Huey Bluetooth

I had a terrible dream this morning, terrible in that it was a complete and completely do-able idea for a science fiction story that would also fall directly in line with the very kind of crap I can’t stand. I can already see the cute little stuffed versions of my main creature all lined up in shelves at Disney or Pixar or Apple stores or wherever such garbage is sold. I can see refrigerator magnets, t-shirts, posters adorning little kids’ bedrooms and the visions won’t stop. They keep pouring in. I need to exorcise this idea, get it out of my head. Maybe if I write it down?

A few years ago I wrote a story called “Unwritten Rules of Impossible Things“, in which some undefined aliens inhabit the bodies of people in order to accomplish a task they could not achieve using their real bodies – because their real bodies sag and sink under the Earth’s gravity. What they build is a way to get the fuck off this planet, on which it seems they had arrived by mistake or by accident. Almost nothing is known about the creatures because the story is told from the point of view of one of the young boys who happens to get caught in the middle of the action, lured to a mysterious “ghost house” in order to get a better view of the alien goings-on. Kind of a fun story. It was based on a house on my street where the owner, apparently an avid hunter, keeps an enormous stuffed African Kudu Bull in his bedroom, which made us curious as we walked by, which is exactly how the boys got themselves into the mess in the story.

So this new story, the one that came to me in a dream, is about the creatures. It’s a different story – not the gravity/getaway plot – in which they (there are two of these creatures) are in reality very very large but have the ability to shrink into a human-sized body. And the necessity. They have to fit in, otherwise they are quite visible and very vulnerable. One of their vulnerabilities is that they can’t help giving themselves away. They are susceptible to wifi remote commands which make their bodies change color, like a Philips Hue “smart” light bulb. In their natural state they look like rounded cubes, mainly white but dark grey around the sides (the stuffed versions on sale at Disney are very Minion-like) with friendly smiley faces which conceal their true emotions. Those emotions are expressed by their colors – White being their natural state of being contemptuous, sarcastic, superior and smug.

The story is of course about fitting in and getting along, growing and changing, accepting and coming to terms with humanity, while absorbing the happy-go-lucky, optimistic and kind nature of their one true friend, the human youth who helps them out (I’m undecided on gender, etc .. of this human so far). The youth did not explicitly appear in the dream, nor did the creature’s companion, though they were both implied in the very nature of the story. The youth will also have a companion, some acutely defined counterpart, worldly to his or her innocence, sharp to his or her dimness, dark to his or her light. The main creature, protagonist if you will, was named Hue in the dream  – the perfect commercial crossover, sponsored by Philips, integrated with the vast Internet of Things via bluetooth, which leads to comical misadventures in which various “smart” household appliances inadvertently cause Hue to change colors under comical circumstances (disclaimer: I currently work in this field, and it’s seriously aggravating).

I hate this story already. It’s a good thing I’m in a non-writing mode – I haven’t written a thing all year and am planning (hoping) to make 2016 the first year in over a decade without writing anything.

I don’t want to write.

Especially not this story.

At least not until I can figure out how to make it something truly evil.

 

Plotting By Numbers

I wish it wasn’t so annoying that the utterly predictable is often so utterly satisfying. I say this after watching the first season of the British police drama ‘Happy Valley’. Good writing, sure. Good acting, sure. People calling each other “scrotes” – awesome! Plotting by numbers – absolutely. There were practically no scenes in these six episodes that couldn’t have been drawn out of a hat by a deaf, dumb and blind lover of crime fiction. Will the child be endangered? You betcha. Will the hero have a meltdown and tear off her stripes? Of course she will. Will the bad guys all be punished and the victims come through coping well enough? You’d better believe it.

I was browsing through one of the few truly excellent bookstores still standing in the Bay Area yesterday (Moe’s in Berkeley – there aren’t many left) and stood amazed before the used ‘mystery’ section which was filled with classics of the genre, from Simenon to Jim Thompson to Chandler and Hammett and the many, many others who have been copied and pasted and copied and pasted down through the decades to surprisingly still effective results. Those guys plotted the hell out of the numbers, too!

It works. Of course it does, the same way a perfectly catch pop tune gets you tapping your feet. It’s infuriating but you can’t go arguing with it. They’re throwing a strike down the middle every time. Who doesn’t love the thing that just works? Even though you know that many try and few succeed although they are ALL trying to do exactly the same thing! How many crime dramas are there on the telly? How many of them are really the same? Almost all, and yet, I don’t know, maybe it’s the pallette itself. Maybe plotting by numbers comes down to the numbers themselves, like a lucky winning lottery ticket. There’s nothing special about 8, 23, 19, 47, 75 except when they happen to win somebody millions of dollars.

Plotting by numbers is guaranteed success, as long as you’re plotting with the right ones.

 

Reissued: In Constant Contact

Sometimes I write. Sometimes I revise. Lately I’ve been on a revision jag, first with Humanoid Central, and now In Constant Contact. This one didn’t need too much. It was actually somewhat better than I remembered it. It’s available for free, as always, from Smashwords, Feedbooks, and the iBookstore.

The not-so-good folks at World Weary Avengers are at it again. Now they’ve come up with a device that keeps you in continual contact with a “professional friend”, someone guaranteed to always be there, whenever you need them, to be whatever you need them to be. Now it’s up to Kandhi Clarke and her team of test engineers to make sure if does what it’s supposed to, and not what it’s not, before this latest tech-astrophe is let loose on the world.

Next up will be some proof-reading and probably new covers for the Snapdragon Alley series.

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Split Screen Fiction

It’s been a reality for some time now that billions of people all around the world spend a great deal of time in constant contact with the people they want to be communicating with, in contrast to the actual living breathing people who happen to be near them. It’s a different sort of socio-geographic reality. Rather than bemoaning the fact that the so-and-so’s “are always on their cellphones”, the contemporary fiction- (and screen-) writer needs to find a way to depict this reality, but how?

In “old-style” video you’d see a split screen when two people were talking on the phone to each other. More recently the movie “Unfriended” showed a multiple split screen as friends were chatting via Skype and iMessaging each other. That came closer, but as I watch my teenage son go about his day he is communicating with many more friends than could be visually depicted via split screen.

In an early metafiction masterpiece that drove people mad, J.R. by William Gaddis presented a myriad of concurrent conversations un-besmirched by the bother of quotation marks or identifying who was speaking at any given moment, and to the readers who managed to immerse themselves in this stream it soon became quite obvious who was talking from the content and the context, but you had to lose yourself quite completely in it to get there. It seemed like the modern world to me.

Every day those of us who live or work in big cities are surrounded by large numbers of strangers all busy with their own lives, connected to their own worlds and their own people. We have to filter out nearly all of it. It can’t be captured or presented in any easy way, because it really is overwhelming to the senses. If we were to trace the paths of everybody on the morning train with us, and not in depth but as superficially as we experience them, the result would be a waxy buildup of transient glimpses, a parade of momentary guest appearances by a cast of millions soon enough.

To the young members of the new Generation Z (I just learned this term – we love our labels) the layered geography of social networking is their ether. They don’t see themselves as detached from the present – on the contrary, their reality is more than what’s right in front of their noses, it’s also what’s in front of the noses of all their constant contacts. Their eyes and ears are extended through the (also heavily filtered) senses of their friends, so that not only are their friends present in their world, but they are also present in all of those other worlds too.

In a fiction that captures some of this you would need to have the protagonists followed by a swarm of ghosts everywhere they go, all chipping in from time to time, and they doing the same right back. No one would be experiencing anything alone. There would be a running commentary, not externally like the “chorus” of ancient drama, but concurrently and omnipresently, remarking and advising, questioning and consulting.

One technology that may emerge at some point (via smart phones) would be the ability to “subscribe” to someone else’s personal life, via live audio, video and/or transcription, so that subscribers would know more than what you deign to text to snapchat  or whatsapp or imessage, but they will be there with you, following along, witnessing step by step, and you with them whenever you felt like checking their feed.

Apple’s Siri , Amazon’s Elexa and  Android’s ‘Ok Google’ are already there, listening to everything going on around you, waiting to hear their magic words. It’s not a stretch to realize they could easily be transferring all of it – not only to the NSA (of course!) but also to your friends, colleagues, bosses, customers, audience, or anyone who may care to tap into your world. It will be more than following on Facebook or Twitter. Call it “iProximity, the Next Best Thing to Being There”.

(This reminds me of a story I once wrote called The Following, where a narrator-in-training stalked a protagonist to try and figure out what the story was going to be)

Anyway, the immersive experience of constant contact presents challenges for fiction, which is more and more being left behind in its depiction of true experience. Just as in television and movies you almost never see people talking over each other, even though we do it all the time, in fiction it’s hard to depict the myriad influences coming and going asynchronously and continually throughout the modern connected person’s day.

 

3 is the new 4

All my dreams have now come true, my prayers have been answered, the good lord took pity on me and granted me this one desire – to see my books achieve the absolute average rating on Goodreads. Three point Oh!

Some time ago I built a web-site that automatically assigns random ratings to random “things” it scrapes off the internet, including businesses, products, places, people, concepts and ideas. What happened is math – the law of averages. Almost everything circles the three point oh drain given a large enough sample size. I’m not saying the exact same thing happened here with Goodreads, but it does seem that there is a law of averages that applies in certain cases – when random people randomly read random books and rate them it should be no surprise that the extreme reactions balance each other out.

I’m also not implying that there are an equal number of die-hard Trump and Bernie supporters and the end result is likely to be Hillary. Or am I?

Anyway, my theory on Goodreads is that single-issue candidates – er, I mean authors who write to specific genre standards – are likely to have higher or lower average ratings based on how well their books meet the expectations of the specific genre readers they target. The people who like to read 17th Century Highland Scottish Romance novels are not a random representation of the general reading public. They’re rating of your version of such a novel will be highly reflective of the perceived quality of that work within that scope. Within micro-genres it is not at all unusual to find average ratings trending either  to the 4’s or the 2’s.

Politicians know this very well, and play to a targeted audience. You’ll often find Bernie on college campuses, Trump at NASCAR rallies and Hillary in African-American churches.

My books don’t meet the expectations of the readers all that well. This is clear. Most of their average ratings are between 2.9 and 3.2, and the aggregate had been hovering just below 3.0 for years. I wondered if it would ever reach that perfect middle. It may only last a day, so I’m celebrating while I can.

Thanks to all the raters, even the haters. A see-saw is a useless toy when only one side is occupied.

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