Dispatches from the Future (B-list)

Gumballs 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 had been waiting for. He had parked himself in the chain joint, overdecorated with Jolly Roger kitsch and swimming with too-perky waitstaff because it boasted something like fifty flat-screens. He had endured the bartender’s perpetual can-I-get-you-anything glances just so he could watch this broadcast. Although he otherwise would not have been caught dead watching WorldCore anything, Keller had to admit that Wellerton’s segue from newsy opinion piece on 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 his chiseled lips like warm honey.

“And now onto our feature story. Lincoln Park, a small holdout enclave south of Detroit, has seen its 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 bartender saw his lips moving and seemed to imagine that this meant he wanted another pint. The bartender pointed to the tap, Keller held up the half empty glass of Amerifuzz and mouthed, “Not yet.”

“For more, we go to Jessie Kay, our Midwest correspondent on the scene,” said Wellerton before the screen flickered to show a slender newsy-model hidden within an oversized urban camouflage flack vest. The word “PRESS” emblazoned in highly reflective white letters across the 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 helmet balanced atop her tiny head. Keller wondered for a moment at the woman’s age; impossible to estimate simply by appearance, given that there appeared to be more applied medical whizbangery 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 aerial drones.” Keller wondered whether 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 up something 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. We believed they were just performing reconnaissance for riot organizers.”

“Wrong on two counts,” muttered Keller.

The bartender, 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. 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 in the day. 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. The Michigan Heavy Police began to press their advantage. As the riot police moved forward, a contingent of the drone swarm broke from the cloud above, diving at the armored men. Riot shields were raised and batons were momentarily brandished like baseball bats, but the mechanical assault stopped just short of engaging the troops. Then a multi-colored dayglow 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 fires 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 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 whoever 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 bartender 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 DIY project, don’t you think?” Keller answered, letting a little pride leak into his response.

“This evening our electronic warfare unit was able to locate where these things originate. The devices are part of a do-it-yourself kit that was made freely available on web sites some time ago. The Gumball 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 bartender. “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 discipline just coming into this place, and he could not tell whether this stranger suspected something or 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 an arrest warrant for the creators of this device. A reward is being offered for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of the perpetrators. The FBI has opened a toll-free hotline where you can call in any information you might have regarding the identity of these terrorists.”

“You suspect there’s more than one person responsible for the Gumball drones?” asked Kay.

“Yes. Right now we’re focusing our attention on known terrorist organizations that possess the manpower 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 tense in frustration made his response more enjoyable to watch.

“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 Gumball 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, and many probably would.

The bartender snatched a glass from the counter under the screen and turned around to the tap. He smiled while pulling a pint of thick amber liquid that looked remarkably tasty compared to the swill that had died unlamented in the bottom of Keller’s glass.

“You know,” said the bartender, 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 at the man standing behind the bar. The bartender pointed to the glossy molded likeness of a Jolly Roger on the tap he had just pulled, and winked.

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.

BEST NOVEL

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

BEST NOVELLA

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

BEST NOVELETTE

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

BEST SHORT STORY

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

BEST RELATED WORK

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

BEST GRAPHIC STORY

“Time” by Randall Munroe (xkcd)

BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION, LONG FORM

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

BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION, SHORT FORM

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)

BEST EDITOR, SHORT FORM

Ellen Datlow

BEST EDITOR, LONG FORM

Ginjer Buchanan

BEST PROFESSIONAL ARTIST

Julie Dillon

BEST SEMIPROZINE

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

BEST FANZINE

A Dribble of Ink edited by Aidan Moher

BEST FANCAST

SF Signal Podcast, Patrick Hester

BEST FAN WRITER

Kameron Hurley

BEST FAN ARTIST

Sarah Webb

JOHN W. CAMPBELL AWARD FOR BEST NEW WRITER

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)

Otter

Keoonik never tiers of tricks. The otter giggles at every opportunity, 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.

This patron is just one in a long line of people infected by gray. Millions are perpetually overwhelmed by the city’s palette. In Seattle, it is not the rain that will get you, it is the gray, whose interminable shades are 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; barbecue 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 mixed grande latte to the next weary patron like a life preserver. Grudgingly, the tired man’s lips curl up in an insipid response to the resplendent grin the 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.

Sideways

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)

Juice

“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.

Dispatches From The Future (B-List)

Defunded

Naomi slapped a sticker to the side of yet another full JAG car as it raced past the only functioning station in the Five Points. It read “I’m defunded! Jacksonville Active Go can’t serve Florida,” and the cut and pressed suits that occupied the Personal Rapid Transit car would have to read its day glow lettering all the way to the South Hill Metroplex. When Prop K was on the ballet last fall those ultra-privileged wage-zombies voted to defund JAG. Yet they always magically managed to get priority service from the call-to-ride transit system. The Five Points station was crammed with riders waiting for their turn. Every last one of them had paid their fare in advance to get access to the platform, and Naomi guessed that not a single one of those waiting along side her had voted down the funding prop.

She checked the sweet spot on her wrist where her interactive ink was even now counting the minutes since she had called for her ride. “Ninty-three minutes. Well if that isn’t a pile of fang pi,” she mumbled while looking up the rail for the next potential PRT car. There was nothing. Naomi wondered if she might be able to slip away for a cup of coffee. She switched arms and started playing with a map of the city searching for a mobile cart. Little coffee cup icons inched over her skin. There were two a short walk away, but both of them were still peddling. Naomi decided to wait and see if one of them might park near the entry gate for the JAG. If that happened she could reach through the hurricane fence for a cuppa without losing her place in the queue.

The huge cargo bikes were pumped around the inner city by young people with sexy-burly legs. If she had that kind of augment it would be nothing to bike down to Ponte Vedra every day and the devil could take the damned JAG and stuff it up his can. But, for the time being, that was out of the question. Margo had picked her because she was still mostly stock. Skinny little, pencil legs and an A-cup. Naomi modeled swim suits in a swank tourist beach shop next to a golf course and she had to maintain her “assets” if she didn’t want Margo kicking her to the curb. It paid the bills. Most of them anyway.

As it was, Naomi knew she would show up late, really late. Margo would bitch at her, following Naomi around the dressing room grunting her discontent. Margo knew that there was nothing Naomi could do about it, but that knowledge never stopped her. The JAG cars came when they were available. Naomi planned how she might get the old hag to shut her trap; first she would slip into a bikini, then get onto the show floor. Finally, Naomi would turn up the ink like only she could, and that would silence the lao tai po. It was a Friday, there were already two cruise ships in port and all the New York money wanted something to look at, Naomi knew how to get the message across. Desperate old men would come and watch while their women scoured the mercado. And all those eyes meant piles of cred for Margo-san.

Dance and strut and upgrade the ink. Eventually she’d cash out and buy a long john coffee cart. “If the JAG keeps falling apart,” she mused to herself, “then I know where I’ll park my bike too.”

I Hate Conflict

Yep, this author really does not like it very much. My problem with conflict is that it gums things up, making it more difficult or impossible to get anything done. As I’ve gotten older I’ve come to realize that there is no escaping it, and eventually, if you’re involved in any pursuit where conflict is happening you may actually need to chose a side. I hate that most of all because I usually find myself not agreeing with any particular party. If party A is busy bickering with party B over something that ultimately just creates obstacles for me, why should I line up with either?

The whole Amazon v Hachette cluster event has once again taken center stage. Instead of focusing on some highly anticipated releases, the ring leaders are begging for all the attention. They want to know that we support them in their cause. They’re writing open letters, building grass roots media campaigns, and waving big banners.

Friday evening, what should appear in my inbox, but a letter from The Amazon Books Team with the subject “An Important Kindle request.” Within this multi-page tome (and I possess a big monitor) I’ve been obliged to take Amazon’s side in this contemporary cluster event of monumental proportions. If we just hold hands, sing songs, and spam our adversaries with emails we can eventually go back to pretending to be nice to one another. After reading this letter I felt dirty.

Amazon would love for you to buy into the idea that they’re on the side of readers. Hachette wants you to trust that they’re on the side of creatives. In my opinion, both of these companies couldn’t give less of a damn about readers or writers. Here’s why.

  • In Amazon’s letter to Kindle authors they liken the rise of ebooks to the historical shift in publishing between hard bound and paper backed books. Their history is on the fuzzy side, but that doesn’t really matter. What does matter is Amazon’s claim that the ebook can revolutionize book sales the way that paperbacks did somewhere between WW1 and Vietnam.I find it perplexing that as a distributor of books, Amazon fails to realize that words have value. People, good people in fact, spend lots and lots of time and effort collecting those words into big piles. They’re banking on the notion that a lower price point will increase sales volumetrically. Fast and cheap is what they’re going for in their segment of publishing, but this is incredibly shortsighted of the company. As an author who first bleeds on the page and then slaves away at revisions until I’m cross eyed, I don’t want readers stuffing their Kindles with my work. This does me absolutely no good. That kindle stuffed with cheap words will never get read and the return I can expect regardless of how I publish will always be much, much lower. Amazon is pushing writers to produce more if they want any hope of maintaining financial viability. You get to choose two: fast, cheap, or good. By chasing cheap, and pushing fast, they’re losing good.

    The whole Readers United bit seems concocted. It’s like eating soylent green snack cakes. Amazon is clearly trying to win my support in their corporate struggle but they are not actually doing anything to gain my support. So like a big, self-interested, for-profit company.

    If you’re a reader and you think this is a good thing, think again. Short term, with the ever-decreasing value of the printed word, each time you buy a mobi on your Kindle Paperwhite™ you’re likely wasting your hard earned money. You’ve given me a sale, but I’ve lost a reader because Kindle-stuffers don’t read, they collect. Long term it is actions like this that push down prices on everyone’s works, thereby devaluing the cost of the written word to the point where it becomes a worthless pursuit for creatives. I’m not motivated to write and then jump through hoops to publish something at a net loss.

  • Hachette has brought out their honor guard to make the point that Amazon is an evil, multimillion dollar, monopolistic company whose only concern is hurting Hachette’s precious writers. “It’s not our fault that Amazon chooses to behave this way,” they’re saying. “Be on our side because we’re the good guys, ebooks at a slightly higher price point ($14.99 instead of $9.99) just means that much more money will end up in the hands of the people who really deserve it.”I’m not buying this line either. Hachette has its own turf effort underway. A bunch of big name authors have published an open letter in which they “respectfully ask you, our loyal readers, to email Jeff Bezos, CEO and founder of Amazon and tell him what you think.” Guys, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you lost agency when you sold the rights to your work. Sure, what Amazon is doing is craptastic. Refusing to accept pre-orders on Hachette authors’ books and eBooks, refusing to discount the prices of many of Hachette authors’ books, slowing the delivery of thousands of Hachette authors’ books to Amazon customers, and indicating that delivery will take as long as several weeks on some titles is the opposite of what any company formed around the idea of efficient, low-cost distribution of goods should be doing. This is how the bully behaves, but Hachette seemingly hasn’t seen fit to make any move to help these authors. Amazon is stoking the fire, Hachette is making certain that the shackles are nice and tight.

    The painful part of this effort is that each and every one of the people that signed this open letter seems just fine with the heat. By bandwagoning Hachette’s efforts you’ve effectively let this company off the hook for their part in this kerfuffle.

Neither of these companies is doing anything for the people that they say they care about. Authors don’t make any more if either of them win. Reading doesn’t get any better if either of them win. From the perspective of the people that matter, this is all lose-lose. We lose because attention within a saturated media market is necessarily diverted to business matters pertaining solely to middlemen.

What do I want? Amazon and Hachette to sit down and work things out; both of these companies need to solve this problem sooner than later. They’re hurting everyone who creates or consumes. These business entities are losing business. Do I hate either of these companies? Not so much — they both have a lot to offer. I’m a businessman working at the creative end of this funnel. When things go wrong, when things get stopped up, I notice. But that’s just it, I am interested in selling my stories, not winning some sort of imagined moral battle.

We’re not on the verge of some epic ebook publishing breakthrough, neither are we at the threshold of some amazing renaissance of traditional publishing self distribution. Rather we seem to be hopelessly bogged down in some sort of middleman mire. Amazon, you’ll never get anywhere bullying Hachette authors. If you want to win authors over to your way of thinking, offer them a better deal. Hachette, you’ll never get anywhere pretending you hold some sort of moral high ground. If you want to win readers over to your way of thinking, give readers a better deal.

Dispatches from The Future (B-List)

A Meadowlark Called

Aamil al-Asmari sat atop a dusty bit of sandstone near the edge of a ravine. His flock contentedly munched on the sparse, dry grasses that had sprouted from the ground as the winter snows had receded, melting away. His people’s cantonment was located a click or two up the arroyo near the base of the Roan Cliffs. He could see lights peaking out of tents in the setting sunlight. Aamil’s job, during most evenings and nights, was to watch the flocks that traveled along with the camp from one land lease to the next. He was supposed to check the position of his flock against the lease using a GPS device the Bureau had rented his people, but something was wrong with it tonight.

Regardless, everyone knew that the cheatgrass needed to be cut back before the monsoons of late summer arrived. The lightning that fell from those clouds would ignite trees, already tinder-dry, and the brown grasses that grew beneath; any fuel that was left too abundant would quickly become a firestorm. Everyone knew this, but that pair of Federal enforcers circling to the south on their dual-fan HTVs. Aamil’s head hung his head in frustration; the damned device would not get a lock on the satellites. He suspected that the Federal officers hovering just above the river meant that he had moved the flock into un-leased land. But why were they waiting there?

Aamil tucked the device into his satchel and picked up his crook. Perhaps if he walked up to the top of the hill he could catch their attention. Maybe they would fly up and tell him where the boundary line was. The air was dry and the heat of the day still radiated from the stones under his feet. The flock below bleated occasionally, a sign of their contentment. Some way down the arroyo a meadowlark called in its flutelike singsong. The evening birdsong was one of the best parts of Aamil’s job.

Once he reached the mesa of clay and pebbles, he crossed under a few gnarled juniper trees redolent of resinous sap and dust blown two or three hundred kilometers from the Great Basin to the west. His people’s camp, higher up along the line of cliffs that extended all the way to where the Green River split the range, was where the piñon might be found. Only recently had he learned how to collect their seeds, using a big rock to knock the cones down from where they hung, then picking out the nutty, hard seeds, one by one. The little ones in the camp loved to wake him early, so that he would whack at the piñon and they could race the ground squirrels for the right to pocket the nutty booty.

At the edge of the mesa, where it fell of sharply toward the river snaking red-brown below, Aamil pulled the infernal device from his satchel and turned it on. The backlight of the screen would aid him as he signaled the law men on the hover bikes. He raised it over his head and started to wave the GPS before he looked down at the collection of militarized raiders beneath. Only a little time, a mere blink or two of an eye, passed before the hover bikes, already speeding up the arroyo, loosed their first volley of 20 millimeter auto-cannon fire.

Aamil’s first thought was for his sheep. He looked over his right shoulder and realized that short bursts erupting from the bikes weren’t targeted on the flock. He felt a moment of relief before his his attention was drawn back to the crowd of ground vehicles still by the river. Aamil felt something sharp and heard the buzz of a hive a moment before the crimson blossom emerged from his shoulder. His hand was still on the wretched device when he realized he had been shot, but it had dropped to the stones by the time the bullhorn on the command vehicle belched, “Stay where you are! This is a federal capture, impound, and removal of trespass sheep action underway.”

She May Never Read This

My Mom won’t get on Facebook. She doesn’t text or tweet. I suspect that she rarely, if ever, actually clicks through on her laptop to this blog. But that’s okay, she’s my mother and I still love her despite her on-line will’s-and-wont’s.

But you guys should click on over to a monthly feature at SF Signal called Mind Meld where yours truly is featured amongst many other respectable wordsmiths for the August question, What is your favorite childhood memory of a library or bookstore? My Mom, peerless parent, plays a role in my story. Even all these moons later I’m still thankful she stuck with me. My Mom is pretty cool.

 

Dispatches From The Future (B-List)

Since I started the Dispatches I’ve been getting a minor bump in readership. That’s a good thing. Nothing like what I expect should I bleed on the blog about my seizures, but a bump nonetheless. That’s something because its not about me breaking down. Those reads are about me making something.

Also, it should be noted that I’m opening this up. I’ve written a couple so far and I’d like to see what you guys might have up your sleaves. Rules? Simple. There are some great examples of what I’m looking for at the PopSci link. These are vignettes of life at some point in the future. They should be around 500 words. More is okay, but less is much better. If you need assistance with editorial work, I’m happy to help.


Scare Tactics

“Should you decide to step out of line,” said Detective Pérez, “know that you’ve already been caught. It might seem a little like magic, but it’s math.”

The response from the classroom was predictable. A communal noise somewhere between a scoff and a irreverent chuckle. One of the kids, a skinny caucasian boy wearing an Ubu LED light up shirt and Freez boots, crossed his arms over his chest and said, “You can’t catch nothin’ Cheezer. Nothin’ but dust.”

Pérez tapped her right temple and bracketed the kid’s head with the target reticle floating in her vision. An eye blink later his dossier became an augmented vision floating transparently before her.

“Reuben Seth Wilson, you’ve already been arraigned twice in Juvy court system. And it looks like you’ve got a hearing scheduled next month for a traffic ticket. Thirty-five over the limit? Hum, you should prepare for a Reckless Endangerment charge too,” Pérez said.

The snicker-sneer was now focused on Wilson who shrunk a little in his seat. “Everyone gets caught, because everyone is in the system,” Pérez continued. “Wilson you signed a EULA when you purchased that Ubu shirt and those sneakers you’re wearing. That EULA tied you into the internet of things and gave law enforcement access to any meta-information you produce while wearing your stylish garments. We know everything about you. We’re better than Santa Clause that way, because once you’re beyond the Juvenile system we don’t have to wait for you to fuck up.”

A stillness descended on the classroom for perhaps the first time in the history of the building. “That’s right, you’re all nearing your eighteenth birthday. That’s why you’re here. The idea is that I’m supposed to scare you into minding your P’s and Q’s. But that never works. I’m a little woman, and a cop to boot. I can’t scare you with my piece or my authority, so I’m going to do it with math. Predictive data science to be exact. I know when you’re going to commit a crime before you do. So enjoy the little bit of time you have left before your next birthday, because after that day, I’ll have officers waiting to bag and tag you. You’ll be arraigned and processed and on your way to lockup from sentencing within seven business days of capture, and you’d better prey that you don’t already have a record of sociopathic behavior, because you’re future will be bleak if you do.”