“But it’s Science Fiction,” insists Charlie. He’s just handed Kurtzhau (12) a signed copy of the Atrocity Archives.
“No,” I say with a laugh. “It’s Horror – or at least it is as far as the school is concerned.”
A few days ago, Kurtzhau came home from school seething. “The teacher says it’s important to read outside your ‘comfort zone’!” He made sarcastic finger quotes and the word “crucial” hung in the air between us unspoken (but I bet somebody thought it).
The English department is getting the kids to keep score of the books they’ve read, with prizes and other extrinsic rewards I don’t approve of. Having finally graduated to adult SF, Kurtzhau is already an avid reader and so pulling ahead. Now, however, binging on one genre (Science Fiction) and a handful of series (Vorkosigan Saga and the more military Star Wars) isn’t good enough.
“Bugger that,” I said. “How about some Horror – I bet you’re old enough for Charlie’s Cthulhu stuff.”
So now we’re in the coffee shop with Charlie – Charles Stross.
Kurtzhau has always enjoyed hanging around while I have coffee with my creative mates – Charlie, animator Hugh Hancock, and sometimes Hannu Rajaneimi. Back when he was a pre-schooler, Kurtzhau loved our trips to the now defunct Blue Moon Cafe where he evolved from buggy-confined baby, to babyccino slurping toddler. Then school got in the way. However if we had a day off together, sometimes he’d say, “You could have coffee with your friends…if you like.” At first I thought he was after the epicurean hot chocolate (I’d like the Mexican WITH The Chilli please) . However, it soon became apparent that he liked listening to our conversations…
So now he’s an articulate junior geek, a year away from his first convention, and already using Halloween to dabble in Steam Punk cosplay.
The three of us – Charlie, me and Kurtzhau – sit amidst the hipsters and talk ideas and Science Fiction. At length we turn to the possible return of the Sword and Planet genre. I quite fancy designing a universe with both spaceships and sword fights.
Kurtzhau treats us to his rant on how to kill a Jedi; shotgun and grenades, mostly – Parry that! Charlie – if I remember right – wants to use bio weapons. I throw in the idea of unlit fuel-air explosive – Go on, Jedi, switch on your light sabre. And Kurtzhau wonders why nobody uses force powers simply to switch off the other guy’s weapon…
Then we contemplate literary Sword and Planet settings like Dune and Deathstalker which use velocity-limiting fields. Charlie proposes a pneumatic rapid-fire arrow thrower based on Chinese repeating crossbows. I say to hell with blades, I’d go into battle with a basket of rabid ferrets and just throw them at people.
At this point we’re having a lot of fun and the middle aged guys and the pre-teen are meeting somewhere in the middle…. well to be honest, more like somewhere near the lower end of the age range.
But how, we wonder, can you create a self-consistent setting where people with spaceships use swords?
“Ah,” says Charlie, “They don’t want to damage the spaceship when they fight.”
“Gas,” says Kurtzhau. “Darts. Stunners.”(At this point Charlie references the Evil Overlord Checklist.)
“Sod it,” I say. “I’ll just use some quasi-magic to do with life force.”
“You know me,” says Charlie. “I want to do it Mundane SF style.”
“But swords just don’t make sense without a cheat,” I say.
“They do!” exclaims Kurtzhau, now full of Mexican hot chocolate and possibly a little buzzed. “If the enemy spam you with Cheap Canon Fodder so you run out of ammo then a chainsword is PERFECT.”
“Yes,” I say, “But we’re trying to do an adventure story universe, not emulate Warhammer 40K. We want heroic sword duels as standard.”
“Wait!” says Charlie. “You have point defense lasers to take out out the incoming bullets. But the lasers can’t penetrate the armour…”
“So then you have to use swords!” I cry. “Big swords driven by your powered armour. Bingo!”
“No,” says Kurtzhau, “You mount the lasers on a Really Big Tank with a fu–Massive Gun.”
Yes, we briefly built a heroic Sword and Planet universe, and Kurtzhau has gone and turned it into a dystopia dominated by marauding nuclear-powered mega tanks.
Then Charlie gets out his iPad and shows Kurtzhau pictures of German WWII mega tanks and we fall to discussing their utility or not. Kurtzhau would rather have some T34s, I think.
So it is that at an age where most kids break your computer or wreck your carpet, my 12-year-old son broke our story world.
And here we must leave Kurtzhau, not quite come of age, but ready to control and project his own image.
I started dad-blogging back on LJ because I wanted everybody to know that parenting was not some Buffy-esque black hole from which people emerged after decades, grey and dried out, but rather a fun choice if you were up for it. I’ve also loved chronicling Kurtzhau’s joy in discovering books and history and gaming, and – to be honest – what proud parent doesn’t like talking about their child?
I may reminisce and he will feature in stories about my life. There will be stories about raising Morgenstern, his geeky rough-tough little sister. But this is chronologically the Last Ever Kurtzhau Entry. If you want to hear what happens next, then you’ll have to catch him at a con or over a gaming table and ask him yourself.
(I can, however, tell you that Kurtzhau read and enjoyed the first Laundry book and is now blitzing through Ernst Junger’s Storm of Steel. Next up is the first of Simon Scarrow’s Eagle series. Perhaps the school was right after all…)