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Looks like a fish, moves like a fish, steers like a cow
May 16, 2001

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April 26, 2001
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It's been a while, as always, since my last journal entry. This has been in part because I've been working on the underpinnings of the site itself, including updating (at last) the In Nomine section and adding a Nobilis section, which hasn't gone live yet but give it time. It's also been because between working on the Master's degree and working on my job (you do remember I have a job, right?) I've also been working on my writing career. I have a proposal for some actual fiction in at Steve Jackson Games, and we'll see if they like and accept it.

Also, for a week we had company. A fellow we'll call Chris and another fellow we'll call James came from the American and Canadian Midwest (not necessarily in that order) for a week, to visit Jon, Mason and myself and do some work and job related things in the area. The visit was great and the job search went pretty well, for what they were here to do, but that also cut down on my journalling.

I don't know why I feel like I have to apologize. It's not like the twelve week hiatuses I've become famous for (if, in fact, we can call this famous). But, that's the poop, so you might as well know it.

There's been quite a bit happening in the world, and not all of it's good. For one, Perry Como died. I liked Perry Como, even if my fondest memory of him isn't actually of Perry Como at all, but of Eugene Levy playing Perry Como -- Mister Relaxation -- sleeping his way through various disco hits (literally sleeping in one case, when they brought a featherbed out to the stage).

Of course, anywhere you go on the web, you'll see tributes to the death of Douglas Adams, which happened at about the same time. This makes sense. Douglas Adams was part of the sensibility that made the Web. Computer users -- especially the old guard, who built the foundation of the Internet -- read and followed Douglas Adams with the same zest they followed the Monty Python troupe. I was stunned and quite hurt when I heard he'd died, and that startled me. I never thought he was that influential on my writing career and reading life, but of course he was.

Here's something I wrote on the tributes page at, the author's official site:

Subject: We're sorry for the inconvenience ( 1 of 2 )
Posted by Eric A. Burns

I spent much of my youth writing online fiction for a couple of mailing lists, which I'm not going to reveal the names of. You see, revealing the names of them would serve to advertise them, and I honestly don't want this letter to be an advertisement. However, they both were comedic -- one a comedy science fiction thingy roundrobinesque tale that was generally gloriously bad and yet sometimes brilliant. The other was a superhero thing rather like the first.

I wrote close to a million words for these lists. Others wrote similar amounts or much more. The totals of the fiction, good, bad, wretched and derivative, would equal over seven volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica.

And not one word of it -- not one scrap of it -- would ever have been written if it weren't for Mr. Adams. From the first moment of the first list, it was all a bad knockoff of the man's style, humor and subject matter. It never stopped being a bad knockoff of all of the above, even when it was rarely great.

It was a huge part of my life for so long, just like Mr. Adams's books were. It's funny -- when I tell people I'm a writer and tell them my influences, I mention so many names, and his wasn't one of them. And yet, looking back on both my paid and unpaid career, it's clear his influence was huge.

It hurts. I miss him. I honestly miss him. And I hope he's having a lovely Heavenly Drink called a Ginnintonik and making fun of us for being so depressed.

The above got me spammed by a reprehensible "open content" site that strives to get people to write for it (for free) so they can get revenue off the work other people generated. The spam said, in effect, that I should generate content for their site, because Douglas would have wanted it that way. It got me angry enough that I donated to the Dian Fossey fund to help preserve Mountain Gorillas, which was a cause Douglas Adams was passionately involved in and which he really would have wanted me to contribute to. I felt better after that, but I was still annoyed at those harpies, so I wrote a second tribute -- this time for the In Nomine mailing list, couching it in heavenly terms:

"It's what, then?"

The Cherub looked perturbed. She had been looking perturbed for most of the day, he had noticed. He suspected it had something to do with the dog tag around her neck -- the one that said 'Judgement' with what looked like a little cloak around it. That wasn't the oddity of the Cherub looking perturbed -- not at all. No, the oddity was that she was an oversized lioness (a species not known for their smallness even where he had originally come from) with what seemed to be a twenty-four foot wingspan, and yet gave off the same musty essence of a rather old, rather crotchety, rather annoying librarian he'd once been exposed to during Second Year for months at a time. Said librarian had the uncanny ability to seem both put out and affronted at the same time, in much the same way she had the ability to wear the same grey skirt and white starched blouse for twenty-four straight years without once considering 'fashion' or 'taste.'

"I've told you," she said, finally. "It's called a Cadre. For... well, souls."

"Like me," he said. He hadn't quite gotten the hang of being a soul. He'd just gotten around to getting the hang of the exercised in the first place. Getting the hang of said cycle being his passage into the world beyond was rather more difficult, he was finding.

"Precisely." She wrinkled her nose. "They write, too."



"Dead writers."


He looked distant, for a moment. "I expect they've gotten rather more popular as a result."

The Cherub sighed. With the Archangel of Creation off doing He know's what in He know's where, the blessed souls that ordinarily would have been processed by his organization were generally being shuffled about to other organizations as need be. The Most Just had suggested she handle this one, as he'd reviewed her last Triad report and remarked dryly that she must have quite a sense of humor to think it was complete and accurate. She hadn't been punished before now. She now understood what just punishment was, in this case. "Look. They're a Cadre of blessed souls of you writers -- the more fanciful ones, mostly -- and they go out and do good things on Heaven's behalf. I thought you might be interested."

"Good things?" The soul looked puzzled again, and compensated for his sudden confusion by putting his hands in his dressing gown. (He hadn't complained about appearing at the Gates in a dressing gown. Oddly enough, it conformed to his sense of the appropriate.) "So... these dead writers are running off to the post for Heaven, picking up Chinese take out, walking the blessed pets and whatnot?"

The Cherub sighed again. "Look. You don't expect we'd send our revered Saints--"

He blinked again. "Saint? I thought I was a Soul."

"You are a Soul. But if you join up with the Cadre, you become a Saint when you go back down to Earth and--"

"Would I need one of those halos? Or for that matter, would I have to go and perform three miracles? I'm not sure I can -- I'm a fair hand at juggling, if I have enough gin to soften me up, but--"

"No," the Cherub said intently. "You do not need to perform miracles. You would go down to Earth and fight demons alongsi--"

"Um... pardon. But... did you say fight demons?"


"I'd rather think my fighting a demon would be a miracle, don't you?"

The Cherub was well aware of the standing restrictions on what the Heavenly Host could and could not say to the Blessed Souls of those who met their Destiny. The Archangel of the Sword was quite clear on that, and the Most Just was quite clear on his support of the Archangel of the Sword. In fact, the Cherub had been directly responsible for chastising, judging and punishing no less than thirty-three separate Angels of Choirs ranging from Ofanim to Kyriotates for uncouth and disturbing language and attitudes with the Blessed. She was quite good at it, really. So, she took yet another deep breath, indulged in yet another sigh, and turned back to the Blessed. "Yes. It would. We would teach you combat miracles before you went, you see."

"So... I do have to perform three miracles to be a Saint."

"No, you sodding well do no--" She paused, took yet another deep breath, forgoed the sigh, and said. "It is optional, of course. You really should discuss it with Saint Robert if you're interested."

"Mm. Perhaps. Though for right now... well, I feel most terribly embarrassed to ask--"

"No no," the Cherub said, her bearing screaming the depths of the inconvenience this simian in the dressing gown was putting her to. "No no, this is Heaven. Your eternal reward. Please. Feel free to ask anything."

"Well... might I get a cup of tea? I'm feeling rather lost without it."

The Cherub took rather a long pause. Deciding a good sigh would feel lovely right about now, she took it. "Of course. Anything else?"

"Well... perhaps...." The soul considered, and decided. His sense of the appropriate was being bent into different shapes by all this, and as his sense of the practical was about used up from the entire experience of death, he gave it free rein. "I could really use a towel."

"A... towel?"

"Yes. It would make me feel ever so much better."

The Cherub discovered she had absolutely nothing she could say to that. In fact, it was so far out of her experience that she found herself doing the only thing she could. She said, in a clear, almost conciliatory voice, "right... this way, sir."

The soul smiled a touch. He could see he would get along fine here, so long as he could get a cup of tea and a towel. Though really, the place needed a better way to convey information about who and where he was.

Then again, perhaps he'd write one. He was known for guides, and he expected he'd have the time.

It felt good to write that last one. I feel like I got the voice mostly right, at least. Either way, it restored a sense of perspective. Perhaps that open content site and those vultures who run it are truly loathsome, but if Douglas Adams had written Arthur Dent in a similar situation, the same thing would have happened. "A beloved icon has fallen -- so why don't you do what he'd want you to do and give your money to me, Gav Sparkwite, care of the Ministry of Personal Development, Number Four, Churchill." See, it wasn't a question of writing about space, or androids, or holistic detectives that made Douglas Adams revered. It was writing about mildly embarrassed, terminally polite, generally British people being put into absurd situations and being unable to just tell the situation to sod off.

I'll miss him.

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