Friday, April 1, 2011

It's just a jump to the left, and a step to the right

I wasn’t actually planning to post today, but when I saw Liz’s post, I knew I needed to join in the fun. It’s a blogfest being hosted by Elizabeth Poole, and I laughed at the idea of looking back on some previous works. My only regret was that I didn’t have some of my earlier work in digital format (my first novel length piece of fiction was written on an actual type writer, so that fan fic didn’t survive—hey, I was twelve, okay). But I found a worthy piece, and it made me laugh. I still like the idea, but I think it would have a, well, limited appeal.
You see, I had a thing for antiheroes. Call me a product of comic books in the 80’s, but I love movies like Split Second. Our MC is this dark, tortured bad ass whose had one too many run ins with the bad guys and can be summed up by his sidekick’s best line “We need *bigger* guns! To effing small! Bigger!” Seriously, watch the movie, it’s awesome sauce on toast.
But it had this effect on me. I suddenly needed to write a gritty, crusted over antihero with a propensity for violence. And if I’d just gone with that idea, I wouldn’t be laughing so hard today, but I had to meld it with something I know. I was just trying to follow the “write what you know” advice that everyone loves to spout. But what the hell did I know?
I knew about grad school.
After nearly burning out on my master’s degree I was just cresting over the evils of my comprehensive exam (you know, the one where they told me my writing was “Really quite awful. I’m glad your presentation was so strong, otherwise…”). I was hurt, burned, and I felt like an antihero. I brought boxes to my comps so I could pack and leave after they failed me (not a joke). I felt like the undeserving asshole who stars in a gritty 80’s action flicks next to Rutger Hauer. And so I thought maybe it was time to feature a graduate student in a gritty action flick. Unapologetic science nerd meets action hero. Like I said, limited appeal.
So here it is, the opening pages of my trunked novel from early 2007: Grad School Blues (it was a working title). Oh, and it’s completely un-edited, so this is what my rough-roughs look like (note my sincere fear of commas).


Grad school just has not been the same since an asteroid scored a direct hit on the capital. For one thing NSF and NASA have started putting their money where their mouths are and any lab with enough clout to garner a mediocre grant from these institutions now have armed escorts and “personal safety devices” for all of their research. Of course, the armed escorts are to protect us weakling science types from hurting ourselves with our big new toys. Oh, and to protect us from the raving lunatics, read: fundamentalist groups with a combined IQ lower than my bra size, who decided that an asteroid striking down the President and all the senior staff was a clear sign from God that it was time to blast the major colonies into little radioactive bits.
At least that is the current theory for why the only martian civilizations still intact are the ones ten feet down in bedrock.
I really hate the Fundamentalists. I really like my personal safety device. I’ve nicknamed it Sparky. It has three settings: “Kill that guy,” “Kill those guys,” and “Run.” Sparky is more reliable than my old advisor, but he is not allowed into public situations any longer. Too much stress…
My boyfriend also suffers from similar stress issues, but Johnny has learned to compensate by mass consumption of two things: caffeine and alcohol. To say that Johnny has a thing for coffee would be like saying a few religious groups have a couple of ideas on how things work. Johnny is not really human until he has had his first cup of joe. If you ever feel like experiencing a point blank nuclear blast just tell Johnny that we’re out of coffee and there’s a Red Level radiation alert.
Today’s radiation alert is a mere yellow, so Johnny and I are currently occupying one of the most rare and distinguished locations on this side of what remains of the Great Rift: a café.
“You going to see the Prof today,” Johnny asked as he took control of his cup of bitter black goodness from the café’s owner. I waited for the sugar to follow. You see most people dole out just enough sugar to take the edge off the coffee. Johnny, however, pours the sugar on and counts to ten.

Sometimes he gets lost between 8 and 9, so he starts over. I watched as the coffee started to threaten the rim of the cup with an overflow before Johnny stopped pouring.
“Yeah, I have some questions about the EDS data that we got from our parts. I think that the lab is trying to short-change us. I think they’ve sent us another contaminated crystal.”
“You don’t honestly think there’s enough left in that mans scrambled brain to help you get the probe up and running?” I tensed. Johnny and I have been rounds on this subject before. It’s not pretty.
“I think there’s enough up top for me to get a degree.”
“Come on, Sophy, how long are you going to stay loyal to Dr. I can’t handle the stress of it all. Dr. Collins says he’d give you a degree if you’d just work for our lab.”
“Sorry, Johnny, I’ve almost got the mass spectrometer up and running. Until we can measure the signature at those blast sites the government won’t know where the nuclear weapon leaks are.”
“You really think you’re going to be able to get those moving?” Johnny stirred his coffee carefully.
“It’s not my original thesis, but all the machines worked when I started. I think I can get the labs back online. You can keep making radiation proof plastic if you like, it’s just not my thing. I’m a geologist, not a chemist.”
“Whatever, Sophy. You’re probably one of the best chemists I know.” Johnny shook his head at me, a sure sign of defeat, and I sighed a bit of relief.
Suddenly I had that feeling; the hair on the back of my neck stood up, time slowed down, and I could tell that somewhere a gun was pointed at a vital part of my body. I did the only reasonable thing: I dropped to the floor in the middle of a café.
As I fell I saw Johnny giving me one of his quizzical looks as he continued to bring his cup to his mouth. Then his cup exploded as the bullet passed through the space my head had occupied a moment earlier and took out Johnny’s cup of coffee. Not Good. Then as soon as all time had moved into slow motion it sped back up to hyper velocity.
“Son of a-“ Johnny yelled as he whipped around his “personal safety device.” Remember how I nicknamed mine Sparky? I call Johnny’s Spike. He fired a self imbedding mine into the wall in the direction the shot had come from.  Air rushed out of my lungs a nanosecond before the blast wave crashed into me with a deafening roar. So much for Café Ole.
I started scanning the area for potential threats and for our escort. I found both with ease. Our escort was smeared across the back wall, and the potential threats were a bunch of fairly tall individuals wearing non-regulation gas masks. I hate fundamentalists.
I set Sparky to setting #2 and cleared a path to the exit with the plasma cone function. I didn’t want coffee this morning anyway. I grabbed Johnny, who was in the process of reloading, by the back of the neck and drug him towards the door. If we can just get to our transport vehicle we’ll be fine. I swear the paranoid rats at NASA made the Personnel Transport Vehicle (that would be PTV for those of you into acronyms) capable of withstanding a direct thermo nuclear hit.  I pulled Johnny out of the remains of Café Ole and saw the fundamentalists scurrying around the other buildings on the street, and one group who were trying to secure our PTV. Morons.
“Johnny!” I yelled over the noise of gunfire and small blasts. “Hit the transport with a type II!”

I stopped after another page of this story telling gold mine when I realized that this story could be told in about another twenty pages. I wanted to write a novel damnit, not some half attempted short story (you know, that might actually advance my career and get me a publishing credit!). I also find it hard to post it unedited. I mean really, were commas just scarier back then? I don't remember having such a strong fear of punctuation.


  1. I am SOOOO glad I came over from Natalie's blog that day, because THIS? GENIUS. I love how sardonic it is (a yellow radiation warning is nothing, right? It's like 10 CT scans, back to back. Hardly worth mentioning), and that you know the importance of a good anti-hero. <3 <3 <3

    Also, I want to hear more about this fanfic. I found a lot of mine during a spring cleaning fix, most of it godawful Sailor Moon melodrama. I should be embarrassed, I guess, but all I remember is how much fun I had writing them.

  2. Whoa. My word verification was: GOWEED

    You don't know anyone named Cheech by any chance, do you?

  3. Okay, I never thought to do any sailor moon melodrama (I found sailor moon in my senior year of high school, by then I knew that I wanted to tell my own stories), but when I was twelve I was an avid, no rabid, fan of star trek. I'd gone through the star trek guide to the enterprise, and noted down which floors were not even mentioned on the ship. then I wrote a letter to the publisher to ask about the unmentioned decks. Yeah, Me=Nerd.
    So, given my fascination, I of course wrote a star trek fan fic. I was the main character, I was the only person who could save the USS Enterprise 1701 D, and of course, I flew a pegasus through space to help them out (wasn't that nice of me).
    So yeah, I had engineering melodrama, but I also thought Geordi LaForge was the most awesome person on the ship.
    That would be a Mary Sue, on the Enterprise with a pegasus. How many mistakes can one piece of fiction hold?

  4. But the pegasus is the best part!

    I once did a Star Trek (original, not TNG)/Andy Griffith crossover. It was called "Mayberry in Space". True story.

  5. I also thought this was brilliant. Despite your crippling fear of commas and proper spacing, the voice is awesome.

    "To say that Johnny has a thing for coffee would be like saying a few religious groups have a couple of ideas on how things work. Johnny is not really human until he has had his first cup of joe. If you ever feel like experiencing a point blank nuclear blast just tell Johnny that we’re out of coffee and there’s a Red Level radiation alert.
    Today’s radiation alert is a mere yellow..."

    Is brilliant. Also the bit about how he gets lost counting. The thing I love best about this blogfest is that no matter how rough the old stuff is, you can still see the good stuff.

    Except for maybe mine. ;)

    I also agree with the other Elizabeth. The pegasus is the best part.


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