New Short Story – Toy Lists (

July 4, 2009

I have added a new short story to the site – “Toy Lists” – about an obsessive worker and his plan to make a connection with another human in his sterile, anonymous, and impermanent work environment. The work is a failed entry in a recent short-short story contest – although I made some revisions over the version that was my “official” contest entry (hopefully for the better).

Since the story also deals with the Internet and online photo albums, there could be all sort of online tie-ins I could develop to promote and enhance the story – unfortunately, I do not have the time nor the skills for that just yet. At least I own the domain I can’t imagine why that wasn’t taken.

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Thinking on the Highway Virus – 2

June 9, 2009

Another big part of the Highway Virus series, and another aspect that seems prima facie unlikely, is the presence of the trogg dogs. They are roving packs of canine-like scavengers, which will attack and consume humans, alive or dead. They hunt alone and in packs, they are hideous with no qualities we would value (so no threat from trophy hunting), they can survive under a variety of conditions (so no threat from habitat loss), and they’ll eat anything.  In short, they have evolved to survive and thrive in this world, to the detriment of all other species.

For the purposes of the stories, they are a good device to get rid of all the bodies stricken by the Highway Virus. They are wild animals, running around, eating our dead.

Their existence seems unlikely as the emergence of a new species takes much longer than the timeframe presented in this series. I took inspiration from the Mad Max movies by framing the stories at some undetermined time in the future – but it is still the “near future” and not some distant era of the 3000s, when the Earth will be a junked wasteland (see WALL-E) or uninhabitable cinder.

That is probably not is enough time for a new species to evolve through means of mutation and natural selection, especially a large predator the size of a bear that exhibits similarities with wild dogs. The idea was that this new species would emerge (perhaps accelerated through interactions with the virus) with special adaptations to survive in this new environment, one of waste and disease. And as long as it has none of the qualities we envy or admire, we won’t hunt it to near extinction (think the tiger or the rhino versus the feral pig or the hyena).

So, the emergence of the trogg dogs is more Lamarckian than Darwinian – and granted, while the notion of the inheritance of acquired characteristics is largely considered discredited, it refuses to die.

But in the end, this is fiction, so I don’t want to get bogged down in the science. The first source of inspiration for the trogg dogs was the book Monster of God, but from there, I tried to make them more of supernatural creatures (God loves a pseudo-scientist) – hellhounds arisen on earth to exact divine vengeance for our transgressions. We seem intent on destroy the earth (or at least remaking it in our image), so it is bound to fight back.

Thinking on the Highway Virus 1

April 27, 2009

I started the Highway Virus series, short stories of a future apocalyptic world, following the global fears of the bird flu virus several years ago, where I imagined a future world where a virus has emerged to kill a portion of the world’s population (about 10%, maybe?), causing panic, major cultural changes, and a collapse of infrastructure and  governance.

These origins might make them remnants of the bird flu hysteria from that time period, but I have tried to expand the scope of world problems beyond that one point of concern. This fictional world is a pastiche of worst-possible outcomes from multiple sources. If you think of all the worst things that could happen in the environment, public health, and national infrastructure, then you would start to get an idea of what this world is like.

I don’t view this world as being inevitable or terribly possible. Plausible? Well, I guess it depends on how pessimistic you are. Back in early days of the subprime crisis, most people thought it was “contained” – meaning a few people of poor to moderate means would lose their homes and that would be the end of it. Back to business as usual. Then it got worse. It moved up the food chain and across the entire population. My own inherent sense of pessimism kept me from being too surprised.

The other problems facing the world – the environment, health care, extinction and speciation – they have to come to a head sooner or later.

Watchmen & the future of Highway Virus

March 8, 2009

There is a fourth Highway Virus story. Its composition is ongoing – but I hit a stumbling block. About halfway through it, as I was trying to turn my rambling notes into a coherent narrative, I realized it had many of the same themes as Season Four of Battlestar Galactica – mainly androids struggling with their identity.

My notes predated the time I watched  that season. Maybe there is something to this notion of Morphic resonance, and I plucked my thoughts from the Noosphere. Should I really worry about the connections to my own story if it is part of our collective consciousness? Regardless, the similarities were enough to prompt a retreat, a reorganization, a rethinking, on the fourth Highway Virus story. I want to be at least a little interesting, if not somewhat original, in my writing. The BSG writers have a TV show watched by many people – I don’t – so they get dibs on androids. No matter who was “first,” it would look like I was following behind, picking up thematic scraps in their wake.

Of course the creators and writers of BSG regularly channel Philip K. Dick (but hey, who doesn’t?). They cannot be considered wholly “original” in their work either. But is this debate even useful anymore? Is it possible to be original when there’s always someone who comes before you? Perhaps this whole concern with who owns an idea is a remnant of the cultural revolution in the U.S. – one which ended (hopefully) with the election of Obama.

This topic is appropriate on the weekend that Watchmen opens. The original book, the basis for the movie, is a historic, vastly influential work – and rightly so – but it sure has a lot in common with The Outer Limits episode “The Architects of Fear,” which itself is similar to Theodore Sturgeon’s earlier story “Unite and Conquer” (of course everything goes back to Sturgeon). The Watchmen book even acknowledges this connection near the end, with the episode playing on the TV in the background.

Alan Moore says he had not seen the episode when he conceived the book, a claim I have no reason to dispute. The dude is brilliant – so he gets plenty of slack. Maybe he was floating in the Noosphere too. Fortunately the awareness of the similarity with The Outer Limits did not stop him from writing Watchmen. (Unfortunately it did not stop Zack Snyder from making a movie out of Watchmen.) Of course, as Studio 360 rightly points out, the Watchmen book has been so influential, we have been reading and watching the fruits of that work for years now – just as the influence of Philip K. Dick and Theodore Sturgeon still reverberates long after people are aware of it.

The Blind Cathedral

February 21, 2009

The short story “Songs Like Rusty Cage is obviously inspired by Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral.” The connection didn’t hit me when I first started writing it, but it was obviously somewhere in the back of my head. Once I realized the connection, I added the opening scene as an homage and to acknowledge my debt to Carver. Does that exonerate me from accusations of plagiarism? Well … at least I am not pawning off the story as if it sprang Athena-like from my forehead.

Still, I doubt “Songs Like Rusty Cage could be published anywhere, but I like the story for its wistful tone and its theme of knowing. Not so much how well do you know other people, because we know it’s not much, but how well do other people know you? How much of what they know (or they think they know) is just a patchwork of random impressions and over-emphasized events? I continue to edit this story on occasion, mainly because I am still uncertain how much to emphasize these themes … and that is one advantage of having your stuff on the Internet. Sure, it’s free, but nothing is permanent.

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