Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Forbidden History

Even though he had every gift he possibly wanted, Sterling Castro found himself to be a cursed man. He had the ability to travel backward and forward in time, as well as visit parallel realities. It was nothing he had to exert any real effort to achieve, it was just something he could do, traverse the fourth dimension, as naturally as you cross a street.

That being said, there were rules and restrictions that he had to follow, and even though by nature these things meant nothing to him (it was very rare for a person to have such ready access to 4D; usually special training equipment and training were required, and barring that, the right connections), Sterling found himself bound by them. He found himself frequently depressed, suicidal. It wasn't the ability that was denied him, but rather the full potential of it. Yes, he could be happy taking small trips, stealing away for moments at a time. That was not the issue. He saw that there was so much he could do if he was simply allowed to, things most people could not even begin to imagine. Even explaining in some tiny example would be useless. People had plenty of examples. They had more reasons to retain their apathy toward others.

He considered the ironies, sometimes. Suppose someone might one day vist him, except if he were dead, they couldn't, could they? They might choose an earlier moment, or simply choose an alternate Sterling Castro, but he himself would never know, would he? Suppose, if he held out, he might find his way made easier, whether through his own efforts, or if the current regime was ever finally overturned, not just questioned or sidetracked or rivaled, but really, completely rebuked, not by some worse entity, but for the better.

For the better...It could happen. That was the gift of tomorrow, and the curse. It was the future, which Sterling knew, but could not embrace. The past was one long example of the oppression he faced every day. What could he possibly do? Who really cared? More and more, he found himself spending his time with these thoughts. Wasting it?

Friday, May 27, 2011

Facts in the Disappearance of Elmer Haskell

1. Elmer was in high school.

2. Elmer wrote for the school paper.

3. Elmer had been in the midst of the scoop of his young life.

4. Elmer hadn't told anyone what that scoop entailed.

5. Elmer believed that he could see ghosts.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Tony's publishing news!

That's the cover for Villainy, the new anthology from Hall Bros. Entertainment. It's being released on June 9th. This is relevant because I've got a short story included, "Last Ride Out of Liberation," a sort of hard-boiled noir, which should be fun to read. And when I say "short" story, I really do mean "short." But still, should be fun.

The other bit of relevance is that HBE and I have just signed a contract for Yoshimi, a book that will be released next summer. It's the story of a girl thrust into the world of maturity, with samurai swords, a tale of vengeance, a mad dash around the world, and a love story, too. But it does not have robots. Yet.

Friday, May 20, 2011


I'm not going to sit here and lie to you. Back in my day, and from my own experiences, it's not as if everything was perfect. When I was good at something, I not only took pride in it, but I felt comfortable saying that in a small way, that ability defined me. When I wasn't good at something, I could become embarrassed. The thing was, I became good at the things I took the time to learn. Anything else, all the little random things, I either picked up or just never found the time to master. Then there were, of course, some that I absolutely didn't care about, plain and simple, but I would never dismiss those things out of hand, but after thorough reflection, which I might have shared with anyone, if they'd bothered to ask.

Lots of people around me seemed to choose other means to conduct themselves. How I like to consider it now is this: most people aren't very social, but the way they get around this is by tangentially surrounding themselves with those who share their interests, so they can talk and not worry what the others will think. It's an alienation that's self-perpetuating, and so confusing that very people people realize that it's happening. It's why any social group is prone to growing and shrinking for arbitrary reasons. Not many of the members are all that invested in that group. How could they be?

But the problem today is that our children are being wired to switch these impulses on and off on a whim. They have a bracelet that receives and gives signals in direct connection with the brain. They have anything in mind that they simply are not interested in, or suspect that this might be the case, they can block their synapses from even processing it. Complete efficiency. No more doubt, no more chance to wonder if they might actually find that thing useful, or even interesting. It makes school so much easier, when a teacher can just see who is switched on and who isn't. What're they gonna do? It's considered a civil liberty.

Plenty of studies have called the switch into question, and charts have been made and percentages calculated, relative to the cognitive development and prospects and trends for the future, but no one seems to care. Call me crazy, but I can see what's wrong fairly easily, and I'm just not in favor of the switch. My grandkids, should they ever appear, they won't have it, if I have any say in the matter. Maybe we'll become a sort of hermit clan, the modern Amish. Most people consider the switch to be so routine, they don't even bother thinking about it. Maybe they have the idea of the switch itself blocked.

It's a giant leap back, or maybe just another inevitability. I don't blame technology. I blame people who adopt it simply as a matter of course. I blame the social pressure to conform. I blame people already being inherently stupid enough, without anything needed to reinforce it. But what do I know? I've always been in the minority, and maybe that's the way it's supposed to be. Maybe in the grand scheme, my kind does win. I'd like to see the sociohistorians take a crack at that.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Uncluttered Lime

He found that he could rarely predict what a human might be thinking. Most of the time, he simply performed what was required of him, and since it take very little to accomplish, he retreated back into the recesses of his inner processors to round out the rest of it. He was very used to this by now.

Since he weighed very little, even though he had been built into the approximation of a typical human, he could perform the tricks very easily, especially when the pilot got the crop duster swooping in exactly the loop necessary to not only give the crowd the show it expected, but what he himself needed to make contact again with the wing, which he would leap off of and perform a somersault, or whatever else might look interesting. He did this with tedious repetition, and that's all his owner could think of to do with him. At least he had the understanding that other robots were treated much the same, though there weren't as many as someone from the distant past might have thought, when the idea of his existence had seemed so exotic.

He was aware that he had not been the originator of this routine, that when mistakes happened, it was the robot who was scrapped, if an accident hadn't already irrevocably damaged them. There were few robotics shops. When one was damaged, it was casually discarded. He thought on this with what he believed to be detachment, but he thought about it often. When someone wished to examine him, his owner never could explain the look in his eyes. They assumed it was natural. He might have assured them otherwise, if he'd thought of it, or if speech were required for the occasion. Mostly, though, the observer gave him a glance, and walked on, impressed with how mundane his existence was to them.

He often wondered if the robots that had come before him truly had left their posts at random, or if indeed by design...

Monday, May 16, 2011

Braying Imbeciles of the World Unite! (A Book Club)

It began in middle school. The English teacher was murdering another book, just drilling it, like it was just another memorization subject, letting their passion squander the message and potential of the book, and we had had enough. We gave up reading. Okay, so we didn't completely give up reading. But we might as well have.

We began reading easier things, the kinds of things we used to read before middle school, when reading was fun, light, carefree. We read books like we watched movies, to escape, just to unwind, to discover familiar things. We scoffed at those who attempted to read for any other purpose. In fact, we joined the conspiracy that forced all the hot new "prestigious" titles down the throat of befuddled consumers, and we bought electronic readers, so that literature's worth became more devalued still. (We did it for the trees!)

We ignored every attempt to win us over again. Who did we have to impress? As long as we were reading, it didn't matter. Every time we had to find a new book, we needed every kind of assistance, and we had no idea why. We read like we watched, and this is no insult to movies or TV. Reading was just better, automatically, because we had to picture everything ourselves, even though every detail was spelled out for us.

We kept reading, to spite the English teacher, to spite all English teachers, and everyone who ever attempted to prove themselves somehow intellectually advanced. We kept reading, and we laughed at anyone who might even suggest the word "interpretation," anyone who might believe that books might have something to say, other than reflect the same things we read in newspapers. But of course, we didn't read newspapers, or watch the news. We knew what to expect, and they never gave us the good parts. And the good guys didn't always win.

Not with the stuff we read! Sometimes I wondered if we weren't insulting ourselves, sometimes I wondered if there really was any other point to reading, sometimes I wondered if we were killing all of it, not just the stuff we abhored, but the very things we enjoyed, the very things that kept the whole industry afloat, the things that never got any respect, the ugly reflection we gave right back ten times stronger.

It wasn't until there weren't any new books at all, and when I realized that my grandchildren weren't even taught to read, that I suspected there might be a problem. I whispered, "Complacency," but nobody knew what I meant, and they pretended really well that they hadn't heard me at all. Somehow it would come back, all of it, and probably the whole cycle. Maybe that's just how it was. Maybe that English teacher knew exactly what they were doing, the very personification most people would ever have, the example we were meant to follow, when they killed our interest in reading anything but was easiest to enjoy. I shouldn't say that. There's no reason to hate the things I liked. But maybe there was a way to help me like the rest of it, too.

Well, maybe.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Future is the Past is the Future

Time travel is a bitch. There, I said it. Everyone's curious about it, everyone wonders why they aren't doing it all the time, and everyone's got an opinion about it. But yeah, time travel is a bitch.

Let me give you another example. The other day I felt like stopping by the Salem Witch Trials, and so that's exactly what I did. I barely escaped with my life. They really were suspicious little bastards back then.

And that's not the half of it. I could go on and on. You just never think about the details, so let me repeat it again: Time travel is a bitch. It's just not what you think. I wish I could say otherwise, I really do.

And I'm not just bitter from a lot of bad experiences, let me tell you. It's just, once you actually experience it, time travel loses its glamour, and that's what most people are thinking about, the glamour. It's an illusion. There is no glamour. You might even think it's cool, and it just isn't.

It sucks. Yeah, it's a bitch. You end up realizing, if you're really lucky, that any other time than the one you actually come from...really isn't any different. Think of it like growing older. Everyone experiences life differently at different ages. It's natural. It's okay. You form opinions you never thought you would, the more you change, the more things change around you. That's like time travel right there.

Understand? So try putting that in the context of the reality of time travel. You think it'll be so much fun. It's certainly possible to have fun, but then you realize, you can't make a living like that, and once you figure that out, you really don't find it so interesting.

I mean, you can make a living through time travel, but trust me, it ends up like any other job. So, I reiterate, time travel is a bitch.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Bull in a China Shop Syndrome

The election was a year ago, and everyone's still wondering what we've gotten ourselves into. The President is treating his term in office almost as if he were still campaigning. He's the first one in US history to have his own network TV show, and he's easily the only one who could ever have pulled it off. He treats congressmen as if they have to justify their leadership skills, by continually calling them out on their reasoning, in what he calls his bull sessions. He doesn't let up. He demands almost as much as any citizen once demanded of his predecessors. He doesn't even know the meaning of the word "complacent." He's a constant challenge.

So of course, as many people who love him, there are just as many who hate him. Can you believe it? We finally get a president with a spine, and we still can't unite around him. It's ridiculous. The good news is that it doesn't seem to bother him. He's creating history. Even if he doesn't get re-elected (and he's constantly remarked how even two terms is not enough, or too much, for any one man or woman), his successor has a tall challenge, no matter how different they'll want to be. They will now have had a precedent for a strong president, not one who bends the articles of democracy, but one who takes his oath seriously, who is completely dedicated to the office but also to the people he represents.

He's both a dream and a nightmare. How do you contend with a force of nature? I almost wish I were living fifty years from now, so that all the knee-jerk reactions I get to enjoy now won't matter. But who am I kidding? History is both a record of what actually happened and just as much a subject to interpretation as any contemporary reaction. I wish it weren't so, but that's life. That's human fallibility. But at least I can say I got to experience a president who seemed almost completely invincible, even though he's the most human person to ever hold that office. He doesn't hide behind anything.

It's fair to say the likes of him won't soon be seen again.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Sometimes the Walk Doesn't End

I've been walking all my life, longer than I can remember, and it wasn't always my choice, but I keep walking, and sometimes the walk doesn't end.

How exactly does someone keep walking, against all reason and stamina and biological need, except to say, Sometimes the walk doesn't end?

I no longer separate the concept of walking from the idea of existing, because sometimes the walk doesn't end.

It's a fact of my existence, that sometimes the walk doesn't end.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Houdini Protocol

He'd been tracking Ferris for close to a decade now. He still used the name "Ferris," when talking about the investigation publically, but he more commonly referred to the man as Houdini, because he had a habit of slipping away.

The part about this that made his job difficult was that Houdini had a way of making that a tad more literal than others. Houdini was either a trained magician or else had other means that he was unaware of, and that was itself difficult, because he had seen, or he had thought before Houdini, everything. He'd been at this profession for more than thirty years. It's tough to come up with something new. But that was exactly what Houdini had accomplished. A small part of him wanted to say, "Bravo." A small part.

A few years back, Houdini had been right in front of him, and he swore that all he did was blink. Houdini had been cornered, the first time he had come that close, and in that blink of an eye, there was no longer anyone there. He couldn't explain it. There were many things he was willing to admit that he didn't know, but at least he had, at one time, before Houdini, assumed that he at least knew of most things, and what he didn't know he could usually hazard a guess, puzzle it out. He was even good at figuring out how most magicians did their tricks. He didn't have to have any experience with Houdini to have mastered that kind of intuition. But Houdini, everything was new with him, everything.

He began splitting his attention, for the first time ever, trying to track Houdini, trying to capture him, and also researching any possible methods Houdini might be employing. He started to lose most of his remaining assumptions, allowed himself to believe every wild-eyed possibility. Was Houdini even human? He wasn't even sure anymore.

He could find no trace, furthermore, that Houdini had ever existed before his crime, and that was still more unsettling, because everyone, even the most careful, always left some kind of trace, some trail, everyone, except Houdini. He couldn't find anything. Houdini might have been a ghost. He went back over the crime scenes, all the evidence, the reports given by the victims, the first responders, the investigators. One by one they seemed to forget ever knowing anything about it, and anything about Houdini.

Was that how he did it? Did Houdini employ some kind of drug, which erased all knowledge of his existence, and was he himself a victim of it? Had he become Houdini's last victim?

As the years piled on, he kept at it, long after everyone else would have given up. When the world seemed to have at last forgotten entirely about Houdini, that was the point he reaffirmed his commitment. He wouldn't let it end like that. He found himself retracing his steps, repeating areas of inquiry. He'd never kept records. He was perhaps more like Houdini than he'd ever imagined. He began to see how it was possible, how Houdini had done it, simply by arriving at the point where he appeared most hopeless.

He developed a protocol, almost holistic in nature. He gave up on any direct means of finding Houdini, capturing him, and began looking at the edges of everything else he could find. On the surface, it was insane. It went against all his training, all his judgment.

But that's exactly when he found him.