Writing and Other Afflictions

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

Monthly Archives: January 2014

Fourteen: Another Way To Die

(I have officially run out of cutesy Bond titles and I don’t think they are that informative anyway.)

14. Another Way To Die, Jack White (from Quantum of Solace). The Daniel Craig era of Bond has produced, thus far, superior films and superior songs; we have seen songs from all the other Bonds (excepting George “one movie is not a sufficient sample size” Lazenby) lower on this list. “Quantum of Solace” is, perhaps not coincidentally, the worst of the Daniel Craig movies so far, and even that is not too bad. This list is not intended to be a referendum on the movies themselves, but it seems that better movies generally get better songs; or perhaps I’m just remembering the songs more fondly from better movies. In any case, Jack White at least avoided using the terrible title, though he did work “solace” into the song, so kudos for that.

Fiction: Another Way To Die

They forced him off at gunpoint, unable to hear the shrieks that echoed inside his head. He had turned the radio off at first, but that didn’t stop the screaming, of course, so he turned it on again to at least provide some counterpoint to the noise, something to focus on other than his helplessness.

“Cruelty no,” the four-armed pirate said into a handheld radio nestled into the web of sticky fingers that made up its golden-brown “hand.” Two of the others had guns trained on Captain Kim, while the fourth caressed the door panel. “Rescue yes. Hours yes, days no. Liquid yes.”

“Ship,” Kim pleaded, gesturing up at the bulbous silver shape, “no!”

NO NO NO NO NO NO NO! echoed in his head. He winced, stumbled backwards as one of the pistols prodded him in the chest.

“Regret no,” the alien said. “Money yes yes.”

Kim fell backwards onto stone. His Kar-Ball suit hit sharp crags and soft sand with the same imperturbability the pirate showed. The screaming in Kim’s head reached ear-splitting volume, if volume had any meaning to thought. “Kill yes.” He gestured at his chest.

“Cruelty no,” the alien repeated. “Kill no.”

And then the door slid shut and the planetary lift engines whirred to life.

DON’T LEAVE ME DON’T LEAVE ME DON’T LEAVE ME

There was no chemical flame, nothing to exceed the temperature threshold of the suit.The words in his head dissolved again into incoherent shrieks as the ship separated from the ground. It rose into the air, and the volume of the shrieks did not diminish. Instead, they continued on as the ship hurtled upward toward the Kurtzmann-Nguyen threshold. Kim waited, tears blurring his eyes, and when the screams cut off abruptly, the distance too far to transmit telepathy, he fell to his knees.

The silence was worse than the noise. His ship was gone, gone, and he would never get it back. The pirates would disassemble it; in the best case, it would be bonded to another. He fumbled at the air valves on his suit, but a smooth, distanced mechanical voice said in his ear, “Life systems may not be manually adjusted in unsurvivable conditions.”

His hands, both of them, fell to his sides. Unsurvivable conditions: that was his life now. The ship’s absence burned inside him like the cold of deep space, and nothing his suit could supply would fill it.

Fifteen Minutes of Bond

Ranking the Bond theme songs and doing a little flash fic of each…

15. Tomorrow Never Dies, Sheryl Crow. It’s a fine song, and I guess it works with the movie in that it would work with just about any movie. Crow is a good choice as a Bond songstress; her work is often terrifically atmospheric and evocative of a place or feeling, which should be perfect for Bond. But she doesn’t quite nail the Bond aesthetic here. It’s not her worst song by a long shot, but just listening to the rest of her work, I feel like she could’ve come up with something more personal to say about Bond.

Fiction: Tomorrow Never Dies

We were going to be in the spaceship for two years, give or take a month: nine months for the Mag drive to spin up to full speed, three months to cover the three hundred and fifty light-years to our destination, and then another nine months for the drive to spin down. Then two to four months for verification of the probe’s evaluation of our colony planet, deployment of the dome, and so on.

Most of the colonists were in deep freeze, so to them the trip would last for one long night; they would go to sleep and wake up tomorrow at their destination. Roy, Ai, Sveta, and me were the skeleton crew, mostly awake in case something happened to the corpsicles, because if something happened to the ship it would happen so fast there was fuck-all we could do about it. Mag drive failures were documented in picoseconds. They tended to be spectacular and devastating and, fortunately, quite rare.

One of the things we learned on the ship is that we had total control of time. The ship’s lights were cycled to an Earth day, but Ai had been a hacker in her early days, so it wasn’t long before we’d reset the lights to be under our control, not to mention unlocked what was supposed to be a celebratory Welcome-To-Our-New-Home dinner. Giddy on champagne and the twenty-sixth hour of daylight, we almost imagined that tomorrow had come, that we had arrived at the planet and that soon enough, everyone would be waking around us.

And then Roy, Ai, and Sveta went off to bed and left me alone in charge of everything. This had been our standard practice ever since we’d figured out that the three of them were straight and I wasn’t, meaning that I had nothing to offer them in bed, and vice versa. Carelessness on the part of New Wave Colonies, who had undoubtedly selected two men and two women for the voyage on the premise that we’d pair off during the two years.

I decided to leave the lights on for as long as I could. There were stimulants in my locker, unending coffee on the flight deck, and I didn’t even have to go to sleep when the others woke up. If I never went to sleep, then today would be tomorrow and we would eventually arrive at the planet.

Ai had opened up the registry of the colonists for us to peruse during our trip–if you think the library of a hundred thousand books was more attractive than snooping on your fellow passengers, then you’re a better man than I. I skimmed through hundreds of entries looking for single guys, people who might be gay and around my type when we landed (if New Wave had a sexuality question on their application, I wouldn’t be in this situation to begin with). Sort of like a very one-sided online dating service.

One guy caught my attention. Three years younger than me, not attached, pretty cute, and he was a poet. I kept coming back to him, and the more I saw him looking out of the screen at me, the more certain I was that not only was he gay, he was gay for me. I became convinced that I could actually wake him up. There had to be something in the cryo mechanisms in case of emergency. What if, what if (I reasoned with myself) another probe found a better world closer while we were en route? We had backup destinations, so why couldn’t we have an alternate if new information came in?

Well, because once the Mag drive spun up we would be out of contact, but that wouldn’t happen for another five months and two weeks and three days. And besides, wasn’t my sexual frustration an emergency? Who knew what I would do if I had to endure two years of this? I read paragraphs of the cryo documentation over and over again.

The next thing I knew, Sveta was shaking me by the shoulder and it was tomorrow and we still were not at our home. Five hundred tomorrows to go. But I could always try again today.

About Football and Expectations

I’ll go back to the Bond and flash fics in a day or two–still recovering from a lovely New Year’s vacation (maybe I will also write about that, though more likely I’ll post on Facebook). But as another Philadelphia Eagles season comes to a disappointing end, I thought I’d talk about expectations and evaluations and moving forward and stuff, lessons you can take from sports and apply to anywhere.

The Eagles were 4-12 last year, last in the NFC East, fourth worst in the league. They were widely picked to finish last in their division again, though some people thought the new coach, Chip Kelly, could get them to a second or even first-place finish. But the NFC East was thought to be a tough division, with Washington getting its star QB back and Dallas returning the same team that almost won the division last year and the Giants–well, you can never count out the Giants. Whatever happened with the Eagles, as long as it was better than 4-12, it’d be a gift.

So a weird thing happened in the opener. The Eagles demolished Washington in the first half and held on for a win. People started re-evaluating Coach Kelly and his offense. Maybe he was going to be innovative, maybe he was going to rack up 40 and 50 points a game. 

Then: three losses in a row. The Chargers, Chiefs, and Broncos would all be playoff teams in 2013, and the first two losses, at least, were close. But still, they were 1-3. Chip Kelly had been figured out, the defense was porous, the Eagles were going to finish 6-10 just as predicted.

Beating the hapless Giants and Bucs (combined record at time of games: 0-11) didn’t do much to change that view, but it got the Eagles to 3-3, amazingly tied with the disappointing Cowboys for the lead in the NFC East. That evaporated quickly with a 17-3 loss to the Cowboys the following week. They lost to the Giants 15-7 the next week–the 1-6 Giants–and that was it for Chip Kelly’s offense. Ten points in two games? The Birds, at 3-5, were done.

Only not so fast. They rattled off five straight wins after that, culminating in the Snow Game against Detroit, averaging just over 31 points a game. Only one playoff team in that bunch (Green Bay, playing without their star QB), but Arizona and Detroit were in the hunt at the time. Chip Kelly was back and the Eagles, incredibly, were in first place in their division. Even after a mystifying stumble in Minnesota, they pounded the Bears and held on against the disappointing Cowboys (they really should just change their name to that) to get to 10-6 and a division title. 

They then took the high-octane Saints down to the last minute before losing by two in yesterday’s playoff game. The defense tried valiantly to give the offense enough room to work with, and with the injuries on the Saints side, it was almost, almost enough. The Eagles played a pretty good game. They took care of the ball, they made some big plays. The Saints were determined to take away the run, so the Eagles passed. Nick Foles, in his first playoff game, had a couple bad throws, one questionable play where he took a sack and probably shouldn’t have, but overall he didn’t give the fans any reason to think he’s not the quarterback next year, and going forward.

So yes, the loss was disappointing, but against a playoff-experienced team like the Saints, it wasn’t bad. The Eagles need to stiffen up their defense, but they look pretty good on the offensive side of the ball. Getting Jeremy Maclin back will help, and giving Foles a full off-season as the starter will make him more comfortable. And they got to ten wins–yes, mostly against non-playoff teams, but as they say, you can only play the guys they put on the field. They surprised a lot of people, exceeded expectations, and while they could easily have won this game if a couple plays had gone their way, they’ve now got playoff experience for next year. 

So often we focus on the latest setback without looking at the larger picture. It’s hard not to live in the moment, but it’s also important to realize that the moment passes. Learn from it and move forward, be determined to do your best next time. Because there will always be a next time, one way or another.