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Friday, March 27, 2009

The Friday Challenge - 3/27/09

It is said that somewhere in the far east, in the mist-shrouded K'themai Isles, there stands a great temple, built by the now-vanished K'bab peoples and dedicated to Otogu the Insatiable, Devourer of Days. In the heart of this temple there squats a grotesque giant idol, purportedly depicting Otogu himself, and while the idol is gilded with purest gold, the visage is that of a vast, flabby, and revoltingly toad-like creature, miserable with constipation. For though he consumes ceaselessly, despite all his straining, in the end, Otogu produces frustratingly little.

The K'bab legends as they have filtered down through the ages say Otogu is forever hungry because he feeds on nothing more substantial than time itself, and so is never satisfied. Further, the legends hold that in the very end, Otogu will consume every last moment of every day, and in final desperation turn on himself, beginning with his own left foot and consuming even his own body until utterly nothing remains. And thus will the world end, although right up until the final seconds, Mankind will be too busy working to notice that it's happening.

The K'bab peoples are long gone, now; their myth of Otogu, barely remembered. Jungle has reclaimed the once mighty but now nameless city, save for the weed-strewn courtyard and the vine-covered temple mound. The first white man to see the temple, the daringly brave but severely navigationally challenged pioneering aviator Wrong-Way Wojciechowski, thought it a magnificent ruin as he flew over, but was never able to find it again. Twenty years later the eminent archaeologist Professor Herr Doctor Arvid Morgenstern, working from Wojciechowski's journal, was able to rediscover the temple and reach it on the ground, but he sent out just one brief, cryptic, and sadly direction-free message before disappearing forever into the hungry maw of the mysterious green jungle. In his message, Professor Morgenstern claimed to have found proof that the temple was not in fact a ruin, but merely incomplete. According to Morgenstern, the K'bab simply had never found the time to finish the blessed thing, but they'd always meant to get back to it Real Soon Now...

The mighty Wright Cyclone engine of the tiny biplane roared like a giant basso profundo insect, so Cote Hanger had to turn around in the front cockpit and shout to make himself heard. "I said, Holy Cow! It's really there!"

Ace Pilot Cliff Hanger, at the controls in the aft cockpit of the Betty V, merely grinned. "I told you so, little brother!"

"But how?" Cote shouted back. "No one's been able to make sense of Woja— Wojie— Wrong-Way's navigational notes for more than a quarter of a century! What's the secret?"

"It was easy!" Cliff grinned again. "Once I figured out that they're written in Reverse Polish Notation!" He pulled his flying goggles back down over his eyes. "Now, hang on! We're going to land!"

Cote's eyes went wide with alarm as he looked again at the weed-strewn ancient courtyard before the vine-covered temple mound. "Uh, Cliff? I know you always said you could land the Betty V on a postage stamp, but aren't you forgetting what happened to Bettys One through Four?"

"Hang on!" Cliff shouted, as he threw the tiny biplane into a steep dive. "And think of the rubies! Professor Morgenstern's last message said the idol's eyes are rubies the size of Packard hubcaps!"

Oh, wait a minute. Cliff Hanger was for the 1/30/09 Friday Challenge. Let me get back to you on this....

And the winner is...
In an effort to get caught up, we turn first to the 3/13/09 Friday Challenge, which those of you with long memories no doubt remember was to at least make a promising start towards a sci-fi rewrite of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness.

Torainfor: "Gael of Drey L" is, as I've come to expect from you, beautiful work. The writing is superb; the SF stage dressings seem genuinely original (and yet just a bit evocative of Andre Norton at her best); and the sheer amount of invention you pack into this short story is a delight. The moral point is terrific: the company psychologist takes Gael up the virtual summit and shows her all the riches she could have, but in the end, she chooses to resist temptation and remain herself. It's taken a lot of other writers a lot longer to express the same point and not do so half as powerfully.

Where this one falls down for me is at the very end, when you club me with the quote from Tolkien. I hadn't sussed the Galadriel parallel up to this point, and to smack me in the face with it in the last line seems to undercut much of the rest of the story. You've put a punchline on a story that not only does not need a punchline but is in fact stronger without one, and for me, that leaves a sour aftertaste.

Al: I really don't know what to say about "Deus ex Mickina". It was daft, it was funny, and it definitely explores some sort of high frontier of weirdness. Entertaining, but not a winner this week.

Arisia: "The Heart of Happiness" is a nice idea, nicely told, but the story would benefit from more showing and less telling. I think it also may have suffered because I kept expecting it to turn into Cyril Kornbluth's "The Little Black Bag" — which, thankfully, it didn't, but there were enough similarities that I had the expectation all the same. If you've never read that one, you should track it and down and read it, just for comparison's sake.

Henry: "Heart of Dorkness" isn't quite what I had in mind when I posed the challenge, but it works, and it still has me laughing a week after I first read it. It's going to take me some time before I get tired of this one, and I could definitely see this one being reprinted in con program books for years to come.

So in the end I was down to Henry or Torainfor, and this time around, humor takes the cake. Henry, you're this last week's winner, so come on down and claim your prize.

Now, as for the 3/20/09 Friday Challenge...
Turning now to the 3/20/09 Friday Challenge, "Myths R Us," the entries received as of the totally arbitrary cutoff point are:

Chgowiz, "The Creation Myth"

Torainfor, "How the Bull and the Bear Learnt To Take Turns"

Henry, "Lightning Fishing"

Tom, "The Myth of King Ozimand"

Jamsco, "One Little Word"

WaterBoy, "The Four Sisters"

KTown, "The Man of the Moon"

As always, even if you haven't entered this week's Challenge you're invited to read, comment on, and vote for your favorites, with the winner to be announced on Sunday. Really.

Finally, we get around to this week's Friday Challenge!
This week's challenge comes to us courtesy of Will Keizer, who not only suggested the challenge but also was kind enough to send us some copies of his new CD, Pictures in the Dark, to give away as prizes. I don't quite know what to say about the CD—my lack of musical taste is legendary; I am, after all, the guy who absolutely hated Prince's demo tape and got thrown out of the Columbia Records west coast A&R office for telling the suits there that Eddie Money's "Baby, Hold On" totally sucked—

Given all that, Pictures in the Dark sounds good to me. The guitar work is superb; the arrangements tight and interesting; the songs pleasant, although evocative of someone I can't quite place at the moment. (At first I was thinking David Gray, but then I went back and listened to some David Gray for reference and decided I had no idea where that initial comparison had come from.) I recommend going over to Keizer's site and listening to the tunes he's got posted in order to get a taste for it. I think my favorite tracks are "Circles" and "Summer's End."

But I wander far off-topic. Without further blathering, then, I'll turn the microphone over to Will Keizer.
It was Fifty Years Ago today...

Everyone knows The Beatles changed everything. It could be argued their influence even reaches out past music, into culture itself. Maybe that’s a given.

But what if it had never happened? What if The Beatles had never had a hit, or never even existed at all?

The angle is up to you. What went wrong? Did John Lennon fall and break his neck on the toilet seat cover he occasionally wore at early performances? Did Pete Best remain with the band, thus relegating the Ringo-less group to only minor regional success? Did Paul McCartney tell Brian Epstein to sod off when he told the band to give up the blue jeans and leather jackets look and start wearing Carnaby Street "Mod" fashions? Or did George Martin give in to his first reaction, and get up and walk out in the middle of their first audition for EMI Records?

And what would have been the impact on history? Would John Lennon still be alive today, still living with his first wife, retired after a lifetime of working in Liverpool and enjoying a decent relationship with Julian and the grandkids? Would we all have been spared Yoko Ono, or for that matter, Austin Powers? Would R&B and Doo-Wop music have remained in fashion? Would the famous competition between the Beach Boys and The Beatles have instead been between the Beach Boys and Dion and The Belmonts? Could there even be such a thing as Doo-Wop Progressive Metal?

(Hmm. I'll have to hold on to that one. And take some Dramamine.)

Essays, satires, and fictionalized accounts are all welcome, as well as whatever else your demented minds might conjure. Personally, I'd love to see a story written in the style of the late Bane, about the bloody Death Row Records-type feud between the Beatles and the Stones...

As always, we're busking for spare change and playing by the totally groovy and not fully understood rules of the Friday Challenge. You, my fellow Rock and Rollers, are in contention for whatever lies behind the newly renovated Door #3, as well as the newly released album by yours truly. The deadline for entries is midnight Thursday, April 2nd.

Now, ready? Steady? Well a-one, two, a-onetwothree—

Let's rock!
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