The Hopeful Wanderer – The Role of the Witness

In a disintegrating room stood a girl in a white dress. She had her back to me, hem trailing among broken bricks.

She was about to begin.

“What’s that sound?” She turned toward the wrecked wall, then she stumbled backward and fell over. Her form drifted apart like fingers raked through mist.

After a moment, she reappeared with her back to me.

This was my fourth viewing. Tourists come to see the ghost girl replay her last moments had all left. I blew out a soft breath.

“What’s that sound?” the girl said again, turning.

“Shhh…” I said. This time, I heard a dry, slithering rustle.

Now the girl turned wide eyes upon me. “It’s coming,” she whispered. Voices trickled in from another room.

“Just stay quiet,” I replied. Back then, I had stepped away to inform her parents of the danger and missed the next part.

The girl crept up to a spectral, boarded up window. Peeked through a gap in the planks. I moved closer to see what she saw.

A single eyeball, looking back at her.

The girl screamed and fell backward. A gasped breath. Then the entire wall blew inward, several bricks slamming into her. She lay stunned with a monster towering over her. Long, scaly body coiled up, feathered wings fluttering, single eye roving.

Her parents and I raced in. We all had screamed, “No!” But now our mouths moved soundlessly. For us, I said, “No.”

Snapping the girl up in its sharp metal beak, the creature flapped away into the night.

The girl reappeared with her back to me, but she turned around. “Will you come back?” she asked.

My heart sank. No matter how many times I returned to bear witness, she continued to make this request.

As always, I said, “Of course.”

Thanks for reading!

If you like what I write here at Word Nerd Scribbles, you can leave a one-time tip for the price of a $3 coffee ko-fi.com/sgbaker.

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Book Review: Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Part nature documentary, part retelling of the human condition, Children of Time tells of the clash between a race just beginning and another on the verge of vanishing forever.

Children of Time Synopsis

A race for survival among the stars… Humanity’s last survivors escaped earth’s ruins to find a new home. But when they find it, can their desperation overcome its dangers?

WHO WILL INHERIT THIS NEW EARTH?

The last remnants of the human race left a dying Earth, desperate to find a new home among the stars. Following in the footsteps of their ancestors, they discover the greatest treasure of the past age – a world terraformed and prepared for human life.

But all is not right in this new Eden. In the long years since the planet was abandoned, the work of its architects has borne disastrous fruit. The planet is not waiting for them, pristine and unoccupied. New masters have turned it from a refuge into mankind’s worst nightmare.

Now two civilizations are on a collision course, both testing the boundaries of what they will do to survive. As the fate of humanity hangs in the balance, who are the true heirs of this new Earth?

Goodreads

My Thoughts

On Tor.com’s Facebook page, I came across James Davis Nicoll’s article “SFF Works in Which Violence is Not the Solution.” Among the offerings listed appeared Mushishi, my favorite television show and ultimate inspiration for my free-to-read flash fiction series about The Hopeful Wanderer. Stories with non-violent solutions speak to my heart – hence the existence of the Wanderer – and the presence of Mushishi recommended this list to me wholeheartedly.

Almost every work in this article now lives on my Goodreads TBR list, but only Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky was available in my library network when I went looking for them. I’ll get ahold of the rest someday.

Appraisals

PLOT

Part nature documentary, part retelling of the human condition, Children of Time tells of the clash between a race just beginning and another on the verge of vanishing forever. The narrative follows two intriguing plotlines and their occasional overlap.

Tchaikovsky takes a species almost universally abhorrent to humans – spiders – and makes them sympathetic and understood as they evolve into a sentient race on a terraformed planet. Guided by their Messenger in the sky and nano-virus evolution through hunter-society, superstition, radical religion, invention, enlightenment, and space-faring unity. The most interesting part I found personally was the examination of sexism through the lens of males as the inferior gender, and how the brave and the empathetic make changes to this problem.

The humans, on the other hand, walk an opposing path. As thousands of years pass to those in cryogenic sleep, individuals in the cargo get woken for crisis after crisis as the last race of its kind squabble, in-fight, revolt, and work desperately to stay alive on a crumbling ark ship. The mechanics of time and generations become skewed through the use of cryogenics, with legendary figures rising from their ‘coffins’ to find several generations of humans passed. Though the Gilgamesh seeks a home for the humans among the stars, only one terrifying world will do.

CHARACTERS

My favorite character motif of Children of Time comes from the spiders society. As the story progresses over spider generations, living and dying in the thousands of years passing by for the humans, each new generation features three or four characters, new every time, but bearing the placeholder names of their ancestors. I loved learning which roles the Portias and the Biancas and the Fabians and the Violas would play during the rise of each new situation. The scholar? The warrior? The leader? The mad genius? Always Tchaikovsky focused on these characters as the most important movers of their world.

From the human camp, I found myself relating to the four to five characters present from Key Crew. From bumbling Mason, looking for meaning in a meaningless universe; to Lain on whose shoulders ride the leadership of an entire race; to simple Karst keeping up a smiling appearance hiding a sense of failed understanding beneath; to Guyen’s egotistical bid for eternity to see through his long-range plan; to logical Vitas and her hidden fears.

THEME

The difficult path to harmony. Throughout its existence, humanity has demonstrated its inability to get along with others. Children of Time presents the notion that lacking outside help, and perhaps a three-dimensional perspective, humans may never break the pattern of self- and environmental-destruction. Without the intervention of the alien spider intelligence, humanity would continue to spiral ever closer to the brink until someday it destroyed itself.

ENDING

Couched within the ending of Children of Time comes the non-violent part promised in Tor.com’s article. However, Tchaikovsky keeps his solution close to the chest, having me worried up until the last second that violence would be the answer after all.

Criticisms

Sudden sex is sudden and people sigh rather often. The usual. Otherwise, Children of Time is a magnificent science fiction offering. The story will stick with me for ages to come.

My Rating: 5/5 stars
Goodreads Rating: 4.30 stars

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The Hopeful Wanderer – Smiling at Strangers

A face loomed in the darkness outside our stopped subway train. Outlined in glowing white lines. Xs for eyes. A hand-drawn, rictus grin. A mask. It bobbed along up and down the cars, pressing against the windows, fingertips tapping the glass. Giggling echoed down the tunnel, accompanying a high-pitched voice asking, “Who smiled? Whooo smiiiiled?”

Within, some of us glanced around at each other, wondering who had broken the taboo. At all stations, ancient signs declared, “Do not smile at strangers.” Relics of a time of scams and con artists. Now the tunnels were too dangerous for casual opportunists. Suggestion had become rule.

The voice of the conductor buzzed over the intercom. “Who pulled the emergency brake? What’s going on?”

In front of me, the face had paused, tilted, as if curious. A bare finger rubbed against the glass. Over and over. “Was it youuuu?”

I swallowed.

Behind me, a woman stuttered a reply to the conductor. “No one,” she explained. “S-someone smiled at a stranger.”

A curse word sounded through the intercom before the conductor remembered to close the channel. Without the presence of an authority figure, the entire car held its collective breath.

The face watched us like fish in a bowl.

As the engine revved, the train lurched forward. Before me, beside the mask, the white outline of a hand bloomed, fingers outspread. They waved cheerfully at me. As the face receded, the voice sang out, “Byeeeeee.”

Thanks for reading!

If you like what I write here at Word Nerd Scribbles, you can leave a one-time tip for the price of a $3 coffee ko-fi.com/sgbaker.

At $1 a month, you can also join my creative journey @ patreon.com/sgbaker.

To read more free original short fiction every Thursday, follow the blog, like the Word Nerd Scribbles Facebook page, or subscribe to my monthly newsletter!

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Word Nerd Scribbles Joins #Spooktober 2019

Fall began a week ago, but now. Now. Finally and at last. Today. October has arrived. The season of spooks, monsters, and creeps. It’s here! The best time of the year.

With the arrival of October begins #Spooktober, a time of Halloween-flavored media in movies, fiction, art, gifs, and more. Whether you prefer gory horror or light-hearted creepiness, #Spooktober has it all.

Word Nerd Scribbles will be joining in on #Spooktober 2019 with four spooky, creepy, and scary Hopeful Wanderer tales. Departing somewhat from the usual serene mood of the Wanderer’s adventures, because everyone experiences frightening things. Tune in each week to find out what goes wrong when the Wanderer makes mistakes.

Since October has five Thursdays this year, and the last one falls on Halloween (!), Word Nerd Scribbles will continue last year’s trend of presenting a Halloween Special. An original spooky short-story all on its own. Be on the lookout!

For my part, I don’t get enough time to watch all the scary movies, read all the creepy books, or attend all the spooky parties I want in October. So this year, I’ve picked Annihilation to watch, starring Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny, and Oscar Isaac. I haven’t seen it before, but some of you said it’s really good!

What are your October plans this year? Throwing a party? Making a costume? Let me know in the comments! For now and the rest of the month, my fellow spooks:

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The Hopeful Wanderer – Swift Hooves

Thunder sounded as a herd of horses broke from a stand of trees, hooves drumming on winter dead grass as they passed. One, the color of butter with black tail and legs, paused beside me, dancing and snorting.

“A mountain lion follows,” the horse said. “Climb on, before it catches you!”

A rustle in the trees. There, between the distant trunks, the tawny hide of a cougar flicked from sunlight to shadow. I turned away, saying, “I’m better at running than riding, thanks.”

The horse leapt in front of me, ears back. “You’re too slow on those two legs. Now hurry up!”

I took a breath, knowing the horse was right, and clambered aboard, nearly slipping several times. A low growl, followed by a frustrated roar and the thump of huge paws. “C’mon, c’mon!” I hissed.

Then I was upright and we were away, wind whistling across my ears. Though my fingers gripped rough mane, I flopped around on the horse’s back like a sack of potatoes. Racing steps of the big cat right behind us had me leaning low over the horse’s neck, holding on for my life. The scent of sweat and fear rose from its skin, adding to my own terror. I couldn’t afford to fall now.

At some point, the sounds of pursuit fell away. Behind us, the big cat stood watching us escape, tail twitching. When at last the horse stopped, I slid down its side onto numb feet, then fell over on my butt.

Looking up at the horse above me, I said, “Thanks for your help, but I hope I never have to do that again.”

The horse shook itself out. “Perhaps next time will be under safer circumstances.” It raised its head, ears pricked toward the danger we’d left behind. “Hopefully, anyway.”

This tale dedicated to my mother, Jenette Baker, who loves the Wanderer and horses alike.

Thanks for reading!

If you like what I write here at Word Nerd Scribbles, you can leave a one-time tip for the price of a $3 coffee ko-fi.com/sgbaker.

At $1 a month, you can also join my creative journey @ patreon.com/sgbaker.

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Book Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Agniezka gets thrown into unfamiliar situation after unfamiliar situation, just as she thinks she knows what she’s about. Each time, her lack of understanding gets her into trouble as she tries to fit into her surroundings and play by the rules. Only when she recognizes that the rules are garbage and that she must do things her way does she begin to stand a chance at getting what she needs.


Uprooted Synopsis

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose. (less)

Goodreads

My Thoughts

Another library find, Uprooted caught my eye as I prowled the shelves. I was coming down with a cold and needed something to keep me company in the long, gross days ahead. Though I had read no Naomi Novik offerings to this point, I knew her name, and the first page of Uprooted intrigued me.

Appraisals

PLOT

Concerning plot, Uprooted takes its time. Or rather, it covers a lot of ground over the course of the story. From a wizard’s tower to a cursed forest, a trip to a distant capital and back, rescue and battle, and a final confrontation in the heart of the Wood.

The fight scenes present vividly the fear and desperation of battle, all the ways things can go wrong, ending in loss of life. Exploration of the magic and new understandings of old ways of thinking show up as expressive imagery. The world itself appears both vast and detailed.

CHARACTERS

Many of the elements I loved in Tamora Pierce’s series The Immortals showed up in Uprooted. The wild magic element of Agniezka’s powers. The world weary mage in Sarkan. Her complete disinterest in keeping herself tidy, with no level of ridicule or criticism capable of changing that. Her chaos versus his orderliness, and the eventual recognition from both the value of the other’s method, the importance of putting the two together instead of keeping them apart. I found the two vivid and dynamic, changing and growing over the course of the story, ultimately becoming equals.

THEME

Stick with your guns. In Uprooted, Agniezka gets thrown into unfamiliar situation after unfamiliar situation, just as she thinks she knows what she’s about. Each time, her lack of understanding gets her into trouble as she tries to fit into her surroundings and play by the rules.

Only when she recognizes that the rules are garbage and that she must do things her way does she begin to stand a chance at getting what she needs.

ENDING

Possibly my favorite part of Uprooted, the ending. Agniezka ultimately becomes independent, a powerful yet compassionate witch, sharing empathy with her enemy and working hard to set the lingering after-effects of a centuries-long war to rights. She chases after no one’s approval but her own, so that in the end, she is enough for herself.

Criticisms

As mentioned, a lot happens in the plot of Uprooted. Several times, the story appears to be ending, only for another movement to begin. I had no problem with more to read, but getting catfished like that became a little wearying.

My Rating: 5/5 stars
Goodreads Rating: 4.09 stars

Thanks for reading!

Have you read this book? Let’s discuss! Tell me what you thought about it in the post comments on your preferred platform.

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Books Full-Circle

Just had a weird, lightning strike moment, sitting here at the laundromat. I went in search of a specific writerly thing that may only exist on Tumblr. Though I didn’t find what I sought, I wound up on an article called 12 Author Websites That Get It Right.

As I scrolled, taking note of ideas to apply to my own website, I happened across a screenshot of the webpage for Austin Kleon. I liked it so much that I visited his website itself for a closer look.

After reading a few of his blog posts, I clicked on his books page. Feeling drawn, somehow. The titles were interesting but unfamiliar to me.

Then I landed on this book:

Newspaper Blackout by Austin Kleon

I owned this book, Newspaper Blackout, a long time ago. One of the few I splurged to buy brand new when I was a starving college student (and the first few poems of which I read while on the job working at Barnes & Noble). As Kleon points out on his website, folks often use his books as bathroom readers and mine was no exception. The softback cover got destroyed by the moisture and I eventually had to throw it out.

Though never much of a poetry person myself, I recall enjoying the poems contained within. Likely, as an active artist, I would appreciate them more now. However, Newspaper Blackout did inspire me, several years later, to make my own blackout poetry out of a book I truly despised, but I won’t be saying which one.

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