Backspace – A Short Story

backspace

Hello again.

Twice in one month, right? Well, it’s Christmas. Season of giving et al.

Just wanted to upload a short, short story (that’s not a typo) I entered into a competition some years ago. It got longlisted. But it didn’t make the shortlist. When you read it, you’ll probably see why. LOL.

The story is along my genre – science fiction.

Enjoy.

…………………………………………………………………………………………..

I checked my wristwatch, making sure for the hundredth time that I’d configured it properly.

Then I leapt off the balcony of my apartment, 30 stories up. A one-way, express ride to the bottom.

Despite myself, I felt giddiness tear through my body. I was falling, flying, free at last.

I’d read so much about this moment, the fear that grips the heart just before jumping, the engulfing helplessness as your body swims through the air like an eel in the savanna river, the exhilaration of racing to your own death.

Maybe it’s the perverse rush of adrenaline, but every book I’d read about this was right. At the moment you take off go, everything becomes clear. You think straight. Your memory works right.

And I was gaining speed.

Thoughts ran through my mind like a train trying to make up for lost time.

I thought of my wife and the first time I saw her, smiling her disarming smile. She was singing at the karaoke bar with her friends, so full of life, and showing off the firmest legs I’d ever seen.

Athlete legs.

I thought of how similar the mix of emotions coursing through me are to the ones that pusled through my veins when I approached and offered to buy her and her friends a drink.

I remembered our first hug, first kiss, the first time I knew I loved her, and the first time I told her; the way she feigned shock and said nothing. I remember the glee I felt finding the “I love you too” note she’d slipped into my pocket later that night.

I remembered watching her walk down the aisle towards me, firm short steps, her smile still as captivating as ever. Our hearts were saying the same thing that day – you’re my soulmate.

I was shooting through the air now, and the train wasn’t letting up.

The memories came in flashes now. I saw us having our first fight. I saw the fights get worse.

I saw the first time I hit her; the first time I hit too hard. I felt the shame that coursed through me when she returned home from the hospital, limping.

It’s my fault she’ll never run again. I’m the villain in her fairytale.

In a few minutes, I’ll hit the ground and make a mess, my brains will probably make the front page of the PM news.

I don’t care.

Every brochure on timejumping you’ll ever read never tells you what the final seconds of your life will be like.

My account is probably the first on record. So you’re lucky to be reading this.

Just before hitting the ground, I felt myself getting sucked out of my body into my wristwatch. For a moment, I was in two places.

There was my body, still in free fall. On the other hand, I was watching said body falling. I was literally zipping along beside my own body like a synchronized diver in the wristwatch.

I even saw my body plunge facefirst into the walkway at breakneck speed.

I was right, my body did make a mess. I was in the wristwatch though, if that makes any sense, and it just zipped through the floor like it was made of water.

The next thing I knew, I was on a bed, couldn’t move. And I was also naked – I could feel a draught all over my nether-regions.

I could also hear voices. Robots. Cool, so I didn’t have to be embarrassed. Not like I wasn’t comfortable naked. I had one big reason to be confident. Let’s not get into that.

“What time is entered on his watch?”

“2010/02/25.”

“You want to wager what bad decision this one made to want to timejump?”

“No. You aware I lost the last two bets? It seems I don’t come preprogrammed with the aptitude for this.”

“You should get an upgrade. My new firmware comes with one. Anyway, Client is ready. Prepare to reload him into time stream. “

The next thing I felt before everything went black was the feeling of being churned and then spread thin.

………………………….

25 Febraury, 2010.

Lara was celebrating, having the time of her life. Her ten months of training had finally paid off – a slot on the track team and a shot at the gold at the Commonwealth Games in April. She was rocking out with her friends on the karaoke mini-stage, singing her heart out.

They belted out song after song till the customers in the bar started giving them the dirty look.

Finally, the girls made their way to their table. Bottles of wine and plates of food covered the table. Lara gave the waiter a puzzled look.

“Courtesy of the Oga at the bar,” he said pointing.

A handsome young man, weary with twice his life memories sat at the bar, smiling. Then he raised his glass.

Lara and friends mirrored him with their glasses as well.

Lara looked at the table again. It was filled with all her favorites – down to the color of the serviettes.

She looked at the man again. He smiled at her. Then he got up and walked away, not looking back.

“Who’s that guy?”

“I don’t know. But I have this weird feeling I’m supposed to.”

[END]

Advertisements

Nebula Award Winners 2014

10florida53

Wow! I’m really getting good at predicting these things.

The 2014 Nebula Awards held yesterday. And most of my favorites won. The only place where I was off with my predictions was in the Short Story Category, I thought “Alive, Alive Oh,’’ by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley was a definite shoe-in.

Special congratulations goes to Alliette Bodard (a friend) who took home the award for best novellette for The Waiting Stars. She wrote the first science fiction short story I ever read.

I put a link to all the short stories which can be read online for free. You’re welcome.

…………………………………….

Best Novel
Winner: Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie (Orbit US; Orbit UK)

Best Novella
Winner: ‘‘The Weight of the Sunrise,’’ Vylar Kaftan (Asimov’s 2/13)

Best Novelette
Winner: ‘‘The Waiting Stars,’’ Aliette de Bodard (The Other Half of the Sky)

Best Short Story
Winner: ‘‘If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love,’’ Rachel Swirsky (Apex 3/13)

[Nominees]

‘‘The Sounds of Old Earth,’’ Matthew Kressel

Selkie Stories Are for Losers,’’ Sofia Samatar

‘‘Selected Program Notes from the Retrospective Exhibition of Theresa Rosenberg Latimer,’’ Kenneth Schneyer

‘‘Alive, Alive Oh,’’ Sylvia Spruck Wrigley

Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation
Winner: Gravity

[Nominees]:
Doctor Who: ‘‘The Day of the Doctor’’; Europa Report; Her; The Hunger Games: Catching Fire; Pacific Rim

Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy Book
Winner: Sister Mine, Nalo Hopkinson (Grand Central)

Full list here.

There’s some media buzz about the fact that more women won awards this year than men, so everyone’s happy, for now.

Expect to see me there next year, fingers crossed.

P.S. If you’ve not read Ancilliary Justice by Ann Leckie, you absolutely should. I started reading it last week and I can testify that it’s solid sci-fi, and it’s different.

Zombilogy (An Abandoned Story)

Note: Abandoned means i don’t think I’ll be working on it anymore. Try to enjoy.

…………………………………….

Bridge Closed.

That’s what the sign read – bridge closed. I stared at it dumbly, not knowing what to do. Despite running at full sprint for the past 10 minutes, I still didn’t make it.

“But the idiot radio announcer said the bridge would be left open till 5pm. It’s just 4.30pm. Damn it!” I said more to myself than anyone else seeing that no one else was left on the island.

I looked at my wristwatch, and then my cell phone just to confirm it was still working and I wasn’t dulling myself. Both said 4.30pm.

I could feel the sweat wetting my shirt at the back and my armpits felt icky. I probably just broke the world record, covering about half a kilometer in 10 minutes. Too bad nobody is going to be around to cheer. Not unless I get this blood sample to the research lab in Lag.

I fell on my ass exhausted and drew out a water bottle from my backpack. As I guzzled down water, I took in how eerily quiet Lagos Island had become. Cars were abandoned everywhere and nobody was on the streets.  The only sounds I could hear was the rhythmic gulp gulp in my throat. That and the distant moaning drifting in from the wind.

They’re getting close.

I unlocked my cellphone and brought up the chat screen.

Me – Just missed my window. Bridge closed. Suggestions?

Dr. Ogechi – Damn it! That’s very bad.

Me – … 😦

Dr. Ogechi – What about the other bridge? I know the zombies had already overrun the barricades over there. So it’s crossable.

Me – Yeah, and so was the Red Sea before the Egyptians raced into a watery grave.

Dr. Ogechi – I see no better option

I know she’s right. Dr. Ogechi is always right.

Dr. Ogechi – I’ll let Captain Balogun know you’ll be coming by that way. He’ll make his men keep an eye out for you. …Hurry. And Simi… be careful.

Logged out.

Alone again.

I searched around the block for somewhere to spend the night. No point, getting munched in my sleep.

High ground. I need to get to high ground.

I jogged along the middle of the street, searching for a building that hopefully would provide safe shelter for me overnight.

I ticked off a mental checklist: Tall building, at least 3 stories tall, no broken windows, walled in on both sides by equally tall buildings… Bingo!

I stood in front of the Ecobank building, craning my neck upwards till I could see the top of the building.

Let’s pray the air conditioning still works.

I crouched at the metal detectors/electric doors and hooked up my trusty old smart phone. The Hackr app came up.  It began running algorithms and checking for back channels. Who said hacking isn’t a survival skill? 3 minutes pass, my toes are killing me, my lower back aches and I’m still watching numbers queue up on the phone.

I considered force-closing the app and starting over. Sometimes, these apps fall into a loop and stop responding. Just when I’m about to do so, I hear a low moan. It’s quite low, so low you’d be tempted to ignore it. But I ignored it once, and my brother paid the price.

The bank is near the end of the street. If whatever is making that moan turns the corner, it’ll see me and… let’s just say, I’d rather avoid another meeting with it.

The app’s still running.

Please please please, for once in your life, don’t be a stupid phone. Just break the stupid code.

As though on cue, the phone beeps and displays – Doors unlocked. Code reset in 10 secs.

I scrambled through the door. It wasn’t until I heard the clunk of the door security system resetting that my mind began functioning properly again. I heard my heart banging against my inner ears like a marching band. It felt so loud I was scared that whatever was outside would hear me inside.

Eventually, the independence parade in my head subsided and I started walking around the rooms. The number of times my body had culled up adrenaline that day had me reeling from exhaustion. I eventually settled for one of the big offices upstairs. The office was so big, it had its own toilet. I chose to setup camp in the toilet. Right now, paranoia is safer.

As I lay on the blanket, I took out my phone and pulled up my messenger app again. I scanned first for my wife, Lara, then my daughter, Esther. Both accounts hadn’t logged in since yesterday. Meaning either they were in a telecoms deadzone or they had lost their phones. I didn’t want to consider the third possibility.

I turned on my music app and looked for an audio bible. I looked for the part that mentions God not sleeping or dozing off. Psalm 121. Right. I put that on a playlist along with Dylan Thomas’ poem  And death shall have no dominion. I leave the two tracks on repeat and wait for sleep to come.

Everything is going to be fine. You’re going to be fine Simi.

Sometime later, maybe about a half-hour or so, sleep found me.

End

 

Writers are What Writers Read and a Divergent Trilogy Review

divergent trilogy review

I heard Divergent is out in cinemas and so I decided to read up. From my experience, the book is always way better than the movie (except for Minority Report).  And the Divergent trilogy is complete so I didn’t have to endure months of agonizing and writing my own sequels in my head. This post is about what happened to me while reading these 3 books. I’ll put the review at the end.

I’ve heard the writers’ creed so many times – if you want to write better, read a lot – that I probably quote it in my sleep unconsciously. What is not chanted repeatedly is the fact that what you read influences your writing. While reading the Divergent series, I discovered several creepy changes to my writing style. My characters became more obsessed with romance. The pace got quicker but the internal conflict got muddled. Muddled such that I used more words to describe internal conflict when fewer words would do and my imagery reduced.

I had to quit on a particular story when I couldn’t take it anymore. My writing is better, and then it’s also worse. This never happened when I was chewing up Dennis Lehane and Brandon Sanderson books regularly. Damn you, Veronica Roth! And damn you, Young Adult!

Of course I’m kidding. I love young adult and I enjoyed reading Veronica’s books. But for now, I’m gonna say bye-bye to the genre for a bit and return to my first love – Urban fantasy fiction. Which reminds me, I’m compiling a definitive list of Fantasy Fiction. I figured that if I’m going to rule the genre someday, I might as well get familiar with all the tropes and currently existing worlds. If you have suggestions that you believe is essential reading for the fantasy genre, please go here and drop a comment.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way…

Divergent Trilogy Review

I don’t really enjoy rewriting book summaries which can be found behind the book cover. So here’s my own summary. Divergent is a story about Shailene Woodley, sorry, Beatrice Prior, later christened Tris (because monosyllabic names sound cooler) and her hero’s journey through the world of Chicago, sorry, The City. In Beatrice’s world, there are five factions of people based on character traits and world views, who coexist “peacefully”. At age 16 a ceremony is held where Beatrice, as well as every other 16 year old, gets to choose which faction she will spend the rest of her life in. If it sounds a little  Hunger Gamesy, it is but that is not a bad thing. There’s also a Harry Potter vibe about some of the plot beats but hey, there’s a reason why formulaic writing sells millions of books.

For example, there were times when a character’s death would be telegraphed from about 3-4 chapters before(because if a minor character kills someone or tries to, it is only ethical that you kill that character- YA Rule No. 34). This however doesn’t mean Divergent tells a boring story. In fact, I think the plot of Divergent is its strongest attribute.

As far as comparisms with Hunger Games goes, this book sits just a step below Suzzane Collin’s masterpiece. I ploughed through the first Hunger Games book in under 11 hours. It was that gripping for me. The first Divergent book took me 3 days to finish. But each book ended on a cliffhanger and that made reading the next book compulsive.

One criticism for me, and this is a major one, is the amount of kissing that went on in this book. It got so much to the point of awkwardness. And the way the characters, especially the protagonists, kept ogling each other, admiring teach other’s collarbone or “hooking my thumb in his belt loops” was ridiculous. If someone just told me everything I knew to be real was a lie, kissing would be the farthest thing from my mind. But then again, I’m not 16, so what do I know? Maybe that’s how teenagers deal with depression.

I also found the dual Points of View (POV) in book 3 – Allegiant – very confusing. The story is told from Tris’ and Four’s POV. Problem though is that both voices sounded similar. I would read a chapter with Tris’ voice in my head only to get somewhere and find out that it was supposed to be Four’s POV. I don’t know why the editors allowed the change after sticking with just one POV in Divergent and Insurgent.

With that out of the way, I have nothing left but praise for this book. The themes in the book get very serious and real-worldy in book 2 and 3. Metaphors for racism and genetic cleansing come to surface and I feel the writer did a good handling of those topics.

By the way, the big idea for this Divergent trilogy was: Nature vs. Nurture – What determines Choice? The fact that it was coated in an assortment of delicious action, adventure and (sometimes barf-inducing) teenage romance is just icing on a really delicious cake. It’s not everyday a YA novel handles real world topics in a mature yet entertaining way.

Veronica Roth most certainly is Divergent.

How to Open your Story like a Pro

Welcome-Mat-CT-Home

All good stories begin with a good opening. All.

Without exception.

It seems like I’m stating the obvious but you’d be surprised how often stories with “empty” openings land on my desk.

As is now mandatory with writing courses, writers are taught that there are several ways to open a story – Start with action, Do a flash forward, Open with a thematic sentence. I want to discuss the latter.

In the award winning novel Old Man’s War, John Scalzi begins the story with:

I did two things on my seventy-fifth birthday. I visited my wife’s grave. Then I joined the army.

Over the next 362 pages, Mr Scalzi takes you on an amazing adventure that captures that sense-of-wonder with three resonant themes –

–          Old People

–          Dead People

–          His Wife

In Stephen King’s tour de force novel 11/22/63, the massive 849 pages begins with the deceptively ordinary words:

I have never been what you’d call a crying man.

But in the context of the story, you get to understand just how important that statement is to the entire story of a man trying to avert JFK’s assassination. George Amberson, a loner with nothing to lose(except time) gets to experience life in the 60s and 70s. What’s not to cry about?

Ready Player One, the 2010 cyberpunk hit starts with a more traditional opener:

Everyone my age remembers where they were and what they were doing when they first heard about the contest.

This sets the stage for a rollercoaster ride of sci-fi, 80s and pop culture references(mostly American pop culture). What is most striking about this opening is the way it introduces the reader into the exact type of novel it is – this is a book about a game, and everyone is in on it.

Looking at my favorite book of last year, Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson, another novel with a traditional opener, the same rules apply:

I’ve seen Steelheart bleed.

It’s impossible to explain how much weight those four words are to the entire story of David and the Reckoners, a group of freedom fighters who hunt down and kill Epics(Superheroes), without filling this post with spoilers. But the entire story is driven by that one fact – Steelheart, a superhero with superman-like powers has one weakness and only David has the key to unlocking that weakness.

Finally in the mega franchise that is now The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins captures readers not with a sentence but with an entire paragraph.

When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. My fingers stretch out, seeking Prim’s warmth but finding only the rough canvas cover of the mattress. She must have had bad dreams and climbed in with our mother. Of course, she did. This is the day of the reaping.

She uses more words but the purpose is still the same (she captures the entire core of the story in those four sentences) and they carry the same effect. As you well know (assuming you’ve read the book, seems everyone has), Prim – Katniss’ sister, The Reaping and Katniss Everdeen’s sense of responsibility play the central roles in the plot of the trilogy.

What I would like to point out is the way these openers not only pique the interest but also convey the soul of the entire story.

When you’re done with these novels, re-reading that first sentence/paragraph effectively summarizes the entire journey you just embarked on.

I’ve been working in publishing for a few years and I keep noticing the same rookie mistake – writers starting their story with placeholder text. That is, story openings with sentences and paragraphs that do nothing but start the story. This is dangerous. At  its worst, it would take you at least 5 pages to get to the real story you want to tell. This may have been acceptable in the 80s and 90s but it hurts your today.

Listen, your story’s opening is the most important part of your story. It’s your welcome mat. It should embody the soul of your story, foreshadowing events to come, reveal your narrative style and draw the reader in. Nailing your opening is what separates the rookies from the veterans, the published from the unpublished.

Sometimes, when editors and agents say they could determine whether a story had the “right stuff” after about 3 pages, writers call bullshit. But the truth is we do. And the opening is one of the 3 things we consider (the other 2  being character and voice).

Here’s what you should do:

  1. Start your story anywhere. When you’re yet to transfer prose from the ethereal into the tangible, it’s normal to feel overwhelmed, especially if you’re planning a multi-part story(duologies, trilogies or series). Sometimes what you just need is a way in to the story world. Some writers start with the ending. Others begin with the pivotal scene. The point is, just get your story down in black and white.
  2. Finish the story.
  3. When you’re sure you are done with the story, go back and rewrite your first 5 pages keeping in mind what those 5 pages ought to achieve (depending on your genre).
  4. Then rewrite your first page.
  5. Finally, duke it out with that first sentence for as long as it takes keeping in mind that it should embody the soul of your story.

If you’re serious about getting respect and acclaim as a good writer, take my advice – learn the rules.

P.S. All the examples I used are from SFF(Science Fiction and Fantasy), but that doesn’t mean it’s restricted to this genre.

In Purple Hibiscus, another personal favorite, Chimamanda Adichie starts the novel with these words:

Things started to fall apart when my brother, Jaja, did not go to communion and Papa flung his heavy missal across the room and broke the figurines on the étagère.

The entire novel revolves around Kambili’s coming-of-age journey and the dynamics of her family.

Different genre. Same rules.