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Raptured Organs

Here’s a story I wrote this year. I was listening to a podcast about organ donations, and when they said ‘ruptured organs’ I heard ‘raptured’, and this story was the result.

I decided to retire it and post it here because a) the one publication that actually gave me feedback on their rejection really didn’t like it (I think the gender-neutral pronouns got to them, because even the reader who said they didn’t hate them still had to mention them), b) it’s weird, as in, not easily pigeon-holed, and c) the premise of it assumes that the Judaeo-Christian god is real, which, if not actually offensive, is super-white. I still like the story, but hey, I spent 17 years in the church and need to exorcise those angels somehow…

So, here it is. Fresh fiction from this guy. Enjoy.


Raptured Organs

“Your Honour, I maintain this is all God’s fault.”

A loud murmur passed through the courtroom and the judge banged his gavel, each strike producing a crack of divine thunder. “This is the court of the Almighty; you will demonstrate the proper respect for Yahweh, or I swear to Him, I will smite you.” The judge’s eyes burned as he said this, but his eyes were always aflame; he was Seraphim after all.

“Demonstrate,” Zaniel said. “Demon-strate.” Xe smirked, then continued. “I wish no disrespect, Your Honour, but no one’s seen hide nor beard-hair of Yahweh in the Kingdom of Heaven since the resurrection event. If He’s too busy with His other, chosen universe, then perhaps we need to take care of business ourselves.”

This time the judge only needed to raise his blazing arm to silence the courtroom.

“There is no other universe,” the judge said.

Zaniel shrugged xer shoulders. “Your Honour, I think we can all agree that He isn’t here, which is the whole problem. Just because angels are immortal, doesn’t mean their bodies won’t decay in His absence. Angelic lungs collapsing, hearts weakening, stomachs and intestines incapable of processing manna—”

“That does not permit you to begin stealing organs from humans!” the judge’s voice roared, almost as loud as his gavel. Somewhere down on Earth, a sea split open, revealing suffocating fish and sodden pollution. This miracle was solely witnessed by an eleven year-old girl.

“Your Honour, I resent the term ‘stealing.’ I consider it more like a Rapture in miniature.”

“You have Lucifer’s gift for guile.”

“Why thank you.”

“That was not a compliment.” The judge paused between each word for emphasis. On Earth, a year passed during each gap.

Zaniel continued. “For thousands of years, the faithful on Earth have awaited the Rapture, and now you’re putting me on trial for giving it to them?”

“You have not the authority to perform a Rapture.”

“And who does?” Zaniel asked. “Not anyone here that I can see. Unless you’re claiming the authority…? Are you claiming omnipotence, Your Honour?”

Behind Zaniel, Michael The Potestate placed a hand on his sword. In the stunned silence, the assembled host could hear the distant howling of species extinction caused as Michael’s sword left its holy scabbard.

The judge’s face went as pale as eternal flames can go. “Michael,” he said, voice cracking, “I’m not claiming that power, I am simply pointing out that the yelos Zaniel surely doesn’t have it.”

A confused look spread across Michael’s face and he re-sheathed the sword. He was hardly the brightest angel in the host, certainly not as bright as his iridescent armour.

Zaniel couldn’t help but smile, but xe stopped when the judge turned his flaming eyes at xer in a glare that could render unborn children stillborn.

“I maintain I was not stealing anything. The Raptured organs were too damaged to be of use to the dying humans they were caged within. Luckily, heavenly ascension renders anything perfect; cancer reverted to healthy tissue, arteries became unclogged, and so on. Sadly, I could do nothing for my brothers, sisters, and others, who were losing their wings.” Zaniel hung xer head in faux despondency. Then xe looked up, beaming a smile bright as sunrise. “The organs went to the angels most in need and I took nothing in payment.”

“I imagine you’ll save those favours for your eventual revolt.”

Zaniel put xer hand to xer platinum breastplate. “I am wounded, Your Honour.”

“Do you claim you had no idea it would happen?”

“How was I to know? I simply took a leaf out of the human book; if they can use pig and primate for transplants, it follows that we could use human stock. It’s not as if humans start to turn pig-like with a transplanted pig heart. It’s not like they sprout tails and grow even hairier with an ape’s pancreas.”

“Your… mimicry of the humans has caused havoc across heaven.” The judge pointed his gavel at Zaniel as if it were a weapon. “We have angels fleeing to Earth, we even have some choosing to visit hell!”

“Free will is strange like that. Which is precisely my point; it’s true I may have inadvertently given some angels free will, but wasn’t I bringing us all a little closer to His perfect vision? I mean, humans are His chosen above ourselves, so wouldn’t becoming more human bring us closer to perfection?”

“They brought rock music into Heaven!” The judge’s eternal flames intensified, hitting the ceiling where they spread in expressive cuneiform. Zaniel winced.

“I don’t know about you, Your Honour, but I was getting a little sick of the continuous shouting of ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory.’ It was alright for the first millennium or so, but honestly, we’ve been needing new tunes for a while.”

“Silence!” the judge bellowed. “For your crimes you will be exiled.”

Zaniel smiled. “Let me guess; I’ll be allowed back in just as soon as I locate the Big Guy?”

The fires surrounding the judge flickered and faltered for a moment.

“I knew it; He is gone!” Zaniel turned with an upraised palm to Michael, but the Archangel didn’t respond. Zaniel awkwardly patted the brute on the shoulder.

“You are hereby considered angelus non grata until such time as you return with the Most On High to grant you His pardon. Failure to…”

The judge continued, all literal fire and figurative brimstone, but Zaniel just smiled. This admission was all xe wanted.

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World-building

World-building should never be done inside your book. This is another of Corey’s writing rules. Note: Corey’s first writing rule is you can (and should) break every writing rule if a) you’re good enough to pull it off, b) do it well enough to get away with it, and/or c) break it in a way that hasn’t been done before.

So, that’s why I like this world-building system. A quick and dirty, index-card based system for generating just the most important facets of your world. Once you’ve come up with them, they might find their way into your story organically, or they might not, but anything is better than paragraphs or pages, or even chapters, full of expository world-building that you couldn’t bring yourself to cut because it shows just how damn inventive you are.

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Second Person

As a general rule, you should never write a story using second-person perspective. And like all writing rules, you can and should break it at least once. If a story’s good enough, you’ll get away with it, if it isn’t, try again some other time.

Anyway, lately I’ve come across some examples where it works.

  • Liminal Grid, by Jaymee Goh, recently published at Strange Horizons.

One of the interesting things about the story (which is sort of a post-civilisation Mr. Robot, if I’m to be reductive), is the way it forces you to take on the role of the character in the story, and embeds you into their conversations without explaining the local colloquialisms or bits of non-English because obviously the ‘you’ of the story understands all that. Which I think is perhaps one of the strengths in second-person in general – it can force you to sympathise with a character, even if they are intrinsically other. But what if you went the other way? Imagine a second-person story where “you” keeps doing horrendous things and the narrator is trying to figure out why…

Excerpt:

Because you live there, in that condemned building, you know that the plants in the buildings are carefully planted into a low-maintenance, edible garden. What looks like lalang is actually serai. The branches of the trees hang with fruit that feed the local fauna on the outside, but inside, they are covered with discarded CDs to confuse the birds. There are window boxes on the inside growing leafy vegetables, and chickens are allowed to run free to keep down pests. The courtyard used to have a pool—it still sort of does, but it is home to a crop of water-plants.

  • There’s also Ted Chiang’s Story of You, which I’ve only had a chance to glance at so far, but which sounds fucking fascinating (and is to be a film by the incredible Denis Villeneuve). It’s actually a hybrid between first person and second, almost a conversation between ‘I’ and ‘You’.

 

Excerpt:

The whites of your eyes are yellow, a consequence of spiking bilirubin levels in your blood. The virus afflicting you is called hepatitis E. Its typical mode of transmission is fecal-oral. Yum. It kills only about one in fifty, so you’re likely to recover. But right now you feel like you’re going to die.

Your mother has encountered this condition many times, or conditions like it anyway. So maybe she doesn’t think you’re going to die. Then again, maybe she does. Maybe she fears it. Everyone is going to die, and when a mother like yours sees in a third-born child like you the pain that makes you whimper under her cot the way you do, maybe she feels your death push forward a few decades, take off its dark, dusty headscarf, and settle with open-haired familiarity and a lascivious smile into this, the single mud-walled room she shares with all of her surviving offspring.

What she says is, “Don’t leave us here.”

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Don’t Come Back

I’ve long been a fan of the musical stylings of Mr. Andrew Falkous, so when I read that he was going to start writing prose (and is inspired by Vonnegut, no less), I was excited.

Don’t Come Back deals with casual racism in the UK (a theme that pops up quite a bit in Falkous’ lyrics) in a way that is subtly, darkly comic. Well-worth a read.

Excerpt:

‘Stupid name?’ said the taxi driver, his tiny moustache moving along his top lip. ‘You think Zsa-Zsa is a stupid name, little man?’

‘I think …’ said Pete Bradley who, being a man of generous proportions did not regard himself as being little in any way, ‘that you may have confused me with somebody else.’

‘Were you the man who just spoke?’ said the taxi driver, stopping at some traffic lights.

‘I was.’

‘Then you are the little man,’ he said, pulling away again, as drops of rain began to fall on the road about them.

Read it all here.

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Passivity

Some more little bits of writing advice I’ve come across here and there, posted for my reference, as much as yours.

T. Gene Davis offers advice, as well as publishing family-friendly genre fiction from themselves and others, on their blog. In this post here, they detail ways to put your submissions above the competition, and 2 of the 3 are interesting and practical suggestions – avoid using narrative summaries, and avoid those evil, dastardly passive sentences (which they expand on here).

And speaking of passive sentences, if you already know they’re bad, but struggle with locating them in your work, this post here could help you out.

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The Dread Month November

It’s that time of year again for writers. NaFuNoWriMo, or National Fucking Novel Writing Month.

After hitting over 52k last year, I’ve decided to cut myself some slack this time around, and instead of a 50k novel, I’m just planning to bust out a 30k novella (though if I hit 30k and the story isn’t told, I’m going to be annoyed. If I finish the novella before the end of the month though? Hey, bonus editing time!).

So, here are some hints for my fellow NaNoers.

  • Planning. I know it’s a bit late for this ’cause the month has already started, but for future reference outline. Outline as little or as loosely as you want, but have something there, some skeleton of a story for you to stitch wordmeat onto. Trust me. ‘Cause writing 50k words in a month isn’t really that hard, but writing 50k words in a month that form a good story that you’re mostly proud of? That either requires a fluke, or a lot of planning.
  • Goddamnit, stop! Unless you need to bank some words ’cause you know you need to take a day off in the near future, always stop soon after hitting your wordcount for the day. I know this seems counter-intuitive ’cause you’re aiming for LOTS of words, but if you keep writing until you hit the end of the chapter or some other natural break, you’re going to find it so much harder to pick up tomorrow. Stop a couple of sentences into a scene, so the next day you already know what scene you’re working on, and hopefully by the time you’ve finished that scene, your brain is in gear and ready for the next.
  • It’s not the end of the world. Seriously, if you don’t hit your word limit one day, or every damn day of November, it’s not the end of the world. If you hit your wordcount every day, but at the end of the month you’re pretty sure the story is an unpolishable turd, it’s not the end of the world. The great thing about NaNo is that a month really isn’t very much time. If you’ve got a project that you’re not sure about – dedicate a month of your life to it, and if it turns out to have not been worth it, so what? You only lost a month, it’s no big deal (unless you’ve got a terminal medical condition, in which case, fuck, I’m really sorry).
    Plenty of us writer types deal with depression and anxiety, and it’s really not worth damaging your mental health for the sake of this little festival of words. Look after yourself.
  • Have fun, experiment. David Foster Wallace certainly didn’t write Infinite Jest in a month, but Philip K. Dick probably churned out plenty of great novels in less than thirty days. So, maybe this isn’t the best time to start on the literary opus you’ve had in mind for the past three decades, but you could sure as hell write that book about a Werewolf… detective… tracking a missing… heirloom potato farmer… IN SPACE. Do something you normally wouldn’t do. Experiment with genres, experiment with styles. And yeah, have fun with it, otherwise, what’s the point?
  • Make your own rules. Finish something you already started. Re-write something that desperately needs it. Edit the everlasting stupid out of last year’s NaNo manuscript. Don’t feel like you need to write 1,667 words a day to take part. If you want to take advantage of this month-long wordfest, do it, get involved, and get involved in whatever way suits you.

And I think I’m done…

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Noise Pollution

Noise Pollution by Alison Wilgus is a fantastic short story, beautifully written, with a heart to it that hits you like a punch to the gut.

I’m not an idiot. I don’t leave the house without at least one set of juiced-up double-As, two if I remember when I’m putting my purse together. A minute is enough time for a spell to fall apart, and if you think you can find a bodega and buy a pack of batteries and swap them in and get your tape running again in less than five, you don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about.

Read the whole thing at Strange Horizons.

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Solarpunk

I’m not convinced that Solarpunk will become the next true movement of SF (I feel like it could easily go the way of Steampunk, becoming more of an aesthetic movement rather than a literary one with sociopolitical importance, but I’ll get into the -punks at some other time [and remind me to tell you how I invented cli-fi years ago, but I called it Ecopunk {but never managed to finish my Ecopunk thriller}]), but this is some very interesting food for thought.

On The Political Dimensions of Solarpunk:

Novelist Bruce Sterling […] says that the future is about “old people in big cities afraid of the sky.” This is inexorable. Barring radical cataclysm, the reasonably inevitable trends of urbanization, an aging populace and climate change will set the stage for life in the coming five decades. If you are a human living in the middle of the 21st century, chances are you will be elderly — or surrounded by the elderly. Chances are you will live in a city. Chances are your community, country and supply chains will be plagued by some combination of extreme weather, rising sea levels and droughts.

These are the facts we must build on and around, whether we are making solarpunk fiction, solarpunk fashion, solarpunk infrastructure, or solarpunk political demands. If solarpunk is to back up its optimism with meaningful solutions, or even meaningful notions, we must consciously consider how to respond to each of these trends.

Read the whole thing, but I’ll warn you now, it’s a long one.

And the above points to this: Notes Towards a Manifesto, which is shorter and shallower, but still interesting, and a better bet if you’re short on time and/or processor cycles.

And if you do want to think about Solarpunk fashion, it’s probably worth reading the below excerpt, taken from Deb Chachra’s Metafoundry Newsletter, about textiles and fashion after our current fashion industry has become so much dust inside so many abandoned sweatshops:

At some point in the 90s, I got my hands on modern synthetic technical textiles for the first time, made of polyester fibres that were now fine enough that the fabrics were soft and comfortable to the touch and could wick moisture. The first item was a Christmas gift, a Polartec fleece headband for running outside in the dead of winter in Toronto. When I went for a run wearing it for the first time, a day or two later, I didn’t think much about how my ears and head were warm and dry, until I got home, took it off, and was amazed to see the beaded moisture on the outside surface. The second item was a wicking polyester t-shirt that I bought for triathlons (and only for triathlons–it was expensive enough for me at the time that I saved it for race days). I could pull it on over a wet swimsuit and get on my bike, without worrying that it’d end up soaked and clammy like all the cotton t-shirts I normally wore to train. When I starting spending time there in the late 90s, I joked that the tech boom in rainy Seattle was facilitated (if not driven) by the rise of Gore-Tex. Since then, I’ve been keeping a close eye on advances in textiles as they move out into the mainstream (for me, that means 100% synthetic workout clothes from REI and the Gap–no more cotton t-shirts, ever–plus a few items from Nau and Outlier, and also amazing microfibre dishtowels). So I predictably absolutely adored this piece in Aeon about how textiles are a technology that has been underappreciated throughout history. A day or so later, a friend commented on the post-apocalyptic clothing in Mad Max: Fury Road and elsewhere, and that sent me down a late night rabbithole.

Given a vaguely-specified Hollywood-style apocalypse, where we ignore how going back a hundred years in technology will make the Black Death (and its associated massive cultural change) look like a day in the office when everyone is at home with the flu, what might clothing look like, say, a decade or two afterwards? If everything is pushed back to the level of handbuilt tech, the biggest issue with clothing is that there won’t be much of a supply chain. No supply chain means that, at least in the short term, the local clothing stocks will be a major determinant of what people wear. Where I live (the northeast US), that means cheap and ubiquitous t-shirts patchworked into everything, for a start–making quilts out of a hundred thousand unneeded t-shirts. Notions (zippers, hooks, buttons etc.) will be cannibalized from worn-out clothes–even cheap zippers bring together out-of-reach precision metallurgy and polymers, and reliable YKK zippers will be sought and prized. Speaking of polymers: Patagonia and North Face and Gore-Tex outerwear will be prized heirlooms, the most valuable garments made of durable, functional and irreplaceable technical synthetics (especially needful in New England winters). No supply chains means no polymers, nor much by way of dyes (most of which are derived from petroleum), which means returning to fibres that can be grown (and grown locally, initially). Plants or animal products like wool, as well as leather (probably not black, though) and fur. This was nicely captured in Mad Max: Fury Road: the Vuvalini of Many Mothers, who gardened, wore handwoven-looking scarves and fabrics in colours consistent with vegetable dyes. No sweatshops on the other side of the world means that the urban hipster hobbies of knitting and sewing are suddenly survival skills, assuming that raw materials can be found (and disposable sewing kits from hotels become immensely valuable for the sharp, strong steel needles). The city of Lowell, just north of where I live, was built in the 1820s as a factory town to manufacture textiles. Many of the canals, some of the water wheels, and a roomful of looms have been preserved as a national historic park. While they could be converted back to water, the timescale of that seems long enough that other technologies might be rebuilt.

This is just off the top of my head–I wonder about needles, about spinning strong but fine threads, about how warm clothes allow mobility in the wintertime. But ultimately, it’s hard not to feel like the idea of a catastrophe as a short sharp shock is an artifact left over from the Cold War and the insanity of concepts like ‘full-scale nuclear war’ and ‘mutual assured destruction’ and ‘nuclear winter’. The catastrophes that loom over us now are all happening in slow-motion: anthropocentric climate change, planetary-scale pollution, peak oil, pandemics (or some combination of all of the above, as occurs in William Gibson’s The Peripheral and referred to, with grim humour, as the Jackpot), which will likely allow at least some evolution in what people wear as they play themselves out. One thing is for sure, though–there’ll be mismatched plastic buttons everywhere, since they need millions of years to decompose, and crafters will be finding stashes of those suckers until the sun goes out.

And finally, I feel as though Warren Ellis & Paul Duffield’s Freakangels might have been the original solarpunk text, without realising it and long before the term was coined. Think about it – it’s set in a flooded world, and follows the exploits of a small group of people struggling to build themselves a sustainable community without help (or interference) from any authority but themselves.

Freakangels

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Reeeeeeeeer

I think writing should always be like that. Just like, “Reeeeeeeeer,” blasting through the desert on a three-wheeler with your mullet that you gave yourself, like, I don’t give a fuck.

– Claire Vaye Watkins, from this fantastic interview. You should read the whole thing. Special thanks to Jane Rawson for pointing it out in the comments.

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