(This story and commentary appeared first at my Patreon page on the 5th of this month — my patrons there saw it first. You can see my posts, too, plus get a FREE PDF of any short story I publish, even if I charge for the ebook elsewhere!)
Also, please feel free to save and share the image above wherever you wish. In fact, please do — it’s one way you can help me become better known as an author. Thanks!
This story is one possible form of the science fiction trope of virtual reality as an addiction, a no-drugs drug with the potential to spread so widely through the populace that society or even the survival of humanity will be threatened. The idea is that once virtual reality gets really realistic, it will offer people more than ‘real life’ does. People will withdraw from interacting with actual people and become shut-ins, ordering all of the groceries and other things they need delivered to their homes (perhaps by Amazon drones — no human interaction there). Toss in enough AI to hold a good conversation, and the VR addict won’t even need to interact with others through social media and discussions forums, as poor as that interaction can be for some. They can simply talk to simulated people.
As more and more people withdraw to their customized virtual worlds, the trope goes, society goes screaming down the path to hell in a printed-circuit handbasket. Nobody wants to leave the house. Nobody wants to fix the roads or the cars, nobody wants to participate in the work of governing, nobody wants to party, nobody has sex to make new children. The whole human race dwindles, becomes the last withered human locked in a basement ‘eating’ via IV, and finally even he dies leaving a mess of broken-down infrastructure and skeletons with funny goggles strapped to their faces for future alien archaeologists to figure out.
And sure, a fantasy life can be addicting. That’s what virtual reality is, just a high-tech way to enjoy a fantasy life. People do get into trouble with them — there’s a bit of that in my own past; I avoided a lot of real-life responsibilities, at one time when I was younger, by immersing myself in role-playing games. I was pretty useless to other people, but on the other hand my imagination got one hell of a workout. And of course we have plenty of other tales to choose from about the misuse, overindulgence, and addiction of/to fantasy. Perhaps you’ve seen stories in the news about the parents who neglected their child to uphold their raiding responsibilities in World of Warcraft, the young man who played his favorite game for a couple of days straight and keeled over dead, the people who have spent fortunes amassing Star Trek memorabilia or virtual property in Second Life to the detriment of their own finances. They exist, and like nearly anything else, fantasy can be overindulged with.
Virtual reality will be no different. Some people WILL fuck themselves up with it.
But the dissolution of society and extinction of humanity will have to wait a bit longer, perhaps for a really big nuclear war or engineered plague. Because like the other things we can overindulge in, virtual reality will be consumed in moderation by most, avoided altogether by many, and abused by only a minority.
First, the clickbait titles themselves. On page 2 (the link to page 2 is allllllll the way at the bottom of this page, under the related post thumbnails), I will post the title plus the book the title refers to.
That way, you can enjoy guessing which books the clickbait titles are ‘advertising’ before going to the next page to see if you guessed right.
You Won’t Believe Why One Old Hobbit Walked Halfway Across The World
One Weird Trick To Becoming The Religious Icon of An Entire People (Hint: Kwisatz Haderach!)
You’ll Be Shocked When You Realize You Love This Genocide-Committing Murderer
The Most Embarrassing Reactions When Winter Is Coming
This Weird Old Trick Will Help You Defy The Book Burning Hordes
This Story Will Put You Off Pork Chops Forever
You’ll Be Shocked When You Find Out How Dangerous Lifehacks Really Are
This Zoned-Out Martian Hippie Will Restore Your Faith In Humanity
You Might Think Nothing Is Worse Than Ebola — But You’re Wrong
The Most Important Thing You’ll Ever Read And Not Understand
How Bad Will Your Kids Screw Things Up? The Answer Is Worse Than You Think
One Grandpa Goes Green — You’ll Never Believe What Happens Next!
You’ll Never See America The Same Way Again After You Learn What One Convicted Felon Learned
Click over to page two below, and see the headlines matched up with their classic SFF titles!
I just published my 50th ebook title on Smashwords: Half Sour, Half Sweet. In a couple of weeks, it will be distributed to all of the ebook outlets over in the right sidebar. Eventually, it will appear in one of my paperback collections. I still have twenty or so stories that haven’t appeared in dead tree format, so it shouldn’t take me too long to get it in print.
For now… I just plain feel good. Fifty titles, more than 60 short stories, novelettes, and novellas among them.
And I have plenty more in me. I’m working on them now.
This cover took awhile to come up with. It still looks a little odd to me, but I wasn’t satisfied with any of my ideas. This is the most striking, and I do like it. It has character.
I’m still editing the story, so it will be anywhere from a couple of days to a week or so before I publish it. It begins with a lonely 70 year old man driving into the country to fish in a trout stream behind the house he grew up in. A place he hasn’t seen in a half-century or more. But of course, there’s more to it than that. He notices something that he should have found when he was a child, and it opens up a whole range of regrets… and magical opportunity.
It’s been interesting to write. But then, it’s always interesting. If it wasn’t, I probably wouldn’t do it.
In any event, I hope you like the cover. And I hope you’ll enjoy the story when it comes out. Here’s an excerpt from the mid-edit rough draft. It may change a little before it’s published, but not much. And of course, I chose a portion that leads up to, but avoids, major spoilers.
He hadn’t held a pole in twenty years, and it showed. It took a dozen bad casts to remember the knack of it, and then the thirteenth put the worm just under the overhang of the bank, in the dark where the fish hide. The worm drifted with the current as it sank. The water was shallow, no more than waist deep, and he could see the worm go. It wriggled, living up to its name, and bounced over the stones in slow motion until it fetched up against a big granite stone half-buried in the bottom right by the opposite bank. A zigzag of bright white quartz and flecks of fool’s gold striped it top to bottom, vanishing into the feathery spray of seaweed that ringed it like a skirt.
David recognized the zigzag, the quartz, the gold. How many times did I see that stone as a boy? he wondered. How many times did I think of digging it out and taking it back home with me? But he never had. There was always a reason: it looked too heavy, couldn’t tell how deep into the creekbed it was sunk, the water was too cold, it probably wouldn’t look as pretty once it dried.
The worm kept eddying back against the bumpy granite, doing jerky loops in the turbulence. A little brown spotted torpedo flashed out from next to the stone, from behind the thin screen of seaweed. It tried to drag the worm back under but David set the hook. Unlike the trick of casting, he remembered how to set the hook well: the firm, precise snap of the wrist that caught a trout without yanking the metal barb completely through its delicate lip. The fish put up a little fight and then it was up on the bank. It was small, but big enough to eat. Maybe half a pound. He gutted it with his pocketknife in the grass, leaving the head on, and slipped it into the cold bag in the cooler. He rinsed his hands in the cool water and dried them on a different patch of grass.
As he closed the lid he looked back at the stone. Where the fish had emerged, there was a little black gap in the seaweed.
It hadn’t come from next to the rock. It, or the current before it, had opened up a little burrow of sorts underneath.
The stone wasn’t as big as he had always thought. It was lying flat on the bottom. It didn’t reach down into the mud at all.
I probably could have lifted it out when I was ten, he thought. A seventy year old man could probably manage it too, arthritis or no arthritis.
He sat back down and fished, thinking. That little hole under the rock kept drawing his eye even though no more fish came from it.
There were no more under the rock, but there were more lurking under the banks. They were biting better than he remembered—or maybe seventy just has more patience to wait for the next bite than ten. In an hour there were two more trout in the cold bag, and he had missed hooking three more. If seventy was more patient, it was also slower setting the hook than ten. If he were still a boy, maybe he’d have caught them all. He reeled in his line and set the pole aside.
He ate a summer sausage sandwich he had made for the trip. His eyes kept sliding back to the little hole under the rock; he half-expected to catch it winking at him. He had another cola and walked across the little road to water the apple tree. Old man, weak bladder.
He went back to fishing, and in another hour there were five fish in the cold bag. Enough for breakfast and dinner tomorrow. He packed up, then came back to the bank.
His eyes kept catching on the rock, pulled toward it like iron to a magnet. I should have gone in and gotten it up when I was a boy, he thought. It might have looked nice in the back of mom’s garden, in among her marigolds. She’d have liked it. She had always had an eye for natural beauty…
A while back, I wrote a story called The Tomatoes Bloom in Winter. I made the cover and was ready to publish it as a 99 cent ebook, and then I realized that I had a couple of stories in the works that would go with it nicely. So I waited, and made it the last story in my Hunger anthology, currently available in ebook and paperback.
But I couldn’t let the cover go to waste, so I thought I’d post it here. I can’t let it sit here by itself, though.
So here’s an excerpt from Tomatoes to go with it: Read the rest of this entry
UPDATE Jan. 11th: Hunger is now available on Amazon.com for the Kindle crowd.
Hunger is a medium-length collection: 8 stories, about 34,000 words.
Hunger was one of those things that should have been finished a few weeks before it was actually finished. The lead story, The Mask of Sisyphus, wasn’t originally supposed to be part of it. But I looked at the anthology with 7 stories and it needed something. It needed more words, for one thing!
The Mask of Sisyphus was perfect. Weighing in at a meaty 9,800 words–novelette territory–it’s just what I needed. And who doesn’t like a good story about a worker in a near-future fast food hell challenging his corporate masters? I don’t think anyone could pass that up.
Other stories in Hunger take you into the mind of a hopeless alcoholic of tomorrow, show you the dangers of genetically engineering chickens, reveal the dreams locked within mystical tomatoes eaten by a lonely widower, and more.