Writing and Other Afflictions

"If it was easy, everyone would do it." –Jimmy Dugan, "A League of Their Own"

Monthly Archives: November 2013

How About A Little 19, Moneypenny?

Ranking the James Bond movie songs! Start at the beginning, or check out 22, 21, 20

19. Thunderball, Tom Jones. I should note that I am a big fan of Tom Jones and a moderate fan of his music. You might give him a pass, this being the fourth James Bond film, so the precedent had been set for the theme songs to be named after the title (Dr. No, the first, has no theme song). And I can see Tom Jones scratching his head, saying, “What the hell is a ‘Thunderball’?” But that’s no excuse for inserting the James Bond stinger every verse, nor for lyrics that feel generic when they aren’t ridiculous (“he knows the meaning of success / his needs are more so he gives less”). I will give it that it kind of fits with the movie, but the movie itself is bombastic and a bit ridiculous and not among Connery’s finer work (though you can argue that sub-par Connery is still above-average Bond and I wouldn’t disagree).

Fiction: Thunderball

The sight is terrifying, but the sound is worse. It starts with a pulsing rumble, like a giant bull in the ring, circling, its heart beating faster, danger and death already upon it faster than its awareness can process. Already the weaker buildings in the ghost town have trembled and succumbed, sliding downward as their last breath rises in a cloud of dust. And still the noise goes on and grows, and even through the deadening earphones the watchers can hear it, can feel it in their bodies. The taller buildings of the ghost town hold on grimly, and the rumble becomes a scream that issues from the earth itself, and now eyes turn toward the calm woman at the front of the room, her hands tight on the railing, her gaze never wavering. Has she miscalculated? Are they, supposedly a safe distance away, also to be torn to pieces by this blast of noise?

Six buildings remain. The scream is unendurable. Now five. Now the fourth topples into the third, the second collapses in on itself. Several watchers close their eyes against the noise. Finally the last building gives up.

The noise does not cut off abruptly–that would be dangerous, she’s told them–but fades quickly. Within forty-five seconds, she’s taken off her earphones. Slowly, the others follow suit. To one side, a young man ejects a thumb drive from his laptop and brings it over. She takes it from him and holds it up to the large man with two dozen medals on his uniform.

He follows her to a side room and shuts the door behind them. “We’ll take it,” he says, accepting the thumb drive from her.

She looks at him curiously. “You already have it,” she says.

The general squints. “The plans are on that?”

“The video is on it.” She waves at the closed door. “All the international delegates here will testify to its veracity, and all are welcome to inspect the site afterwards.”

“But the weapon,” the general insists. “We want the weapon.”

She looks at him steadily. “That weapon is not for sale.”

He throws the thumb drive to the floor. “It has to be. Why are you wasting my time?”

“General,” she says, “do you know why I called this device the ‘Thunderball’?”

“Scientist sense of humor? James Bond fan? I don’t give a shit. I want–”

“Back when Jane Goodall was studying chimp societies–patience, I assure you that this is relevant to your understanding–there was a chimp who learned how to roll oil drums down a slope. It made a terrific racket and the other chimps couldn’t understand how he did it. He became the top male in the group.” She eyed the general. “You understand that, right?”

“I love being compared to apes,” he said. “If your point is deterrence, we already understand that. I grew up during the Cold War.”

“The point is,” she went on, “that the oil drums just made a terrific noise. They weren’t actually dangerous. But the others didn’t know that. As you astutely pointed out, humans are not chimps. We’re a little more sophisticated. So we have had to develop weapons that do more than just make noise. Cannons, submarines, atomic bombs. They are true deterrents because they actually have power; they are more than just thunder.”

His eyes narrowed. “You telling me this is all just a trick?”

“The technology is real. The deployment is a trick.” She smiled. “What is critical is that nobody else understands it. A deterrent that can be replicated is short-lived.”

“A deterrent that can’t be replicated is useless.”

“We can replicate it just often enough. It takes a good deal more preparation than I’ve been letting on, but it’s not impossible. However…” She bent to pick up the thumb drive. “This should keep people quiet for a while.”

“And I guess when we need another deployment, we come to you.”

She smiled. “I do have the Thunderball.”

“For now.” The general’s lips remained set in a straight light, his eyes hard and cold.

“Everything is temporary.” She brushed black hair out of her face and smiled. “But by the time you’ve cracked this one, I’ll be working on the next one.”

He took the thumb drive as she held it out. “You’re damn close to treason.”

“I’m not selling the technology to anyone.” She released the small drive. “And I’ve given you the leverage to be the world bully again. I hardly see how that’s treason.”

He turned, and then stopped, his hand on the door. “What happened to that ape? The one with the oil cans?”

“Oh, he was deposed after a year or two. But he had a good time at the top.”

“Right.” The general pocketed the thumb drive. “Enjoy yours.”

When the door had closed behind him, she sighed and said, “You too.”

Let Me Guess, M…#20

[I’m ranking the James Bond movie songs and writing a short fiction with each. Intro here: https://timsusman.wordpress.com/2013/11/14/an-odd-little-project/ ]

20. Moonraker, Shirley Bassey. Bassey has done more Bond themes than anyone, but “Moonraker” is her weakest effort, though she tries gamely to re-create her earlier successes. This one and “Thunderball” are probably the worst titles actually incorporated into the song (Rita Coolidge wisely took a pass on “Octopussy”). There’s just not much for Bassey to do with it, and the flat, uninspired song does no favors for the over-the-top campy movie.


Fiction: Moonraker

They’re guarding the site in shifts now, but entropy is his ally and they will fail eventually. He considers, puffs of air from his suit’s feet smoothing out the dust on the lunar surface below him, keeping him suspended above it. With a shift in his weight to the left or the right, he glides across the surface, leaving a smooth, unmarked trail in his wake, almost as if no-one had ever been there. Almost. 

In another two days, darkness would cover the site, and no doubt they thought that he would strike then, because at the last site, he had come skidding down the crater wall, gathering speed, silent in the airless world. He’d been through the site before they’d known he was there.

But here, he wanted light. He gauged the distance, which was hard along the featureless surface. If this site were in a crater, he could roll one of the boulders down the sides; that was something that might naturally happen. But no; on the flat marais, he had to bring his own rocks, gathered in a small pile at his feet. 

The first one curved in a high parabolic arc. Rumor had it that his daddy’d once thrown a rock that reached escape velocity. He wasn’t sure if that was possible or not, but he believed it anyway.

The rock landed a little ways to the left of the site. The guards nearby noticed it. He could see them looking around for the source. The second and third rocks followed it. 

He hoped he wouldn’t hit any of the guards. They were looking for the rocks now, so they should be able to avoid them. 

They didn’t see the second or third rocks, but he got them squarely in the center of the site. Already they were running around, and one of them noticed him, but by then he’d already thrown two more rocks, and he would be able to get the rest of them before they got halfway to him.

And in an attempt to avoid the sixth rock, one of the guards leaped too far and ended sprawled across half the site, obliterating the footprints there that the rocks hadn’t already marred.

He stopped to laugh, and then turned to run, and behind him his jets left a smooth trail of dust, as though nobody had ever been there.

Try To Return #21 In One Piece, Bond

Ranking the James Bond movie songs! What this is about: https://timsusman.wordpress.com/2013/11/14/an-odd-little-project/

21. The Living Daylights, a-ha. Whoever picked a-ha to do a Bond theme should have lost his or her job. Most of the other artists on this list are bona fide stars; a-ha was a one-hit wonder. Sure, “Take On Me” is a great song and lives on to this day, but most of a-ha’s repertoire doesn’t have its infectious energy. Handed a new Bond (Timothy Dalton) to kickstart, a-ha did…an a-ha song. It’s kind of mellow and atmospheric and I can’t remember anything about it.


Fiction: The Living Daylights

You can see them even in brightest noon, my dear, those constellations in the perpetual night of the forest. When the days grow short and twilight creeps up on us like the tide, when the grain is taller than you are and the whick-whick of the whetstone sounds every day on the scythes, then you may see the dayfruits appear in your friends’ homes. Yes, my boy, those little peaches with a sun for a stone are the very same lights that sparkle across the fields. They glow for a week, and then when you eat their flesh, the glow rolls back the years and even your old grandfather can get around on his own again.

Now, my dear, here is the part you must listen to, with both your ears and everything between. You must not go pick the dayfruit yourself, never, not when the darkness creeps into your heart in the spaces the fire cannot reach, not even when your old grandfather cannot get up from his bed. Because the dayfruit are light, yes, and hope, and their juice running down your chin feels like a lover’s kiss–you will not make that face when you are older, my boy. They are all of that. But what they are first of all is bait.


#22: https://timsusman.wordpress.com/2013/11/15/number-22-mister-bond/


Number 22, Mister Bond

Ranking the James Bond movie songs! What this is about: https://timsusman.wordpress.com/2013/11/14/an-odd-little-project/

22. Die Another Day, Madonna. Uninspiring song, has little to nothing to do with the Bond movies. Generally agreed by my small survey of friends to be the worst of the Bond themes, and remember, this is a list that includes Shirley Bassey and Tom Jones crooning about “the Moonraker” and “that Thunderball,” respectively.


Die Another Day

Jorgen didn’t register the alarm consciously until he was already two steps outside the greenhouse, joining the hurried, silent crowd on their way back to the living quarters. A few of the newer employees glanced up, as though you could see the weight of two miles of water through the projected blue sky and fluffy white clouds. The blaring horn sounded a rhythm that the crowd fell in step with, though it wasn’t fast enough to match their urgency, so Jorgen found his right foot coming down on each note, his left falling into silence.

In the residential neighborhood, the river of people reversed the process by which it had formed, breaking into streams in each sector, tributaries that held the secured doors open at each building for the people behind them, drops landing in each individual room. As Jorgen nodded to an engineer holding the door of his building for him, their eyes met and Jorgen saw reflected in the older man’s expression his own worry and resignation.

The engineer lived on three, Jorgen on two. When he applied his finger to the scanner at F2-23, his hand trembled. He willed it to stop.

Davis looked up from his seat on their bed, a wan smile across his pale features. Jorgen pushed the door shut and crossed the room in five strides to sit next to the short, blond man. Their hands clasped without a word.

There was something hypnotic to the rhythm of the alarm. In the spaces between the beats came the noise of hurrying feet, opening and closing doors, and the background murmur of the emergency channel from other rooms. Jorgen and Davis kept their radio off during the alarm; listening to the Integrity Team’s chatter about the progress of their work was as pointless as putting on the pressure suits. They would get the all-clear, or they would hear the panic around them a few seconds before the ocean reasserted its presence in this space they had carved out and defiantly held. The pressure suits had only saved fifty-one of the six thousand at the Triton mine when the ocean fell on that bubble, the lucky residents being the ones who happened to be near the airlocks, avoided the swirling mass of debris, and didn’t die of depressurization complications during their ascent to the surface of the ocean.

Jorgen and Davis, and most of Neptune, preferred to spend their potentially final moments together, some in private rooms, some in small groups in lounges. Theoretically, the undersea installation was compartmentalized, but the inner walls had never been tested against the full rush of the furious ocean.

“How are the plants?” Davis asked.

“Doing well. I think the maples are going to recover. How’s the cafeteria?”

“The dal curry smelled really good.”

Jorgen’s hand stopped trembling. He drew in a breath, caught the hint of spice on Davis’s shirt, and rested his head against the cotton fabric. “I can smell it on you.”

“You smell like dirt.” Davis disengaged his hand and wrapped an arm around Jorgen’s shoulders. Jorgen slid his hand behind Davis’s back and cupped the softness of his stomach.

“You should work out with me.”

“I’ll start tomorrow.”

He could feel Davis’s heart beating, a rhythm out of time with the alarm. Jorgen focused on that, on the warmth of the body beside him, the smell of curry and dish soap, and, yes, the dirt he’d been working with. He closed his eyes and thought about how far he was from everything else, thousands of miles from his family, his hometown, his college, all the people who’d told him he was crazy for taking this job, no matter the money. His arm squeezed Davis, and the other man squeezed him back.

The horn of the alarm changed, sounding three long blasts, then a long, short, long, and then it did not sound again. The space after that signal was the purest silence Jorgen ever heard.

Stirring and rustling sounded around them, the sound of Neptune coming back to life, exhaling after a long held breath. Jorgen lifted his head and kissed Davis’s cheek. “I suppose I’ll get to try that curry after all.”

Davis kissed him back. “I’ll see you there in an hour or so.”

They stood together, crossed the room, and left to go back to work.

An odd little project

So I recently got this 50th anniversary collection of James Bond songs and, being afflicted with mild OCD, I thought I would rank the songs from best to worst according to my own scientifically proven rating system of Things I Like. But then I was looking at the titles, and while they make generally not very good titles for songs–you might not know this, but very few songwriters choose to put words like “die” and “kill” into their song titles–they are quite good titles for movies, and, I thought, could also possibly serve as story prompts. So here is what I am going to do: I am going to post an entry for each song, from #22 (there are 23 movies, including “Skyfall” which is not in this collection, but “Dr. No” did not have a theme song per se; the John Barry “James Bond” theme is originally attributed to that movie, and if included on this list would be at #1 because it defined Bond) to #1, and for each song I will write a short bit detailing the scientific method that led me to that ranking, and also I will write a short-ish micro/flash fiction piece based around the song title (not the title of the movie it was in; they are sometimes different, as any Bond song expert will tell you). Feel free to use the titles as prompts for yourself if you want; you can link to your own fics in the comments.

Here’s my general song ranking philosophy:

I ranked them based on how good the song was on its own, and then on how well it fit the James Bond theme/movie it was attached to. I combined the rankings and they came out pretty reasonable, so here they are. One note: there are a lot of pretty good songs on this list. The whole collection is pretty enjoyable to listen to, with really none except maybe the last one that I would skip, and the top ten are legitimately terrific songs. I tried to judge them on their time period—for example, “From Russia With Love” would flop nowadays, but in the sixties when the movie came out, that kind of crooner song was still in vogue, and it’s a pretty good example of the genre.

Next post: #22.