Archive for fiction

Prophet Margins: Predictions 2025

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on October 19, 2011 by theclockworm

As we all know, becoming a SF writer means predicting the future. Now, don’t get me wrong; I know that’s not what we actually do. But there are always going to be folks who think otherwise, and they’ll always be there to demand prophecies of us. We’ll bicker and defend and elude, but in the end, we’ll give them a list and hope the universe does something both self-serving and ironic with the information.

I’ve decided to jump the gun. Why wait until I’m published? Here, with tongue planted more or less firmly in cheek, are my predictions for the year…TWO THOUSAND TWENTY-FIVE.

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1. In the wake of the fallout from the First Mormon-Scientologist War, a new religious sect will emerge. Following the teachings of Robert Heinlein, they will practice a rugged brand of survivalism, solving social conflict through handgun-brandishing. Though they will preserve the institution of marriage, they will permit polygamy in all forms, as well as conducting themselves in a generally permissive manner sexually. They will practice a form of eugenics based on the society in Heinlein’s books; the long-term results will never be known, as a tragic explosion on their hand-built spacecraft will kill them all.

2. The Occupy movement of the 2010s eventually becomes totally ubiquitous. Out of public spaces in which to make a stand, people begin to occupy their own houses, making it very difficult for authorities to determine who is involved. Presidential candidate Bristol Palin concludes that Anonymous must be growing, perhaps bolstered by their victory in the war. However, she is unable to continue her campaign when she is reminded that the office of the president no longer exists.

3. As genetic re-programming becomes affordable and safe, a whole new lifestyle/art movement will arise. Combining performance art, cosplay, and socio-political activism, genomorphic groups will recreate various fictional worlds and stories, with varying degrees of success and commitment. Of special interest will be the Gethenians, a group of people who choose to adopt the un-gendered state described in Ursula K. Le Guin’s novel The Left Hand of Darkness. They will buy up land in Alaska, utilize the systems of time and culture described in the book, and attempt to eradicate non-Gethenian ideals. Ignored initially, they will be the focus of much media attention when a break-off sect of evangelicals, the Neuter the Earth movement, begin re-infiltrating the mainland.

4. The most popular of the genomorphic groups will be the Vulcans. Recognizing that Vulcanism is a practicable, attainable state, this group will spread over much of the globe, extending far beyond Star Trek fans. By suppressing certain mental functions, Vulcans will be able to control their emotions to a degree unavailable to un-morphed humans. The cosmetic differences will be considered comparatively minor, and will be shunned altogether by some. Many non-religious Jews will join the movement, as it offers a focus on tradition, contemplation, and ritual without religiousness.

5. The majority of divorce papers filed will cite Dream Linking as a major factor. The practice, which will allow two or more people to “meet” in a non-corporeal world, will allow for an explosion in infidelity. The state will involve full nervous system arousal, making it experientially equivalent to sex, but it will be difficult to trace, often anonymous, and will not carry the risk of disease or pregnancy. The birth-rate will drop for the first time in years after the service hits the market.

6. While searching for survivors from the war, workers will discover the secret underground lair of what will become known as the Cabal of Child Actors. A secret society of supposedly inactive, drug-addled, or dead child stars, the CCA will be suspected of controlling everything from the banking system to the military. Haley Joel Osment, having ousted the ruling duo of Coreys Haim and Feldman, will warn officials “We are your Dennis the Menaces. We are your Kevin Arnolds. We bring your rom-com leads together, and turn Hugh Grant into a nice guy. We see dead people – ALL THE TIME. We are your Malcolms, in the middle and otherwise. Do not fuck with us.”

7. In a coup unrecognized until much later, a heavily-bearded Wil Wheaton will single-handedly dismantle the CCA, saving the entire ship. I mean world.

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Thanks to io9 for the idea about Vulcanism. Thanks to Wil Wheaton for saving the entire ship. I mean world.

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Excerpt: Keep the Books

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on October 8, 2011 by theclockworm

It was hours later when she noticed that his clothes had changed. On his right side, the side he had slept on, a new outfit was growing. It did not merely cover his old one, it replaced it. It seemed to be eating it. The process was slow, but it crept along his trunk, moved around his knee, and in time covered his entire body, hands and head excluded. It was a fashionable men’s suit, a classic design. But it had gone off-course. On his right side, it was thick and well-woven, the hems sewn straight and tight, but by the time it reached his lapels, it had lost much of its vigor. The general impression was of a melted wedding-cake topper.
___

Ward dreamed of burning books, of the look of disgust – or was it shame? – on his mother’s face as he wolfed down a cat-burger, his own tiny face all smiles and sauce.

Sophia dreamed of Ward, eyeless and melted and dragged into the earth by the floorboards.
___

“What the hell is a nano-bot?” Sophia was scared now, imagining a ghostly presence, sewn into the walls and floors. Was her food made of these nano-bots? Was her chicken really ghost meat?

“I guess it was new,” Ward said, trying to piece it all together. “Must have just come out when It Happened. I guess the people who lived here were Beta.”

“Which makes us Beta now,” she said

 

Excerpt: All Our Promises Kept

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on October 7, 2011 by theclockworm

This excerpt is from one of my two current “big” stories – long on words, effort, and hopefully promise. I leave you with only inferences. I’ll gladly take suggestions on the title as well.

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The weight of their bodies made the mattress creak. All those young limbs, draped carelessly around. All the lovers he’d had before her, all in one place. Beside her, the Ian she knew, phantom though he was, made a small, desperate sound. She reached out her hand, gripping his. “I know. It’s weird for me too.” She felt him tremble. “It’s not your fault,” she said. And she meant it, though feeling it was another matter.

___

Lydia often wondered about the outside world. It was an inevitable part of being a Tat – you were cut off from the life of your Real, left to wander the halls of memory and wonder at the state of things. Inside his head, they’d stayed together, and been fairly happy. But this was a world of limits as well as wonder. They could never be tempted by others, not really. Sure, either of them could enter a memory and inhabit it for a while, but they could not continue onward from there, could not force the past into a new path toward the future. At worst, it was pornography, unreal because it did not involve or require intent – because it did not involve or require another human being.

She wondered if they could have children, but was scared to bring it up. And anyway, she didn’t know if that would be fair. If their child was True, had a soul or whatever, it would be stuck here, in someone else’s head, in someone else’s life. It seemed more than a little unethical. But it would be nice.

She also wondered how things were going for their twins in Lydia’s head. Would her history be more or less habitable than his?
___

“Ian, there’s the potential and there’s the inevitable. This world you live in is free from so many things – work, stress, reality, other people. That’s simply served to defer the only end that can come of this. One day, she will become who she has always been; she will reveal herself to you, and you’ll have no recourse, no way to escape. I’m saving you from an eternity of her, Ian.”

“Not with corpses you’re not.” He fell back, like last time, through the humming meat of his mind. Like last time, he threw the totem into the darkness.

Excerpt: St. William at the Pearly Gates

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on October 7, 2011 by theclockworm

I started this story a few years ago, and it’s still hovering around the top quarter of stuff I need to finish soon. It’s set in a future where a centralized system, Systema, is home to a large number of human consciousnesses, including that of Bill Gates. The story is largely about what is different, developmentally, when immortality or extreme long-life are possible. In the world of the story, a form of suicide is common; it is not the wholly negative thing it is in our mortal world, though not everyone, even in that world, understands it. The tale begins with a letter from Microsoft informing stock-holders of Gates’ decision to “retire.”

It’s strange to read over this material this week, with all the conversation about the death of Steve Jobs. There’s actually a part in the story where Jobs is asked by a newspaper what he thinks of Gates’ decision (“It’s about fucking time.”). I’ll have to edit that now – or maybe not. In any event, there’s been a bit of speculation as to what will happen when Gates dies. I cover that, though I suspect it won’t go quite the way I’ve plotted it.

It’s an epistolary story, a format I really enjoy and hope to utilize more in the future. This segment is from a long “exit interview” of Gates, conducted by an AI approximation of Carl Jung.

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J: Is it possible, perhaps, that the existence of this door, and your knowledge of it, could be more important that it’s actual presence?

G: They could be to someone. To me they’re not. They were for a long time. But I’m tired.

J: Death is not an appropriate response to weariness. That’s what sleep is for.

G: I’m not weary, Mister Jung. I’m Tired.

J: Are you tired of life, or are you tired of your life?

G: I’m not sure I’d know the difference.

J: Do you think maybe you’ve climbed too high? That you now are above everything, with no heroes, no idols, no stories left to tell or to call upon for guidance?

G: That’s probably part of it.

J: I think, Mr. Gates, that you have become an archetype. You, yourself. I think you may be outside of human psychology by any standards. I think you are a man who has reluctantly become a totemic entity. You are no longer Bill Gates. You are the sign that points to Bill Gates.

G: Flattery will get you everywhere.

Excerpt: The Clockworm

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on October 7, 2011 by theclockworm

Just so you know I’m not bluffing, I’ll be posting excerpts from various works-in-progress in the next few days. Feel free to comment, but remember, these are unfinished and out of context.

Some segments from The Clockworm

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“Are you really a machine?”

“Of course,” said the Regnim. “I operate.”

“But that doesn’t make you a machine. I operate too.”

The Regnim was silent.

“Were you built?”

“I was made.”

“Riddles. Evidence of simplicity in your programming. Inability to answer difficult questions.”

“You admit they are difficult questions, but refuse to accept difficult answers. Evidence of simplicity in your programming.”

Alex knew the Regnim was right.

“So you’re not just a machine.”

“What living notions inhabit the phrase “just a machine?” Implications by the handful! Let’s look at them in detail, shall we? Just: only, merely, simply. Simplicity, limitedness, inability. Parameters of potential, range of impact – negligible. Machine: less than human, less than entity. Object, not subject. More false, less alive. Consuming, not producing. Being directed, not intending. State of doing, not of being. Action without introspection. Deserving of less ethical responsibility. Other.

___

That night, he dreamed of the Regnim. It stretched off in all directions, and when he tried to move forward, it blocked his way. It laughed, and the sound echoed through his bones, vibrated him into dust, shrieked with overtones through the endlessness of time. It screamed need, and lust, and hunger. It screamed until nothing could be heard, until only the great worm remained.

___

“So there’s no structure, no leadership?”

“There’s no group, so to speak, just a central thrust composed of isolated, individual actions. Ramjack is that which its members accomplish, but it is not a whole. It is a way of drilling through the walls of this world. Like the hammer, it is only a tool once it is picked up. Until then, it is nothing, an inert and functionless artifact.”

“But where does the thrust come from? How does it find us?”

“It slips into your mind, whole, a perfect truth. This has always been the manner of transmission.”

“Where does it come from?”

“Does it matter? Some call it god; some simply outline it by noting what it is not. To me, it is not divine; to me, it is more than that. I choose to call it truth. Truth needs no regalia.”

The Golden Age of SF is However Old You Are When You Die In An Alien Invasion

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 23, 2011 by theclockworm

The columns of light striking the soil informed him of his condition. He was inside a SF story. Obviously.

His room appeared no different than it had before; the bed he woke up in, from which vantage point he witnessed this impossibility of aggression, was comfortable and worn and sagged near the center where he tended to resolve in his nightly rotations. But however familiar the setting seemed, he knew it could not be real, that this was no longer his real life – if indeed he had ever had one. In real life, green shafts of unknown energy did not smash into fields and streams, sending floods of muddy frog-water and whole stalks of corn careening through the morning sky. In the real world, one could not sense the fissuring of the crust below through the foundations of a house, the disconnection of plate from plate as the earth itself buckled. Since these things did not happen in the real world, this must not be the real world.

Assuming he had entered a fictional universe, some very basic questions begged an answer. First, what sort of story was it? SF isn’t without its own inner lines of demarcation, after all. Looking around, he set about trying to determine the parameters of his condition. Maybe if he could guess whose story he was in, he could figure out his role, a way to survive.

He narrowed his view, tried to look beyond the obvious. After all, perhaps this was a pastiche inside a dream or on a television show, itself occupying a less Golden Age-type tale. Maybe he should start small, think creatively. What criteria could he use? He looked away from the window, from the glaring blaze of heat-death; from the walls, blank and simple, devoid of clue or genre marker; past the empty nightstand, the mundane closet, the boring things strewn and hung here and there. Looking down, he saw the bed. Ah ha.

A writer would start here, and so he, being written, started here. Whose bed could this be?

He recalled the massive, luxurious beds featured so prominently in the works of Robert Heinlein. These beds were central to the galaxy-wide Red-Headed League that Lazarus Long had spawned. More action took place between sheets in the typical Heinlein book than ever happened between enemies, who usually dropped after a single shot. Looking left and right, he noticed the absence of even one, let alone two, people there with him. This was not Heinlein’s bed.

Could this be Le Guin’s bed? Was this the place where brilliant scientists crashed with manic irregularity, to dream up a fiery addition to some foreign physics? Was it a strange bed on a frozen world, a friendly posh bed or a simple warm bed in the territory of doubtful allies? He checked beneath the sheets, found the familiar things; the beam hadn’t left him genderless. Looking at his arms, he found that they too retained their usual hue. The beam had not rendered him colorless and gray. Alas, this was not Ursula’s bed.

Was it William Gibson’s bed? Was it a lonely rack in a shoddy motel, where a broken and lost relic of the filthy future might be consumed by a figment of someone else’s imagination? Was it a mere cubby hole, the ultimate symbol of minimalism and badass-ness, a claustrophobic cubicle where one might be ridden by a girl with sharp claws? Well, it was a bed; that alone seemed to disqualify it. He checked about for ratty plastic interfaces, or “decks;” none were apparent. Inside the bedside table, a lack of stimulants, weapons, or eyewear of any sort. No go for Gibson.

He tried to remember a bed in the works of Philip K. Dick, but came up empty. Maybe this was reflective of the man’s life. Other than one terrifying scene of domestic paranoia involving a teenage narc, he could remember not one example. Dick seemed to steer as clear of rest in his writing as he did while writing. If this was Dick’s bed, surely it was a mere pretext, a trap-door he would soon fall through into a hell of perceptual doubt or esoteric cosmology. More likely than not, in Phil’s universe, there were no beds at all.

He scrolled through the traitorous royal chambers of Herbert, the Freud-laden psychopathic millionaire mattresses of Bester, the horribly heavy beds of Lem, newly populated by the very old. He considered the lonely corporate-funded suites of Tiptree. He came up blank.

Outside, the beams moved steadily closer to the house, sending ancient trees up into wisps of smoke and ash. Time was running out, and so were ideas. A strange thought struck him from the corner of his mind. There was a new writer, he thought, whose stories had been showing up over the past few months. He liked to play with tropes, to layer allegories, to explore transcendence and iterative identity. He was also quite fond of literalizing, and considered SF to be a dialogue, carried on by SF writers in a constant interpretive cycle. He didn’t mind sacrificing a nameless, faceless character to make a point, either. There was a bed in one of his stories, and it was filled with the copied forms of a whole history of lovers. Maybe this is his bed, he thought, the heat now palpable as the beams moved across the lawn. He couldn’t recall his name.

The Word for Write is Open

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on September 15, 2011 by theclockworm

Ursula Le Guin’s anthropological SF has been a big inspiration for me. Her novel The Left Hand of Darkness is basically a fictional ethnography; without it, the world of Ari Ascher in my as-yet unpublished story would not exist. As I progress through various avenues of approach in writing SF, I find myself knocking often at the door of anthropology. The other doors I have moved through thus far are: the door of cognitive plasticity, the door of psychological manifestation, the door of literalization, the door of strange gifts, and the door of doctors of artifacts not limited to the human.

Here are some things Le Guin has said that I like quite a bit. Her introduction to LHoD, in the paperback edition, should be on everyone’s list of essential essays about SF.

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“I am struck by how much we talk about rebirthing but never about rebearing. The word itself is unfamiliar to most people. Yet both women and men are capable of rebearing, women literally and men metaphorically. A door opens just by changing the name. We don’t have to be reborn; we can rebear. This is part of the writer’s job, either to rebear the metaphors or refuse to use them.”

“What I was doing there is playing with the idea of our present growth technology from the Industrial Revolution on through the present the last 200 years. We don’t know when this period will end, but it
will. We tend to think of our present historic era as representing the highest evolution of human society. We’re convinced that our exploitive, fast-growing technology is the only possible reality. In Always Coming Home, I put people who believe this into one little capsule where the Kesh could look at them as weird aberrations. It was the most disrespectful thing I could do, like wrapping a turd in cellophane.”

(Above quotes are from this interview.)

“As for the charge of escapism, what does “escape” mean? Escape from real life, responsibility, order, duty, piety, is what the charge implies. But nobody, except the most criminally irresponsible or pitifully incompetent, escapes to jail. The direction of escape is toward freedom. So what is “escapism” an accusation of?”

(from her blog, speaking of fantasy)

To think that realistic fiction is by definition superior to imaginative fiction is to think imitation is superior to invention.