Dispatches from the Future (B-list)

Gum Balls and Pirates

Howard Wallerton’s diamond smile was front and center on the WorldCore simulcast that hung above the bar. This was the moment that Keller has been waiting for; he had parked himself in the chain-joint over decorated with Jolly Roger kitsch and swimming with too-perky wait staff because it boasted something like fifty flat-screens. And he endured the bar tender’s perpetual can-I-get-you-anything glances just so he could watch the broadcast. All this, despite the fact that he otherwise would not have been caught dead watching WorldCore anything, but Keller had to admit that Wellerton’s segue from newsy opinion piece intended to mold public opinion on to the Lincoln Park Incident was smooth. Too smooth, even the product placement felt like silk on his ears. It tickled in a bad way.

This was Keller’s moment, the one he had been working toward since he dropped out of engineering school back in ’21, and he’d be damned if he was going to watch it as a rebroadcast. Wellerton’s words dripped slowly from of his chiseled lips like warm honey.

“And now onto our feature story. Lincoln Park, a small hold-out enclave south of Detroit, Michigan has seen it’s fair share of rioting recently. Reportedly, residents hit the streets demanding better food rations. An all too common complaint of the voluntarily disenfranchised. However, when rioters resorted to violence the Michigan Heavy Police contingent was brought in to quell the disturbance. Police believe that terrorist elements may be providing material aid to street rioters, thereby escalating the conflict. Viewers should be aware that some images may not be suitable for all audiences. You may want to pause the broadcast and remove children from the room before watching.”

“Yeah, get on with it,” muttered Keller. The bar man saw his lips moving and seemed to imagine that this meant he wanted another pint. The bar man pointed to the tap, Keller held up the half empty glass of Amerifuzz emoting “not yet.”

“For more, we go to Jessie Kay, our mid-west correspondent on the scene,” intoned Wellerton before the screen flickered to show a slender newsy-model hidden within a too-big, urban camouflage flack vest. The word “PRESS” emblazoned in highly reflective white letters across her chest piece negated any concealing effect the printed pattern might have should reporter Kay find herself in the midst of a firefight. Keller grinned in recollection, those letters had represented a particularly nasty problem.

Her über-platinum hair, almost as reflective as the lettering on her chest, was pressed over her delicate ears by the riot hemet balanced atop her tiny head. Keller wondered for a moment at the woman’s age, impossible to grok simply by appearance, there was likely more applied medical wizbangary in the thirty-six square centimeters of that face than had ever been offered to the denizens of Lincoln Park. This was a person who had been fundamentally altered for ratings. Something about her appearance momentarily moved Keller. It was an uncomfortable sensation, simultaneous affection and loathing, like watching his mother leave on a date after her divorce.

“Bill, I’m standing behind Michigan Heavy Police barricades, now located within Detroit proper.” High-lift armored troop transport vehicles made up the backdrop for the on-site simulcast. The broadcast could have been pitched from anywhere. “Earlier today police conducted an organized retreat when Lincoln Park rioters were surprisingly assisted by a swarm of unmanned arial drones,” Keller supposed that even the woman’s voice had been altered. If anything could make this beer worse, it was the saccharin sound coming from her lips. “With me here is the Heavy Battalion Incident Commander Marc Creech. Commander Creech can you tell our viewers what happened today and why your men were forced to pull back?”

Creech held something up in his hand. The camera zoomed in on a device and Keller got to see his creation for the first time in the wild. “This morning we started to notice these drones collecting above Lincoln Park. For most of the morning they would pop up above riot lines and we believed they were just performing reconnaissance for riot organizers.”

“Wrong on two counts,” muttered Keller.

The bar man, for the first time that night, seemed interested in the broadcast and moved down the counter to catch the WorldCore story. “Why’s he wrong?” he asked Keller seemingly making small talk.

“They’re not video drones, and just watch,” Keller replied.

Commander Creech went on barking into the microphone, “At about 15:37 this afternoon we were surprised by a swarm of these little devices,” the screen switched to some footage recorded earlier. What had to be a hundred-thousand mechanical contraptions darkened the hazy Michigan air above a line of decaying brick buildings. Below the swarm, rioters began to pull back and the Michigan Heavy Police, believing that their opposition was yielding, began to press their advantage. As the riot police moved forward a contingent of the drone swarm broke from the cloud above, and dove at the armored men. Riot shields were raised and batons we’re momentarily brandished like baseball bats, but the mechanical assault stopped just short of engaging the troops. Then a multi-colored day-glow eruption burst from the line of drones, liberally coating the first and second row of police troops in rainbow goo.

“That’s not silly string?” queried Jessie Kay off camera.

“These drones are equipped with an aerosol can which our forensics team describes as custom cocktail of fast setting epoxy foam. As you can see the drone swarm fire on police with the foam pinning our forces in place. I’ve still got men trapped in Lincoln Park who cannot move.”

“That sounds bad Commander Creech. Why haven’t your men been able to lock down the area and disable the drones? Isn’t it true you have an electronic warfare contingent on site?” The camera was again focused on the little device with the contra-rotating top rotor in Commander Creech’s hand. The container of foam was now plainly visible. Keller noticed that who ever made it used their own nozzle.

“We’re still awaiting results from the FBI lab, but it appears that these devices are semi-autonomous. Independently they’re almost worthless, but together they have a swarm-intelligence that allows them to to operate for extended periods without additional instructions. They can recharge their batteries from environmental sources which makes them a persistent threat. The electronic warfare unit on site with us today has tried everything short of an electromagnetic discharge to bring these things down. They are too fast to shoot down with conventional firearms and they never get close enough for police units to grab or hit. This one had a faulty spray nozzle, it saturated its own motor before it seized.”

Keller was chuckling to himself, and the bar man was paying attention. He asked Keller, “What’s so funny?” The question soured Keller’s mirth just a tad.

“One out of one hundred-thousand, that’s pretty good quality control for a DYI project, don’t you think?” Keller countered letting a little pride mingle in with his response.

“This evening our electronic warfare unit was able to locate where these things came from. These devices are part of a do-it-yourself kit that was made freely available on web sites some time ago. The Gum Ball drones make use of easily available electronics components; a Chinese manufactured toy actually, a microprocessor, and some freely available code. We believe they are using a rudimentary object recognition algorithm which is keyed to a variety of camouflage patterns,” said the Commander.

“Wow, that’s pretty keen,” said the bar man. “I suppose who ever made that thing is in for some grief.”

“Yeah,” Keller agreed. “Probably the Federal level, water board, black-box sort if you ask me.” Keller figured he could not lay it on too thick. He had already broken disciple just coming into this place, and he could not tell if this stranger suspected something or if he was just being nosey. Keller had long ago internalized a state of self-protective paranoia, it was always better to appear just another cog than signal where his passions lay.

The incident commander continued. “We have a warrant for the creator of this device. A reward is being offered for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of drones’ designers. The FBI has opened a toll free hot line where you can call in any information you might have regarding the identity of these terrorists.”

“You believe there’s more than one person responsible for the Gum Ball drones?” asked Kay.

“Yes, right now we’re focusing our attention on known terrorist organizations that possess the man power to quickly develop such a capable swarm intelligence. The Bureau has agreed to assist us in our search. The wide distribution and availability of the plans to make this drone system means that Homeland will likely spearhead future investigations.”

“Have you been able to remove the plans and software from the websites you mentioned?” Keller knew the answer to this one already, but watching Creech’s shoulders drop in frustration made his response so much more enjoyable.

“No, we’ve been able to remove some repostings from networks maintained by commercial entities. However, we’ve discovered that the drone plans are widely available via an illegal anonymous offline file-sharing and communications system known as PirateBox10,” said Creech. “I’d like to take a moment to remind citizens that manufacture and distribution of these network devices is also illegal and people caught with pirate networks will be prosecuted.”

“Thank you Commander Creech. Back to WorldCore and you Bill,” said Jessie Kay. Keller was no longer paying attention. The Gum Ball drones were doing everything he hoped they might. Better the toy he had used as a chassis for the robot had just come down another twenty percent in price. Anyone could build one, everyone probably would.

The bar man snatched a glass from the counter under the screen and turned around to the tap. He smiled while pulling a pint of something that looked remarkably tasty compared to the swill that had un-lamentably died in the bottom of Keller’s glass. “You know,” said the bar man sliding the nutty smelling foam topped pint down the counter where it came to rest just to Keller’s right, “I sure hope they find those terrorists.” Keller looked up. Looked at the man standing behind the bar. The bar man pointed to the glossy molded likeness of a Jolly Roger flag flying from atop the tap he had just pulled and winked.

Blind Date with a Book (GIVE AWAY)


Reblogging because free stuff from Little Red. Seriously, I’m guessing that some of these could be Hugo winners. I want the red one with the snow flakes, because snow flakes. Ugh, I’m done with summer.

Originally posted on the Little Red Reviewer:

2014-08-17 18.16.56

I’ve got books to give away!  But we’re gonna do this the fun way. And by fun way, I mean blind date with a book!  that means I give you a little bit of info about the book, and you get to decide if it looks interesting.  I won’t tell you the title, or the author, but I can tell you that these are all new books published in the last 12 months,  from publishers like Orbit, Tachyon, and Titan Books. They were all sent to me as review copies, and either I have duplicates, I’ve read them and don’t plan to read them again, or it’s a title I opted to skip on.

Here’s the rules:

– due to the cost of shipping overseas, this give away is for US only

– let me know in the comments which book(s) you’re interested in, and yes, you can request more…

View original 222 more words

Hugo Awards Are Out

Perfect? No, not so much. Relevant and important to the future of the genre? Unquestionably. The 72nd World Science Fiction Convention at Loncon 3, has announced the 2014 Hugo Award winners. And before you say something as ridiculous as “the Hugos don’t matter anyway” think for a moment on the 3587 valid ballots that were counted to determine this year’s winners. Such a tiny number of people voting, yet the impact of this award is pretty amazing. If you have a problem with the Hugo you should realize that you, all by your lonesome, can still change how this thing works. Participate, be friendly, be open to discussion and get ready for 2015.

Now, I want to send out some good vibes to everyone. Nomination is still a high bar and winners, you’re this year’s rocks stars.


Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie (Orbit US / Orbit UK)


“Equoid” by Charles Stross (Tor.com, 09-2013)


“The Lady Astronaut of Mars” by Mary Robinette Kowal (maryrobinettekowal.com /
Tor.com, 09-2013)


“The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere” by John Chu (Tor.com, 02-2013)


“We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slaves Narrative” by Kameron Hurley (A Dribble of Ink)


“Time” by Randall Munroe (xkcd)


Gravity written by Alfonso Cuarón & Jonás Cuarón, directed by Alfonso Cuarón (Esperanto Filmoj; Heyday Films;Warner Bros.)


Game of Thrones “The Rains of Castamere” written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss, directed by David Nutter (HBO Entertainment in association with Bighead, Littlehead; Television 360; Startling Television and Generator Productions)


Ellen Datlow


Ginjer Buchanan


Julie Dillon


Lightspeed Magazine edited by John Joseph Adams, Rich Horton, and Stefan Rudnicki


A Dribble of Ink edited by Aidan Moher


SF Signal Podcast, Patrick Hester


Kameron Hurley


Sarah Webb


Award for the best new professional science fiction or fantasy writer of 2012 or 2013, sponsored by Dell Magazines (not a Hugo Award).

Sofia Samatar

Dispatches from the Future (B-list)

Treatment Party

“Did you get one too?” Melanie asked Anita interrupting her enjoyment of the beam of sunshine now creeping onto her chair. The tone of the question contained just enough snark to signal her friend that, yes, indeed she could not believe the contents of the invitation now being displayed on the surface of her cartabla.

Anita sighed, she hated it when people pulled a device at a table. The morning shared with Melanie at the little cafe had been very enjoyable up until her girlfriend had gotten bored with the lazy silence and tea. Default mode for her was always connected to the spiely. Invariably Melanie would find something to get snarky about. It was irksome in a way that Anita did not have words to explain; so, she signed, pulled her cartabla from her hand bag, and checked her message queue. Sure enough, near the top, under an advertisement from a spa, was the invitation in question.

“Yes. Hold on, what’s this? Isabel has cancer?” Melanie let Anita finish reading the invitation. Anita couldn’t understand how her friend might feel even the least bit snarky about the invitation. Then Melanie interrupted Anita’s internal monologue on the topic to explain.

“Oh yes, hadn’t you heard?” said Melanie not really asking. Anita hadn’t, in fact, heard anything. “Isabel was diagnosed, I don’t know, maybe a month ago. Stage three breast cancer. Can you believe that?”

“That’s bad right?” Anita was none too sure about the implications. People she knew just didn’t get it.

“Terrible I’m told. I had to speil some old medical locus to figure out how bad. I guess that twenty years ago it would have been a death sentence,” said Melanie.

“But Isabel is going to be okay?”

“Oh, of course. Read the invitation. She’s just trying to drum up some sympathy. It’s a ‘Treatment Party.’ I mean who throws a party before they go to see their oncologist, right?” The snark was back and this time Melanie had turned the dial all the way around. “Lah-de-dah, do you think anyone will go? What do you bring to a ‘Treatment Party’ anyway? I just don’t know.”

Anita still didn’t think it was very funny, but she could see her friend’s point. It was much like throwing a shindig because you were headed in to the shop for a manicure. She sat back in her chair and let the beam of sunlight illuminate her face and chest. It felt divine. “Are you going?” Anita asked Melanie making sure those three words betrayed their sardonic edge.

“Oh of course. Isabel’s shindigs are usually pretty good. Everyone will be there.”

Anita looked down at her cartabla, then swiped down to the response panel. “‘Everyone’ is going to be there you say,” she’d have to think about it. She touched the button labeled “maybe” and leaned back into the sunshine.

Dispatches from the Future (B-list)


Keoonik never tiers of tricks. The otter giggles whenever he is able, and he is always able to turn sorrow into joy. Unlike coyote, otter is patient. He will take his time setting up his jokes just so he can savor them all the more in their realization.

Once, he convinced the sun and the moon to exchange places. He turned the night to day, and the day to night to confuse and confound owl. Tired and hungry, the old bird stumbled and fell from a cedar. He landed on his face and Otter laughed for an age at the bird with the flat face.

Otter turns everything on its head and always for a laugh. While there is mischief about him there is also great joy, his eyes light up when he turns over a rock and finds tender, young crabs there to eat. And always there is a chuckle.

“Yeah,” the kid kicks the air after pulling a pair of perfect shots from the brewing group. “This is going to be one amazing cup of coffee,” he says to the patron on the other side of the brushed steel boiler. The patron is unimpressed. Dark rings have collected under his eyes, without that cup of precious caffeine this one will likely sink between the cracks and meld with the gray sidewalk along the pier.

And this patron is just one in a long line of people infected by gray. Millions perpetually overwhelmed by the city’s palette. In Seattle, it is not the rain that will get you, it is the gray. Interminable shades of the stuff everywhere. The Mercer tunnel is a golden gray with highlights of red brake-lights regardless of the hour. The space under the Alaskan Way viaduct is the gray of a weekend party ended; Bar-B Q charcoal ash sadness with too much mess to clean up after the guests have all gone home.

It is the overwhelming grayness of the sky that gets to the citizenry of this place the most. It spans the full spectrum of grayness from spoiled cottage cheese in an unlit refrigerator to the color of the collective mental funk that drove Jonestown to Kool-aid cocktails. Seattle is gray. Anxiety gray. Sleepless gray. Loveless, chilly gray lonely and isolated.

It is the gray that robs this patron of all energy and motivation. Makes him breathe through his mouth like a depressed salmon stuck in a lifeless estuary. Makes him crave that chemical kick in the ass that will push him along to the next cup of coffee a couple hours down his endless gray road.

But the barista is not affected by the gray. He loves his job, loves these people, loves the brew he squeezes through gray perforated metal film with high temperature water. The barista wakes up every morning with a smile on his face. He greets the gray. He wears it. His hoodie is gray, his jeans are too. Even the overpriced, vintage t-shirt he sports is a shade of gray.

On the ass end of the city’s grayness is the last happy barista in Seattle. He tosses an artfully re-mixed grande latte to the next ever weary patron, now standing at the cash register, like a life preserver. Grudgingly, the tired man’s lips curl up in an insipid response to the resplendent grin this kid shines on the line. The patron passes him some dough — not for the paper cup, bean juice and milk — but because, just for a moment there, he felt the possibility of the gray. The mystic, concealing cloak it could be. A moist breath of life under a waterfall in the desert. A kiss on his wan, dry lips. In that moment the patron understands something new about the color that so dominates his life. Without that blanket of gray he would be scorched. Burnt. A wasted husk of a person.

In that moment, in the presence of Caesar Cinereus behind the bar, he hears the ticking of charcoal bicycle derailleurs merging on Broad Street, sees the gentle whoosh of silver hybrid cars gliding along Alaskan, and smells a cinder block gray of the fog floating above the Sound. All this combines for him alone. The patron feels a rush of gunmetal in his chest, chill and calming.

The kid seeing that flash in the man’s eye, knows undoubtably that he put it there. He says, “You’re a rock star baby,” and sends him out the door with a salute. The kid turns to the next patron in line, “What can I get for you this fine morning.” Saving lives one cup at a time.

Just a reminder, these shorts are going into a collection on WattPad. It is free to read and if you like what you’re reading here, your votes and comments would be much appreciated there. Well technically, your votes and comments would be appreciated there even if you hate what you’re reading, but I digress.

Seriously though, spend some time out on WattPad. It is currently my favorite mobile app.


Downtown Seattle in the afternoon

Last night I wrote a bit of fantasy as part of the Dispatches from the Future (B-List) project I’ve been working on. The last few days have done their level best to bring me way down, and I admit that I am currently not feeling my best (what a miserably inadequate euphemism that one is). My nose is running off my face, I seem to be experiencing something known as reactive arthritis, and everyone near and dear to me is infected with a similar summer crud.

This is life. It knocks us sideways. Some of us, from time to time, maybe a little more than others. JUICE should be a lot longer; note to self, “write more parts.” I was thinking about what a real cure for depression might look like. What is pharmacologically achievable today is more like living with emotional blinders than cure. I wanted to probe how a cure might work. After a particularly harrowing commute to pick Tess up from deepest, darkest Seattle, an idea occurred to me.

Seattle in the afternoon is the traffic equivalent of a black hole. Cars can get into downtown, but they will never again emerge. Sitting behind the wheel of our Prius for hours gave me plenty of time to pay attention to how everything around me was affecting me. Each and every time someone defected — inched me out of a lane change or honked their horn because of some unavoidable road-wise traffic event — I felt myself getting bumped sideways. Off the steady state between mania and depression. Nudge, bump, knock. Nudge, bump, knock’in me sideways. Already on a down cycle in my regular rapid mood oscillations anxiety, depression and anger increasingly became my reality.

Depression is not the opposite of happiness. In fact, these two states of mind can and do coexist, pretending to be a perfectly contented coupling while mutually these moods seeking something more racy on the side. Happiness and depression are both cheats, and this is why having one will never exclude the other. For me at least, depression is most often the product of little frustrations coupled with an inability to disengage with how I feel about them. Emotions being the atomic structure of my state of mind; indivisible and unavoidable at that level you cannot help but pay your full attention. So if the default mind state of depression is feeling bad, bad, bad what might happen if we engineered an agent to reverse this?

If frustration and fatigue naturally result in despondency and dejection, what might happen if we could transform our physiological response to be one of content, cheer, and even elation? JUICE changes how we react to those negative external stimulus. If your unavoidable reaction to bad traffic after a long day of working is a bad mood, then on JUICE it’s an excellent mood. As you can see, it’s not necessarily a socially acceptable transformation, but I’m looking forward to exploring how this one might work in more detail.

Dispatches From The Future (B-List)


“No, please you go ahead,” Justin found himself motioning to the urban professional behind the wheel of a dark blue sports rail on his right. He depressed the break coming to a full stop in the lane in order to give the sports car plenty of room to merge ahead of him. He sighed contentment. Another endless commute home, after an endless day at the office.

“No,” he smiled broadly and said aloud again, “please you go. I’m fine.” He motioned a second time, not letting his foot off the break, for the soccer mom driving the family-pod chocked full of what appeared to be wild youth hooligans on some sort of parole. The kids cheered from the three rows of bench seats behind the woman who waved and mouthed a thank you in Justin’s direction. His chest swelled with a sensation Justin could not peg down at the moment. All the same it felt good.

Too good. He shook his head, there was something wrong with this situation. Or if not wrong then horribly against the grain. The chubby dude driving the delivery van behind his Helios laid into his horn and inched his rig right next to Justin’s little commuter. In his rear view mirror all he could see was radiator. Justin smiled at the impressive collection of dead insects plastered to the grill work, rolled down his window and waved behind at the Joe in the big truck.

“Are you retarded? Get going moron,” the truck driver barked at Justin from his cab.

“Oh yes, sure. Right away. Umm, how was your day?” Justin replied, still waving. The man in the truck huffed, shrugged his shoulders, and sat back in his cab to fume some more.

Several vehicles had merged in front of him, sneaking in off the ramp, while he had been looking over his shoulder. “What did the Med Tech say?” Justin wondered aloud. He scratched his right arm and the sensation of satisfaction increased exponentially. A tingle escaped up his spine through his scalp. Another merging car pulled into the space ahead of his commuter.

It was the Juice. The Med Tech had reminded him that for a while he might have some trouble getting conditioned to the Juice. “How could I not get used to this?” Justin wondered aloud. “It’s better than …” he was at a momentary loss for words. “Than everything else before.” The man in the delivery truck lit up the horn again and Justin was glad. Justin’s smile hurt.