A slight change?

[One of the changes that has been suggested to me with regards to my ongoing fantasy novel “The Haunted Blade” was that I should ditch the prologue. So today, I tried redoing the first chapter to include enough of the prologue material that the impact of who the characters are is clear. But what do you think? Is it an improvement? Comments welcomed.]

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The Human Balance

I watch the world teeter on the brink, wondering which way it will fall.

Will reason and hope prevail, or the madness of anger and distrust?

Will competent voices be heard, or will the mindless fools looking to protect their reputations drown them out?

Human resilience, nay, our very humanity and all the thing we value, are being put to the test.

Will we be proud of how we weathered this moment?

Or will we hang our heads in shame when future generations ask us about this time?

The Danger of the True Believer in politics

[With this, I’m venturing slightly into what I used to be: a writer of political opinion pieces. If you don’t want to have to deal with political opinion, well, better not read what follows.]
I’ve noted something recently.
Like lot of folks, I have a YouTube account and like to watch videos there. Most of these deal with things like history, space and writing. I also, occasionally, happen across political videos. One in particular, by a group I will not name (not going to give them any coverage, they don’t deserve it imho) looked at the recent South Carolina Democratic debate.
The people doing the video all but claimed that the crowd was ‘loaded’ in favor of Bloomberg and against Bernie Sanders. This, in turn, brought in the ‘berniebots’, who were intent on amplifying their sense of how unjust it is that people actually dared to *boo* Sanders.
To be fair, he was booed when it was pointed out that, for all his talk about wanting to rein in the NRA, he voted *against* the Brady Bill, and defended a gun manufacturer that happens to be located in Vermont after one of their guns was used in the Sandy Hook mass shooting.
I, perhaps being rather silly, disputed the idea that the crowd had been ‘paid’ to boo Sanders….and oh, the hell that rained down on me.
I was ‘ignorant’.
I was ‘brainwashed’.
I was obviously a troll.
I was a paid shill for Bloomberg/the DNC.
The willingness of these people to believe that nobody could possibly disagree with them on principle was what stunned me the most. These are the supposedly ‘open minded’ people who are interested in ‘restoring free thinking’ to politics….and yet, their actions are those of a close-minded little tribe of True Believers who will not brook any disagreement.
I wasn’t a Sanders supporter before, but after this, I’m going to have to plug my nose if I have to vote for him come November….and yes, I *will* vote for him rather than leave the Orange Idiot in the Oval Office.

The Reward

My life was an ordinary one.

Barring the details, it could have been lived by any other man, in any other country, in any other time.

I was born, went to school, grew up, got a job, then got married. Had kids. Had grand kids. Then the doctor gave me that long-faced announcement that I had The Big C. Mine had grown quietly in my pancreas before expanding outward to attack my other organs. He didn’t use the word hopeless to describe my chances, but his expression, his tone, they all told me it was.

The final few days were confused. Sometimes the kids were there. Other times, they were with Grace, even though she’d been dead for a decade. Those were the worst days. Every time Grace was there, her face had that disappointed look on it, like when she learned I wouldn’t get my pension because the company had used it and all the other pension contributions to buy stock back. On the final day, no one was there. I guess I couldn’t blame them. I died on a Wednesday morning, and like me, all my kids had jobs to be at.

I spent my final few moments gasping because my lungs didn’t seem to have enough air coming in. Then it was over.

Some folks insist you see a light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. Me, there was none of that. One moment I was staring at the cheap ceiling tiles, then I was here. In a line with lots of other rather ordinary people. On either side, all there is to see is a barren wasteland, a place covered in loose black rocks that looked like they’d come from the sloping sides of a volcano. The line stretches before me, and behind me, too far for me to see any ending to it. And we are always in motion. Not a rapid motion, more a shuffling amble, but always we move forward.

I don’t need to ask where I am. I know where I am: Hell.

There are no demons armed with pitchforks. No rising towers of flame. There are no seas of lava filled with screaming sinners. But I know this is Hell as surely as if a huge neon sign hung in the sky announcing it was.

And I knew why I was here.

My live was one compromise after another.

Every day, I’d seen things I knew were wrong, even evil, and just turned away.

I gave myself the usual excuses for not acting.

It would be too hard to change the way things were done.

Things had always been done that way.

It didn’t effect me, so why should I care?

Every time I didn’t do the right thing, every instant when I’d remained silent, had brought me to this place. Looking at the faces of those around me, I knew they were here for the same reasons. Some of them were angry, shouting that they’d done nothing to deserve this. Others wept, lamenting the chances they’d not taken to be better than they were.

But most were like me. They knew where they were and accepted it with the same stolid attitude they’d dealt with the rest of the disappointing events in their lives.

And so here we were, the vast tide of humanity trudging to our final reward for a live spent just getting by.

A question about offering a critique.

Have you ever tried offering advice to a fellow writer, only to have them treat your suggestion like it was as welcomed as a severe case of STD’s?

I am involved with some online writing groups, and if I think I can offer some advice or useful observations, I try to offer offer said advice as frankly but politely as I can. So, one day, a writer comes on asking for help staging a scene between his two main protagonist characters. I probably should have known the writer wasn’t interested in advice that didn’t praise them when I read the thumbnail character descriptions: two people with ‘hero’ practically written on their foreheads. Then they describe the scene: Earth has been invaded by an all-conquering alien species, and the heroes are going into orbit to visit an ancient spacecraft.

I could get past the part where the heroes are a bit too perfect, but expecting a species that has crossed interstellar space to overlook an orbiting spacecraft that the much-less-technically-advanced humans know about….that’s not asking me to suspend my disbelief, that’s asking me to lobotomize myself.

So I offered the observation that such an occurrence was unlikely, pointing out politely that it was a fairly obvious plot device that the author might want to address.

The author’s response? Well, I won’t do a direct word-for-word quote, but it was effectively ‘I’m well into the novel, and I’m not interested in changing what I’ve written.’

I’ve thrown whole scenes out of stories, then gone through the rest of the manuscript covering the holes created by that event no longer having occurred, so I can’t understand this sort of thinking. But what about you?

If you saw something so obviously wrong with a story that you couldn’t ignore it, would you say something?

Believers

Dan felt alive.

The noise of the cheering crowd as he strutted to the podium was intoxicating. Better than screwing some hooker. Better than screwing over a business partner. Almost better than remembering these people were cheering him because he’d pulling off the biggest scam of his life. He stopped beside the plain wooden podium and wondered why his advanced team hadn’t done as he’d told them. It should be his trademark gold-covered podium, not this drab piece of shit. Who cares if other presidents and dignitaries had stood behind it and addressed crowds, they weren’t him. Dan knew he was special, and it was time to fire a few of the people who hadn’t done as they were told to remind the rest of that.

Time to get on with the show.

Ignoring the ugliness of his surroundings was something Dan knew how to do, even if he didn’t like doing it. After all, the White House was ugly, inside and out. Those stupid formal gardens with their smelly roses. The stiff, drab exterior of the building. Hell, every fucking room in the place was ugly except for the small space he slept in. Nothing but stupid antiques and old furniture everyone told him was ‘historic’.

Who cared about history anyway?

The only thing that was important was what was happening now. He was in charge. He and he alone gave the orders, and everyone had to listen to him. Just remembering the way he’d finally been able to tell off that idiot Congressman who’d always been getting in his way made Dan want to smile, so he did. He let the joy he felt in this moment, the pleasure of the crowd’s complete adulation, fill him.

“Isn’t this great? Seeing Americans come out to support the greatest president of all time…it makes me proud to see the patriotism being exhibited here tonight.”

The tiny microphone on his lapel caught his words and sent them booming out, a wave of sound that filled the space. But that was nothing compared to the roar of the crowd’s reply. It rolled over Dan like a physical thing and lifted him even higher. Tonight, oh tonight, I’ll give them a show they won’t forget.

Dan opened his mouth to continue, but a deep, booming voice stunned both the crowd and Dan into inaction.

“So now you think they’re patriots? That’s not what you said earlier.”

Then Dan heard his own voice, except it wasn’t the patter he’d prepared for the crowd, it was him talking to Fred McFee, his campaign manager.

“Fuck, Fred, would you look at the bunch of rubes we’ve got tonight? I mean what do these losers do for a living, fuck sheep or something? I mean look at this bunch of idiots! Especially that fat fuck in the front row holding the sign up praising me….what the fuck does he think he’s doing, trying to look like me? Mind you, I’d screw that little piece of ass next to him. What do you think, is that his daughter? How could some ugly slug like that produce a hot little piece like her? Who knows, out here in the sticks, he’s probably screwing her.

Dan could see the people he’d been talking about. Both the fat father and his slender blond daughter stood, crimson-faced, not sixty feet from him. But Dan’s backstage conversation kept booming out over the crowd.

“Whatever the fuck. It’s about time to go out and feed the monkeys their nightly dose of shit. I can’t believe these morons believe the shit I’m tellin’ them! Hell, seeing how easy it is to clip rubes out here in Nowheresville, I can understand how those traveling preachers can go from town to town fleecing the fools for every cent they have. Oh well, as long as these idiot support me in the next election, I’ll tell them their cow’s shit doesn’t stink. Who knows, they might even be dumb…”

Silence. Dan knew he’d kept talking well past that point, but someone on his security detail must have finally found out where, in this backwater auditorium, the sound booth was. And I’ll find out why it took them so long later, oh yes I will, and then someone’s head is gonna roll! But that silence gave even morons like this a chance to think, and giving them a chance to think was never a good idea.

“Can you believe that? Someone thought you’d be dumb enough to believe such an obvious fake imitation of me talking! I mean nobody here is that stupid, are they?”

And it never hurts to praise a moron, any moron, when it makes them believe you.

The crowd roared out their support for Dan, knowing their president would never say something like that about them.