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.

Dreams and the Self

Well, that’s a pretentious title for a blog entry that will come nowhere near living up to it, but it encompasses the two sub-subjects I felt like scribbling about.

I’ve had essentially two professional lives, both lasting a couple of decades more or less. The first was as a bookseller, the second as a computer programmer, but when I dream I am almost always a bookseller. Although it’s been more than twenty years since I stood behind a cash register, yet there I am, night after night, as a stream of customers approach and ask me the usual bookstore questions – where is this, what is that, what do I want, who am I and who the hell do you think you are?

Why am I always a clerk and never an engineer in my dreams? Does it really have any significance? Does it tell me who I truly am, who the hell I think I am, or are my dreams merely stuck at a certain age, in a certain locale, like a prisoner in time held captive by some mysterious bond of dark energy or matter?

Then, my fiction writing career has also been in two parts – the first in my twenties and the second in my fifties, spanned between by a long bout of debilitating illness which prevented me from doing any such thing. In the first “bout” of writing, I was mainly concerned with a hyper-realism of poverty and depression, displaying itself in such novels and stories as Cashier World and Phantom of the Mall (* both titles since completely rewritten and re-purposed). The second bout has been considerable more light-hearted, since having been through a sort of hell of both body and mind I’ve had no desire to look back or go anywhere near that kind of pit again.

In my twenties I wrote maybe 30 novels of varying lengths, and in my fifties another 40 or so (mostly shorter ones), and yet, in my dreams, as far as I remember, until last night, I was never a writer.

In last night’s dream I was writing (and re-writing) a story about two immigrants. They were not immigrants to a particular country, or from a particular country, but just from Country A into Country B. They were (in the final revision, if not originally) a brother and a sister. The sister had immigrated successfully. It had not been easy, but she had documentation, she had legal status. She was okay. The brother, though, had no paperwork and was detained, held in captivity by the government and intended for deportation. But where to? Since he had no documentation, the government did not know where to send him to. The sister knew where he was from, but she was unable to prove who he was, or even that he was her brother, that they were family. What proof could there be, outside of some sort of genetic testing which, in the dream, did not exist.

I have been taking the year off from writing, since my last book was so satisfying to me that I felt I could never write something that good again. I recently realized that quality has never been the point. It matters, sure, in some respects, if the thing is good or not, but what has always mattered more is just the act of writing, the fun of it, the process, the giving it a go.

I don’t know if I will write this one, the one I dreamed about, or some variation of it. Aspects do intrigue me. Dreams and the Self. How do you prove who you are. How do you prove your family. How do you resolve an essential unsolvable situation.

The problem for the sister is – maybe she could go back to Country A and find the documentation to prove her brother is who they say he is, but should she risk it? It was not easy getting into Country B in the first place – there was no end of bureaucracy and corruption and danger – so might she not end up in exactly the same situation as her brother, or worse? And what if she cannot get her hands on such papers? What is she willing to risk? What is he willing to let her?

My heart would not let her try, but it would also ache for her not trying. I would need some other angle in order to go through with it. Is there anyone else? Is there any other way? I don’t know. In the dream, there was not, and it left me right at that point.

Probably the dream is only telling me that soon it will be time to start writing again, that the only way to resolve such a roadblock is to start somewhere and then keep going, which is the only way I know how to write.

 

Everything is Scammable, in its own way

Reading about the poor souls whose self-published online novels have been stolen and plagiarized by unscrupulous ghouls, I was reminded of the nefarious hacks who’ve attempted to profit on my own non-existent fame and notoriety by publishing fake versions of fake books using my real and profitless name. I pity the fools. But everything is scammable in this world and probably the next one as well. Witness the clownish attempt to get people to click on phishing links when they search for How My Brain Ended Up Inside This Box – a masterpiece of meaningless drivel in and of itself:

backed

the real truth is, here is a real link to a free version of the book thus described.

Reissued: In Constant Contact

Sometimes I write. Sometimes I revise. Lately I’ve been on a revision jag, first with Humanoid Central, and now In Constant Contact. This one didn’t need too much. It was actually somewhat better than I remembered it. It’s available for free, as always, from Smashwords, Feedbooks, and the iBookstore.

The not-so-good folks at World Weary Avengers are at it again. Now they’ve come up with a device that keeps you in continual contact with a “professional friend”, someone guaranteed to always be there, whenever you need them, to be whatever you need them to be. Now it’s up to Kandhi Clarke and her team of test engineers to make sure if does what it’s supposed to, and not what it’s not, before this latest tech-astrophe is let loose on the world.

Next up will be some proof-reading and probably new covers for the Snapdragon Alley series.

InConstantContact_Cover2

The Unmarked Woman: A short story

(This story came to me in a dream this morning, so I just wrote it down)

The Unmarked Woman

In one year the transformation was complete.
One year from then to now
One year from that to this
That man once had the power but with his curse he had given it to her
Let no one see you
That you should never leave this place
That you should be mine as long as I live
One year was all it took
to bring his little kingdom down.

El Baguetti was what they liked to call a “tribal chieftain”. It was their way of trivializing the “natives”, of painting them with the same broad brush they had used to brainwash their own people about who was inferior and who was the light of progress. Of course they had their own “nobles” and “lords” but didn’t see it the same way, didn’t see it was the same thing, didn’t see they were just as stratified, just as bureaucratic, just as hierarchical as the “locals” in the places they had conquered and owned and now couldn’t shake off when it was convenient for them. Chickens that came home to roost and while roosting made a mess of everything, demanding recompense, seeking revenge. El Baguetti was a “warlord” in their eyes and in the headlines of their news. To the people around him, he was just a made man, self-made in many ways, a man with power, a man who commanded respect. He had come, he had seen and he had conquered. What was so different about that? Why not call him Mister President?
Because of his outrageous use of violence? Because of his undeniable “social media savvy”? Because he knew how to use a fucking computer? Who did he think he was? A damn savage, that’s what. He had spies, he had informants, he used blackmail, he used torture, he was a bad guy, a seriously bad guy who did what all the bad guys did and as bound to pay for it in the end but not until he’d made everybody else as miserable as he possibly could. Must have been something about his childhood, and the ways his parents had treated him. Must have been something about his makeup, about the psychology, that maybe he was bullied as a child growing up on a heap of garbage in the middle of fucking nowhere. Most likely he’d been a failure, a loser, a weakling who needed to compensate for the incredibly tiny penis that hung from his otherwise impressive body. There had to be an explanation, an easy way to understand, to pigeonhole, to put him in his place. Or maybe he was just an asshole.
Maybe he was just an asshole who liked to boss people around and built his organization the old-fashioned way, by manipulating people and events as he found them, by making decisions that turned out to be right, by “surrounding himself” with talented minions, the best and the brightest as far as “those people” went. He could have been a CEO if given the proper circumstances, the right milieu, a bonafide education and a much lighter skin tone.
His main weapon was fuel. Fuel for the fire, as he called it. There were a few varieties. Literal fuel itself was one, and he cornered the market on that in his region, one source at a time, using thugs and connections to control one market after another, until everyone in the area had to come to him, had to buy from him, and in this way he secured their money, their loyalty, their sons and daughters worked for him, he became the big boss man. It wasn’t enough. Money was good and power was good but down at the root of it all the man needed fuel, and that was the only truth about him that mattered. Another fuel was simply the fact of using people, of having them at his disposal. He loved to burn right through them, and so he took one man and set him against another, then another man and yet another, and soon he had a whole company full of dependents hanging on his every word, busily attempting to decipher his whims and wants and wisps of will. He was the CEO in fact, of this organization that went by many names, some in the various local languages, and then others in all the languages of the world as his influence spread and his name became known.
El Baguetti was the name he was most known by in the end. It was an insult, a joke, a demeaning way of saying he was not an equal, not a real man, not a “world leader”, not a “force to be reckoned with”, but a lout, a creep, a jerk, an evil son of a bitch who deserved only one thing and that was to get the very same that he gave – a brutal, miserable and torturous death, the slower and more vicious the better. If they had simply blown him up that would have been too easy. He would have “gotten off lightly”. He had so enraged the world that nothing would be too bad to do to him, the cruel bastard. And it was true he had murdered. And it was true he had tortured. He had raped and enslaved. He had stolen and destroyed many lives. He was certain to die and of course he knew that. He wasn’t a fool. He was a man, and a man, every man, knows that he is going to die, and some men don’t mind taking as many with them as he can, because what the fuck, who gives a shit, it’s just life, it’s just people, and life sucks, people suck, just look what they do, just look what they’ve done.
“I grew up on a garbage heap,” he told her during one of the many long nights of her seemingly endless captivity. “You think I give a shit?”
She could have said the same thing, and at a later time she would have said exactly that. One year later she would have said exactly that, but on the first night, the night her first life came to a halt, she said nothing. She was too utterly terrified to say a single word.
She understood she had been marked. She had been seen, identified and selected. All of her life, from her happy suburban childhood in southern Indiana to her bustling college days at NYU, to her assignments overseas helping – as she saw it – feed the hungry people of the world, she had never known how she appeared, she had never seen herself as she was seen. She didn’t give a thought to what she wore. They were clothes, comfortable and fitting the occasion. She wore makeup, of course, but not very much, just enough to get by, to not stand out as one of those women who are making some sort of statement by NOT wearing makeup, which marked them just as much as those who did. A little bit of lipstick, something to highlight her lashes, which her mother had always made a fuss over. Those baby blue eyes stood out so well against the thick lush black of the lashes. She wore her brown hair medium length in a simple cut, a hint of bangs. She preferred dark colors, pea greens, denim blues, deerskin brown, but not real deer, nothing made of actual animals, never any fur despite the cold bleak winters of her youth. Her parents were conservative but solid, not mean of course but principled. They simply didn’t believe that anyone had a right to take any life, fetal or otherwise. And they kept some guns in the house just in case although they didn’t hunt and the only real valuables for miles around were in the jewelry store on main street.
Her name was Karen, Karen Folde, and she fit right in to where she was. She fit right in in high school, working on the newspaper, writing copy for the yearbook. She was pretty enough and smart enough and fit right on in. She had a boyfriend who took her to the senior prom but they only made out and didn’t go any further. It didn’t feel right. Not that she was “saving herself” or anything like that, but was determined to meet “the right guy” and do things the right way. It was no big deal. In college she was serious and her dedication was admired by her teachers and her fellow students, who looked to her to show the way and lead by example. She was a genuine leader, an excellent example and she did very well, well enough to land an impressive gig with the United Nations and get dispatched to various sites around the world where she could do good things for children in need.
This was when she first stood out, when she first became noticeable and noticed. She had a sense of that, of course. She had to learn the languages and in some places the customs were different enough that she felt lost and had to figure out what would be appropriate to wear, what would be allowed to say, where she could go, as a woman, of course because her compatriot men could seemingly go anywhere, do anything, and say whatever they liked. They didn’t have to wear particular robes or lower their gaze or stuff like that. But hey, when in Rome, they all said knowingly. She did her best to accommodate, adapt and adjust, but still she was marked. Those big baby blues said a lot, especially the way they stood out given those thick lush lashes.
It was her eyes that gave her away to one of El Baguetti’s spies, who’d been told he wanted a particular kind of fuel, a Western woman, a white woman, a non-governmental agency woman who would make for a decent little attention-getter. He had plans for her. He would use her. She herself was nothing, not Karen Folde, not from Indiana, not with parents, not with friends or even a potential boyfriend back home whom she’d kept on hold, kept waiting while she made up her mind if he was the “right guy” or not. She’d needed some time to think about that and time was up. She was captured. She was caught. It was over.
Everything about the next few days was more than a nightmare. It was everything bad. Blindfolded, tossed into a truck, knocked all around, beaten, bruised, kidnapped, raped, she had no idea where she was, who they were, all these men, or even El Baguetti, when they finally dumped her onto the floor in front of his makeshift throne and took off the blindfold and she could see him face to face, she had no idea who he was. Nobody seemed to know what he looked like. His nicknames were legendary but photos were rare. And he didn’t tell her who he was. He didn’t say much. He looked down at her, at her arms still tied behind her back and her ankles bound together, her outfit soiled and ripped, her pretty face battered and one big blue eye swollen shut, and he said,
“I grew up on a garbage heap.”
All she knew was that she was possibly worth something to this man, otherwise why had they not simply killed her. He was obviously the boss. She wondered if it mattered to him that she had already been raped, that they hadn’t delivered her all fresh and pure and virginal and all. Then she realized they already assumed she was a whore, being from where she was, the decadent civilization they despised so much. She was already impure from birth, and he later told her so. He lectured her in all sorts of matters, after he had had her cleaned up and bathed and dressed in fresh robes and this time raped her personally while mentioning that if she didn’t do exactly what he wanted he would slit her throat as readily as the fruit he was peeling at the time. She kept her eye on the blade he wielded, yearning only to grab it herself and in her dreams, or nightmares, all she ever did was slit all their throats as readily as he peeled that pomegranate or whatever the fuck it was.
They gave her just enough food and just enough water but over the next several days El Baguetti didn’t seem to know what to do with her. He might have discovered that she wasn’t worth very much money. Or maybe he’d demanded a ransom and been simply refused. Or maybe he had other priorities but it was only a few days, and maybe he just wasn’t that “into her” but one morning he decided he’d had enough of her presence, was bored with her company, or maybe she just wasn’t “the right one”, yet at the same time he never gave away anything once he possessed it, so his curse made sense in his own stupid way. He towered over her as she cowered shivering on the little cot he’d tied her to and uttered these words in some form of incantation, like he was a wizard or something. I’m telling you, this guy was full of himself. Power had gone to his head. He was a madman and was beginning to think he was a god. He said, and I fucking quote:
Let no one see you
That you should never leave this place
That you should be mine as long as I live

And it worked. She became invisible, like a ghost. She was still the same, still the same Karen Folde, had the same shape, the same size but she no longer had a body, no longer had a look. She could not be seen. She had become an unmarked woman, the only way a woman can be unmarked. Without a physical body, there was nothing to hold her down, and after he left her alone again she simply passed through her bonds and rose to her feet. She could walk on the ground, somehow, but she could not pass through walls, she’d be stopped by any barrier but she could go about the compound completely unseen. It was amazing. Nobody noticed her. Nobody grabbed her. Nobody saw her. But they could hear her. Somehow she could be heard. When she spoke, people were startled and turned their heads in her direction, then shook their heads as if they must have been dreaming. She determined to remain quiet and all she wanted at that point as to get the fuck out of there, so she walked through the rooms and down the hallways and through the open doors (she was unable to open any that were closed) and finally, after waiting for someone to go outside she went outside behind them and down the path and to the front gate but there she could go no further. Even when the gate was opened, she could not pass. She was stuck. She was trapped. She hadn’t been killed, she knew that. She was still alive and still a hostage but one without form, without substance, without a body.
If only that were true. She still did have a body, still a face, only it was shielded from their view, from everybody’s sight, but in time she discovered that although she did not need food and did not need drink, she still had certain bodily functions. In short, she was pregnant. This was in no way possible, of course, but it was true. Likewise impossible but true, there was one person who knew she was there, one besides El Baguetti, of course. He still saw her plain as day but paid little attention to her. He only grunted and groaned when he became aware of her presence. He was done with her, wanted nothing further to do with her, and acted as if she had already been dispatched to whatever next world he imagined there was.
He had some kind of imagination about that, because he had developed a sort of theology, as all mad men eventually do. His was a mishmash of local flavors, ancient screeds and mystical ramblings, and it involved bloodshed and manliness and an end to everything at some point when certain conditions would be fulfilled. He ranted on and on about this crap to his followers who wrote it all down and disseminated the nonsense as if it were gospel, which it was, because it was the very definition of “gospel”, the ravings of some disciples of some lunatic who somehow knew the core root truth of everything despite being an ignorant peasant who had grown up on a fucking garbage heap. Karen Folde listened to his ramblings from time to time when she became bored of trying to find a crack or a fissure in the defenses of the compound that would allow her formless form to slip through and get away. What she would do after that was anybody’s guess but first things first, she told herself, first things first.
It was another enslaved woman who could see her. This woman had a name that Karen could not easily pronounce, but somehow sounded like “Bob”, so she called her that and thought of her as that. Bob looked right at her and told her, one day when they were alone and Bob was doing some laundry,
“How is it they do not kill you? They don’t feed you. They don’t fuck you. They don’t make you do any work. Why don’t they just fucking kill you?”
Karen was shocked that Bob was not only looking at her and saying those things but also using the word “fuck” because she knew that the women around there were not allowed to.
“You can see me?” she asked.
“Of course I can see you” said Bob, “you’re standing right in front of me. Blocking the sunlight too, god damn it. It’s cold in your shadow.”
“Sorry,” Karen said, moving out of the way. “Is that better?”
“Better,” Bob snorted. “Better would be dead, don’t you think?”
“They rape you,” Karen said and Bob snorted again. Karen would come to find that Bob snorted a lot. She had a lot of contempt for things, for everyone, for life. She was not that different from El Baguetti. He was making her become like him. He had a knack for that. It was one of his “leadership qualities”.
“So why don’t they kill you?” Bob asked again.
“They can’t see me,” Karen told her. Bob didn’t believe her, but Karen proved it to her, and once she did, Bob became her friend and ally. It was Bob who told Karen she was pregnant. Karen couldn’t feel it, didn’t know it. She was unable to even see herself. Bob was sly and figured out how to manage things so that she could speak with Karen and no one would suspect. She put on an act of a crazy woman and it proved to be useful to her. Men began to avoid her. Other women too. She had more time to herself. It was a good thing she was useful, could do a lot of work and do it well. El Baguetti in particular liked a stew she knew how to make, that nobody could prepare quite the way that she could.
“This is why they don’t kill me,” Bob told Karen. “They like my fucking stew.”
Karen moved in with Bob and slept on the floor in her room. It was not uncomfortable. Having no body had its perks. Bob wanted her to sleep on the cot, she was concerned about the baby, but Karen wouldn’t hear of it.
“What if someone saw you on the floor?” she said. She was always worrying about getting found out. Bob did not understand her.
“Who the fuck cares where I sleep?” she snorted, but kept to her cot anyway. It was better than the floor.
The long slow days went by like this. She followed Bob around and they had many interesting conversations. Karen told her all about growing up in Indiana and going to college in New York City. Bob told her all about growing up in a tiny desert village surrounded by goats and grain. Bob explained the various mysteries of El Baguetti’s made-up religion, and Karen explained why organizations like the one she’d worked for felt it was their business to go around the world interfering in other people’s lives, “making things better” when for all that Bob could see things would be even better if they were all just “left the fuck alone”.
“Your people only want to give because they want to take,” Bob said. “First they take, and then they give. They take one thousand and they give back one. Then they take another one thousand. This is how it works. You are the one who comes around handing out the one, after the takers have gone.”
Karen began to see Bob had a point.
“El Baguetti, he is a taker too,” Bob said, “only he does not give back. You will see that his days are strictly numbered. Your people know how to play the game. El Baguetti does not even know it is one.”
Karen wanted to know precisely how many days El Baguetti had left. One day, when he passed through the room she happened to be in at the time, she asked him out loud.
“How many days do you have left?” she said.
He stopped and stared at her.
“What did you say? You dare speak to me?”
“How many days?” she repeated. “Or do you think it’s going to go on like this forever.”
“Fuck if I know,” he said.
“They’re coming to get you,” she told him and he reached out to strike her, to wipe whatever that look was off her disgusting face, but his hand passed right through it. El Baguetti could not believe his eyes. He punched her right in the face. His fist flew right past her, made no contact. She laughed at him.
“Fuck you,” she said, and laughed again.
“What the fuck is this shit?” he roared, then took a deep breath, and stormed out of the room. She decided to follow him.
She followed him everywhere he went and there was nothing he could do about it. Not a damn thing. She would only take a break at night, when he was sleeping, and then she went to visit Bob and they stayed up talking all night. This was going to be great, they agreed. He was already half bonkers. Now they were totally going to fuck with the bugger, drive him right out of his fucking gourd. All Karen had to do was provoke him. She could whisper into his ear so that no one else could hear it and he would have to react, either jump up or shout and smack at himself like there was a mosquito bothering him. It didn’t matter as long as he did something. And that’s what happened the first few times, but El Baguetti, as we have mentioned before, was not a fool. He was CEO material. You could have easily called him Mister President. He was the “tribal chieftain” of what had become a sort of country, one without officially recognized borders, but one that was beginning to be drawn on maps, discussed on the news, called by even more names in more languages around the world.
He changed tactics. He began to listen to what she had to say, and late at night he would keep her in his room by talking back to her. When the baby was born, popped out of nowhere or so it seemed, this little pale baby with big blue eyes and incredibly thick eyelashes, he even assigned Bob to mother it just to keep up appearances. He could otherwise not explain how it was that a baby was being held by an invisible woman in his bedroom.
El Baguetti listened because he was running out of ideas. He had talked and talked and talked so much that even he no longer had any idea what all his ideas had been. He needed the people around him to remind him of the mythology and all its details. Who was going to attack whom and where? And then what forces were going to be set in motion? And what were the laws that men had to obey in order to properly bring about this ultimate battle? And who could kill who and how? It had all become like a big epic movie, a major motion picture that might win Academy Awards but no one could really keep straight. There was a cast of millions, a clash of civilizations, too many heroes and too many villains. There were forces for good and forces for evil and both sides thought it was all about them.
Bob planted the seed in Karen, and Karen planted the seed in El Baguetti, that he would never survive by taking alone, that it was time to give back. The enemy, in Bob’s formulation, gave back one for a thousand, but he could do better, El Baguetti was better. He could show them how it ought to be done. He could give back a million for every one that he took. He could truly become the god he always wanted to be. He could liberate everyone, free the whole world. All he had to do was turn it all inside out. Instead of killing, give life. Instead of burning, grow. Instead of destroying, build.
“How can I do it?” El Baguetti asked her. He wanted to now. He wanted to change. All that his power had done was bring down the wrath of the bombs and, soon, traitors. He could see it all coming his way. It was obvious, now, as Karen described it from Bob, that his days were strictly and severely numbered. It was only a matter of time. He was losing, he would lose. The only chance El Baguetti would have was a radical shift.
“Can it even be done?” he wondered out loud. He paced around his bedroom all night. He couldn’t sleep any longer, convinced that assassins would come, that the number of his days was down to the last. He began to have extravagant ideas. He would distribute all of the wealth that he had piled up, in one big giant feast-like celebration. He would declare a new holiday. Make it so fucking holy. Everyone in the kingdom would have to be there and he would give them all presents. He saw himself dressed up in the finest of robes, handing out favors, loving and being loved by all of his people. It would be glorious, magnificent. They would call him new names, beneficent ones. No longer a figure of pure evil he would become the light of the world. El Baguetti would be handing out bread to the masses, enough for them all. No one would ever again have to grow up on a garbage heap. He would see to it. He would personally guarantee it. As a natural born leader, he would make it all happen.
Karen encouraged him. Egged on by Bob, she convinced him that his plan would succeed, knowing very well that his closest associates would turn on him instantly. He had given them power. They would keep it no matter the cost. Hadn’t he trained them too well? Didn’t they also have “leadership qualities”?
It was exactly what happened. Karen wanted to wait until it was exactly one year, one year to the day when he had ruined her life, and she ruined his. He gave the big speech to his most loyal associates, and just as if he was Julius fucking Caesar, they slit his throat open like whatever that fruit was, and Karen didn’t even have to get a hold of the blade.

Machine, Learning

For the past 25 years or so I’ve been a human learning to program computers.  It’s been my day job for much of that time. My night jobs have included writing fictions of various stripes.  I’m currently working on one about computers learning to program humans.
It’s a work in progress going on in Wattpad under the working title “Machine, Learning”,  and so far consists of log file entries. The computer is controlling a star seed spaceship carrying colonists to a distant planet decades away.  While the humans lie in stasis in capsules,  encased in a minty fresh goo, two programs,  a main and a backup operating system,  set
out to try and understand their cargo. It’s an adventure for them,  but also for me as i try to apply my experiences in learning about an alien form of being. It’s an experiment that could easily fall flat,  but then that’s true of all attempted art.

Step Over, Step Into

Good debuggers allow you to “step over” or “step into” code as needed. There are some programming languages (I’m looking at you, Scala) where “stepping in” is really asking for it! It’s not only turtles all the way down, it’s an incomprehensible and infinite regression into the void.

Fiction, as a rule, “steps over” a lot more than it “steps into”. This is one reason why time never really works in fiction. In fiction, nobody goes to the bathroom, nobody sleeps, and people never talk at the same time as each other. In fiction, cause leads directly to effect, and usually it’s a childhood trauma that explains every thing that ever goes wrong.

I’m thinking about this because I’m toying with some ideas for a new short novel. One of the ideas is the common SF gambit of a “deep space” colonization mission. The humans are in stasis. The voyage may last for a century or more. Alpha Centauri is a long ways away!

Such stories step right over all that. They kind of have to. It would be incredibly boring to slog through a century or more of humans in stasis, eh? The longest I’ve ever seen it linger over it was in the movie ‘Alien’. Maybe a whole three minutes if I remember correctly.

Idea number two is related – just how incredibly vulnerable we are when we are asleep. Again, this is something that fiction generally steps right over. Who wants to see a lot of snoring, right?

Yet there are interesting experiments conducted on sleepers. The science of sleep can be fascinating. Scientists are now also beginning to be able to re-created images from people’s minds through equipment and software.

Sleepers in stasis, dozing away for a century or more. How much could be learned from them, about them, in that period of time, by some diligent observer/scientist!

Especially if that observer was a machine, or machines, programmed to learn, to learn all they can about humans.

What might such machines step into? What might they learn, and what might they do?

The novel would take place mostly – or maybe even entirely – during the period when the humans are in stasis.

De-Duped: A Short Story

This is a set of several stories. Like any set, duplicates have been removed, leaving only the unique values in each story. The unique values consist of names, places and events. Certain common elements have been removed for no good reason. One of the unique names is Richard. Richard loved tacos but he didn´t know anything about them. He thought they had originated in the south of Spain and were supposed to be called morditas. He also believed with all his heart that a mordita served with onions was not only egregious but had also been the true proximate cause of World War One. This was not entirely Richard´s fault. He had been misinformed. The person who had planted these seeds of ignorance in his brain was named Mylie. Mylie had given him the gift of taco history. They had grown up together in the Seaside district of Placenta, California, a town famous for its historical collection of idiots, which included one former President of the United States and no fewer than two State Senators. There was a public swimming pool in Placenta which over the years had excluded women and children as well as people of Asian, Latin and African descent. The pool was kept at a constant temperature of eighty two degrees and smelled like any other public swimming pool, an instantly recognizable mixture of acid, piss and rain.

Directly across the street from the swimming pool was a restaurant called La Mordida which was famous for its tacos. Richard used to go in and order chicken ¨morditas¨, which were not on the menu. He meant tacos but didn´t know he meant tacos and anyway, once he had caused a long line to form behind him while he argued until the cashier gave in and took his money and wrote tacos on the bill anyway and handed it back to the chef, the next bit of trouble occurred when the order arrived and it contained, naturally, onions. This is when Richard would start complaining in a loud voice about World War One and What The Hell.

Richard loved tacos but the person who stood patiently behind him in line was named Larrold and he hated tacos. He not only hated tacos, he despised burritos as well, and fajitas, and pretty much any kind of food except flautas. The chef at La Mordida happened to make excellent flautas, which was why Larrold (who could never be called Larry to his face without a fight breaking out) often went there for just that reason. Now a flauta is basically a taco that´s been rolled up and fried, but Richard did not know that. He was still arguing with the cashier about his order when he noticed Larrold´s flautas, and turned to ask him if it had onions in it.

Of course it has onions, Larrold told him. What are you, a freaking idiot?

Tacos are not supposed to have onions, Richard insisted.

Shut the front door, Larrold said (in other words), and stop arguing with Lolita and get your ass outta here, you freaking moron.

My name is not Lolita, said the cashier.

Was I talking to you, sweetheart? Larrold turned on her with his fat red face. In his trembling right hand the small plate holding the two delicate chicken and avocado flautas also trembled. Plates held by Larrold had met floors before, and walls, and even someone´s ear on one occasion. Larrold was not to be trifled with. He conceal-carried a firearm as was his God-given right in God´s own country of Placenta, California. It not only went to church with him on Sundays, but also to La Mordida on Tuesdays and everywhere else he went on any other day.

Her name is not Sweetheart, said the chef, who stepped forward now, the large butcher knife in his hand still dripping fresh chicken blood. Did I mention that La Mordida was famous for its fresh chickens? They lived (temporarily) in a coop out back, facing the ocean so they could at least smell the salt air and dream of a peaceful bobbing in the waves during those long nights of hatching eggs and preparing for death. The chef´s name was Tony and so was the cashier´s, though they were short for different longer ones.

Damn good flautas, Larrold murmured, backing away and beginning to munch on one. He didn´t give a damn about Richard but he did like his flautas, and for once he let his brain do a bit more thinking than his pistol.

As for you, said Tony, advancing on Richard with the bloody knife, if I ever hear another peep out of you about onions or World War One, I will cut your freaking balls off, do you hear me?

But Mylie said, Richard began. Tony interrupted him.

Leave my sister out of this, he snarled.

She told me, Richard said but quickly shut his trap as Tony (the chef) raised his knife in a synchronous ballet of threat and fear. Tony (the cashier) said

Next!

This story happened four Tuesdays in a row, word for word and scene for scene, but according to the rules of sets and Venn diagrams, this fact has been redacted from the official record. There is also no mention of a snickering Mylie, hiding behind the hot grill and near to bursting with glee. A future State Senator, she was cutting her teeth early on the gullibility of the public in Placenta.

Now Playing: Magical Futurism

If only I were a trend setter, a cultural maven, a gate keeper, y’know, one of those people who decide what things are called and everybody goes “hey, we’ll call it that”, then I would declare that the genre-du-jour shall be called “Magical Futurism”. Or at least that’s what I’m calling my own genre. It’s not Magical Realism because of the Realism part. It’s not Science Fiction because of the Science part. It’s not Literary Fiction because of the Literary part, but it’s got magic and it’s got futurism, so there you go.

All this by way of re-introducing “Entropic Quest“, now serializing on Wattpad. I co-authored this story with my son, who was around 8 years old when we began writing it. We would talk every night at bedtime about the characters and the plot and the world we were building, and what was going to happen next, and whenever we had enough to move forward, I would sit down and write that chapter.

It was a wonderful adventure. He was full of crazy ideas and so was I, and they fit together in a crazy Escher-like patchwork of infinite recursion. There is a shit ton of originality in this story, as creative and wild as anything I’ve ever read. We followed up with a pair of sequels that are also really bizarre, but this one, the first one, also holds a depth in parts that remains remarkable.

What happens when people are different, when they are Other from the majority, is one of the Great Problems of the human world, and we did deal with that a bit, along with the sheer madness of the central tale of an epic anti-quest featuring anti-heroes in an anti-task that must by definition fail and fail in a most unexpected fashion.

It’s my own horn I’m tooting here, and also that of my son, and I’m not given to much horn-tooting, but I do believe this one is worth an occasional shout out.

EntropicQuestCover2_bw_large

The System

A short story, dedicated to a pair of fine writers, Jim Maher and Michael Graeme, whose names you should click on because that will lead you to them …

(Out of My System from the Smile EP by SPC ECO)

Forty Seven? Jax stared at the card in disbelief. How could it possible say Forty Seven? Only yesterday it had told him Thirty Four and what had he done since then? Nothing. Nothing at all. Maybe Hellas was right. Maybe the whole thing was nonsense. But how could that be true? Everything depended on The System. Everything. If it were all based on nothing, how could anything even function? How could the whole world work? And yet it worked, or at least some parts of it did sometimes. Right now he couldn’t be sure. The line wasn’t moving at all. What was that lady doing up there? Come on, lady, move! The seventeen other people ahead of him in line were also beginning to grumble and murmur. It was, after all, a public kiosk, meant for everyone, not just for one foolish woman wearing a red beret and a black rain slicker. Jax had seen this kind of blockage before. It was only a matter of moments before the mood turned nasty. The woman seemed to sense the panic growing behind her. She stepped aside, still clutching the card in her hand. As she turned, Jax saw she’d been crying. Well, that can’t be helped, he reminded himself. The System is and The System knows. She is probably less than Twenty, Jax decided from her expression. That’s a less than Twenty look if I ever saw one.

Jax had been fourteen when The System became. They say it was a man named Peter who invented it. No one ever knew his last name, only that he was rumored to be a good man, a kind man, who had only goodness and kindness in mind when he made his discovery. They said all sorts of things about Peter. Thirty years later, it was likely Peter was dead and gone by now, having lived to see his concept spread its wings and literally take over the world. There was no corner on Earth now not under its sway, from the most populated city on the planet to the most remote village in the most secluded jungle.

The System ranked and rated everything on a scale of One to One Hundred. Everything. Whether it was a business or a person or a movie or a book or a recipe or philosophy or a dress shirt or a comb, if it existed it was rated, ranked and rated on the scale. The scale itself had never changed, never budged, but the things it listed underwent continuous change, radical and constant continuous change. Jax was holding a proof in his hand. Forty Seven on his card. Thirty Four yesterday, and yet in between he’d done nothing, or at least nothing he could think of. What did I do? He wondered again, to fall Thirteen points? His score had never moved so much in a day, not in all those thirty years.

Of course, he’d heard of such things, even much more massive swings. There was the day that ValTech dropped a round Ninety whole points, and the entire company vanished overnight. It could happen. Jax remembered, even if no one ever talked about it anymore. Why talk about such things? ValTech had been a Ninety after all! Wasn’t that a wonder all by itself? One should be happy with such a rating. Surely all the ValTech people were proud of that achievement, however it had come about. Jax loved to speculate, even though Hellas wouldn’t listen and told him not to. He had looked into it. ValTech, the company, had never done anything, nothing at all. They had never produced a product, never documented a document, never expounded upon a single exposition. They were “Tech” and they represented “Value”. The Val in ValTech stood for Value. This is the only fact that was ever known about the company. They were Value and they were once a Ninety, and then they fell, and then they were gone.

Fourteen people ahead of him now. Twenty three people behind him on Copernicus Boulevard. The weather was drizzly and humid. The sky was iron and the air was still. He was still outside the storefront windows of The Broken Wheel. Fourteen people ahead of him, now only thirteen as a happy young man skipped off to the side and down the street, waving his card like a miniature flag on a national holiday parade. Good for him, Jax said to himself. Nice is nice, and happy is good. He had been happy just yesterday. Forty Seven was the highest recorded in his personal experience. The charts showed him swelling to that peak over a period of weeks of two or three points forward, one or two points back. He had been following Hellas’ rules. Compliance in all things. Being Kind as a way of life. Going Out Of His Way to be Helpful and Considerate. Smiling Upon All Occasions. Hellas had liked him better those past several weeks, had even helped to bake a fresh pie, had even brought home some bacon. She was, as usual, well ahead of him, never having sagged beneath a Sixty, and usually upwards of a Seventy Two.

As she should be. Hellas was the best. Everybody loved Hellas. She had been the prettiest little girl, then the smartest and the bravest young woman, then the most accomplished and professional adult. When had she not been successful? She held the chair at several prestigious boards, multiple charities among them. She had been awarded a variety of awards. Her businesses thrived, ranked and rated among the highest as long as she pursued them, often dropping as she left them behind to pursue other interests. Why she had a thing for Jax was the ultimate mystery, the one big unknown in her entire portfolio. He believed he was holding her back. She would have been over Ninety without him. Hellas would hear nothing of this. She had her own superstitions. She believed that Nineties were cursed as much as Tens and below. She swore allegiance to a Golden Rule which she claimed was invented more than millions of years ago and was responsible for every positive development in the history of the universe. Not too little, not too much. Everything in due measure and in due time. Goodliness and Kindliness, but Modestness too, and Gratefulness.

The System knew and The System cared. Nine people remained in front of him now. Jax was doing the wrong thing and he knew it. The kiosk was meant for occasional use. The kiosk was a service to the public. One could check on one’s rank and rating at any time, day or night, but one was really not supposed to make a habit of it. Here he was, checking again. He had waited patiently, found himself at the front of the line, inserted his card and removed it. Thirty Four. There must have been a mistake. Shaking his head, he had returned to the back of the line and queued again. Eight people ahead of him now.

There were those who said Peter’s algorithm could never be known. It certainly did seem mysterious. Some bad people thrived, some good people were trashed, some items fluctuated erratically, some never took off while others soared for no reasonable reason. There were popular songs that were seriously awful. There were masterpieces of literature that garnered pathetic single digits. Cures for terrible diseases received a low rating, while snack foods of negative nutrition scaled the heights of the numbers. Of course the opposite happened a lot too. Good movies were recommended, good foods were well touted, nice places to visit were honored as such. The trick was to find out the trick. Many had tried. No one could prove they had won. There were those who gathered a following, only to flame out one day. Many died trying to prove their own theories. Jax especially kept thinking of the man who trusted his life to his will, insisting that self-immolation was the only true way to the ultimate score. If The System didn’t give him One Hundred, then surely God would in the end.

Why does it matter? He wondered again. It should make no difference to me. I have a good job at the vitamin shoppe. I have Hellas who loves me or at least says she does. We have Wiggins the cat. He is a good cat. We have plenty to eat and a house with a view of the world as it is, including a bit of the sky now and then. I live in the city I want to live in. I’m a middle-aged man who wants for no things. My skin could be lighter. That might help for some things, but maybe not much. My eyes could be blue. I wish they were blue. I always liked the color of blue. Hellas has pretty blue eyes. Hellas is right now exactly two times my score.

Three people left in front of me now. I once was lower than this. I was Twenty Four when I was twenty four. That was before I’d found vitamins. I was lost, and trying the wrong things too often. I used different pills, substances of no nutritional value. They made me feel sad, but I took them anyway. No wonder my score was so low. You have to align yourself properly. This, at least, is what Hellas says. If you’re in line with your world, you can’t help but get rated accordingly. Peter was on to this fact, she believed. It was a matter of harmony, of chakras, alignment. Be who you are, be true to the you, it’s all you can do, it’s all you should do. The numbers will follow. They have to.

Jax was now next in line. In front of him he recognized the widow from yesterday’s line. Her husband was hit by a car. She had been nowhere around and yet she had fallen a full ten points. Yesterday she’d fallen again. She’d been sad. That was all. She’d been sad and now The System was kicking her, biting her, knocking her down. Jax could see her hand shaking, holding the card, nearly dropping it, bringing it slowly up to the slot, pushing it in, barely able to breathe. The kiosk was beeping, gently at first, then gradually louder as it did when the customer failed to retrieve it in time. She turned and saw Jax. He saw the fear on her face.

“Could you?” she quietly asked, but he shook his head. That would not be following the rules. It would be kindness, perhaps, but it could also be karma. You have to take your own card. Everyone knows it. It’s written right there on the kiosk. But she couldn’t. She dare not. Instead, she suddenly gasped and ran out right into the street. It was lucky she wasn’t killed. Or unlucky. Who knew? The System knew, and The System would know.

Jax stared at the kiosk. It was beeping now louder and louder. He didn’t move toward it. No one pushed from behind. A worker would have to come out from behind the dark window, would have to come reset the device and take out the card. Jax waited. Everyone waited. The worker would come. In the meantime, he prayed. Dear Peter, he thought, make it good, make it right, please be kind.