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Showing posts by: Jay Lake click to see Jay Lake's profile
Aug 25 2010 9:30am
Original Story

The Speed of Time

This story is also available for download from major ebook retailers.

“Light goes by at the speed of time,” Marlys once told me.

That was a joke, of course. Light can be slowed to a standstill in a photon trap, travel on going nowhere at all forever in the blueing distance of an event horizon, or blaze through hard vacuum as fast as information itself moves through the universe. Time is relentless, the tide which measures the perturbations of the cosmos. The 160.2 GHz hum of creation counts the measure of our lives as surely as any heartbeat.

There is no t in e=mc2.

[Read more....]

Jan 13 2010 9:30am
Original Story

The Starship Mechanic

This story is also available for download from major ebook retailers.

The floor of Borderlands Books had been polished to mirror brightness. A nice trick with old knotty pine, but Penauch would have been a weapons-grade obsessive-compulsive if he’d been human. I’d thought about setting him to detailing my car, but he’s just as likely to polish it down to aluminum and steel after deciding the paint was an impurity.

When he discovered that the human race recorded our ideas in books, he’d been impossible to keep away from the store. Penauch didn’t actually read them, not as such, and he was most reluctant to touch the volumes. He seemed to view books as vehicles, launch capsules to propel ideas from the dreaming mind of the human race into our collective forebrain.

Despite the fact that Penauch was singular, unitary, a solitary alien in the human world, he apparently didn’t conceive of us as anything but a collective entity. The xenoanthropologists at Berkeley were carving Ph.D.s out of that particular clay as fast as their grad students could transcribe Penauch’s conversations with me.

He’d arrived the same as David Bowie in that old movie. No, not Brother from Another Planet; The Man Who Fell to Earth. Tumbled out of the autumn sky over the Cole Valley neighborhood of San Francisco like a maple seed, spinning with his arms stretched wide and his mouth open in a teakettle shriek audible from the Ghost Fleet in Suisun Bay all the way down to the grubby streets of San Jose.

* * *

The subject’s fallsacs when fully deployed serve as a tympanum, producing a rhythmic vibration at a frequency perceived by the human ear as a high-pitched shriek. Xenophysiological modeling has thus far failed to generate testable hypotheses concerning the volume of the sound produced. Some observers have speculated that the subject deployed technological assistance during atmospheric entry, though no evidence of this was found at the landing site, and subject has never indicated this was the case.

— Scholes, Jen West. A Reader’s Guide to Earth’s Only Living Spaceman. Feldman, Jude A. San Francisco: Borderlands Books, 2014.

* * *

It was easier keeping Penauch in the bookstore. The owners didn’t mind. They’d had hairless cats around the place for years—a breed called sphinxes. The odd animals served as a neighborhood tourist attraction and business draw. A seven-foot alien with a face like a plate of spaghetti and a cluster of writhing arms wasn’t all that different. Not in a science fiction bookstore, at least.

Thing is, when Penauch was out in the world, he had a tendency to fix things.

This fixing often turned out to be not so good. No technology was involved. Penauch’s body was demonstrably able to modify the chitinous excrescences of his appendages at will. If he needed a cutting edge, he ate a bit of whatever steel was handy and swiftly metabolized it. If he needed electrical conductors, he sought out copper plumbing. If he needed logic probes, he consumed sand or diamonds or glass.

It was all the same to Penauch.

As best any of us could figure out, Penauch was a sort of tool. A Swiss army knife that some spacefaring race had dropped or thrown away, abandoned until he came to rest on Earth’s alien shore.

And Penauch only spoke to me.

Jan 13 2010 9:30am
Original Story

Looking for Truth in a Wild Blue Yonder

This story is also available for download from major ebook retailers.

Ten years after my parents died, my therabot, Bob, informed me that I should seek help elsewhere. I blinked at his suggestion.

“I’ve already tried chemical intervention,” I told his plastic grin. “It didn’t work.” I scowled, but that did nothing to de-brighten his soothing, chipper voice.

“Booze doesn’t count, Charlie.”

“I tried weed, too.”

Bob shook his head. “Nothing therapeutic there, either, I’m afraid.” He sighed and imitated the movements of pushing himself back from his imitation wood desk. “You are experiencing what we like to call complicated grief.”

Complicated grief. As if I hadn’t heard that one before.

Dad had died badly. He’d been on one of the trains that got swallowed by the Sound back on the day we lost Seattle. He’d called me from his cell phone with his last breath, as the water poured in, to let me know he wasn’t really my father.

We lost the signal before he could tell me who he actually was. Naturally, I called Mom. She answered just before the ceiling of the store she was shopping in collapsed.

Both parents in one day. Fuck yes, complicated grief.

And a side helping of unknown paternity.

Bob continued. “Ten years is a long time, Charlie. I want you to call this number and ask for Pete.” His eyes rolled in their sockets as his internal processors accessed his files. My phone chirped when his text came through. He extended a plastic tentacle tipped with a three-fingered white clown’s glove. “I hope you find your way.”

I scowled again and shook his offered hand. “So you’re firing me as a patient?”

“Be well,” he said. His eyes went dead and his hand dropped back to the artificial oak surface of his desk.

* * *

I met Pete in an alley on the back of Valencia, behind an old bookstore that still dealt in paper. I transferred funds to an offshore account that then moved it along, scrubbing the transaction as it passed through its various stops along the way before his phone chirped. When it chirped, he extended a smart-lock plastic bag to me. A small, withered blue thing sloshed about in it. At first, I thought it was a severed finger or something far worse. (Or better, depending upon one’s fetishes.) I held the bag up to the flickering light of the dirty street lamp.

The blue thing looked like an asparagus tip, only it wriggled.

“Find someplace safe and quiet,” Pete said. “Preferably indoors with a lock. Eat it with water.”

“I’m not putting this in my mouth.”

Pete shrugged. He was a scrawny kid, his tattooed face stubbly in the dim light, long red hair cascading over his shoulders. “Doesn’t matter to me. But the wild blue yonder are especially good for your situation. Complicated grief, right?” I nodded because his eyes—one brown and one bright yellow—told me that he probably knew it from experience. “Eat this. Spend a weekend sweating and naked on the floor. You’ll be a new man.”

“Naked and sweating?” I looked at the baggie again, then back to Pete. “And how do you know Bob?” I couldn’t imagine a therabot needing a dealer.

Pete smiled. “We’re colleagues.”


The smile widened even further. “I’m a back-alley grief counselor.”

Slipping my wild blue yonder into my pocket, I left Pete in his alley and turned myself towards home.

Jul 1 2009 10:15am

Moving the goalposts

I’ve been slamming through Endurance at a pace which might almost qualify as alarming. This is for a number of reasons. First and foremost, that’s my natural process: a swift pass through what is sometimes unkindly referred to as a “vomit draft.” Fred, aka my writing subconscious, is one of nature’s sprinters. He’s proven this over and over. My journey as a writer has been in substantial part a process of learning to ride the brake.

This time around, as I’ve discussed before, the pressure’s a little different. Not deadline pressure. I literally have a year to deliver this book. Not performance pressure. This is a sequel with a character I know and love, in a place I understand. But the pressure of time, of urgency and mortality, of the big, pink hammer of the demon cancer.

And all that has forced a change in my process.

[More below the fold…]

Jun 22 2009 4:23pm

Telling Stories With Character

There are moments in my writing life that I can distinctly remember for their sublime weirdness. The first time a character in a piece I was working on came to me in a dream, for example. Benny Bueno, in “The Rose Egg” (which was eventually published in Postscripts issue one) had some things to say to me about the story. Or the first time a character took over the page and changed the story from what I intended. That would be Peter João Fallworth, in “Our Lady of American Sorrows,” who simply refused to do what I wanted him to do with a captured weapon, until I stopped trying, stared at the screen, and said, “Fine, smart guy, what are you going to do now?” Whereupon he told me.

When I talk about this stuff, I suspect I sound crazy. Possibly I am, at some level. I think most writers eventually enter into a relationship with their story and characters that instantiates an inner reality with a hallucinatory strength and consistency.

[More below the fold…]

Jun 18 2009 2:52pm

Stretching my legs

I broke the 20,000 word barrier on the first draft of the Endurance manuscript this past Wednesday, with a rather monster 7,500 word day. Not to put too fine a point on it, but that’s a lot of writing. I’ve done more—far more, truth be told—but the law of diminishing returns kicks in all too readily on such things.

I am probably diagnosably hypergraphic. Among fiction, blogging and email, I churn in excess of a million words a year. I can kill a laptop keyboard in about nine months, and so through the two-year duty cycle of a Macintosh, I’ll have it replaced two or three times.

That means I can binge write. On Madness of Flowers, I had a 22,000 word day. I was broken afterward, no two ways about it, but wow. I felt like a sprinter who’d placed in a marathon.

But just because you can write fast doesn’t mean you should. And that has been one of the key lessons of my career so far.

[More below the fold…]

Jun 15 2009 6:40pm

Jumping Off the Cliff, Looking for Water on the Way Down

Saturday, June 13th, I began the process of writing the first draft of Endurance, the sequel to Green. The outline has been sitting on my hard drive for a couple of months, and is currently circulating among the powers that be for approval. Nonetheless, I have started now.

I’ve long been in the habit of writing books on sprints. Some of those sprints have been brutal—I had a 22,000 word writing day when drafting Madness of Flowers. That was pretty spectacular, but it definitely caused its own problems. What I finally realized is that like any runner, I need a steadier pace. So on Pinion (Tor Books, April 2010) I set myself to a goal of 2,500 words and/or two hours of writing time a day. I try to take a no-exceptions approach to that, preferring to write the novels straight through without a single break, but I think this time I’ll give myself the option of a floating day off per week.

The thing is, writing a first draft of a novel is a bit like jumping off a cliff. One sits down at the keyboard one day with an idea at least somewhat well-formed in one’s mind, and one types an opening line. In my case, it was this:

I sat among the autumn-blooming clover and picked at my memories as if they were old wounds.

That’s a lot to hang a hundred and fifty thousand words on. So’s the first step off a cliff, a lot to hang a long, long fall on. And there had damned well better be water at the bottom before I get there.

And here is where writing becomes an act of faith.

[More below the fold…]

Jun 12 2009 3:52pm

The Thrill of the Shelf

Green is my third book release with Tor, following Mainspring in June of 2007 and Escapement in June of 2008. So far, the experience hasn’t become old hat to me. Not even remotely. Quite the opposite.

I didn’t know what to expect with Mainspring. The entire process was a mystery to me. I was shocked (in a good way) at the depth and detail of the copy edit, for example. Other aspects were odd, or more than odd. For example, by the time the mass market paperback of Mainspring came out in April of 2008, I’d re-read the book nine times. I don’t care how much you love your own work — and I do love mine — that kind of takes the sparkle out of it.

Except when the book hits the shelves. Then it’s all shiny again. And it still is. I routinely find Mainspring’s mass market paperback on airport store shelves today. I routinely find the hardbacks in science fiction bookstores, and sometimes even general bookstores with science fiction sections.

And every time I see it, I feel the shiny all over again. The simple thrill of being one of them. One of those writers I’ve been following, looking up to, reading all my life. My name on the bookstore shelf truly is a mark of success for me.

[More below the fold…]

Jun 10 2009 9:19am

Green (Excerpt)

Jay Lake is an incredibly versatile writer, whose novels have ranged from space opera to steam-punk. But with Green (Tor Books), he shows us a different voice, and creates a character so strong and memorable that she will stay with you for a long time. Because this is not your average courtesan-turned-assassin novel.”

—Beth Meacham, editor, Tor Books

Jun 9 2009 3:55pm

The Success Trap

Jay Lake here. Author of Mainspring, Escapement and Green from Tor Books. I’m guest blogging this month at to celebrate the June 9th release of Green. I’ll be talking about the book some, as well as covering other writer topics of interest to me, and hopefully you.

I was discussing the book recently in a telephone interview with a newspaper reporter. He asked me how Green had come to be written. I recalled a comment that Beth Meacham, my editor at Tor, had made to me when we were looking at my proposed projects. This was after Mainspring had come out, and I was working on Escapement. She said, “If you don’t want to be the clockwork guy for the rest of your life, you might want to write something outside that sequence.”

She was right. That’s an interesting trap for a writer—success. To some degree, anything an established writer complains or worries about sounds a bit like anxiety over winning the lottery, at least from the point of view of an aspiring writer. But complaining about success, even (or especially) potential success, seems even more idiotic.

[More below the fold...]

Oct 29 2008 10:49am
Original Story

A Water Matter


The Duke of Copper Downs had stayed dead.

So far.

That thought prompted the Dancing Mistress to glance around her at the deserted street. Something in the corner of her eye or the lantern of her dreams was crying out a message. Just as with any of her kind, it was difficult to take her by surprise. Her sense of the world around her was very strong. Even in sleep, her folk did not become so inert and vulnerable as humans or most animals did. And her people had lived among men for generations, after all. Some instincts never passed out of worth.

His Grace is not going to come clawing up through the stones at my feet, she told herself firmly. Her tail remained stiff and prickly, trailing gracelessly behind her in a parody of alarm.

The city continued to be restive. A pall of smoke hung low in the sky, and the reek of burning buildings dogged every breath. The harbor had virtually emptied, its shipping steering away from the riots and the uncontrolled militias that were all that remained of the Ducal Guard after the recent assassination. The streets were an odd alternation of deserted and crowded. Folk seemed unwilling to come out except in packs. If chance emptied a square or a cobbled city block, it stayed empty for hours. The hot, heavy damp did nothing to ease tempers.