So it’s been a couple of days.

They’ve been good days, mostly, and in fact quite remarkable by the poor standard that the rest of August had already set.

My back seems to be doing a lot better, in that there aren’t terrible twinges of pain every time I bend or move in the wrong way. Or, sometimes, in any way. That’s actually the worst part about having a bad back: is this the perfectly ordinary movement that’s going to cripple me for days or weeks? (Well, the worst part if you discount the pain itself.) My back is a lot better when I sit than when I stand, which is actually the exact opposite of how it was when I was first diagnosed with a herniated disc, when standing seemed to relieve it more than anything else. (I’d find reasons to work standing up, when I could, and I’d frequently not take a seat on the train.) This is probably better, since it’s usually easier to find somewhere to sit (or make excuses for having to do so) than needing to stand all the time, but it’s a little weird. And it does still kind of hurt when I’m standing. Not nearly so much that I can’t — or would prefer not to — move, but enough to make me cautious and I’m sure occasionally a little irritable. I don’t know if it’s getting better, or if this is as better as it’s going to get, but this is much, much better than it’s been for the past couple of weeks, and so I’ll take that.

And honestly, there are people who have it a lot worse than I do.

My parents spent most of Friday and Saturday away, visiting my mom’s brother in Connecticut, who isn’t doing very well. All of her brothers and sisters made the trip, and I spend the time at home looking after the dog.

Some things I did, in no particular order:

I read a couple of books. On Friday, I finished listening to David Mitchell’s Back Story and reading Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous With Rama. I think the former was probably better than the latter. What Mitchell may lack in a hugely exciting biography — he grew up fairly normal, went to school, became a comedic actor, and now does that for a living — but he tells that story well and amusingly, and I particularly enjoyed hearing it in his own voice on the audio book.

Meanwhile, I like Clarke, or at least I remember a great fondness for him when, as a young teen, I discovered the Space Odyssey series. I don’t remember if the books or Kubrick’s movie came first for me, but there’s more humanity in Clarke’s writing, more warmth and humor, and I quite enjoyed reading the books, even if I never went as far as the fourth and final volume in the series.

(3001 came out in 1997, and I have a dim recollection of it getting some bad commentary at the Penn State Science Fiction Society, which I was part of at the time…and which I discovered on Friday, quite sadly, appears to have disbanded. Or maybe I should say re-discovered, since this is apparently something I learned of back in 2007. I have a comment on that post and everything, so it’s not like I didn’t know. I was actually more distressed to learn that the Monty Python Society, of which I was a long-time member and two-time president, has probably also disbanded. With only a few exceptions, I sadly haven’t kept in touch with most of the people I knew through the club, but I’m saddened by the idea that it might be gone forever. There’s apparently a Harry Potter fan club on campus that’s taken up a lot of the slack of both clubs — inheriting the science fiction library, putting on sketch comedy for Red Nose Days — but it’s just not the same.)

Anyway, back to Rama. While I like Clarke — his short story “The Nine Billion Names of God” remains a favorite — I was a little surprised to discover this one both the Hugo and Nebula when it was published. I haven’t read any of the other nominees from the same year, but Rama is…well, kind of boring. Very little actually happens, and maybe that’s in part by design, and maybe that’s why Gentry Lee (who continued writing a number of sequels) apparently introduced a lot of new characters and plot, but it feels much more like a short story padded out to novel length. It’s never exactly unenjoyable — I was worried it would be risibly dated, remembering cosmonauts in 2061 — but that wasn’t ultimately a huge concern. There just wasn’t enough to the book. There’s a huge central mystery — and this is maybe a bit of a spoiler — and it’s one that never gets solved. Along the way a few other things happen, although the stakes never feel terribly high, but not nearly enough.

On Saturday, I finished reading Voltaire’s Calligrapher by Pablo De Santis. I hope to say more about it in the near future, since it’s an interesting book, but for now let me just say that when you pick books out of the local library based almost exclusively on their short length, you may wind up with some weird choices.

On Friday evening, I finished watching the last two episodes of the British crime drama Broadchurch. I could probably say a lot more about it than I’m gong to now — it’s late, but I also know some people who are not yet caught up with watching it — but let me just say I’m a bit torn, and my feelings about the finale in particular are hugely split. Is it possible to find something both completely compelling and effective and also a letdown?

On Saturday, while the neighbors partied and karaoked, I watched Lincoln. I’ve had it out from Netflix for a while, unable to watch it until my new computer (with its working Blu-Ray drive) arrived. It’s not a perfect movie, maybe a little too pat and certainly not a full biography of the man, but it’s quite entertaining, moves at fast clips, and the performances are terrific.

And today, I went to see The World’s End, which was quite funny.

That doesn’t feel like a busy weekend, and it probably wasn’t, but it was a decent one if nothing else. I had pancakes for dinner on Friday night, so there’s at least that.

And today I also wrote this:

“When the world ended, all the birds fell from the sky, and Rachel found out she was a cyborg.”

“That never happened,” said Rachel. “Don’t believe him, Mom, he’s just being dumb.”

“Thank you, Rachel,” said their mother. She’d been trying to finish the Sunday crossword when the two kids had come in from the yard, and her pen hovered momentarily over 8 down before filling in the now obvious four-letter MINX. “I might have believed your brother if you hadn’t said something. You have been looking a little cyborgy lately.”

“Told you!” said Peter. He snatched a cookie from the plate on the counter.

“Mmhmm,” said their mother, looking sternly at her son. “And those were for after supper, but I guess if the world’s really ended neither your father nor I have to cook tonight.”

“Pizza!” said Peter around a mouthful of chocolate chip. “Gino’s will still deliver.”

“How WILL they get around the mountains of dead birds?” his mother asked. Forty-seven across, she now saw, was FLIGHT. Which crossed, perhaps morbidly, with CRASH.

“The birds didn’t die,” said Peter. “They just fell from the sky. They’re all just walking around out there, looking stunned. The thing you’ve got to watch out for are the alligators. They’re the ones that can now fly.”

“You don’t see a lot of alligators in Pennsylvania.”

“End times,” Peter said. “Anything could happen.”

“Mmm,” said his mother. “Maybe I was wrong. Maybe your sister really is a cyborg.”

“Mooooom!” Rachel said.

“There was that mad scientist who used to work at the hospital where your born. What was his name? Frankenstein?”

“You’re making that up! There was no Dr. Frankenstein at the hospital!”

“Not any more. Not if his cyborg creation was loose in the world. You did make a lot of weird whirring, clicking noises as a baby!”

“I knew it!” said Peter.

“Moooom!” said Rachel. “Quit encouraging him!”

“It would make things a lot easier,” said her mother. She dipped her pen down again: 18 across, NECTARINE. “Your father and I would just have to figure out the right computer code to make you clean your room. Maybe we could get you to do your homework by remote control.”

“Very funny, ha ha!” Rachel said. “And I suppose you believe the little brat about all the dead birds, too.”

“They’re just stunned,” said her mother.

“Right,” said Peter, “just stunned.”

“It’s the flying alligators that are the real problem.” She stumbled over 22 down, then saw that it was PIANO FORTE. “And, I imagine, the zombies.”

“Zombies?” said Peter and Rachel, almost as one.

“Well it wouldn’t be the end of the world if there weren’t zombies,” their mother said. “I mean, stunned birds, flying gators, and cyborg girls are one thing, but zombies seems like standard operating procedure to me.”

Five down, she finally saw, was EDAM. You only ever saw that in a crossword puzzle.

“In fact, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Gino’s was the first places that got overrun with zombies. It’s always so crowded on a Sunday night.”

“Does that mean no pizza?” Peter asked.

“I don’t know. Is your sister really a cyborg?”

“Probably not,” he said, reluctantly.

“Then go wash your hands and we’ll talk. And wake your father — he’s asleep on the couch.”

Peter ran from the room, shouting, “Daaaad!” and snatching another cookie from the plate as he did so.

Rachel eyed her mother. She could never understand why her mother enjoyed doing those silly crossword puzzles.

“He’s starting to suspect,” she said.

It’s probably more a meandering joke than a story — thanks in large part to the cyborg bit, which is not part of the writing prompt I supplied — but I had fun writing it.

And that’s pretty much it.

Dog days of summer

August continues to be something of a let-down. I’d suggest that it outright sucks, but I worry it maybe reads this weblog and would try to get back at me out of spite.

This past Monday, I finally got things sorted out with Dell, in so far as the third time I placed my order for a new laptop I received a confirmation number and estimated delivery date. Of course, my bank decided to flag that transaction for some reason, leading to much confusion. Not on the bank’s end — I was easily able to confirm, in about a minute, that I’d made the purchase and this wasn’t fraud — but again at Dell’s. I finally called them to clarify, and the laptop has now moved out of pre-production into production proper, but it’s a little ridiculous how difficult giving them my money proved to be. I’m still getting phone calls from customer service — mostly just to follow up, tell me things the automated e-mails and Dell website have already told me — but I hope this will stop once the new computer is actually in my hands.

That, of course, won’t be for another week and a half.

This past week, I also went through two days of terrible back pain, enough to keep me from going into the office on Wednesday and Thursday. I actually think this was the worst it’s been since 2008, when my herniated disc was first diagnosed, before I had any physical therapy or spinal injections. (It’s questionable whether either of those truly helped, but either way I’d learned to cope and usually don’t feel much pain.) It hurt just to get out of bed this week, and I spent most of the day hobbling around the house, taking pain medication (just Tylenol, or the generic counterpart) and watching episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The impulse was to lie in bed, since that’s where I most free of discomfort, but I think it was a mistake. Certainly it was harder to get up afterward, and lying in bed seemed to undo any progress I’d made. I spent most of Thursday sitting upright instead, where at least I had some lumbar support, and that seems to have helped considerably. I still missed the live Rifftrax show I’d planned to attend — to say nothing of the team meeting at work where everyone made pitches for “book of the year” — but I was back to the office on Friday.

I decided to work a full day. I could have left early, thanks to summer hours, and I only would have needed to make up 90 extra minutes. (Summer hours means you work 45 minutes extra Monday through Thursday.) So I could have left at 2 or 2:30. But that would have meant working straight through to that, without any lunch. It was a quiet day — most everyone who wasn’t on summer hours was at the company’s summer outing at Great Adventure — so I didn’t mind so much.

Today my back’s doing much better, and I’m just delighted to be able to walk, bend, stand, et cetera without real pain.

Then again, this evening I watched AVP: Alien vs. Predator, so maybe there was a little pain left over for me in the week.


On Friday, I had an appointment with the dermatologist that turned out to be more waiting than appointment. This wasn’t a bad thing, really, since it meant that what I was there for turned out to be nothing. (My primary recommended I have some spots on my back looked at.) I mean, I’d rather have a doctor surprised to see me — I almost felt like I was wasting his time — than shocked and dismayed that he hasn’t seen me much sooner. But it did kind of eat into my Friday afternoon.

I spent most of Saturday putting together the Summer issue of Kaleidotrope. And actually a fair bit of today, when I finished the advice column and horoscopes. (Yes, the zine regularly has both.) That didn’t leave me much time for anything else — I still haven’t done the Sunday crossword puzzle, and that’s an itch I simply can’t not scratch — but I’m really happy with this issue. (Well, it’s one story lighter than I expected, but I’m still hopeful that author will get back to me in time for the Autumn issue.)

I did manage to watch a movie last night, the strange and terrifying and sad and beautiful Upstream Color. The film, from the same writer/director as the intellectual time travel movie Primer, is almost impossible to really describe. The IMDB tries its best with:

A man and woman are drawn together, entangled in the life cycle of an ageless organism. Identity becomes an illusion as they struggle to assemble the loose fragments of wrecked lives.

Although even that might be saying too much, and certainly doesn’t say half enough. The film is complicated and odd, but I liked it a whole lot.

And then today, I had my weekly writing group. I wasn’t expecting to, but apparently this week’s postponement was postponed. So I wrote this:

They had enough money to keep him in quarrantine indefinitely, the resources necessary to lie to anyone who came asking, to keep up the false pretense that the man himself had never existed. Not that they expected much trouble; he had been an unpopular man, and though well-embedded in the news coverage of the time, he was disliked enough by his peers and his constituents that it was hardly difficult to expunge him from the record. It had been twenty-five years since the man had been President, and a quarter century goes a long way towards erasing collective memory. They only had to resort to physical erasure — the special blend of chemical and cortical manipulation the boys in the lab would have patented if that had been an option — on a handful of occasions, and with the prisoner himself only once. That was when he’d nearly escaped, although the warden would have refused to use either — “escaped” or “nearly” — and would have instead referred to it only as the incident. It was an incident that had itself happened over three years ago now, and as there seemed to be little chance of a recurrence — the man was, in his way, now a model prisoner — there was little reason for anyone to call the warden on his euphemisms. Let him call it an incident, and let him downplay just how far out of hand events had actually spun, just so long as they kept Daniel Chambers locked in his ten-by-ten square cell and forgotten by the world. Let Chambers rot, make sure any investigations withered on the vine, and the warden could call what had happened three years ago anything he wanted. Moreover, they would continue to supply him any new funds he requested, anything that kept the prison and their plans humming along. The prison’s continued success would forgive its momentary failure.

Of course, it probably wasn’t Chambers who was sitting in that cell. Had it been the man himself, the prison almost certainly would have seen additional escape attempts. Chambers had not been a model prisoner, and they kept him on too few drugs to explain how docile he had become in the three years since. The warden knew this, and certainly the boys in the lab knew this, but it was a truth you didn’t want to go poking at too much. Had Chambers actually escaped three years ago? Was this was this some kind of simulacrum, what the lab techs had even money on as being a robot? Or a hologram? There was a theory floating around downstairs that the prisoner was actually a coherent assortment of photons, given physical form through…well, some kind of process. This, obviously, where the theory tended to break down. How would Chambers have managed such a thing? The robot theory at least had legs; it didn’t require any great scientific prowess, none of which Chambers was known to possess, just the right components smuggled in from the outside. It was true, every theory floating around suggested the involvement of someone else — an inside job — which was another reason why the theories never floated very far. The Chambers in the cell was almost certainly a robot — he did everything but clank when he walked — but nobody wanted to be the first to test such a theory.

You might very well be asking yourself a number of questions at this point. What about bloodwork, for instance? Surely in the three years since the “incident” the prisoner must have undergone a routine physical. The powers that be that owned the prison, that tossed the necessary (and even arguably unnecessary) money at it, would have certainly inisisted. But there are ways for a crafty robot to deceive such tests, especially when they are conducted by those with a vested interest in keeping its secret.

Where, then, you might also be wondering, had Daniel Chambers gone? He could have escaped into the world at large, a world in which he was largely forgotten, and he likely could have done so quite easily. You forget that while his name had been expunged from that world’s history, he would have still retained a wealth of knowledge, leverage, and contacts. One did not rise to become the leader of the free world without making a few friends, however wealthy or cunnning one’s enemies. Chambers could have escaped, with the aid of a little inside help and on-the-spot robotics, and no onewould have been the wiser. By the time anyone at the prison began to suspect, he could have been long gone.

The warden and the lab boys, they knew this too, and it was all the more reason not to look too closely at the incident. If Chambers was out there, he was keeping quiet; he was not going public or causing trouble; if he was in here, still, they had nothing at all to worry about. They’d keep cashing their checks and assume, robot or no robot, that the man they held was still the man they’d been paid so handsomely to keep. And they’d just refuse to look too closely at that assumption in case he wasn’t. Maybe the robot could have an “accident” happen to it, if that became necessary.

Fewer people came asking about the man every year.

I can’t claim to be really happy with it, above and beyond the fact that I just wrote for the forty minutes. There’s some crafting here — it’s not quite stream of consciousness — but there was less staring off into space and thinking than tapping away at the keys. (I write these on my iPad.)

Anyway, that was the weekend, more or less.

The weekend

Yesterday, I gave blood at the local library. Or, rather, in the bloodmobile parked outside the library. This was my first time donating inside one these things, and while I don’t have any pictures, it was similar to this one, only a little smaller and a little more cramped, especially with everyone wearing winter coats and all.

Afterward, I cam home and re-watched Almost Famous. It’s altogether I napped during a small chunk of it. That’s pretty much the highlights of my Saturday.

Today, my writing group was cancelled, thanks to car troubles — not mine — so I went and had what turned out to be a really great sushi lunch. I’m new to this idea that raw fish can actually taste good — although I usually do still stick to the rolls — but today’s tasted very good indeed.

Then I came home, did a little housecleaning, and shredded some old documents while I watched episodes of Rubicon. I liked it for the brief moment it was on TV back in 2010, then bought the season, then just let it sit there. But today I’ve watched a third of it, and I’m still liking it, so I’m not regretting the purchase. I can see why it didn’t click with viewers, and nowadays it would probably fare even worse on AMC. (I like The Walking Dead, except when I don’t, but it’s hard not to argue that it’s distracted AMC from the path it seemed to be on before this. Even its other powerhouses, Mad Men and Breaking Bad seem a little like legacy shows that don’t quite fit the new model.)

Anyway, I like Rubicon, even if it is, by design, slow. But I figured, political thrillers don’t necessarily age well. (Even if I remember being pleasantly surprised by The Parallax View a few years ago, and that was definitely one of this show’s models. And some forty years old.) Time to give it a shot.

That, plus an incredible amount of freezing cold wind, was my Sunday.


Today did not go exactly as planned. I didn’t even do my morning pages until two o’clock in the afternoon.

I hurt my back late yesterday, pulled something as I was leaning over the couch to plug in a surge protector. Because I lead just that kind of rugged and/or glamorous lifestyle. I took it easy the rest of the night, but the rest of that night involved taking a dog out at both three and six am, and around that second time I decided to e-mail in sick. My back was starting to feel better, but I really didn’t want to rush into it and make things worse. (It’s amazing what leaning over the wrong way can do when you already have a herniated disc and are in arguably the worst shape of your adult life.)

So I again did the whole laying about the house watching TV thing. Which, admittedly, isn’t the way towards getting into better shape, but it does seem like it’s helped my back. I also read some comics — Jack Kirby’s “Fourth World” stuff, fitting since today’s the anniversary of the day he died. (I didn’t know that, but Tumblr keeps me well informed.) I also discovered an interesting show called The Booth at the End on Hulu, which beat watching many hours of Star Trek Voyager while endlessly checking my work e-mail. (It definitely beats ABC’s new “the Nazis had evil clocks or something” Zero Hour. That was awful.)

I’m definitely going back to the office tomorrow. I need a break from television. I’d actually like to get back to reading and maybe even writing again. What was supposed to be a couple days off has turned into five. And while I enjoy them, I am not very productive on days off.