Dispatches – Save a Job, Save the World

December 24, 2016

The Braindead Megaphone Cafe has gone nationwide, so there are many new opportunities to overhear new conversations on the state of the nation and the world. The following exchange was between a man and woman after Christmas shopping:

“I been out shopping for the kids. I got lightsabers for all of ’em because Walmart had them in this giant bucket for 4 bucks.”

“That’s ’cause everything’s made in China now.”

“It’s a damn shame. We invented lightsabers. If anyone should be making ’em, it’s us.”

“Trump’s gonna stop all that. He’s bringing back the jobs, and four years from now we’ll all be buying American lightsabers.”

“He can do it in three.”

“Maybe. But all those liberals are gonna try to stop him. Remember the owls?”

“Yeah, yeah… Which owls?”

“The owls of Oregon. The greenies put the lumber industry out of business to save an owl. Now we have to import our wood from China.”

“Trump’ll fix that. Hell, if it saves one job, I’d shoot all the owls in Oregon.”

“We could pay a guy to go out and shoot all the owls in the woods. That’s one new job right there.”

“I know a guy who would do it for free.”

“I know a guy who would pay to shoot owls.”

“Then we’d have to pay someone to collect his money.”

“We just made a job.”

“We just saved the whole damn economy. More than Obama bin Lyin’ ever did.”

Think about it, AJ

December 9, 2016

Of course Alex Jones was titillated by the “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory—it is exactly the type of lascivious fiction that draws him in for a wallow. By comparison, the 9/11 conspiracies are rote, with nary a salacious angle, unless you count the virgins promised to the suicidal terrorists, which you do not because, according to the Truthers, they don’t exist (the terrorists, not the virgins).

In fact, I suspect AJ doesn’t think much about those 9/11 conspiracies anymore, wherein Truthers believe a mix of U.S. government entities and New York commercial property owners conspired to blow up the Twin Towers through plane impact and controlled demolition. The latter part of the conspiracy is where the NY property owners necessarily get involved because how could they not know about construction workers deployed throughout the WTC buildings to plant explosive charges? Heck, Trump peer Larry Silverstein uttered the telling words “pull it” about his property WTC 7.

And therein lies the rub because, in AJ’s world, how could D- Trump not know about the 9/11 conspiracy? In fact, since D- Trump, for whom AJ campaigned, is the most prominent and hence most successful property owner in New York, he had to be part of the conspiracy, right? How could he not?

It is the question that should keep AJ and his Truther ditto heads up at night. But it doesn’t.

Filed under: Random Tags: ,

What’s this about political butts?

November 17, 2016

Old and pulpy sci-fi often has some interesting ideas, but the words they used were often lacking in style and even coherence. Sometimes it is poor editing – a “where” for a “were” – but there are times when their words seem to be intentionally confusing.

Case in point: John Wyndham was correct that we are fucked as a species. The seas will rise, and plants will hunt us down. But I’ve read this sentence from his Out of the Deeps (the U.S. version of The Kraken Awakes) many times and I’m still in the dark:

“Almost every cartoonist discovered simultaneously why his favorite political butts had somehow never seemed quite human.” (pg. 106, Del Ray from 1977 edition)

Filed under: Random Tags: , ,

Don’t lose your PC badge in the Apocalypse

April 18, 2013

It was an interesting coincidence that The Simpsons aired their “survivalist” episode “Homer Goes to Prep School” the same night The Walking Dead was wrapping up its third season. I’m not sure that actual preppers watch The Walking Dead (only in the sense that fictions feed many of their beliefs), but I think the show serves as a good guide to that mindset, since both preppers and TV writers seem to share the same Incredibles complex, namely that there are but a few worthy people on this planet and the rest of us are sheep.

(Don’t worry too much about your standing. You are mostly likely one of the sheep. And I am using the term “preppers” to refer to the very stereotypical notion of survivalists driven by right-wing conspiracy theories.)

Take Lost. There were more survivors and more people on that Island than the opening credits would suggest. Where else did they get all those people to run in front of bullets? Random people would pop up whenever the writers needed to display the Island’s hostility to humanity without losing a main player or when someone needed to stand behind Jack’s shoulder and nod during emotional “group” face-offs.

These people experience the same suffering, the same losses, and the same struggles as our main characters, but for some reason, they are not exceptional. They are functional, what gamers would call NPCs (non-player characters).

Back to The Walking Dead. Woodbury was a town full of NPCs. They support their sociopathic leader (the Governor) without question, right up until they don’t. The Governor has this vast network of spies, soldiers, and commandos, watching the prison, capturing walkers, etc. – but only about three men get names, lines of dialogue, and close ups. The rest are sheep, even though they stop bullets as good as anyone.

So if you want to survive a zombie apocalypse, you need to keep a tight grip on your PC badge, which is not as easy as it sounds. Andrea, she was a PC, and look what happened to her. She had many “emotional moments” that would seem to grant her a permanent “PC” tattoo – but The Walking Dead is essentially an unending sequence of emotional moments, one after the other, so much that they have lost their impact. Many characters have noted, “Everyone’s lost someone.” That’s the universe they live in – but the show’s writers seem to be unable to move on from that…

While there is no guarantee of permanent PC status, one way to guarantee loss of status is to become the moral foil to either the protagonist or the antagonist. Andrea was both. That’s a definite fail on her saving throw.

As I understand it, fans complained about her obtuse inability to see the Governor’s true nature. But characters are only as smart as the writing allows. And the writers twisted and turned and contorted to keep her as dumb as a post. There was plenty of information floating around that should have swayed her opinion of the Governor – e.g., he had Glenn tortured, he sexually assaulted Maggie, he gunned down a group of soldiers and took their weapons.

Any one of these tidbits, had they been communicated to her, would have swayed her to one side and altered her character arc. But we never see this information passed to her. No one tells her. Why? Because doing so would spoil her function. She needs to get us from Point A to Point B. Andrea didn’t kill the Governor because the script told her not to. She lost her PC badge.

Like The Walking Dead writers, preppers see NPCs everywhere. Except we are their canvas – and they are painting their own narrative on reality. They look at me and see a radiation canary. I will be the sheep gunned down by jackbooted government soldiers, the one who dies from the formaldehyde in a flu shot, the pile of dust after a fifth-column drone attack on American soil. No matter how hard I believe I have a PC badge, they will never regard me as anything but zombie food.

So both preppers and TV writers both are willing to sacrifice NPCs to realize their narratives. I guess the big difference is that TV writers are trying to make fiction look more like reality. For preppers, it is just the opposite. They might, for example, edit a popular animated show so that it appears to foretell actual events.

Filed under: Random Tags: , , ,

Mr. Spaceship

December 18, 2011

In the short story “Mr. Spaceship,” published in 1953 in a publication called Imagination (according to my Citadel Twilight collection, Volume 1), Philip K. Dick put a human brain into a spaceship, a la a “living ship.” So he was way ahead of his time on this particular sci-fi meme.

There’s a lot that is wrong in this story, the cheesy ending notwithstanding. For one,there is the bit of dialogue from the story, “Very little life is actually conscious. Animals, trees, insects are quick in their responses, but they aren’t conscious.” Now, attributing a lack of sentience to animals, that they are merely reactionary clockwork mechanisms, may have been the prevailing “popular wisdom” of the time, but of course it is flat-out wrong. And the notion that a human brain would work and react faster and better than a computer processor is similarly untrue. We do have unique advantages over our eventual robotic overlords, but reaction time is not one of them.

Still, Dick’s prescience in this idea of organic-synthetic symbiosis goes to show, despite his misfires, he still wipes the floor with us when it comes to conceptual sci-fi.

Filed under: Random Tags: , ,

The Living Structure Meme

September 3, 2011

If you want to prepare for a new and illustrious career for future, I would recommend bioengineering, since future ships and buildings will be living things.

Paolo Bacigalupi’s “A Pocketful for Dharma,” despite its flaws, strikes an interesting balance between a landscape of living building and a computer disk that can carry a copy of a human soul. Farscape put the concept of bioengineered ships upfront with the whole “I am on a living ship” line in the intro – a ship that later gave birth to a baby gunship. And, of course, the classic aliens, the xenomorphs,  have a penchant for organic architecture when they set up shop in a ship, on a new planet, or among a group of ill-fated human colonists. Welcome to a future where, as Marge Simpson would say, “Everything is something.” At least until the nanobots take over… then everything will be very, very tiny.

In the Financial Apocalypse…

July 29, 2011

It is good to know we can shift to an Egret Economy and trade in feathers should Congress (i.e., the Republicans) decide they are tired of success and drive the country off a cliff… (referring of course to the debt-ceiling debacle and the fight they started and couldn’t finish).

Filed under: Random Tags:

Where is the Highway Virus link?

June 10, 2011

For those of you keeping score at home (and that is a sad little joke told to an empty room), you may have noticed the recent change in the home page makes the Highway Virus stories inaccessible. Actually you can still get to them from links in the blog – like this one – but that section of the site is no longer navigable from the main pages.

So, since it is moderately difficult to access these pages, they are essentially offline. Why? I decided to retire the tone of those stories. The notion of a grim, tooth-and-claw postapocalyptic future is overdone, and it was difficult for me to maintain that tone without becoming too didactic.

So I am trying to change the tone for my “sci-fi” or “futuristic” writing. Here is an excerpt from a new piece, with the working title “The Blue Caves of Austin,” just because I like that title:

“With the end of the world, or the world as you knew it, there were many things we had to do before we could start over. You left quite a mess. Lots of junk and lots of bodies. There’s a lot of talk, blaming you, speculating why you acted as you did. But there will be people in our future, and they will say the same things about us. I know because you said the same things about your antecedents.

“They want me to tuck this missive away, put it where it will find its way back to you. As though one day, we will wake up, and the skies will be clear, the ground clean, as though it were possible to change the course of the world.”

So that’s not quite as heavy handed as past efforts, I think. Which brings up a new question – do I always have to write in the first person?

Why “trogg dogs”?

November 25, 2010

The Wastelands book continues to plague my Noosphere – indirectly this time. As mentioned before, my favorite story in this book (of those I’ve read) is Paolo Bacigalupi’s “The People of Sand and Slag,” also available in his book Pump Six. So naturally I was drawn to the September 2008 issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction, which has his name on the cover (full disclosure: it was a free copy I picked up at a convention – but it would not have stood out of the pile of free stuff if not for his name).

So I read “Pump Six,” and to my dismay, Bacigalupi has in his story entities called trogs, carnal subhumans who populate the story’s future society, hanging out like homeless but unabashedly humping in public. That name is eerily similar to my trogg dogs, a persistent threat to the humans in the Highway Virus series. These animals rove the decimated landscape, attack live humans and eat the dead ones. They are, in some ways, a force of nature, tied to the rise of the Highway Virus as it started to infect people.

So what’s in the name (i.e., how did I come to pick the name trogg dogs)? For one, trogg dogs look mostly like wolves, although much bigger, so “dogs” is a natural association. Second, the press named them, and as it does so often with real threats, they trivialized them. As the narrator in “Little Things” says, they needed some funny little story at the end of each hour to offset the day’s harsh realities. Trogg dogs seemed to fulfill that need, and a copy boy with a fetish for classic rock came up with the name to complete this wonderful distraction.

So there’s the answer to a question no one asked. The name came to me long before I had heard of the name “Bacigalupi,” but apparently it did bump up against him while floating in the Noosphere. If I can take one positive from it, this coincidence partially allays my fear that the name “trogg dogs” is too “Atwoodesque,” i.e., that it is too hokey to be believable as part of a realistic lexicon. There is another “trog” in print, and that is important, considering I feel I took a few liberties with the evolution of these creatures.

For one, I worry the emergence of this new species was too compressed, even though in present day we have numerous stories about packs of wild dogs ravaging countrysides. But in looking at the fictional timeline of the Highway Virus series, the trogg dogs happened too fast. Real evolution typically occurs over long periods of time although the fossil record does seem to indicate the actual evolution of the modern dog occurred in a relatively short period.

And, at least according to one hypothesis, they came because of our garbage. We humans are a waste-producing species – this skill will likely be our lasting contribution to the planet. Starting with our ancient antecedents, anywhere we go, we leave crap behind. Wild wolves with a “tamer” genetic variation ventured close to these human settlements, where food was easy but came with the risk of attack from ugly, hairless bipeds. From that starting point, the dog became domesticated and developed specific attributes that complemented this new symbiosis.

Perhaps that is why the notion of wild packs of dogs is a high sign of the end of civil society. Civilization formed around waste dumps and animal domestication. Wild dogs roaming the street is a clear metaphor for the collapse of that structure, or at least its downward trajectory, and we humans seem to have a strong innate reaction to this image. It symbolizes our loss of control. Canis lupus familiaris evolved in close conjunction with homo sapien, so if one goes, so too does the other. A feral relapse is at the tipping point of civilization, the line that, when crossed, represents our failure to hold it all together.

And perhaps that’s why so many dumb apes in Idaho, Wyoming, Alaska, and the like have such an irrational fear/hatred of wolves. Their brains are stuck in a primitive coded loop, still trying to protect their pile of garbage…