Serenity Base Camp

The Last Monk

More from Adrien Girod. “The Last Monk” I can’t get enough of this guy

 

Around about 1993, sitting around a table tapping magic cards with a bunch of other nerds, the discussion turned from the infrequency of lotus cards and the need for more blue land to the then very new internet. Our Nerd in Chief Deva, who sat in the throne next to the wood burning stove across the room from us, shared his royal two cents. It was possibly the most prophetic and cogent couple of sentences I may have ever heard.

“Even if all you ever did was sit in front of a terminal and read all the stuff on the internet, you’d still never be able to know it all. A tiny fraction of a percentage. And it’s always getting bigger,” he said, or something like that. If I search for it I might be able to find it exactly.

Anyway, recently I’ve had to suspend my fractional readings regarding all the hullabaloo around this year’s now notorious Hugo Cluster Event. WE BOUGHT A HOUSE!

CampSerenity

This pad will become Serenity Base Camp for the foreseeable future. RE: Hugos, I’m pretty much unaware of what’s going on and who said what. Honestly, it was getting to the point where the self-identified Sad Puppies were starting to sound a whole lot like a broken record. Endlessly spinning around and around on that same list of broken rationalizations for their actions. So, moving our house, one more time, has actually become somewhat of a relief.

And now that I’m taking a momentary break from stuffing all our worldly belongings into various sized cardboard containers I cast my searches out into the internet and discover that not a whole lot has changed.

The big update seems to be from the handful of people who unknowingly made it onto the SP slate or made the short list otherwise. Connie Willis has told the world that she won’t be presenting at the Hugos.

“You may have been able to cheat your way onto the ballot. (And don’t talk to me about how this isn’t against the rules–doing anything except nominating the works you personally liked best is cheating in my book.) You may even be able to bully and intimidate people into voting for you. But you can’t make me hand you the Hugo and say “Congratulations,” just as if you’d actually won it. And you can’t make me appear onstage and tell jokes and act like this year’s Hugo ceremony is business as usual and what you’ve done is okay. I’m not going to help you get away with this. I love the Hugo Awards too much.”

And both Marko Kloos and Annie Bellett have declined their nominations. I think these three should be commended for their level of personal integrity. That’s got to take some moxie, a whole rocket full.

There may be more. Who knows? I’m only capable of understanding a tiny fraction of what’s going on out there.

Mimic

Most pictures are worth about a thousand words. This one seems to be worth at least two. “How do you know this?” you ask. Well, because I just wrote another thousand and change because of it. Thanks again to Chuck Wendig for hosting these little teasers. Now that you’ve completed draft on your next novel let us see what you can do short form.

Mimic

“As you can see the integrated rover housing can be adapted to a great variety of applications. Spacing of trees in your orchard isn’t ever a problem. We’ve sold these units to citrus farmers in the Republic of Cali and to apple growers along the Yakima. Additionally, the individual pollinators can also be changed out in whole racks. Not only does this make cross pollination possible, but it means you can mix your root stock and still get the job done before the sun sets,” said the stick-thin figure from the back of the hydrogen splitter.

The rig was shiny and it looked foreign. It purred like a barn cat with a mouse as it soaked in the sunshine converting water to fuel in its cells. I think everyone was eyeing the petro-plastic covering the six wheel wells on the skinny man’s truck, there had to be enough there we could melt it down and fashion a shed or a house or something. It was black too, which meant there was some sorta dye embedded in it. That’s the kind of stuff you want to use for a water heater or even irrigation. Everyone knew that. Everyone imagined tearing it off the side of the transport.

A hand rose from the middle of the crowd of men and boys that had packed into the alley near the General store, it was Martin Kenny’s. The skinny man noticed Martin and said, “Yes sir, are you interested in buying a Rainier Robotics Automated Pollination Platform?”

“No sir,” Martin replied, “I’m still trying to figure out what you’re selling, to be honest. You talk fast and use a lot of fancy words don’t none of us understand. But what I really want’ta know, would you be interested in selling me the plastic on your rig?”

The skinny man looked surprised and it appeared as if he’d lost his place in the script as he looked out into the gathered crowd of orchard men. With the question out there all we could do was speculate. It’s possible, where ever he hailed from, the petro-plastic along the side of that truck wasn’t such a scarcity. All we had was the kind made from potatoes and sump juice and it crumbled in the sunshine and melted in the soil. Using it to water an orchard is nothing but a waste of time because by the time you finish one end of an installation you’re likely ready to replace the end where you began. All of us work orchard lands above the river, and irrigation pipes is the only way to get water up from the river, so that’s just what we do. Last harvest my cherries fetched only enough in potato exchange for me to replace pipe in the upper orchard. This spring I’ve been doing nothing much more than patching and glueing getting ready for the dry spell.

Martin Kelly is renowned along the upper Wenatchee because the piss-plastic he cooks up behind his swine stables stands up better than most. Forgive my crudeness it’s just what we call it. So when he starts asking this stickman to buy the petro off the side of his rig everyone standing there starts to worry. The little fella standing on the tail gate of his rig, he just pushes on down the track like Kelly’s question weren’t no obstacle.

Something changes in the man’s demeanor like he’s suddenly remembered something important. He pulls a raggedy straw hat from behind a couple of large boxes and plops it on his head. Then he looks down at his shiny shoes for a moment and mumbles something none of us can understand.

“My apologies old son. I can’t help you much with your plastic problems. I’m here to solve your pollination problems,” the skinny man says direct to Kelly.

“And I have it on good authority,” he then proclaims like a Sunday preacher, “that all y’all have been doing your own blossom pollination for time out’ta mind.”

Now I can hear the difference I just saw in the skinny man, he’s a mimic and I suddenly don’t trust him. It’s like he went home and put on a nice clean shirt and new pants, even though he’s wearing the same damn clothes. He sounds something like the people along the Wenatchee. Everyone standing there notices the difference too, like night and day.

Toby Williams, the kid brother of Vance who owns the land along the Chumstick, pipes up without waiting to be called. “So your saying that lil box-thing does the work of spring time probing?” The kid has been ruffling feather ever since his big brother come down ill with the pox, but I say he stepped up and took on that patch of cherries. No one around Peshastin has near that many trees, I say let the kid be he’s proved his worth and knows his roots.

The skinny man beams a grin at Toby that for some reason seems to calm the clucking men. If there’s an inch of extra skin on this fellow it’s below his clean shaven chin, and it bunches up there as if to underline the smile. “Son, that’s exactly what I’m sayin’. This here machine does all the work bees and butterflies used to do.”

The sound of jaws hitting the crumble-stone beneath our feet is audible. Toby, young man that he is, responds skeptically. “Skinny man, what’s a bee?”

“Like this here petro-plastic bees just ain’t no more.” The skinny man turns away from the crowd for a moment, pokes at the machine. Out pops a long rack of intricate, little clockworks on a long arm. It looks something like a wall of tiny winter coats, each one the same and hung next to it’s neighbor. I estimate there has to be a thousand of them.

From the wall the skinny man bends over and picks a single device. He cups it in his hands and turns to the crowd. “Some ah y’all are probably just old enough to remember what a bee was,” he proclaims loud enough for all to hear. “Something like an apple moth, but it don’t eat fruit. In fact, before the time of probes and picks, these lil buggers made fruit. They’d just buzz around your orchard and do the probe work for you.”

It’s a distant, hazy memory, but I can still recall bees. Well, a bee. I find myself looking inside, sorting through years of rubbish, for that image of a kettle-bellied yellow and black body struggling at my feet. My Father had said it was a bumble-bee. That it was dying for some reason that I can’t recall. And that it wasn’t the only one I’d see die like that, but I can’t recall any others. The old men in the crowd, they’re all remembering too.

“Son, these insects, they’re all gone now, but they made orchard work easy,” said the skinny man. He opens up his cupped hands and the little clockwork begins to buzz. It hovers for a blink of my eye and then darts off into the blue.

Oneironaut

This is flash fiction piece is in response to a Chuck Wendig – Terrible Minds challangy thing. And, boy oh boy, do I love some flash fiction challenge. Dig it? Hate it? Lemme know.

Oneironaut

“No, I’m telling you it wasn’t the Somanetics. Not this time. In fact here,” shouted Emerson while holding out a hand sized electronic device, “take a look. Sam, beyond the recording they didn’t register anything.”

The street café wasn’t the quietest place to share a cup of Koff. Traffic honked, rattled and bumped along the double decker transport pads on the far side of the sound barrier. The walls of Chilango’s colossal architecture shaded the café and echoed the cacophony back at the pair.

“No kidding,” replied Sam sipping at the hot bowl of synthetic morning juice he had just brought back from the register. He put the bowl down and scrolled through the previous night’s nocturnal recording. “You didn’t, I don’t know, accidentally leave a plunge in the queue did you?”

The look on Emerson’s face said it all, but he reiterated for clarity. “No damn it. Who’d do that anyway? That mierda will just mess you up. I’m telling you I went there on my own.”

“Yeah? I just don’t see,” Sam paused to take another sip of the bitter-dark drink. “Wait, how do you know you went anywhere? I mean, maybe you just had a dream, right?”

“Check the coordinates at the beginning of the dream,” said Emerson.

Sam’s thumb swiped and tapped on the device. He put down the bowl of Koff and picked the device up from the table. “Hmm,” he said. There was more swiping and tapping, this time with two thumbs and a finger.

“What are you doing?” asked Emerson.

“Well, finding out where this is for one thing,” Sam said. “I mean, I’ve never seen anything like this before. Have you? Well, obviously you have, but where? Haven’t you always lived here Em?”

“Yeah Sam. And I mean ‘no’ I’ve never seen that kind of a place before. When I woke up I had to go look it up on the informática. I cross referenced that image with every place I’ve ever been. Chilangolandia? It’s never had a cherry tree in it. Let alone that many,” Emerson said with an excitement his biochemistry probably could not support. It was still pretty early in the morning.

“Em, these coordinates don’t map. Well they do, but its to the middle of the ocean,” Sam interrupted.

“I’m telling you Sam I walked down that path, just like the recording shows it. I don’t know, it was chilly and wet. Not like Chilango. I think it was morning because the light was all pink,” Emerson said with conviction.

“Look Em, there’s got to be an explanation. Maybe we should finish our Koff. Aren’t you going to get any?” Asked Sam. Emerson crossed his arms and shook his head. Sam continued. “Then I’ll take you to the Oneironautica and they can check out your hardware. Maybe something’s gone wrong with your deck. Maybe you just need a reset. Jeez, let’s hope it’s your deck.”

Emerson scowled at his friend. “Sam, listen to me. You’re not listening to me. I already ran the full diagnostic on my deck and my head. All negativo my friend, and the Oneironautica validated the tests.” Emerson sat up in his chair and snatched the device from Sam. He scrolled around a bit and held an image of a stone path, inundated in florid water vapor, and bordered by blossoming fruit trees. “I’m telling you, this place is real. I went there last night. I did it without the deck,” Emerson said emphatically pointing at the image.

“Okay, alright,” Sam replied holding his hands palm out in supplication. “I can see that this dream has got you all wound up. And why not, it’s a beautiful place.” Sam gestured with his right hand at the booming, urban canyon where they were situated. “It’s certainly better than anything I’ve ever seen.”

The two sat across from one another, Sam sipping at his Koff. Emerson studied his friend in silence.

“Do you think you can go there again?” asked Sam.

“That’s the thing, I don’t know how I got there in the first place. I don’t know where ‘there’ even is. I walked in this dream for seventy-three minutes and there was no one else. No markers, no signs. Only fog, cherry trees and the brook. If this was someone’s plunge they don’t want to get paid. I couldn’t pay them if I tried,” Emerson said.

He looked up at his friend’s face. Sam had that grin on his close shaved jaw that Emerson knew all too well.

“Oh no,” Emerson said.

“No wait,” Sam replied.

“No you can’t have the recording. Sam, you can’t have it.”

Sam feigned injury, then sat up in his little café chair. “Good idea Em, but not what I was thinking. There’s plenty of plunge in any bodega.”

“Then what?” asked Emerson.

“Well, we’ve got the full recording, thank you modern medical science, and that’s sort of a map, right.” Emerson sat silent, he could tell that Sam needed to talk this one out. “You’ve got all the brain chatter and chemical levels and whatever recorded, and the deck can reproduce those directions when you tell it to. It could even tell my head to follow your map.”

“So you want me to what, play it like an induction plunge?” Emerson asked incredulously. “There’s a reason all I ever play on my deck is certified sleep Somanetics. You know that stuff can mess you up.”

“Yeah, but how we gonna know? How else we gonna know?” Sam asked and Emerson knew he’d already made up his mind. “I’ve got the wiring, just need a deck right?”

Emerson sighed deeply. “The deck and twenty years of grade A therapy.”

Sam poured the remainder of the Koff down the back of his throat and stood. “Just think Em, you may have stumbled onto something big. I mean huge, right. You know, dream therapy I never really liked much. But getting out of here, getting the fuck out of Chilango? That’s worth the try.”

Sam wiped sweat from his forehead, Chilango walk level already sweltering and the sun had yet gotten over the artificial albedo. “Come on, let’s go get a deck. This place is too damned hot.”

Reminders

OldBearLilCub

This morning I started another post. One of those moments where I was just damn frustrated. The way some of you behave drives me bonkers. So I read, I wrote, and packed, then wrote some more. About 1,000 words into this rant I had to put it down. I was reminded that my opinions just don’t matter.

Game the Hugo’s, make stupid comparisons in public, write dumb laws; if tomorrow I died all of you would just carry on. Nothing would change. Absolutely nothing. I should feel lucky if, for that one brief hypothetical moment, a tiny few of you paused what you were doing to lament my passing.

And there it is, don’t you agree? That’s about all any of us can aspire to achieve, that tang of remorse left in our wake.

While I was fuming about indignity and injustice so many removes away from myself A-bear put down his Lego just long enough to come over and plant three kisses. “Dad, you know I love you,” he said setting down my moistened elbow.

“Why did you kiss my elbow Aral?” I asked feeling the fight and anger drain away.

“You look like a bad monkey and I want my Old Bear,” here he hugged me turning my chair toward where he was playing. “Do you want to play Legos with me?” I sat with him and we loaded up recycling trucks with blocks for a while.

Look I know there’s no winning the debate, any debate. This post is a reminder, more to myself than anyone else; despite the inescapable foreknowledge that I’m never going to change anyone else’s mind I still routinely feel compelled to try. This blog is testament to that fact of my life. For every frustrated, angry post I’ve published there are at least ten more behind the curtain that I write and never post. I look back at these and feel a need to invent a word which describes “shame at a colossal waste of time.”

Ugh, the Germans have likely taken care of this.

So this afternoon, with my little cub slumbering, I’m taking a moment to write a reminder to myself. Don’t waste any more time getting worked up about Libertarian science fiction authors gaming the Hugo’s with collectivist labor tactics, ignorant Senators from Oklahoma, or ice sheets slipping off the ends of the Earth. None of these things are under your control, none of these people will feel even the least sorrow when you go. When you write provoke the feelings you want to feel, when you live do it mindfully with the people who will miss you when you’re gone.

Speaker for the Dogs

“Dad, what does Bender say?” he asks me, fully expecting an answer.

I want to break into the chorus of “What Does the Fox Say,” but the coffee cup is already at my lips and I simply struggle to swallow. A-bear asks of me the impossible, fully expecting I’ll have the capacity to deliver. The possibility that I might not have the answer to this or any question never enters his mind. I am practiced at this, I can make up the difference.

My first boy, who is nearly 18 and soon on his way to college, wasn’t so much this way. With him I could do no wrong. At a time in my life when I made so many mistakes and failed so miserably my reputation with him remained golden. I couldn’t be tarnished and looking back that far I know that the reason I stopped screwing up had a lot to do with living up to his expectations of me.

“Bender wants your table crumbs, he says ‘give me all your cinnamon roll,'” I reply after chocking down a hot mouthful of java-juice. It burns on its way down, so I have a little trouble imitating the begging Bender, who table-sharks our local coffee café, with the appropriate element of Scooby Doo.

“No he doesn’t,” Aral replies with indignation, “he says, ‘Rut row, give me all your cinnamon roll.’ Ah ha ha ha ha!” He’s got his Scooby down, which is surprising since he’s only ever heard it from my mouth.

“You’re right, little cub.”

Time enough …

Last night I went to bed intending to get up early. I wanted to do some yoga. Maybe sit for a peaceful moment, listen to my breathing or the rain. I went to bed early and then didn’t sleep, staring out the window at the clouds, backlit by the city, as the rolled their way north. When I did obtain some slumber I had anxiety dreams. Seems even I don’t think I deserve a house on the island, because last night, while in the moving truck crossing the Sound, the ferry went down with all hands. And this morning there I sit, at the bottom of the Salish Sea, amongst all our household goods. Notably, my dog sits next to me on the bench of the moving truck.

Dreams are creepy sometimes. I don’t even know why I was in the moving truck. But the most lasting effect of that little gem is that this morning when my alarm went off, I simply turned it off and rolled over snuggling under the down comforter.

A-bear has asked me several times just this morning what dogs are saying, he expects that I’ll interpret their body language and translate this into words he can understand. Pepper jumping around at the front door? “Errrrmahgerd, I have’ta pee!” The Maltese walking down the sidewalk with its owner? “Can I have some kisses, please? Just little kisses.” The guy walking this dog wasn’t impressed. And Bender at the coffee shop, who perpetually orbits under the table sniffing around for a tasty snack.

My leitmotiv seems to be acting as Speaker for the Dogs. For this I am thankful, life couldn’t have blessed me more. And so, sitting at the café sipping my favorite cuppa, I’m going to give myself permission let go of my house buying anxiety. I’m going to, at least for a time, forget all my self imposed deadlines and write for the joy of it. I’m going to talk like Scooby Doo and make my youngest son squeal with glee. I’m giving myself permission to simply be that guy. Not the idealized person I imagine I should be, but the guy I actually am. The person the moment calls for.

Question of the Day

Yeah so this is now bugging me. A plotting decision for which I can see no real justification. In the movie Big Hero 6 the charters Hiro and Tadashi Hamada live with their aunt Cass. The backstory is that when Hiro was four their parents died. No real explanation beyond they’re dead is provided. Their aunt takes the boys in and loves them, sure enough, but I keep wondering “Why?” Why even include this in the early scenes of the movie at all?

Seems like an unnecessary complication in the development of Hiro’s story. Did the writers want us to believe that Hiro was already acquainted with the the prospect of personal loss? Is it possible that Tadashi’s death, a big brother who fills a parental role, might seem less catastrophic because Hiro also lost his parents. Maybe this backstory is developed in the comic book, which I haven’t read, and the screen writers just included this detail to maintain some sort of pluralism with that version of the story?

Guess that’s what a morning of editing might do to you. After seeking holes in my own plot for so long it actually seems like a little break to poke holes in other’s stories. Still a great story, a movie I really enjoy, but I can’t help but wonder why.

Can’t Pass a Turing Test

So Tess and I are trying to buy a new house, I may have mentioned this before. Internet access — specifically high speed access — is a big requirement for us. Between the two of us we’d have a very hard time getting any work done without it. Thus, for anything that gets put into the “serious” list we usually search out local high-speed internet providers in the area and confirm a) that they offer service at the address and b) that they can accommodate our bandwidth and throughput requirements.

I’ve accomplished this before with several companies, and in particular with Comcast/XFINITY. Perviously I talked to a guy named Ruhid and while it took him a bit he was clearly searching for an answer. Today, I had to do the same thing, but as you can see below, I was not able to answer these very basic questions.

Chris: Hi, I’m a live Comcast product specialist. What questions can I answer for you today?
Chris: Just type your question below.
Matt: I’m trying to determine what sort of speeds I can get for a house we may buy

[address of new house]

Chris: I’d be glad to check the Internet plans we offer in your area.
Chris: Do you mind if I ask a few question in order to give you accurate information?
Matt: sure
Chris: Just to check before we move on, are you a current Comcast customer or have you had Comcast service in your name within the last 120 days?
Matt: no and no
Chris: Thank you for considering Comcast!
Chris: To better assist you with our Internet plans, may I ask what do you usually do on the Internet?
Matt: mostly work, I am an author, my wife is a software developer
Matt: we also stream entertainment
Chris: Perfect! How many computers or gaming devices do you connect to the internet? Are any of them laptops?
Matt: most of them are laptops and I maintain a router for NAP purposes
Chris: We offer the Wireless Gateway which packs a router, cable modem, and voice adapter into one device. It allows multiple devices in the house to access to access the Internet at the same time with lightning fast speeds!
Chris: Just to check, do you currently have TV and/or phone service/s with another provider?
Matt: Thanks, I’m just checking access for potential issues at this time
Matt: yes we’re on community fiber installation right now
Chris: By the way, are you interested in Internet-only service? We currently have promotions for new customer for triple play bundles that you may qualify. Please note that you will be able to save more on the costs if you go with bundling up our services.
Matt: only internet please
Chris: It’s alright, just wanted to let you know the benefits of bundling our 3 high speed cable services.
Matt: I just need to know what if any service at this address
Chris: Based on what you’ve told me, I highly recommend our Performance plan. With Performance Internet, you will be able to stream high definition movies and TV shows easily, work online at home and surf the web with fast speed of up to 50 Mbps downloads with up to 5 Mbps upload.
Chris: How does that sound to you?
Matt: are you saying that the CP on Vashon island can support 50/5 Mbps?
Chris: The calculated maximum speeds of the internet plans vary from area to area (in most cases by 2 – 5mbps differences). The promotions show the “National” plan that is advertised the same, the everyday pricing shows the local area pricing and the speeds in that area.
Matt: that’s not what i’m asking, I need to know what the line to that address will support
Matt: can you answer that question for me?
Chris: May I ask what do you mean by saying “CP”?
Matt: the control plane on the far side of the network. If there is coaxial cable into the house, which COMCAST owns, then there will be a control plane somewhere in the neighborhood.
Matt: its your companies router
Matt: What I’m after is does Comcast service this address? If so, what kind of service can I expect?
Chris: Our high speed cable services run through our fiber optic cable network that’s why we’re not only fast and reliable but we’re also up and running, rain or shine.
Matt: that is precious
Matt: so you can’t tell me if comcast can provide service to that address?
Chris: We provide services in your area as I have checked on our system.
Chris: Our Performance plan is on promotion at $39.99 per month for the first 12 months. After 12 months, regular rate of around $66.95 per month will apply.
Chris: The lease for the XFINITY Wireless Gateway ranges from $8-$10 a month, depending on your area. Let’s move forward so that we can check on the Customize page.
Chris: Do you have any other questions before we place the order?

As this conversation got longer and longer the thought that Chris might not be a real person, kept occurring to me. When I finally closed the chat dialogue, that question was itching my brain something awful. It seems I’m not the only one who is walking around with a raging case of Comcast brain rash.

Now, I think it’s probably safe to assume that Chris was a piece of software answering support calls on the far side of our current service plan. If not, well then I apologize Chris, but you should know that you come off as the cross between an incredibly shallow intellect and a religious zealot with a cable fetish.

So moving beyond the frustration of not knowing about internet service at this address, my fascination with this situation is plainly apparent. There is a part of me that wants to go back to that pop-up chat window and troll Chris for a while. Ask him unusual questions like “I love cherry pie. What’s your favorite pie?” Then make rhetorical statements suck as “Nice weather we’re having.” I’d just leave it there to see if he’d recognize the conversation bait. I’d love to provoke a more satisfactory tell than his relentless insistence that my life would be better if only I chose a package deal and I’d like to determine the edges of Chris’ script. Looking up an address in a service database is way beyond him, but does he contemplate the complexities of relative humidity and precipitation?

The story I’ve been investing in of late is an attempt to examine quality of life, both from within a perfect simulation of reality, and outside the simulation where experience is real, random and often fractured. We’re not too far away from a day when the virtual representation of a thing will be as good as, if not better than, the actual thing. When the fidelity and clarity and ease of an animated fish swimming through virtual space in our living rooms exceeds an actual SCUBA adventure off the coast of Hawaii, where will we chose to swim?

I should probably write Comcast/Chris a letter thanking them for giving me a ready made subplot. After I finish this blog post I’m going to go outline a machine learning Guru living within the Lucid Landscapes Corporation virtual space. Either that or I’m going to take a break from living inside my own head for a bit and go work with my hands. I have a kayak that is nearly assembled.