As an EMT, I’ll ask my patients what day it is (among other things) in order to gauge how oriented they are. The irony of this, of course, is that most of the time I’m not one hundred percent sure myself. Part of that is the weird schedule I keep– no Monday through Friday work for me. Part of that is the weird timelessness that has come about with all the lockdowns etc. during the pandemic. And, sure, part of it is the truth that I haven’t felt all that tethered to exactly what day of the week it is since finishing college. Then again, it’s been even worse for the last few weeks as my schedule shifted temporarily during the holidays.
Every so often, though, it extends beyond that, and I’ll catch myself wondering what time of year it is. Usually after I accidentally listen to a Christmas song in July or watch some movie that is decidedly set in the summer while it’s still January in the real world. In the past I’ve blamed this on the fact that I grew up with four proper seasons, suggesting that living in California without them has low-key tilted my internal clock. But at this point, I can honestly say that I could see myself momentarily forgetting what season it is even if a blizzard was raging outside, so there’s that.
There’s no deeper meaning to any of this that I want to draw out. I just find it interesting and vaguely amusing. Does anyone else catch themselves forgetting what day, month, or year it is?
It’s safe to say that 2020 has been a difficult year for a lot of us, which often makes it easier to dwell on the bad than the good. And while ignoring the things that made it hard is ultimately unhealthy and unhelpful, ignoring the bright spots is hardly any better. But instead of looking back at all the things I can’t wait to get rid of and forget, I’d like to take a couple minutes to remember some of the things I enjoyed this year. Particularly, as this is a shamelessly nerdy and story-obsessed blog, I’d like to share a few of the books, TV shows, etc. that I enjoyed the most.
So! In no particular order, here are some of my favorites from 2020.
Favorite game: Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
Yes, I’m aware that Black Flag has been out for years. And yes, this is the first time I’ve played it. I’ve wanted to play it since I first found out about it, but this year was the first time I got the chance. And I loved it just as much as I thought I would. I mean, really. What’s not to love about sailing all around the Caribbean with your own ship, firing epic broadsides at any who get in your way? And then running like heck when, inevitably, you tick off the pirate hunters and they come after you with MUCH BIGGER SHIPS. Blame it on years of roleplaying as a wildcat pirate on a Redwall fansite or whatever else. This game was just as much fun as I hoped, and probably even more.
Favorite book (first-time read): Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
I was introduced to the Oxford Time Travel books several years ago via the utterly fantastic and hysterically funny To Say Nothing of the Dog, which I can and do heartily recommend. Set alternately during the Black Death and the near future, Doomsday Book is just as well written, but has a very different and understandably grimmer tone. That being said, Willis does a fantastic job of balancing that sometimes difficult subject matter with some wonderful humor, and this is easily one of the best books I’ve read in some time. This is definitely one for the re-read stack.
Favorite book (re-read): Have His Carcase by Dorothy Sayers
The Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries by Dorothy Sayers have always been some of my favorites, in part because of growing up watching various TV adaptations, particularly the BBC version with Edward Petherbridge, but it’s been several years since I’ve read them. And they’re even better than I remembered, probably in part because I’ve matured enough to have a greater appreciation for their brilliance. My choice for favorite re-read was between Have His Carcase and Murder Must Advertise, but ultimately Carcase won out because it was the one with both Lord Peter and Harriet Vane, and the banter and the back-and-forth between the two is unmatched.
The Many Deaths of the Black Company – Glen Cook
The Temeraire series – Naomi Novik
The Country Clubs Murders (series) – Julie Mulhern
The Honor Harrington series – David Weber
Favorite TV show (new): The Mandalorian
I mean, really… was it even a question? Baby Yoda, Western-feel, Star Wars at its best. I’m wary of over-hyping things to their detriment, but for me, Mandalorian absolutely lives up to the hype.
Honorable Mention: The Witcher
Okay. So maybe it was a question. Deadpan monster slayer Geralt of Rivia can give even Mando a run for his money.
Favorite TV show (re-watch): Fringe
Ah, Fringe. One of my favorite shows ever, thanks to the characters and the fantastic actors who portray them. Peter and Olivia forever. (For more thoughtful discussion of why I like the series so much, check out this post from earlier this year!)
What about you all? What were your favorite books, movies, and shows from this year? Any I missed?
There’s a couple reasons for that, one of which being the devastating attacks that Azerbaijan made on Artsakh, resulting in the loss of swaths of historically and ethnically Armenian land and the displacement of tens of thousands of Artsakhtsis in the middle of COVID-19 and with winter on its way. It’s not a good situation, and it’s made worse by the fact that it seems like most of the world is turning the other way and pretending that it’s not happening. Actually, to that end, if you’d like to know more about what’s going on, please feel free to click the Contact button up above and drop me a line. I’d be more than happy to share what I know.
Aside from that, it’s mostly just been 2020 being its mangy, feral self. Which is to say, I’m tired– and once I fell out of the habit of updating every week, getting back in was… difficult. But I’m back now, and looking forward to getting back into the proper swing of things.
One last thing, maybe the most important. Advent is always one of my favorite times of year, but this year it seems particularly powerful. Christ didn’t come because everything was fine, but because it wasn’t, and the fact that this year has been so hard for so many of us doesn’t change that. And that is deeply comforting.
The whisper of my breath filled my helmet. Its odor mixed with the smell of my sweat and complete exhaustion. The faint fog of it clung to the inside of the face shield, dimming my view, though not so much that I could pretend that the scorched control panel in front of me would ever function again. I stared at it anyway and delayed making the comm back to the ship. Maybe if I didn’t say anything it would stop being true.
My comm chirped in my ear anyway, and I sighed. So much for that idea. “Go ahead,” I answered.
My husband’s voice came crackling over the connection. “What’s the bad news, Alice?”
“The gate’s shot,” I said. “Doesn’t look like we’re making it home for dinner.”
Or ever. But we both knew that.
“Copy,” he said, and then went quiet.
And we mourned.
We’d known it would happen, that it was the only likely outcome. We’d run the scenarios. We’d looked at every other possibility when the wormhole opened, anything that could save our galaxy without stranding us in this one. We’d tried a dozen different things, only to have them fail one way or another— because the theory wasn’t sound, because the tech just couldn’t handle it, because time ran out. The fact that the radiation from the other side was harmless until it reacted with the radiation from our own galaxy didn’t mean a thing. It was a quirk of nature, but deadly all the same. And in the end, this was our only option: fly through ourselves and set things right.
Close the gate. Save the galaxy.
Get back through if you can. But that’s not the primary objective.
I closed my eyes and let myself hang there, floating in the vacuum at the end of my tether while the greater part of myself insisted that there must be a way out, if only we kept on looking. It offered up all the cliches: we’d come so far, we’d done so much, it couldn’t end this way.
But that’s only true in a certain kind of story.
My comm chirped again, and I opened my eyes. The control panel was still there, still destroyed. The gate pylon was still inert, still damaged far beyond our means to repair. The expanse of a foreign galaxy still stretched out infinitely in every direction, and I couldn’t bring myself to look at it.
I shook my head, as if that was enough to clear it. It worked well enough. “I’m here.”
“I’m ready to bring you back inside. Whenever you’re ready.”
“Copy that. I’m ready now.” A pause, and then I added my quiet thanks.
It didn’t take long to haul me in at the end of the tether. The fastenings on the belt of my suit pulled taut and the pylon sank away and out of reach. I watched it and only it until my feet touched down on the airlock floor; the strange stars would cause me too much pain.
Gray, my husband, pulled open the door and met me as soon as the airlock finished cycling. I leaned into his chest, let his arms wrap around me, let him hold me. I breathed in his scent, the last remnants of his deodorant and his sweat and the unique smell that only belonged to him.
“I don’t want to be stuck here,” I whispered, though the words hardly made it past the knot that had grown in my throat. “I don’t want this to be the end.”
“It’s not,” he murmured, his lips pressed against my hair. “It’s not.”
It was a platitude. An empty, hopeless platitude. A flash of rage passed through my brain, all violence and panic and gut-deep wrath. I stiffened, chewing on the words of a dozen different diatribes that rose up from my chest. Only the simplest came out.
“It is. It is.” I pushed away. “The pylon’s dead. The control is dead. Our galaxy is ten million light years away, and even if our ship could cross that distance, we’d be eons dead before it brought us home. And so would everyone we’ve ever loved. We knew it when we volunteered. We knew it and we came anyway.”
“So we find another way,” said Gray.
“There is no other way!” I choked out the words and hissed them past my teeth. “That’s why we said goodbye.”
We both retreated to our own ends of our little ship, our fifty yard prison, me to the engine room, him to the bridge. I drowned myself in a dozen mindless repairs, all the little things that wear apart with everyday use, all the things our mission had stressed to a breaking point. The work was simple, and my hands knew their tasks. Each problem was the sort of thing I’d solved a thousand times before. Each thing fixed was a salve to my thrashing mind, though only when I kept my fears at bay. I didn’t worry how Gray spent his hours.
A day passed. Another followed. We came together at meals— sometimes— but didn’t speak. We slept in the same room, but not with each other. He wanted us to talk, but I had no words to say anything that mattered.
We stayed at the pylon longer than we needed to, until I’d fixed everything on the ship that I could possibly fix and a few more things besides. We might have never moved, but while the ship’s stores were well-stocked, they would not last forever. Better we move on now, while the choice was ours to make and not desperation’s.
Find a planet. Refill our stocks of food and water and medicine and fuel, whatever we could find. Keep floating on.
I saved the location of the pylon into the computer before we left. I wasn’t sure why. The thing hadn’t shown any indication that it would or could return to life. But it seemed the thing to do.
Or maybe I just couldn’t bring myself to let it slip away forever.
In a week, the worst of my grief dulled to a different, deeper sort of pain. A resignation. Or a sort of healing, if a twisted, tender scar is healing. But I began to speak again, and chose to forgive or forget my husband’s well-meant hope and optimism. It hardly seemed important now, as the pylon fell farther and farther behind, and our daily life revolved more and more around survival and less and less around thoughts of getting home.
We found planets and moons and asteroids that held what we needed. Sometimes it was just scraps, the barest bits to keep us going. Sometimes it was more, or almost everything. Sometimes when we sat together on the bridge and the scan came back with its promises of life and riches we would exchange a look.
“We could stay,” I might say. “Scuttle the ship, make a home.”
And Gray might think, might ponder, might muse. “Maybe the next planet. The sunlight here is wrong.”
And so we wouldn’t. We would land and fill our stores, and then we’d leave and fly back to the endless stars. And we’d whispers to each other that we still might find some way back to our other home, safe in the knowledge that it could never happen.
Until it did, on a rocky moon that should have only offered us a little fuel, but showed us an ancient, alien colony instead. A colony like the one we’d found in our first galaxy. A colony that held the tech that we’d been studying when the wormhole opened and the whole of creation began to crumble.
We stared down at it through the viewport, as if our naked eyes could see the empty buildings. Three years had passed. A thousand days. Grief and terror had faded and given way to mere exhaustion and routine. And then somewhere, somehow, exhaustion had yielded to curiosity and the giddiness that came with the knowledge that an entire galaxy was at our fingertips, all full of things no one had ever seen. And there was nothing at all to stand between us and a million new discoveries but our own decisions.
“You were right,” I said. “There is a way.”
Gray remained quiet for a long, long while. “I guess there is,” he said. “But we said goodbye.”
And so we left the ruins to themselves, staying only long enough to refill our stores of fuel and choose our next coordinates. By habit, I almost saved the location of the tiny moon to the computer before we left, but a thought stopped my hand. Gray saw me and shook his head, and I let the void swallow the coordinates instead. The galaxy was bigger without them.
On occasion, I have been known to draw maps for stories I never actually write, if for no other reason than it being part of the world-building process that I particularly enjoy. The irony, of course, is that I don’t always manage to draw them for the stories I do write. Don’t ask me why. I’m sure I have no idea.
(Though. I should probably figure it out at some point, since I have been told by reliable sources that my track record on writing consistent and believable travel is… less than stellar.)
But, that’s beside the point. The point, such as it is, is that I’ve actually managed to scribble something together as a visual representation of the Verdant colony. It’s all heavily subject to change, of course, but even in this state it’s already helped solidify some ideas for the Tanner and Miranda stories, including giving me a better plan for an overarching and coherent story arc between stories.
What I mean is that I’m actually pretty excited.
So! Without further ado, I give you the current map of Verdant.
At the best of times, I am not the most patient of people. This was not the best of times. I was cold, wet, and hungry. I was tired– exhausted, even. I had watched a weekend that was supposed to be a welcome shred of rest go from bad to worse to something so unfathomably, irredeemably ridiculous that I could feel the hysteric laughter bubbling up the back of my throat. If someone said I looked like I was at the end of my rope, I would inform them that my rope had snapped sometime last week. Or I’d just cut to the chase and bite their head off.
Sometimes it’s just fun to write Miranda. Okay, scratch that. It’s usually a whole lot of fun to write Miranda. And the bit above is no exception. There’s a certain catharsis to getting inside her head when she’s about ready to start (or finish?) a fight, and if you said that might reveal more about me than anything else, I’d smile and shrug and admit that you’re probably right. And then I’d remind you that that’s half of what makes it so much fun.
So, recently I’ve come to realize that I’m actually pretty bad at writing physical descriptions of my characters. By which I mean, mostly, that I forget to do it. Because a lot of times I have at least some vague idea in my head of what my characters look like. Probably not as solid an idea as I ought to, but then, that feeds into the whole “bad at writing physical descriptions” thing.
On the one hand, I don’t think this is the end of the world, because even if I never say what color hair someone has, as long as I can reliably tell (or rather, show) you how they would react in a given situation, then I’ve at least got things moving in the right direction. For example, it’s far more important to know that Miranda’s first instinct is to punch a problem in the face (as opposed to, say, attempting diplomacy) than it is to know that she has brown hair. Which she does, by the way!
On the other hand, though, neglecting someone’s physical description while writing fiction can make it harder to fully and consistently flesh out a character. A character whose height tops out around five feet will quite literally view the world differently than one who is six-foot-six. They also might find it easier to hide in crowds. Or more difficult to convince someone that they’re a threat. Given that, it’s hard to argue that a character’s physical appearance is actually unimportant at all.
Which, if I follow my own logic, probably means that I should put a little time into actually writing down what Tanner and Miranda (and all the rest of my cast) actually look like. Because at the moment, I think the only thing I have written down in any of the stories is Miranda’s height.
“See if I let you go investigate anything on your own ever again,” I muttered. “‘I’ll be careful,’ you said. ‘It’s nothing,’ you said.” My mutter became a growl as I lost my footing on the steep slope and half fell, half slid a few feet down. Somehow, I stopped myself before tumbling off the edge and down the rest of the way to the canyon floor below.
Tanner wasn’t around to hear my rant, but that wasn’t about to stop me. With all the practice I was getting, once I finally got to deliver it to my brother’s face it was bound to be a rant to end all rants. It would remain unparalleled for all eternity. It would be the platonic ideal of a rant. Or at least one that would make him think twice about getting himself captured while gallivanting around without backup.
I tried not to think too hard about the fact that I was doing more or less the same thing.
Hey, look! An excerpt! This is one of the stories I’ve been looking forward to writing, mostly because it puts Tanner and Miranda in a situation that I haven’t played with much: on their own. But the question remains… do they get into more trouble when they’re together or when they don’t have each other to hold them back?
It turns out that writing a stand-alone short story for a contest was the kick I needed to start making progress on the Tanner and Miranda stories again! (Also, keep an eye out for the contest story in a few weeks’ time, since I’ll post it up here as soon as judging is over!) Anyway! I spent most of yesterday putting together synopses for the various stories that will make up the collection of their adventures for their first real book, and figuring out the overall flow for the book in general: what order they should go in and what tweaks the stories I’ve already written will need to match up with the rest. Continuity is a beast, you guys.
This is the first time I’ve been working on this collection in a while, since all my Tanner and Miranda related energy (such as it is) has been going towards The Dalton Job instead, so this is actually a nice change of pace. Plus, if it goes well, it will give me a great, solid base for all the planning that still needs to go into Dalton.
Also! My plan is to give you at least a little Tanner and Miranda related content most weeks, since I hope you’ll find it enjoyable (I do!) and it’ll help keep me honest. And disciplined. Ish. Particularly since I know I’ve been sketchier than posting lately. (Something something work, something something pandemic, something something SKYRIM…) Either way, keep an eye out for more excerpts, bits of world building, or even just descriptions of settings or characters. Also! If there’s anything you’re curious or want to hear more about (oh, the hubris), let me know!
But for now, here’s those synopses I was working on! Let me know in the comments below which one you’d like to see the most!
THE FIRST JOB or: We Encounter the Native Fauna
Tanner and I head out on our first job together: finding an expensive (and experimental) AI drone that went missing while mapping a section of the Badlands in preparation for a road between a couple of the colony cities (Coville and Oriole). It’s a simple job but it pays well, and it’s a good way to introduce me to Verdant. Or it would be if we didn’t end up having technical difficulties and getting stalked by the local wildlife. What kind of planet has carnivorous sheep anyways?
THE DELIVERY JOB or: The Rocky Road to Oriole
It’s been a few weeks, and I’m getting used to life on Verdant. The road to Oriole is coming along, and they need someone to help guard an important generator that’s getting delivered since they’ve had some recent trouble with bandits. We’re there mostly to provide backup for Oriole’s own Ava Loesan, but naturally, things don’t go as planned.
THE EASY JOB or: Murphy’s Revenge
We’ve had a rough go of it, and as much as I’m loathe to admit it, we could use an easy job. One of Tanner’s rancher buddies has us go along with an old-fashioned cattle drive just to throw us a bone: it shouldn’t require much real work from us. Of course, literally everything goes horribly wrong.
THE TRACKDOWN JOB or: To Catch a Thief
There’s a thief in Verdant! Or rather, there has been for a while, but the Rangers have only recently been able to close in on him, and now they’re asking for our help. He goes by the name of Blue, and he has an irritating knack at getting into places he shouldn’t be able to without being seen. Now that we’ve finally had a chance to actually rest and recover, our friend Paul Tarjian (Tarj) enlists our help in setting a trap and finally bringing Blue to justice.
THE SNATCHBACK JOB or: We Thieve a Thief
After our work tracking down Blue, word gets around that we know how to think like thieves well enough to thwart them, and a private citizen hires us to steal back a particular item with implications for the colony as a whole. The job seems a little shady, but the pay is really, really good. We do it, but only after checking in with Tarj to make sure we get the full story.
THE ETHAN LINDSAY JOB or: Never Trust the Man with the Thousand Dollar Smile
After a few successful jobs, we hit a good rhythm, and it’s easier and easier to get work as our reputation grows. The problem with that, of course, is that we get clients like Ethan Lindsay.
THE PRO-BONO JOB or: No Good Deed Goes Unpunished
Now that we’ve been on Verdant for the better part of a year and have gotten ourselves nicely established, Tanner wants us to offer our services to a group of colonists heading out to set up a reliable water line to a new town in the Badlands, mostly as muscle while they install the machinery. Trouble is, it looks like someone in our little group has ulterior motives, and might be working for the other side.
THE RESCUE JOB or: Out of the Fire, Back to the Frying Pan
A veteran bounty hunter hires us to help her scour the Badlands for a pair of troublemakers who have managed to get themselves on the wrong side of both the law and a couple of gangs. Oh, and they also happen to be the sons of a prominent local politician. What could go wrong?
THE PERSONAL JOB or: Bearding the Lion in its Den
All our meddling over the past year hasn’t gone unnoticed. That, or one of Tanner’s side projects ticks off the wrong ganger. Either way, someone takes it upon themselves to kidnap Tanner, and it’s up to me and all the favors I can call in to rescue him.
The other day, I had occasion to remember how I felt about driving on the LA freeways when I first moved to California. Specifically, that the thought terrified me. Having grown up where there was one highway (not freeway, mind you: highway), with one lane going either direction, even imagining Los Angeles’ frantic hive of five lanes this way, eight lanes that way– and heaven help you if you choose the wrong way and need to get somewhere at a specific time– could be panic-inducing.
Which, given that my current job usually involves spending countless hours maneuvering a large vehicle through those same freeways and up and down the equally (even more?) chaotic streets, is rather amusing. The gaming nerd in me wants to say that I’ve really leveled up my driving stats. Or my Pilot (Ground Vehicle) skill, if you will. The writer in me is trying very hard (and clearly failing) to not say something cheesy about character growth. Mostly, though, I just find it interesting. That, and it goes to show that you never really know where life will take you. “If you want to hear God laugh, tell him your plans” and all that.
Also, I know this is at least my second post heavily referencing freeways. I’m sorry. I live in LA county. It’s a hazard.
In other news, I’m probably going to be looking at switching up my blog schedule and/or coming up with a more comprehensive plan for what I’ll be writing. The current one is proving difficult to keep up with for a few different reasons, one of which is my work schedule which is tricky, but not impossible to get around. I’ll keep you updated!