The Longevity Thesis Book Video

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Game (An Interview with Jeff)

I needed some distraction in the worst way, so I called my bud Nina and had her drop me off at The Texan Lounge on the Karnellian Lunar Base. Nina's usually pretty busy, what with saving the Earth and all, but she's the only person I know in Canada who has a spaceship, and as always, she was happy to oblige.

Once past the decontam lock, I was very relieved to be able to shuck my space suit and pull in a few lungfuls of recycled air. They weren't bad at the Texan. Their filters were changed regularly, and they put a hint of mesquite in the atmosphere. At any rate, it was way better than what the suit could offer me. They also scan you on the way in, eliminating passport checks and the rest of it.

The other thing I really liked about the Texan was the way they had the place lit, so that the lighting didn't interfere with the spectacular view of the Shoshuma Nebula that slowly spiralled 30 million light years outside the transplex windows of the lounge. They had the outfit the main structure with metal reinforcements, all grey and pocked with rivets, but otherwise the joint was decorated with wooden siding and bull skulls complete with horns. The staff all wore their long hair in ponytails, strutted about in jeans, sometimes under chaps, and white shirts with string ties. Guillaume, the bartender, doesn't really fit in a Texan bar, but he knows how to make just about any drink you can imagine, so they hired him anyway. He already had a lime margarita waiting for me when I walked in.

"Salut, Chérie," he greeted me. "Ça va?"

"Hey Guillaume. Not bad. You?"

"Ah, tout va bien. Comme toujours. Hé, there is a – comment dit on? A sheark, here. Maybe you want to play against 'im? I've watched 'im win the last 9 games 'e's played. You like a challenge, non?"

I turned to follow Guillaume's line of sight, and saw a figure sitting in a dusky corner of the lounge, wearing a long, brown coat with a shoulder cape, his face covered by the wide brim of a Stetson, and a Jack and Coke in one hand. No one was in a game with him now. I noticed that Daniel Craig was sitting at a different table, taking in some other suckers. I guessed the "sheark" was too much even for him.

"Who is he?" I asked.

"All dat I know, is 'e is called 'Jeff'. 'E says 'e is from San Diego, but 'e talks like 'e is from New York." Guillaume grinned at me and pushed a set of cards and chips across the bar. He knew I couldn’t resist a good round of Hold 'Em. "Apparently, 'e is also a member of dat writers' group you used to be with. Creeters."

"Oh, Critters? Cool. Thanks, Guillaume." I picked up the card set and walked over to the table.

"Hi!" I said when I reached where he sat. "You Jeff?"

Dude looked up and a slow grin stretched across his face when he saw the silver case of chips. He kicked out a chair for me.

"Have a seat," he said. "You can deal first."

The tables at the Texan automatically link your bank account to the chips you toss onto the surface. Depending on how much you have, the chips change colour. If you're out of cash, they remain clear. My chips started staying clear alarmingly quickly. I tried to discretely scoop half of them back into the case, checking to see if Jeff had noticed. Of course he had. I pretended not to care and counted out an equal number for him. All his remained coloured. We threw in the ante, and he posted a blind as I dealt and put down the flop.

"So I hear you're with Critters," I began conversationally.

"Yeah," said Jeff. So far he seemed like a pretty relaxed guy. "I'm just in the process of shopping short stories around now, so there's nothing that I can really promote just yet. I do have – what I've been told by my readers – a twisted, little fairy tale called 'Prodigy' that I'm shopping around. Another, 'Flashpoint', is currently in edit."

"Awesome." My hand sucked, but I didn't want to let on this early, so I matched his bet and dealt the turn. "Any novels in the works?"

"I really like creating something that someone can enjoy in a short amount of time. I have more than a few novels in me, but for now I'm focused on shorter works."

Things were looking up with the turn. I matched again and put down the river. "Any super deep messages in your stuff?"

"I write to entertain. There are times when the topics are heavier, but if someone says of my work: 'that was great/fun/scary/thought provoking/etc.' then I've done my job. I'm not out to write something clever just for the sake of being clever."

Split pot. I was nervous, but at least I was still in the game. I discretely wiped my hands on my jeans as Jeff collected the cards.

"Kinda sounds like you're more into fantasy than SF."

"Yeah, dark fantasy. I really enjoy starting out with something grounded in reality and then taking it a bit off center. The 'dark' part comes in why people make the easy decision instead of the right one. I'm doing some research on a science fiction novel that has been chasing around in my brain for a while, but I'll let you know once I get to the writing on that one." He looked up and winked.

As Jeff shuffled, Daniel Craig's cell phone rang and I flinched. It was the James Bond theme. While he was talking, two more of his phones sounded off. Man, the guy had, like, five cell phones. All at once, his cell phones seemed to feed back into each other and two of them blew up, setting Daniel's white suit on fire.

Jeff laughed. "Here's to a world without cell phones!" he crowed. "You know, I tried to win those off him, just so I could smash them, but he got all offended and walked off."

The next hand proceeded. Things were looking pretty good for me after the flop, so I raised the bet. Jeff eyed me speculatively, then said, "You know, I see you haven't got much cash, but I'm sure we can make this more interesting. How 'bout I throw in the best car in the universe? My Ford Mustang."

I gave a tell when my fingers started tapping the table. I pretended I was sizing him up, when I already knew he was, how did Guillaume say? A shark. I tried to pry some information out of him, and ended up asking a really stupid question.

"A Mustang, huh? You got some kind of superpowers to go along with that?"

"Sure," said Jeff. "The ability to find a path to the best possible outcome in all situations. Nothing too big, just the sort of thing that makes people smack their head and say 'Damn, why didn't I think of that?' Just call me Captain Obvious."

Geez, this guy was good. He wasn't giving anything away.

"Well, I haven't got a fancy car. How about a really good character. Those are always useful to a writer."

Jeff shrugged. "Depends what it is."

"What kind of D&D character would you prefer?"

"One of my favorites was a hunchback thief who used to work in the circus and used to get in trouble for sticking up for the underdog."

"Uh, haven't got one of those. How about a villain?"

"It would have to be cross between Donald Trump and Bill Clinton. Neither are villains, but a driven, charming, uncle/mentor character that has dreams of world domination and a rubber chicken fetish. That and a monkey henchman – Henchmonkey? – that he's always admonishing for smoking."

"Huh. Haven't got one of those either."

"How about an extra publishing contract?" countered Jeff. "I'd like to be with Simon & Shuster. I've got Stef Penney's 'Tenderness of Wolves' sitting right next to me. This is her first novel and they've done a great job at getting the word out and producing it."

"I wish. Nope, haven't got that either. I do have a small moon out in the Toopa System. Haven't seen it yet, but the agent told me it has terellium deposits."

Jeff considered. "OK," he finally said, and the turn was tossed on the table. It was not good. Jeff was calm and relaxed. Smiling slightly. I bet he had a straight. I tried to distract him.

"So which authors are you into the most?"

"Oh, I like Richard Matheson, Stephen King, Joe Lansdale, Raymond Chandler, and James Morrow. Although the book that impressed me the most in my life was 'The Big Sleep' by Raymond Chandler. Great characters, awesome plot, and plenty of sharp dialog. He had me at: 'dead men are heavier than broken hearts.'"

"Wow. That does sound good."

"So does this," said Jeff as the river hit the table. Maybe good for him. I was one card short of a flush and didn't even have a pair. There went my moon. I stood up.

"Hey, no hard feelings?" asked Jeff. He held out his hand. He really was an OK guy.

"No, of course not. I'm just cleaned out. Good luck with the writing, eh?" I shook his hand.

As I walked out, Guillaume gave me a commiserating smile and said, "Dommage, Chérie. Meilleur chance la prochaine fois!"

You can visit Jeff (and maybe test his poker skills) at his MySpace page.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Free e-books! Good ones!

Gwen Gades, publisher of Dragon Moon Press, has released electronic copies of several novels, including The Longevity Thesis, for free. That's right, nada.

If you'd like a free copy of The Longevity Thesis, skip on over to Gwen's blog:

The hard copy version of the novel is due to ship out from the printers on Sept 25th.

Thanks and happy reading!

*The photo is taken from an article about Gwen, originally printed by The University of Calgary Alumni Association.

Monday, September 10, 2007

An Interview with Horror Novelist Mike Bennett

I was trying to write late one afternoon, and it was like walking through wet concrete, right before it hardened. Finally admitting defeat, at least for now, I pushed my keyboard back on my desk and stood up, thinking that perhaps a slice of cake and some coffee might help. Or maybe a few new CDs in the drive might get me going. As I walked into the kitchen, the loose end of a small gold chain dangling off the counter top caught my eye. The clasp at the end of it had been wrenched open, and my muse was gone.

"@#$*!" I muttered, and went to rummage through the usual places, looking in the pantry, the compost and finally in the fireplace. It was nowhere to be seen.

"Great. I've got a deadline, Sid, and now's the time when you decide to take off." I took a broom and began poking under the furniture, trying to find out where it had gone. I knew it had been pouting lately, so I'd bought some Miracle-Gro, thinking that might perk it up. Perhaps I'd given it too much, and now it had thoughts of independence! My worries deepened when I finally found its pot discarded by the back door, with the soil and pebbles strewn over the tiles and rooty little footprints leading to the outside.

"Oh, boy." This had never happened before. Did Sid just up and decide that now it wanted to be a tree in some forest? I had promised I'd get another plant soon, really I was going to. Could it not just wait until I had some time?

I pulled on my shoes and ran out after it. "Sid!" I called. "Come back here right now!"

It hadn't left a very definite trail, but I did catch sight of flattened grass and the odd exotic leaf that didn't belong with the rest of the foliage outside. I didn't really know where the trail was leading, but I figured that a tiny little plant running on roots couldn't have gotten far.

Or perhaps it could have.

"I don't believe this," I said, as I approached an old-fashioned stone well, which I was absolutely sure hadn't been there before. On the cross beam of the well a strange symbol had been etched:

"Just when I was not in the mood for creepiness," I complained, but there was no help for it, so I took a deep breath, and swung my legs over the edge of the well.

I will never understand bungee jumpers. Freefall is the most unpleasant sensation in the world. Never mind the world, in the entire history of creation. Since the start of the universe. Or even before that, but I digress.

Landing is equally unpleasant, especially after falling through the dark and into a mucky bog, which you were hoping would be there to break your fall, but then hoping it wouldn't be there to soak into your clothes along with an ungodly smell. I was not at all surprised that there was a bank for me to crawl out onto, having jumped down what I was fairly certain had been a magical well. As I stood there, shaking off the mud and in a very bad mood, I gradually became aware that someone was walking towards me through the surrounding trees. He was a well groomed man, wearing a strange black suit with white piping around the tailored collar, and a circular white badge with the number 6 on it.

"Hello," he said in an English accent. "Welcome to the Land of Inspiration." He pulled out some sort of ray gun, and before I could protest, shot me with it. I suddenly felt much more comfortable, and realized all he had done was zap away the muck. "Not bad," he said, looking me over. "Hasn't been working that well for a while, but seems to be all right now." He turned around and started walking back the way he had come.

"Excuse me," I called after him. "Who are you?" He slowed down a bit so that I could fall into step with him, then held out his hand.

"Mike Bennett. University of Brighton, BA. Hons. Media and Information Studies. Currently, I teach English." I shook his hand, somewhat dumbfounded.

"It's nice to meet you."

"And you," he replied.

"May I ask what this place is, and what you're doing here?"

"It's a place where artistic types come to think and get unstuck. Much the same as you, I'd imagine." He winked and flicked his collar. "We engage in a bit of cosplay, get the creative wit flowing. You don't recognize the outfit, do you?"

I shook my head.

"It's the official garb of Number 6, the character played by Patrick McGoohan in The Prisoner. If you've got time, I'd recommend you have a look. When they make the movie of my life, it's McGoohan I'd want playing me."

"I see. You're an actor then?"

"Me? No, no. When I was very young, I wanted to be a stunt man in the movies. When I was a teenager, I wanted to be a rock star or a writer. I used to sing in a band, no spandex for me, mind you, but the writerly ambition's the one that won out. I'd still like to be on stage though. Perhaps someday, but then I'd also like to be able to fly. We can't have everything."

"That's very interesting. Any books out?"

"One Among the Sleepless was my first. It's also a podcast novel. Ever been disturbed by noisy neighbours? Wondered which one of them it was and what you'd do when you found out? It's like that, along with a few mysterious disappearances.

"Then there's Hall of Mirrors. It's a collection of stories that draws on a variety of genres, from horror and the grotesque to contemporary fiction. I wrote 90% of the stories about nine or ten years ago when I was doing a lot of temp work: hotel portering, garbage man, grounds maintenance and grave digging etc. It was while working in these jobs that I started to see the stories that weren’t being told by anyone else, and I thought, ‘Ah-ha, now there’s a horrible situation.’"

"They sound like they might be funny."

"I suppose. However, I'd say they're more inspired by the macabre. Humour just sort of happens, rising naturally out of the situations. Often the more desperate or unpleasant the situation, the better the chances are for finding something to laugh at."

"Why did you have to come here? Are you not writing now?"
"Nothing right now. I may write a few more stories for Hall of Mirrors. Then I’ll think about starting my second novel. I kind of got out of the writing habit about seven years ago and I’m finding it hard organising my life in such a way as I can start up again."

"I suppose that's why Sid came. I must have been putting too much pressure on it. Expecting more than it could give."

"Was that the little green runt I saw running by? Your muse, was it?"

"Did you see it? Where did it go?"

"Probably where they all go. To see him. Come on, then. Let's go find your plant."

"This is starting to sound creepy. Are you sure it's safe?" Mike laughed.

"The only thing I'm afraid of is bureaucracy. And well, if I get knocked off, I'll be happy so long as they remember to play the theme from The Black Hole by John Barry at my funeral. Can't be worse than doing hospital laundry. I hated that job."

"Well, let's not get ahead of things. I just want to collect Sid and leave. None of this dying stuff. And who is this him person?"

We had left the murky forest we had been walking through, and were now traversing a dark street, where the odd wraith passed us by, and if there were strangers that shared it with us, they stayed in the shadows, not giving me a clear view of whether or not their feet touched the ground. With a grin and a flourish, Mike pulled a card of some sort out of thin air and showed it to me. It bore the same symbol as the cross beam of the well.

"He's a strange one, he is. Aliester Crowley, founder of the Argenteum Astrum. Member of the Golden Dawn, Freemasons and the Ordo Templi Orientis. For a time in Britain, he was known as The Wickedest Man in the World. If you're going to write anything in the horror genre, Jen, you might want to sit in on one of his talks. He was *the* philosopher and mystic of his time."

"What do you mean, 'his time'?"

"Oh, well, he's dead now, isn't he?"

"Hmm, well, I sort of write dark fantasy, but it's not really horror. This guy sounds rather beyond me. I'm not so sure I want to meet him."

"I wouldn't mind being related to him. All of my real relatives are all very normal."

"Mine aren't, but the ones I associate with are all still very much alive."

"Ah yes, the joy of being alive. But that's what we write for isn't it? We describe the dark to enhance the contrast of all that's best in life. Like my wife, the people who contact me and tell me that what I do entertains them. These demons we meet here will never leave the page, so not to worry. I think some of my favourite authors must have sojourned here. Philip K. Dick, Richard Brautigan, P.G. Wodehouse, Ian Fleming, Sarah Waters. Even if we don’t all write horror, we still need to struggle against the elements of the dark, or there is no story."

"Ah-huh." We had approached an imposing temple made of tarnished metal that rose up against a restless sky, silhouetted against black clouds swarming through a red night. The strange symbol again appeared at the apex of the roof, and inscribe across the entry way were the words: "All Ye Who Enter Here Shall Follow The Book of the Law, the central sacred text of Thelema."

"Sid!" I saw my little muse sitting on an overturned milk carton, munching on a leafful of nitrogen pellets. I ran over to it, scooped it up and tucked it into my sweater.

"Well, Mike. Thank you for helping me find my plant. I'll leave you to your visit with Mr. Crowley. Um, I just go back the way we came, right?"

"Yes, of course. Just make sure you watch out for the Chess Men. They tend to climb out of the ground and walk around at this time of night."

"Right. Thanks! Bye!"

I turned around and ran.

You can visit Mike Bennett at or and

Get home safely!


Post Script: I've just emerged from the Hall of Mirrors podcast. Despite what Mike says, he is an actor, and quite a mesmerising one. It's really crrrrreeepy. And not for children. Just in time for Hallowe'en.


Post Post Script: Sid (on the right) finally got a new friend. I've decided to call it Bennett.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

The Elegant Universe

I've never been very mathematically minded, except for biostats, so I've always been the one who sits and listens in awe while the engineers on Star Trek gush technobabble about the warp engines, while scoffing at their medical jargon. (The visual cortex is at the *BACK* of the head, Dr. Crusher!)

Anyway, a while back I thought to rectify this, so I went to Google and typed in "string theory for dummies", since I accurately predicted that would be the appropriate level for me. I found a wonderful website that explains many things at close to my level, in video format that can be watched on-line. The series is called "The Elegant Universe". I understood about 80% of it, even though it was massively dumbed down, but enjoyed every minute. Finally, I had an inkling of what those Trek engineers were talking about.

The series is narrated by Brian Greene, who is himself a string theorist and professor at Columbia University. He's also a very good story teller. The contents of The Elegant Universe are also available in much more detailed book form, and have a companion volume called The Fabric of the Cosmos. I was so enthusiastic that I ran out and bought both of them, but silly me should have realised it would take me years to get through the material. I'm still trying.

So if you've ever wondered about string theory and particle physics, and despaired that you didn't ever have a hope of understanding, check out the Nova website and enjoy.


P.S. If anyone is physics savvy, maybe you can explain the following to me: Dr. Greene states that we cannot travel faster than the speed of light because as particles accelerate, they increase in mass. As they approach light speed, they get so heavy they can't be moved forward. Well photons are described as particles, so why isn't light heavy? And does this only apply when there is a gravitational field to create the experience of weight? Anyone know? See, I still don't get it.