Thursday, 2 July 2015

Relief

It's a relief to have finally driven through the finale for 'Oneiromancy', even if it is slightly bodged. Yes, it is bodged, or cowboyed, or finished at all costs, but that will be fixed eventually. Maybe. The curse of the serial story is that tone goes up and down like a yo-yo, massive pieces of narrative get left out as ideas strike you, and then strings of episodes go by while you wait for the next inspiration and fix the previous holes. These are all things that are potentially dealt with in the 'fix-up', when the fix-up finally happens of course. The list of waiting fix-ups is getting longer, and longer, and longer...

A 'fix-up', and I know I've written about this before, is a procedure used a lot back in the golden age of fiction, where serialised stories and sometimes entirely separate short stories were mashed together into novel form to add books to a publisher's and an author's catalogue. My favourite examples are, I think, the two Dashiell Hammett novels 'Red Harvest' and 'The Dain Curse', which are great fix-ups both for the finished product and for the obviousness of their natures as fix-ups. That 'fix-up' quality is worn on the sleeve somehow, which is refreshing. In the purest sense of an already muddied term, my serialised stories won't be fixed-up exactly, but it will be similar.

What stories need to be mushed together so far? There's the first one, 'Night Trials', which was a troubled write but a good first attempt at a serial blog story. Then there is the first phase of 'Triangles', which was a much better beginning concept, and after that 'The Disappearance'. 'The Disappearance' was based on something so goofy that I'll love it forever, the concept of the plain chocolate digestive detective. Ah, such a rocky roof of prose over a goofy premise. After that? The first phase of the high concept 'Wordspace' and then the just finished 'Oneiromancy'. Taken together, and ignoring my own ability, or lack of it, for producing the stories, that's an impressive list of ideas. A science fiction Western before I'd ever heard of 'Brisco County jr' or 'The Wild Wild West', a parallel universe story based in Aberystwyth, a time travel detective story based around biscuits, a story set in a world where all the characters are literally words and the landscape build on subtext, and an adventure in the collective unconscious. What a set!

Gosh, they really are very slow to identify crackpots, aren't they? If only relief could extend to the mathematical part of my activities, but it doesn't quite yet. Maybe, given time...

O.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Story: Oneiromancy, XXV (Finale)

(Part O , XXIV)

The setting was a marvelously plush country house hotel. Pictures of unknown authors from other times and places hung upon the corridor walls as fragments of memories left haunting the Dreamline. A harassed bellboy could be seen rushing in and out of the stairwell with luggage, despite a guest never appearing, and no other staff being visible from the reception area.

Minutes or hours passed, and the bellboy finally staggered behind the desk and collapsed to a crouch.

The bell on the desk rang. A gentleman stood before the desk, politely averting his gaze from the wretchedly tired bellboy. After a few moments, he coughed and asked the wall (a wall always a good listener),  "Excuse me, can I please book in?"

"Of course," answered the wall, smiling loopily. "Would you like a single room, sir?"

"No, a double. My lady friend will be arrivigng within the hour. In fact, a suite would be better, if you have one available?"

"Of course," repeated the wall, whose conversational scope was a little on the limited side. "Name please, sir?"

"Simonson." The gentleman paused dramatically for a moment. "Stanley Simonson."

*    *    *

We now pause for a moment for a message from our sponsor:

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*    *    *

The lady dropped on to the roof and let her parachute fall around her. Quickly, she gathered up the silk and packed it into her bag expertly, before stripping out of her jumping suit to reveal elegant evening dress and descending into the building via a handy roof door, which may or may not have existed exactly there a few moments before.

At the bottom of some steep steps, the lady emerged into a regular staircase, and descended all the way to the ground floor, and the foyer. The recovered bellboy had long since run away after working three shifts in a row, and now a mature woman was waiting behind the desk. She looked at the lady sternly as she made eye contact. "Yes? How can I help you?"

"You could offer me a chocolate? Or tell me which suite my gentleman partner checked us into? His name is Simonson, and mine is Helen Ostrander."

The receptionist grumpily examined the register and proffered a pen for the obligatory and non-negotiable signature. A moment later, the lady was heading up to the Macnee Suite with all despatch, or at least as much despatch as suitable under the watchful eye of the steely receptionist.

At the suite door, she stopped to make a specific sequence of knocks. Rap! Rap! Pause. Rap! Then, five seconds later, the door opened, and she entered with some trepidation. The suite seemed empty.

*    *    *

"Gotcha!"

Helen twirled and scowled at her partner in crime. "You crook! You scared me almost to waking up!"

Stanley had the grace to look abashed. "That would have been a problem, yes. Nice dress. You made that up out of your imagination?"

"Stop leering. We have something more important to do."

"You have the package?"

"Yes, I have the package."

"Then, let's go down to the casino." Stanley offered his arm to Helen, slung a jacket over his shoulder, and the two of them left their suite smiling."

*    *    *

The casino was on the lower ground floor, and overlooked a lake where some evening boating was taking place in the late summer sun. It was also manned by abstract shapes, which Helen and Stanley had some problem understanding to begin with. Finally, after a few rounds of 'Name That Fruit' roulette run by a dodecagon, a perplexing fall through a penalty trapdoor up to the basement, and then an utterly futile attempt to play a game called bluejack which seemed to depend on being able to name one hundred shades of blue between ultramarine and Egyptian instantly and precisely, they returned to the casino proper. They found themselves loopily back at the roulette wheel, but this time Stanley pulled Helen away before they could be dragged into any more dreamlike chaos.

"I feel like I've been dragged through nine nights of utter delirium!" whispered the waitress to the teacher.

"And now it's over. Take a look at the window."

Helen looked, and beheld their nemesis, who was staring absently out at the lake. The boats had gone, they noticed, and the water was still. The duo looked at one another and then quietly went over.

"Excuse us, but would you be interested in Box 31?" Stanley asked of the Tweedy Woman. She looked up, startled.

"You???"

"Me. And her. And this." A key labelled '31' dangled from his right first finger. "Your friend, the one you had locked up for all that time, he said you might be interested in this. Sadly, then he faded away to nothing." Part of this was a lie, but how would the Woman know.

The Tweedy Woman grabbed angrily at the key, and Stanley yanked it out of reach. There followed a tussle, which was finally resolved when Helen pulled in a zebra security guard from location unknown, who promptly inserted herself between the combatants implacably. In one corner of the casino, the Prisoner rolled a ninety four on some apples in the dice game, but of course no-one noticed.

*    *    *

The dream segued unconventionally onto a golf course. Helen and the Tweedy Woman were playing a round of matchplay, which had so far been marred by several putts into lifesize lighthouses and ramps of little apparent purpose. Indeed, the par nine trick hole which led around a half scale Windsor Castle snow globe was won by Miss Ostrander only when Tweedy's cheating with a boomerang and five small mice was discovered. The small mice were released back into the wild, and were last seen in a jazz club pretending to be a vibraphone.

At the tenth hole, Helen squared the match, thanks to a massive dash of good luck and Stanley falling over the golf bag at the best possible moment while caddying. At the twelfth she fell back to one down with six to play and then at the unlucky thirteenth a full cast performance of 'Happy Camping, Mr Jones!' forced a rain delay when the chorus accidentally activated the course rain machine. The Prisoner eventually fixed it, but again no-one noticed him.

It all came down to a tumultuous deciding eighteenth hole, which the Tweedy Woman was set to win with an easy putt, except for the fact that the Orient Express chose that moment to run directly across the green, and steal that moment of glory.

*    *    *

On the Orient Express, Stanley was enjoying his luxurious cabin when the knock came on the door. A porter came in, looking distinctly zebra-like, and invited him to the grand reopening of the gallery car and fortune telling service. Ambling toward that august carriage, he passed by Helen, on her way to the buffet and car wash, and finally entered the gallery. It was magnificent; Every artistic treasure he had ever bothered to notice, with a few more thrown in for variety's sake. Of course, it didn't make any sense within the geography of a train car, but then neither did the the Greenwich car, which smelled oddly of thyme, or the engine, which no-one had ever seen. Moving toward the far end of the gallery, and the fortune telling compartment, he spotted the Tweedy woman, who was beginning to look confused despite her long imprisonment in the bizarre Dreamline. She was hovering just outside the door to the august seer's room so be barged her in before she could notice him, and continued on his merry way.

Inside the fortune telling compartment sat the Prisoner. He and the Woman looked at each other.

"Madeleine." He acknowledged.

"How odd to find you here, Philo. Looking for something else to fail at?" The Woman was defiant.

"No, actually, I'm planning to do something very very successful."

The fortune telling compartment was ejected off the train directly up into the air.

*    *    *

The Prisoner and the Woman hung in mid air, engaged in an invisible battle which neither Helen nor Stanley could truly perceive. It was obvious that something was happening, but what?

"Do you think we should try to help?" Asked Helen.

"How? They're so much more poweful here, and experienced that we would probably just get in his way. I suppose we could send positive mental energy, but what else."

"That actually made some sense. It must be a Tuesday again. Positive mental energy." She took Stanley's hand, and they both did their best to help in whatever way they could.

"You know, whichever way this turns out, I guess this story's over." Stanley mused, while sending all the energy he could.

"What story? Have you been thinking of this as some sort of adventure?"

"Well, a romantic thriller adventure, perhaps. Or one of those stories that jumps out of any category you try to force it into." Stanley looked at her. "At least it's not a horror."

"Hush, look up there!" She pointed as the Tweedy Woman spun away wildly in an instant, and the Prisoner pursued.

*    *    *

"So, how long have you been a Gingerbread person?" Helen asked.

"Not long. It just came over me. You?"

"I think it's genetic. My mother said my father was a fruitcake."

"That figures. He probably gave her raisin to." Stanley punned in the quiet moment.

"A pun? You dare to pun? And at a moment like this?"

"What moment? We're suddenly in a forest, have turned into gingerbread people, and there's a quaint if spooky little cottage in front of us."

Indeed, a quaint little cottage did stand before them in the forest.

A loud voice came from within: "What, a witch? I haven't had to play a witch since the blasted beginning of this interminable exile!"

Stanley and Helen, gingerbread both, looked in at the door and saw the nemesis clad in the daftest of hats and pointing angrily at the furnace that inexplicably took up most of her living space. The nemesis looked up, and stared at them indignantly. "What are you supposed to be??? Oh, it's you two troublemakers, saving me the effort of hunting you down." She advanced menacingly upon the gingerbread teacher and the gingerbread waitress, who backed away from the door. "It's strange. You're not supposed to change yourselves. It's against the rules. Hand over the key."

"No." Stanley and Helen said together.

"Yes."

"Yes, why should they?" Asked the Prisoner from beside a tree. He strode forward, touched the gingerbread duo on their shoulders and returned them to humanity, and they surrounded the Woman. "You're already beaten." He took the key from Stanley, and they led the Woman back to the cottage and locked her in. Then the Prisoner slid to the ground and breated heavily for a few moments. "Thank you."

*    *    *

Stanley and Helen woke up in Goosing's facility and looked at each other. "Is it over?" Stanley asked.

"As over as it can be." Helen looked at him concernedly. "What do we do now?"

"Run away into the hills. I saw it in a television show once."

"That sounds nice. What about afterwards?"

"Well, I think we'd better think about that once things have settled down. I can be a right bore when not in soul-endangering strife."

"As long as you save me a plain chocolate biscuit, you can be as boring as you like."

They did run away into the hills, eventually, after a few nights of less eventful sleep and some fussing from Goosing and Kibbel. There was gingerbread, if you're curious, and a few more odd interludes in the Dreamline, but they will remain undocumented.


The End.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

The Epic

The caper is underway, and the final episode of 'Oneiromancy' is in full progress. It may take days yet, but things are rumbling. It's curiously difficult to regain the weirdness of the beginning after the comparative normality of the middle, but it is coming around slowly. It's a bit like first trying to re-locate your youthful wackiness before just relying on instinct and jumping in at the deep end, or a bit like magicking a thousand or so words out of nothing but a napkin and a copper bucket. None of this means anything more than that the story isn't finished yet of course, and so confusion reigns still at the Quirky Muffin. It might be a good time for a 'State of the Union'.

Pending completion of 'Oneiromancy', there is a mass of material waiting to come through into the mainstream of the blog, including the promotion of the 'The Ninja of Health' or 'The Glove' into prime story position, and a host of reviews. When I say 'a host of reviews', there's no joking involved. There will be lots. Just off the top of the list, there will be a book/movie post on 'The Hot Rock', movie posts on 'Kiss Me, Stupid', 'Troll Hunter' and 'Batman', and book reviews for the two Shatner 'Star Trek Memories' volumes as well as 'One Hit Wonderland' by Tony Hawks and Bramah's 'Kai Lung Unrolls His Mat'. That last book I haven't read yet, but it will jump right up the list once these masses of short stories finally get read. The short stories just sit there on the pile.

Short stories can be so wonderful, but they are dreadful to read en masse, with all the stopping and starting wreaking havoc on concentration. Perhaps that's why novels are more popular, because they allow a whole book to rush by in a single stream? Could that be it? Looking at the fiction pile right now I see 'The Uncollected Stories' of Arthur Conan Doyle, the 'Golf Omnibus' of PG Wodehouse, the collected 'Ghost Stories' of MR James and 'The Most of SJ Perelman'. The stories themselves are individually wonderful, but as a bloc? Yikes! It's taken years of selectively not reading them in deference to novels to reach this stage, and this is even with several anthologies stowed away for the future! What an enjoyable and intractable road block! It's best to plug away, and use every journey and spare moment to power through the fun.

Sleep time awaits, a much delayed sleep, and then tomorrow back to the coding I will go. The horror of the singular matrix continues. Is it time for a full rewrite of everything? Sadly, yes. I sigh in frustration and resign the day.

O. 

Friday, 26 June 2015

A Long Wait

This long stalling and procrastination about the serial story 'Oneiromancy' has to end! If I had known things would get so busy, I wouldn't have vowed to only do 'regular' posts until the finale was ready, but now it has been weeks! Even 'Advertising' from a couple of days ago was a bit of a cheat on that vow. You need to be told soon about how nice 'The Hot Rock' was as a film, and how weirdly the 'Round Ireland With A Fridge' film was botched. Argh, all this for a story without an ending. Let me think out loud for a moment, if you will.

A teacher (I've forgotten his subject) and a waitress have been tied into an adventure surrounding their combined ability to exist coherently in the Dreamline, which is an aspect of the collective unconscious that allows fragments of memory, knowledge, wisdom, and communication to zip up and down and across humanity, outside of time and mostly of space. There's a malignant entity there, who is after them and first appeared as the 'Tweedy Lady', and our two characters of Helen and Stanley have been coached to a certain proficiency by operatives of a now defunct research project that used to investigate so-called Dreamline incidents and users. Now, having released the Tweedy Lady's prisoner in the other realm, our two main characters need to be in at the finale. How difficult could that be? Yes, there has to be a hotel involved somewhere, and a zebra, and an unusual incident in the basement. It would be nice if there was a mystery that had nothing to do with the story, and a portal through a wardrobe, and an insurance scheme that involves a yogurt fountain.

Endings are difficult, as in general they have to follow fixed rules and patterns, and simplify everything down so that the ultimate end is elegant and graceful, and consists of exactly one thing. The non-traditional ending is to ignore all that and just stop at an opportune moment, such that it's clear that the overall story and world goes on while the part you're telling is now over. That's the interesting kind of ending, the messy kind. Which should it be? Both? Maybe the whole thing should collapse down to our two people running a caper, and then giving up their parts in proceedings to go back to their regular lives? Maybe they shouldn't even get together in the end! Maybe I'm lying and misleading everyone with this speculation? It has begun to coalesce now that the magic word 'caper' has been thrown out there, maybe as a result of 'The Hot Rock'. There's something so fun and unusual about capers in this cynical and gloomy modern world. To be fair, it's hard to not be cynical when you consider the news headlines, but entertainment does exist in order to break the gloom of actual events. Let's be cheerful.

Yes, a caper of some kind, tinged with all the flexibility and surrealness available to a story supposedly based in a shared Dreamline, and influenced by all involved. That could be great! And the zebra could be an ambassador or minstrel! Yes, and no, and yes, and no! Okay, now there's something to write. Yes, it's going to be a long, long finale.

O.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Advertising

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Never again would you be the slave of pillow rotation or any other pillow-related trials. Never again would you suffer the most heated domestic arguments around the sordid chores of pillow redefinition and renewal, or the horrible risks run by relationships around the world on the topic of pillow forts left too long in the bedroom. Why ever run those risks again, when you could buy the FluffKicker3000? Feel those stresses melt away!

'A new model of the FluffKicker?', I hear you ask in wonder. How could that happen after all these years? How could any new product live up to the illustrious original FluffKicker? How could it even compare to the products released by our competitors? Well, we have something that no-one else does here at Pillow Masters, the DownyBrain artifical intelligence system! Yes, our FluffKicker3000s are equipped with AI systems so advanced that you won't even notice they're around, and are designed to integrate their behavioural patterns in with those of other Pillow Masters products you may have in the home. You need never worry about those nasty conflicts between pillow picking, mattress flipping, and the trusty old toothbrush cleaner Mr Waggles at two o'clock in the morning again. Doesn't that sound wonderful? Don't you want to scream?

What's stopping you from buying a FluffKicker3000 right now? Well, it's fictional nature might put you off, but let's not stop ourselves due to mere technicalities of reality. Welcome to this world of opportunity where every possible labour saving device is available to help you get through the day. For only a measly few thousand pounds you could have a pillow picker of your own, one with a fully developed fuzzy logic system and the ability to play chess should you ever get bored. That's right, the FluffKicker3000 can even play chess, and even theoretically talk to your pet tropical fish. What value!

Don't stop to think, don't even stop to wonder, just get yourself down to your local Pillow Masters outlet and open that wallet straight away. Your delivery is promised within ten calendar years, and satisfaction according to your then levels of anticipation is of course guaranteed.

Go, FluffKicker3000, go!


* Also available with heated attachments, subject to moderate supplemental charge, for those days when warmed pillows are not to be sneezed at."

Monday, 22 June 2015

Singularity

My code is blowing up into a singularity, and I don't know why. To explain a little, and invoke the mathematics portion of the Quirky Muffin's subtitle, I'm using a process called 'continuation' to try to solve a tricky problem. What's 'continuation'? Well, imagine you have a mathematical problem that is being solved by a computer, but is very difficult for large values of some important number. Let's call that number A. With continuation you would solve it for a small value of A, for which we assume the problem is easy, and then progressively increase the size of A, using what we've learnt from the previous calculation to make it easier for the computer.

Is that understandable? I hope so, because it's mostly been accurate so far.

Sometimes, continuation can fall apart, and in my case the cause of the collapse is unknown. At some critical value of BN, BN taking the place of A in my calculation, the whole thing falls over and I can not work out why. Changing the size of the time step when the crash occurs doesn't make any difference, as it always falls over into singular matrix horror at that point no matter what. It's a mystery, and it's probably a programming bug. Programming bugs are the worst things, as they are many many times harder to spot than a typo in proofreading. Typos stands out plainly from the page, whereas bugs are usually conceptual problems. Bugs are subtle and abstract.

One reason for my continued computational incompetence is that, when faced with a bug, I tend to do the stupid thing and run the program a few more times to see if anything changes, and then change things haphazardly while running it even more times. Sometimes, annoyingly it does! However, such dawns always prove false and you're back in the land of the serious problem. How do you proceed? To begin, you display as much information as you can each step to see if there's anything strange going on. Then, you start reading through the code on the screen for obvious problems. After that, you consider mathematical problems in the theory of whatever you're trying to do, and then finally you print out the whole thing and pore over it like a demented data miner seeking espionage gold. Programming is nightmarishly difficult once you have to start incorporating tensor algebra into the mix. It would be better to program strawberries.

Tensors? Let's not talk about tensors, for they are both disgustingly difficult in practice and simple in theory. How will this problem be resolved? Is it even a problem at all, or is it the mathematics talking? How do we find out the answer to that question? What does it all mean? Oh, infamy! Infamy! They've all got it in for me!

O.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Coming Along Nicely

No, this isn't going to be about appropriate behaviour when arrested by the police - no police officer ever caught me! - but instead the relief at finally getting the final episode of the current story fully under way. If the beginning is any indication, it might even be good! Sadly, it won't be finished by the end of today, though so it will need to wait for another day. Another shorter day, as the summer solstice is upon us once again, and so we will be in a whole different phase of the year.

Yes, that final episode is coming along nicely, which is finally something to be happy about. It's also running long, which is far more worrying. Sometimes not sleeping for two nights over ridiculously trivial stresses can beneficial in bringing out the most wonderful goofiness to insert into prose. There was a great episode of 'MASH', from the first four years (also known as the 'Good Years' or the 'Gelbart Era') called 'Dr Pierce And Mr Hyde', about Hawkeye going through just the same thing, albeit with lots more surgery and for much longer. Oh, 'MASH', you were and are a great influence, and one I'll have to write about properly in the future.

Another thing about not sleeping for a couple of nights (yes, it is an exaggeration; there was a nodding off somewhere in the wee hours for a little while) is that it does allow a lot of time for obscure thoughts, and a lot of opportunity for getting to grips with your own lack of mental discipline, or indulging with ultimate freedom. The sign of stress, of panic, and of the disordered mind is that tumultuous cascade of worries and impulses that sweeps over you when you're lying awake, scared. It's not random, but may as well be, and one of the ways to settle that panic is to promote something less chaotic and more peaceful. It may even be the semi-mythical 'inner peace' people talk about so often in meditative modes.

Does any of this mean anything? Well, thought is happening, which is very good. Maybe it's a sign of 'coming along well'? In the next few days, there will be lots of thought, and maybe even a little premeditation. 'Premeditation? Actually thinking about what you're about to do instead of being rash and impulsive! Your brain will break into a million pieces and you'll start calling every woman 'Mindy' again for months on end!'

Well, that's another post sorted, and it's about as nonsensical as usual so that's a standard met. This blog doesn't have any standards, in case you haven't noticed. It exists purely as an experiment and as such has no guidelines whatsoever except for my own sensibilities. Isn't that what blogs are supposed to be like?

O.