Category Archives: Things I’ve Written

2067: First Major Metro Goes Off National Electric Grid

I’ve taken up tweeting from the future, example above, in addition to my usual political-writing-SciFi-whatevs antics @Tao23.

It keeps me thinking to turn out those tweets on a semi-regular basis. And the tweets can make a great nucleus for future SciFi News Network posts here, AKA my futurist “predictions.” Older posts are formatted to look kind of like actual articles from the future. I’m seeing more posts like this, where I let the Tweetmorrow tweet stand for the future story and then get to speculate and explain like I’m doing now. This is fun.

Predictions in quotes because who knows what monkeywrenches the future could throw into the works? Our pet Trumphole could yet start a nuclear war and derail everything…

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Nothing like trying to provoke a nuclear war in a lame attempt to prove how macho you are, s–t for brains.

…but gee, we’d save his personal pet illusion of his machismo so win-win post-apocalyptic Mad Max hellhole, right?

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50 years seems like a reasonable horizon for a major metro going off-grid and relying on locally generated renewables. Solar, wind, biogas, hydroelectric, geothermal, tidal, and more — there are a lot of options for a city to generate its own local power, and for residences and businesses to take themselves off even the local grid. Batteries like Tesla’s PowerPack (and the residential version, PowerWall) make 24/7 power availability practical even with variables like solar, and small local cooperative grids can increase that support — imagine a neighborhood grid with all the batteries and different forms of power generation contributing. Or a college campus grid. Lots of possibilities.

In the lead story of my Closer Than You Think collection, One More For The Road, the protagonist drives into an isolated, long-off-grid town on its own local grid, with nearly every home and business sending up one or more combo wind turbine and solar collector on a long mast, evoking a field of glittering flowers in her imagination. The masts are even retractable to avoid damage in strong winds and storms. They stand tall and slender in light breezes, short and stout in heavy blows, and fold themselves into protective housings during storms, dormant while the town runs on battery power.

Not too bad a vision, eh? Certainly, there will be advantages and disadvantages, ups and downs. A spell of very strange weather might leave residents rationing their power and sending out battery trucks to pick up spare power from the neighbors. But that seems not so much more trouble than the current system that leaves us in the dark if something damages the wires, transformers, or power stations, and releases more and more carbon dioxide into the air to further warp the already wobbly climate.

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For No Particular Reason, Fishing Hole Pics

Just for the heck of it, here are some pics from my favorite fishing hole. Fishing is relaxing and meditative for me, so I do quite a bit of it because STRESS BILLS WORRY CAR REPAIRS LIFE STUFF WHEN WILL I SELL MORE BOOKS AM I WRITING ENOUGH DOES THE STORY I’M WORKING ON NOW SUCK EEEEEK after writing that I want to go fishing right now.

But seriously, it’s a beautiful little spot. I get lots of little fishing companions even when I don’t bring along my 6 year old son (I’ve told the 4 year old that he may come along when he’s 5 because he’s a tad wild and unfocused still and I don’t want him flailing around with a hook).

Not pictured: there are always dragonflies in warm weather. And mosquitoes, but I bring repellent for them. Usually herons and egrets, sometimes a hawk or a duck or a water snake of mystery variety because I give them plenty of space.

Above, mantises and lizard. And lots of duckweed this year, unlike last year. I suspect the mild winter and very hot summer have something to do with it, and maybe a lot of watering and lawn fertilizing going on at the posh homes on one side of the lake.

This, by the way, is the location and activity that inspired the story Basshole, which appears in my Maladapt mini-collection. In that one, a transhuman living in a robotic body does a lot of fishing for 200 years because he’s all messed up about his ex-wife, leaving his fleshly body behind, and just what it is you do with a life anyway. There’s a lot of inner turmoil for him to sort through, but wouldn’t you be thrown off by your 200-years-ago wife showing up in her old human body, out of the blue? I think I would.

In any event, hope you enjoyed the view. I do.

 

[Click for other fish-related posts, including my then-5 year old’s first fish and a tuna poaching ring in 2241]

The Life Of The Dead (An Essay From The Future)

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(Original appearance on my Patreon page, 04 July 2017)

To understand our ancestors and the Natural Lifers, voluntary and involuntary, throughout the Solar System, you must understand first that they are all dead.

For our pre-Longevity ancestors, that’s literally true. But I mean something  more profound than a simple observation of the state of being of those who formerly lived and died. I’m talking about people and whole societies that were and are dead in the depths of their souls and worldview from birth.

We share with them the technical fact of mortality. We, too, will all die. No matter that our organs, unlike theirs, continually rebuild and reengineer themselves from the inside, that we enjoy continual in-depth health monitoring built into our surroundings, clothing, bedding, skin, flesh, bones, and blood, every single moment of every single day. No matter that our brains and memories are tended like gardens and backed up like documents.

Sooner or later the Reaper will reach us. It happens. Statisticians and actuaries disagree amongst themselves but most give us between five and fifteen thousand years before chance delivers us a body-obliterating end. It happens to an unlucky few every year already, in fact, among the tens of billions protected by Longevity.

But our ancestors (and today’s Natural Lifers) grew up assuming that their lives will be over very quickly indeed, and that there’s nothing of consequence they can do about it — which never stopped them from trying to micromanage a few extra years our of their short spans. Few ever succeeded in truly taking a view longer than their own lifespans, and usually that longer view consisted of trying to lock the future into living in the comfortable past of their own youths. For most, “long term” consisted of thinking a bare handful of years ahead, literally. No more than a person could count on their fingers.

Imagine what it’s like to be born inevitably and rapidly terminal. After the normal human childhood frenzy of learning, you must hurry on, hardly pausing. Spend your twenties in frantic acquisition of career skills. Your thirties and forties in frantic acquisition of expertise and professional networks. And then you have perhaps twenty good years to enjoy the fruits of that hard labor before the inevitable decline of body and mind begins to steal that hard-won enjoyment back. You’ll be very lucky to live beyond ninety without Longevity. Ninety years. That’s it. And in the past, there wasn’t even the option to change your mind, which many Natural Lifers do around mid-life when the recognition of immanent mortality really solidifies.

Short-lifers hardly had time to accomplish anything, and they were the entirety of society for most of human history. A society built around the recognition of swift and certain death. For them, everything must be a headlong rush, even the most careful and thoughtful long-range planning.

And a personal failure at any stage of life often meant a literally fatal delay of ambition and enjoyment of life success.

No wonder schadenfruede and sadism and suicide and Amok and warfare were rampant.

Not that those things are extinct in Longevity society. But they’re enormously rarer, aren’t they? Because we not only have reason to plan for the long term, but we know we’re here for the long term. We know we are alive and will continue to live, deep down in our flesh and bones and blood and souls. Tomorrow is coming for us, but short-lifers could never be certain that even tomorrow would come for them.

We’ve got more to lose, more to gain, and more to hope for. Just this first half-millennium of Longevity has revealed a slower progress, which the Natural Lifers jeer at, but it is deliberate and broad and lacks the error-forcing frantic quality of ephemeralism. We’ve more caution in deploying new ideas, but enjoy an unprecedented range of pure research and great reliability in the new developments we add to our lives. For why would a person facing ten thousand years of life worry over a decade or two spent chasing a dead end? But the prospect terrifies Natural Lifers, because two decades in a dead end is a waste of the bulk of an advanced professional life with no chance for recovery. It’s also easier for us to admit errors, for that very reason. A twenty year long mistake is a blush for us, but the ruin of everything for them.

As they point out slower overall progress, Natural Lifers are also quick to point out other shortcomings and controversies within Longevity — sometimes with justice, but often out of that schadenfreude mentioned earlier.

In our society it is easier to consolidate wealth and power for those willing to devote all their centuries to doing so — and so far we have several prominent examples of that. The definitions of “career criminal” and “life sentence” have shifted in ways our legal systems have still not fully adapted to. There is still enormous debate and controversy among creatives and legal minds over what copyright and fair use should look like when a creator might live longer than the current age of all human civilization to date. Mental illness and attitudes toward it are also experiencing a sea change — it seems that over a lifetime of centuries we all are statistically certain to experience mental illness in one or several forms.

While these are all real concerns and ramifications of Longevity, none of them are reasons to ignore the advances of technology and rejoin the Natural Lifers. None of them are reasons to embrace a swift death, surely.

Every human advance has brought new benefits and new difficulties hand in hand. Cheap, powerful ion-drive spacecraft changed our entire society and outlook on life. The internet changed everything with its advent. So did the motor vehicle. Rocketry, airplanes, telephones, electricity, railroads, rifles, gunpowder, crossbows, credit, printing presses, steel, aqueducts, sewers, iron, bronze, domesticated horses, writing, agriculture, brewing, fire. Every one of these innovations, and more besides, radically changed human history, society, worldview, and reasoning. Every single one. We adjusted to them.

We’ll adjust to biological immortality too, and all the new innovations it brings us.

The Triumph Of The Won’t

 

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We’re definitely seeing a farce of politics — but it’s not just Trump. It’s Trumpism and Trumpites, too.

In the best of Trump voters, there’s deep and intense dissatisfaction. A feeling that anything must be better than the politics of our memory, whether that memory is the few years of the 18 year old first time voter or the several decades of the elder Trump voter.

In many, I think, there’s an approach to politics that is identical to the approach to sport. You choose a team, and you root for them no matter what. Which is a foolish and dangerous approach to politics no matter who you’re voting for, and a core failure of civic education at school, in our communities, and in our homes.

But I’m not talking about the best of Trump voters here. I’m not talking about the rah-rah-go-team voters, or the reluctant ideologues who don’t like Trump but hate anyone outside the GOP more, or the impulse-shopper voters who went with whoever’s last sound bite they liked more, or the strategic ‘he’ll pick SCOTUS justices I’ll like’ voters or the on-the-fence voters who aren’t quite sure, somehow, who best represents their ideas and ethics.

I’m talking about the hard Trump core. The people who love the guy for all he represents. Not the Russian bots and foreign provocateurs, but the ones who sound like Russian bots despite being born and raised in the most corn-and-apple-pie-fed settings across the country.

Theirs is the triumph of the won’t.

They call themselves “alphas” and their perceived enemies (most of the citizenry of the United States of America) “betas” and “cucks”…

…and “feminized” (because being a woman is bad, or means you’re inferior, or means you’re genetically programmed to serve men because quite a few of the Trumpite hard core love them some 19th century pseudoscientific genetic determinism and its cousins eugenics and eugenic-style theories, and possibly phrenology and physiognomy and phlogiston and phlat earth ‘theory’ and who knows what else) and, well, whatever flaccid insults help them feel turgid and ready to lash out violently — because manliness, to them, is not showing humanity, but is found in behaving like a rage-blind distempered ape.

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Gif: BoingBoing — full video: YouTube

They imagine that by naming themselves dominant and aggressive, that makes them paragons of rock-jawed will.

They have little clue what it really reveals: it doesn’t reveal will. It reveals won’t. A humanity-paralyzing fear of tomorrow, of today, and of anything that doesn’t cater to their fussy, prissy, whiny control-freak demands of reality. A boy-tantrum “I WON’T” to the inevitability of time passing. They’re pissed off that reality itself won’t cut the crusts off their PB&J like mommy used to, but insists on being reality.

The “f–k your feelings” crowd runs on the feeling that they are offended that the universe will not treat them like the little princes and princesses they know they are.

That failure of adapting to the facts of life is their motive force, just as gasoline is the motive force of your car: there are a variety of other ingredients and factors, some important and others not, but without gasoline and failure Trumpism Car DOES. NOT. MOVE.

Of course, that’s not what they see in the mirror.

 

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Screencap from Scooby Doo and the Ghoul School via Scoobypedia

Trumpites, just like “God Emperor Trump” mostly cast themselves as alpha-male towers of will (or equivalent, or admirers of same, when women) — an army to proudly march back into the middle of the 20th century. Or maybe the 19th or 18th, depending on the Trumpite.

As if a past can ever be re-lived. As if the past was ever half as idyllic and perfect as many of them seem to believe — and an awful lot of them can remember the middle of the 20th century.

It is, after all, the land of their childhoods, the land of their childish dreams and childish ambitions. It is an age of shelter for many, even those whose childhoods were difficult or even abusive — what comes after, dealing with the adult consequences of childhood deprivation and/or abuse, often seems even harder than childhood, especially to the adult living it in the now.

And the remembrance of childhood is veiled in the ignorance of the child, and that is hazed by the passage of decades as well as the bitter demise of childhood dreams at the hands of reality — and both white male Boomers and GenX, key Trump demographics, had big dreams that died hard. Dreams of privilege expanding endlessly, dreams of unlimited world-altering success, dreams of the industry and union driven white middle class boom of the 1950s trending up, up, forever up, three chickens in every pot and three cars in every McMansion garage on a solid acre in the suburbs with a tall white privacy fence and a dog and a cat and 2.5 children educated at the highest standard in the world.

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The original McMansion production line: Levittown!

Only, the Boomers grew up to be Yuppies and ‘vulture capitalists’ and GenX grew up to build the dot-com boom and bust and found the ‘gig economy,’ and the ‘leaders’ of both have spent, collectively, the last 40 years gutting that goose that was laying the golden eggs, haven’t they?

There were a lot of rich guts in the American goose. Gutting it has taken a long time. But the work is almost done, now. What do you do with a fowl once you have it gutted?

You cut it into pieces and fry it, that’s what. It’s delicious.

Then you throw the bones away. Might take another 40 years to get there. And the process is part of the problem. The Boomer and Gen X gutters know they’ll almost certainly be dead and gone by the time they’ve gnawed this goose down to the greasy bones.

And here they are, writing and tweeting and bitching and Trump-voting away, flailing about wildly for someone else to blame. We (white male GenX, of which I am one) aren’t about to blame ourselves collectively. We’re all about ego and the importance of the individual, by which we mean ourselves, singular, not any other white male of our generations and certainly not any other individuals beyond that demographic. I, me, me, I. And if something is wrong you must be to blame and that’s why we have Trump yelling at his fans to ‘knock the shit out of’ people who dare voice dissent and why we have ideological zealots stabbing people for not agreeing with their politics (yes, enforcing the ‘correctness’ of their politics by killing those who disagree. Or, in milder form, by calling them rude names on Twitter.) and attacking people for having brown skin or the ‘wrong’ religious/spiritual/ideological/scientific/educated beliefs and knowledge.

Let’s go back, for a moment, to that perceived childhood idyll they’re so hot to “take our country back” to.

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An article from the Atlanta Black Star that has proven all too prescient. You should read it.

For me, childhood was the 1970s. In my memory, there’s sort of a glow around those years. That glow is the better side of my childhood. A glow of carefree play. What did I know or feel of the ugliness of the war in Vietnam or the national humiliation of Richard Nixon or the horror of Kent State?

 

Little or nothing, of course. I was a boy, a poor boy to be sure, but one who was wandering field and forest of rural Wisconsin with a faithful dog at my side. I was concerned with wading in creeks, gathering hickory nuts, snacking on wild apples and plums and berries, climbing trees, playing games with my friends, reading books, and so on. I wasn’t watching or comprehending much of the news.

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The author, sans dog but you get the idea.

The 1970s were no golden age, to be sure. But they look a bit gold to me when I remember them. Because I was a child, and the cares of adulthood were not yet upon me. The 1950s are no different. Or the 1930s, or 1990s. Wherever your childhood is.

Trumpism is no yearning for utopia, and it is no brave embrace of the hard work of making a better tomorrow. It is a fleeing in the hopeless direction of lost childhood. It is a cowering. For tomorrow is always uncertain, and doubly so for those who wish, uselessly, to live in the past.

The thuggish threats and violence and posturing with gun and fist are not strength. They are the bared teeth of the rat backed into a corner — only the Trumpite corner is built of fear-rhetoric and scaremongering taken to heart by the fearful. It’s not real. But more than imaginary, it is a huge corner packed full of a whole chaos of rats constantly telling each other how hellish and awful life and the United States and the world are. And no matter how much the rats tear into each other, no matter what other of their fellows they manage to bite, what they rage against is impossible to bite, because it is tomorrow itself, and the blood they taste is their own.

They’re raging against the only true constant in the universe: change itself. A constant that nothing can turn aside, delay, or even touch.

And, perhaps fittingly for the generations of Boomers and GenXers that are the meat of the ranks of Trumpism, their idea of a better world is an action B-movie. No actual leaders, just stars whose charisma is a scriptwritten Hollywood facade of strength, whose power is all spectacle and cheesy one-liners and costumery (Mike Pence and Scott Walker on Harleys, anyone?) whose will is the will of the moral and ethical and emotional weakling: the temper tantrum, the uncontrolled rage, the urge to mass murder with big guns and exciting stunts and technicolor explosions, and of course lots and lots of angry, violent intimidation.

Bully tools, but played out in real life instead of the theater.

Yearn for an angry, bloody version of childhood all you like, Trumpites. That way lies chaos and loss and disappointment. Adulthood can be quite a bit more boring, with its reason, and compromise, and sometimes painful ethical choices, and hard work, and compassion. But one way leads into a better future for our children, and one leads into Lord of the Flies for children of all ages, even the balding ones with deep crows’ feet.

 

I just gave my $5+ patrons a free copy of Maladapt today…

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…everyone else has to wait until June 8th to buy a copy (Preorder @ Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo, (have I missed any? OMG) or Smashwords). Here’s the short description appearing with retailers:

Maladapt is a mini-collection of four short stories totalling just under 15,000 words.
These are stories about the struggle to adapt to the coming future. About coming to terms with migrating to a robotic body, to telepresence, to universal surveillance and what it means to those of us who don’t quite fit in. They’re stories about FAILURE to adapt, and the victories to be won beyond failure.

If you’re not already one of my patrons, this would be a good time to get in on the ground floor. And grab your free copy. And free copies of a few other things which are posted as files or just plain old posts — sometimes I post microfiction, or full-length short stories as text posts.

My fans & readers are relatively few right now. But I am stubborn, and readers check in with me (here or on Twitter @Tao23) from time to time to tell me they enjoy what I write. So unless a meteorite squishes me unexpectedly, I anticipate being here and on Patreon writing stuff and posting early copy and exclusives for a good 20 or 10,000 years depending on my natural lifespan and how good medicine becomes and whether or not I get to upload into a robot body when this meat one wears out AND OF COURSE if I earn enough money and/or respect to afford and/or merit all the cool death-dodges the future may hold.

That’s where Patreon patrons and people who buy my books come in.

Please join my Patreon and/or buy more S.A. Barton books.

Daddy needs a new pair of robot bodies.

Everything Explodes – SciFi News Network, 2041

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(Original appearance: 25 April 2017 on my Patreon page)

NO GLORY

A syndicated conflict blog

Rose L. Parimoo

Everything Explodes

 

04 May 2041*

It does, you know. Everything does explode. The sheer carnage one sees here, day and night, is amazing. Is amazing the right word? Yes and no. Amazing, horrific, awful and awe-inspiring in a sad and pathetic and scandalous and phantasmagorically grievous sort of way. It’s beyond words, really. But here we are in a medium of words. So.

Soldiers bearing the marks of frantically rushed training and gear bearing the marks of hasty 3D printing flood in daily, and daily the Hadesbots drag off as many, give or take a little, to bulldozed pits or even tumble them into a convenient natural ravine. Dead, destroyed, consumed by the appetite of the war.

The vultures are so sleek and fat I’m amazed they can still fly. That’s a good thing in a disgusting and depressing sort of way.

It makes the fake vultures easy to spot. The exploding drone vultures are normal looking, even a bit gaunt.

That ease of identification doesn’t stop the soldiers and defense bots (and all of the civilians, who, after all, are equally opposed to dying) from shooting down every vulture they can shoot. And any other bird they spy, for that matter. They’re all suspect.

Everyone, that is, but the smattering of American medics. They are strictly unarmed – not even a sidearm, not even a little one – by the terms of their surprisingly enduring cease-fire with China.

It’s an uneasy cease-fire, to be sure. But nobody wants an escalation, not even the nuclear powers or their allies who are the ones actually fighting this nakedly proxy war.

The Americans are nervous, yes. Yesterday one lost a chunk of his calf muscle to a butterfly.

A butterfly. Who expects a butterfly to explode?

Can you imagine the insanity of troops carrying state of the art smart assault rifles trying to shoot down the butterflies as they pass a field of wildflowers? Smart rifles are not made to target butterflies.

Can you imagine, then, how much ammunition a war on butterflies demands? A war on butterflies and every other threat, which is everything, because everything explodes? How many delivery drones to carry the ammunition to the soldiers who are not only engaged in killing their human and butterfly opponents, but also must kill every bird, rodent, cow, goat, chicken, snake, and insect they encounter?

If civilization ends in this war, lays fallow for ten thousand years, and is reborn, their scientists will believe an enormous asteroid made of metal struck here, because there are so many bullets scattered about after two years of this madness.

Bullets turn up in every tree passed, every latrine pit dug, every wall taken shelter behind. They glimmer in pockets all down every streambed, winking like clutches of gold nuggets. Nuggets that are stained with death. They trigger somber reflection at their discovery, not the excitement of a windfall.

The windfall we receive here is living through the day. Not only surviving the relentless drone fauna, but the snipers and the migratory landmines with their subtle borers and seismic imagers, and of surviving the threat of worse.

Every time there is a retreat of any sort, even of a single squad of soldiers, thoughts turn to the threat of nuclear annihilation. Are they clearing out so this place can be wiped smooth and radioactive?

A nuclear weapon could be aboard the great eagle I’m watching as I write this.

It’s circling a mountain peak, tracing the thermals through the sky in a crooked path that never quite retraces itself.

Eight of the nations embroiled here, directly or via proxy, are nuclear capable.

Three of those nations are known to have the capacity to custom-print nuclear warheads on only a few days’ advance notice.

Theoretically, a custom-printed subcritical nuclear bomb could fit aboard a false cow or sheep or horse. Even, perhaps, a goat or a dog.

Or one might just fit inside one of the numerous and enormous eagles that call these mountains home. It would have to spend most of its time gliding on thermals, though. Even the tiniest nuke would be heavy, and a drone eagle would have to flap unrealistically quickly and hard to gain altitude without the help of the warm air rising off the sun-warmed mountains.

As quickly as new troops are slaughtered – and they’ve grown noticeably younger and older as the demand for soldiers outstrips the human speed of reproduction – the survivors go dead-eyed and silent at the realization that there is no competence or heroics that can guard against a nuclear attack, even if one can imagine defending themself against deadly butterflies and unseen snipers.

The only defenses are to resign oneself to the inevitability of death, or to go mad.

Some do the latter. Very few of those are so obvious or dangerous to themselves and others as the movies would have you believe. It manifests, instead, in ways that choke off the humanity inside, as too-hard earth chokes off a sapling and leaves it withered.

More than any war in history, death and fear saturate the environment.

A week or two agao, a tree branch killed two men. In the shrapnel they found the joints of little robotic legs, like the legs of a centipede but made of kevlar and carbon fiber. The walking tree branch drone, a robot built around an explosive core sheathed in a titanium sleeve grooved to shatter into a thousand flying nails, had climbed into the tree and settled down to wait for a target to pass.

Nobody knows how long it waited. It could have waited mere hours, or waited two years. Subtle solar panels smaller than the scales of a trout powered it.

Is there one, or are there several perhaps, in the glarled tree beside the latrine pit I visit here in camp every day?

Has an exploding rat crept beneath my cot while I was at the latrine? Is it waiting for me to finish this bit of writing and lie down to sleep, unexpectedly forever?

Will a deadly butterfly find a gap in the mosquito netting in the morning and end me while I brush my teeth?

I’ll have to leave this place soon. I can feel myself slipping away under the constant fear that even invades my dreams.

It is worth remembering that the soldiers, those who live, lack the luxury of leaving when they feel themselves slipping slowly into madness.

I won’t survive much longer here.

Then again, nothing does.

END

*The fourth of May is only a publication date. Per my agreement with the Indian Army, I an say only that the situations I describe occurred within the past one hundred days. Details may be altered to protect individuals or operational security. The post above was required to clear Indian Army intelligence before publication. This disclaimer is required to appear here, and I am required to abide by its terms and additional terms as required by standing military orders and the orders of officers of the Army.

A new installment of Broken Rice…

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…is available!

I’ll update this page as it appears in various venues. So far it’s at Amazon and Smashwords.

This is the fourth of six or seven installments depending on how things go while I’m writing the conclusion — one consequence of my outline-and-planning-free writing style is that I’m not often good at predicting final wordcounts. After it’s done I’ll release an omnibus and a print edition. At a projected 30-35,000 words, it will be the longest thing I’ve written. Right now it’s right around 20,000 words, equal to my previous record in Isolation, the title story in the Isolation and Other Stories collection.

So, why the heck am I writing a serial? And why was there a long pause between installments three and four?

Because I’ve been hit or miss in terms of finishing my work on longer stories. I have several projects that have been waiting at 10,000 or 20,000 words for me to finish them. I’ve let myself be derailed into turning to shorter projects and finishing those instead. But that’s not a good pattern for a writer to be in.

Writers need to finish their writing, dammit!

So a serial seemed like a good way to make a public commitment to finishing a story. I started this project to light a fire under my butt. By following through here, I demonstrate to myself that this unfortunate pattern of leaving long stories lie fallow for months or years before finishing them is unnecessary. I show myself that I can finish what I started. And I force myself to figure how how to motivate myself to do it.

Sometimes we realize that something is wrong, and it needs fixing.

It won’t get fixed unless we work on it with a seriousness.

So here I am, working with a seriousness. And I get a finished story out of it, and I hope you’ll find you got a good read out of it.

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.

I Published A New Collection And I Liked It

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Fine, okay, there were some bits that are never fun. Like building an ebook table of contents or going through a bunch of stories written in standard manuscript format and deleting all the tabs so they won’t screw up the ebook.

But yeah, I liked it. There are 21 science fiction stories in there, arranged roughly from the nearest future to the most distant. From the most plausible to the most conjectural. From the least to the most alien-to-us-today vision of humanity.

There are self-driving cars and artificial intelligences in love and undersea civilizations and killer climate change and all sorts of other good stuff.

You can preorder it from Amazon right now. Or from Barnes & Noble, or Kobo, or Smashwords. Or Google Play Books. Or the iTunes bookstore. Or… there are others. How many others I cannot guess. The internet is big. 🙂

The release date is December 24th. Who doesn’t need something to read on Christmas Eve? I do. Ugh, the stress!