kalaripayattu, Martial Art
None of his tribesmen were killed. But four were wounded, one severely so. That one had taken a deep slash across the leg, through skin and fat and muscle, exposing white bone. Two of the less-wounded were binding his wound with a white herb-impregnated cloth, rapidly soaked through with blood. Alejandro knelt next to the casualty, removing a wooden canteen from his backpack.

“Drink,” Alejandro urged.

He drank, wincing with every swallow. The potion reinvigorated him, returning the color to his cheeks.

“That’s enough,” Alejandro said, putting it away. “Too much will harm you.”


Sunday, February 23, 2020

Bayani Part 4


Sword, Weapon, Vintage
Searching was just a different kind of hunting, Bayani thought. The Maestro insisted that every man be armed. Bayani turned out in his hunting gear: bow in hand, quiver of arrows, baraw tucked into his loincloth, ginunting at his hip. Alejandro carried his bolo in place of a ginunting. The bolo’s short, heavy blade was more useful for clearing vegetation than the ginunting, but in his hands the bolo was no less effective a weapon.
Salazar examined the group, patting their shoulders and wishing them well. To Alejandro, he said, “Expecting trouble, Maestro?”

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Bayani Part 3

Archer, Archery, Sunset, Arrow, Bow, Target, Aiming

Hunts lasted three days and three nights. As the newest warrior, Bayani had the honor and the burden of guiding the hunting party. The older ones followed him, judging his skills and dispensing advice. It was another trial, less formal but no less important.

 Heading into the jungle, Bayani’s heart had swelled for all of a minute. But though he knew the trees as intimately as he knew his baston, for the first time his decisions would decide the fate of his village. The weight of responsibility deflated him immediately, almost crushing him, but he squared his shoulders and carried on.


Friday, February 21, 2020

Bayani Part 2


Archer, Archery, Sunset, Arrow, Bow, Target, Aiming
Bayani may be a man now, but the world had not changed.

His mother, Tula, still awoke him the way she normally did, prodding him with fingers and feet and a raised voice until he rolled off his bamboo mat with a groan. Getting to his feet, he tested his right arm. It was stiff. An ugly purple bruise spread across his inner biceps. But it could have been worse. Maestro taught that blades seek flesh and sticks seek bone. A properly executed stick strike could have shattered his elbow.

The healers had given him a poultice to aid recovery. He pressed the soft lump against the bruise, letting the mashed herbs within soak his flesh, and followed his mother out the hut. Just before he walked out the door, she glanced at him and said, “Forgot something, Bayani?”


Thursday, February 20, 2020

Bayani Part 1

Kerala, Traditional, India, Kalaripayattu, Martial Art

In steel they saw the truth. For now, wooden sticks were a reasonable approximation.

CRACK-CRACK-CRACK.

Bayani jumped back, raising his baston to the guard. Rizal retreated too. Behind Rizal, Bayani saw a shadowed figure nod. A sheathed sword hung from the man’s loincloth. That had to be Maestro Alejandro. In the Circle, he was the only one allowed to carry a weapon.

Sweat rolled down Bayani’s forehead. Flickering torches threw shadows across the Circle. Drums beat and men chanted, but in this moment he heard only a wall of sound. Bayani’s wrist was sore, his palm raw, and he was losing sensation in his thumb. Before the Trial they trained for hours, and Bayani was sure his arm would soon give way. But Rizal had put all of himself into his strikes, and to respond with anything less than full strength was to court disaster.

“What’s wrong, Bayani?” Rizal yelled. “Too scared to fight?”


Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Indie Short Fiction: Complicit In Their Bondage by J. Manfred Weichsel


Why are short stories short? Why couldn't they be long stories? There can be wisdom in obvious questions. "Because the submission guidelines cut off at 7500 words" is a good answer, along with "because my fingers got tired" and "look I like this guy but I don't want to hear his life story." If you want the brown-nosing overachiever answer, though, it's something like "the point of writing this was an idea, just one or two or three creepy/thinky/cool bits, and anything extra would be distracting at best." Uncut gems are technically larger than they will be after they're shaped but we do it anyway. More isn't always more.

This frustrates me even more when the gem is cut but not enough, or not in a regular shape. I'm talking about "Complicit In Their Bondage" from the Planetary: Earth anthology, which you can't read, sorry, it's out of e-print till later this year. I know somebody that can hook you up with under-the-table Weichsel stories if you're curious, which you should be since I won't spoil the twist.

The unnamed narrator is a soldier in Afghanistan. This has no effect on his role in the story, which is purely reactive. He has no agency and exists to be shown the story. He has escaped with his CO from a Taliban execution, but before they can die of exposure a mysterious Victorian woman shows up with the human-monsters from Dragon Masters and shoots his CO, at which point we learn the narrator is black in a great example of how formatting can ruin an emotional moment:
I cried. Mark. Mark. We had been through so much together. Yeah, you were white, but you were OK for a white dude. Those things don’t matter in the army anyway. You were like a brother to me. Mark. Poor Mark.
She takes him on horseback to a hidden base in the Afghan hills with elements of all sorts of cultures, you know the type, very mysterious, where about a third of the story is spent with the narrator asking for the twist and not getting it and getting frustrated, which I shared. We're set up to believe one thing about the mysterious fortress, but we're wrong, and they were putting us on. Short stories can handle about one bait-and-switch, and that at the end.

There's a really weird mood whiplash here too, from the realism of the Afghan war (letting aside whether the Taliban actually got their hands on American soldiers for that long) to the spooky lost empire/secret history/alien base, to actual lines of doggerel verse describing their Dragon Masters body horrors:
These are grushers/Their hands are real crushers/They’ll pound the ground/And swing you around/Until you’re out of your druthers 
What I'm saying is there's some barriers to entry before we get the twist, which is actually pretty good. You know what? I'll spoil it.

The thing they used to do with Africans in zoos was expanded into a breeding program where they shaped black bodies into all kinds of Cronenberg, which was funded by some of the world's most powerful people until slavery laws forced them to hide it in Afghanistan (since the world's most powerful people have to obey slavery laws). Finding the narrator in the desert was a stroke of luck for them since they needed a black man to replenish the rotten genes of their monsters, since the world's most powerful people don't seem to have easy access to those.

This is the sort of thing you build a story around! I certainly wasn't expecting it, and wouldn't have even if the first half hadn't been trying to get me to expect something else. I wanted to see if the snithers were actually snakelike and duplicitous, or how many rompers could take down a grusher. The spectacle of the grotesque is the main attraction, though, and once it's been given the narrator is broken out by a friendly niglish for a truncated denouement.

This is the kind of idea that could have driven the best of the Weird Tales, but the composition and prose are halfway between hobbling and hamstringing it. It should have been half or twice the length, and focused, but at least it's here.

Rating: 💂🏿‍♂️😱🇦🇫🤨

Friday, February 14, 2020

Indie Short Fiction: Saving Nick Santos by Sam Lively


So I made an offer on Twitter to post reviews of people's short stories and almost immediately Sam Lively showed up, appropriate nom de plume there, with a transhumanist Christmas novella.


Whatever. It was fun and he was the first taker. If you submit a book to me for a short review in the future, though, expect delays.

Saving Nick Santos is A Christmas Carol except with Jeff Bezos and maybe the ghosts are wrong. The title character is a tech gazillionaire who is building the biggest Amazon Fulfillment Center in history on the North Pole, a sickly scrawny bald go-getter who's envious of dudes with fizeek and humiliates national leaders with his sassy godlike nanotech PA. A future version of that nanotech pops up on Christmas Eve to do the traditional time travel thing with him, you know how it goes.