Category: Short Stories

“Robot Boy” (1969-70?)

The show was called “Robot Boy” and I’m hoping at least some of you remember it.

Each episode was six or eight minutes long—it was really just filler so you never knew what time it would run.  Anywhere from 6:30 a.m. Saturday morning until the “Star Trek” theme music cut in at 10:00 sharp.  It’s possible the show was produced out of the nearest TV station, which was in Yorkton, about seventy miles away (the only channel that came in clear).  “Robot Boy” had that really home made look, the production values pretty shabby.  But I didn’t care.  I was an avid fan.  Hated it when I missed an episode, just about inconsolable for the rest of the weekend.  Yeah, even then I was a bit of a diva.

The premise was stupefyingly simple:  Robot Boy (really just a cheap, windup toy) is insatiably curious and one day wanders away from the safety of the toy box to seek adventure in the great, wide world.  But unfortunately he soon gets lost and embroiled in various unfamiliar situations, trying to logically decipher what’s happening with his tiny robot brain.  Some of the conclusions he reaches are hilarious, way off the mark.  He’s totally naive when it comes to things that go on in real life.

There are shots of Robot Boy shuffling slowly down the sidewalk, going about 50 feet an hour, gigantic human shoes stepping over him, nearly knocking him into the gutter, legs moving past in the background, everyone oblivious to the lost little robot creeping through their midst.

My favorite episodes, the two I have the clearest memories of:   Robot Boy is menaced by a ferocious dog…but interprets its behavior as a warning and thanks it profusely while the dog strains to reach the tin figure, just an inch or two out of reach.  And there’s the episode where Robot Boy gets accidentally locked in a supermarket overnight and wanders up and down the aisles, admiring all the “exhibits” in the “museum”.

I Googled “Robot Boy” and found a few bloggers who reference the show.  There’s even a loose association of people who post on forums, swapping old news and rumors.  The main problem is there were only ten or twelve episodes of “Robot Boy” that were ever aired and no copies in any form seem to exist.  Which gives even more weight to my conjecture that the show was locally produced.  Maybe at one time it was even shot on videotape.  But those tapes are long gone or erased and reused.  There are still photos, grainy, not entirely convincing, their provenance unclear.  Forum members are divided, the rhetoric sometimes heated.  People are touchy when it comes to nostalgia.  Some have gone to all the effort of building scale models of Robot Boy, their attention to detail bordering on the obsessive.

I made mine out of cardboard boxes I found in the garage.  I was seven years old and the ugly duckling of the family…but when I slipped inside my cardboard costume I became Robot Boy.  My other life forgotten, my human existence shed like an itchy, constricting skin suit, too tight in the crotch.  The boxes smelled of apples and old newspapers.  I hung my arms out holes I cut in the sides.  Hands instead of pincers and an aluminum pie plate taped to the front, the dial sketched in with black marker.

I kept it in the basement, away from prying eyes.  In a cubbyhole by the furnace, where my sisters would never look.  My alter ego and guardian angel.  Big and blocky and comforting.  Made of indestructible metal.  Powered by atomic cells.  An obedient, loyal friend, willing to endure anything for me, even long hours in the dark.  I loved him and he loved me.   We understood each other.  And when “Robot Boy” was canceled, I grieved and felt a genuine sense of loss and betrayal.  I went down and I kicked the hell out out those boxes, kicked them to pieces.  They never showed re-runs and I wouldn’t have watched them anyway.  Robot Boy was dead to me.  That part of my life was over…

*************************************************************

This is blog posting #150 and, well, I wanted to make it something special.

I trust you enjoyed this trip down memory lane.

Feel free to share your thoughts, on “Robot Boy” or other relevant matters.  Here’s hoping for a great year ahead in 2011 for one and all.

Review of “The Reality Machine”

Well, what do you know:  an early Christmas present.

Corey Redekop is a terrific Canuck writer–his debut novel Shelf Monkey is anarchic, funny and viciously satirical.  Thus, I was mighty chuffed when someone directed my attention to a review he’s just posted of my 1997 short story collection The Reality Machine.

I’ve been searching for blurbs for the print version of So Dark the Night and Corey just handed me some on a silver platter, with little sprigs of parsley on the side.

Bless you, Corey…and don’t take too long with that followup to Shelf Monkey.

Helluva writer, that boy…

Listen to my work on audio

imagesWith the help of the tireless Anthony, a support staff member with WordPress, I’ve figured out how to add a special “Audio” page to my blog.

You’ll find it by looking to the right hand side, under the “Stories” widget.  Just click on “Audio” and you’ll discover a large selection of my stories, poems, commentaries, even an excerpt from my novel So Dark the Night. All available for free listening and downloading onto whatever device (iPod or cell phone) you currently favour.  Many of these pieces are accompanied by music, which provides dramatic highlights, a soundtrack that is either pleasing or provocative (or both).

The most recent offering is a six-minute chat about “indie” writing I recorded because I’ve received a host of questions, both here and in various forums where I hang out.  People want to know what it means to be an independent writer…and I want to do what I can to dispel this notion that one goes the indie/self-publishing route because your work can’t cut it with traditional publishers.  Hey, kids, I chose to go my own way because after 20+ years of dealing with inept, sociopathic, moronic editors, I’d had enough.  New technologies like blogs, podcasts and print-on-demand put more control into authors’ hands, a situation I welcome with open arms.

For the record, here’s what I said–

Indie Writer

–and after giving it a listen, I hope you’ll have a clearer understanding of what I’m trying to accomplish with this blog.  And please check out the rest of my audio releases, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the production values and the power and intensity of the work.

Theatre of and for the mind…

The Scariest Story Ever Told

imagesGot a little Hallowe’en treat for you, kids.

I’ve been in a somewhat grim state of mind of late, for a variety of reasons I won’t go into.  So I was sitting down today, nursing a blue funk, pondering the imminent arrival of All Hallow’s Eve.  I turned on Garageband and started playing around; came up with some wacky tracks of music and thought about adding a few words, flipped through my notebook for something appropriate…and for some reason recalled “Darkness”, a poem Lord Byron wrote wayyy back in the early 19th Century.  Dug out an old Norton poetry anthology, found the poem in question…and my face split into a nasty grin.  It was perfect.  Went with the music I’d laid down so nicely it sent a chill through me.

Here it is, a little something for the ghoul that resides in each of us, the darkness beyond the edge of town, as Mr. Springsteen would put it.

Enjoy…

Darkness (Words by George Gordon, Lord Byron)

“Death Threats” (Short Story)

images-1It’s been awhile, hasn’t it?

All this fun I’ve been having with Garageband means that I’ve been a trifle negligent with new blog posts and for that, my apologies.

But I’ll try to make it up to you by posting a new short story that I absolutely love.  This time it’s a longer effort, around 2000 words–titled “Death Threats” for reasons that will become clear as the story progresses.  I’ll post both an audio version and a PDF for those of you who either don’t like the sound of my voice (understandable) or who lack the ability to download the recording.

I have a great deal of affection for this story, which was written in mid-late May (2009).  Have no idea what took me so long to add it to this blog.  My guess is that this tale sort of fell by the wayside while I worked on the four linked stories that devoured my entire summer.  This is a stand-alone effort and I feel quite confident that it will find favor in your eyes (and ears).

Enjoy, my friends and please do let me know what you think:

Death Threats_ (Story)

Death Threats (PDF)

More of my fiction on audio

imagesI warned you I had fallen in love with Garageband and that there would be more of my stuff recorded and set to music.

Here are four short-short stories, my version of “flash fiction”.  Ethereal, odd, evocative.  Literary and auditory Rorschach tests.  Give them a listen…and then tell me what you see.

Submitted for your approval, as my old pal Rod Serling would say:

Cliff Burns Reading Prose Poems (V.2)

Four New Short Stories! And ya read ’em here first…

imagesSometimes my Muse is merciful.

An idea will occur to me and all at once I’ll see the story with such perfect clarity that writing it down is a mere formality, almost a matter of taking dictation.  “Daughter” was like that.  “Also Starring”. “RSVP”.  A couple of others.  Not many.  It doesn’t happen nearly often enough for my liking but when it does, I’m almost sickeningly grateful.  Practically grovelling.

Because usually it’s the opposite.  A tale like “In Dreams. Awake” for instance, was a monster.  You can read it by clicking on the Stories tab (above) and if you do, it’s almost certain you’ll ask yourself:  “What’s he going on about?”  The story in question is not some post-modernist mind-bender, the kind of dense, inscrutable, erudite text beloved by college professors and potheads;  nope, it’s a relatively straightforward narrative, with few bells and whistles.  My problem was that I hated the tone of the story, the narrator seemed so cold and remote. I did draft after draft of that sonofabitch, trying to make the protagonist more sympathetic and likable.  But the story resisted me, my Muse digging in her heels, insisting I put aside my misgivings and follow orders.  Finally, I had to give in and the story is what it is.  A fine tale but I have a hard time even looking at it because that rotten bastard was so difficult, each word, each syllable a struggle.

But that was nothing compared to what happened this summer.

I’ve told you a little about it.  I spotted the Esquire fiction contest–they provide the titles, participants write the stories–and, as a writing exercise, I wrote on each of the themes they posted.  And I described my astonishment when the stories turned out to be linked, sharing the same central character.   Believe me when I assure you that I had no intention of writing four stories based around this Conrad Dahl fella.

And I certainly had no idea this quartet would take up my entire summer.  That wasn’t the plan.  I was supposed to be working on revisions of my next novel.  But something happened on the way to that place, my Muse making it clear that these stories were to be given top priority and finished at all costs.

They cost me a lot all right.

So Dark coverNone of them was easy.  Not one.  And writing these pieces seemed to awaken something in me–or perhaps unleash it is a better word.  The process of writing left me emotionally, physically and spiritually exhausted, like nothing I’ve experienced since completing my novel So Dark the Night.

I’ve talked about emotional truths re:  my radio play “The First Room”.  All the facts are made up but the mood, the feeling of the piece is accurate.

I think that’s what happened here.  Conrad Dahl is not me.  Not in any way, shape or form.  None of the events depicted in the stories involving the Dahl character have any relation to real life incidents and my family is/was nothing like this.  But…the feeling…the atmosphere…

Something put the whammy into me.

And now I’m passing it on to you.  How kind of me, hmm?

I think you’ll quickly discover what I’m talking about.

The four stories below are decidedly mainstream, no vestiges of genre fiction…yet there are aspects here that are as horrifying and intense as anything springing from the pens of the thriller writers who love to keep us all on edge.  Sometimes you might be tempted to avert your eyes, cluck your tongue in disapproval.  Don’t.

Read on.  Explore and discover this character as he grows and develops, follow him from the ages of 9-20 and see how the closing pages of the last story are almost inevitable, directly attributable to the events that have preceded it.

I present the tales in chronological order for those who prefer the linear approach but, really, they can be read independently of each other and should be viewed as stand alone stories.

Feel free to drop a comment below once you’ve read them and had a chance to think about Conrad and his decidedly dysfunctional family.

I welcome your feedback and thoughtful responses…

Least

Future

Scorned

Weight

One final post re: the Moon and Apollo 11

model1I know, it seems like I’ve had the moon on my mind since the beginning of the year.  The whole 40th anniversary thingee really got to me for some reason.  Made me ponder how much time has passed and (perhaps) how little time remains.

A busy, creative, exhausting summer and those 4 linked short stories grow ever nearer to completion.  Stay tuned, I think this quartet of tales is going to make a definite impression on you.

But I decided to take this past weekend off, rest up, read a couple of books (both on Orson Welles, as it turned out) and build another plastic model.

And, sticking with the moon theme, the model I chose was the Heller Apollo 11 lunar lander.  This is a none-too-detailed, cheapish reproduction of the fragile craft that took Neil and Buzz down to the surface of the moon…and back up again (to rendezvous with Michael Collins).  Found it on eBay for a small stipend but it took me forever to set aside some time to put the bloody thing together.  And I’ve got eight or ten other model kits in the basement, waiting their turn.  Everything from an X-Wing fighter to a German zeppelin.  Sheesh…

model2I set up on a table on our back deck–the weather for the past week has been perfect, clear and hot and not much in terms of a breeze.  I got myself settled, arranged my parts and glue and paints and commenced work.

There were a few minor annoyances.  First of all, none of the instructions were in English.  Second, this model is quite small and that means small parts that resist and defy my clumsy, shaky fingers.  I had…difficulties.  Mainly with the struts.  Oooo, those bleepin’ struts.  I still break into a sweat when I think of them.

Sherron found me some terrific copper-tinted paint that went on thick, allowing me to apply a bit of texture, a convincing impression of the gold foil we see in pictures of the lander, a blaze of colour on the otherwise monotonously grey moon.

model3Finished the model and thought it needed a little diorama so I made one of some papier mache stuff Sherron had lying around.  Spray-painted it while it was still wet, hoping to give a better illusion of the fine lunar regolith.

It’s not perfect but it ain’t half bad.

Have a look…and then sit down and tell me  story about a model you built as a kid, a memory you treasure (or rue) to this day.

C’mon, don’t be shy…

model4

“Also Starring” (Free Fiction)

imagesWell, it seemed unsporting to allude to my short story “Also Starring” (see my last post) and then not add what is, arguably, one of my best known and most popular stories to the blog.  This one leads off my Reality Machine collection and sets the tone for what comes next.

“Also Starring” made it into a number of very decent anthologies, including The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror (tip of the hat to editor Ellen Datlow for choosing a story that, like so much of my stuff, defies easy classification).

I love movies and especially love movies that feature an outstanding supporting cast.  Over the years I’ve become something of a cinema buff and I’ve come to really appreciate the work of character actors like Strother Martin, Ronny Cox, Peter Lorre, Joseph Cotten, Victor McLaglen, John C. Reilly, Harry Carey and thespians of that ilk.  Familiar faces you can never quite put a name to, actors whose consummate skill and professionalism render them all but invisible.

This is my homage to them.

Click here for your free PDF download of “AlsoStarring

“New World Man” (science fiction story)

images-2What? More free reading for you?  Why not?  It’s summertime, kick back, take it easy.  And here’s a mind-blowing little gem, a short story from my Reality Machine collection that I think, in all honesty, is one of the ten best I’ve ever written.

“New World Man” owes its origins to some time I spent with…I guess you’d call him a street kid.  I met him at a record store/head shop after we moved back to Saskatchewan (from Baffin Island) in the mid-90’s.  Hung out with “Kyle” (not his name), met his extended family, seven or eight young people sharing a grotty one-room apartment, sleeping bags spread out on the floor like nests, music constantly playing.  Kyle was a Rancid freak and tried to convert me–didn’t take, pal, sorry.  He introduced me to someone who morphed into the “Marvin” character and gave me a peek at a sub-culture, a way of viewing the world that was invaluable to the writing of the story.

But “New World Man” also reflects my growing misgivings as I watch the increasing prevalence and attraction of video games; we’re on the cusp of functional virtual reality, full immersion in an invented, interactive environment.  What will that do to relationships, the role of family and friends, regular social intercourse with strangers on the street, at the market? More on this subject in a future post…

A German editor selected “New World Man” for an anthology of the 20 All Time Best Science Fiction Stories (Goldmann Publishing); he told me with some glee that my tale bumped one by Ike Asimov from the book.  My name even made the cover, along with Arthur C. Clarke, Philip K. Dick and William Gibson.  Wow.  The story also appeared, I should add, in the Canadian science fiction magazine On Spec.

If you really love this tale, you’ll find it in my book The Reality Machine, which is available through my virtual “Book Store” (above)–you can also pick it up from Mark Ziesing Books, Amazon, abebooks.com, etc.  Originally published in 1997, it contains some of my favorite short pieces, including “Also Starring”, “While You Were Away” and “RSVP”.

Now get reading:

Click here for a free download of my short story “NewWorldMan

sfjpeg