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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.

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Thirteen Word Story: “We Need To Keep Watch On All The _____.”

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It’s not easy being green, Henson’s Kermit said — but would a green frog or a green alien have more trouble with humans than a green human would?

“We Need To Keep Watch On All The _____.”

We’ve met 1,001 alien species, yet still draw deadly lines within our own.

Preorder “A Pornodroid’s Tale” — A New Short Story To Be Released January 2nd, 2015

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This is the first time I’ve set up an advance release date on a story — maybe patience DOES come with age!

A Pornodroid’s Tale is a 99 cent short story single, about 3900 words in length. That’s about 15 1/2 standard paperback pages, for those of you unused to thinking in word lengths.

Here’s the blurb (THERE’S ALSO A 30% PREVIEW BELOW THE LINKS):

Jimmy Babe has it all — he’s an interplanetary pop star. He has the adulation of billions, a starship that doubles as a mansion, a pornodroid devoted to his every physical need. But stardom has become a burden to Jimmy, and he’s looking for a way out. Perhaps his awakened AI pornodroid can help — if his record label will let her, that is.

Where you can preorder it (or buy it, if you’re reading this on or after January 2nd, 2015):

Smashwords: Available now.

iTunes: Available now.

Barnes & Noble: Available now.

Kobo: Available now.

Amazon: Available now.

The preview:

Jimmy Babe sat facing a blank corner, face in hands, back to his mirrored makeup station, the entertainer console, the catering cart with its trays of local-planet fruits and cheeses, traditional teas from Earth, sparkling waters, and light wines. A dressing room was the only place other than his bedroom aboard ship that he had to himself; anywhere else he went, he was attended by company droids—co-performers and servants, yes, but also monitors, listening devices.

Jimmy was alone in body, but the chant of the waiting audience penetrated all of the barriers between it and him in the coliseum, shaking the walls, vibrating the roots of the building with his name: Jim-mee Babe. Jim-mee Babe. Jim-mee Babe. The chant was an omnidirectional roar, distorted by its passage through plastic and metal, muffled and muddied, barely intelligible. A sound like the rumble of coming thunder. Once, he had found the chant thrilling, intoxicating, sensual. Tens of thousands of living, breathing human beings calling his name out in passionate, near-sexual frenzy.

But that was seven years ago, when it was all new. When Jimmy had been plucked out of the Interplanetary Recording intern stable by an executive with an eye for salable looks and a voice that would respond well to autotuning. Now those seven years of performing meant nothing but thirteen more ahead of him, singing the same formula of novarock-pop in front of the same faces.

He hadn’t expected it to turn to drudgery, when he started. If someone had told him that it would, he would have laughed at them. Stardom and adulation, boring? Impossible. But though the songs he performed slowly changed with the years, they all sounded the same to him now. They all tasted the same as he sang them out, ashes in his mouth. And the faces in the crowd, from planet to planet to planet: oceanic masses of screaming teens, boys and girls too young to vote, the same hair, the same clothes, the same empty worship eyes filled with not him, but his plastic image, the marketing image that Interplanetary Recording pushed year after year. No matter how different the songs and the voices and the faces were, they were all the same.

All change in Jimmy’s life had ceased. Except for the one he would return to, after the show. She was the only thing he had that felt real.

The door opened with a click, his cue. Jimmy stood. Two of his tender droids waited on the other side of the door. Jimmy followed them out. The tender droids were identical and faceless, literally. They were bodyguards, backup dancers, stagehands, personal assistants. Foremost among their functions, they made sure Jimmy met his contractual obligations.

“Curtain in ten, Jimmy,” the one on the right said as they walked deeper into the roaring chant.

“The city is First Landing. It’s the capital of Bondar’s World. Named for the first Canadian astronaut, if you can believe it,” the one on the left said. “The names are on the back of the amp closest to your mark.”

Jimmy sighed, bouncing on his toes as he went, trying to force a surge of adrenalin for the stage. Ten meters down the hall and, as usual, he couldn’t tell which one of the androids had said what. They were identical, artificial intelligences in constant communication with each other and each other only. Which was which wasn’t important. For some reason it mattered to Jimmy, though. At one time he had tried labeling them with tape and giving them each a nickname, but they always removed the tape once they were out of his sight, so he had given up. They were all identical for a reason: marketing focus. Faceless so Jimmy’s would be the only face on stage. They were black-haired to serve as foils to Jimmy’s honey brown hair, large and strongly muscled to emphasize Jimmy’s slender frame, stubbled (their sole facial feature, a dark sculpted band of five o’clock shadow faintly absurd in the absence of nose and lips and eyes) and masculine in contrast to Jimmy’s androgynous look.

Once behind the curtains only a few steps from the stage, the fans’ chant was a bellowing comber of sound that erased meaning, a wave that crested and crashed whitewater onto the stage but refused to ebb. Jimmy popped smartplugs into his ears to damp the decibels, and his name resolved itself from the roar. The repetition of the chant quickly reduced his name to meaninglessness again as he stretched, danced a few warmup moves, sang scales into the tiny gold hovermics that sprang from their case to halo his head.

The curtain rose, and Jimmy walked out into screams that rose impossibly louder, becoming a physical force that pounded his bones like drums. JIM-MEE JIM-MEE JIM-MEE. Jimmy waved his hand over his head, plastic grin pasted from ear to ear, hollow behind blue eyes.

The curtain fell at the close of the third encore and the chant rose again, pursuing Jimmy to his dressing room like an animal. He slammed the door on it, left his sweat-soaked clothes on the floor, walked through a cool shower, let his tenders drape a robe over his naked body as he fled down the private performers’ hall to his car.

He reclined, eyes closed, and the car rose through the roof of the auditorium toward his ‘starfaring mansion’, as the entertainment rags put it. The tenders handled the piloting, strapped into the cockpit seats securely. It was a skill they’d discouraged him from cultivating, though he’d found simulators that would run on his personal tablet and practiced late at night. In defiance, at first, only doing what was discouraged because it was discouraged. Later, with the vague hope that one day it would be a skill he’d need, that he might, in some unlikely future, need to go somewhere alone one day.

“Will you want anything prepared for you?” the tender that wasn’t driving asked as they rose above the atmosphere. “The jacuzzi, your pornodroid, a meal?”

“A light meal, in my room. Mint tea. And the pornodroid,” he said. ‘The pornodroid’ was terribly impersonal, it felt wrong to call her that. But they didn’t know she was more. At least, Jimmy was pretty sure they didn’t.

#

“The amount of time he’s spending with the pornodroid is still trending up. Curve’s flattening, though. Like his popularity,” Miller Zapata said a few hours later on Earth, flicking graphs into the air from the face of his tablet. The graphs hovered side by side, three-dimensional, slowly rotating, steep half-mountains showing the gentle rounding of imminent peaks.

“Any more glitches?” Kenya Zhaopeng asked, eyes flitting from graph to graph. Jimmy Babe was still grossing well, selling out concerts, new album still holding near the tops of the charts in twenty-three planetary markets. He was big enough to rate his own team at Interplanetary Recording: Zhaopeng and Zapata, plus a few interns who came and went with the natural rhythms of the scholastic year.

“Glitches?” Zapata mimicked, and chuckled. “The pornodroid glitched once, six months ago. It happens. It didn’t glitch today and it won’t glitch tomorrow.”

“It doesn’t just happen,” Zhaopeng said, enlarging the profit and loss statement of the last concert with both hands. “Pornodroids are precision devices that practically date back to the dawn of the computer age. They’re too refined to glitch.”

“Well, it glitched. And it’s fine now. If it happens again we’ll swap it out.”

“He’ll notice if we do that,” Zhaopeng said, shaking her head.

“So? The whole purpose of the thing is to give him a secret to play with for a little while…”