Every Single One Of My Titles

New Experiment: Let Software Read My Stories

This experiment was prompted by a blind relative who wanted to hear my stories. I decided to give a free text-to-voice program a crack at ‘reading’ a few of them out loud and put them up on YouTube for anyone to hear. Various family members visit her often with various internet-enabled devices in tow, so this seemed like an interesting way to go about it.

Sure, I could read them. And I might go that route one day. But money is tight and I can’t really justify (or find!) the money to provide a good microphone, a good webcam, and a quiet recording space free of the banshee wails of my two toddlers at the moment.

So for now, give the robot voice a listen.

If you’d like to hear more, subscribe to my YouTube channel. I plan on putting new ones up regularly.

New SF Short: “I Pledge Allegiance”: Preorder For February Release! Read A Preview Here.

PlegeCoverErikElliottArtist

Pictured: cover model and artist and damn fine stepson Erik Elliott.

The blurb (LENGTHY PREVIEW BELOW, UNDER THE LINKS): Keshawn Bolling lives in a future of total government control. His religion, his education, even the length of his hair are dictated to him, Worse, his own father is one of the enforcers. He wants out; rumor says there is freedom to be had in the orbital habitats. But getting there won’t be easy, and freedom is a slippery thing to define…

I Pledge Allegiance is available for preorder from the following sources, and will be released February 1st, 2015:

Amazon: Available now!

iTunes: Available now!

Barnes & Noble: Coming soon.

Kobo: Coming soon.

Smashwords: Available now!

The preview, about 30% of the text:

I Pledge Allegiance

By S.A. Barton

Copyright 2014 S.A. Barton

Smashwords Edition

———

I pledge Allegiance to the flag

of the North American Union

and to the Republic for which it stands,

One nation under the Lord, Jesus Christ

who grants Liberty and Justice to All.”

#

I recite it from the screen with a smile, emphasizing the bolded words, my face a mask of enthusiasm. The smile is required. So is the emphasis. The menu won’t progress unless I do it ‘right’, and truancy is a misdemeanor for student and parents. A felony, on the third offense.

#

ENTER BIOMETRIC SCAN OF FINGERPRINT TO CONTINUE

#

FINGERPRINT RECOGNIZED

SWIPE CREDIT/DEBIT CARD TO CONTINUE

#

APPROVED

NAUD $0.125/INSTRUCTIONAL HOUR

ENTER DNA IDENTITY SCAN TO CONTINUE

#

I stick my thumb in the slot under the fingerprint scanner and a surface like fine sandpaper licks the skin like a cat’s tongue. The screen displays a segmented don’t-tread-on-me snake chasing its own tail in a figure 8: working.

#

WELCOME KESHAWN BOLLING

Options

((1)) Citizenship: Yr11Mo8: Pretest: Economic Obligations of the Citizen to the State

((2)) Mathematics: Yr11Mo6: Study Exercise: Algebra: Basic Competency: Binomials

((3)) History: Yr11Mo3: Lecture: Vulnerabilities of Democratic Governmental Forms and their Practical Remedies

((4)) Elective: Yr9Mo12: Lecture: Photography: Composition of Images For Esthetics and Legality

#

I know I should catch up on the history. The number in front of that option blinks sluggishly: mild urgency. If I neglect it for another couple of weeks, it will begin to flash more quickly. After that, my other options will disappear.

Most of my options disappeared, in reality, before I was born, before my parents were born, in the First American War. The Second American War and the War of American Unity nailed the coffin lid down.

The History option isn’t there for most students after Year 6. It’s there for me because the Citizenship Test Panels everyone takes at the end of Year 5 decided that my career would be Instructor: Correctional Facility. A specialized prison guard, a political re-educator. My Pa’s position probably has something to do with that, along with my more-than-average intelligence.

The smart ones are the ones they want to keep close, in the heart of the system, under maximum surveillance. Smart is dangerous.

I touch the elective icon instead, and tap my bulky camera to the spot indicated on the screen. My homework images upload. I hate the camera’s bulk, its jellybean neon-green color; it was the smallest and least gaudy I could find. Law dictates a camera must be a minimum of 8 inches by 6 by 3 and cased in plastic of a high-visibility color. Cameras must be easy to spot; unauthorized photography is a felony.

I’m not worried about the non-elective classes anymore.

I expect to be gone by the time the rest of my options disappear.

If the man standing behind me is with who I think he is. I wonder how he’ll avoid being picked up for questioning when I’m gone.

#

“Playing hooky, kid?” the man says, setting his coffee and muffin down on the battered tabletop opposite my own coffee. I look up from my tablet, let the textbook go black. He’s broad across the shoulders, chest and upper arms heavy with muscle, looks like Army except for his close-trimmed salt and pepper beard, well under the 2” legal maximum length. Army on local police duty, then. My legs tense with the urge to run, to disappear. I force my face to smile, not hard after years of insincere Pledges of Allegiance, and take a deep breath.

“Registered day off, sir,” I say. Army men are always sir with a smile. I offer my thumb. “Please scan me to verify, sir.” I’d rather spit in his fat privileged face.

He pushes his coffee to the side with the back of his hand and leans in close over the yellow poppyseed-topped muffin.

“Calm yourself, Keshawn,” he says quietly. Between us, he brings a finger up and teases a few long strands out of his hair, which I had thought was all safely under the 4” legal maximum for men.

He twists half a dozen hairs around his finger and raises an eyebrow at me. The hairs are at least double the legal length. They protrude from over his left ear for an instant before he tucks them away again. They’re a symbolic forelock, worn very thin so he can tear it off and throw it away if arrest is immanent.

He’s a secret Jew, a living felony offense. He has given me power over him by showing me that forelock, a dangerous act. He must be one of the people I’ve been trying to reach since 9th year, with careful hint-phrases in approved online discussion forums and on paper slips left in key library books, carefully inscribed and carried wrapped in blank paper so they can be left without fingerprints.

I hope he’s one of them. He could easily be an agent of the secret police. But if I don’t take a chance I might never get another one.

“30th Street Labor Center, 8AM,” I whisper, then I lean back, pick up my tablet, and stand. I’m not fool enough to try to have a prolonged discussion somewhere so public.

“Thank you sir,” I say in a calm conversational tone, “but I’m a student. If I fail I might have to do day labor, but I’ve got no plans to fail.” I turn and walk out without waiting for an answer and head home. Day labor recruiters are common in the city. Even the gainfully employed often solicit for the 10% finder’s fee the labor centers offer. Pretending he offered me work is a good cover, I hope. It has to be. After all, I’ve got no plans to fail.

On the other hand, nobody does. But the Correctional Centers are always full.

#

“Hey, Ma,” I say over the dinner dishes with the water running. I’m washing, she’s drying. Pa has gone to his study to work on the constant documentation his job requires. He’s Army, local Police division. Another privileged face; this time, no chance I’m mistaken—but I do love him, too. But while I might love him, I don’t like or trust him. This isn’t a conversation I can have with him around; I’m certain he’d turn me in.

“What is it, baby?” Ma asks. I’ll be baby to her for as long as she lives, never mind I’m six feet tall and have to trim my facial hair every day, running a 1/8” clipper over my face and neck. I can’t shave clean; I’d like to, to seem younger, less imposing, to draw fewer hostile looks from police on the street. My deep black skin already gets me too many looks from the mostly Caucasian and Hispanic cops. The beard, this last year, has made it worse. But the razor bumps eat me alive if I shave clean. I’ve tried.

I turn up the water louder, let the plate I’m holding rattle the bowls in the wash water.

“Hire someone to watch me tomorrow,” I say, voice low. Half of the appliances are voice activated and every microphone is on 24/7, government computers listening for red flags. “30th Street. I’ll show you who.”

“Oh,” she says, and that’s it. I imagine she must have sounded like that when Pa asked her to marry him, a happy little gasp. She’s known I’ve wanted out for a couple of years now. She puts her towel down and hugs me, I let the plate go into the wash water and hug her back. I’m always surprised by how small she is, only a little thick and her head hardly comes up to my shoulder. She’s happy for what makes me happy.

She’s never told Pa I want out, I’m certain. That says it all about him in my eyes. Maybe he was different when I was little, but he’s an Army man through and through now. But I will miss Ma.

#

In the morning Ma swipes her card in the house tablet and calls an autocab.

“30th Street Labor Center,” she tells it, then waves her hand though the VERIFY dialogue box projected in the air.

People still call it rush hour, but there are no old-style traffic jams. Central computers coordinate vehicles perfectly; with private cars restricted to top political occupations only. Neighbors share autocabs often, keeping the traffic density manageable. The ride is smooth; the traffic lights are relics, colorful gargoyles decorating the intersections. The autocab regulates its speed so it never has to stop until it reaches its destination. The red lights are always casting their warnings in the distance, but nobody really notices—because of all of the closer distractions, because the traffic never stops.

At the labor center, I hold Ma’s hand and let her appear to be leading me. But from a half-step behind I guide her with firm pressure along the rows of hopeful day laborers. There are more workers than there are jobs for; thirty percent of the population is assigned to Laborer: Nonspecific and set loose to fend for themselves, most with a Year Six education or less.

I see the broad-shouldered secret Jew and guide Ma to him. Her finger hovers, two workers to the left. My eyes downcast, peering just high enough to see her finger, I twitch her hand right, right, squeeze.

“You,” she says. “Can you watch my son at school and make sure he logs a full seven instructional hours, and pays attention to them? One dollar now, one dollar when you deliver him home. He’ll pay the autocab with his card.”

“Two and two,” he says.

“One and two, firm,” Ma says. Laborers are expected to bargain, a nod to entrepreneurship, but not to bargain too much. They’re lowlier than anyone but a beggar. And three bucks less twenty percent for the Labor Center and forty percent for taxes is about the going rate for a day of light work. It leaves the worker enough to pay for a cot and two meals in a bachelors’ housing hall.

“Done,” he says. He doesn’t offer to shake on it—women don’t shake. It would be a misdemeanor indecency. In fact, it almost violates ‘public decency’ that she’s at the Labor Center, unaccompanied and hiring a worker, at all. But, as the ‘For the Ladies’ releases from the NAU Department of Moral Hygiene have it, children are part of the household and a mother’s job is the household’s upkeep, so it’s still okay for her to hire someone to watch me do my schoolwork. At least for now. A few of the men, laborers and employers, still cast suspicious glances at her.

Business done, we follow her outside and she calls an autocab from her pocket tablet. The one we arrived in is gone; autocabs never wait. Our wait for the new one, though, is not long either. Outside of times when large public rallies are held, more than five minutes would be unusual.

“I’m John Porter, by the way, ma’am,” the secret Jew says as we wait at the curb outside. I glance at him, then away. Playing the part of moderate resentment. He doesn’t look like a John Porter to me. An alias? I wouldn’t begin to know how having an alias would be possible. Identity is DNA and fingerprint tracked from birth. Maybe I’m thinking overdramatically, excited by our subterfuge. I breathe deep. Remain calm.

It’s The End Of The World As We Know It: Flower On The Moon

FlowerCover2

A short vignette, about 1300 words.
A vignette is not a story, but is a scene. In this scene, a very old man sits in his study and contemplates his end. It is an end he has brought on himself, out of frustration and discontent. And it is an end he is determined to share… with everyone else in the entire world.

I’d explain more, but this vignette is FREE on Smashwords (and will be elsewhere in a few days, via the links in the right sidebar… you know, iTunes, B&N, all that jazz. Even Amazon, though it will be 99 cents until some good Samaritan helps out by reporting a price match to free. They don’t listen to me, I’ve found.).

You don’t even need to download an ebook file to read it. Click “online reader” on the Smashwords page, and read it like a webpage. It works fine, I’ve read a few ebooks there that way.

Thanks for reading!

:-)

VR: A Little Flash About Trolls And The Nature Of Virtual Reality

TrollsDoNotFeedMemecenter

VR

S.A. Barton

Jillian Gomez-Chen clicked her goggles tight. The earpieces made the smothered crackle of compressing acoustic foam in her ears and the buzz of the riding mower in the back yard beyond her bedroom window faded, faded, disappeared.

Gameworld flicked to life in her eyes and ears. Lovely sensories, brighter and livelier than life; no mowers, no fading fall leaves or scuffed wooden floors. Supergreen grass, deep sun you could gaze into painlessly; the river she materialized beside tinkling on the edge of music. All beautiful, but for one multiplicitous thing.

She brought up SETTINGS, clicked DIALOGUE and moved the slider to PG – CENSORED.

Jillian hated to censor anything, but…

“You look like a stupid n_____ b____ in that avatar,” another player shouted from a hilltop on the other side of the river. The PG filter did its job; Jillian sighed. Of course, she understood what went in the audio blanks.

Jillian’s avatar was tall as she was not, a Night Elf, indigo like a moonless night sky. She brushed a hand through her white virtual hair, raking back the tapering tips of her elf-ears the way she liked, fierce.

Bringing her hand throwing forward, she turned to face the faraway player troll. Blinked MENU to MAGIC and ARMOR EATING LAVA BURST.

“Shut up, noob,” she muttered, and incinerated him.

Too many people brought their own archaic, human virtual reality along, their bigot eyes older than computers or even electricity, filtering their reality into dark and angry and hateful visions, along into Gameworld with them.

She took flight, cloak streaming behind her, a comet tail of deep and simmering reds. Beyond rivers and woods and foothills she found familiar mountains, the dungeon crawl she’d had her eye on all week.

On the way she passed over a party trekking on foot. She landed at the dungeon entrance ahead of them.

“You can’t do that one alone, dumb c___,” one of them called from the valley below.

“You that hot in real life?” Another shouted. “Send me a nude. You can suck my d___, baby.”

Jillian sighed again and entered the dungeon. The great iron door slammed shut, cutting off the party of trolls. The monsters inside would try to kill her, of course, but virtual monsters were monsters and that’s what they were supposed to do. They wouldn’t call out obscenities for the censor to block. They were all game, no hate. Not like the real monsters.

Jillian smiled, shut in alone with the virtual, reality locked out behind her.

END

Self Published Writers Still Enjoy Being Published By Others. Duh.

Daily Science Fiction    New Housing Starts Increase For Twenty Second Consecutive Year by S.A. Barton

Today, Daily Science Fiction published my insanely-long-titled short story, “New Housing Starts Increase For Twenty-Second Consecutive Year”. It’s just a word shy of 1500 words; if I self-published it, it would be a free title. Lucky for you, it’s free to read with them, too. In fact, they’ll email you a fresh short every weekday if you let them. I would. In fact, I do. They send good stories and I enjoy reading them.

To the point of the title, though, I’m a self-published writer. I enjoy publishing my own stories. I enjoy making the covers. I like seeing them out in the world and I like seeing the reports coming back that prove that some of you are downloading them (or buying the paperback collections) and — if I might presume — reading words that I wrote. Self-publishing is a pleasant and rewarding experience for those of us exhibitionist enough to want others to see what we’ve dreamed up. Or at least, it’s rewarding to me and others who self-publish often say similar things in the blogo-tweeto-sphere.

Still, there’s a special little thrill that comes with having someone who’s not you publish something you’ve written. Self-esteem is fine, but working on something and having someone else buy it from you to show it to others is a validation that says, “hey, it’s not just ego-smoke you’re blowing up your own ass. You’re actually pretty good at this thing you do.”

So, anyway. If you write, keep sending your literary preciouses out into the world. If you’re not good enough to be published yet, the odds say that if you keep at it, keep practicing with an active and open mind toward learning and improving, sooner or later you WILL be good enough. There are a lot more stories out there than there are slots available in the publishing world for them, so even if you are good enough, you’ll likely see a lot of rejection. That’s been my experience, at least.

One more nice thing about self-publishing: if you convince someone else to pay you money for a story, once the exclusivity period requested by your publisher runs out, you can still go ahead and publish it yourself. So, in about 90 days, if I remember my contract with DSF correctly, you’ll be seeing this story as a free ebook single.

And I get to put “originally published by Daily Science Fiction” on the title page. Cool.

Mad Max: One Of The Rare Moments I Find Myself Looking Forward To A Remake

Edit: I’m told this isn’t actually a remake, but is a continuation. Well, damn. Shows you how smart *I* am. In my defense, it looked and sounded remake-y to me.

The prospect of yet another Hollywood remake rarely does more than make me roll my eyes. However, this one seems to have promise. The original is a nice, solid post-apocalyptic romp with crazy visuals and a simple storyline with some basic emotional appeal, and from the look of the teaser the remake is cast in the same mold.

I had a lot of fun watching the original, more than once, and I’m looking forward to seeing this one.

You all will, of course, post a ton of spoilers here and on Twitter and Reddit and all that good stuff, before I see it. Because being cash-strapped, I don’t see a lot of movies and the ones I do, I see at the second-run cheapo theater-cafe down the street.

Which suggests a second thing to talk about in this post: spoilers.

I’m one of those relatively rare people that really pisses you off when it comes to spoilers. I just don’t care about them. I don’t care one little bit. I can read a book or watch a movie after others tell me all about what happens and still enjoy it just as much as if I hadn’t been spoilered.

I don’t know why I’m this way. Maybe you think it’s a deep dark evil stained into my soul, especially after I deliver a spoiler to YOU because, for a moment, I forgot that the rest of you are not warped like I am.

Anyhow. I’m looking forward to enjoying this Mad Max remake, no matter how many spoilers I encounter before I get the chance to see it. I really hope they don’t screw this up — but if they do, I just won’t go see it. Because you all will have told me that it sucked, and I’ll thank you for being kind enough to suffer so that I don’t have to.

Proprietary Coffee DRM? Seriously? Someone Obviously Came Up With That Before They Had Their Coffee

EspressoStovetop

NOT proprietary.

So, today I came across an article on Wired about Keurig’s new coffeemakers. Apparently, Keurig has decided to take a shot at a long-standing corporate dream that never seems to end well: they have decided to make their coffee proprietary so that people who buy their K-cup brew gear can only use Keurig brand K-cups.

When companies do this, it usually ends up with them making a few extra bucks in the short term, and then people migrate to the next company that makes a non-proprietary version. I used to have a phone with a proprietary charger; it had a funny-looking connector that would only connect to their funny-looking socketed phones. The first time I had to buy a new charger and realized, I resolved to buy a different brand of phone with a standard connector, and I did. Right now I have an HP laptop; I didn’t do my homework and didn’t realize they have proprietary chargers and will refuse to take a charge from a non-HP charger.

As a result, my next laptop will be a brand other than HP. I don’t care if HP’s next laptop has a non-proprietary charger, or if they have such a laptop out right now. I had to replace my charger, and I had to buy an overpriced one from HP instead of a cheaper generic one. Well, they got my money once. In the future, they won’t get more. I expect to live a few more decades. The odds say I’ll replace my laptop multiple times over those years. So they got me once on a pricey charger and have established themselves in my mind as a company to avoid, so they won’t be selling me future computers.

Proprietary crap is a short-term business model. Looks like Keurig is drinking the short-term-thinking Koolaid (actually, Jonestown was Fla-R-Aid. There’s today’s trivia gem for you).

Frankly, I didn’t know about this thing with Keurig before because I don’t understand the whole K-cup thing. Okay, sure, it makes one cup at a time, your coffee is always aggressively fresh. Meh, I can pick up a 4-cup electric drip brewer for about 12 bucks that works on the same theory. Load it up halfway if you only want one cup of coffee, because, don’t kid yourselves, nobody drinks 6 ounce cups of coffee. It takes 12 ounces at least to lever your eyelids up if you’re a coffee-in-the-morning person like me. But I don’t even use a little drip coffee machine, because I have incredibly little counter space in my tiny home. I prepare meals in a space the size of the cover of a large coffee table book. Seriously.

I have a French press that fits on the kitchen windowsill, and one of the stovetop espresso makers pictured at the head of the article.

Neither of them use proprietary coffee, and this ridiculous short-term stupidity of Keurig’s has now tainted them in my mind and I’m unlikely to ever buy one of their machines even if they come to their senses later.

Those are the wages of short-term thinking. Heed ye well.

————-

(By the way, if you do use the K-cup things in a non-proprietary brewer, bear in mind that you can buy reusable K-cups that you load yourself with cheaper bulk coffee. Plus you avoid adding to the Niagra of unrecyclable plastic mini-cups flooding the country’s landfills right now. Any country, really. More so if you’re in Europe, you guys use even more of these silly things than we in the USA do.)

Too Much Information: Why Writers Should Conceal Their Research

Tao23:

This is great advice for the writer who is serious about his or her research or expertise — I’m reminded of Heinlein describing buying a roll of butcher paper and covering it with equations to figure out how to describe a ship’s orbit for “Starship Troopers”, and then merely describing the scene. No mention of math, no explanation of ballistics appears in the text. He just wanted to know how the scene should look, then described the scene to his readers.

I see oversharing extend beyond technical matters as well. I’ve seen writers spend a whole page describing what a character is wearing in detail, jarringly out-of-place sentences informing us of the exact height and weight of (usually beefy combatant male or slinky sex-kitten female trope stereotype) characters, loving in-detail descriptions of weaponry, vehicles, and other gear.

While writing, it is easy to imagine the reader hanging on every word, admiring the clever stacked adjectives, enjoying the artful turn of phrase of the image as it is built.

Well, that’s not what’s happening. 99% of the readers are slapping palm to forehead and moaning, “who gives a shit what the thread count of the protagonist’s pocket square is, and how it’s folded? WHERE IS THE STORY I PAID FOR?”

Readers have imaginations. They want brief, evocative descriptions that help them build the scene in their own imaginations. They don’t want your grubby little literary fingers in their brains trying to micromanage their leisure reading.

Originally posted on Drew Chial:

"I have to resist the compulsion to reference everyone of these"

“I have to resist the compulsion to reference everyone of these”

A few years ago, someone approached me about adapting a thriller into a screenplay. Reading through the first few chapters, I wasn’t sure where the script should begin. The first scene involved an autopsy where the pathologist missed the symptoms of a biological agent. The author took us through each stage of the autopsy including each instrument the pathologist used, where he made his incisions, and the weight of every organ.

It was clear the author knew what he was talking about, but he wasn’t telling a story, he was teaching a lesson.

The scene had no conflict until the author told us about the crucial detail the pathologist missed. The prologue read like it was supposed to function as the opening stinger of a crime drama. This might have worked if the pathologist had struggled to find a cause…

View original 958 more words

Thirteen Word Story: Niche Invasion

OceanSunsetWaves

The aliens settled the ocean floors while human leaders rattled their sabers impotently.

Thirteen Word Story: Useless

SwordLetterOpener

To the disgust of the warrior king, the magic sword would only heal.

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