How My Brain Ended Up On Audible.com

If you like audio books and also like science fiction, I’m happy to say that one of my own books is now on audible.com, and the narrator did a fantastic job with it. I have a few free promo codes so if you’re interested, let me know – first come first serve!

How My Brain Ended Up On Audible.com

HowMyBrain

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Audiobook, coming soon

I’ve got an audiobook coming soon from audible.com. I decided that “How My Brain Ended Up Inside This Box” was worth getting out there in a different way, and I was fortunate enough to find an excellent professional narrator to produce the book. I’ll be getting a few coupons for free versions of the audiobook which I can offer in exchange for bonafide reviews on the audible.com site. Anyone interested please shoot me an email (lichtenberg.tom@gmail.com) and I’ll see what I can do.

I’ve been listening to a lot of books through audible lately. Actual reading has been putting me to sleep (not the fault of the books, but due to cancer-related fatigue), but I still have a long commute every day, and audiobooks are filling that in quite nicely. I can recommend a few:

In Search of Lost Time (Dramatized) – by Marcel Proust – this 6 part, 6 hour BBC radio series was excellent. Loved it.

Harry Clarke – by David Cale – with Billy Crudup. Lots of fun.

Life – by Keith Richards – once you get past the Johnny Depp narration, the narrator who takes over is hilarious. Enough was enough, though, and I stopped about halfway through, around 1972 (after he talks about the show I actually went to, in Philadelphia, as a 15 year old superfan)

Barracoon – by Zora Neale Hurston – first-hand biography of the last living slave in the 1920’s, an extraordinary tale.

Natural Causes – by Barbara Ehrenreich – this book is having a huge effect on me, as an older person with cancer undergoing so many treatments it’s really getting to me. Am I old enough to die yet? When will I be old enough to die? And why not. Death is what happens to everything on this planet. It’s our way.

45,000 Lawns

When I was five years old I wanted to have a life’s work. I didn’t know what that meant. I just overheard my mother use that phrase. She said it as if it was something very valuable, something not many people possessed, only the very lucky few. She said she was not one of those people. As far as she could tell, she would spend the rest of her days doing other people’s laundry and taking out their trash. So I asked her, if you could have a life’s work, what would it be? She thought about it for a moment, and then said, you know? I can’t think of anything!

I was not happy with that answer. I was only five, and didn’t have much experience with the world, so I couldn’t think of anything either, but I decided right then and there to make it my mission to have a life’s work. I locked myself in my room and told myself I couldn’t have another pretzel until I’d thought of a life’s work of my own, and since I loved pretzels more than anything, you can tell I was really serious. I stared at the walls of my room. I stared at the floor. I stared at my toys. I looked out the window. That was when I had my big idea.

Lawns.

I grew up in a small city in the mid-west where everybody had a lawn, even the poorest of the poor had a small patch of something in their back yard, maybe it was only weeds, and maybe it was mostly broken cement, but they counted. Even my mom’s sorry excuse for a backyard counted for a lawn. I looked at that patch of dirt and dandelions and I said to myself, George? (my name is George). You are going to make that lawn count if it’s the last thing you do. But no, I said to myself. Not make the lawn count. Count the lawn! That’s the thing. I was going to count the lawns, every last lawn I ever encountered for as long as I lived.

I did not originally have a target number in mind. I thought maybe there were about a hundred lawns in the world, and at the time, one hundred was the biggest number I knew. I didn’t hesitate. I was never a dawdler. I ran right down the stairs and raced outside and started counting lawns.

It wasn’t enough to see them. I had to physically occupy them in one way or another, even if only for an instant. That’s how I came upon the strategy of “one step, one vote”. I ran up and down the street, “tagging” every lawn in the neighborhood with either my right or my left foot (never both). I soon got quite carried away, so carried away in fact that by the time I counted my forty-fifth lawn I was already blocks from home and had no idea where I was.

When the police woman found me all I could tell her was that my name was George, and that my house had the sorriest excuse for a lawn, and that my mother did not possess a life’s work whatsoever. I don’t know how they ever tracked her down, but they did.

Of course I never told her what I was up to, not then, and not ever, not even when I graduated from high school some eleven thousand, two hundred and eighteen lawns later, and not when I graduated from law school, where I studied property law and amassed a total of twenty six thousand four hundred and ninety lawns by the time I passed the state bar. Somehow I knew it was nothing to be particularly proud of, especially on those occasions when my life’s work got me into trouble.

I was something of an expert on trespassing by then, but even experts make mistakes.

Still I kept my secret, even under severe cross-examination and throughout the lost years I spent in prison when I stepped on no lawns at all. I can promise you that the first thing I did on my release was begin to make up for all that time. I racked up hundreds more within my first few months of freedom.

I became a connoisseur of lawn treading. I began to resist the urge to stomp on every mere patch, reserving the right to refuse steps for lawns that didn’t measure up to my increasingly lofty standards. Now my lawns were required to be cared for, to be respected if not always treasured. My lawns deserved a degree of dignity. Somewhere in the back of my mind, a figure had begun to take shape, the number 45,000 began appearing in my dreams and randomly occurring to me even during daylight hours. Perhaps it was a shadow, a reflection of those early forty-five, the first I had counted before I got lost and had sat down by the side of the road, sobbing and miserable and certain I was doomed forever.

Now, as I approached the numinous integer, I applied my standards ever more rigorously, until there was hardly a lawn that qualified for my attention. I stalled out in the mid forty-four thousands, and for an entire sixteen months I stepped on nary a lawn. Finally I decided to break through this blockage, this self-inflicted obstacle barricading me from the achievement of my life’s work, and I resolved to trod on every lawn until I reached that sacred figure and that once I did, my journey would be complete. Only then could I rest.

So you see, your honor, that’s what I was doing in Mrs. Jenkins backyard on the evening of the 27th. I was certainly not attempting to break into her house, and of course I always wear all black when I go out counting lawns. Doesn’t everyone?

 

(the narrator would like to think that this story has been illustrated in the manner of the classic children’s book, Millions of Cats, by Wanda Gag: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Millions_of_Cats)

Stories I Don’t Feel Like Writing

(Some a bit redundant from recent entries but hey it’s my blog)

Bit by a radioactive spider but only got the tingly spidy-sense.

Personality uploaded to the cloud but split into multiple zones.

First-person shooter game but no one on either side ever has any ammo and there is no way to reload.

Famous brains uploaded to the cloud waiting forever for anyone to ask them anything.

Sherlock Holmes incarcerated for possession solves every cold case he committed to memory before being put in solitary confinement.

A person who can see the future quite clearly whenever they are the third person in a line.

A player piano that speaks and bosses people around.

Someone lives their whole life and no one gives a shit.

A helpful person who watches for people who seem lost and offers to help them find their way.

Middle-class mid-western American couple living in a double wide trailer with their valet and their chambermaid.

The time traveler’s toothbrush.

Robots training people on how to fix them.

A song goes on trial for murder.

Time gets stuck in a loop and everyone relives the same five minutes over and over 288,000 times.

Distributed Systems

So you want to “upload your consciousness to the cloud”. Let’s discuss the situation with Fred, our Site Reliability Engineer, shall we?

You: So, Fred, I want to upload my consciousness to the cloud. What do I do?

Fred: First of all, which cloud are we talking about? Amazon, Microsoft, Google, IBM, Oracle?

You: Well, maybe we should mix it up a bit, just to be on the safe side?

Fred: Good thinking, you’ll want a distributed system anyway, just in case one data center goes down. They do that, you know. Data centers “go down”. If you have your consciousness in just one zone of just one region of just one cloud, well then you’re as good as fucked. They do call them that, by the way, zones and regions. You’re supposed to get the idea that there can be multiple zones in a region and multiple regions in a cloud. I’m not sure exactly how you’re supposed to deduce that hierarchy, but there you go. When in Rome, as they say.

You: Ok, I hear you. Zones, regions, clouds, whatever. Where am I going to put my consciousness anyway, and how?

Fred: Depends. Chances are you want to stick it in a container, shall we say a Docker container, and maybe deploy it using Kubernetes ..

You: Wait a minute, hold on there pal. What’s a docker? What’s a kubernetes?

Fred: Oh I was just assuming you were going to want people to be able to communicate with your consciousness, so you’d need to use some sort of back-end service, some protocol as well, shall we say protobuf over RPC? You’ll need to get some international consortium to put that together so that everyone knows what’s what. That’ll take a decade or so and they’ll end up with competing standards anyway so I wouldn’t worry too much about it. Now, if you just want to store the thing, then any old file service will do. Shall we say S3 perhaps? Or maybe just cold storage using GCS, or maybe some combination of things like those?

You: Well duh I want people to be able to communicate with it. It won’t do any good just sitting there in some cloud. How do things sit in clouds anyway? Aren’t they all just water vapor?

Fred: You’re a funny guy, you. Clouds aren’t really clouds. They’re just a boatload of rack-mount computers, mostly hard drives with some boot kernel software and low level processes running to support your VM.

You: I’ve got a VM? I don’t even know what that is.

Fred: Don’t worry about it. We’re going to replicate the shit out of your consciousness. We’re going to use a quorum system, so that the various VMs hosting you can synchronize with each other continuously and make sure enough of them are in agreement at all times so the whole thing doesn’t go kablooey, which it can (and will) do, especially since I’m assuming you want your consciousness stored for some period of time.

You: Sure, like forever.

Fred: Ha ha, forever, ok. For sure. You do know it’s only been a generation since we didn’t even have personal computers, right? You might want to consider storing your consciousness on microfilm or microfiche. Or maybe you want to etch the thing onto a gold record and send it hurtling into outer space. Any of those options will give you a better chance at preserving your data for longer than a decade or two.

You: Hmm, maybe you’re right.

Fred: Yeah, in any case, your consciousness ain’t gonna be worth jack in a decade or two anyway. What are you going to know about the world that’s coming? Nothing, that’s what. You won’t know a damn thing. Your consciousness will be up there talking about the meaning of Kanye’s lyrics when everybody else has moved on way past Kanye, if you get my drift. Like does anybody even say “get my drift” anymore even now? You might as well be analyzing the lyrics of Perry Como.

You: Perry who?

Fred: Exactly. Your consciousness will be speaking 2018 English to a world that doesn’t talk it any longer, but that’s okay. Previous generations have persisted their consciousness successfully through the medium of writing on paper. Maybe you should just do that.

You: You mean paper like toilet paper?

Fred: Yes I have seen “Idiocracy” and I highly recommend it. Also very good is “Sorry to Bother You”. Go see that one now.

You: That sounds like a good idea. I have a feeling that nobody really wants my consciousness anyway and really, how the fuck could I even monetize that shit if I’m already dead and gone? You must think I have the world’s biggest ego.

Fred: Nah, you’re probably just another rich white dude in Silicon Valley. They all like that.

Data Mining and Data Undermining

“Write what you know,” some say, while others recommend the opposite, or even “write what you knew, or thought you did.” I recently visited that prescription in a bit of seriously lightweight fiction I wrote (The White-Hole Situation, now available where e-books are free to download and/or pirate). I was a kid during the first generation of Star Trek, and a young adult during the next, and I got to know that world pretty well, well enough to riff on its larger implications, and it was fun to do, enjoyable writing if not meaningful, deep or otherwise significant in any way.

That bit of writing, combined with the concurrent death of Philip Roth and all the various “takes” on his life and work, I’ve been thinking about how writers mine the data of their own lives and the worlds they’ve experienced. Some writers do this far more than others. Philip Roth, for example, was of white upper-middle class east coast Jewish extraction, and I the same. His generation was my parents’ generation, so there’s that gap, but it would never have occurred to me to write the kind of fiction he wrote. In fact, I never liked his books or his writing and as an author he was only stock-on-the-shelf to me during my lengthy career in bookstores. He was a classic self-data-miner and an exemplary representative of his era of white male patriarchal misogyny and whatnot. I don’t see how there can be any argument about this. If you enjoyed his books then good, you’re the audience for them. If you didn’t then you’re not.

Data under-miners could be the reverse – writers who deliberately attempt to flee from the identities imposed on them from their surrounding culture, writers who feel they are not what they appear to be. Perhaps analogous to transgender individuals, whose inner identity is not pegged to their biological happenstance, some writers know in their heart who they are and that who they are is not who they are seen to be. Some will use pseudonyms as a way of dealing with the disconnect. Some will hide from the public, become reclusive so as not to be tied to the photo on the jacket of their books. Some will go further and lie about their identity, make up alter egos for their public life. Others will just go about the business of writing and not worry about all that.

In my case I’m pretty much the last case there, but I do wonder when people see my name on my books, and how some of them are science fiction, do they think I’m related to the famous Jacqueline Lichtenberg? (I am not). Do they think I am as Jewish as my name (and face) imply? (I am not). What else do they infer? That I am Caucasian (I am considered white in America these days, although my grandparents were not considered white in America when they were young), that I am male (I am), that I am probably cis-gendered (I am) though who knows, I could be gay. After all, I write, and that’s kind of arty, which is kind of gay (to a large swath of the populace). I’m pretty sure that data-mining my books would make it pretty clear that I am white and male (from my vocabulary, and the majority gender of my characters, though I do like to think I’ve done a decent job with my female characters, who are the protagonists in many of my books).

Textual analysis would probably come up with a decent portrait of me as a person, despite the fact that I’ve written almost nothing autobiographical or even much taken from my own life and background (Raisinheart and The Part-Time People are the only ones I can think of that even cast a shadow on my own history). It would not surprise me if the accuracy of such an analysis came close to one similar for Philip Roth, or for any writer. Whether we write what we know, or what we don’t know, or what we knew or what we thought we knew, in the end the “we” who writes is the “we” who we are, and that’s true even if you think you’re only a medium through whom the Holy Spirit is communicating its own soap opera.

It’s also made me think about what other influences I could dredge up, what else do I know as well that I could transpose onto another platform, that I haven’t done already. I’ve already done a bit of that with noir fiction (Death Ray Butterfly), and my Outlier series was a mashup of Sherlock Holmes, Doc Savage and Freakonomics. You wonder just how much you can cannibalize (everything!) whether consciously or not. Are all writers mere data-miners of their histories, and/or how could it really be otherwise?

Some tropes I’m bound to ignore. I grew up on spaghetti westerns and Dirty Harry but have absolutely no interest in writing anything shoot-em-up (Star Wars included in that genre), slice-em-up (as much as I liked samurai flicks) or yuk-it-up (how many sitcoms have I seen every episode of?).

When you start making a list of your childhood and youthful influences it can get downright discouraging as well as embarrassing!