Step Over, Step Into

Good debuggers allow you to “step over” or “step into” code as needed. There are some programming languages (I’m looking at you, Scala) where “stepping in” is really asking for it! It’s not only turtles all the way down, it’s an incomprehensible and infinite regression into the void.

Fiction, as a rule, “steps over” a lot more than it “steps into”. This is one reason why time never really works in fiction. In fiction, nobody goes to the bathroom, nobody sleeps, and people never talk at the same time as each other. In fiction, cause leads directly to effect, and usually it’s a childhood trauma that explains every thing that ever goes wrong.

I’m thinking about this because I’m toying with some ideas for a new short novel. One of the ideas is the common SF gambit of a “deep space” colonization mission. The humans are in stasis. The voyage may last for a century or more. Alpha Centauri is a long ways away!

Such stories step right over all that. They kind of have to. It would be incredibly boring to slog through a century or more of humans in stasis, eh? The longest I’ve ever seen it linger over it was in the movie ‘Alien’. Maybe a whole three minutes if I remember correctly.

Idea number two is related – just how incredibly vulnerable we are when we are asleep. Again, this is something that fiction generally steps right over. Who wants to see a lot of snoring, right?

Yet there are interesting experiments conducted on sleepers. The science of sleep can be fascinating. Scientists are now also beginning to be able to re-created images from people’s minds through equipment and software.

Sleepers in stasis, dozing away for a century or more. How much could be learned from them, about them, in that period of time, by some diligent observer/scientist!

Especially if that observer was a machine, or machines, programmed to learn, to learn all they can about humans.

What might such machines step into? What might they learn, and what might they do?

The novel would take place mostly – or maybe even entirely – during the period when the humans are in stasis.

BeRated is not Peeple

For one thing, we haven’t raised millions of dollars! Peeple is a new service where people rate other people. BeRated is superficially similar, although on BeRated you can rate anything whatsoever, including people. Differences include:

On BeRated, everyone is anonymous

On BeRated, there are no comments allowed, simply ratings

On BeRated, you are not the product. Your data is not collected, stored or sold. BeRated does not know who you are and does not care

Already there are concerns about bullying, especially on Peeple, where identities are confirmed, and comments are allowed. BeRated is 100% total bullshit (it may even say so on the front page) so there’s no need to feel bullied. People who give other people low ratings are assholes. Simple as that.

but it’s like I always say, nowadays you can still be ahead of your time, but only by a matter of minutes

A General Drama of Pain

Historical Fiction has a lot in common with Science Fiction, especially now, the more remote our present reality becomes from the past, I am continually reminded of William Gibson’s declaration that “the past is more difficult to imagine than the future”.

I just finished reading The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy and it might as well have been science fiction. The world of grain merchants in early 19th century England is as foreign to me as any made-up world. Hardy’s language is full of slang and terminology that are utterly meaningless to me as a 21st Century urban American, and yet the conclusion is as familiar as any TV show, as he sums up the novel by saying that “happiness [is] but the occasional episode in a general drama of pain”.

It’s a fine soap opera, as good as anything currently acclaimed in this “golden age of television” – lots of intrigue, surprises, coincidences, shocks, cruelty both intentional and not, good things happening to bad people and bad things happening to good. It could win an Emmy award for “general drama”.

He has a passage describing two bridges in the town, one nearer to the center than the other, at which different unhappy people go to contemplate suicide, even this being a part of life divided by class and circumstance, and how fantasies are particularly correlated to realities:

“There and thus they would muse; if their grief were the grief of oppression they would wish themselves kings; if their grief were poverty, wish themselves millionaires; if sin they would wish they were saints or angels; if despised, love, that they were some much-courted Adonis of country fame”

I once had an odd encounter that has stuck with me for decades. I was walking to work one day, hating my job, when a homeless madman stopped me on the street, blocking my way, insisting on showing me what he had in his brown paper bag. He then told me that when I got to work I should get a Bible and got to a passage in Ecclesiastes. I wondered how many people’s jobs have Bibles handy, or how he knew – if he did know – that I worked in a bookstore (I later considered that as a homeless madman wandering the streets with nothing else to do he had probably seen me there at work at some point and it wasn’t just a random stoppage on the street but that he knew who I was and had planned this intervention). The passage reads: “Of the making of many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.”

Ain’t it the truth. Every day there were more and more books coming out, the hits don’t stop, it all never stops … In my RSS feed I’m continually informed about “the five best songs we heard this week” or “the twelve books you absolutely have to read now” or “the ten best places in the world to visit this year” or some such onslaught of newer, better and best.

It was rather comforting to read The Mayor of Casterbridge, a book not newer, not constantly touted, not celebrated in any list, but just a d—– fine novel (as he would have put it)

Be Rated! Beta version live now, testers and feedback wanted

Ever wish there was an utterly pointless website where you could see 1-5 star ratings of everything and everyone in the whole wide world. No comments, no snark, no attitude, no accounts, no passwords, no personal data being gobbled up for resale by heartless, gutless hipsters!

Just pure 100% all-natural ratings of stuff

All kinds of stuff

Please check it out:

We’d love to hear what you think of it. It’s supposed to be brain-dead simple, no frills, but it’s software so there are bound to be bugs and we want to fix them!

Thanking you in advance

The System

How to Be Rated

I recently wrote a couple of stories based on a dream I had, in which my younger brother had invented a system of perpetually rating everyone and everything in the world. The stories were a couple of variations on the theme, and it was my intention to write either more stories or a longer novella based on the idea. Instead, I have gone ahead and programmed the novel.

I have built the System.

I will soon unleash it on the unsuspecting world, where I strongly suspect it will languish in the same obscurity as its author. Correction, it will THRIVE in the same obscurity!

The app is called “Be Rated” and it will allow anyone, anywhere, at any time, to rate anyone or anything in the world. In the dream (and stories) the system rated from zero to one hundred, but in the app, mirroring the real world, the System uses the familiar 5 star ratings, complete with little gold stars to choose from.

The System will overcome some of the biggest peeves I personally have:

  1. You can rate the same things over and over again. The System will display historical data along with the averages (both personal and universal). In the real world now, you can only rate something once, but what it if you liked it one day and hated it the next? There is no room for that in the current universe. The System solves this problem.
  2. You can find all the ratings for all the things in one place – The System. No longer do you have to go to Amazon or Yelp or Google or Goodreads or ITunes or SoundCloud etc to find ratings of various things. All things are rated all the time in the same one place.
  3. It’s so easy, anyone can do it, and best of all, there is no required Sign In, no Accounts, no Passwords, no Personal Data of any kind (required, that is. You will be able to sign in with third party accounts if you want to be able to view your own personal rating history).
  4. It should drive the whole world even more fucking crazy than it already is, because for the first time, People will be rated as well as Products, Businesses, and Places. That’s right. And not only People (meaning You – You will be rated!) but anything at all. Concepts can be rated. That’s right. You can give “Free Will” two stars if you want because really, is Free Will all it’s cracked up to be? Personally, I’ve been somewhat disappointed.
  5. If you think people are obsessing over their smart phones now, just wait until they are addicted to checking the ratings of their own personhood.
  6. There used to be no God but God, but soon there will be two: God, and the System
  7. Your welcome very much

(The stories are here: The System, Out of My System)

Speechifying with Mr. Robot

I just had to reprint this monologue courtesy of Christian Slater on the season finale of Mr. Robot:

Is any of it real? Look at it. A world built on fantasy. Synthetic emotions in the form of pills. Psychological warfare in the form of advertising. Mind-altering chemicals in the form of food. Mind-washing seminars in the form of media. Control isolated bubbles in the form of social networks. You want to talk about reality? We haven’t lived in anything remotely close to it since the turn of the century. They turned it off, took off the batteries, snacked on a bag of GMOs while we tossed the remnants in the ever-expanding Dumpster of the human condition. Living in branded houses, trademarked by corporations. Built on bipolar numbers, jumping up and down on digital displays. Hypnotizes us into the biggest slumber mankind has ever seen. You have to dig pretty deep, kiddo, before you can find anything real.

Bipolar numbers! zeroes and ones.

The Ghost with the Really Big Ones: A short story

The Ghost with the Really Big Ones

This is a true story. I swear it on my grandmother’s tomb. At least I think it’s true, and I would swear it on my grandmother’s tomb if I had any idea where it was, or even if she has one. We never talked much, granny and me. I’ll take the blame for that. After all, when she died I was only two months old and not able to add much to any conversation, let alone a chat with a ninety-eight year old lady. Then no one ever told me much about her, like where she was buried or maybe she was cremated and they sprinkled her ashes somewhere special. All I ever had of granny was an old photograph of when she was young. She was a pretty girl.. A very pretty girl. The kind of girl who never has a chance to be anything else than that very pretty girl everybody was always saying she was, the same kind of girl this story is about.

This girl’s name was Gloria Gatusso and she died when she was only seventeen. Hit by a car, just like that. One day she was walking down the street, minding her own business, attracting all the usual attention she drew whenever she went anywhere or did anything. The next thing you know, this red pickup truck came careening across the lanes, right up on to the sidewalk, smashing her into the big glass window of Sam’s Coffee Shop. She died instantly, everybody said. Never felt a thing. And it was a damn shame, they all agreed, because she was such a pretty girl, a very pretty girl with really big boobs. Oh, and such a nice girl too. Everybody liked her. Everyone. She always had a smile and a kind word on her lips and it was said she was the same girl at seventeen as she’d been at seven, as she’d been at two months old – the most beautiful and the sweetest baby ever born. You could never get too far into a conversation about Gloria without her beauty taking over. It was her shadow and reflection, and it followed her everywhere, even after her death.

It was only a few weeks after “the accident” that the first reports began to circulate. She’d been seen. She was still there. At Sam’s Coffee Shop, in the window, and she was gorgeous and smiling and happy. The young man who first reported this vision had never known Gloria in life, or even heard of her. He’d been walking down the street when he saw this apparition and, startled, stopped and stood gaping at her. She was looking right at him and he turned around to see if there was someone else behind him she might have been looking at, but there wasn’t. He turned around again, and she was gone. Curious, he went inside and asked about the girl he’d just seen in the window. Sam, the crusty and greasy old bastard who ran the place, shook his head and grumbled he didn’t know what the guy was talking about. There was no pretty girl, no girl at all in the window, or in the diner itself for that matter. There were only a few old drunks nursing lukewarm coffees and stale breakfast rolls. The young man described the girl in great detail, not neglecting to mention her rather large breasts, of course, as well as her mane of very blond hair, those big blue eyes and bright red lips, the light blue sun dress that clung very nicely to her body and the white leather pumps on her feet.

Sounds like the girl that got crushed”, one of the drunks at the counter piped up.

She had big tits too”, another one added.

Aw, shut up,” Sam groused. He hated to be reminded of that as he still hadn’t collected any insurance money and was out a couple grand from his own pocket for the window replacement.

The other drunk was the late Gloria’s father and he didn’t take kindly to those comments. He stood up and mumbled something or other before crashing to the floor.

Go on,” Sam waved at the young man, “Get the hell out of here and don’t even say anything about this. Last thing I need is a stupid fucking ghost story. As if business isn’t bad enough already.”

The young man left, but didn’t honor Sam’s wishes. Instead, he went straight to that small town’s local newspaper office and asked to speak to someone about an accident involving a young woman and that coffee shop. I was that someone he spoke to.

His name was Willis P. Armstrong and he’d come out from Pasadena. He said he was some sort of agent (I was never clear what kind exactly) who was scouting (for what I never knew). He told me the exact story I have just related to you about him, and I told him what I knew about Gloria Gattuso and her unfortunate demise. I showed him the photo we’d posted of her on the front page that fateful afternoon, and he declared it was definitely the same girl he saw in the window.

You’ve got yourself a ghost, pal,” he told me as he left. “You ever need any help with that, you get in touch. I know some people who know some people,” he added, handing me his card. With that, Willis P. Armstrong left the building. I just chuckled, idiot that I was. Of course I didn’t believe a word of it. Ghosts are fairy tales, remnants of a primitive stage of human development, from back when no one really knew anything about science or the real world and how it actually works. That’s what I told myself, anyway.

But Willis P. Armstrong was not the last person to see the ghost of Gloria Gattuso. He was only the first. The next report came just a few days later, and after that the stories started flying faster and faster. It wasn’t only young men who saw her. Lots of men reported seeing her, men of all ages and conditions. Curiously, very few girls or women were ever eyewitnesses. Even when accompanying men and boys who claimed they were seeing Gloria right then and there, the girls and women with them saw nothing but the already rather dirty (though brand new) glass window fronting the formerly deserted Sam’s Coffee House. Now the business was booming, as all these men started coming to try and catch a glimpse of the ghost with the really big ones. So alluring was the apparition that they were willing to brave the swill Sam served, even ordering the “steakums and dishwater” that passed for the soup of the day in that place.

The men would sit on the counter stools or on the rickety chairs by the greasy tables, hoping to catch a glimpse of the specter, even if only her backside were visible from that angle. And it was indeed her backside that showed to the interior of the diner, for she kept her front to the street, facing the adoring audience on the sidewalk. The local beat cops had their hands full moving the people along and forcing them to either go into Sam’s or get lost. Visiting hours became a regular thing within weeks, as Gloria tended to appear around ten in the morning (when she’d been killed) or four in the afternoon (when the light shone in just such a way on the storefront). This is when unusual numbers of grown men began taking a break from their jobs and sauntering down to Main Street, just in case. Wives and girlfriends were not at all amused, and a number of relationships suffered because of the dead girl.

She was always the same, smiling, eyes twinkling, and seeming to look straight into the eyes of everyone who watched her, yet at the same time not really looking at anyone at all. It was the attention she seemed to love. Her face glowed with the sensation of one who is being adored. That twinkle in her eyes was from her soul soaking it all in, like a queen on her throne, like a princess at a ball in her honor. Traffic stopped. Crowds gathered. All eyes turned to Sam’s at those genuinely bewitching hours, as the girl in the window absorbed all their leers and stares and longings. Most curious of all was the silence. It was almost ceremonial how they stood around and gaped, as if they were seeing a vision of the Virgin Mary carved into a pancake. Their thoughts were unspoken, but were really, really vulgar for the most part. Those men were getting ideas.
Sam couldn’t take it any more. He hated all the attention and he hated all the so-called customers because he was used to loafing and living off his little nest egg and not giving a shit about the business. Then there was the fact that he couldn’t even see the girl. For some reason he, alone among all men, it seemed, was unable to see the hot dead babe in his own goddamn window! He resented it, and he hated it, and he was determined to see the end of it. One day when I just happened to be passing by, he threw himself at me and begged me for help.

You got to do something, Charlie,” he whined. “I got to get rid of this thing. What am I gonna do? What can I do? You know the world. You can help, am I right?”

I don’t know, Sam,” I counseled him. “Let me think about it.”

After a brief, personal viewing, I went back to my office and thought about what Sam had asked. It was true. I did know the world. I could help. I hadn’t forgotten what Willis P. Armstrong had told me, and I still had his card. The problem was, I didn’t want a solution. I liked seeing Gloria there. She really was super pretty, and those bazooms! Mother of God! But what if she was a soul in torment, as ghosts are supposed to be? What if she needed my help as much as Sam did, what then? I tried to convince myself I was doing the right thing. Besides, my wife was getting just a little bit suspicious of my lame-ass coffee break excuses. I had my own reasons too.

I called Willis P. Armstrong. At first he couldn’t stop laughing as I explained our dilemma.

So you want to lose the hottie,” he finally exclaimed. “All right. I know just the right person. I’ll have her get in touch with you.”

Oh no, I thought, not another woman! Weren’t they already the problem? But I didn’t say this. I simply agreed. I thanked him, and I held my breath. I didn’t have long to wait. Before an hour was up, the phone rang and it was someone who called herself Amelia Lightning Bug – apparently she was some kind of a Native American healer of some stripe.

I can help you,” Amelia let me know. “I’ll drive up to your town in the morning. This I got to see for myself!”

I don’t know if you’ll be able to,” I replied. “Most females can’t see her, I mean ‘it’”.

Oh, I won’t have any trouble,” she insisted. “I’m a certified professional, you know.”

I told her I had no idea you could get certifications in such matters, but she either didn’t hear me or decided to ignore me. In any case, she just hung up the phone.

Amelia arrived impossibly early the next morning, showing up at my apartment before six although I had never even given her the address. I had told her where I worked, not where I lived, but there she was, ringing the doorbell over and over until I finally had to get up and let her in just so the neighbors wouldn’t give me trouble. She was a short, stumpy lady of indeterminate age or origin. I could not have told you what corner of the planet she came from, only that it was likely a dark and dingy one. She was dressed in layers and layers of black lace, even her dirty black cowboy hat draped in the stuff, and she had a cluster of blue and green beads that jangled around her neck and made a sort of clattering sound whenever she took a step in those grungy black boots on her feet.

She came into the apartment sniffing very rudely, wrinkling her nose as if I was steeped in pig shit or something. She had tiny black spots where a normal person had eyes, and a crinkly sort of voice when she spoke that made you feel like spiders were dropping onto your head.

When’s the first showing,” she asked me point blank. I told her about the schedule, and she informed me that we’d better get going, there was no time to lose. She had a lot of preparatory work to get done. I wanted to shower and shave and go through my usual motions, but Amelia had no patience for this and insisted that I throw on some sneakers and jeans and get my ass down to the street where her pea-green VW van was waiting. She practically pushed me into the passenger seat of the thing, after first waving her arms around in a pretense of clearing off the used tissues and wrappers that were strewn all over the vehicle. Now I was the one sniffing loudly and rudely and holding my breath as she hopped onto the driver’s seat and somehow reaching the pedals managed to pull the death trap away from the curb and down into town.

Somehow she already knew where Sam’s Coffee Shop was. I figured she’d already scoped out the joint, but was later to learn she had a kind of virtual map in her head, a map that was instantly filled in with whatever she needed to know at any given moment. She informed me it was merely a matter of “inviting” the truth to enter your mind, while saving a place for it at the table, or something like that. Amelia was a talker, and a fast talker too. During the ten minute drive down to Sam’s she must have related at least a hundred five episodes, each of which had some direct and crucial bearing on the matter at hand, yet none of which I could recall by the time we arrived.

Sam’s was not open yet. It was barely six-thirty and he didn’t open until seven on a good day, eight when he’d afforded himself a nice bottle the previous night. Amelia wasn’t interested in Sam. She was focused on the sidewalk in front of the window. She paced back and forth, back and forth until she’d determined in her mind the exact route the red pickup truck had taken when it flew off the road, and the exact spot where Gloria had been standing when it struck her, and the path her body had taken from that place to the window to the fact of her death. Amelia marked all of these locations with some kind of stains that were taken from little brown bottles she pulled from some pockets inside of her layers. She made dots with these colors, and lines and occasional swirls. The she brought out some matches and, lighting each one in its turn, set the markings on fire and they burst into momentary rainbows of flame, each with its own special scent.

The whole thing was creepy, like witchcraft. I was worrying about the cops showing up and busting us for some kind of conduct or something, but Amelia wasn’t the least bit concerned. She went through this whole routine in a calm businesslike manner as if it were the most normal behavior in the world. It took her about thirty minutes to finish her “work”. Then she rested.

Where’s some decent espresso around here?” she wanted to know, so I took her a couple blocks down to the better cafe. She chatted for a whole other hour without me paying the slightest attention to what she was saying, and without her deigning to answer the questions I put to her, like what was she doing and why. After this session, in which she downed a lot of caffeine, she told me it was time to get back to the scene of the crime. She intended to stake out the best real estate and make sure we got the spot.

That was easy. Everyone knew that Gloria appeared around ten, so it was no use getting there much earlier. Most of the earliest guys started claiming their spots around nine-thirty, and Amelia and I were there a whole hour before then. During that time, she didn’t say much, just picked out a stance and stuck to it stubbornly while I shifted around uncomfortably looking around to see who was seeing me being there with her. I generally tried to come off all casual about my own Gloria ogling. I mean, she was good-looking and all, but still, at seventeen she was still considered legally a minor so you had to be conscious of that and not drool too heavily, and you didn’t want to give the impression that your hands could be anywhere they should never publicly be.

By a quarter of ten, the sidewalk was pretty much full, with at least thirty men of all ages gathered around, and Amelia in the very front square. A lot of the guys gave each other looks, muttered a bit and pointed at her. As the crowd grew it was easier for me to pretend I had no idea who the crazy-looking tiny woman was, and when Gloria appeared, everyone focused on her and forgot Amelia was even there. It was a warm sunny morning and Gloria looked absolutely radiant in her sun dress. Her hair was golden rays and her eyes were like sparkling dew. Okay. Never mind about that. She was there and as always both highly conscious and completely oblivious of all the attention her presence received.

The sun seemed to shine twice as bright as normal, causing the ghostly reflection to shimmer with a sort of magnification I had never noticed before, and then I realized why. I don’t know how I even noticed, so entranced was I with the face (and all right, I admit it, the chest) of the ghost, but somehow my attention was diverted to Amelia and I saw she was holding up something, a square piece of something with both of her hands, and aiming it directly at Gloria. Peeking around her shoulder I saw that it was a mirror, and as I looked up I saw that Gloria had turned her face towards it, and was now seeing her own reflection within it.

Amelia began to sing, at first softly and in some odd kind of language, then louder and more closely resembling words that I thought I might understand but didn’t. I have no idea what she was chanting. It was if she was speaking in our language but a version from far into the future or far from the past, familiar but utterly different. And then she stopped as abruptly as she had begun, and Gloria raised her gaze up to Amelia’s face, and instead of the old familiar twinkle there were new questions in her eyes, and Amelia spoke to her, softly, and this time in a language we could all hear and understand.

This is what THEY see,” Amelia told her, gesturing first towards the ghost and then towards the mirror, in a steady, patient flow.

This is what THEY see, and this is what they THINK they see. This is what THEY know, and this is what they THINK they know. But this is who YOU are, and this is who you THINK you are. This is what you WERE, and this is what they THOUGHT you were. This is what’s WITHIN you, and this is what THEY think there is.”

Gloria watched, her eyes shifting from Amelia’s face to the mirror as she spoke those words, and what Gloria saw in either place, no one will ever know, but we saw the expression on her face grow solemn, and puzzled, and more curious, perhaps, than it had ever been before either in her life or in her death.

Gloria’s mouth began to open, her lips parting as we’d never seen them do in all those appearances in all those days since the accident. She blinked. None of us could remember the ghost ever blinking before. Amelia continued to speak.

This is what I WAS, and this is what they THOUGHT I was. This is what I AM, and this is what they THINK I am. This is how I LOOKED, and this is how THEY saw me. This is how I look NOW, and this is how THEY see me now. This is what’s WITHIN me, and this is what THEY think I am. This is what’s within THEM and this is what they KNOW there is.”

Gloria gasped. Clearly she did, she gasped, and she looked startled and frightened and appalled. Amelia began to sing that song again, the song from all of time, and as she did so, she once again brought out her book of wooden matches and began to light them, one by one, and as she lit each one, she blew its flame gently towards the window and muttered some sort of incantation. She did this seven times, and then she looked directly into Gloria’s eyes, and Gloria looked directly into hers.

You are NOT your body,” Amelia said. “You never were. You are NOT your hair. You are NOT your face. You are NOT your legs. You are NOT your breasts. You are NOT the surface of your skin.”

I could have sworn I heard Gloria speak right then. In my head I heard her voice, or what I imagined it to be (for I had never known her when she was alive).

What AM I then?” she asked, and Amelia nodded, and replied.

You, like each of us, are one singular expression of an infinite complexity; one shade, one light, one moment, one truth. You are your SELF.”

Gloria formed a half a smile, a lovely smile, a smile with more joy than laughter, more happiness than pleasure, and then she faded from our view, never to be seen again.