If it's imagination I want, maybe a fantasy story is what I'm looking for. But there's one common problem with that...

My big problem with fantasy-genre novels is that they often get so bogged down in their own world they forget how to relate to the real one, where I am, trying to understand it. "I am going to the park to walk my dog" is a sentence I comprehend. "I am going to the yphizz-yak to comportate my Esta-Spark" is one I don't. Just because not making sense worked for J.R.R. Tolkien doesn't mean it'll work for everyone.

Powell's threw out a sci-fi book called "Mainline." Here's the back cover description.

That, as a premise, sounds wicked, doesn't it? But here's what the actual book is like:

A shimmer, and gone from sight. He'd seen it before, though never so fluid or fast, when he had observed other Mutates shift into the unphased state called sideslipping. He did the same thing. A shimmer, a fading away, as he had seen Reva do, yet which had registered on the subconscious level.

Kastlin's hand strayed to his forehead, stroked the bare skin above his brows. All were accounted for, except for those in Imperial service, like himself. Law dictated that psionicists should be marked with the symbol of their special papers, each with a rus of various codified designs, laser-scribed in plain sight on the brow, so the unsuspecting would be forewarned of the great and often dangerous jokers borne by the extraordinarily gifted. All but a few, like Vask himself, a valued field agent who worked undercover, passing as a Normal when needed. Sometimes criminals removed rus with a nanotech fix, but that was an expensive and not widely available incognito. Others, like wild talents, were never detected and marked in the first place.

What is all this spaghetti? Just get to the part where she hunts people! Spending more time building a world instead of having events happen in it results in the failure of the most fundamental task of storytelling -- keeping the reader's interest.

WORLDWEAVERS -- SPELLSPAM: Spellspam? Are they talking about evil magic pig meat, or evil magic wang enlargement messages?

No. No, you're right, it's--it's not.

I don't think fantasy works if you include any piece of technology that was invented in the last twenty years. For some reason the older an invention is, the more likely it is to be enchanted. You can write about a magic train, because trains are among the oldest transportation vehicles and run on huge gears. You can write about a record created by an evil witch that forces anyone who listens to it into doing her bidding, but if you make the record an MP3 file instead, it doesn't quite have the same effect. The Ring just barely worked because VHS tapes had reached the point of obsolescence yet hadn't left the market entirely yet. But if you write a book about a magic iPad, people will look at you funny. That's just the way it is.

Actually, I have to admit I'm curious now. I have to read the first chapter.

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The first hint of serious trouble came, as trouble always does, unlooked for, stealthily, catching everyone by surprise. It was the day that LaTasha Jackson suddenly turned into an Anatomy teacher's aid.

Things came to a head during a free-study hour in the comfortable, plush silence of the school library, each student to his or her own cubicle, some finishing homework, others reading. Still others sat furtively hunched over their desks, loose hair covering contraband earphones, trying to hide a music player-shaped bulge in their pocket. One or two, bored, drew cartoons or wrote snatches of deathless prose that they imagined would turn into a novel someday. The incorrigible chatterboxes whispered and giggled softly to one another from adjoining cubicles. But, on the whole, everything was quiet, and Thea liked it that way. She wasn't doing anything particularly scholastic, but that wasn't because she was goofing off-she usually managed to have most of her work done in reasonable time, and hardly ever needed to resort to trying to write an essay five minutes before it was due. What she used her free study periods for was simply reading. She would meander down the library stacks at the beginning of the hour, pulling out a book here and there to check it out as a title caught her eye, and finally settle on something that interested her.

She was engrossed in a book about the social customs of chimpanzees when a bloodcurdling scream rent the air from the north corner of the library, where the computers slated for student use were situated. Thea jumped, dropping her book on the desk with a thump and losing her place, pushing her chair back on its castors to peer around the edges of her cubicle.

Dozens of other heads were popping out from other cubicles, watching in appalled horror as something ghastly leaped back from a computer screen, overturning a chair and sending it flying, and raced down the length of the library and out through the double doors at the far end. The only reason Thea even remotely recognized this apparition was LaTasha's trademark hairstyle, dozens of tiny braids finished off with trade beads in garish shades of pink and mustard yellow. The face beneath those braids, however, was something else indeed.

She looks like she's been skinned! was the first thought that came swimming into Thea's astonished mind. And then she shuddered as she realized that this was precisely what LaTasha was. Skinned. Or at least looking like a reasonably good imitation of it. But there was no blood, Thea thought, frowning. Surely there should have been . . . but no . . . there was just . . .

That was it, in a nutshell. Instead of LaTasha's skin, which typically was the color of coffee lightened with a touch of cream, her face was a complicated mass of red muscle, striated bands coming down from her temples to wrap around her mouth, neat folds across her nose and cupping her chin, round orbs around her alarmingly protruding eyeballs, with startling and somewhat unnerving glimpses of stark bone structure underneath it all. Her hands, held out in front of her, looked the same way---a naked, tangled mass of tendon and sinew. But no blood. It was like her skin had just gone see-through, somehow, revealing the building blocks of the body that lay beneath.

There was a swelling of noise in the library as students surged out of their chairs, clustered in tight little knots, the librarian on duty frantically whispering something into a telephone, her hand cupped protectively around the mouthpiece.

.....Am I nuts or is this story actually working?

When you think about it, spam is everywhere and it's impossible to avoid. Every time you go online you come across it. Most people who make it have malicious intents, and most of the time the sender isn't even human -- it's a program written to seek out addresses and message boards. An evil robot!

What if spam could actually affect you on a whole other level? What if it could do anything to you, like rip your skin off or worse? Wow. This idea does have potential. I think I've finally found a tome I like! Yes, I'm enjoying a book about magic spam. Life is funny like that.


"Are you saying we can all do this tripping between-the-worlds thing?'' he had asked Thea one day in September, tapping his fingers on a desk.
"By ourselves? That first time, we all seemed to be involved. . . .''
"Well, you all came after me into the Whale Hunt, when we were after the Nothing, and I wasn't there to start it," Thea said.
"Yeah, but that time I found the thing on the computer screen and just hit ENTER again, so it was you who started it; we just followed.''
"Do you think anyone could had followed?'' Magpie said, sounding frightened. "I would hate for people who don't care or understand to be able to blunder around in a world like that---it was the sea of my own ancestors..."


Nothing? Whale? Tripping? The author sure is, but that doesn't help me.

I read a third of the way through the whole book. Based on the opening scene I thought it would get better, but it doesn't. In addition to the usual incomprehensible dialogue, the setting is some kind of Bizarro World Hogwarts -- every place on Earth is magical BUT the school the main character goes to, and naturally, that's where she spends all her time. To make things even worse, one of her friends is actually allergic to magic -- I mean, peanut-lethal, where one bright speck of fairy dust will close his throat up. That guy is around all the time, so even though she presumably knows how to do a lot of cool things, she can't do any. As an author of fantasy, WHY would you want to dream up a world of wonder and handicap it this badly?

Gaaahhhh, I thought I was so close! But no cigar. Just spam.