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


The Man Who Answered Stupid Questions

Some years ago I looked at a then-new website called Quora.com, intended to be a sort of intellectual hub for the world wide web, where experts on every subject (quite knowledgeable ones, to be sure) would answer all the important questions posed by the great unwashed but curious masses. I went so far as to answer one question (what’s a book you recommend? “The Way of Chuang Tzu” was my referral, translated by Thomas Merton), and filled out the profile bit with some topics I was generally interested in. Then I saw little else that interested me and I forgot all about the site.

I recently revisited the site to see if someone could answer this question – where can I find a speech synthesis engine that provides regional and ethnic accents, because I’ve been using such engines for my quote-unquote musical experiments and want more than the usual vanilla white bread newspeak voices that all digital voice systems and robots are saddled with these days. There are several reasons why this is the case, including a) where’s the money in it and b) it’s probably hard to do and c) the tremendous diversity imbalance in tech such that no one really thinks about the fact that all our robots are caucasian and d) we still really live in a sort of virtual white supremacist apartheid patriarchal state in many ways.

I want my Philly Cheese Steak voice. I want my New York Pizza voice. I want my Harlem Renaissance voice. I want my Louisiana Delta voice. I want my Valley Girl voice. I want my Boston Tea Party voice. I’m shit out of luck or so it seems. No one has answered my question on Quora.

My re-visit prompted Quora to begin prompting me, almost daily sending me emails pleading with me to answer questions on the topics I so long ago expressed some interest in. Rather than the hub of Mensa heights, however, the questions I’m presented with are incredibly, well, you be the judge. I am not making any of this up:

If atheists don’t believe in ghosts, why are there so many movies and stories about them? (about atheists or about ghosts?)

What did God do before the Big Bang? (I dunno, masturbate a lot?)

Why do you not like about the current society?

How do I network with powerful people in San Francisco?

Is there a way to be more diligent?

Is it normal when reading a book to imagine the story in very dark colors? How do I make it brighter?

Is it possible to turn non-precious metal into gold?

How do I write an authentic but tactful rape scene?

Could I microwave a paperback book to sterilize it from a cold virus?

What does it mean when a person says it was what it was?

Which novel explores marriage, death and taxes?

Will joining secret societies make one rich?

What led to chairs disrupting the common way of seating over chest, benches and stools?

What exactly do I write in an essay entitled “describe yourself”?

Why am I always below average in everything I do?

Why are the pyramids interesting?

The end is coming soon

I’ve been reading The Kingdom, by Emmanuel Carrere, a history of Early Christianity. He makes a connection between the story of the resurrection of Christ and the screenplay he worked on for the French TV series, Les Revenants, in which it is posited that the dead do come back to life and attempt to resume their normal lives, not knowing they had in fact died. He also makes a connection between the exotic nature of the early Christ story and the Western fads of exotic Eastern practices such as Yoga and Zen Buddhism. These are all intriguing notions to me (and that TV show was quite excellent).

My wife and I were also drawing parallels between the current crop of Fox-induced anti-immigrant hysteria and televangelism, the madness of crowds, the attractions of fanaticism in general and one thing that strikes me now as common to all of these things is the feeling of crescendo, of climax, of the end of days, the end of time. The normal course of events cannot continue, in the minds of these bewitched. There has to be a reckoning, a final Judgment as it were, and that sense of finality is perhaps the most attractive feature of the state of Believing, in general.

In a popular construct of revelation the archangel blasts a single note. That one note resonates throughout the world and brings it all crashing down. It’s the note the people want to hear, it’s  “the wall”, it’s “the revolution”, it’s “the word”. In the beginning was the word, the one word, the only word, the least common denominator, the simplest of the simple, the answer to all prayer. It is not just the beginning, it is also the end. It is the word “the”. All you need is “love”, the reduction and distillation of the vast, chaotic, complex and overwhelming reality down to one easy to manage, basic, fundamental construct.

A single note is all you need,
If it’s the note you want to hear.
A single message, a simple take,
can take you where they want you.
can you be the true believer,
can you hear the tune.
if you are the true believer,
the end is coming soon.


Bernie and the Believers

For many years now I’ve lived in a very small town in the coastal mountains south of San Francisco. Population 700 or so. The odds might seem against my son growing up with a girl born within the same hour at the same hospital on the same floor but he did. Then again with something like 8 million people in the greater Bay Area maybe the odds aren’t that crazy. Fast forward a dozen years or so and we find that the girl’s father is stricken with ALS, the horrifying and slowly paralyzing disease that killed my father-in-law just a couple of years before. Bernie Dalton was an avid surfer and athlete and had just begun voice and songwriting lessons with a remarkable and talented coach in the city. After the disease struck they were determined to produce an album of his music before he died. The coach (Essence) started a GoFundMe venture to fund the endeavour and last night it came to fruition. The album has been produced and a group of musicians performed a benefit concert of the songs at Slim’s, a famous night club in the city. As part of the show his now teenage daughter climbed on stage and sang a song she had written for him just the night before while he sat there right in front, fully conscious but completely incapacitated. One song, called Learning by Losing You, had me in tears as I thought of my mother, who died just a few weeks ago. The whole performance was very moving. The musicians were all talented and the songwriter’s words were quite touching. He really managed to express the hell he’s been living through. I don’t know how the girl had the courage to stand up there and sing except that it was now or never. She simply had to.

I found it quite inspiring, and I realized that since last September, when it became clear that I was beating my cancer and was probably going to live, that I’ve never been happier in my life, and I feel ready for new challenges for the first time since I was diagnosed.

More about Bernie and the Believers at this website

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.