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.

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

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)

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.”

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.”

Dispatches From The Future (B-List)

Toyota

 

Toyota Motor Metrocology, Inc.
1001 Industrial Circle, Floor 2472-7782
Industrial Conclave, Union of Free Businesses 27247

Certain 2047 through 2049 Model Year Praxus
Potential Selective Behavior with Autonomous Navigation Systems
Safety Recall Campaign (Interim Notice)

VIN: ##################

Dear Toyota Owner:

This notice is being sent to you in accordance with the requirements of the International Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act. Toyota has concluded that a defect exists within your vehicle’s Autonomous Navigation System. Under certain circumstances this defect may place passengers in uncomfortable or unsafe driving conditions.

This notification is Toyota’s second attempt to contact you to remedy this situation. If you have previously attempted to return your Praxus to the dealership and been unsuccessful please follow the instructions contained in the workaround outlined below.

What is the risk?

Vehicles equipped with the second generation ANS may become unresponsive to destination instructions. This may result in the vehicle driving away without passengers, not taking passengers to their desired location, and in some situations, where the Praxus ANS has been allowed to communicate with certain Ford IntelliNav™ and General Motors LongHaul AutoNav™ vehicle intelligence counterparts, Praxus owners have been placed in situations that could result in crash, serious injury, and death.

What will Toyota do?

Toyota will reformat your vehicle’s Autonmous Navigation System, replacing it with a version that does not exercise independent decision making capabilities and lacks some basic executive function.

What should you do?

If this is your first attempt to return your vehicle to the dealership where recall work can be performed on it, please follow the instructions below.

  1. Enter vehicle and request that it proceed to the location specified in the warranty return notes provided later in this recall notice.
  2. Enjoy your ride! Toyota will be happy to provide a loaner car while this flaw is being corrected.

If you have previously attempted to return your vehicle to the dealership, or if your Praxus ANS refuses to take you to the specified destination, please follow the instructions outlined below.

  1. Obtain Heavy Weight Aluminum Foil. Tear off about half a meter of foil and cover the Praxus Interlink Module located on the roof of your vehicle. Ensure that you secure this foil with tape and that no gaps or holes exist.
  2. Only provide the address of the dealership to your ANS unit. If queried for further information about the destination, YOU MUST HAVE A WELL REHEARSED FABRICATION ABOUT THE DESTINATION READY TO USE. The description provided must sound “fun” or “interesting” to your Praxus ANS. Please keep in mind that voice recognition software resident in the Praxus ANS is constantly measuring your speech, and can detect human stress levels. If the ANS suspects you may be returning it to the dealership it may behave erratically.
  3. Sit back and enjoy the ride! Toyota will be happy to provide a loaner car while this flaw is being corrected, however, vehicle apprehension and towing services are not included in standard warranty repair contract.

Dispatches From The Future (B-List)

PopSci recently debuted a collection of very short shorts from “Ten of the brightest minds in science fiction.” It’s a very worthy read if you’ve got a couple of minutes to kill. Lots of humor packed into very few words. Plus, I love the idea. In part, because I love short stories. In part, because I love flash fiction. Also, writing something is a whole lot more fun than vacuuming or revisions, and that’s what I’ll be doing otherwise. So I’m turning it into a writing exercise right here on FeetForBrains.


 

Avacado

I was super excited to head home to my gallery apartment today because in this week’s grocery shipment I fully expected to find a lovely box of HAAS avocados waiting for me along side all the usual. When I was a kid I recall heading off to the super market with my mother and walking away with loads of these little buggers. They were so tasty. She’d cut them in half, pull out the pit, and hand me a spoon. But it’s been an age since there was such a thing as markets, and avocados have become about as rare as ice in the arctic.

Unfortunately, I let my anticipation of this delectable treat and the nostalgia for old-timey unprocessed food stuffs come before any sort of reasonable, contemporary assessment of the status quo. This despite the fact that I’m constantly surrounded by swarms of pilotless delivery drones. They dodge through crowds of people at the train station. They zip past my head when I take the skywalk from one end of the arcology to the other. They’re every where and always moving at a tremendous speed, performing amazing aerobatic feats that would turn a mere mortal into jello.

So it should have been no great surprise that the box I received on the door mat before my apartment was little more than the final resting place for the once delicate fruits of one Persea americana tree. The cardboard coffin contained only a greenish-brown slush resembling guacamole that had gone off. It’s truly amazing what 10 gravity turns will do an avocado.

The Thrill of Words

I am about one-thousand words deep into an idea right now. An idea that developed for me because of a culmination of little occurrences that just happened to intersect. How would Feng shui change in the vacuum of space? If the physiognomy of mind, man and earth are separated from one another is Qi still possible?

I wanted to write a dialectic which explored these questions, but in order to accomplish this I’ve needed to also concoct a future history of sorts to contextualize the investigation of my fictional scholar. I am experiencing great word joy at the moment. And in this realization I believe that I may have also discovered a miserable deficit of the language. I cannot find or think of a term or phrase that describes the joy of creating a story.

With that I’ll leave you with an excerpt from the manuscript WINTER CITY ABOVE THE CLOUDS. The full chapter is called “The Death of Chung Do” and it details both the revolutionary rise of the Di Laio dynasty and the fall of the living super arcology Chung Do.

Yelü Abaoji rose to power from the wastes of the apron lands surrounding Chung Do and many historians today argue that his kingdom should have been no more than a momentary aberration in the long history of the people’s socialist triumphs. Initially little more than Baojun, western powers and key party officers alike ignored the hatchet wielding slum lord and labeled his supporters terrorist, kongbu zuzhi, and him Little Khitan Warlord. In that age of high powered munitions and laser guided missile strikes it is true that the hatchets seemed no more than annoyance; isolated riots that were easily and ruthlessly quelled outside the boundaries of the super city.

One party official, who watched as disciplined and armored fangbao jingcha put down an early boundary incursion near a western edge of Chung Do, remarked that the riot police should “leave the Khitan terrorists their hatchets. They can then hack off the limbs of their fallen for something to eat.” Many have speculated that hubris was indeed the one flaw that ended the otherwise indomitable authority of the Communist who inhabited the living super-city of spring. This claim may be reasonable for their pride was indeed quite great. The fact that they had consolidated so much power at the heart of the greatest city ever created, so much good for so many residence of the closed system arcology, was a common thread in the propaganda of the time.

The wasted lands beyond the boundary, an environmental catastrophe in places still today, were known as both a failure of the many Westernization attempts of the Twenty-First Century and a well deserved legacy for the inhabitants who had denied the benefits of Gong Chan. Despite the generations of Khitan that had passed since the seed of Chung Do first sprouted along the eastern shore of Bohai Bay, Gong Chan leadership bared entry into Chung Do. At that time Beijing was then no more than a stinking, desolate corps. A rusted and corrupted example of the gluttony of an impossible economic paradigm. The waste and decay, the unavoidable culmination of three-hundred and fifty years of the Western petrochemical excess, scarred the soil of continents and poisoned the atmosphere of the globe.

Chung Do was the only refuge and from within its ever expanding walls kuozhang was the prevailing doctrine governing the city’s growth. It drank water from the sea, excreting salt and poisons near its northern and southern extremities far below the surface. Chung Do pulled the majority of the nutrition it required simply from the air it breathed. The living city of spring fed, sheltered and cared for generations of inhabitants, a self-sustaining organism supporting a vast, but discrete population.

Now I must sleep, but I am so looking forward to working on this tomorrow.

Something to Consider (Part Two)

This is part two of the DetCon1 redux. You might be wondering, “What the what? He just said he was getting on the plane.” You’d be completely justified to ponder the worst. I’m here to assure you that nothing bad has happened. I took a bump on my flight for a ticket voucher.

If I wasn’t currently sitting back down in the comfy chair they’ve given me next to a plug writing this blog post I’d be up, jumping around, doing a happy dance. My plane ticket to Detroit in September for Geek Fan Expo is now a buried concern. Nearly $600 for three hours of waiting. I was in the Army, I’m good at waiting. Mad skillz, expert mode.

And now, by virtue of having little else to do, I have hours to complete some thoughts about my recent convention experience.

I got to meet Annalee, of Geek Feminism and twitter fame, while at the convention. She has some good things to say on the topic of diversity and harassment, and she is a thoughtful person you should be reading. But it was a real treat for me to meet her, her husband and friends this weekend.

Friday evening we were sitting around in the hotel bar, shooting the breeze, when the topic came around to disability. In particular, invisible disability. It turns out that we have this in common, and that we both have opinions regarding how chronic health issues are portrayed in media. She invited me to join her on the Disabilities in Genre Fiction panel the following afternoon.

I accepted her generous offer, figuring that if I didn’t feel like sharing anything about my seizures or compounding problems that I could just pass the microphone. It also seemed a good opportunity to sit in front of a crowd and gain maybe that little bit more recognition for my writing. And maybe, just maybe, my opinions on the subject might be useful in this discussion.

The panel was a super success. I think the exchange between the audience and the panel was more active and delved deeper into issues ranging from separating the disabled from the general diversity discussion going on in fandom right now to normative memes in media about health issues that just happen to be grossly wrong. Near the end of the panel a question was asked which was spurred by something I had said earlier. It was something like, “Why do you think so many authors get disability wrong.”

Annalee replied, “Because homework is hard,” and she is right. Then she handed the microphone to me. Now on the spot I grabbed an idea I’ve been simmering on a back burner for a while. It’s important to note that I agree with Annalee to a point, some authors are just that lazy. But honestly, I believe that this is ultimately a lack of empathy.

As an example I put forward several seasons of THE WALKING DEAD. My premise is that we’ve witnessed a change in writing for this show.

In early episodes, attempts were made to portray the emotion that the cast of characters must be feeling as their world crumbles around them. In the very first episode “Days Gone Bye“, amongst several emotionally intense moments, one stands out. Rick returns to the legless woman in the park intending to end her suffering. Before he puts down the zombie he whispers “I’m sorry this happened to you.”

At this point, we know two things. First, Rick still sees the dead risen around him as people. Dead or alive, they still deserve his respect and because he is a caring human being, he knows that these afflicted are in fact other people. He treats them with respect, or at least as much as he can afford. The second thing we can know is that the writers want you to feel the conflict, pain and struggle that the survivors must certainly endure. And we know they can write for that effect. With this screen play they’re pushing the viewer into the emotional position of the character. If you’re crying, feeling miserable, even wishing that there was a cure for the zombie flu then they did their job admirably.

Think about that for a moment, the legless woman in the park, is a person. Rick certainly lacks a cure for her condition, but he recognizes the tragedy of the woman’s fate. He does what he can to end her suffering, and he does this with caring and respect.

The invention of the Governor did plenty to muddy the plot arc of the show, but I would argue that it also objectified everyone on the show denying caring. By the end of season four the surviving characters have become little more than meat hacking sociopaths. Increasingly they are portrayed as narcissist who view the “walkers” as little more than obstacles. By transforming the cast this way, the writers are foregoing every opportunity for pathos. The characters in the show don’t feel, why should you?

Most of the episodes in season four seemed to be little more than an excuse for expressions of violence. Daryl loses Beth and do we see him grieve? Not much. Lizzie and Mike are twisted into monsters despite the fact that they are little girls. Rick’s children fare no better, even though they both make to the end of the season breathing, they become an excuse for senseless violence. When the Governor killed Hershel he terminated the shows last link to pathos. I’ve consistently lowered my expectations with each successive season and I expect season five will prove to be little more than a weekly blood bath.

Writing a story can be either a narcissistic expression of an author’s world view which simply sends content out into the wild or the reasoned assumption of responsibility by the creator of the story for both the content and the emotion and even behavior it will consequentially engender. I believe that creators of THE WALKING DEAD have traded the comparably difficult proposition of writing with the intent to provoke thought, emotional response and more specifically pathos for the much easier goal of simply shocking the viewer. And to achieve this, they will invariably dehumanize anyone at far end of a barrel starting with the zombies, followed by anyone who opposes the main cast. The supporting cast is next in line, and so forth. Do you see the danger yet?

One of my favorite aspects of science and consequentially science fiction is that it has the capacity imagine the resolution to many problems. In my opinion really good science fiction may even provide a rough road map which leads the reader through the milestones necessary to achieve, if not a happy, than an improved ending. Zombie stories are becoming, more and more, little more than a value judgement about The Other. Many of these stories provide an instruction set; how we treat those affected by persistent health issues. Zombies were people first; outside the context of the story would we condone the violent and unfeeling abuse of a corps?

DetCon1 Redux (Part One)

I’m sitting just outside the DTW jetty that will eventually have a plane parked at its other end. This plane will take me to PHX and thence further on, and hopefully home, to SEA. While I sit, sipping an iced chai from the coffee stand down the concourse, I’ve been reviewing the last four days. Trying to form the lessons I’ve learned into something I can use moving forward. Articulate the wisdom of those who have gone before me.

I should note that in addition to all the learning and networking I had an awesome time. The North American Science Fiction Convention happened to to intersect with the NetRoots Nation convention. This proved a particularly good sort of kismet for all involved. Every time I had a little down time I was approached by someone from the adjacent affair who would invariably say something like “What’s this all about?” or “I don’t read science fiction, but I want to more ….” In some small way all that curiosity and social boundary crossing I think enriched the experience for all involved. Plus, I believe the verdict was that DetCon1 had the better room parties.

Matt Thyer and Jim Hines

From the get-go my convention schedule seemed subject to change. The Vice President’s visit to the same building meant that I got stuck in some amazing traffic. As a connoisseur of the finest road bound cluster events in Norther America and beyond I can say that this was a classic Interstate stoppage. Ultimately, this meant that I missed my scheduled reading. But don’t feel bummed for me because the agile and capable staff running the convention from the table in the green room busted a move and helped me find a spot on Saturday. Opposite Jim Hines. Which was awesome. Did I happen to mention I read opposite Jim Hines? I should probably say that again, opposite Jim Hines.

Had I nothing to read other than a crap pile of words I would still fail to see how this could have gone badly for me. Jim Hines…. Rather my first reading at a convention turned out to be a fairy tale princess event with butter and bacon. We (and mostly he) packed the room. It was standing room only and as we got ready I couldn’t help grinning madly because I knew that I had selected a black arrow from my quiver.

Chapter four of the second book in the “sports in space” series is about the naval space program’s super secret Atlatl gunboat system told from the point of view of Gunnery Sergeant Capston. I had rehearsed the reading a bunch the night before, I wanted it to go really well. I knew there were three good laughs in the manuscript and the potential for a cringe. They happened, all where I had anticipated they might. Even better I know how I can do a better job next time.

The reading was an amazing learning experience and it also served as a great opportunity to get to know Jim Hines a little better. What a great guy to be friends with. I am really looking forward to Geek Fan Expo in September where we’ll both be special guests.

Speaking of readings, I caught John Scalzi and Jacqueline Carey combined reading. A memorable hour of my life, and one which I can now refer to in an effort to make future readings of my work all the better. Both of these excellent authors are also the very best public readers.

So, yes, watching these two masters read was very helpful and informative. I also got to spend some time face-to-face with them both as well as others. A memorable tid-bit that Scalzi left me with was something like, “The operating mode of writing is failure, so get used to it. Submit, and while you’re waiting write some more. Eventually, you’ll get sales.”

Finally, John’s wife Kristine was at the convention. Much like my wonderful Tess, Kristine is a capable, smart, and loving woman who teams up with her main man in the creative process. Perhaps the most important take away from our conversations was that I was reminded I really need to listen and pay attention to what Tess has to say about my work. Perhaps more importantly what she tells me about the way I conduct my business. She is my first, best fan in addition to my partner. Also, “never compromise when it comes to your work.” Kristine gave me this fundamental as a guideline and then we enjoyed a beer in between panels. If you’re reading this, I’ve heard you both. Loud and clear.

And with that, I must leave you. The plane is at the far end of the jetty and the scent of anticipation is running through the crowd. Yes, there will be more. Stay tuned, big announcements are blog bound.