Calculation

From the movie “Ex Machina.” Seemed appropriate.

(Hello everybody! As it turns out, I’m going to be scampering off to Colorado for a little over a week. As such, the Den’s going to be a little quiet for the next while…but that also means today you get a special treat. Who here’s in the mood for some sci-fi? Everyone?Good. Now let’s play a game.)

Xiangqi was commonly referred to as Chinese Chess. While the name certainly captured the motivation behind it, it hardly did the game justice in terms of execution. Xiangqi was to Chess as Chess was to Checkers: essentially, a more complicated version of a series of moves designed to pique the human interest and measure its strategic capability for micromanaging.

Two figures considered the game. On either’s chest was pinned a name. For the one: “Victor.” For the other: “Ursula.” They had but two things in common: both had spent entirely too many hours with this particular game, and neither had chosen their name at birth.

Victor was something of a prodigy when it came to the game. His country was known for its love of this sort of game; but then, they loved to play games at nearly every level of life’s offering. Some people (other people, that is to say) tended to find it disconcerting. Both at a personal level, and an international one.

When Victor leaned back, it wasn’t to relax. It was to size up his opponent.

As soon as the shadow of a hand had secured its move, he countered, sweeping a scholar along its predetermined lines to block access to his marshal. But here he tittered, though he tried not to let his trepidation show. Game after game, he had watched the number of moves it took him to dominate the board lengthen and lengthen. Now, he was actually on the defensive. He could see the outcomes laid before him in a sort of Robert Frostian choice: Ursula could move, she could strike, or she could have him pinned with the most delicate of military operations. It would take coordination, foresight, and most importantly: imagination.

Ursula seemed to imitate him. It was not like her. When he looked up from the board, he found her watching him, no trace of emotion to mark her face, but still. Her eyes were not on the board. She was reading him, rather than doing the mathematical calculations that carried her game against so many others.

This, he told himself, was not the little girl he had first set out to fool when she was nothing more than a series of code strings and a monitor in his parents’ basement. The form had changed since then. So, too, had the code.

It was odd to feel nervous doing something that had always been his mode of relaxation. He imagined this was how thousands of young American minds must have felt, years before, when they had first watched the Watson computer system decimate its opposition on live trivia TV.

But all Watson had to do was cross reference information. It didn’t consider the people it competed against.

Unpredictability. That was what he was testing here. Not the ability to conquer.

“Victor,” Ursula said. “I believe you are over-analyzing.”

He blinked, nodded. “I’m just waiting on you, darling,” he lied.

Ursula cocked her head to one side and smiled. She liked to smile. Then she shifted her final chariot to snare his scholar. It was the easiest path, the most sensible path. It left his marshal briefly open, but it would sacrifice her most powerful piece and, inevitably, cost her the game. Victor sighed heavily and the crowd, seeing what he had seen, answered his counter with a series of low-grade applause. The eyes of the nation were watching.

Ursula nodded as he picked off first one piece, then another, her own pieces countering deftly, but not enough to stem the tide. When he took her general, the crowd cheered. They loved to see how far technology had come, but they loved it all the more watching mankind still triumph over it.

With a practiced smile, Victor stood and took Ursula’s hand in his. She answered, leaning over the board toward him.

“You are pleased, Victor?”

“Of course I’m pleased, Ursula. It was a good game.”

She shook his hand and twisted toward the enthusiastic crowd. Unlike with people, her lips did not need to move to reply to him.

“I thought they might like this better.”

For an instant, he must have looked like a fish out of water for the cameras. But he forced the stiffness out, and kept waving his hand for those watching. Victor had his part to play. He knew this. But so, apparently, did Ursula.

(Like what I do with Sci-Fi? Then you might also consider “New Frontiers,” a space story out on Kindle Singles. Others of this type of fiction are set to appear in A Bleak New World Anthology and in a collection published by Evil Girlfriend Media later this year.)

The magnitude of an apology

The magnitude of an apology

is an elusive jelly-fish, floating

 

memories in an expanse

of ever-moving sea-water

 

crystalline nothing harbored

–in an expansion of space

—-too great to have meaning

——without catching the tide

 

honesty writhes in and out

but until one tastes its sting

 

the pieces of possibility

scatter on our shores.

Book Review: Kalimpura

Would it suffice to say that I wanted (and hoped for) so much more from this series?

Kalimpura is the grand finale to the three book series on Green, the miscreant ninja girl punching her way through the conventional and divine worlds alike in the search, ultimately, to find a place for herself. As Endurance left off on some cliffhangers, Kalimpura picks up just after—and quickly pulls us away again from the city Green spent all of last book getting reacquainted with. That happens to probably be for the best, though, as things in Kalimpura have taken a turn for the worse, with the Temple of the Lily Goddess at its lowest point yet, and the gruff folks in the Bittern Court taking up a page from the megalomaniacal playbook.

A mess ensues. And I don’t mean for Green—I mean for us, the readers.

Lake has always had trouble with pacing in these books. Is Kalimpura’s more on-point and to par than the initial, scattered endeavor of Green was? Yes. Yet the trouble that arises in Kalimpura goes well beyond between random bouts of action and immovable characterized disconnection, to the actions of those characters themselves. You will want to ask them questions—you will not get the answers you desire, or more often, many answers at all. The baddies, as I said, are kind of in that megalomaniacal camp, with the classic baddy mentality—“What do you want? Everything! Why do you want it? Cause! When do you want it? Now!”

Where is the character? The personality? There is no growth here—and certainly not in the form of the myriad cast of red shirts and other randoms that traipse through to little end. Implausibilities (and I do try to use that word sparingly in fantasy) abound, and for the most part, there’s just no accounting for them beyond poor plotting.

As it has been all along, gender and religion (spirituality) are still critical here, and these are undertaken with the same interesting poise they have always been under Lake’s pen. Naturally, these raise more questions than answers, but they are points that get one thinking.

And then there’s Green. Green, Green, Green.

Green has been a frustrating character for me from the very beginning. She is detached, willfully disengages, and yet claims the contrary. She bemoans, and fighting always seems to be the first impulse—which is to say, she’s a fighter not a thinker; impulsive to the utmost. Her sexuality is always at the fore of her thoughts—even in the most awkward, inappropriate situations. Seriously, it’s this woman’s cure to all things. I have no problem with sexual situations in fantasy, but they are just poorly handled in these books, and feel, above all, like they’re there for the sex itself, not for any real purpose or advancement of the plot. Green is not an intricate character, and when one factors in her superwoman capabilities matched with the luck and incompetence of the world around her, things can seem…well, downright boring at times. Pre-supposed.

In all? This was a series with a lot of potential. There is a rich world lurking beneath the pages, that puts a lot of important questions to the forefront of our own investigative minds—but what we get is a poorly plodded, disappointing adventure, populated by characters lacking the staying power of personality.

Cockamamie Celestia

Credit comes where credit’s due, and laws—

well, laws come twitterpated before the thaw

of old white men in old white suits;

They (omniscient, omnipresent, indescribable they) did it first to Galileo

then to poor sweet Mattimeo

(better known as Bob the bloviating, argle-bargling snob)

with the theory that he chose to lob:

Balls.

You laugh, but it’s quite a simple fall—

the world, the moon, the stars, and all the drumming racket between

it’s all just balls of a rather vibrant sheen.

Given, he colored himself early with the choice

of Al Gore for Internet’s first modest voice—

a tubular choice for a system clogged

with indecision blogged

for people! for substance!

Well, he’s nothing but a nuisance

some little boy crying wolf

when the world was playing golf—

but as the rest claimed ends of ice and fire

(destruction, not the Game of Thrones) desire

telescopes were found to spy The Bearded Man align

the perfect shot from His designs

too late to cry for all their hope

that God was not a golfing man or replicating trope—

Pool’s the game on which He set His celestial roots.

The Gunsmith’s Song

I narrowed the world with scorching air,

a cave I stalked into earth’s bosom lair

echoing with its iron song

where no foreign hand belong.

I weighed my lungs in the choking air,

it laid the foundation bare

with the sinking burden of its flight—

a flash of light, and swift goodnight.

Years drift through the sulfurous after-air

Buried at the point of its timeless snare

Bent, unbroken on its stark crescendo

Lost to a brother I should never know.

(And for the more fantasy/full book inclined, don’t forget that there’s just one more day to get in on the FLASH SUMMER SALE currently involving The Hollow March, the first novel in my Haunted Shadows series. Don’t let it pass you by!)