Sunday, September 24, 2017

#Fi50: Oops!

Fiction in 50 is a regular feature in the last week of every month and I invite any interested composers of mini-narrative to join in!

What is #Fi50? In the words of founder Bruce Gargoyle, "Fiction in 50: think of it as the anti-NaNoWriMo experience!" Pack a beginning, middle and end of story into 50 words or less (bonus points for hitting exactly 50 words). Then click the link in the image above and add your post, or add a link in the comments below. Check out some of the other offerings, and join the fun! You can post any time during the week, or the whole month--prompts are available on the Fi50 page through the end of the year.


“Festering rat-dung!”
“What’s the matter?”
“Uh, my hand slipped.”
“Yeah, maybe. What does blood do to these circuits?”
“I have no idea. Test routine one.”
“Controls respond.”
“Air quality okay. You need a bandage.”
“I’m getting some odd readings.”
“Yeah. I hope your insurance is paid up.” 

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2017
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!

Friday, September 22, 2017

Flash Fiction Friday: It Ain't Fixed Until You Break It

This week's Wendig Challenge was simple: write a story around the idea that sometimes you have to break something to fix it. I suspect he was thinking about politics, but it made me think of good old Xavier Xanthum, since he's pretty good at messing up. 

And hey--if you like flash fiction, consider joining us next week for the Fiction in 50 (words) feature. Write your 50 words, post your story, and link back to my #Fi50 post (goes live on Sunday).

It Ain’t Fixed Until You Break It

“Blethering belugans!” Xavier Xanthum, Space Explorer, cursed as he struggled to reach into the narrow adjustment slot for the left thruster, scraping the skin off three knuckles. Wanderlust was showing a decided tendency to veer off-course if he or Larry didn’t keep an eye on it, and Xavier wanted to save the cost of a repair.

Of course, Larry had two eyes he could keep wherever he wanted, along with enough bandwidth to do everything else around the craft at the same time. At the moment, he was adjusting their course for Xavier’s favorite vacation planet, watching the human struggle with the thruster, and fine-tuning the programming on the coffee maker so that it would produce a cup more exactly to Xavier’s liking. He was also, though Xavier didn’t know that, re-reading the works of Shakespeare.

Larry was the Wanderlust’s AI. He manifested himself (to Xavier at any rate) in the form of a pair of disembodied eyeballs, but he was the brains of the ship. The one thing he couldn’t do was anything requiring actual hands.

He could fuss, though.

“Captain, I can keep the ship on course until we reach Fiji 3. Then the spaceport crew can fix the thruster while you lie on the beach and drink those funny things you like—the ones with little paper umbrellas.”

“Piña coladas.” Xavier’s focus wavered as visions of warm sand and strong drinks danced in his head. He sternly pulled himself back to the job at hand. “I’ve got this. Just be patient, Larry!”

He’d have sworn he could hear whistling coming from the speakers as the AI pretended to be waiting. Xavier ground his teeth. He’d show that know-it-all Larry! Xavier Xanthum didn’t need to pay for some dirtside mechanic to fix his ship.

“I believe I have persuaded the coffee maker to produce the beverage as you prefer it,” Larry said after several minutes of quiet cursing from the human half of the space partnership.

“Huh?” Xavier, startled by the announcement, jerked and banged his head on the tight space. “Festering farge-worms! What the blarg did you do that for?”

“I merely thought you might enjoy a break and the opportunity of some refreshment, Captain.” Larry sounded innocent. Too innocent. When Larry called him “Captain,” Xavier knew that either he was up to something or something was radically wrong.

Xavier was pretty sure nothing was wrong, and coffee was exactly what he needed to clear his head. He crawled out of the service bay, glanced over the controls to see all was in order, and shoved off for the galley.

When he’d finished with the cup of coffee—strong, dark, and with exactly the right amounts of “milk” and sugar—Xavier prepared to return to his task. But Larry called his attention to a discrepancy in the nav charts, and he spent a couple of hours tracing the error back to a bit of salami that had left a deceptive stain at a crucial point on the manual used to calibrate the charts.

That called for another cup of coffee. Lunch was followed by a third cup, and only several hours later did Xavier squeeze his body back into the service bay. Taking up his tools, he prepared to finish the fussy adjustment. He could see now exactly what was needed.

Just a little prod here, and a nudge there. Oh, yeah. The third set-screw didn’t want to turn. That was what had been holding him up. He took a tighter hold on the screwdriver, trying to control the shaking of his hand.

Blast Larry, anyway. That coffee had been strong. Perfect, but strong. Now he had the shakes. He ought to go wait it out, sleep it off, something. Xavier suspected that was what Larry had been angling for--enough of a delay to bring them to port. He gritted his teeth and bore down on the set-screw.

With a sudden jerk of his hand, the screwdriver slid out of the screw head, dropped into the mess of tiny wires at the heart of the thruster-control, and in a shower of sparks the whole thing flared and died.

Coughing, choking, and cursing, Xavier backed out of the service bay.


“I have it, Captain. Left thruster control is unresponsive, but I can compensate. We make landfall at Fiji 3 in 17 hours. Do I take it this damage is beyond your ability to repair?”

“Yes, curse you! Why’d you let me drink so much coffee, anyway?”

Larry offered no answer to what they both knew was an absurd question.

When they had completed docking procedures at Fiji 3—getting a priority slip due to the damaged thruster, which made Xavier smile for the first time in 17 hours—he left it to Larry to explain the problem to the repair crew.

“I’m going to the beach. Have fun with the repairs.” He stalked off down the companionway, fidgeted through the entry inspection, and disappeared in the direction of his favorite beach bar.

When he was gone, the mechanic stuck his head into the service bay, took a look, and backed out. “You’re going to need a whole new control unit. Looks like this one got thoroughly fried. Captain Xanthum tried to repair it himself?”

“For days,” Larry confirmed. “Until he slipped and it shorted out.”

“Well, that older model is the devil to adjust. We’ll put in the new version, and you shouldn’t have any further problems. Sometimes,” he added, “with a guy like Xavier, you have to break something before you can give it the real fix.”

“Is that so?” The floating eyeballs blinked a time or two. “I’ll bear that in mind.”


©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2017
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Audio-book Review: Anne of the Island, by L.M. Montgomery


Title: Anne of the Island
Author: L.M. Montgomery. Read by Susan O'Malley
Publisher: Blackstone Audio, 2001; original published 1915.
Source: Library digital resources

Publisher's Summary:
New adventures lie ahead as Anne Shirley packs her bags, waves good-bye to childhood, and heads for Redmond College. With old friend Prissy Grant waiting in the bustling city of Kingsport and frivolous new pal Philippa Gordon at her side, Anne tucks her memories of rural Avonlea away and discovers life on her own terms, filled with surprises...including a marriage proposal from the worst fellow imaginable, the sale of her very first story, and a tragedy that teaches her a painful lesson. But tears turn to laughter when Anne and her friends move into an old cottage and an ornery black cat steals her heart. Little does Anne know that handsome Gilbert Blythe wants to win her heart, too. Suddenly Anne must decide if she's ready for love...  [Goodreads summary]

My Review: 

Since this isn't exactly a new book, or unknown, I mostly just wanted to review the audio-book aspects. Though the story might deserve a few comments.

Anne is a creature of her time. She's a bit progressive, really, for rural Canada in 1915, as she goes off to get a college education. She excels at that, as we would expect, and beats out the boys, which we also expect. But she and her friends are also much absorbed with issues of men and marriage, which is predictable I suppose. I find myself less interested in Anne's convoluted path to the inevitable than in the unexpected paths of some of her friends, but that's just me listening to a book I've read many times.

As regards the audio book, I think maybe it's not such a good idea to listen to a book you know and love well (but there are some where I think I love the audio more than the print, so who knows?). Ms. O'Malley does a fine job of reading, for the most part, though her inflections and pronunciations don't always sit right with me (every now and then she seems to stumble a bit over lines that only make sense if the emphasis is put just right). But the biggest problem I have might be no problem at all to another reader: I just don't "hear" Anne, or most of the other characters, with the sort of voice used by the reader. It's only at times like this that I remember that and audio book is a re-telling, just as a movie is (though much less changed, of course). No one can ever read a book in a way that matches the way every reader "hears" it in her head.

My Recommendation:
Despite my complaints, I think the Anne books are great for listening to, and would be good for sharing with a daughter. They aren't really written for small children, but there is nothing objectionable in them, and might improve a commute with a child over about age 9. Incidentally, I think that the summary above, taken from Goodreads, is pretty awful.

FTC Disclosure: I checked Anne of the Island out of my on-line library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."