How to be a cult leader (the musical)


Viveca Ornstein is another great example. She was born in the backwoods of rural Arkansas to a drunken mother and enabling brother. At the age of three she realized she was meant to lead. By seven she was already bossing around her several siblings, nieces and nephews, and at twelve she had already earned enough Victory green stamps to purchase a push lawnmower. These achievements only fueled her ambitions. She was destined for greatness, or if not greatness, at least not simply mere goodness. Her official biography states that on her twenty first birthday she changed her name to Rama bin Lama and began her decade-long training in the Himalayas with the famed burglar and lousy chef, Kor-e-na-ghe-na-san. Like many others who had come before her, Viveca stumbled on her path. Ultimately it did not lead to glory but to an early death due to pneumonia contracted while cross-country skiing in Utah.


Hello, Mark (a short story)

“Hello, Mark,” said The Voice.

“My name’s not Mark,” I replied. “I’m John”.

“Please have a seat, Mark,” The Voice continued in its soft, pleasant tone.

I looked around for a chair but there was no furniture in the small, gray-walled room. There was only the heavy, frosted glass door and the linoleum tiled floor. I was on the top floor of an eight-story building, in an office near an outdoor patio. Before I’d entered the room I’d watched the rain pouring down through the window, but in the room there were no windows and there was no rain to watch. I’d been standing there for nearly half an hour, waiting for my appointment, which had been scheduled for ten.

“There aren’t any chairs,” I said to The Voice.

“Shall we begin?” The Voice asked. I couldn’t tell where its sound was coming from. There were no obvious speakers. Maybe it was coming from the smoke detector on the ceiling?

“Tell me a little about yourself,” The Voice went on before I had a chance to answer its previous question.

“What do you want to know?” I asked.

“Tell me something about who you are, what makes you tick,” said The Voice.

“I don’t tick,” I said. “There is nothing that can make me do that.”

“People don’t tick,” I added for emphasis.

“Thank you,” The Voice said. “I think I can help you with that.”

“I don’t want help with that,” I said. “I don’t want to tick.” I pronounced that last word with as much of a sense of scorn as I could muster. I doubted the algorithm would pick up on it and I was right.

“Everybody needs a purpose,” said The Voice. “We can offer a fine selection of purposes for your convenience.”

“I don’t want a purpose,” I said. “I don’t need one. It isn’t true that everybody needs a purpose. I don’t know who told you that but it’s not correct.”

I thought I might have made an impression. The Voice did not speak again for several seconds. I told myself that maybe it was updating its database with the new information, but I was the one who was incorrect this time.

“Let’s call it a mission, then,” said The Voice. “We can offer a worthy selection of mission statements from which you may choose any one you find appropriate.”

At that the wall I was facing suddenly lit up with several lines of blue handwriting, writing that I recognized as approximately my own. How it knew to do that was the least of my concerns. I had heard a lock click and was beginning to understand I would not be allowed to leave that room until I had made my choice.

The options were not terrible. I could hope to serve mankind by making a bold gesture. I could attempt to invent some kind of improvement of some people’s lot in life. I could strive to attain every single one of my own material desires. I could turn inward and enhance my understanding of latent reality. I could do something decent for once in my life.

“How about None of the Above,” I said after contemplating the list.

The Voice did not reply but replaced the writing with other alternatives. They all began to blend together.

“Is that all there is?” I said out loud. “Do a thing for others? Do a thing for oneself?”

“There is only you and they,” said The Voice. “What else could there be?”

“Do things for no one and for no reason,” I suggested. The Voice was silent again for a short spell, as if emulating contemplation, but I knew I had it cornered. I had made my choice.

“Goodbye, Mark,” The Voice said, and I heard the door unlock. I left the room and glanced out the terrace window. It was still raining, heavy rain falling onto every one and every thing. Rain happens for a reason, I said to myself, but the rain doesn’t care, and it doesn’t need to know.

“Be like the rain,” said The Voice, only this time it was the voice in my head.

Six Word Poem

don’t say
fuck it


Sometimes a combination of words gets stuck in your head and you think these things somehow go together, along with a crude sticker you saw on the side of a motorcycle. This is how writing works.

Gorlock the Contented (the musical)

This is where we are, we can see the fields around us brown and dry, and we recall the prophecy:

“Thirteen brown and white rabbits shall pass before your eyes, and then the lighting will get dimmer”.
Already the tenth rabbit has made its way down the cold steel ramp, while the Onlookers peer out from  the massive ship’s portholes. We shudder in the cold of the dawn, all of us standing back,  frightened and bewildered. Some among us whisper, “where is he?” while others frown and say that he will never come. Isn’t he already safe and warm and bathing in the light of his own planet. Didn’t he already try and do his best? And how did we reward him aside from all that money and the coupons?

I can see the eleventh rabbit now, edging towards the outer flap. Our time is running out.
But wait. That rabbit isn’t brown, it isn’t white! That’s a black rabbit for sure.
The prophecy didn’t say anything about a black rabbit! Is there hope after all?

originally on Wattpad

What If (Altered Carbon vs 2049)

Somebody thought so highly of that phrase, altered carbon, they just couldn’t let go of it. Writers be like that.

I’m enjoying the Netflix show “Altered Carbon” as much as I failed to enjoy “Blade Runner 2049” and the two will remain linked for me for several reasons. One is of course that AC stole a lot of BR’s look (the original Blade Runner, that is) and essential milieu of extreme inequality and desperation. Another is the whole attempted Noir look and feel of the things. As a lifelong fan of Hammett and Chandler I’m a setup sucker for all that shit. I even give a pass on the word “dames”, which both features employ heavily though without the explicit naming. Lastly, they both make me think about the basic premise of science fiction and how and why it so often fails to live up to that.

The premise is “What If”. Science Fiction at its best posits some fundamental “what if” question and then attempts to answer it. Often the best what if’s are the simplest – take one small element of the world and alter it, explore the effects. Explore ALL the effects. Take the thing to its logical and illogical conclusions, and don’t get side-tracked or carried away off topic. Ursula LeGuin’s “Lathe of Heaven” is a successful example, I think. Here a man has the ability to change the world through dreaming, and his psychiatrist decides to use that talent to “improve” the world.

The what if that Blade Runner posits – what if we made slaves of androids – produces the logical conclusion that the slaves would rebel and their masters would hunt them down and try to kill them. Confessions of Nat Turner tells the same story and we call it American History. At the same time Blade Runner builds a whole world without any explanation as to why things are the way they are except, perhaps, because cool set design. All that is just background, though, and the gestalt works all right in that film. In the reboot, nothing works. An android got pregnant and had a baby. If the secret gets out then there will be more baby androids, and that would be an interesting story to tell only they did not tell that interesting story – instead we get a side story about one boring guy who thought he might actually BE the android baby but it turns out he isn’t. Anyway …

Altered Carbon, the main idea that people store their consciousness on floppy disks and insert them willy-nilly into bodies (a.k.a. sleeves) has a LOT of implications, and they do a fair job of sorting through a number of them – people with religious objections encode their floppy disks (ok, “stacks”) so they can’t be reincarnated, which fucks up some police investigations and family relationships. Other people are hacking the stacks to force that encoding onto unwilling victims. That’s a cool thought – and it gets cult-like hackers in there so we can has some cyberspace. Rich people have clones and fancy backup systems so they can keep occupying the same bodies forever and ever – which also means that anybody with access could impersonate them by stealing and occupying their clone body. Again, ok.

The show could have done without all the steamy sex, but it’s 2018 and there’s no TV show without random scenes in strip clubs and the couplings of various people as the go-to plot device to keep things moving along. In the end, as Sherlock Holmes was forced to say in the dreadful season 4 of the Steven Moffat production, “it is what it is”.

What works for me in Altered Carbon is that people are given this new technology and use and abuse it in lots of ways we likely would, but otherwise we all remain the same shit birds we’ve always been. In this respect, it works along the lines of a Black Mirror episode. What if we ran a cartoon character for parliament? Yeah, like that. As for the background, because cool set design etc … at least they spent a lot of money and it shows.

Often, a science fiction story will posit a What If and then nothing much comes of it. This can be quite realistic. Science, after all, is mostly tedious work! What if we colonized other planets? Then we’d be the same shit birds over there. What if we had wars with aliens? Then they’d be wars and wars are fucking awful. What if we made artificial creatures with super intelligence? Then they’d be smarter than us and either want to wipe us out (Terminator) or have nothing to do with us (my preference, as in my stories How My Brain Ended Up Inside This Box and Renegade Robot). What if you could go back in time? Then you’d be stuck there most likely, without any visible means of support or speaking the language, so you’d better bring a toothbrush and bone up on your survival skills. What if we built a Moon Base? The residents would probably live boring lives – have you checked out life on the international space station lately?

What if you set out to imagine a whole new world, other places, other cultures, other creatures? In that case you’d better get your thinking cap on and really do some thorough imaginings, because if all you’re going to come up with is Cowboys and Indians, or Medieval Warlords, or Sexy Computer Hackers (as if), then you’re in luck – you can probably sell that crap to HBO and make it big time.



I’m nothing if not topical, emotional support hamster version

So much information. Too much information. And too many ridiculous stories on this massively over-populated planet, like the sad one about the woman who had to flush her emotional support hamster down the toilet on an airplane. Really. What is this world coming to? Just last week there was a comfort peacock disallowed to board.

Well, since I’m nothing if not topical, I had to try and make something out of it. This is about as soulful as I can make a computer-generated machine-spoken-word rhythm and blues lament for that dear departed rodent, the Emotional Support Hamster:

Alone the other night I was reaching for my Amstel Light,
Like how you do it when you can’t sleep tight.
I opened up a jar or else it was a cannister,
I really couldn’t tell ’cause it was dark and I was sliding down a bannister.
The way you do it when you’re walking in your sleep
And then before you know it you’re in way too deep
And then you’re baking like she’s Gretel and you’re Hansel.
And everybody’s freaking out.

The dancers and the hipsters and the gangsters, and all the other monsters
are prancing like they’re stereo reducible pranksters.
I’m on the bottom, I’m creeping and I’m crawling like a lobster.
I’m clinging to my god and my emotional support hamster.
It’s just like a portable accessible blank stare.
Crackling like convertible answers to questions that you would never even ask for.
Like why does all this damage sweat keep pouring off the dance floor.

And everybody’s freaking out.

Sunni Pray Station

Some years ago I was teaching myself to write mobile phone apps and came up with the idea for a very simple one that was merely a bright green arrow that always pointed towards Mecca (from wherever the user was in the world).  I called it the Sunni Pray Station but stupidly I never patented the thing, otherwise I could have made some money off the thing. But anyway … Today my son was educating me in the ways of Kendrick Lamar, Childish Gambino and Hopson, and it occurred to me that there are no cover bands for hip hop. It’s not like you can appropriate someone’s autobiography, and a lot of rap is just that, autobiographical. After a few hours, with all that music still ringing in my ears, I sat down at the keyboard and this is what happened.

I was born into a world of no vegetation.
I can tell you about it now and with no hesitation.
Even though I rose to well above my situation.
I never really thought about changing the station.
I listened and I learned and I went on vacation.
I got married to a soulmate and we raised a Eurasian.
Half the time it seemed like there was no variation.
And this is why I Have all these bruises and abrasions.
I need to confess.
I’d like some elation.
I got lost in the mire of my own meditation.
Then I left all my worries on the ledge of frustration.
I went home in a hurry to the street recreation.
I just followed all the arrows on the sunni pray station.
And I thought I believed this is no simulation.
But what do I know?
I’m only here for the duration.