August 11th, 2014

There will now be a two-week hiatus while I attend Worldcon. When I get back I’ll post the opening scene from Beyond the Gate, and finish up the next “The Music Will Never Stop” entry.

See you then!

The Partial Observer, a.k.a. The Research Agent

August 10th, 2014

This one — well, I felt like writing some space opera. Which is what this would be, once it got rolling.

“The problem with you Kletti,” the Nominian said drunkenly, “is that you think you’re better than anyone else.”

Jeret smiled crookedly. He glanced at his drinking companion, then focused once more on his beer. There had been a time when he would have given the question of how best to respond to such an accusation serious thought, but some months ago he had concluded that the optimum choice was always the same. Old Sarg had always said that the truth was never believed and never gave offense if you made it sound like a joke, and Jeret’s experiences on a dozen worlds had yet to prove Sarg wrong.

“That’s because we are better than anyone else,” Jeret replied.

“Aaaah.” The Nominian waved a hand in dismissal. “You’re as bad as the Firrim.”

“Probably worse,” Jeret cheerfully agreed.

“Couldn’t be much worse,” the Nominian said. “The Firrim are really aggravating. You Kletti, the ones I’ve met, you’re just annoying.”

“So you’re saying we’re better than the Firrim.”

The Nominian hesitated for a moment, working through this, then said, “Yeah. But that’s not hard.”

“Still, it’s a start on being better than everybody else.”

The Nominian snorted, blowing foam off his beer. “Yeah,” he said. “I guess it is.”

“So tell me about the Firrim; I don’t think I know them.”

“I thought you Kletti all knew everything.”

“We’re working on it, but we aren’t there yet. So, these Firrim – where are they from?”

“Somewhere in toward the Ruins,” the Nominian said, with a wave toward the back of the bar.

“What makes them so special, then? Or what makes them think they’re special?”

“They’re cyborged. Phones in their heads, enhanced senses, all that crap.”

“So what’s special about that?”

“Ask them,” the Nominian said. “They’re the ones who think they’re so great.”

“I just might do that. Know where I could find one?”

“Oh, you never find just one,” the Nominian said. “There are always at least three of them.”


The Nominian shrugged. “I guess.”

That, Jeret thought, might be worth checking out. Networking a few brains together wasn’t new in itself, but maybe these Firrim had a new angle on it. “So where would I find some?”

“How should I know?”

“Well, you’ve obviously met some before.”

“Ha! That was here in Port, a few times over the past couple of years. But I haven’t seen any in days.”

Jeret nodded. “Fair enough.” If these Firrim had been here, they had presumably come in on a ship, and there would be records. He already had a data tap into the port’s systems; he could search them easily enough. He sipped his beer. “So you said we Kletti are annoying – how many of us have you met?”

“I dunno – half a dozen, maybe?” The Nominian gulped beer. “I haven’t kept count.”

“Of course not. I was just curious; we don’t travel much.” That was certainly true of the Kletti as a whole, but of course the exceptions, himself among them, traveled a lot.

The Nominian set his now-empty mug down on the bar, and the bar top displayed a row of options. “There’s you, and there was a woman here last year, and back on Diplodocus there was a creepy old man, and when I was a kid there was this bossy woman who visited our school.”

“That was in the Nominian system?”

“Yeah,” the Nominian agreed. “I grew up in Shaftsbury, on Seven.” He stared wistfully at his mug.

“Let me get that for you,” Jeret said, tapping his credit finger on the REFILL circle; the options vanished with a beep, and the little “Coming right up!” logo blinked.

A school on Nominia Seven – that probably would have been Zella Tarasco. She was retired now, back on Central. An old man on Diplodocus – Lenster Capor, maybe? Also retired. And a woman passing through Port could have been anyone. Odd, that a random Nominian had encountered four research agents. Odd enough to be suspicious, perhaps? He brushed a finger against his temple, and signaled for a probability analysis.

The bartender set a new beer in front of the Nominian and cleared away the empty mug, and as the Nominian picked up the mug Jeret slipped away. He thought he had heard everything interesting the man had to say.

He had not learned the Nominian’s name, but identification should be easy enough, since the entire conversation had been recorded.

Azraya of Ethshar

August 8th, 2014

This was going to be the next Ethshar novel for Tor, after The Spriggan Mirror, if they hadn’t dropped the series. I had submitted the proposal before the decision came down, but when the series was cancelled they returned it unread. Once I was going alternate publishing routes there were others I did instead, so I still haven’t written all of this one.

The soldier grabbed Azraya’s arm and dragged her back into the shadows of the alley. She whirled and kicked at his kneecap, but he held on firmly. “Come on,” he said. “Just a kiss.”

“Do you really expect me to believe you’ll stop there?” she said. “Let go of me!”

“Well, I’ll admit I don’t want to settle for just a kiss…” the soldier said, grinning.

“Pig!” Azraya spat. “Let me go!”

He grabbed her other arm, instead, and pulled her toward him.

Azraya looked around the alley desperately, but saw nothing of any use. The shops on either side had no doors or windows at ground level, and the three upstairs windows were all shuttered. The only living thing she could see, besides the soldier and herself, was a scrawny orange cat watching from a corner. One end of the alley emerged into a courtyard that appeared entirely deserted; the other opened onto Panderer Street, and Azraya could hear distant voices in that direction, but no one was in sight. She had ducked in here to escape the attentions of a determined pimp, only to find this drunken soldier relieving himself against a wall. She had tried to turn and go, but he had been much quicker than she had expected, and had caught her easily.

“Come on,” he said. “You’re a thief, aren’t you? Give me a kiss, and maybe I won’t take you to the magistrates.”

“I’m not a thief!” she protested. “Let me go!”

“Then why were you sneaking into this alley?”

“To get away from someone!”

“Who? Your master? Are you a slave trying to escape, then? An unhappy apprentice?”

“No! I have no master, and I’d like to keep it that way!”

“So you aren’t dodging a master, nor anyone you robbed – an angry lover, perhaps?”

“Let me go!” She kicked again, and managed to connect with the soldier’s shin.

His grin vanished. “That hurt,” he said. He jerked her forward, pressing her against his steel breastplate and glaring down at her. “I think I’ll need more than a kiss after all.”

Azraya had never for a moment believed a kiss would be enough to buy her freedom. “You won’t get it,” she said.

“You think you can stop me?” He turned, dragging her around, and slammed her back against the wall. The back of her head hit the bricks, sending a shock of pain through her. Momentarily dazed, she did not immediately see that the guardsman had released her left arm to reach for her skirt. When she did realize what was happening she grabbed for his wrist, but he barely seemed to notice as he clutched a handful of faded green wool and pulled it up.

“Stop it!” she said.

“Make me,” he answered, grinning again – a very nasty grin this time.

At that, she brought her knee up between his legs, as hard as she could.

The difference in their heights was such that this would not ordinarily have been very effective, but he was holding her about four inches up off the ground, which gave her a much better position, while his fierce grip on her arm and skirt provided a firm base from which to strike. A guardsman usually wore armor against exactly this sort of attack, but he had removed that particular accoutrement to conduct the business that had brought him to the alley in the first place, and as Azraya had noticed, he had not restored it to its proper position.

She did not think he had simply forgotten, either. That was one reason she had not believed a kiss would suffice.

Consequently, the result of her blow was all she could have hoped for. The guardsman let out a gasping bellow and doubled over, releasing his captive as he dropped to his knees.

Azraya did not wait for him to recover; she staggered, straightened, turned, and ran, out onto Panderer Street, where she turned left, ignoring the few pedestrians.

Her home, such as it was, lay in the opposite direction, in the Hundred-Foot Field beyond Wall Street, but she had a suspicion that that was exactly where the soldier would look for her when he could stand again. Besides, most of the city was to the west, and if she could put a few corners between them she doubted the man would bother to search for her, while he would probably find kicking down a few tents in the Field very satisfying right now.

She turned right on Trinket Street, then left again on Pawnbroker, slowing to a trot as she made a right onto Games Street, and then breaking the pattern with another right onto Camptown Street. Then a left onto Moneylenders Avenue, where she continued several blocks without turning.

She heard no pursuit.

She wondered whether the soldier had realized how young she was – and would he have cared if he did? Maybe he preferred little girls. He might have backed off, though, if he found out she was only thirteen.

Three Days Late for the Hanging

August 7th, 2014

I have no excuse for this one. The opening just showed up in my head one day and wouldn’t go away until I wrote it down. I did eventually figure out some (not all) of the background and plot, and wrote on past the opening.

We were three days late for the hanging, so there wouldn’t be much to see, but I stopped in Osborne anyway. We needed supplies, and I thought I’d pay old Tom my respects. Dan Bates didn’t have any objection – leastways, none he saw fit to communicate to me, given as he wasn’t able to talk just then, so getting my attention could be a touch problematic. Oh, he’d act up right enough if he thought it was important, but a visit to Osborne didn’t trouble him sufficient to stir him to action. He went where I pointed him without putting up a fuss.

Osborne wasn’t that much of a town. The main street was about three blocks long before it trailed off to nothing at either end, and the two cross streets didn’t go but a block in either direction before petering out. There were a few establishments outside that tight little collection of streets, but for the most part, that was what there was to see. The courthouse was dead in the center, of course, on the south side of Main Street, but they’d had the good taste to build their gallows around back, where it wouldn’t trouble any townsfolk who might be of a sensitive nature. I thought I should go take a look.

I didn’t need to use my heels on Dan, just pointed him in the right direction, and he ambled around the courthouse to the square.

There was the scaffold, fresh-built of raw lumber by the look of it, and there was old Tom, dangling from the crossbeam. That was a bit of a surprise, that they hadn’t taken him down and buried him, the climate being what it was, but it was an even bigger surprise when Tom kicked up his foot at me.

I frowned, and hopped down off Dan’s back. I could see now that Tom was watching me, and moving his tongue as if he were trying to talk, but he couldn’t get a word out with that noose around his neck. Didn’t have the air. And he couldn’t wave or sign to me, as his hands were tied behind his back.

I walked over to the base of the scaffold and looked up at him and said, “You ain’t dead.”

I could read in his expression that he was well aware of that fact, and didn’t much appreciate my pointing it out as I had.

“Seems to me that must mean Seth Pemberton ain’t dead, neither.”

It’s a sorry thing to see a man with his neck in a noose try to nod.

“Well, why the hell not? Seems to me that was at the heart of our agreement, Tom – you were to kill that son of a bitch.” My frown got a tad deeper. “And if you didn’t kill him, what the dickens are they hangin’ you for?”

“Horse theft,” someone said, and I turned to find a young fellow with a shiny badge standing behind me.

Myth America

August 5th, 2014

This is one I started a long time ago, and put aside because I thought at various times that readers would confuse it with Robert Asprin’s Myth series or Neil Gaiman’s American Gods (which I haven’t read yet). At one point I considered making it part of the Wayne Ellsworth series, and that might be a viable option, but here it is in its original form.

I wasn’t entirely awake yet, and when the doorbell rang I answered it, still in my bathrobe, without really thinking about it. I looked out at the guy standing on the porch.

I was expecting a neighbor’s kid selling something, or a delivery person with a package, so the grinning hairy face took a moment to register. I knew it was familiar, but right at first I didn’t recognize him.

When I did, my jaw dropped.

“Al!” I said.

“Hey, Will!” he said. “Get dressed, will you?”

I blinked at him.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because we need your help.”

“With what?”

“That’ll take some explaining,” he said.

“Who’s we?” I asked, looking past him.

There wasn’t anyone else on the porch, but parked at the curb was The Car, and I could see there were people in it.

I couldn’t believe he still had The Car.

Al Larson was my old college roommate, and I had sold him The Car five years before – and I hadn’t seen him since three days after that, when I went off to get married and he headed for California, driving The Car.

The Car, I should explain, is a 1957 DeSoto I had bought during our freshman year for $100 from some guy out on the edge of town, a guy with a back yard full of old cars and orders from his landlady to get rid of them while she still had some grass left.

The 1957 DeSoto Firesweep is a truly amazing vehicle, weighing two and a half tons, measuring twenty-one feet from the points of the protruding chrome dagmars to the tips of the magnificent tailfins, and powered by a Chrysler 383-cubic-inch V-8 engine with twin exhaust lines and a design or casting flaw in the left exhaust manifold that resulted in most of them shearing through just behind the rearmost cylinder. Intact left exhaust manifolds for Chrysler 383′s were therefore almost impossible to obtain. When The Car had suffered this inevitable malady while in my possession a search of every junkyard on the east coast had failed to obtain a replacement, so I had had the exhaust manifold welded back together; during the three-week period when this repair had not been made, and those four cylinders were therefore not connected to a muffler, a casual drive down the street sounded rather like a Boeing 747 warming up. If both mufflers were gone it would probably sound like World War III.

That weld job probably violated half a dozen safety laws, but it worked, and kept The Car quiet.

Built in an era of gargantuan automobiles, the Firesweep was big even in its day – I’m six feet tall, but I could lie down and stretch out in the back seat without bumping my head or sticking my feet out the window.

The controls were the height of populuxe design, with push-button transmission – the owner’s manual warns you solemnly not to operate the car in Low-Low gear at speeds exceeding 65 MPH – and thermometer speedometer. That is to say, the speedometer has no needle; instead, there’s a slot across it, and in the slot is a strip of orange-red plastic. The faster you go, the more of the plastic strip is visible, as it slides across from left to right. Since the tip is beveled, so that the end of the plastic strip covers a span of slightly more than three MPH, there’s no way of telling exactly how fast you’re going, you can only approximate. This fascinating speedometer goes to 120 MPH, though in fact I could never get the thing over 115, at which speed it vibrated so much I could barely steer.

I don’t know if Al ever managed to top it out.

This was never meant to be a vehicle for the hybrid-loving, fuel-efficient, would-be-green modern world; at its best, on the highway, it managed maybe seventeen miles per gallon, and I think it did that well partly by burning oil, a quart every two hundred miles.

I loved The Car while I had it – it was everything a college student needed. But when I graduated and got a job and set out on the road to the great American dream-state of suburban marital bliss I knew the time had come to put away childish things, and that included my chunk of ancient Detroit iron.
No dealer wanted it in trade, and I didn’t want to take the time to find a collector, so I let Al have it for $500, which I used as the down-payment on an ugly blue Toyota.

That lasted as long as my marriage – Sharon got it in the divorce settlement, and I had then bought myself a used Honda Civic that was, on this particular morning, sitting in the driveway rusting away. The transmission had committed hara-kiri a month before, and I hadn’t yet made up my mind whether to junk the car, repair it, or try to trade it in.

I was using my mother’s Chevy Lumina in the meantime. I’d ordinarily say my mother’s old Chevy, as it dates back to 1999 or so, but with The Car sitting out there, obviously still running, the Chevy suddenly seemed terribly small and modern and sophisticated by comparison.

“Who’s in the car?” I asked.

“That will take some explaining, too,” Al said.

“So explain,” I said.

“I’ll explain in the car,” he said. “Get dressed, will you?”

“I’m not going anywhere without an explanation,” I told him. “And I’m not going anywhere without some breakfast. What are you doing here, Al? It’s been five years! And how the hell did you find me, anyway?”

“What’s to find?” he asked, gesturing at the house. “I’ve been here before, Will, remember? Sophomore year, Christmas vacation, when my folks were in the Bahamas.”

“But how’d you know I’d moved back in with my mother?”

He grinned and shrugged.

“Lucky guess,” he said. “Now, are you coming, or aren’t you?”

“I’m not going anywhere without an explanation,” I said. “If you and your friends want to come in for breakfast and tell me what the hell is going on, maybe I’ll agree to help with whatever it is.”

He considered that – I could see him considering, making all the familiar old gestures, cocking his head to the left and chewing his upper lip so his moustache hairs wiggled.

The son of a bitch hadn’t changed a bit since college, so far as I could see, and I suddenly regretted my own short-trimmed hair and clean-shaven face – or almost clean-shaven, as that was something else I hadn’t yet gotten to that morning. Al had a huge sloppy mustache and a Van Dyke beard and wavy brown hair past his shoulders, which left his general appearance halfway between Frank Zappa and Jesus Christ.

“Okay, Will,” he said. “I’ll just have to hope we can spare the time. Wait here.”

He turned and trotted back down the porch steps, out to the curb, where he talked to someone through the car window.

A moment later The Car’s back doors opened, and two people got out – a plump woman in a flowing paisley dress and jeweled tiara, and a thin guy in jeans and a lumberjack shirt. They joined Al, and the three of them trooped back up the walk.

“Breakfast?” Al said.

Well, I’d said they could join me.

The Wizard’s Path

August 4th, 2014

I decided I might as well get all the openings posted, so here’s another. There are actually at least two versions of this one — originally Dellen was male. Some of the others on my list, though, turn out to be vaporware of one sort of another — in some cases the “opening scene” I had listed turned out to be a paragraph or two, not a whole scene. One is a kids’ short story I’d been thinking of expanding into a middle-grades chapter book, but what I have is just the short story. For one I have several chapters, but written back in the ’80s, so the tech (it’s science fiction) is hopelessly out of date. One doesn’t even have its own file — it’s just an entry in a list of planned stories. Ah, well.

Dellen was hunting mushrooms in the woods when she heard whistling. Startled, she looked up, trying to locate the sound.

It was coming nearer. Dellen straightened up and picked up her half-filled basket. She peered through the trees at the sun-dappled greenery.

There were said to be dangerous people in the forests sometimes – thieves and poachers and so on – but Dellen did not think any of them would be whistling cheerfully. Whoever this was, he or she was almost certainly friendly.

But a girl had to be cautious. “Hello?” she called.

The whistling stopped. “Hello,” someone called back – a man’s voice.

“Who’s there?” Dellen asked.

“Why don’t you come see for yourself?”

Annoyed, Dellen replied, “Because I’m busy over here.”

“The mushrooms will wait,” the voice answered.

Dellen blinked. How had this mysterious stranger known she was gathering mushrooms? Could the stranger see her?

If the stranger could see her, she ought to be able to see the stranger, and even now that the voice had given her an idea where to look, she still could not spot anyone.

The mystery was irresistible. Basket in hand, she walked carefully toward the speaker, ready to turn and run if necessary.

Suddenly there he was, so close and so obvious that Dellen didn’t understand how she could possibly have missed him. The whistler wore a long white vest over a sky-blue robe, and a pointed hat of the same light blue, somewhat the worse for wear, was perched on his head. He was grinning, which made his gray-streaked beard bristle.

And he wasn’t a stranger at all, not really, though it had been years since Dellen had last seen him. “Uncle Zavar?” Dellen said.

“Hello, Dellen,” the blue-robed man said. “You’ve grown.”

“Uncle Zavar!” Dellen said. “You’ve come back!” She ran and threw her arms around him, not worrying about whether she spilled any mushrooms.

He returned her embrace and said, “You knew I would eventually, didn’t you?”

“I… I didn’t think about it.” She looked up at his face. “It’s been so long!”

“Six years. I know. Is your mother well?”

“She’s fine. She’ll be so glad to see you!”

“Well, I hope so. Shall we go and surprise her?”

“Yes, of course!” Dellen turned toward the village. “This way!”

Zavar chuckled. “I think I remember the way, even after this long.”

“Of course you do!” Dellen laughed. “Come on!” She grabbed her uncle’s arm, and together they headed for her home.


August 3rd, 2014

Ordinarily, one writes an entire novel before writing a sequel, but this is a sequel to Earthright, even though Earthright isn’t finished; I actually started writing Technoplague first, then backtracked. (I’ve done this with other series, as well.) I should maybe mention that Amelia Hand has already appeared in the comic book story “A Breath of Fresh Air,” and the short story “That Doggone Vnorpt,” though there are inconsistencies between the comic book version and the prose version. Also, I should maybe have mentioned when I posted the opening of Earthright that it’s the result of merging two previously planned stories, “Legends” and “Labyrinth.” This stuff didn’t exist in a vacuum; it was always intended as a series.

The Tristan Jones dropped out of hyperspace into the Lambda Aurigae system right on schedule, and alarms immediately began sounding.

“Damn,” Captain Amelia Hand said, her attention focused on the navigational displays. “Tris, what the hell is happening?”

“Nothing terrible, Captain,” the ship replied. “There’s a lot of unscheduled traffic in the area, that’s all. Those alarms are brainless stuff – unmapped objects, drive proximity, that sort of thing. There’s nothing I can’t handle.”

“Then shut them off.”

The various hootings and beepings suddenly stopped.

“That’s better,” Hand said. “Now, what’s all this traffic?”

“I don’t know, Captain. Lots of ships, apparently all headed out-system. None on a vector for our location, though.”

Hand frowned. That didn’t sound good – why would there be more ships than normal, all outbound? “How many is lots?”


“That’s lots,” she agreed. If thirty-eight ships were headed out of the system at once, there was presumably a reason. “Are you picking up any chatter?”

“Nothing useful or out of the ordinary.”

“Any idea why everyone’s leaving?”


Hand considered for a minute, then shrugged. “Keep listening, let me know if you hear anything, and meanwhile see if you can get us down on L.A. 3 without running into anybody. Let ‘em know we’re here.”

“Will do, Captain.”

They were, according to the displays, roughly six light-minutes from their destination: Amphitryon Port, on Continent Two, Lambda Aurigae 3. Their relative drop-out velocity was around thirty million km/hr, and decelerating at a steady two g’s would put them on the ground in about twenty-eight hours. That gave her more than a day to figure out what was going on and decide whether to land, or crank it back up and aim the next jump.

A day at twice her normal weight, of course, which wouldn’t be much fun, but she was used to these inconveniences.

“Put a call through to Amphitryon,” she said. “Let ‘em know we’re coming in, and ask why there’s extra traffic.”

“Will do, Captain.”

She sat up, no longer straining at the screens – the ship had things under control, now that the crucial moment of drop-out was past, and she could let it fly itself.

“Got ID on all those ships?” she asked.

“No, ma’am. One jumped out before I could get anything beyond a drive signature, and at least three appear to be running silent, but I’ve got the others.”

“Are they all human-built?”

“Yes, they are, Captain. No alien presence has been reported in the Lambda Aurigae system in a dozen kilodays – the local colonists, including the authorities, run to mild xenophobia, and nobody’s bothered butting in where they’re unwelcome.”

“So who are they?”

“Well, four are scheduled traders running late, seven are unscheduled traders, eighteen are local transports, two are local military, and three I can’t classify.”

Four traders running late?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

That was bizarre. Something was very definitely strange here – but bypassing the system would cost her money and throw her off schedule, and besides, her stores were low and she didn’t want to eat recycled paste all the way to her next port of call. “What’s the turn-around on that message to the port?”

“About another seven minutes lag-time if they pick up right away,” the ship replied.

“Put it through when it gets here.”

That said, she sat and watched the screens, counting the signals indicating other hyperspace-capable ships in the system.

Thirty-seven, as Tris had said – and then thirty-six as another ship jumped.

Of course, those ships had already been gone when Tristan Jones had dropped out, but their signals had taken time to reach her, just as her message to the port and its reply would take roughly six minutes each way.

She waited, and a moment later a screen lit up. An unfamiliar face appeared, and a young man said nervously, “Tristan Jones, this is Amphitryon Port – welcome! We’re expecting you on Pad Four. As for your question about the traffic, we had a little trouble here, but everything’s under control now, and we’re looking forward to your arrival.”

Hand stared at the screen as the man smiled uncertainly. Then the image vanished.

“Replay,” she said.

The ship obeyed, and Hand watched closely. When the message had finished again, she said, “I wonder what happened to Ricardo, and who this guy is.”

“I don’t know, Captain. Should I ask?”

“Politely, just for curiosity, yeah.”

“Done. We should have a reply in about eleven minutes.”

“Good. Tris, do you believe him when he says everything’s fine?”

“Nope. He’s lying about something. They shouldn’t have had a human reply – machines are more convincing.”

“That’s what I thought, too,” Hand said. “Stay alert, get ship’s defenses ready – but let’s go on in and see what’s up.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Unless you spot wreckage. If they’ve shot up any ships, we’re out of here.”

“Understood, and may I say, Captain, I think that’s a good call.”

“Yeah,” Hand said. Then she slapped the console. “I’m going to go get something to eat. Pipe me any messages that come in, and keep an eye out for trouble.”

The Music Will Never Stop 71

August 2nd, 2014

More about “Coffeehouse – Pork Pie Hat.”

So I played Side 1 again. Seemed much clearer this time, so I decided I’d be replacing some tracks before I move on to the next tape.

This proved quite interesting. A reminder for those less obsessed than I am: I’d played this tape three times. The first time was basically just to clean the gunk off, and I didn’t even keep the Audacity recording. It sounded like utter crap.

The second time mostly sounded okay. I transferred it all to MP3.

I played back the Audacity recording of the third, and compared it, song by song, with the MP3s I made from the second play-through.

The first three tracks were clearly superior on #2 — crisper, clearer highs, generally sharper. But the fourth track (“Maggie’s Farm”) was much less obvious. I wound up keeping #2, but it required playing bits of each version against each other to judge them, and it was close.

And with tracks #5 and 6 — which I haven’t identified; I think 6 is just the band jamming — Recording #3 is clearly superior. I’m replacing the earlier versions. By the end of track 6, Recording #2 was muddy sludge, where #3 is still pretty crisp.

But I cleaned the tape heads twice during Recording #2 (and not at all during #3), so I needed to see what happened when I got to those points.

And I made an unpleasant discovery.

The sound quality was significantly better on #3, but I couldn’t use a lot of it — Audacity skipped stuff. A 13-minute jam is 11 minutes — that’s the worst, but at least four tracks have skips.

You know why? Because Facebook’s Javascript is badly written. I knew my computer was having memory issues that generally cleared up when I got a “A script on this page has stopped working” message and told it to stop the script, but I hadn’t realized it was interfering with the recording.

I needed to do it again.

So I did Recording #3 of Side 2, then checked it to see if it was better than what I had.

It wasn’t. It started well, but by fifteen minutes in it was noticeably inferior to the previous take. I think the tape’s fading and probably won’t survive many more playings.

I only saved a couple of tracks from this pass. The last iteration of “Summertime” got swapped out, and I’m saving the last “Spoonful” until I figure out why it’s 20 seconds longer. But that’s all.

I needed one more pass, to get those cuts from Side 1 that got munged, and then the tape goes away.

But wow — I got some much nicer takes this last time around, and replaced tracks #8 through 15. Serious improvement — but I don’t know why. (Tracks #1-5 or so weren’t as good as before; on #6 and 7 the differences were inaudible to me.)

And here’s a weird thing — the timing was different. The tape apparently ran faster the fourth time through, where previous recordings (at least, all that I checked) matched. WTF. It’s never more than a few seconds, and some of it may come from trimming in slightly different places, but several of these are 2 – 6 seconds shorter than previous versions.

Anyway, it’s done. I have thirty decent tracks, from three different play-throughs. I still need to identify some tracks — but that should be easier now, because I can actually hear the lyrics on some of them now.

On to the next tape!

A brief note…

July 31st, 2014

For those who may have been wondering, I just looked through my records. I have eleven more novels (I think; they might not all reach novel length, assuming they get written, and one might turn out to be a graphic novel) I could drag out to post openings of. And three stories I’m pretty sure would not reach novel length.

That’s only counting stuff I’ve worked on in the past eight years, and only counting stuff where I’ve actually written an opening scene (though one opening, Yard Sale Mystic, is in script form). One’s an Ethshar novel, two are Bound Lands novels, two are science fiction, four are contemporary fantasy, one’s traditional fantasy in a setting I never used anywhere else, and one’s a supernatural western.

There’s a twelfth novel I can’t post about because it’s work for hire and I signed a non-disclosure agreement.

There are also scads of older works, and shorter works I didn’t enter into my “works in progress” records, and stuff that only exists as outlines, with no opening scenes. (Lots of planned-but-not-written sequels are only outlines.) And I may have missed some.

This is why I have trouble deciding what to work on.


July 30th, 2014

Okay, I’ve done lots of fantasy; how about some science fiction this time?

Amelia Hand stared at the screen of her phone, holding it in her right hand as she reached for the lock of her room with the other. “You can’t be serious,” she said, pressing her palm to the sensor.

“I’m afraid we are, Amy.”

The door swung open, but Amelia stood where she was as she shouted, “Mother, I have told you a hundred times, don’t call me Amy! Nobody calls me Amy any more! My name is Amelia. You gave it to me – why won’t you use it?”

“Maybe my tastes have changed since you were born, Amelia. One gets into habits, you know.”

“Oh, I know,” Amelia said. She looked up from the screen at her open door and stepped through, into the familiar clutter of her tiny room.

She knew very well that one gets into habits. Like the habit of not worrying about money. Like the habit of relying on her parents. Like the habit of taking her own sweet time about her education.

Except now it appeared all those habits were about to be broken.

“You’re really cutting me off?” she said, sitting down suddenly on her bed.

“We have to, honey. Your father needs every mu we can get our hands on. You know how expensive medical care is!”

“It’s not the medical care that’s so expensive, Mother, it’s the resource tax.”

“Well, in your father’s case it comes to the same thing, doesn’t it? Anyway, darling, the point is, we simply can’t pay your way any more. You’ve had six years of grad school at our expense, and I’m afraid that if you want to finish your degree you’ll just have to do it on your own.”

“But Mother, I have everything but my thesis done!”

“Amelia, you’ve been ‘All But Dissertation’ for two years now. Just when were you planning to actually do your dissertation?”

“I’ve been researching it,” Amelia said defensively. “I’ve got dozens of gigs of background information!”

“Then go ahead and do it, honey, before your money runs out.”

“I can’t,” Amelia wailed. “I’m not ready!”

“Then either get ready, Amy, or do without your doctorate.”

“Mom, I can’t do without a doctorate! I can’t get a license without a doctorate, you know that, and without an export license how am I supposed to make any money?”

“I see plenty of unlicensed journalists on the net, honey; they must be making a living somehow.”

“But Mother, I want to have kids someday! I want life extension! I can’t earn enough for that without an export license. I probably can’t even afford to get my nose fixed!”

“There’s nothing wrong with your nose.”

“It’s a blob, Mother. It’s a lump. It’s ugly.”

“It’s a nose. It’s your father’s nose.”

“It’s his genes, but it’s my nose, and I intend to get it fixed eventually. But that’s nothing compared to kids or life extension, and I can’t afford those without a license!”

“Your father wants an extension contract too, Amy, and he needs it a lot sooner than you will, and that’s why we need our money now. You’ll have plenty of time to earn yours, but if Julian doesn’t get that contract now, while he’s still young enough to get decent terms, he’s not going to be around in another forty years. I don’t think either of us wants that. Not to mention we want to start saving for my extension!”

“He couldn’t wait just a little longer?”

“Amy,” her mother said. “Amelia. Seriously, now – would just a little longer make any difference? Have you actually started your thesis?”

Amelia glanced unhappily at the big and distressingly blank screen standing open on her desk.

“Well, sort of,” she said.

“Then let me make you a deal – one last concession, since you are our only daughter, and I really would like to see grandchildren someday. I am not going to send you any more credit, but I will countersign one more loan, enough to get you through another month or two. That will give you time to find a place, get started – or if you really do think you can get your thesis done, then go ahead and do it quickly. It’s up to you. But I warn you, this is the last you get from us until we have both our extension contracts signed and paid for, resource tax and all.”

Amelia started to argue, then stopped in mid-breath and thought better of it.

“All right,” she said. “Thank you, Mother. I’ll check the aid sites this afternoon and see what’s available. And I will get that thesis down on disk, you just wait and see!”

“I hope you do, darling. I really do. And I’ll let you get right to it. Do let us know when you decide what you’re doing, won’t you?”
“Of course, Mother.”

“Then I’ll say goodbye. Take care.”

“Goodbye, Mother.” Amelia cut the connection, then flung the phone at the armchair against the opposite wall.