Monday 20 August 2007

Felix and the Frontier - Part Four

Felix and the Frontier is a story told in six episodes, posted serially by me, your finger waggling host, Cheeseburger Brown.

Reminder: I'm going to be hawking books and performing live improvisational storytelling at this year's SFX 2007 Science-Fiction Expo at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre this coming weekend, August 24-26. Drop by if you can!

Announcement: The Bikes of New York is now available in a newly edited, affordably priced print edition! Order your copy today (unless you pitched in for the Scifi Expo in which case I'll be sending you a complimentary copy as soon as I'm able -- do write to me to make sure I have your correct mailing address!). Relive the fun and fear of Luc Drapeau's stand against Manhattan's pedal power gangs!

Preview follows:


We all know Felix's holy grail.

We all know the jackpot is a post-industrial civilization with whom we might make friends -- another intelligent kind to stand with Solar life, the Pegasi and the Great Henniplasm as peers of the Neighbourhood.

After so many lifeless worlds any sign is ambrosia to him, no matter how humble. He tries to keep his expectations appropriately meagre.

He stifles a sigh as he steps out onto another barren landscape of craters and dust beneath a black sky. He wilts at the knees, his body sagging not from disappointment but rather a somatic realization of the planet's strong gravity.

He straightens, rolling his shoulders as he becomes accustomed to their new weight. He takes a breath, tastes traces of nitrogen briefly before his duo of staff step in to disinfect him. Felix holds up his arms tolerantly, to make the job easy.

The sun crests the craggy horizon. It's an unremarkable yellow dwarf. Shadows dry up from the basins, absorbed into the crater rims.

He sets off on a stroll, scanning the environment with a bored expression. The rock features are sharp and uneroded, the impact basins ancient. This is a place utterly without weather but what dust and fire flotsam provides when meteorites fall.

Felix yawns.

And then he stops short on the next rim: in the crater below there are artifacts, their rectilinear edges standing in stark contrast to the organic texture of natural relief around them. He plods down over the rocky edge and then walks a mile across the dust-coated interior before arriving at the artifacts. They make him smile, the tough skin around his black eyes wrinkling into a million lines.

A pole stands with a piece of coloured fabric hanging heavy against it, the edges dangling with long, still threads. It is not the banner of the Panstellar Neighbourhood. At its foot is a piece of derelict technology: the struts and base of a modular lander. The common constraints of economic engineering have made the object almost familiar, but upon inspection the details are clearly alien.

Intelligent spacefarers have visited this place, and left their humble mark.

On one side of the abandoned lander base is a shiny plaque inscribed with glyphs, diagrams and a tight grid of mathematical ratios and corresponding symbols for various constants. Felix speculates that a series of sinewy lines may be a depiction of the authors as physical entities, though he finds it hard to make heads or tails of the miasma of sweeping, tapering limbs.

On the opposite side of the lander is a second plaque, this one inscribed with a diagram of the star system. Felix sees that the planet upon which he stands is represented as one partner in a binary pair. It is the second, smaller partner that is surrounded by a halo of glyphs. That, guesses Felix, is home.

Three hours later that home rises, its sunward half a blaze of sparkling blue ocean under swirls of white cloud, the disc larger than Felix's outstretched palm -- a very close companion, a swiftly cruising sky-brushing moon.

As the blue moon climbs in the black sky it is accompanied by a sussurussing of electromagnetic static. Felix listens. His hearing spans the band, panning for guideposts amongst the noise. Using a key ratio from the first plaque on the lander, he discovers a relationship between sextets of frequencies, and finds the information transmitted within each set to be mutually complementary. Added together, they form a signal carrying information.

The taste of information, so stark and crisp and bright against the bed of randomness, fills Felix with an inexplicable emotion particular, perhaps, to himself as an individual. The quest has wrought in him a special sympathy for organized patterns that may have no real analogue for us homebodies.

There are messages there -- indecipherable, opaque, bizarre -- but still wonderful, wonderful messages encoding something banal or beautiful from the experience of some living thing whose mind could watch itself think. A thing like you or me. A thing like Felix.

Felix looks up at the blue world. As it turns its dark half begins to glitter with the light of cities. His eyes widen, and he grins.

It's peers. After all this time -- peers.

He looks around quickly, narrowing his eyes and blinking through the wavelengths as he inventories the craters around him for minerals. It is clear that his first order of business is to get himself to the blue moon, and meet whomever lives there: thus he will require a spaceship.

Felix returns to camp. He calls his staff and drips communication oil into an anthole on the gatehouse...

To read the complete novella get it for Kindle!


Simon said...

A work of art, that one, CBB. That chapter could stand alone as a short story and lose very little from the lack of background information.

It can be really, REALLY hard to step away from the fan-boy rhetoric that sometimes gets tossed about, but I loved this chapter on a nearly physical level. Not only is it advancing Felix's story, and the Burgerverse as a whole, but it touches on such a vital and intrinsic aspect of our humanness that I couldn't help but be moved by it. Perhaps it's because I feel like I can relate to Felix so well: imbued by an altruism and optimism that I dare say isn't the norm among his fellow Solars, but balanced by a pragmatism and blunt honesty that forms another core part of his being. He believes in the ideology of his mission, but isn't blinded to what stark reality can rear its head... and still might?

The conversational language was enjoyably inventive, too. How to compensate for a complete lack of meaning through intonation? Make a declarative announcement before your message! Fun!

I regret an inability to travel 3,500 km to SFX 2007 this weekend. The lure of CBB's improvisational story telling is nearly enough to make me contemplate it quite seriously. I'll content myself with a copy of Luc's stand against the Bike Gangs.

SaintPeter said...

I am interested by the idea of "True Knowledge" - It makes me wonder if their culture has some faith in the idea that a logical system may enable one to deduce all possible truths. I know that this idea was popular in the 18th and early 19th centuries. I belive that Godel was able to demonstrate that this notion was false, as any sufficiently complex system contains the rules to form semantically correct but logically invalid statements. IE: "This sentance is a lie".


I also found interesting the idea that an entity could have a built in "truth detector" or at least a visual indication of the entities belief in it's own veracity. I'm not sure what actual value this would have, from an evolutionary standpoint. Our history is full of people who believed they had the truth but were wrong. Unless these creatures were physilogically incapable of self delusion, it seems that seeing their own estimation of their own accuracy would lead to a large number of cultural dead ends.


you will explain what would happen should you encounter a civilization even greater than yours -- one older and stronger, whose abilities render your triumphs to toys
Foreshadowing, anyone?

Teddy said...

Felix never did tell anybody about them, did he? Otherwise Jeremiah would have mentioned them as existing life. I wonder, will we ever see the King's Children again? I hope they fair well.

"And your comeuppance may find you, Solars," he weaves with great dignity, "and then you too would know the pain of the King's Fingers."

That'll be our "Something Wicked" then. I've been pondering this thing for some time now, and it seems like a sigh of relief, really. The Secret Math is such an incredible Deus ex Machina creation that it really does need some kind of antithesis, and not just the Equivalent Math, but something that can actually undo it.

Perhaps it's some race that doesn't percieve time as flowing, and can actually pre-empt F's Maths? Looking forward to it! As always, beautiful writing CBB. Wish I could make it this weekend, but can't!


gl. said...

i LOVED this chapter on so many levels: the language, the society, the third female, the antiauthority, the emotional tenor & foreshadowing, etc etc. simon's right: it could be its own standalone story. i adore new linguistic formats that are any good, so this whole "with emotional shading: demand" format absolutely delighted me.

it occured to me that felix's travels and the secret math are sort of like asimov's foundation series, but then i shudder and thank god you're writing it, because i -hated- that series.

btw, i just picked up your new book (yay!), but why does "bikes of new york" cost less than "goodbye to kitty"?

grkldpn: what you make grilled cheese sandwiches on

Dan said...

Another fantastic yarn spinning, CBB! I told my lovely bride that we need to visit her parents in Fort Erie this weekend so I could take a jaunt up to Toronto to see you. But alas, it is not meant to be. Can you please record your story telling and offer them for download and sale. It would be a hoot to hear THE imagination as it imaginates!

THE Danimal

Orick of Toronto said...

Ok, atomic badgers totally pale in comparison to this chapter. With respect to authority, I dare any of you to contradict me!

CBB, you should quit your job right now and devote your energy to writing. There is just no way you can not make it as a professional writer. You are much better than the vast majority of sci-fi writers out there.

Hopefully by September I will have the time to go back and reread SoS. Will the new book be out by then?

Mark said...

Like Simon, I prefer to avoid fanboy behavior, but this story is turning out to be one of the best I've read, irrespective of genre.

CBB, your craft and creativity are so advanced that I sometimes wonder why I even bother hammering out my own little fictions. In fact, I cut short my time writing my own last night to read this latest installment.

That's when you know you're doing something right. It's also when I have to tell myself that everybody starts somewhere. Surely even CBB cranked out some stinkers at some point in the past (although my previous forays into your archives don't reveal them).

You blend action, character development, and the introduction of brand new worlds with skill that surely will earn monetary rewards. Anything else would be an injustice.

But I'm not just some fanboy, really.

Anonymous said...

As rises the technological aptitude of each successive race, so increases the brilliant attention to detail.

One wonders if we have yet one more progressively superior race before Something Wicked, or if that will rear its ugly sensory-and-communication-laden appendage in Chapter 5 with an extended denoument to follow.

With limp sacs: don't stop writing!

Also, I'm betting Kitty costs more due to the price of printing illustrations.

Simon said...

Something else that I've thought about since the first chapter is whether or not Felix is (or should be) bound by any sort of Prime Directive, or reasonable facsimily thereof. It seems not. Felix is intrigued and overjoyed at each new encounter with another race, but he doesn't seem to give any conscious thought about how his presence will affect the people he visits.

In the case of the King's Fingers, what he did was more understandable, given their advanced technological state and the impending encouter with the rest of the galactic community, but the atomic badgers are so far away from the level required for integration (and their survival itself is in some doubt), that I would have thought Felix would strictly observe rather than interact, given the initial C-3PO - Ewok sort of reaction that his landing engendered.

Just idle speculation... and the opportunity to make random Star Trek inferences.

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear all,

I'm very glad that you're enjoying this one -- it was, after all, the most requested yarn by a long shot whenever I've polled your 'druthers. I'm relieved that at least some measure of what I'd intended for this tale is making it through to the posts.

As I re-edit stories for the upcoming COLLECTED STORIES VOLUME II book I'm shocked and embarassed at how many mistakes I fail to catch. Even with the help of eagle eyed readers, a sad amount of badly chosen words, awkward phrases, broken grammar, mangled tense, typos and inconsistencies seem to make it into nearly every posted tale. It galls because I know the solution is simple: I just need to take more time -- more time to re-read and tweak, more time to contemplate and reconsider before throwing stuff up live.

Like I say, I'm relieved your enjoyed Chapter 4. I know in my heart of hearts it could've been stronger and tighter and smarter, however. It deserved more time, but life has been too crazy to let me have any lately, largely on account of the Scifi Expo. Sometimes, I get tired of feeling rushed.

This week I race home from an intense work day to speed the kids toward their evening meal and bed so my wife and I can layout posters and handouts, drive to the print shop, screw something up, then drive home to correct the layouts, then pore over our accounts in order to find a way to buy groceries despite having spent the grocery money at the print shop. It's been a draining marathon, and I'm grateful for the support I enjoy.

Never the less, this week's density has meant that I won't have Chapter 5 ready for prime time anytime in the next few days. That's the sacrifice you, the reader, are expected to accept in the name of the expo: a mid-story hiatus. My apologies for that.

I'd like to ask any of you the gumption and with weblogs that cover a variety of topics to consider posting about my appearance at SFX 2007 this weekend. Every bit of publicity helps!

...Because you all know my holy grail, right?

My holy grail is to achieve some measure of financial success with one of my literary properties so that I might move closer to the day when I can ditch the 9-to-5 job and settle instead for a part-time employement that would afford me more time to devote to writing. For me, an influx of writing-related money would not mean a slower lifestyle, but instead an opportunity to redouble my efforts!

That's the dream, at any rate.

And you never know who might be the seemingly inconsequential person who could be instrumental in making that a reality -- you never know whether it's some guy who buys a book (or receives one as a gift), or some random visitor to your blog, or someone who sees a Cheeseburger Brown sticker in a washroom stall and happens to be an important entertainment executive. This is the time to sow widely and without discrimination. This is the time to fan any flame.

So, I'll have my nose to the grindstone for the next few days securing my responsibilities at work to weather my unofficial early departure on Friday in order to reach the convention centre on time, and getting all my ducks in a row for the expo. We'll return to Felix immediately thereafter, as soon as is humanly possible. Photos and updates will be posted in my diary on Hulver's Site.

Thanks for reading! Thanks for your support!

Cheeseburger Brown

Anonymous said...

There are stickers? I need to hear more about this!

CBB, I think that every last one of us is pulling for you to achieve that dream. We do what we can to put out the word, knowing that your craft speaks for itself.

Of course I, for one, wish I could do more in the financial department... hopefully I can kick in again sometime soon.

Hang in there. The frustration of having a day job and a "night job with a dream" along with multiple kids (three in my case) and no money is overwhelming at times, but I know how much you love this, and I can't help but believe you're going to make it.

Anonymous said...

Time for the fanboy to pitch in :)
I won't say this is the best as it is merely part of a bigger tale. Though what a part!
I agree completely with all the plaudits given by previous commenters.

Speaking of fanboy like behaviour, if you ever need someone to dress up as Jeremiah or something for a conference or expo or such like, I'd be happy to oblige. Given enough notice to make the costume and save for the airfare. Nothing like a bit of cosplay to get the press's attention.

I can feel Something Wicked breathing down my neck.

Sith Snoopy said...

I just wanted to add my 2 cents:


I ADORE Felix. :) And the alien child was so sweet. :)

I hope the King's Fingers can handle joining up with the other races.

Anonymous said...

I think CBB is probably in a coma after the frenzy of this weekend. Hopefully he'll revive soon...

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear all,

So. Very. Tired.

Some expo pics.

Chapter 5 is underway, but not yet ready for the limelight. I'll have it for you soon, I promise.

I just need to sleep a bit, first.

Cheeseburger Brown

Moksha Gren said...

This is truly shaping up to be a work of exquisite beauty, CBB. The alien cultures are inventive and yet tangible. The ideas expressed are thought-provoking and fun.

And as mentioned, this story (so far) can stand on its own. If I was looking for a good place for someone to jump on board the Burgerverse, this could be it.

Also...I loved your cliff-hanger Night Folk story on your Hulver site.

Anonymous said...

The Night Folk story was cool... though I can see how the jumping-off point could be a sore spot with folk.

I was rereading this chapter and noticing all the exquisite details of the culture, like the interrogation bit about North America (commmunicated in contours) and the "nocturnal false-darkenings of adolescents". Your cultures are rich and mature, and I truly hope the World Lover's despair is not shared by the rest of his people. Perhaps Felix's coming will be embraced by those young and teachable enough to accept colonization as a good thing.

Word ver: grvty. Sir Isaac Newton's text-messaged epiphany (what sacs that guy must have had, eh)...