Fourth floor (part one)

I’m at a conference in Melbourne this week, and as tends to happen at these things I got chatting to a guy in the hotel bar. He told me this story, and I’m not really sure what to make of it.

It’s a common thing in hotels for there to be no thirteenth floor, and it’s a damn good thing. Too many people are superstitious and the anxiety isn’t worth the bother. What’s less known in the west is the unluckiness, in some cultures of the number four, which is perfectly rational.

I was staying in a hotel for a conference like this in Hong Kong, and I’d been out at a conference dinner late at night. Being a responsible adult, I’d drunk a fair bit, and stumbled back to my hotel late at night. Burbling at the front desk on my way past, I went into the lift, one of those key card jobs. I hit the button, or so I thought, for the fifth floor. Waiting, swaying in the lift, I felt a slight jolt and an odd sensation, like a held sneeze.

I walked out of the lift and staggered, I thought, to my room, slamming the key card in the lock. The door opened to the right, which triggered something in my brain. I’d been pretty sure that my door opened to the left, but I dismissed that odd sense memory- I’d stayed in hundreds of similar hotel rooms, must have beenn confused.

I went to my wardrobe to hang up my jacket, not registering the colour of the cupboard had changed. Hanging in the cupboard were my clothes, but something seemed slightly off about them all. They were all clothes that I woukd have selected- no garish shirts, and all colours that I would have picked. But none of the shirts were my shirts- all the stripes were slightly off, and my suits were all a different colour than they had been.

Going further into the room, I started to notice more changes. The lamp in the corner was different, and my notes were placed on a leather-topped writing desk, that I’m sure had been marble topped before. Now quite sober, I opened up my notebook. It was definitely my handwriting, neat and clear, but it was for a meeting I’d never been to on a topic I knew little about.

Not quite knowing what was going on, I grabbed the keycard from the door, and went back to the lift. The hotel seemed quieter than it had been, and as I waited for the lift I tried to read the sign above the lift. It looked like the Chinese character for four, but half formed, scrawled
I waited at the elevator for some time, hearing the machinery behind the door but no lift arriving. Getting impatient, I tried to force it, but I couldn’t even feel it rock a little on it’s sliders.

Hell, I thought, I’m only on the fourth floor, I’ll take the stairs.

I opened the stairwell door, silently hoping that the door wasn’t alarmed. The concrete stairs were lit by the green glow of the exit light, and I could see emergency directions on the wall. Looking over the bannister, the stairs seemed to spiral up and down for an eternity, slipping into darkness at the furthest edges of the parallax I could see.

I climbed up a floor and opened the door…

To be continued


The future of expert advice, thanks to Italian morons

Inspired by this bullshit.

“Welcome to Channel 6 news, I’m Martha Grange.

Tonight, a prominent politician caught on tape!

Plus, your picks for this week’s korfball matches.
 But first, we go to Tom Hsu, reporting live from the West Coast, where strong winds have been buffeting the coast. Tom?”

“Yes Martha, I’m here at Port Candour, where as you can see the winds have been blowing…really fast. As the winds have risen, the locals have been asking: should they be preparing for a hurricane? We approached the Bureau of Meteorology’s Frank Dreinger for comment

Mr Dreinger? Should locals be worried about the current weather?”

“I can make no specific comments on the weather”

“But Mr Dreinger, there are certainly some very fast winds out there”

“I acknowledge that a subset of people may perceive these winds as fast”

“Should people be worried about a Tropical Cyclone?”

“Strong winds have sometimes been linked to Tropical Cyclones, but I’m unable to comment on this specific case”

“Should the residents of Port Candour be preparing for the worst?”

“Best practice would suggest that preparation for events is prudent. The Bureau can in no way endorse or disendorse the idea that preparing for any situation is necessary or expected but accepts no liability for the relative preparedness or unpreparedness for anything that may transpire.”

“So your prediction for Port Candour for the rest of the week?”

“It is the opinion of the bureau that Port Candour will likely experience weather for the rest of the week. This statement should in no way be read as a definite indication that Port Candour or its surrounding area will actually experience weather, nor that the Bureau is wholly or partially responsible for the weather experience of people, animals or property within the area. Any further correspondence must be in writing through our lawyers”

“…Back to you Martha”


Three concepts for stories

Thoe who follow me on the twitterz or interact in other forums may have heard I want to do something writerly in November. November, or course, is National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo), where people all over the world (yes, putting paid to the whole “national” thing) attempt to bang out a novel in a month. I’m not a writer by any means, but I’d like to try it some day. I figure I’d better actually get some practice in.

So for November I’ll be writing short fiction, vignettes, and other fictional stuff. Call it NaSho(rt)Sto(ry)WriMo. I’ve been kicking around two ideas for a while, and one just jumped on me that I’d like to use, so here’s some teasers:

  • An archaeology team uncovers something interesting from the cold war
  • Climbing a radio tower on a desolate planet
  • The logical endpoint of digital rights control

I’m hoping to spin these into… something, and I’m going to post it all or in part up here in draft form. I’d appreciate your feedback.


The Great Unfinished Work: Why Crusader Kings II has me suckered in

Hail Queen Astrid!
All those green bits are part of the Kingdom of Sweden. I think I’ve deviated from history a tad. Also, I’m currently at war with the red bits.

I’ve been obsessed with games in the past to varying degrees. When I was a kid, I was into Gameboy games like Pokemon or Tetris, and in high school I played an awful lot of GTA and Final Fantasy. Lumines 2 got me through my honours year, and since then I’ve had a few games that have entered the 80+hours club, which is probably a fairly good indicator of a fixation.

It’s a fairly diverse list, for sure, but they all have the element of “I’ll just play a little more”- I’ll just play one more round, or I’ll just beat this boss, or I’ll just cruise around the city one more time…

One recent entry to this club is Crusader Kings II, and it’s an entry I would never have anticipated being there. I bought it in a Steam sale as I’d heard there was a cool Game of Thrones mod for it, but I’ve not even installed it as I’ve been having so much fun with the base game. Continue reading


Me over at the brand spanking new!


I was a Pokemon kid, through and through. Pokemon Blue was one of the first Gameboy games I ever owned (Blastoise FTW), I had the trading cards, the trading card game, Pokemon Pinball and a bunch of other stuff.

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Films, Reviews

Liam Neeson beats up two countries: Thoughts on Taken 2

Short Version: Not fantastic, kinda paranoid

Spoilers for both 1 and 2

I’ll admit to quite liking the first Taken, for what it was: a lowish budget action film with a couple of stabs at bigger issues. A reasonably simple set-up: angry ex-CIA   Mills (Liam Neeson) tears Paris looking for his kidnapped daughter, who has been “taken” (see what they did there?) to be sold as a sex slave. I quite liked the brevity and brutality of the action scenes- no messing around, quick action rather than extended fight scenes, which I felt gave it a more realistic vibe than many other action films, where guys beat on each other for minutes and minutes. I also liked that it dealt (for an action movie definition of “dealt”) with an issue that doesn’t get much light, the trafficking of women for sexual slavery. This is quite a serious issue, with a quick google giving an estimate of 1.38 million women worldwide being sold each year for sexual slavery (there’s apparently some contention around the exact figure/method of measurement, but lets just say it’s too many). It made a nice change from the usual action movie plots of drug lords or heists or what-have-you.

I also liked in the first one seeing Liam Neeson play a slightly different role, being the hard-man action star. While they never explain why a CIA operative would have that accent, Neeson was a pretty convincing badass, with a pretty clear motivation.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not Shakespeare, and it’s not Die Hard. For a film to catch on TV or DVD, however, it wasn’t bad

Continue reading

Books, Reviews

More on The Fractal Prince

Image Image

OK, I’ve had a chance to sleep on it now.

I said in the previous post that The Quantum Thief blew my mind, and it really did. I bought it earlier in the year in Sydney Airport, after a flight had been delayed and I had to kill an hour or two. Kill time it did- I was utterly engrossed in the book through my waiting time, through the flight back to Adelaide, and when I got home I sat straight down and finished it.

Both Quantum Thief and Fractal Prince take place in the far future, where humanity has command over much of the quantum world. Our protagonist, Jean de Flambeur, is a gentleman thief who steals the trickiest targets in the galaxy. At the start of Thief, he’s stuck in a prison where he’s forced to continually killed and resurrected to take part in a Prisoner’s dilemma. It’s not too big a spoiler to say he gets out and is engaged to steal some very tricky targets.

The first book, set on Mars, was a sort of euro-thriller/detective story, and I’m told it was directly informed by Maurice Leblanc’s Arsene Lupin tales. The Mars-as-Paris stuff worked quite well, with the setting working as a cultured and sophisticated backdrop to a heist tale.

The Fractal Prince, which leads straight on, is pure Arabian Nights. Shifting to Earth, which is…not in a good way, the novel uses the a nested structure and fable-like telling to move the plot between different characters, mostly taking place in the Middle Eastern-ish city of Sirr.

One thing I both like and don’t like about these two novels is that the help files are deliberately off. Much of the text uses in-universe terms and invented phrases to describe the action, which sometimes makes it a bit hard to follow. Many of the technologies become clear from context, or are explained later, but a glossary would help- I had to wiki a term or two given I read the first one in January. It gives the setting a really futuristic feel and is super interesting, but can be confusing.

The plot moves forward quite quickly, although the way the characters are related are not as clear as in Thief, which had a pretty clear antagonist.

All in all, I loved both of them, but don’t wait for the movie: I’m certain they’re both unfilmable