Monday, 10 December 2007

One Small Step for Santa - Part Two


One Small Step for Santa is a kid-friendly Christmas story told in three episodes, posted serially by me, your waylaid host, Cheeseburger Brown.

Chapters: 1|2|3

Related reading: Pink Santa

Multimedia note: This story's header illustration has been composited for anaglyphic stereoscopic viewing. For best results, look at it through red-and-blue 3D glasses.

And now, our yuletide tale continues:



2/3

When you look up at the Moon in the sky it might look like a very small place, but when you're driving across the bottom of a deep crater, lost in a forest of giant Lunar boulders, the Moon can seem very, very big indeed.

It was quiet, because there isn't any air on the Moon. It was also very dark and very cold, because it was night-time for the far side, and on the Moon each night lasts for two whole weeks.

George shivered.

Brother Marcus grumbled. He kept hitting a little box on the dashboard of the buggy that was supposed to tell them where to go, but instead of showing them maps it was showing them nothing but squiggly lines. It beeped sadly. "Fudge!" yelled Marcus.

"We're going to be lost forever," said George.

"No," mumbled Marcus. "We would run out of air long before forever. But that isn't a very cheerful thought, is it?"

George agreed that it wasn't. "What are we going to do?" he asked.

Marcus sighed as he steered the crater-buggy around a mound of sharp stones. "I'm going to drive up the highest hill I can find, and then maybe we can have a look around and figure out where we are."

"But everything on the Moon looks the same!" cried George, pointing to the jagged shadows all around them, dimly lit by the red beacon on the nose of their buggy. The map machine beeped sadly again.

Brother Marcus shook his head. "Don't let your hope go out, novice. How can we keep it alive for others if we haven't got any ourselves?"

"What should we hope for?"

"Unlikely things, novice," said Marcus. "The odds are that we are in serious trouble, but maybe -- just maybe -- we're not. That is what we're hoping for: the faith that nearly impossible things can happen, now and again."

"So it's nearly impossible that we'll survive?" cried George.

Brother Marcus smiled and put his arm around George in a comforting way. "That's not it at all, novice," he said quietly. "Instead, it means that however we manage to get out of this trouble will be -- if nothing else -- interesting, on account of how unlikely it will have to be in order to happen."

"I don't understand," said George.

"Don't worry," said Marcus. "You will."

The buggy shimmied and shook as it worked hard to climb up the edge of the crater, then bounced and skidded as it coasted down the other side. Marcus spotted a smooth, round hill rising above the field of rocks. "That looks like a good look-out point!" he said, turning the steering wheel to head for the hill.

George, however, had spotted something different: nestled by the rim of the crater they were scooting away from was a little cluster of domes, lit by a single, feeble lamp on a rickety pole. "It's somebody's house!" called George, tugging on Marcus' environment-suit.

Marcus looked over. "Aha!" he cheered, twisting the wheel to spin the buggy around. "We can ask for directions!"

George grinned, happy to have been so helpful twice in just one day.

Brother Marcus and Novice George parked the rented crater-buggy outside of the domes. When Marcus turned off the engine the headlights and the red beacon went out, and it became very, very dark except for the bright stars up above. The dark was inky and solid in a way Earth dark seldom was. Marcus started walking slowly and carefully toward the little cluster of domes, but George was so eager to get within the light of the feeble lamp on the rickety pole that he charged ahead with giant, Lunar leaps.

A door opened on the nearest dome. Three people in dirty, lumpy, funny-looking environment-suits stepped outside and put their hands on their hips.

George skidded to a stop, and waved in a friendly way. "Can you guys hear me through this radio?" he asked, but none of the people in the funny environment-suits said a word.

Brother Marcus arrived behind George. He was fiddling with the knob on his radio. "Hello?" he said over and over again. "Are you reading me, friends?"

The three people simply stared at George and Marcus. The glass of their helmets was so dirty it made it hard to see their faces, or to guess how they might be feeling about George and Marcus. George's smile sort of melted away, dripping down into a frown of worry.

Suddenly, the tallest of the strangers stepped right up close to George, and then reached up to grab his helmet. George gasped. The stranger gently knocked the glass on the front of both their helmets together and said, "Can you hear me now?"

His voice was muffled, like he was speaking through a sweater or from inside an aquarium, but George could hear him just fine. The vibrations from the stranger's voice were making George's helmet vibrate, too, because they were touching; this vibrated the air inside for George's ears to hear. George said, "We're lost!"

The stranger seemed to think that was kind of funny. "Lost, are you?" he said.

"Yes," said George quickly. "Do you know the way to Seyfert City?"

"Not from around here, huh?" said the stranger.

"No, we're from Earth. Can you help us?"

The stranger nodded slowly. "Yeah, sure. Why don't you and your chum come inside and we'll have a chat by the fire?"

George looked back to Brother Marcus, whose eyes were narrowed with suspicion. He frowned, but he gave George a little nod to say it was alright. So George, Marcus and the three strangers went back through the door and then stood together inside the airlock. When it had filled with air the door on the other side opened and everyone took off their helmets.

They were in a dingy old dome that looked like it had been cobbled together with spare parts and garbage. It was filled with all sorts of junk and odds and ends, including a dirty sofa which one of the strangers pointed to and said, "Why don't you chums sit down?"

George and Marcus sat down. The three strangers sat down across from them on a broken-down buggy with no wheels. The first stranger was a man with a big black beard, the second stranger was a woman with pointy eyebrows and a little pinched mouth, and the third stranger was a skinny teenager with pimples and a scowl on his face, his eyes hidden behind a smear of oily hair.

"So," said the man with the big black beard; "what's your business in Seyfert, chums?"

"We are monks, sir," replied Brother Marcus, "on a mission of charity to the Default Zone."

"Oh yeah?" said the man, leaning forward. "What kind of charity would that be?"

"We're from the Order of Saint Nicholas," said Marcus carefully. "We bring sparks of hope to those who need it most."

The man with the big black beard considered this thoughtfully, and then the woman whispered something in his ear. He said, "So what kind of money are we talking about here, pops?"

"Money?" said Marcus. "Our gifts are not money, sir."

"So what are you bringing to those poor chums?"

"Tangerines."

The man with the big black beard looked confused, so George said, "They're like small, sweet oranges."

"We'll be meeting up with our friends in Seyfert City," added Marcus. "They have the chocolate, of course."

"The chocolate?" echoed the man with the big black beard.

"That's right," said Marcus.

"Why in space would you come all the way from that old Earth just to bring oranges and chocolate to a bunch of defaulters?" said the man, now sounding quite angry instead of confused. "Do you expect me to believe that malarkey?" he cried. Malarkey is a sort of nonsense, meaning the man thought George and Marcus were telling lies.

"Who do you think you are?" added the woman with the little pinched mouth. "Santa Claus or something?"

Brother Marcus solemnly tapped the side of his round nose with his gloved finger. "Yes, my dear," he said, "but keep it under your hat. We're trying to keep a low profile."

The woman crinkled her brow like she didn't understand, so George felt the need to explain again. "When Brother Marcus says 'keep it under your hat' he means 'keep it a secret.' He just talks funny."

"Tangerines are very hard to find on the Moon, you see," continued Marcus. "Can you imagine what it will be like for those children to wake up one morning to find such an unlikely delight? A gift from nobody, of something delicious and rare! When a desperate child sees such senseless acts of kindness are possible, it rekindles the embers of their hope, and that they carry with them forever."

The man with the big black beard didn't seem impressed by this. "You're out of your head!" he shouted.

"That stands to reason," agreed Marcus. "Being entirely in one's head can be discouraging, and we are not in that business. A little oil in your grip on reality keeps the works ungummed; and a little spice keeps a man peppy." He paused, then patted his pockets until he found a red and white striped candy-cane which he then offered to the man with the big black beard. "Naturally, peppermint is very peppy as well."

The man stared at the candy-cane as if it might be poison, but the teenager's eyes opened wide and he licked his lips hungrily. Marcus wondered whether he should offer it to the boy instead when he rocketed forward and snatched it out of Marcus' hand. The woman with the little pinched mouth grabbed it away from the teenager, in turn, and stuffed it into her pocket. The teenager looked angry but he didn't say anything. He hid behind his hair and slouched lower against the buggy with no wheels.

"Listen here," said the man with the big black beard, "we don't go in for that kind of malarkey out here. We're not candy-cane kind of people."

"Everybody likes candy," argued Marcus. "What sort of people are you, then?"

"We're bandits," said the man with a deep frown. "We're interested in food and water, air and money. That's it. We don't waste our time with stupid things like candy. So we'll steal your oranges, but you can keep your peppermint to keep you company on the long walk home."

"You can't do that!" cried George.

"Oh yeah?" said the man. "Who's going to stop me, kid? You and your grandpa?"

The teenager and the women guffawed when they heard this. It seemed like what they liked most was watching other people feel surprised, upset and afraid. They were hungry for other people to feel rotten, because they felt so rotten themselves.

"No," said Marcus quietly. "You'll stop yourself."

"More malarkey!" shouted the man, his black beard quivering.

"You'll see," promised Marcus.

"There's nothing to be seen!" said the man with a dark laugh. "My chums are already outside taking everything we want from your buggy. It's already happened -- anything you're planning to do to stop us is too late."

Marcus gave the man a little nod and then stood up. "Well," he said in a cheerful way, "thank you for your hospitality. I'm sorry you weren't able to help us, but I'm consoled by the fact we'll shortly be able to help you."

"What in space is that supposed to mean?" growled the man.

Marcus wouldn't say. He smiled to himself and put his helmet on, then waved at George to follow him as he walked back inside the airlock. The inner door closed behind them and the airlock hissed as the air was sucked away. The outer door opened and the monks walked outside into the cold, dark, silent night.

"Oh no!" cried George.

Two more bandits in patched environment-suits were at the buggy, and they were roughly pawing through a sack of tangerines they had pulled right out of the insulated cargo cage. Marcus walked up to them with George at his heels, glancing over his shoulder to see the black-bearded man and his family come out of the airlock after them.

The bandits stopped ransacking the buggy as Marcus approached. Marcus looked down at the sack, which had been torn. Many squashed tangerines had fallen out and, without the sack's electrical heater and the cargo cage's insulation to keep them warm, they instantly froze into orange, sparkly blobs. Marcus heaved his shoulders as he sighed.

The man with the black beard shoved Marcus out of the way so he could get a look for himself. George couldn't hear his voice, but he saw his lips move inside his dirty helmet as he cried out in disbelief, "Oranges? Nothing but oranges?"

Marcus scooped up one of the frozen blobs and held it in his glove. He touched his helmet to the man's helmet and said, "They're not oranges. They're children's dreams. And because your friends didn't think they could be worth very much, they've stomped on them and ruined them. That's mean, sir, very mean."

"We are mean," said the man.

"But you weren't always mean," said Marcus. "Once, long ago, somebody stomped on your dreams and now you've forgotten how to be nice. You've got a knot of hurt where your heart's supposed to be."

"The world isn't a nice place!" said the man.

"You're right," agreed Marcus. "That's why it's up to people who care to be extra nice, to help make up for how not-nice the world can be sometimes." At that he stepped back from the man and returned to the buggy, somehow dignified despite his clumsy, Earth-man strides. He carefully picked up five tangerines, then closed the seal on the sack and put it back inside the cargo cage.

Marcus walked up to George. Through his radio he said, "Novice, please give one of these to each of our hosts and wish them good tidings."

George did as he was told, shaking a little bit as he stepped near each of the bandits and handed them a tangerine. He knocked his helmet against each of theirs and said, "Merry Christmas, friend," before moving on to the next. The bandits held the tangerines in their gloves, watching them release little puffs of steam as they froze.

When he tapped his helmet against the teenager's helmet, the boy said, "Why are you giving this to me? We're robbing you."

"Because it will taste more delicious to you if it's a gift," said George. "Stolen food tastes terrible."

"You should hate us!" said the teenager.

"I'm afraid of you," said George. "But I don't hate you."

The man with the big black beard rushed forward to grab Marcus' helmet and knock it against his own. "What makes you think we're just going to let you drive out of here with that fruit?" he yelled.

To answer him, Marcus pointed. The man turned around. The woman with the little pinched mouth was cradling her frozen tangerine in her gloves as if it were precious and delicate, like a baby. The teenager was standing beside her, and he had tears rolling down his cheeks. He wasn't crying because he was sad, though: he was crying because nobody had ever been so nice to him, even his own bandit mother and bandit father.

He didn't even know people could be nice to each other for no reason. Until that day, he'd never seen anything like it, and realizing this made him feel a bunch of feelings all at once. So he cried. His shoulders shook.

He stepped forward all of a sudden and pushed the tangerine back into George's hands. "I can't take this," he said, his helmet against George's, their eyes looking right into one another's. "It belongs to some poor kid deserves it more than me."

"It's okay," said George. "It's for you."

The teenager's nose was running. He sniffed, then shook his head. "If it's mine, then I get to decide what to do with it, right? And my decision is you should give it to somebody in the Default Zone. Give it to them from me, okay?"

George smiled. The teenager smiled, too, despite his tears. Marcus nodded to himself and climbed aboard the buggy. George climbed in beside him and put on his seat-belt. The engine started with a hum they could feel through their bums. None of the bandits stepped forward to try to stop them, not even the man with the big black beard.

Marcus put the buggy into gear, and got ready to drive away.

The man with the big black beard waved for his attention, and then leaned over so his helmet could touch Marcus' helmet. "Wait," he said, his voice sounding dry and kind of weak. "Before you go...before you go I want to tell you how to get to Seyfert. And to say I'm sorry."

Marcus grinned, his white teeth shining out from his white beard. He said, "Thank you, friend."

"But you have to tell me: are you really Santa Claus?"

Marcus winked. "Truly, friend, I am -- and today so are you."

Moments later the five bandits were waving good-bye as Brother Marcus and Novice George zoomed away on their buggy, bouncing over the rocks and at last heading in the right direction to safely find Seyfert City.

"You handled that very well, novice," said Marcus. "I think you really do understand the spirit of Christmas."

George blushed. "Thank you, brother."

An hour later the buggy rolled over the top of a big hill and George and Marcus got their first view of the giant network of shining domes that formed Seyfert City, the lights of ships rising and descending overhead in a busy flurry of traffic. Directly ahead, nestled between two grey boulders, was an airlock leading inside the city.

"Hooray!" cheered George.

"Ho, ho, ho!" laughed Marcus.

When their buggy was just a short distance from the airlock, however, red and blue lights started flashing from all directions. Six black and white crater-buggies drove out from behind the boulders and surrounded George and Marcus, forcing Marcus to hit the brakes. Sharp voices yelled over the radio: "Stop your buggy in the name of the law! This is a police control! Put your hands up!"

"Oh dear!" said Marcus, taking his gloves off the steering wheel and holding them up where the police could see them. George did the same.

A police constable in a blue environment-suit with a big golden badge hopped out of one of the buggies and walked over to George and Marcus. He was holding up a bright flashlight. George blinked, because the flashlight was shining right in his eyes. "So," said the constable, "we've finally caught the famous Seyfert City Highway Bandits!"

"We're not bandits -- we're monks!" cried George.

"We're on a mission of charity," added Marcus, "from the Order of Saint Nicholas."

"Never heard of it," said the constable. "But you can tell the lawyer machine your whole sad story once you're in jail."

The constable made a quick sign and then six more police officers hopped over to the buggy and began pulling George and Marcus out of their seats. "Gracious!" said Marcus as they put his hands behind his back and attached them together with manacles, which are metal rings that go around your wrists with a short chain between them so you can't move your arms.

"We're not dangerous!" insisted George as manacles were put on him, too.

"We'll see about that, bandit," said the constable.

Two of the police officers hauled the sacks of tangerines out of the cargo cage, peeking inside the seals curiously as steam puffed out, fogging their helmets. "Be careful with those," Marcus cried out as he was dragged away. "Don't bruise the fruit!"


25 comments:

Sheik Yerbouti said...

Interesting. I can't imagine what it must be like to have faith in a bunch of sentimental concepts, rather than faith in someone who can actually do something.

A couple of typos for later:

"nearby impossible"

"It's somebody house"

I'm curious about what sort of propulsion their moon buggy uses. Is it some sort of sealed, totally self-contained internal combustion engine? You never know what wacky inventions will show up in the Burgerverse; it's approximately 1/4 the fun (other parts of the fun usually include great characters, daring storylines, and some darn good scripting)

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear Sheik,

A couple of typos for later...

Thanks kindly!

I'm curious about what sort of propulsion their moon buggy uses...

It's electric, based on a standard Aresian Micro-Pile. Similar technology was references in The Bikes of New York.

I can't imagine what it must be like to have faith in a bunch of sentimental concepts, rather than faith in someone who can actually do something.

To be brief: it's extremely satisfying and, in my personal estimation, pivotal to meaningful communion with the universe at large. But it takes diff'rent strokes, don't it?

Love,
Cheeseburger Brown

Mark said...

Looking forward to the next chapter.

Question: Steam comes out of the tangerines? It's been a while since I took a science class, but I thought steam was brought on by evaporation. Just how hot were they inside that bag?

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear Mark,

In this case, the mist or steam they see is a product of sublimation rather than evaporation, due to the extreme differences between the environment and the fruit in terms of a) temperature, and b) density.

The puffs of cloud they see are not in fact water droplets or water vapour, but rather tiny crystals of flash-frozen orange content, liberated by the sudden compression of the orange disrupting its structure and drawn away from the fruit by the vaccuum surroundings.

Somebody more clever feel free to correct my science on this front. Myself, I hardly ever go to the Moon and thus I had a very limited pool of experience from which to draw.

Love,
Cheeseburger Brown

SaintPeter said...

I can't imagine what it must be like to have faith in a bunch of sentimental concepts, rather than faith in someone who can actually do something.
Ironically, the faith seems to be that the believer is the one who can do actually something. I find that quite refreshing.

Compare with Buddhisim, which I don't think actually requires belief in a "higher power", mearly the faith that one may someday attain enlightenment. Budda is a philosopher who's teachings are revered, but he is not considered divine.

For an amusing take on self actualized religion, read "The Andriods Dream" by John Scalzi - his book (which is quite amusing) features a religion where, rather than believing in the phrophacies, the members attempt to make them come true.

Teddy said...

CBB: Woo science! Got that one totally right, actually. When exposed to a vacuum, the boiling temperature of liquid drops to...well...zero and it explodes through the shell due to pressure differential, at which point it freezes. However, you may have mixed up your words...Sublimation is the process of a solid turning to a gas immediately, DEPOSITION is the reversal (gas to solid) and of course freezing is liquid to solid.

This chapter seems a bit more grown-up than the last, although the OOSN still annoys me a bit with their unstoppable optimism and idealism. They just clash with my misanthropic nature.

TRH

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear Teddy,

Thank you for clarifying the deposition issue, and for being kind to my own mumbling on the subject.

As for the order's cheer, it's more or less their mandate. It is anti-misanthropic, I'll admit, but if we can't be gay at Christmas then I guess we just can't be gay at all, you know?

In the third chapter we'll touch on why the monks cheer on the way we do, and that may make it a little more palable by giving it a context as opposed to, say, Barney the giant purple dinosaur who was apparently that way due to some congenital defect.

Love,
Cheeseburger Brown

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear SaintPeter,

Budda is a philosopher who's teachings are revered, but he is not considered divine.

A perfect example. I am not a Buddhist, but let's just say we're very sympathetic to the guy around the Old Schoolhouse, and we have a bronze statue of him that sits on a stone shelf in front of the fireplace -- my son calls him "Dooba", my daughter used to call him "Yoda."

I haven't read Scalzis' book, but it does indeed look interesting. I wish I could read when I was asleep. That'd save time like nobody's business.

As I mentioned above in my reply to Teddy, we'll get a taste of the order's underlying raitre d'etre in the final episode.

Buddha, however, is not in on it. If he gave any advice to St. Nick it would probably have been along the lines of suggesting he "sit and think on it some," but that's pure conjecture and not at all canon.

Love,
Cheeseburger Brown

gt281 said...

ooh,, ooh,, i want to make an editorial comment too,, can i?...
good... the dark side of the moon is always dark,, cuz the moon doesn't rotate...at least thats what pink the floyd told me...
onward to part three of "the case of the frozen tangerines"..or "how i got blackbeard off his pirate ship"....
....bless the web....

Orick of Toronto said...

Cheers for another update in your busy schedule.


Sorry to say but I find this passage awkward: "Marcus wondered whether he should offer it to the boy instead when he rocketed forward and snatched it out of Marcus' hand."

The story was basically from George's POV up to that point then an abrupt switch to What Marcus thought.

Isn't Buddha considered divine since he had achieved Enlightment/Godhead?

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear Orick,

You're right -- that passage is brutal, and I struggled with it but obviously not to the point of success. It is confusing.

As for Buddha, there are as many opinions on his divinity as their are sects of Buddhism. The historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, however denied any such divinity.

He asserted that the immaterial world was a subject not worthy of debate, because since no senses could apprehend it no two differing points of view could ever be reconciled. He put the issue of reincarnation under that rubrick as well, but that hasn't stopped millions of his present-day followers from making reincarnation a cornerstone of their faith.

In this way, Buddhism has a remarkable compatibility with science -- arguing untestable hypotheses is of little value. We can speculate and guess for fun, but getting up in arms about it is a fool's mission.

Thus, strictly speaking, anything that the human mind cannot directly interact with is a waste of time to have strong feelings about so far as the historical Buddha was concerned. Divinity definitely falls into that category since it is, by its very nature, a non-material phenomenon and thus inscrutable.

Buddhists of any stripes feel free to chime in: there are a multitude of points of view on this subject.

Love,
Cheeseburger Brown

sheik yerbouti said...

I wondered about the oranges, but I figured someone would chime in with the bit about everything boiling out before freezing (probably the exact opposite of sublimation, now that I think about it).

Are there actually durations to day and night on the moon? I thought it was always light or always dark, depending on where you are.

CBB: I would be curious to know your definition of "communing with the universe", as everyone seems to mean something different and these ideological concepts never fail to intrigue me.

I wish I could read when I was asleep.

Tell me about it. Read, work, sleep... wait a minute.

I'm really eager to see what you've done with the society of the Default Zone, assuming we get into that much in a kids' story.

Oh, the reason I asked about the engine was because of the fact that (a) it apparently causes rumbling/vibration throughout the vehical, and (b) the peripheral devices all turned off when the engine stopped. These didn't seem consistent with electric propulsion, but then again I haven't studied the details of the Aresian micropile.

saintpeter: Does faith in someone higher than oneself preclude the belief that one can make a difference by one's actions? Case in point: I believe in a God who sustains me, but I still have to eat.

Orick of Toronto said...

Ok, a little switch from religion to science.

The dark side of the moon is always dark, to us. That just means we can't see that side. It doesn't mean the sun never shines on that side. The moon doesn't rotate and always faces the same way in relation to earth, but the moon, in rotating around the earth, does have sunrise and sundown.

gt281 said...

i stand corrected,, i knew pink didn't know what he was talking about...
.....bless the web.....

SaintPeter said...

sheik said:
Does faith in someone higher than oneself preclude the belief that one can make a difference by one's actions? Case in point: I believe in a God who sustains me, but I still have to eat.

Well, "God helps those who help themselves." So, no, faith in a higher power does not generally stop the average believer from living their lives. However, an overabundance of faith can certainly result in a lack of self actualization and potentially a shortened life.

An extreme example would be "Christian Scientists" who rely on Prayer for healing. I am not aware of this method being succesful, while in many cases modern medicine has proven treatments. Less extreme, belief in Homopathy sometimes results in the death or suffering of people who seek it in leiu of proven remedies.

While I don't have anything against faith in general, but I do worry about a faith that may leave the believer sitting on the couch praying for their life to get better rather than going out and doing something to make their life better. I'm ok with faith as moral support, but down on faith as physical support.

From my point of view, as an atheist, the beliefs embodied by the OOSN is as effective as any other religion, and possibly more so since it encourages its members to put their faith into practice. While the Christian church(s) encourage charity, you don't see many of them on the moon handing out tangerines to the poor.

RE: Scalzi
John Scalzi is a blast. If you find yourself with some spare reading time, you can find his novel "Agent to the Stars" for free on his website. He originally had it up as a "shareware" book and ended up making about $5k in donations on it over the years. Once his first novel "Old Man's War" was published, he just left AttS up for free.

Mark said...

saintpeter - I've read "Agent to the Stars," and found it fun and hilarious. Scalzi's on my list of those to read.

I must correct you, though, on the "God helps those who help themselves," bit. If we're talking Biblical scripture, then we have to leave that one out. It never says that. Ben Franklin said that in his "Poor Richard's Almanac" in 1757. In fact, the Bible teaches the opposite.

I lean more in your direction as far as religion and faith go, but grew up attending a fundamentalist Christian church and for some reason still get up in arms when someone throws out something that is widely and falsely believed to be Biblical.

Buddha sounds pretty cool.

Mark said...

Pardon me. Benjamin Franklin did not coin this phrase. It came from Aesop's fables. Hercules said, "The gods help them that help themselves."

Orick of Toronto said...

well switching back to religion; I remember going to church with my parents when I was young. The people at the church would always say something to the effect of 'Jesus was the only figure in the all the religions to ever proclaim himself divine/a god. Not Buddha, not Muhammad.' The obvious conclusion then 'He is the only one who is truly divine'

Simon said...

CBB,

My apologies for not getting on this story sooner. I really do feel bad when I can't even keep up the reading pace dictated by your writing pace. My bad.

Like last year's story, I just love the feel-good vibe that this one exudes, and am happy it involves the same Order. I was hoping for that, but have mostly given up guessing what's going to come - I prefer the surprise anyway. And I have to say I'm partial to the spaceship named Blitzen. My very first ever cat was named Blitzen because Santa hand-delivered him on Christmas eve when I was just wee, and his loss, 17 years later, was one of the most traumatic in my life.

Our intrepid heroes are in a bit of a pickle right now, but I know it'll all end up all right, and that makes me feel nicely warm, too. The anti-misanthropic sentiments are coming at just the right time, in my estimation.

Lastly, since "kipple" is one of my favourite words that gets tossed around on this site with some amount of regularity, I thought the link below would be appropriate to share.

http://www.43folders.com/2007/12/12/dick-kipple

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear all,

Please excuse the lateness of my replies. The thickest parts of life have a habit of sneaking up / ganging up on me, and blog commentary sort of got lost in the shuffle this week.

Some points (numbered for no particular reason):

1) I'd like to extend a big phat thank you to everyone who's dropped something in the tip jar recently. Your contributions have made it possible for me to get a combo birthday-Christmas gift for my wife this year that should put me in the good books for a goodly long while. It wasn't a ton of money or anything, but it was money I would otherwise have had no way of generating. So, thanks very kindly from the bottom of my heart which is deep inside my body. Always remeber: when CBB's wife is happy, CBB gets to write with less interference, so it's a gift to me that comes right on back to you. Merry merry!

2) In discussing money with the aforementioned wife, I also recently learned that the complimentary copies of The Bikes of New York have only gone out a little while ago. I'm really sorry about that delay. I thought they'd gone out months ago and nobody had troubled to mention it, which is fine by me. The truth is, though, that my wife does an absolutely faultless job of prioritizing our limited funds to address in the correct order our seemingly unlimited number of creditors, and she simply couldn't find the change to ship those books until just a short while ago. At any rate, my apologies for the egregiously long delay. I hope you have your books in your hands now and, if not, I'm sure you'll receive them very soon.

3) The writers' strike in Hollywood has pretty much officially killed any chance of getting an adaptation of Simon of Space in the works for the time being, which is very disappointing to me. I hope the strike ends before the option period expires, but I'm not holding my breath. On the other hand, the review copies of the new edition have gone out and we're still on track for delivery of the hardcovers for Valentine's Day 2008. My thanks go out to the folks at Ephemera Bound for finalling getting us within spitting distance of the second edition becoming a reality.

4) I put in a few hours this week co-composing some music with my very talented brother; this music will serve as a short thematic overture to some of the stories I'll be bringing you in 2008, beginning with The Secret Mathematic in January. My brother is an avid reader here and there's probably no one around who has a more intidimate knowledge of the material with the exception of myself, so I'm confident he'll produce something very exciting and true to the Cheeseburger Brown storytelling spirit. These overtures will be downloadable for free as unrestricted MP3 files from this blog, with longer extended mixes available from my brother's site. Details will follow in the New Year. I encourage you to share these files in any way you care to.

5) While I was at my brother's house, we discussed the tease and the sham of series' like Lost and The X-Files in which the audience is strung along a trail of ever-more-confoudning mysteries that -- semingly -- don't ever wrap up into a satisfying package of pay-offs. I decided therefore to outline to my brother some of the pay-offs I'm working up for the stories you're reading now, to test the waters of credence and to see whether I was telegraphing the connections too obviously. Basically, he was forced to listen to me ramble for twenty minutes while I explained how all the different parts of this universe inter-relate, and gave him a taste of the Big Picture. I share with you his unabashed response: I asked, "So does it make sense?" and he said, and I quote, that I "blew his mind." I trust my brother's sense of candour, so that's why I mention it. I wanted to assure you all that I'm not stringing you along for an endless, open-ended series of dud mysteries: on the contrary, we're working toward a collection of pay-off revelations that it is my dearest hope that you'll be satisfied and excited by. Some of those pay-offs are scheduled to make it onto this blog in 2008, and I look forward to commiting more cognitive fellatio, so to speak.

6) I've always been furiously working to build a virtual scale model of the starship Dollar, the vessel at the heart of the as-yet-untitled New Novel coming your way in Winter 2008 on this very blog. It is my hope to have a series of full-colour renderings to accompany the novel as it's written, as another prong in my initiative for 2008 to bring more of a multimedia angle to the fun we have here. More likely than not, the renderings will also be made available in 3D. As much it's fun to knock off a quick line drawing for each story, in my heart of hearts I really want to take you there in a more photo-realistic way, to make it easier for you to imagine these stories the way I do: as cinema. Hopefully the accompanying musical score for the New Novel will help us get closer to that aim, too. I finished modelling the ship last week, and (with any luck) I'll manage to squeak in a few (dozen) hours to start painting it over the Christmas holiday. My brother has expressed a desire to see the ship cast in an industrial, dirt-stained light so that's how I plan to surface it -- gritty, used, and credible. The Dollar is very real to me, and I want it to be real to you, too. If it is technically possible, I will endeavour to figure out a way to make the model publically available for free use in fan art (for those of you conversant with virtual geometry) once construction is finished.

7) I'm sorry, especially to our esteemed Sheik Yerbouti, for failing to participate more specifically in the religious discussin. Part of that is because I became quite busy at the end of last week, but another part is because I get nervous expressing too openly my personal views on such topics for fear of alienating readers who like to imagine that we're more philosophically aligned than such revelations may demonstrate. While it's true that the sharp among you would see all the clues they need in the stories to be unsurprised by most of what I would have to say, experience has shown me that many people become uncomfortable when their assumptions about an author's point of view are challenged outside of the context of fiction. So, to be absolutely clear: I haven't failed to take up the discussion because I think it's uninteresting or upsetting, but rather out of fear of shooting my mouth off and making a bunch of you think I'm an asshole.

8) That being said (and now my point numbering has crossed from the merely extraneous to the nonsensical), here are some things every reader should know: there are characters in this universe -- wise characters, good characters, clever characters -- who do not believe in a supreme being; they are also those who do. Phat-so Kim believes in God, to take an example, and so does the Shah of Anwar. That faith is fundemental to their motivations, and informs their interpretation of events totally. I am proud of the fact that neither of those example characters are, in this respect, caricatures. They are not "religious nuts" or "wrong-headed simpletons": they're principled people, with passions rooted in their relationship with divinity. They're educated people, as well. Both of those characters are independent, critical thinkers and innovators. In short, they are the polar opposite of how people of faith are often portrayed in mainstream secular media.

9) What does that say about the personal beliefs of this author?

10) It says that I think that we, as a society, risk throwing the baby out with the bath-water when we cheapen religiosity by focusing too much on its perceived logical fallacies. By this I mean that, from an athiest point of view, it may be well and good to disbelieve in Flying Spaghetti Monsters but that rational self-satisfaction can blind one to the beneficial values of a faith-oriented life -- values that are ascribed to extra-natural sources but may in fact be derived from Dawkins' own shaving cream: selection. Time and generations have wrought certain community lessens, and they're encoded in our memetic history like genes in a genome: surrounded by junk, but somehow useful by and by.

11) To put it another way: there are life benefits to be had from cultivating a sense of the sacred. Almost every culture thinks so, and it would be very arrogant to distrust all those dead people wantonly. Holy is holy. Buddhists have shown us that it doesn't really matter what the object of that holy concept is, because instead of God they use Nothing. Different salami, same lunch.

12) So, I like religion. I'm a little disappointed that there isn't one my size (or my flavour, or what have you). When we get all caught up with the obnoxious end of it -- the beheadings, the burnings, the molestations, the genital mutilations, the self-explodings, the repressive conformacy, the dangerous pseudo-scientific malarkey -- you forget about the community aspect of it all, and the importance of having the compassion, support and guidance of your peers in matters of personal self-governance. To rise up from the worst version of yourself to the best isn't easy, and help can be handy. Don't quote me on this, but I'm fairly sure that was one of the things Jesus was always on about.

13) I admit that superstition irritates me in the context of dealing with real people in real life, but enthralls me in the context of the imagined world. From a certain point of view it is interesting the note that the world's earliest examples of the fantasy/sci-fi genre include the Bhagavad-Gita and the Pentateuch.

14) Stories are the heart of this memetic super-organism we wet specks are riding on, and we have a long, long, long history of weaving our stories with imagined histories in order to showcase certain themes. Like remember when Uhura and Kirk kissed, or when Cain slew Abel? The packaging for those didactic messages were the larger-than-life proportions and grander context of a fantastical realm (ancestral times/the future). Human beings are simply suckers for stories set in the Ghost World, whether the stars are gods, demigods (biological|technological), daemons or monsters or entities-as-living-essence-of-X...as long as they are some mortals there to help us find our point of view. That's the product of at least twenty-five thousand years of storytelling, and storytelling is (whether we like to think about it or not) the common human basis for understanding reality. Stories are language -- words in a string whose utterance represents an ordered series of virtual objects (nouns), and the relationship between them across time (actions). Every time you ask someone to pass the salt you're telling one of the shortest but most beloved stories of all history.

15) I do not believe what's in stories, but I believe in stories.

16) I do not believe in God, but I believe in belief.

17) Or faith, as it were. I should've just said "faith" in Number Sixteen up there but it really seemed like the sentence would sing sweeter with the little internal rhyme of {belief|believe} both phonologically and conceptually. Am I wrong? Did I sacrifice the comprehensibility for the sheer readability (again)? This is a problem of mine.

18) Faith is that little corner inside yourself you keep warm because it rhymes with your notion of the sacred. Faith is the root for your core beliefs about the basic nature of the world. The emergent property of these core beliefs is your concept of reality. Reflected in its surface is your idea of truth. Having a relationship with your idea of the true reality of the world has been considered worthy of cultivation by the lion's share of our collective ancestors, as mentioned in Number Eleven.

19) My faith? My personal faith? I have one, and its embers burns bright and feeds me when my soul aches. I'll tell you, only because you've come with me this far. My faith, dear readers, is this: The universe is a fleeting, natural event occuring in a context we have no way of exchanging information with, ever.

20) It may not sound cheerful at first glance, I know. I have some friends of traditional faiths who find it appalling, to be candid. They might cite an image like that as one of their reasons for believing in a supreme being: as a salve against the instinctive horror experienced when contemplating a space-time event of inconceivable scale in which you live despite the fact that its most basic properties flummox you, and realizing that it doesn't care about it you one iota. Then you realize that time probably really is an illusion, and then you might get a shock of old old-timey existential nausea washing over you if you're a sensitive poetic type. This horror is a known bug in the human cognitive matrix, and experiencing it is normal and healthy. The only known cure is to believe in Flying Spaghetti Monsters, or to take solace in the soul-drenchingly cold beauty of truth laid bare. (Om.)

21) Truth Laid Bare: Nature has about as much compassion for you as it does for that bacterium you just killed with orange-scented all-purpose cleaning spray.

22) Truth Squared: Does that necessarily mean the world doesn't love you? It might not. Some quantum thinkers say the universe quivers at the touch of our perceptions as sentient beings, influencing the collapse of probability waveforms to specific states of events in history. Science is young. It's hard to absolutely rule out just about anything.

23) A-ha! Got you there then, you might say. You might go on to ask how I could absolutely rule out God if it's hard to absolutely rule out anything. The answer is I don't absolutely rule out God -- I just don't believe in him. The concept disagrees with my fundemental aesthetic. Basically, I think the universe is a much more beautiful thing without bungling the elegance of the ultimately reduced forces of physics with anthropomorphic Ghost World puppets. It's clumsy. It's an unappealing story to me. It is unaligned with my notion of perfection, and thus I reject it. It is a belief. It is faith.

24) It is, in short, total malarkey. Faith is the most valuable malarkey you'll ever have, and -- despite what the Hubbardians may argue -- it's free.

25) This has been an excessive long post. I mean, I think you've noticed that. I really should've been cleaning up the kitchen with my orange-scented all-purpose spray. Shit. My wife's going to kill me. Now there's ultimate reality for you.

Love,
Cheeseburger Brown

Orick of Toronto said...

CBB, looking forward to 3-D model of the ship. I always thought your stories would make amazing animated series. If I had a couple million dollars on hand, I would pay for some great animation and great voice acting to get your stories made into wepisodes and release them far and wide.

As always, the amount of your output is just amazing, even in comments. :) But all your candid kinda defeats your fear of expressing too openly you personal views on such topics and alienating readers....

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear Orick,

What -- are you saying you're all alienated now?

Love,
Cheeseburger Brown

Orick of Toronto said...

ha ha, no, I have been reading you for a while now and know your religious inclination already. We seems to have similar ideas.

I am just saying you probably ended up more candid than you were planning to be.

What 3D program are you using?

Simon said...

I always appreciate your candour, CBB. I think that a well-defined sense of self is good for the soul, as it were, but when you add a goodly amount of rational open-mindedness to differing views it also helps eliminate the larger chunks of hubris from the crannies of the cranium.

Your comments on the value of community (namely numbers 10 & 11) were eloquently put.

I can't wait for my mind to be blown. Contrary to what my wife would have you think that I probably prefer, it really is the part of me upon which that operation is most highly desired.

Anonymous said...

CBB - Do you have any plans to do a prequel/followup on "Leslie and the Powder"? That's one thread that I wouldn't mind reading more of...