Story Snippets : The Forbidden Planet

Author’s Note: Here is a short excerpt from a short story I’m working on, which should be published later this year.

The Space Exploration Vehicle Atlas slammed into the planet’s atmosphere, kicking up a trail of fire and smoke as friction started to slow it down. Colliding with all that gas shook the vessel mercilessly, rattling the teeth of the three explorers inside. Alarms and warnings screeched in protest to add extra reminders that the ship wasn’t built to go from interstellar travel directly into a planetary approach. Inside, the cabin got a few degrees warmer while smoke clouded every view screen. Outside, the hull glowed red hot.

Nick Trumbull, the ship’s science officer, screamed at the navigator and pilot, “Hit the thrusters! We need to get altitude now or we’re all dead!” He told them as much earlier. Skipping off the atmosphere is better than being disintegrated by it.

Pilot Joanne Fontaine growled her response, her words shaking with the wheel she tried to steady with both hands, “Can’t do it! Any ships guarding the planet would hunt us down! We’ll be fine!” On the starboard side, something broke away with a giant metallic clang. A piece of the hull must have fallen off. She could feel Nick’s smirk burning the back of her head. “If I’m wrong, at least you won’t be around to gloat,” she added.

Nick tried thinking of something to say, but the ship stopped shaking, and the smoke and fire cleared from the screens. He breathed in a sigh of relief, but he saw the barren landscape below coming up fast. It looked like a giant swath of broken rock formations and dust getting blown about, definitely not the safest place to have a crash landing. “Pull up, Joanne,” he begged.

The controls didn’t respond to Joanne’s commands. At about 2,000 kph, the ship crashed into their destination’s crust. Nick heard a loud groan and felt his entire body press into his seat straps. Joanne whipped her head forward and smashed her forehead into the wheel. It opened a red gash which bled into her left eye. All the alarms went silent, the lights went off, and a few thin wisps of smoke wafted into the cabin.

Captain Violet Anderson calmly brushed off her shoulders and unfastened her straps. “I can’t do many more landings like this, Joanne.” She rotated her right shoulder, then caught the pilot’s bloody wound. “Neither can you.”

On Lovecraft

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Most anybody who reads or even is interested in supernatural horror will eventually hear about H. P. Lovecraft. During his life, he wasn’t as popular as Hemingway, Fitzgerald, or other giants of the time. After his death, he’s become quite influential on supernatural horror and weird fiction.

Lovecraft’s works are generally timeless.
I think much of this is in part that he relied on fear of the unknown in his work. Not knowing something plays on a person’s insecurities, tearing at the veneer of any lie a person might use to provide comfort. The unknown will always exist, and so there will always be a reason for people to feel apprehensive about it.

This is why his exploration of some themes has influenced what I feel is good horror. Too often people confuse horror with the grotesque or jump-scare. Lovecraft only spent as much time as was minimally necessary on those details, leaving the rest to the reader’s imagination. The rest of the story plays on whatever themes he’s building, usually relating to civilization or the advance of science.

He’s also pretty controversial.
As I’ve been re-reading some of his works recently, I’ve been reminded again of the racist themes which had permeated his work over the years. They date his work to where nobody can mistake it for being produced in the early 20th century. Sadly, such themes take away from his stories, especially when he’s blatantly relying upon them for subtext. At best, I think they’re better off ignored in favor of the strength of his other work.

Not everyone can ignore it, and for those reasons I wouldn’t recommend Lovecraft to everyone. Even when I do, I try to preface the recommendation with the above information. His work is very good in many other regards, and I think people can benefit from reading at least a few of his better stories.

His shorter stories are some of his best works.
The Other Gods, The Cats of Ulthar, and Pickman’s Model I think are some of his best stories. When Lovecraft focuses on building his famous mythos, he really shines. It is there where he fully cultivates fear of the unknown, and where his horror becomes most chilling. This is why I still read his fiction from time to time.

Snow Gremlins

This week hasn’t been too terribly productive, because of the weather and some other reasons. I’m a week closer to the deadlines for a project for my writer’s group and a writing contest for the bicentennial of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. So far, I’m completely stopped on both projects.

It’s not like I don’t have ideas. Most of them are nice in the abstract. That said, they don’t make good stories with short word limits. Five thousand and even two thousand words can seem like a lot of room, but they’re pretty constraining when proverbial push comes to shove. Two thousand words alone is an exercise in tight writing. Getting fully into and out of a good story in that time is an art form that I don’t think many people fully appreciate.

In the meantime, it’s been snowing and freezing down here in northern Alabama. The snow’s too powdery for a proper snow man, so I helped get some of the cold stuff together for a snow gremlin rising from the ground. If you’re wondering what its glowing eyes are looking at, the answer is simple: they’re looking through your soul.*

Photo by: Liz Lange.

*When I wrote that, I had the distinct feeling like I’ve been spending too much energy on writing scary things.

Reading Outside Your Genre

Image courtesy of Stockvault.

As part of my local writing group, I’m reading different books to be critiqued throughout the year. We’re doing this as an exercise to pick apart successful novels to see how they were put together, and generally look at them from a writer’s perspective. This means looking at them with a more critical eye than just reading them and filling out a review.

The first one up is Safe Harbour by Danielle Steel. It’s in the romance genre, one that I have classically avoided like the plague. Despite that aversion, I read the book and learned a few things along the way.

More generally, I’ve reflected on the fact that I’m glad I read something outside the recommendations I get from algorithms and suggested reading lists. Different genres have different, subtle conventions they can get away with. Writers tend to emphasize different points, and the intended audience definitely affects that. I’ve become more aware of how I can use shorthand in some of my writing because science fiction readers will forgive the lack of an explanation, or horror readers will make some given assumptions ahead of time. It’s like the second one discloses a book’s genre, there’s a list of conventions that goes along with it.

But these conventions aren’t inherently tied to the genre. I liked being surprised at seeing story elements presented in a different fashion, especially since I wasn’t fully expecting to find any. Some of these things I noticed specifically because I don’t normally read romance novels. I found some treasure in a place I never expected it to be buried.

As a result, I do recommend this for anyone looking to sell one’s writing. Different genres teach different styles, as well as the different authors that write them. I’m not going to be so closed to other styles of storytelling from here on out.

New Year, New Goals

Image courtesy of Stockvault.

Normally I don’t like writing out concrete goals for the world to see. Priorities change, and life has a distinct way of undoing the best plans. That said, I’m getting really close to shopping out a book to agents, and so I have to change my focus to things other than the worlds I create in my head. From what I’ve read about many authors, this is part of the less glamorous side of storytelling.

What I’m getting at here is trying to use social media more regularly.

It’s where the proverbial sausage gets made, although I find the metaphor to be lacking in complete accuracy. I enjoy chatting about fiction with people; I don’t often get the chance to do that as much. My life can be pretty hectic even without figuring out how to write a decent book that can get accepted by an agent. The lack of enjoyment comes in feeling pulled in different directions.

I think this might be the case for a lot of people out there, though some make it seem much easier than others. For me, I don’t take too well to social networking because of a few negative experiences in the past. It’s also hard to ignore the sheer magnitude of how quickly people can rise and fall from Internet grace. This post, through some strangely inexplicable accident of fate, could end up shared and viewed by the whole world. While I want my fiction to be that notorious, I don’t want infamy either.

Okay, I’m digressing a little bit, but I think I’ve made my point. I’m going to update more frequently here, starting with once a week on Wednesdays. By the year’s end, I should have at least 52 posts for 2018. Looking at the goal might be daunting, but I plan to take this one week at a time. To everyone who’s supported and encouraged me this past year, I have always and will always appreciate it. I hope to return an investment on that faith placed in me.