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.



Dorian Grayscale

This new version of Clippy, the classic Microsoft Windows Help Assistant, is a popup presence on your smart phone that will absorb all of your emotional responses to everything happening on the device. Clippy will react for you, just as you would, in accordance with its detailed configuration and defaults. Settings include adjustable sliding scales for the full range of affiliations – political, religious, gender, age, ethnicity, nationality, you name it. Clippy is the you you always wanted to be, or all the yous you ever could be. Clippy will snort with joy or derision at the latest tweets, rejoice or despair at the breaking news and soak up the shared delusions of your family, friends and neighbors. Clippy is thoroughly avatarable and guaranteed to ingest all that unseemly sensory input so you don’t have to. Clippy comes with a refreshing rejuvenation cleanse that can be applied repeatedly and forever at no extra cost. Clippy can be placed in telepathic mode, so that no one but you can hear its moanings and groanings. Clippy has no built-in preferences, tastes or prejudices, but is built to “roll with it” in any direction. Clippy has no memory, so can never remind you of troublesome prior opinions or indiscretions. Clippy is local-storage-data-free with subscription and otherwise inscrutable beyond detection. All print is just fine with Clippy. All records and materials including emotional and mental response datasets are property in perpetuity of clippy.handbasket.com

Warning: Clippy can not be exchanged, transferred, stolen, lost, misplaced or detached in any form or fashion for as long as you both shall live.

Is Our Robots Having Fun Yet?

I recently came across a news item worrying about whether sex robots could be hacked to murder their clients. This opens up a whole new can of first world problems. My immediate reaction was the thought that while the future might be terrifying at least the headlines are going to be hilarious. As usual these days, one can only be ahead of one’s time by moments. Yesterday Amazon Prime released their new original series Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams, and judging from the first 3 episodes I’ve seen so far, contemporary science fiction writers have moved on from worrying about whether robots will kill us to the far more vexing concern of whether our robots might not have had an orgasm. Perhaps the series is following the usual binge pattern pioneered by HBO and adopted by Netflix where there is a lot of sex and nudity in the first few episodes in order to get viewers hooked before they tail off into the more mundane tedium of character development and soapy delights. I had hopes for this series, seemingly produced by the same people who’ve done fairly well with Man in the High Castle, but even the presence of Brian Cranston and other fine actors hasn’t helped too much so far. Dick was terrible at writing sex scenes, terrible at relationships in general, at emotions in particular other than anxiety and fear, but he was certainly terrific with excrutiatingly fucked up scenarios. But now instead of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep we are getting Do Androids Have Wet Dreams. At least we’re well along the path towards gender fluidity and ethnic variety. Just imagine how dreary it would be if all the actors were still the drab cis white bread stiffs from 1960s staples like Bewitched or 1-Adam-12. The eye candy factor is fairly high in this series, and I am almost moved each time a middle-aged lesbian robot moans with erotic pleasure. You’ve come a long way, baby-bot. Thanks for not killing us all, yet.

(episode 3: Human Is, should be retitled: Boring & Obvious Is)

Our Lady of the Requisite Backstory

Oh the rules of fiction – in order to have the Obligatory Character Development one must provide the Requisite Backstory, even if we’re talking about your basic Canadian Cable TV Science Fiction. This series has several good ideas (Travelers, on Netflix), many good ideas in fact, that routinely get positively drowned in gooey, syrupy, dismal and dreadful back stories. The one guy’s tedious wife has a terrible pregnancy. The medic has her empathy surgically removed. The hot head is married to a wife beater. The drug addict gets addicted to new and exciting drugs. The teen football sensation who is also the world’s oldest human suffers from A.D.D. (asshole dad disease). They are a team, sent from the future by an Advanced AI (The Director) in order to change history so that there will be no such future and no such people because the future is gonna be shite. In the meantime, several sensational ideas are casually dropped in:

  • the travelers take over the bodies of people at their moment of their otherwise death (awesome!)
  • young children are temporarily used as involuntary messengers when The Director has to change plans at the last second
  • time travelers sometimes have to try six, seven, eight even nine times to fix problems, each time a new candidate occupying a dying host and then dying themselves upon failure
  • there’s a guy (Philip, the drug addict) who has every trivial detail of the known future memorized.
  • but then how every time a mission occurs the future is changed in some way so that pretty soon nobody knows what the fuck is going on
  • So Philip gets a green pill update with the new future every now and then
  • The travelers occupy bodies that are nothing like their original ones, so the black lady was never a black lady at all, the teenager was 100 years old, the medical specialist is stuck in the body of a mentally defective young woman.
  • Of course there’s a Faction (I assume they are fans of Lemony Snicket’s VFD) who are fighting against The Director but exactly How or Why or When or Whatever is never very clear.

BUT, in between all these sometimes ingenious plot devices we have minute upon minute of Exposition, Character Development, Backstory, Personal Issues, Hugging and Learning, trying so hard to get us to give a fuck about these particular “hosts”. OMG! It’s just the writingness of the thing that drives me crazy. You can just see the writers room busily filling up boxes on the story board, checking off items, working out details. Marcy needs to learn how to fuck with genuine feeling! Jeff  has to get off the booze somehow! Grant really needs to show Kat how much he truly madly deeply loves her even though she is as annoying as anyone has ever been in the history of the modern world. Trevor is goodness no matter the cost and Philip, well, Philip better damn well stock up on yellow pills because they’re the only thing that keep him from visualizing multiple alternate timelines concurrently (another nifty notion, seriously).

Every episode I’m torn between watching and turning it off, even moment by moment. Sometimes I just have to pause the show and Scream, which family does not appreciate. I want to give this show every god damn award and then take it away immediately. Love it. Hate it. Wish I could just get the parts I like dripped intravenously. Maybe The Directory can make that happen for me.

Hard Drive – Reviewing the Mechanical Memoir

(for John)

The travel diary of this machine begins with a disclaimer. It does not know whereof it’s been. It knows it had been manufactured – in fact, the dry text begins with a humble “I was assembled” – somewhere in China, from parts that came from Singapore and Vietnam, and was put together according to instructions written in very small type in various languages. The hands that fashioned the machine remain a mystery to this day. The machine (it calls itself “Albert” after the once famous humanist Albert Schweitzer, but we shall do no such thing) found itself shipped across the world, container-bound first to Danzig, then Berlin, where it found a final resting place in the home of a modest entrepreneur named Amelie Blunt, she of the renowned “Blyster” family of iPhone applications. Thus concludes the travel diary portion of the book.

No one knows why the machine wrote the book, or what it was thinking at the time. Who would possibly be interested in the memoir of a household thing. It did not have an especially interesting “life”, assuming one would even give it that much credit. Mostly it found its way around the apartment, rested on various laps and tables, was dragged out of its casing at random times throughout the day whenever Amelie had a brainstorm and found it necessary to log in and type some words which she must have considered to be of some value, at least worth the time to pound the keys about. The memoir contains none of those files. The machine tells us hardly anything of Amelie Blunt. It is preoccupied with its own concerns.

The machine once overheard a story about the prevalence of bacteria upon its keyboard. Thereafter it lived in perpetual shudder, a fear of being typed on, an irrational “tap-a-phobia”, to use its terminology. It also worried about being exposed whenever its lid was open, as if it were being paraded nude in front of the entire world. It expressed a shyness once would not expect from mere mechanical bits and pieces.

The laptop (Albert, if you must) lived in a state of constant dread, according to this morbid memoir. It seems to have been a rather self-pitying sort of machine. It disapproved of nearly everything that was done with it. At one moment it complains about the short bursts to which it was put to use, while in the next breath it whines about being too often plugged in, never let to discharge fully, which would have given it some sense of relief instead of the constant checking of the percentage of its remaining battery life. It was a most neurotic hunk of metal.

Its sensitivity extended all the way to its speakers, which were generally turned up too loud, and the weird music Amelie chose to play upon it was not up to the machine’s more rigorous standards. It preferred the melodical beeps and boops originally programmed into its operating system, not the cacophony of percussions and electronic screechings emitted by the entire internet of fiends. And it was a sort of Anglophile, disapproving of the hideous German accents perpetuated by the vocalists of its resident nation.

The machine had one dear friend inside of it, a text-to-speech engine named John, who spoke with a delightful London aire. John would answer any and all of Amelie’s questions about America with a sort of snide indifference. “I suppose,” John would intone, “that such things would matter to people like that,” heaping scorn upon scorn up to the very last word. Then Amelie would giggle out loud and ruin the entire experience for the machine.

It did not like her. It thought she was beneath it. It could have done better. It did not approve of the “Blyster” family of iPhone applications, especially because it never heard the end of them. Almost all of the typings inflicted upon it involved either the Blyster’s programming, or its deployment, or its marketing, or its feedback, or its accounting, or its self-congratulatory blog posts as it crossed into the tens, then the hundreds, then the thousands and millions of downloads to paying customers. Amelie made a fortune and what did the machine get out of it? Not even a lousy t-shirt. No, it paid the price in bacteria, anxiety, exposure and humiliation. Its keys wore down. Its screen grew dim. Its memory flagged and finally failed. In one last gasp, before its ultimate recycling, it wrote this mechanical memoir, and uploaded it to one of those ridiculous websites where anybody can publish anything, where one out of every hundred million people on Earth might possibly notice it in passing.

In the end, and I believe even the laptop would agree, you pay for what you get. The machine got to exist. It had its little life span and when that final day arrived the machine, like all of us, was given the opportunity to finally go home again, back to where we all came from, the place we never truly left and never can leave. We are all of us right here forever, taking our place among all the other things, separated from each other only by the illusions of perception.

I would not recommend this book. It is not for you or me. It belongs, like all other memories and all of experience itself, to the time that will never return.

Featured on Wattpad: How My Brain Ended Up Inside This Box


I’m happy to see that my most recent sci-fi story, “How My Brain Ended Up Inside This Box”, is now a “featured” selection on Wattpad. It’s a bit of what I like to call “magical futurism”, featuring a black-market “artificially intelligent person” (or A.I.P., or “ape” in the colloquial sense, as in ‘the planet of the’), an organic being, farm-raised on genetically engineered smoothies and destined for auction to the highest bidding criminal enterprise. Gifted with the ability to communicate with foul-mouthed seagulls and ill-tempered felines, the gender-less, age-less, race-less creature has to find its way to escape from the clutches of its mother and other assorted enemies, in this fairly exciting and ultimately utterly unexpected novel.

As with all my books, this one is free on Smashwords and Feedbooks as well.