Out of My System: A short story

(this story is a sequel of sorts, or an alternate telling, or a parallel universe encryption, of a story I posted here the other day called The System)

[soundtrack by SPC ECO]

It was the one locked door, the one question you could never ask, so naturally it drove them all crazy. Not me. I didn’t need to know. I was not on that basis. If you’re in The Resistance, you’re supposed to resist, am I right? But that particular itch was too much for most. You’d have to be a saint or brain damaged or both. Someone tells you not to think of the letter ‘A’. What are you thinking of, eh? Got you there, one way or another. You have to be mentally tough. You have to have a discipline, a creed, a practice. You have to have a black belt in self-mind control. Basically, you have to Be Your Own Fascist Dictator.

You’ve heard of Schrodinger’s Paradox, right? Of course you have. There’s a box and you cannot look inside but you know (because they told you) that inside the box is a cat and some poisoned cat food. You cannot look, you cannot know for certain what is going on inside that box. As far as your certain knowledge goes, that cat is both alive and dead. Alive, because it was a cat at some point and cats are living creatures. Dead, because living creatures get hungry and the food in there is poisoned. If you could open the box, you would be able to know for sure which state the cat was in, but you can’t, so you can’t.

That’s how it was with us. Out there, in the world, The System ruled. Inside The System, everything was data, everything was known, everything was rated and ranked, collated and collected, garbaged in and garbaged out. And I mean everything. People, of course. Products, for sure. Companies, places, historical events, whatever. The Declaration of Independence had a pretty steady ranking of 76 on The System’s universal scale of zero to one hundred, but most things didn’t hold that steady. They moved, and they moved in mysterious ways. Your mother was in there. Your sister was too. That coffee drink you just consumed? Rated and ranked. They all had their numbers, and you could find out anything’s number at any time, and most people did. It was how people lived.

You wouldn’t make any decision without knowing its worth. You wouldn’t go out to some restaurant if you didn’t know exactly how other people judged it most recently. You wouldn’t take a walk in the woods without knowing the value of the view and the landscape, the number of steps, the average ascent and descent, the climate, the history, the likelihood of encounters with snakes. You’re a civilized person. You can be well-informed. You can experience anything BEFORE you experience it personally. You can see what it’s going to look like. You can know how it’s going to feel. You can rest without having exerted an effort. This is all good. The world is not only your oyster, it’s a five star oyster, an oyster with an aggregate score of 95.7 or more.

There were those who resisted, who refused. We called ourselves The Resistance. We had learned about other people who had called themselves The Resistance and fancied ourselves as courageous and selfless as they, those who had fought, those who had hid, those who had protected the innocent, saving lives and being the bridge to freedom across their heroically cold dead bodies. We were not really brave, we just wanted to be “off the grid”. We wanted to be data-free. If anything, The System would have us scored at exactly and precisely zero, like companies that failed, like people who died, like products that couldn’t be bought anymore. We would disappear from the records, we would be lost forever to history, to lore. We wouldn’t exist, as far as The System could tell, but we would be there, there in the world, thriving in obscurity, glorious in the dark.

Let them sell other people’s personal proclivities to marketers and product designers, not ours. No one would ever target us specifically with ads. No one would be able to tell our little secrets, our dirty little thoughts would be closed to big business forever. How rich we would be in liberty, if destitute in every other way, because, let’s face it, if you want to be off the grid, you have to be nobody nowhere. We slept in the woods behind the big grocery store. We bought nothing from no one, ever. We scrambled and scraped, we got by on scraps, we were dirty and smelled but at least we were free. I stole some black lipstick and rubbed it all over my cheeks. I “borrowed” some boots from some beach-going bozo, and walked along the ocean at night.

Jose C_ was the first one to crack, because of that one locked door, that one nagging thought. What if we were not off the grid? How could we ever be sure? We couldn’t find out, like Schrodinger’s box. We believed we were outside The System, that The System knew nothing about us, but if one were to ask, only once, and even if it were somebody else who asked about us, there we would be, in The System for sure, just because of that act, that question.

“What about Jose C_ ?”

“Jose C_?” The System said to itself, and then it knew, it knew there was a thing that was called Jose C_. That right there would give it a One, and just like that, Jose C_ was back on the grid. Hellen Duane was next after him, then it was Carly, and then it was Shrimp Boy’s turn. Soon I was the only one left, the last one standing, the True Refugee, the Outcast, the Final Believer. I had faith, faith in myself. I could resist that dread taunting urge. Hadn’t I learned from the masters, from years of mindfulness trainings, from studious studyings of the impossible fakirs, the ones who could turn themselves inside out, the ones who could pass a thin wire throughout their entire intestinal tract? Yes, I had.

Since you asked.

I am scratching these notes on the walls of a cave, a cave near Pomponio Beach, about a hundred yards north of the parking lot entrance. I think I am pretty much done. This is the end of my journey. I barely have the strength to finish this scratching. History will never record it. No one will ever find out if I was rated or ranked, if The System ever knew me. I am even wiping my DNA off of this stick with my last, final breath. Goodbye, and good luck.

Yours Truly,

Jermaine P. Rincon

dammit

rant-a-bye baby

This rant started as a comment on Paul Samael’s interesting (as usual) post on the Goodreads/Amazon thing. but then it turned into too much fun for a mere comment, so here’s what I think about Amazon buying Goodreads:

I’m going to go out on a limb and say “boo”. I don’t like it one bit. I don’t like how everything, and I do mean everything, sooner or later gets sucked into somebody’s wallet, and those somebodies always turn out to be a mere handful of people, while the rest of us are falling over ourselves to give them not only our money but our minds and hearts as well. It’s Facebook munching and crunching on our intimate personal lives to serve us up to targeted but undesired promoted posts. It’s Goodreads taking our opinions and recommendations and feeding them into the endless maw that is the Amazon piranha. It’s Google gobbling up every single word and phrase we even seem to be mildly interested in and chucking it into their monster ad-hole in order to surround our emails and websites with links to bullshit we’d never want or need in a billion billion years if we were monkeys with a god damn typewriter. They say that a mere 11% of the reading population recommends 46% of the books that get recommended. Thank you, eleven percenters. No, really. Without you and your four and five stars, whatever would we do? Oh, I know what we’d do. Whatever some giant corporation told us to do. And what they’re going to tell us to do now is exactly the same as before, but our money will find itself redirected ever so subtly into their pockets through their tricky and lovely devices. So let’s keep up the good work and keep using that good ol’ fashioned “word of mouth” in the service of the bottomless pit. You gotta love it. Or at least “like” it.

Rabble Reads

I kicked in a few bucks for this Kickstarter project – RabbleReads , a project that aims to set up a neutral, verified aggregate book review site, combining reviews from various sources such as Goodreads and Amazon and elsewhere, but only from trusted book reviewers (their slogan is ‘death to the sock puppets’), and including both traditional and self-published books. Something like this sounds good to me and hopefully will manage to avoid such ills as goodreads-troll-gangs as well as the more common fake and fake-ish reviews. A lot will depend on their curation practices. It could be a tricky thing.

I recently came across a one-star review for my Tiddlywinks kids’ book on Amazon, a one line affair that said “not worth even free. This kind of books should not be around. Waste of time downloading and space on HD”, and when I looked into the reviewer’s Amazon review history, I found that he’d posted the exact same one star review for around 15 books that very same day. I wrote to Amazon, but it was a verified “purchase” (of a free ebook!) and seemed within their guidelines, so they wouldn’t remove it. I can understand that. Curation can be complex, and I hope the Rabble Reads people come up with some good ideas.

Something else that’s also important, and whose time is fast approaching:

Beyond reviews, Rabble will include lists of bestselling authors, regardless of how the book was published; best and worst rated titles, author interviews; and more.

“It’s the first venue where traditionally published and self-published books will be listed side by side,” Holman Edelman says. “I just really think it’s a way to help get books an introduction.”

I Have Not Read The Book, But …

I was just looking into a book called The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America, which looks quite interesting. Depictions of Jesus are always a fascinating topic – one of my favorite websites is still Jesus of the Week, which hosts an astonishing selection of various Jesii. Anyway, I noticed on Amazon that this new book had some one- and two-star reviews and when I went to look at them, none of those reviewers had actually read the book! I know that Amazon does try to have some sort of policy about product reviews, but sooner or later they’re going to have to require at least a purchase of the item, if not its actual usage, before allowing a review to be posted, don’t you think?

 

Rankin’

So Amazon came out with their new Author Rank system and alerted all of us about it with an email of breathless excitement. Yippee! As an overall author, it appears I am currently somewhere around 150,000, though recently I was up there in the 110,000’s! 56,604 when filtered down to Kindle Ebooks and 22,606 filtered further down to Kindle Ebooks Fiction

Breaking it down, though, under Literary Fiction I’m currently 4,031 after having been 3,293 only a couple of weeks ago

In Science Fiction, they’ve got me pegged at 1,764, dropping precipitously from 1,212 only two days ago

I’m 3,187 in Horror after achieving a high of 1,598 last week

There seems to be a lot of volatility, as usual, with their rankings. A sale of one or two copies can send you skyrocketing in the system.

I’m also somehow 3,893 in Thrillers although I have nothing in that category, as far as I know

My conclusion? What a waste of data processing …

 

Chasing the Secret Amazon Algorithm

Holy Smokes!

Some indie writers are going bonkers trying to keep up with the ever-shifting, ever-obscure, even legendary beast, the Amazon Kindle Ranking Algorithm. Apparently, this secret formula, this special sauce, is continually being whipped up and mixed up and conjured up so that Amazon can maximize the almighty dollar or at least provide some handy CYA for its marketing managers.

A bestseller list used to be based more or less on how many copies a book sold. I say ‘more or less’ because over time that kind of turned into ‘how many copies were bought by bookstores, not by people’, and in turn that changed into ‘how many copies were bought by the only two bookstore chains that mattered, Borders and Barnes and Noble’, and that changed, yet again, into a serpent eating its tail, because the publishers eventually only printed as many copies as those chains would buy, so that a bestseller was already pre-determined before it was even printed and possibly before it was even written.

Strange but true.

Now come these upstart ebooks with their wonky prices of 99 cents or $2.99 or even $0.00 for goodness sakes! So Amazon apparently decided to adjust their rankings on the basis of some combination of price and category and KDP-Select-program-participation (a.k.a. Amazon exclusivity) and witch-hazel and eye-of-newt and so on. Frantically, indie writers are kept scrambling to figure out what are the proper price points and keywords and tags and categories that will garner them the most ‘reach’ and the highest possible rankings in order for THEM to maximize THEIR almighty dollar and coerce a WIN-WIN out of this ungodly situation.

I wish them all the best of luck, and leave you with my ode to maximization, brought to you by that dimwitted darling of dementia, Beauregaard and Scooter.