Entries Tagged 'Short Story' ↓

Why do things break right as their warranties expire?

This entry is part 26 of 26 in the series Mythology of the Modern World

And we’re back! Last week ended up being problematic for a number of reasons. My apologies for the silence — suffice it to say, we have had a stern talking to with the actors and the union has negotiated in good faith, so we think we should be back in business.

Which brings us to today’s myth, asked by cheerful reader Cathi Payne, who asks:

The warranty myth? Why does most new technology begin to fault or fail just after the end of the warranty period? What sort of creatures or beings are responsible for ensuring that these goods keep going until the expiry has passed?

It’s a classic question, and one well worth asking. Why do some devices just… collapse right as their warranty fails. And for that matter, why do some others keep going long after they should have keeled over and died? Or, asked succinctly:

Why do some things break right as their warranties expire?

Before clicking through, please understand that we have accepted no promotional consideration for product placement. However, we are open to doing so. You can’t sell a story without sometimes selling a story out, after all! Ha-chachacha!

Continue reading →

Ball Lightning, Missing Socks, Drawer Crud and the Protectors of the Hearth

This entry is part 25 of 26 in the series Mythology of the Modern World

When I first mentioned that Banter Latte would be coming back, and the myths along with it, I solicited new myth questions on my Tumblr and my Twitter feeds, respectively. And I got a lot of good questions from both sources, which you’ll be seeing crop up hither and yon.

One response I got was from Lisa Jonté, a wonderful writer and artist, who was one of the long-time editors of Girlamatic in its original incarnations (including during the time when I was the abortive editor at Modern Tales). She was also the creator and artist of Arcana Jayne, which was fantastic but is sadly not online any more. She was a regular contributor over at Sequential Tart and she’s a regular columnist at http://mmorpg.com, and if I sound impressed that Jonté submitted a myth request, it’s because I am.

Her request, submitted via by Twitter, was:

Ball lightning, missing socks and whatever the heck that crud is that collects in a drawer full of otherwise clean silverware.

Now, some of you may think that didn’t sound like a myth request. In fact, it sounded like three. But I know better, and of course, so does Jonté — a mythologist of some renown herself. I have to assume she was asking for an old tale to be retold, and was just constrained by the 140 character limit Twitter imposes.

Nevertheless, I understood, and I’m happy to oblige, especially since it harkens back to the story of the Viscountess of the Northwesterlies, and her Dust Wyvern nemeses. After all, there were aspects mentioned in that story that deserved some elaboration.

Small aspects, in fact. Under the bed.

Continue reading →

Time Zones and the Witching Hour.

This entry is part 24 of 26 in the series Mythology of the Modern World

Today we’ve got a couple of sources for our myth — one old and one new. One from last month, with old friend PlaidPhantom, who asks:

Here’s one, since I’m on vacation right now: what’s the deal with time zones?

The other is from back in 2007, when Super Prattle Droid asked:

How do time zones relate to the witching hour? If someone performs a dark rite in, say, a county which doesn’t do daylight savings time, but the state as a whole does recognize daylight savings time, and the area of the town he/she’s in is claimed by two states, one in the Central time zone and one in Mountain, when is “midnight” according to the Forces of Darkness?

Well, I won’t get into what makes up a force of darkness or not — that’s a very different story — but these two questions together remind me of a story that once I heard… it’s a sad one — for us, in particular, and by ‘us’ I mean human beings. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

One warning — this isn’t the shortest of these stories. But then, that seems appropriate, don’t you think?

People speak of the Witching Hour. It is an old concept — part of deep rooted fears and prejudices around ‘witches.’ By witches, of course, we mean anything from practioners of old arts to the old women who understood the uses of roots and herbs to any woman who dared to want to read or smoke or speak when not spoken to. Needless to say, this had nothing to do with ‘witches,’ either in the proper sense or in the pejorative diabolist sense. Needless to say, there has never been a ‘witching hour.’

There was a henostic’s hour, mind. Four of them, actually — one for the two daily solstices at noon and midnight, when the world was as full and devoid of light as it got, respectively, and one for the two daily equinoxes at dawn and twilight, when light and darkness were in balance. That’s really what they’re thinking of. You probably haven’t heard of the henostic’s hour, but then history isn’t what it used to be.

Continue reading →

Why are the ideas of things scarier than the reality?

This entry is part 23 of 26 in the series Mythology of the Modern World

And here we are on Monday, and the Mythology of the Modern World is happily open for business.

Today, our question comes from an old friend not only of Banter Latte and Websnark but even random noodlings and writings for the In Nomine role playing game over at Steve Jackson Games. Moe Lane — an excellent writer of regard on matters idyllic and profane alike (including many matters political, for those who can’t bear to have their assumptions challenged. Be prepared — Moe plays streetball) asked all the way back in the original myth call:

Why is the idea of a ten-foot bug scarier than the reality of one?

Now, I know a number of you just clenched your muscles and thought “what, is he crazy? A real ten foot bug would be terrifying.” And that’s fair enough — but I’d remind you that you’re reacting, once again, to the idea. Even the situations where people have shown terrifying pictures of gigantic spiders climbing up barn walls are expressions of the idea, since those pictures are inevitably created via photoshop or camera angles. If one wanted to listen to the boring scientific explanations done by experts who went to schools and learned facts, they’d explain that ten foot bugs of either the arachnoid or insectoid varieties wouldn’t look like their smaller brethren and would work very differently. It has to do with square-cube laws and the way exoskeletons and hydraulic muscles work and… well, that’s not why you’re here, is it?

Nor is this to claim that ‘bugs’ aren’t scary. I’m a confirmed arachnophobe. A spider the size of a quarter can get me shrieking in a most unrefined manner. No, what we’re really discussing is the fantastic, versus the mundane. In our minds, we can conceive of the most horrific things. Confronted with the reality… well, sure they may still be scary, but at least a small part of our brains thinks “wait — this is what the fuss is all about?”

Which brings us to our core question, distilled to its essence: why are the ideas of things scarier than the reality?

One note? This is kind of a dark one. Just be warned. I blame Moe.

Continue reading →

Justice Wing: Legacies of the Past

The Lieutenant Comic Panel So, every so often things don’t work out quite as you expected them to.

That’s not too surprising at this point. When you’re a writer, sometimes the stories take unexpected turns. Which is what happened to me this time. You see, I finished the Prosperina myth, and figured I was going back into normal production. Prosperina was long for a story, so I had a certain amount of ‘flex’ before I had to get into the regular schedule, but I was pretty sure I’d write a Justice Wing story, then write or post something for Storytelling, then do a myth for the following week.

For whatever reason, I didn’t want to do the next part of Vilify 5 next. I wanted to write something self contained. I thought about writing the very old school story of the time Lady Velvet used Paragon as a weapon against Nightstick and Cudgel, but that story wasn’t quite ready.

And then I thought “hey — why don’t I tell an origin story! That’s nicely comic bookish!” And for whatever reason, the Lieutenant was the character that sprung to mind. I even came up with a good framing device for it — a book Barbara Babcock (Lois Lane to Paragon’s Superman) would write about what Champions would call the Dependent Non Player Characters in a superhero’s life.

In other words, a book about Lois, Jimmy Olson, Perry White, Alfred Pennyworth, Aunt May, Mary Jane Watson, Gwen Stacy, Steve Trevor, and all the rest of the happy people who were turned into monkeys or killed and stuffed into refrigerators. That would do it!


Over twelve thousand words later, here we are. I thought about breaking it up into parts, but I don’t think this story would support it. So here’s a whole chapter of Barbara’s book for you. And this is why I didn’t get anything else done since then.

One thing I like is neither Barbara nor her interviewee sound like Todd Chapman, from “Interviewing Leather.” At least, within the bounds of me actually writing everyone involved.

The picture isn’t fan art, per se. That’s actually mine. Sort of. See, I started with a posted City of Heroes character based on the Lieutenant, and then I did the photoshop shuffle. The result was meant to look like a comic book panel from 1938 or so, and damn if it didn’t come out right (right down to suspect registration errors and slightly heavy blacks on the lines).

I hope you like “Legacies of the Past.”

Continue reading →

From the Vault: Langue

Another fragment. Another incomplete story. Distinctive this time because A) I have absolutely no recollection of writing it (though it’s clearly something I wrote) and B) I have absolutely no idea where I was going with it. But it seems interesting to me.

In a way, it’s more stock than a lot of what I’ve written, particularly for fantasy. At the same time, there’s more of a horror dimension than a lot of my fantasy work.

It’s also distinctive because it’s one of the few stories to involve Fort Baxter, a fictional Maine town along the Canadian border, meant to be my home town of Fort Kent with serial numbers filed sort of off and a fresh coat of paint over it.

I think I probably wrote this while I was finishing up college. I was really into the idea of language critical theory/linguistic critical theory/the sign-significator-significated trichotomy for a while then. I’m a little surprised this isn’t more pretentious than it is as a result.

Apropos of nothing, the lead is named Karin MacDougal.  In 1997, a Karen McDougal became a somewhat more-famous-than-usual Playboy Playmate and then Playmate of the Year. From the tone of this piece, I believe it was written at least four and possibly more years before 1997, so despite the name, this is not an homage to a hot chick.

Also apropos of nothing, I used to make homemade hot cocoa like is described in here.

Continue reading →

From Sinister Bedfellows: Anthology

As the title says, this is my entry to mckenzee’s Sinister Bedfellows: Anthology. The idea behind the book was simple enough. The prospective authors would go through the webcomic, find a strip that spoke to them, and write a short-short about it. mckenzee would then put them all together and self-publish through lulu.

It was fun, and I was happy to agree. I searched the strip, and found the exact one I would want to use.

Namely, this one:

Sinister Bedfellows

Which would be great except Rob Callahan grabbed it before I could, which means I couldn’t write that story. I’m tempted to so anyway.

This is the actual story I contributed. It’s based on the strip from April 10, 2005. And it’s probably a better story than I would have written for the self-portrait strip. It is indeed a short-short, under a thousand words long, so it won’t take you long to get through it.

I’d encourage folks to have a look both at Sinister Bedfellows and the anthology. It’s a nice little book with some nice vignettes and short stories in it, and it’s a nice hook that’s a little more interesting than a simple print collection of the strips might be. And mckenzee’s eye and viewpoint (not always the same thing) are very cool.

So. Here’s my entry, preceded by the strip. Please enjoy!

Sinister Bedfellows: Comedy

Continue reading →

Hephaestus Fallen

So, this is one of those stories I can’t believe I still have kicking around on my hard drive.

For the record, this is a thirteen thousand word story, set wholly in my Imperial Space universe, with a Hotchkiss/Leopold drive and transitions and the Orgalins who confederated with Concordia in the war that’s the centerpiece of Trigger Man.

Which is all fine and good, until you realize this story was written in 1991. Now, the setting made some changes between now and then. Transitions and N-Space and the H/L drive don’t work, in the current setting, quite like they do here. And the story itself isn’t the most polished I’ve produced — which implies that I’ve learned a thing or two about pacing and storytelling in the last sixteen years, which seems reasonable to me. I mean, this story is older than some of the regular readers of Banter Latte. That’s kind of humbling.

I’ve also learned a few things about science, engineering (small things, but things), and the willing sense of disbelief since then. And I’ve learned a ton of things about spelling since then. I swear to God, I did a complete round of spellchecking when I decided to put this story up, but I can’t possibly have found every last crime against nature and the dictionary, so please remember I was young and incapable, apparently, of reading what I just wrote.

Still, as an artifact of a time when the Imperial Space setting was still called (I swear to God, and embrace my shame) the “Terraesteller Empire,” and as a bit of my life given form once again, I’m happy enough to see this return to the light of day.

And, while I hope you take this story with six or seven grains of salt, I also hope you enjoy it.

Here’s Hephaestus Fallen.

Continue reading →

The Home Front: Diamond in the Rough

One of my favorite story drivers, bar none, is The Big Change.

The Big Change is exactly what it sounds like. Something happens to change the world, change society, change the way things have always been done, and then everyone has to deal with it. Theftworld and Trigger Man both deal with the same Big Change despite being set several hundred years apart — stardrive technology, always limited to third stage transitions, could now do fifth which makes new travel routes possible — and there is a third (sadly lost) story that dealt with that change a third time: this time from the point of view of economics.

The Home Front is on one level a homage to the pulp heroes I love. On another, it’s a homage to the golden age of superhero comic books. But on a third it’s a Big Change setting. The common theme is twofold: World War II hits, and actual super powered beings appear in its wake, making the unpowered Mystery Man obsolete. (As, indeed, he was in ‘our’ history too. In fact, the superheroic version of the Mystery Man himself was a bridge between the age of the pulp hero like the Shadow and Superman or the Sub-Mariner. Even the more prominent of the bridge characters like Batman had to embrace the superheroic side of his personality to endure.)

As people have noticed, a lot of Big Change stories are melancholy or even downright depressing. That’s because not everyone makes it through the Big Change equally, and there’s always at least some nostalgia or wistfulness.

This is not a wistful story today. And while it deals with the heart of the Big Change for the Mystery Men — embodied by their withdrawal from their urban battlefields and the reformation into the traveling Liberty Brigade show, drumming up support for war bonds and scrap metal drives — it also deals with the Big Change that America underwent in the war. It’s by far the ugliest of the Home Front stories, and it deals with mature themes.

This one was bought by Greg at Mythic Heroes as well, and was privileged to have been given the magazine’s cover (a dramatic cover piece I dearly wish I had an electronic copy of). Unfortunately, while the issue was solicited through Diamond, it hit the end of the Mythic Heroes ride during the Comics bust, and the issue never saw the comics shops or the newsstands. I actually shopped the story around to the magazines afterward, but mostly got form letters back (and a very nice letter from Gordon Van Gelder, the then new editor at The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, that explained that he couldn’t use the piece, but expressing what seemed like sincere regret over the demise of Mythic Heroes.)

I hope you like it. And I promise the last story — scheduled for next Thursday, as it’s a multiple part serial instead of a short story — is nowhere near as depressing.

But then, it hardly could be.

Continue reading →

The Home Front: Spycracker and Torpedo

This is the second Home Front story, though it was the first I wrote. I hadn’t submitted it to Greg at Mythic Heroes yet, mind, though I was going to eventually.

The Home Front got its start, more directly than almost anything else I’m putting on here, in Superguy. Superguy, for those of you unfamiliar with it, is a mailing list devoted to superhero fiction. Its heydey was the late eighties through the mid nineties. I wrote in the neighborhood of a million words for it over a period of about seven years.

It was Superguy writers who formed the core of Mythic Heroes. We’d known each other for years, and written together on more than one occasion. And I was happy to adapt a few stories taken far out of ‘continuity,’ for lack of a better term for the new medium. A fellow named Rob Furr had started a “Historical Superguy” project, taking his love of history and applying it to our somewhat goofy superhero list. I wrote about mystery men for it. This story was adapted from the first post I did on the project. Last week’s — “My White Plume” — had been the second Historical Superguy story I wrote, but the first Mythic Heroes story I’d adapted.

Next week’s installment, “Diamond in the Rough,” had also been a Superguy story first but had been heavily edited and changed to fit the new format. And a serial that followed — “Homecoming” — was (mostly) written exclusively for Mythic Heroes, but never had a chance to be published.

One last note: each of the Home Front stories is meant to be told in archival format of some sort. Last week’s was a letter. This week’s is a radio documentary edited from an old interview. The idea is simple enough: all of these are from history. We are supposed to be reading them from some other form.

Just, you know, for the record.


Continue reading →