Category Archives: Current Events, Politics, All That Jazz

People Kibble: SciFi News 2033

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US in Ottawa Newsletter
January 22, 2033
Patrick Chowdhury Melendez
 
President Trump Jr. “Fights Hunger” With People Kibble
 
Newly inaugurated President Donald Trump Jr. announced a USA-wide anti-hunger program from the so-called “press vault” in Trump Tower in NYC (the de facto White House since 2021) at 5:15 this morning.
Press coverage was limited to fifteen reporters representing the “Gang of Seven” Trump regime-approved media organizations. A source within Trump Tower confirmed that those reporters were brought into the tower during the inauguration for sequestration and “extreme vetting.”
The source also stated the initial number of reporters admitted was sixteen, two per media org. The sixteenth reporter did not appear in footage of the press conference released by Vice President (and former President) Eric Trump. The whereabouts of that reporter are unknown. US in Ottawa staff and other expatriate press speculate that Reporter Sixteen may be Miles DeGuzmen of the popular morning Fox News “Trumping the World” segment, which has been guest-hosted by Sean Spicer since January 19th.
Trump Jr.’s “anti-hunger” program, “Making Americans Healthy,” follows two years of widespread simmering protest and riots in the wake of President Eric Trump’s 2031 federal-level outlawing of the last state-level food stamp, EBT, and WIC legacy programs. Federal welfare programs, including food and financial assistance, were ended in 2023.
Riots were especially intense in spring of 2032 following the revelation of the February malnutrition deaths of Mrs. Jackie Pillman of Little Rock, Arkansas and her kindergarten-age twins, Steven and Stephenie. The President announced that he was “working on a solution” in his Thanksgiving day address to the nation that year. He also vowed to “plug news leaks” in his remarks, thought to be a reference to the anonymous bloggers who produced the viral stories of the Pillman deaths. No arrests were ever announced, though some night disappearances of suspects were rumored in following months.
“Making Americans Healthy” relies on National Guard detachments (formally placed under federal control in 2021), which are directed to distribute one fifty pound bag of UNGR (Universal Nutrition Granular Recipe, a soy and peanut based, vitamin-enriched food dubbed “Purina Human Chow” in expatriate media) to any citizen who reports in person with two approved forms of federal identification to a distribution point on the 5th and 20th of each month.
“UNGR is a terrific food that provides everything adults and children need to be healthy and well-fed,” President Trump Jr. said in the released presser footage. “The taste is a bit boring, sure. I’ve tried it. But if people are hungry, they’ll come and get it, and they’ll be thankful for it. If they don’t like the taste, great. Maybe they’ll get off their asses and get jobs. There are so many jobs that the CEOs of factories and construction companies come to me every day begging me to find them workers.”
Independent economic analysts in the EU and India estimate actual US employment at 25-30%, or 60-65% if the chronically underemployed are included. US figures, released by law exclusively by press release from the Oval Office since 2024, place US unemployment at a radically unlikely 2.2%.

A Billionaire Is Mad That Poor Kids Get Free Sandwiches

…so I wrote a little tweetstorm about that.

Sorry about the repeated tweet at the end. Twitter threads are formed by replying to yourself, and now twitter displays the tweet each one is replying to for context… except to make a readable thread like this it means you now have to insert ONLY EVERY OTHER TWEET if you want each tweet to appear only once.

And of course I had to have an odd singleton tweet at the end because, apparently, I like to stir up trouble.

Which, really, is what a writer’s job is.

I could have gone into extra detail between tweets explaining myself further, but I think the tweets speak for themselves and I’d just be beating each point to death.

Plus, if anyone has questions or additions or comments there’s always the… um… comments here. 🙂

Citizen Performance Reviews Eased: SciFi News Network 2222

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BB Homeland Authorized News

Cleared by DHS-Press

Staff

Washington, D.C.

January 1, 2222

In the spirit of the new year and new beginnings, President Maria Tombaugh is authorized by DHS and the Supreme Board of Directors to issue an Executive Order easing the standards of Citizen Performance Reviews and the penalties and solutions for failing to meet standards.

Revocation of citizenship and deportation to Stateless Internment in Nevada, Alaska, Alabama, or Indiana camps is now reserved to citizens who fail three, rather than the previous standard of two, consecutive performance reviews.

Manufacturing quotas for Stateless facilities increase 1% with the new year as per standing policy. Quotas at new facilities will be set 5% lower than in established facilities for a two year “break-in” period.

Remediation Residential Programs for citizens who fail performance reviews have been expanded from three to five, with new camps opening in Montana and Mississippi in addition to the established program facilities in California, Missouri, and North Carolina. Remediation programs are expanded from eight to thirteen weeks residence, the President’s response to a 2220 SBD directive to improve the current 55% graduation rate to meet a 75% goal by 2228. Notice to report to RRPs has been eased from two days to five. “I believe citizens having sufficient time to prepare for their service will improve graduation rates by reducing the number of citizens who discover they have lost property or residence upon their return from RRPs,” the President said in authorized and DHS cleared remarks. In following remarks he made it clear that losses are the sole responsibility of affected citizens, quoting the exact text of official DHS and RRP materials provided to remediates.

Performance reviews for citizens will increase the weight of employer reviews from 33% of the score to 45%, with the remaining percentages changing to 25% credit score and 30% social media and public speech score. Unemployed citizens are no longer theoretically able to achieve a passing performance review score of 60% from the two other factors. “Let this serve as notice that the United States will have full employment and freeloaders will not be tolerated.”

As always, students in compulsory K-5 education and students who go on to higher education via scholarship or purchase of and satisfactory progress in government-licensed middle, high, and university schools up to completion of a Baccalaureate degree may present grades in lieu of employer review.

Medical exemption for unemployment is expanded to fifteen rather than twelve months in a ten-year period when approved by a licensed medical professional. An additional six months is available for injuries or illnesses that are directly linked to occupational hazards including accidents if the injured party is not at fault more than 10% at the ruling of an arbitration panel or judge. Military and DHS members retired with 35 years of service and select high-level federal and state political officers retired with 20 years or more of service are, as before, considered to have a maximum employer review regardless of employment status.

Congress has also applied for authorization to submit and consider a bill reducing fees for First Amendment permits including Peaceful Assembly, Approved Press or Citizen Press, or Minority Religion. Details are unavailable as the Supreme Board of Directors has not cleared details of the bill for discussion beyond officeholders in Congress and the Executive branch.

Supreme Director Arlexa Weems of MS-Apple and All-American Nanocircuit LLC criticized the potential bill, saying that making FA permits less expensive “invites the Wild West of misinformation, slander, and terrorism that marked the civil unrest and informational chaos of the early twenty-first century.” Her counterproposal is to fix permit costs to the index of inflation plus 2% to discourage “casual trolls whose only interest is anarchy.” Weems also criticized Congress as a “liberal enclave” whose “overly forgiving impulses must be held in check in order to preserve the smooth and profitable function of the grand business venture that is the United States of America.”

Political analysts believe the SBD is likely to split approximately 75 members to 25 in favor of Supreme Director Weems’ proposal.

*********

So, let me ask you: how could the United States get here from where we are now? Can you imagine a way?

This appeared on my Patreon page one week before it appeared here. Patrons get to see the good stuff early – it’s a way for my poor writerly butt to make a few extra bucks to ease my family’s trailer-bound existence.

God Won’t Let The Climate Change: 13 Word Story

 

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So, I haven’t done one of these in a while. In the last months of the presidential campaign and the aftermath, well, the distraction of watching this all unfold was distracting. I had trouble writing anything but deep dystopia. I managed to create some wordage, but it was a bit of a slow stretch  for three or four months.

But here I am, production ramping up again. Maybe next time something distracting befalls the world, I’ll be a little better at keeping the creative juices flowing. This little episode did a pretty good job reminding me that I’m still learning the ropes and will be until I die — which is what all the more successful people who do stuff do, I hear.

But anyhow.

This one, of course, is inspired by the ideology-driven denial of either the human role in climate change, the actual fact the climate is changing, or both.

And of course the title is dedicated to the people around the world who take their faith as incompatible with climate change, or a round Earth, or a heliocentric solar system, or whatever other observed data they choose to disregard, thinking it opposed to their beliefs.

Of course, there are plenty of people who have some sort of faith — one of the established ones, Deism, Pandeism, animism, whatever else — who have no trouble at all accepting that what we observe about the universe is actually what we observe about the universe. And of course there are the various flavors of atheist (myself included) who just go with the data as best as we can interpret it, but can also appreciate how awesome, beautiful, and sometimes scary things like flowers, babies, galaxies, changing climates, and all kinds of other stuff are.

Paying attention to politics, I have heard (read) some of our lawmakers say things like the title of this story. Or that the oil or coal we’re mining cannot run out because a deity will restore it at our need.

Well, even if you do believe that Earth is a creation and a deity appointed humans the stewards of it, that seems pretty silly to me. Not to mention a bad way to raise a worldful of humans.

Would any of us raise a kid like that? “Hey, kiddo — this is your room. It’s yours. Go ahead and rip up the floorboards, pee in the corners, punch holes in the walls. I’ll pop by and fix everything up perfect for you again, leaving you to learn nothing but how to be a spoiled rotten brat with total contempt for the good things you have.”

That seems like an awful idea. So not only do I, as an atheist, not believe that a deity will come and save us from the consequences of our actions, I, as a father, think that would be a very poorly thought out path for a deity of any intelligence whatsoever.

So maybe more of us humans, regardless of belief system, should be worrying a bit more than we do about this planet of ours? Just a thought…

 

[This appeared on my Patreon page on the 22nd, a week before it appeared here. So, you know, becoming a patron is a great way to see a lot of posts early, plus you can receive free ebook copies and even signed paperbacks of stories and collections I publish!]

The American Dream, All New For The Tricentennial — SciFi News Network 2076

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Omniews Printernet Corporation

Staff

June 3, 2076

Omimerica Holdings is bringing you a bold new twist on the American Dream for the Tricentennial! Recent polls show that more Americans than ever before believe their leaders aren’t listening. The people who govern us aren’t accountable! They tell lies to get elected, break their promises as soon as they’re made, and get re-elected anyway.

By the time they choose to retire they’re a hundred times richer than when they got there — and you paid for it!

No more. Thanks to Omnimerica.

Omnimerica’s domination of the business world in every field has placed us in a unique position in history. Once, companies and citizens were at the mercy of the politicians. Sixty years ago, that began to change. For the first time ever, a global business concern (today a division of Omnimerica) and political office merged in the single person of the President of the United States. The people accepted it. The politicians accepted it. Our world, slowly, began to change. This year, that change is complete.

Today, an overwhelming majority of politicians at every level of government are involved with Omnimerica. They’re our board members, our executives, our division and holding heads, our consultants, and the customers of our worldwide supply chain.

So we’re taking action.

We’re changing everything. For the better.

Your voice will no longer be limited to voting for the lesser of two evils. You’ll vote every single day if you want! You can vote on every single issue, join the debate with your comments, reactions, and memes, and shape the policies of the United States AS THEY DEVELOP.

Never again will your voice go unheard. Omnimeria’s We The People is your destination to connect with family, friends, and the vital issues that matter to you. With a fast-moving timeline, fun games, an automatic entry in the billion-dollar Omnimerica Lottery with every post, and an advanced participation algorithm that could propel your words direct to the timeline of your local officials, the President of the United States, or even the Omnimerica Board of Directors, there’s so much to love that you’ll never fail to do your civic duty — or should we say, civic PLEASURE — ever again!

We The People is open for business in limited-participation mode right now. If you’re a US citizen, you already have an account! Log in with your SSN, birthdate, and a scan of your Citizenship Chip.

Government by the people begins on the day of the Tricentennial — log in at 12:01 PM PST on July 4th to cast your very first votes. You’ll be choosing the contestants for Dance Across the States, airing on Omnimusical 2 every Tuesday and Friday for thirteen weeks following the week of the Tricentennial. The winners will perform at ceremonies for thirty-five change of office ceremonies for mayors and governors slated for replacement by order of the Board of Directors.

Out with the old, and in with the NEW AMERICAN DREAM!

 

 

Flash Fiction: Under Ashes

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“Anything worth a damn is made on a coast and ships from a coast. By air or sea.”

That’s what the president said. At least, it’s what was reported on the shadow web that snakes through the makeshift network of “smart” stoves and washing machines and automobiles (if you can afford them!) and can openers and athletic shoes and disposable razors and anything else with WiFi and an app.

The authorized news, on the other hand, ran a piece on how the economy was so gloriously rampant and virile that airlines have formally discontinued coach and business class seating, leaving nothing but a spacious expanse of first class and super luxury class seating in their cavernous airliners.

The anchorbot’s perfect on-air voice floated like a cloud behind the image of an iron-haired general, her chest a solid plastron of stars and ribbons like a compacted galaxy. Her feet were up on an ottoman and a masseusebot worked the suspension bridge of corded tendons in her neck with eight-fingered silicone hands.

Then, as the anchorbot droned a lulling narrative bridge, a puffy gilded teen cherub sat with a megaplatinum record from Motherland Records on a hefty wood base with a tall glass cover occupying a seat of it own beside her. A stewbot cracked the claws of a four pound lobster with deft blurs of a little brass gavel and slid the laden tray before the starlet who tucked into the chow with a flood of melted butter.

Finally, the anchorbot burbling upbeat and drawing to a conclusion, the vid showed a man in an immaculate dark suit and bright tie. The men are always first or last, symbolic frames of the stream of words and images, carrying with them weight and importance, tangibility. The lights and vids of an array of three monitors suspended from the ceiling (the “overhead” on an airplane, is it called?) flickered gem-reflections off the heavy steel rims of harsh six-angled eyeglasses. His hair was a blond cap, waxed down like a helmet. Sideburns trimmed to stilettos stabbed the angles of his jaw in the new style I can’t get used to. A trackball in each hand, he Does Important Things for the cameras.

The images fade to the state news logo and the anchorbot climaxes and relaxes into a commercial.

We all have televisions so we can see how good things are. We may not have hot water, or even running water. We only have electricity part-time. I can’t afford the simplest drugs to treat my pre-diabetes or even aspirin for my arthritis half the time. I set snares for squirrels or I’d have nothing to go with the endless lumps of hard bread (gotta soak it in a bowl of water to eat it) and cheese the Army hands out to keep us from starving or rioting or both.

But the state provides televisions. A new one every Christmas, even if you forget to bring them the old one to trade in.

We’re doing great, dammit. We’re finally great again. The television tells us so. All the biggest world powers respect us they way they should, the announcerbots say.

Just outside the city line – I can see it from the kitchen table in this two room shack I’m blessed to share with just two other bachelors – a bot crew and one Christ of a huge fanged combine-thing, driverless and nameless, chews up the old interstate highway and loads the bits into an endless stream of self-driving dumptrucks that take the blacktop south to do God knows what with it. Thin dribs and drabs of snow float through the scene like in a snow globe, and icicles hang from the noses of the workbots. They don’t care, of course.

I hear blacktop is made from oil. Maybe they’re squeezing the oil back out of it to ship to India or China or Brazil. Those places are hungry for oil and any other resources they can get their hands on, the shadow web whispers from the WiFi toilet when I crap. Who knows if it’s true. The television doesn’t say a word about that.

But the stock market is up again, and the Air Force says Fallujah will fall again soon.

There’s going to be a celebration when it falls, next month in DC. The commercial for it is on again. It has been playing twice an hour since spring.

The commercial ends and my gaze falls on the faded cap hanging on its nail across from the window. The cap is gray now, like my hair before it fell out, but you can still see the crimson fire peek out of the deep folds of the seams like ember under ashes.

I wish I could be in DC for the celebration. To wear the cap again, pump my fist in the air and holler again. Full of power, strong like a bear. Those were the days.

But the highway has gone away, and I’m not much for walking anymore. Nobody I know is.

END

(This post first appeared on my Patreon page, 02 January 2017. My patrons get to see a lot of things early, and can get free ebooks and even paperbacks! Come help me get the hell out of this damned trailer park and into a place where I can have even a small writing office and maybe even write ALL THE TIME. Well, almost all the time. I do have kids and a wife and a cat to think of as well.)

Starting Late And Dying Young

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So, General Organa — Carrie Fisher — is dead. At sixty. She left behind a hell of a body of work and a trail of lives and souls touched through the characters she portrayed, the stories she worked on, and in person eye to eye.

She’s hardly the only one to die relatively young. It happens all the time. But when someone whose work is widely known goes youngish, you notice.

And it set me to thinking, because that’s what I do. I don’t just write about the near future. I live in it, too, through imagination and worry.

I think, I’m forty-six. Carrie Fisher died at sixty.

My dad died at fifty.

Oh, Christ.

I’m going to croak in four years or maybe fourteen (or fifteen minutes or fifty years, but never mind that). And I wonder, in that self-doubting way I have in my own head, if that means that if I’m lucky I’ll live to see a book of mine sell a whole thousand copies.

If. If I’m lucky, the little voice says. It’s a pessimist. My future vision, no matter howmuch science fiction I read and write, specializes in horror when I’m the only audience.

And it is honed and practiced by my earlier life. The Wasted Years, I sometimes think of them as, despite their worth now in experience and tenacity and other mostly bitter lessons learned at the feet of pain.

People like Carrie — scratch that. I’m talking about her. Carrie worked and built her career through substance abuse and mental illness and her own internal little voices, whatever fear and doubt she had and she alone truly knew.

I didn’t build a damn thing, and that lack hurts me. Like, physically when I think about it seriously. For this reason and that circumstance and whoknowswhat, some of which I’m aware of, it took me thirty years or so from age five to my mid/late thirties to begin to suspect that I might have value as a human and as a creative person. While Carrie worked I hid and devoted myself, monklike, to substance abuse and cowardice and surrender to all the things I didn’t think I could face alone.

Maybe that’s why, in this latest cycle of Star Wars movies, I feel contempt for Luke Skywalker.

And let me be clear: the character, not the actor. While I admire both Carrie Fisher and Leia Organa, I’m not sure I can admire Luke even if Mark Hamill is, I hear, a great guy.

I’m not closing the door on Luke. For all my pessimism, it is born of constantly disillusioned optimism and idealism. I cannot help hoping, even as I cannot help pessimism-ing. They’re in my blood.

But, seriously, fuck Luke Skywalker.

General Organa, from her Princess Leia days, was out fighting the good fight, facing the cold hard world with teeth bared and steel in her spine, standing in the face of disadvantage and danger and fear and worry and her own personal feelings and pains. Like the woman who portrayed her.

And you, Skywalker, you self-involved coward, ran away to hide.

It is easy for me to hate his character because I see a part of me portrayed in him that I despise and regret.

“But live your life without regrets!” you crow.

Oh, stuff it. That’s as dumb as that stupid “No Fear” slogan that was so big a few years back. You can’t learn a damn thing if you pretend the lessons and clues to them don’t exist.

And, to pick up the earlier thread again, I wonder how much time I have. Four years? Fourteen? Fifty?

I wonder where I’d be now if I hadn’t spent so many years being a dedicated half-hermit drunk paralyzed by the fear, the near-certainty, that I had nothing to offer the world, nothing to offer even myself.

And I know it doesn’t matter.

The past is gone, the future is unrevealed, and what matters is what I do now.

Now is all I have. And all you have. And all Carrie and General Organa and Princess Leia had.

Some days it’s hard. Living with one foot in the maybe-future, as I must doing what I do, makes me a worrier.

I worry I already blew my chance. That maybe only an S.A. Barton who kept writing in high school and through his twenties and thirties had a chance to make a living and a name writing. That maybe the S.A. Barton I am, the one who blew those years in self-dissipation, cannot no matter how hard he tries. (Oh, gawd. I’m speaking in third person. Shoot me.)

But maybe that me would have been too shallow to be worth much without all these crappy experiences I have survived. And the better experiences that eventually grew from them.

Who knows? Nobody.

Playing the what-if game outside of fiction leads to madness.

I still worry, wonder, regret, rage, fear. And wonder if I’ll have time to make my voice heard widely, to grow into a respected creative voice the way Carrie Fisher did. To make that kind of impact, one that will last many, many years after her untimely departure. I don’t know. It took her a lifetime, didn’t it?

Maybe I can. Maybe I won’t.

But when the worry and regret perch ravenlike in the dark corners behind me, I remind myself that it doesn’t matter.

I have no time for cowards anymore, whether they are Luke Skywalker or the Ghost of S.A. Barton Past. But I do, in that undying spark of stubborn optimism that hides under my pessimism, believe there’s a chance to be better today, and every today until the todays stop coming, and to find success.

Afraid Of The Future

(Originally appeared on Patreon on the 6th of December, 10 days ago)

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The election of Trump — literally a caricature of stereotypical US flaws of arrogance, greed, vanity, and privileged brattiness — to the presidency has added notes of fear and worry to my vision of the future.

Well, I’ve long been a bit of a cynic. Maybe I should say more and louder notes of fear and worry.

Maybe you have similar feelings.

But also maybe I have a little extra insight into what that fear can mean, what damage it can inflict on us. If we allow it. And assuming the damage isn’t involuntary and external like a trade war wrecking the economy or World War 3 doing more literal wrecking.

I have the insight of having been paralyzed by fear of the future.

In my boyhood, my family moved frequently. Some people deal with that well.

I, an emotionally sensitive boy with an unstable home life — poverty, parents who argued frequently and loudly and worryingly — did not deal with it well. At all.

I cycled through ten schools (that I can remember — I won’t swear that there wasn’t an 11th) from kindergarten through ninth grade.

I stopped remembering peoples’ names, even their faces. Because they were transient. Because the world was unstable. Because I felt I couldn’t count on anything. Not anything at all, especially people.

To this day I have great difficulty remembering names and faces. Or what people do for a living, what their hobbies are, what they like and dislike.

I had become afraid of the future, and so I began to behave as if the future did not exist. As if I did not have a future at all.

The future only existed for me when I read science fiction. The future of science fiction was an abstraction. It was conjectural, imaginary, of the mind. And if it was in my mind, it was something I could count on.

It was safe in a way the future of my own life was not. Science fiction was my refuge, along with fantasy and history.

Maybe some of you feel the same.

As I progressed through high school — a relatively stable time, perhaps ironically; I stayed in the same school all four years but avoided engaging, waiting for it, too, to change — my fear stayed by my side. My grades declined. My teachers were a faceless blur, along with most of my peers. When it was time to consider college or a trade I avoided taking control. I avoided making any decisions.

I’d already decided, down deep in my marrow, that choosing was for suckers. That the fearful future was a negative thing that inflicted itself upon me. Beyond my control, a force of nature, like a tornado.

The only thing I could control, in my mind, was science fiction. There, I could wish for a future and see it happen. There I could hope.

I wrote a bit back then. Poetry and the occasional short story.

I had no ambitions for those stories. Imagining the futures that other people wrote was safe. But if I wrote them, let others read them, sent them out into the world to be considered for publication, tried to actually be a writer — that would be entering the real future and having real hope and I wasn’t ready for that at all.

That would require setting aside that fear of the future. I couldn’t bring myself to do it, think about it, even dream a little about it.

I wasn’t ready, then, to face a hope outside of fiction, a hope that would carry with it the responsibility of work and the responsibility of change and the responsibility of failing and having to try again and again and maybe look foolish in a way others might see.

Fear is like that. It grows. It expands its roots and extends its grasp from one part of your life to another. Like pernicious weeds engulfing field after field if left unplucked.

It took time and pain and effort and support and even lucky circumstance to overcome those deep-rooted and broad-branched fears of the future in my own life.

And overcoming does not mean they are gone, does not mean that I no longer have to fight them. I do. Nothing rooted so deep is uprooted without leaving scars. The fear left many buried seeds. I will always be weeding, every day I live.

Maybe this sounds familiar to you in some way.

You know, it’s good to have a refuge like reading science fiction. It is also good to realize that you cannot live in a refuge.

I cannot live in a refuge. Whether it’s from my own writing or the uncertainties of the rest of the world or from the damage that Donald Trump, President can do to our society and the rest of the world.

Having rediscovered hope, I must hope. And real hope means doing what you can to make the future a little better.

For me, that means writing about the future and trying to get paid for doing so. It means making myself plan and strive for a future of my own even when the fears and the doom that comes with them are upon me yet again.

It means advocating for a better future for us all. Taking up what tiny corner of that enormous task I might be able to grasp, even if it’s as puny as raising my voice in a blog or on social media.

It means trying to remember names and faces even though I have come to realize that I will never really be good at it, not after spending so much time hopeless and disconnected.

It means writing things like this even though it is painful and I worry that I will look like a fool (of course I will, to someone — someone always sneers).

Because maybe this will seem familiar to you, and maybe reading things like this readied me to have hope again, many years ago.

I, Robot Is Old-School Apolitical And Socially Neutral Science Fiction — Um, Right?

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I and some fellow writers (and reviewers, some may pick nits, but isn’t reviewing also creative writing? Yes, it is.) are getting together at The Scary Reviews comment section on Wednesday the 16th at 7 pm to discuss I, Robot. The idea is we’re to review the book on our own sites to kick things off. If you’d like to read a proper review, Lilyn G. over at SciFi and Scary wrote one.

I, however, rarely review anything in the traditional sense. In fact, I have avoided reviewing anything by a living author for years after seeing some of the one-star brigading of indie and self-published authors over personal conflicts and butthurt over receiving critical reviews (I’m going to avoid linking to any accounts of these incidents, as I don’t want to wake up any ill-tempered sleeping dogs).

I’m still thinking the above over — should I say “screw it” and jump in anyhow? Am I being a wimp? Lilyn isn’t afraid to throw a one-star review along with a reasoned explanation of why it wasn’t more. Feel free to chime in with a comment on my possible cowardice. But, onward:

When I do review these days, it’s a dead author.

Well, Asimov is dead, you say. So what’s the problem?

There’s no problem. I enjoyed reading I, Robot in high school 25+ years ago oh crap I’m getting old who could have predicted this indignity and I enjoyed reading it short story by short story over the course of the end of last month and the beginning of this. Good stuff, if you’ve ever only seen the movie you should read the stories because the movie, as usual, missed and skewed A TON. In fact, more than usual. The stories were really just inspiration for the movie, not much more.

But reviews, as I suggested just a bit earlier, aren’t really my thing.

So I’m going to talk about old-school science fiction, what it isn’t, and what it is, using I, Robot as context.

Asimov wrote this collection in the spirit of Gernsback, a bedrock figure in the US science fiction scene. A scene that some of the right-wing Sad Rabid Puppies movement in current US science fiction hold up as a halcyon age where the genre was all about fun adventure reading that maintained neutrality in contemporary political and social movements.

But as I wrote in an earlier post about Gernsback and his work, that’s bullshit. Gernsback wrote about technocracy and world government — which, if you think about it, continue to be political and social movements across both political wings and anywhere between or beyond the wings today.

Gernsback was a pretty clumsy writer. He wrote the kind of stories that are rejected from slush piles today, because they were all about worldbuilding — describing potential technological advances and their potential ramifications — and had very little actual story in the story.

Asimov writes in much the same way, except he does it much better. He gives you a bit more humanity, and his writing, while equally lean and unflourished, is just plain better at drawing you into what is going on. He’s not very descriptive, but the little he describes sticks in your mind. His characters are sort of cardboard, but the drawing on the cardboard, at least, is interesting. The human story isn’t deep, but the technological story he tells is deep and engaging. The technology-driven story doesn’t hook on to the characters’ humanity — it hooks on to the reader’s humanity by speaking to elemental philosophical and social questions.

Asimov, in I, Robot and elsewhere, writes the epitome of old-school science fiction: technological, revolving around puzzles to solve and difficulties to overcome, basically hopeful of humanity, and inescapably linked to the social and political questions of the day.

A few examples from the collection:

Robbie speaks to the 1940s fear that advertising and television — technology — will warp and subvert the minds of our children as they are raised immersed in it. But Robbie the robot shows the reader that such needn’t be the case. Robbie risks his robotic life to save his young charge’s life and inspires the little girl to value love and loyalty — humanistic values encouraged  by using technology in constructive and mindful fashion.

Reason grasps the irrationality and logic-rejection of religion and the easy handle it presents for manipulating the faithful through the presentation of a robot prophet who organizes a robots-only cult (the profession of robot faith, uncomfortably, mirrors the Islamic profession of faith, giving the Christian reader an out to avoid applying the story personally — but the principles apply equally to any zealous subset within any religion who reject sound science and observation on the theory it must automatically be incompatible with faith). The story’s resolution leaves faith unconquered — but unquestionably wrong, wrong, WRONG.

The Evitable Conflict is utterly, totally politically charged. Place it in its proper context, the United States at the close of the 1940s, and the global political situation. The story revolves around the tendency for technology to rule humanity, in the familiar trope of artificial intelligence attempting to control human events — or dare I say, take over the world? But the story itself is critical of nationalism and Western powers dominating and controlling world affairs, suggesting what is practically political heresy now and was definitely heresy then, that the wheel of history may yet turn and political dominance may pass into hands that are not Western at all. The story suggests that the reader consider that deliberately managed peaceful globalism may be the solution to humanity’s most destructive problem, war, and that humans have never been so in control of affiars as politicians like to imagine, but instead at the mercy of economic and sociological forces.

How’s that for “good old fashioned apolitical science fiction”?

 

At The Risk Of Pissing You Off On The Anniversary Of The Oklahoma City Bombing…

…I thought I’d share a series of my tweets on the subject with you all. I started with a sad reply to the first tweet below…

After I tweeted “nobody wants to touch this tweet,” a couple of people were moved to retweet it — whether they simply noticed it a little later than it was tweeted or they were responding to my ‘nobody wants’ statement, I don’t know.

But I do know this: a lot of folks are very quick to condemn group X that they are not personally part of or acquainted with when something bad hits the news. The worse the news, the louder the outcry.

But those same folks don’t condemn the group when the person who is guilty is part of their own group or a group they are well acquainted with on a positive personal level. Then, they’re all about “well the ones who did this awful things weren’t REALLY part of group X” or “you have to blame the individual.”

Since this series of tweets touches upon the 9/11 terrorist attack, I’ll go with Islam for a moment. Yes, the perpetrators identified as Muslim. Yes, there’s a nasty vein of violent extremism that supports or perpetrates awful things — think 9/11 attackers or ISIS or Boko Haram.

That doesn’t have a hell of a lot to do with the people FLEEING this kind of violence who are also Muslim, no more than an Italian fleeing Mussolini in the 1930s had to do with Fascist violence.

There are people who identify as Christian in the United States who talk about doing the kind of thing that ISIS or Boko Haram is doing. They talk about assassinating politicians they don’t agree with and blowing things up and bringing about the rule of their particular view of their denomination of their branch of the religion they identify as. I’m using that “identify with/as” language very deliberately, by the way. “They’re not real [religion]” is often said, and often with reason. Most mainstream religious believers or agnostic or cultural-but-not-believing individuals don’t think blowing up buildings or murdering or even waging war is a great idea. They’d rather do without this whole “war” thing.

And that’s my point. It’s not to say that Christians want to blow up federal buildings or Muslims want to raze villages in Nigeria. Quite the opposite. And it’s not to say there’s no danger in the actions or words of extremists who claim that there needs to be violence in the name of imposing their vision of religion or ideology Z. There is. There’s a lot of danger. And these people who would do violence often move within the body of the larger society seeking the opportunity to inspire or perpetrate violence. That’s undeniable.

Let’s be honest: it’s scary. The odds say we’re more likely to be struck down by lightning than extremists in the vast majority of locales. But it’s still scary — the press and their breathless reporting (OMG DID YOU SEE THAT WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE, the crawl on CNN and the headline in the paper say daily, because it gets attention and eyeballs and clicks and advertiser attention) isn’t helping a bit in that regard.

But what we need to do is NOT cast an assumptive eye on all people who share some superficial common identification with murderers. What we need to do is what we’re already doing — and sadly often overdoing in the name of that assumptive eye. We need to watch for the murderous. And we need to do it, whenever we can possibly manage it and even when it’s “too hard,” without that assumptive eye on the innocent. That assumptive eye, when it turns to action that harasses and imposes judgment, is the easiest thing extremists use as evidence that the world hates ALL of whatever-dom and they must lash out to clear a place for their religion or ideology or whatever to live.

I welcome your comments.