03 January 2009

Lies, Damned Lies, etc.

Every Monday, my friend Marko writes a search term safari blog post, in which he details the unusual and amusing search keywords which led people to his site. Now, I don't have nearly as many readers as he does, but a look at my Google Analytics data for the last three months yielded these gems:

"trapped in a spacesuit"
Well, that's not exactly what "Prisoner" is about, but close enough.

"your velociraptor is on fire"
Again, "Guns, Shooting Velociraptors Out Of" is--as you might guess from the title--actually about firing velociraptors, but who's to say they wouldn't also be on fire as a result?

sexual climax "blogspot"
I'm not sure what this fellow was hoping to find, but "Love Lucy" is all he's going to get from me.

512 in binary
That would be 1000000000 (nine zeroes, hence the logo below), as Google Calculator will tell you.

500 word science fiction story
We have a winner!

And the top five direct-linked stories from the first three months of 512 are (drum roll):
  1. "Birthdays"
    Everybody has one.
  2. "October Surprise"
    No surprise in an election year.
  3. "Guns, Shooting Velociraptors Out Of"
    Kids love dinosaurs.
  4. "Firepower"
    Kids also love the Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle.
  5. "Antique"
    Nobody doesn't love giant robots.

More than half my readers were linked from other sites, and I'd like to thank John Scalzi and Ken Levine in particular. I have no idea how I got that one referral from Cake Wrecks, but hey, I'll take it.


02 January 2009


By Curtis C. Chen

Anton waited until late at night to do it. He waited until he could wait no longer, even though one overachieving apprentice remained in the otherwise empty laboratory.

Anton's pulse raced as he walked toward the airlock. It was transparent on all sides except the one leading into the environment chamber, and clearly visible from where the apprentice sat. Anton made a great show of putting on his pressure suit--heavy boots, thick gloves, ridiculous helmet.

He hummed a tune as he dressed: the last movement of Virgaan's Symphony Cantata, a repetitive but energetic melody that always helped steady Anton's nerves. Sometimes the simplest things were the best.

How long ago had the General recruited Anton? How long had the entire research team flailed, conjuring ever more exotic and convoluted attempts to decipher the Ancient objects?

The inner door hissed open, and the chamber's primordial atmosphere filled the airlock. Anton walked forward through the green mist and pressed both palms down on the control cube, which sat at chest height on a pedestal. Arrayed around it in a rough circle were the other Ancient objects, sitting on their own platforms at various heights.

He felt the sound from the cube vibrating the thick air. It had taken months to discover that the cube activated the other objects sonically, and longer to place each subordinate object at its proper distance from the cube.

Anton could feel the whole chamber resonating. He couldn't hear it through his helmet, of course; even with the most sophisticated microphones, the team had not been able to reproduce the Ancient music. It would never sound the same in a thin, human-breathable atmosphere.

That was why the apprentices slaved away now, trying to represent with mathematics the sounds of the objects in their native environment. But Anton knew it was futile. The General had recruited Anton for his musical talent and insight, and Anton knew that music was meant to be heard, to be experienced with one's own ears.

Anton's fingers trembled as he removed his helmet, and he told himself it was from excitement and not fear.

His eyes watered. He blinked and forced himself to breathe, taking the poisonous air into his lungs. It smelled of dead vegetables and felt thick in his nostrils. His throat burned.

And then he heard it. A beautiful, haunting chord, with overtones he never dreamed possible--nothing like any of the simulations. He turned his head, and the music changed and his vision blurred. As he fell, his ears moved through a multitude of sounds, each one more incredible than the last.

Anton understood. The music was not meant for a stationary audience; it had been designed for listeners who moved around the objects. The heavy atmosphere meant severe pressure grades everywhere. A single step would change the acoustics.

Anton coughed, and blood stained the floor before him. He crawled until he could reach the puddle with one hand, and began writing. It was not a suicide note. He simply wanted the others to know their Maestro had died happy.


Audio: "Finale"


Music: "Mellow Dm 5ths January Jazz" by Caleb Charles, licensed under Creative Commons from ccMixter.

Notice anything about this week's story? That's right--no dialogue. I have a natural inclination toward dialogue, which is probably why I like reading stage plays and most things by Joss Whedon, Aaron Sorkin, and Kevin Smith. But I want to maintain my prose writing skills, too, so I made a conscious effort to write this week's 512 Words without any talking characters.


Rhythm is the key as we open up the door

Also, some musical rhythms can mess with your head.

If it wasn't already obvious, I confess that I am a Stargate fan*, and I am willing to forgive the fact that every freakin' alien race speaks English, but I've been catching up with season 4 of Atlantis, and the egregious number of ripped-from-the-writers-room pop culture references used as conversational filler is starting to get to me.

Anyway. Just for fun, here are my original notes on the idea which spawned "Finale:"

military leader meets with great performer (e.g., violinist)--wants him to help with secret project
performer: "when we are both dust, history will remember us in only the broadest strokes. you will get one battle, perhaps a quotation. I will get the name of my instrument and my most well-known piece, probably Rosetta. that is enough. why would I risk replacing that perfect memory, or sullying it with some menial task? What is your project? A performance for some retiring general? A commission for a new anthem? I am already bored."
it turns out they've found an alien artifact, multiple boxes which generate sound, but they can't decode all the harmonics to make sense of the language.
the artifact affects the musician?

I'm finding that my first drafts come out around 1,000 words, which I then have to trim down to fit into my arbitrary 512-word limit. It's a good exercise in line editing, but if I decide not to continue this project after a year, it'll probably be because I want to write longer stories.

* For the record: Continuum was much better than Ark of Truth.