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Sampling Today’s Output: Ten Gentle Opportunities

Having gotten stuck on The Everything Machine a couple of days ago, I went back to my whimsical novel of magic-as-alternate physics (and spells-as-software), Ten Gentle Opportunities. Sales of my 99c ebook fantasy novelette “Whale Meat” (epub) have been unexpectedly good. You guys want magic? I give you magic: object-oriented magic. Oh, and zombies. Gotta have zombies these days. Here’s a snippet from this morning’s work, which comes immediately after the short piece I posted last Halloween:

Styppkk’s snerf-sense brought him fresh indication that Jrikkjroggmugg was hard at work on something on the other side of the wall. The angry Adamant had his number by now, and would not use any cheap stock spell that could be subverted by a mere Hkkrr.

Quickly, then! Using his left pinkie as a lamp, Styppkk dumped both the material and immaterial contents of one of his many pants pockets on the ground. A zombie activator: basically a quarter of a prtynytty, ground fine and mixed with some blood, bile, and toad stool, all rolled into the payload of a small black-powder bottle rocket. A packet of obedience dust clipped to a packet of etheric intelligence booster might also be useful, assuming the trigger spell wasn’t broken. (Always a risk when you bought cheap magic at Shazam’s Club.) A reputedly unreliable can of generic zombie repellant rounded out the kit; next time he would pay another bkk to get real Zom-B-Gone, and worry less.

Styppkk stuck the little rocket’s bamboo tail into the eyesocket of a nearby skull and struck a match. After a moment for the very short fuse to sizzle, the activator rode a little arc of fire four or five cubits into the noisome air. With a quick pop! it burst, scattering its foul-smelling dust in every direction. Styppkk ran out toward the center of the lychfield, rubbing his hands in anticipation.

Through the twin daggers in the visor of his iron helmet he watched the process begin: little glowing wisps twisting and darting in short motions synchronized to the unheard but deeply felt double beat of the World Heart. Twist-twist and pause, dart-dart and pause, descending and flowing into the stiff bodies lying everywhere around him.

He watched them shudder and stretch, gathering limbs beneath them and shoving away from the ground. The odor in the air changed from the dull, dank smell of stagnation to the sharp reek of rot. In waves radiating out from the center of the lychfield they stood, staggered, and scratched their heads. Those that still had noses raised them, turning to follow the strong scent of magic that surrounded Styppkk. Step by shambling step, they lurched toward him.

Styppkk gave himself a few quick schpritzes with the bargain-bin zombie repellent–head, crotch, and armpits–in case things got a little too cozy. He then picked up a sit-by-nellie spell from the pile of oddments at his feet.

“You guys need something to do,” he said aloud. The spell seemed reasonably well-made and certainly strong enough, somewhere past yellow if not quite green. Styppkk cranked the range up as high as it would go, poked the repeat-until-break spot to set it, and then hit the trigger.

Tapping his teeth together to keep the beat, Styppkk began a hoary old folk dance he’d learned at his cousin’s wedding years ago: Hands out, hands flipped, hands on hips, hands behind head, wiggle butt, jump and turn 90 degrees. All around him the newly animated zombies imitated his every move. He went through it a second time (more slowly, to go easier on decomposing limbs) and then, spinning his middle finger for emphasis, poked the segno.

The auto-arrange property of the spell worked beautifully: In perhaps a score of beats the zombies had spaced themselves equally into a perfectly rectangular constellation of wiggling, writhing doom.

Styppkk had the cover he needed. It was now Jrikkjroggmugg’s move.


  1. Larry N says:

    The names of your characters reminded me of this classic bit of humor:

  2. Erbo says:

    Is Styppkk making those zombies do the Macarena???

    /me falls over laughing

    1. But of course! If you wanted to turn a graveyard full of zombies into an uncrossable obstacle, what else would you have them do? I almost named the dance as ttmkkrrnna, but then I thought, Hell, it’s obvious!

      1. Erbo says:

        And now I can’t read that part of the text without hearing Los Del Rio in my head: “HEEEEEEEEY, Macarena!”

  3. Jim Strickland says:

    That’s just wrong on so many levels. 🙂

    My only issue with the snippet is the utterly unpronouncable nature of the various spell-objects’ names. For me, at least, not being able to make a coherent sound with the words means I can’t remember them at all. This is a problem with the spells, and worse for the character names. I’d like to buy a vowel? Otherwise it’s terribly entertaining, and I’d love to see how things play out with this.


    1. The vowel-starved names are a bit of a gimmick, and help illustrate a concept I call “mapping.” When Styppkk jumps into our universe shortly after his adventure with the zombies and the angry magician, he discovers that not everything enters our universe unchanged. His true name Brrtylymmyustyppkk “maps” into our universe as “Bartholomew Stypek,” and that’s how he’s known throughout the bulk of the story. A prrtynytty becomes an “opportunity”. A hkkrr is, of course, a hacker, and that’s what Stypek does: He hacks. In his universe he hacks magic; in ours he hacks software, and software is in fact what magic maps to in the gulf between his universe and ours. We hear no more of brrtts and almost nothing of Jrikkjroggmugg, so if you can stay with me for the first two chapters, the whole issue melts away into one very peculiar summer at the Zircon Corporation plant in upstate New York.

  4. […] that spoke only in poetry, an evolved magical predator resembling a lamprey from the astral planes, zombies dancing the Macarena, a 3-D processor technology that packs tens of thousands of execution cores into a blade module, […]

  5. […] an odd mix: Dancing zombies. Well-dressed AIs. Object-oriented magic. Virtual universes, virtual doughnuts, virtual Frisbees, […]

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