Category Archives: Fiction

“And Half the Seed of Europa”

In the previous post, I looked at one way to take the theme of geek-culture wish fulfillment and run sideways with it. Another tempting possibility is a more Evangelion variation: play all the genre conventions absolutely straight, and show just how psychologically damaged every character would be.

Say you’re one of those gamer prodigies who’s whisked off to fight a glorious war in which your mad skills are the key to Saving the World. What happens when the war is over? What happens when you get shipped home with a headful of PTSD? Everything you enjoyed in your old life now reminds you of ordering good men to their deaths.

When you were a child on Earth, you fled all your troubles by escaping into games of war. Then the war found you.

What do you do when you can’t escape any longer?

(Title based on Wilfred Owen.)

Starfighter 2015

Laura Hudson’s review of Ernest Cline’s Armada (2015) reminded me that I had my own idea for a “reimagining” of The Last Starfighter (1984). In fact, I’ve had this notion knocking around for a few years now, but I’ve never written down a synopsis in an easily accessible format. So, here goes:

Our protagonist is Alix, a young trans woman trying to make it in the field of video-game journalism. Tired of regurgitating press releases for ultimately forgettable AAA titles, she decides to delve into the mystery of Starfighter, a science-fiction action-adventure game that appeared on the net seemingly from nowhere. Nobody knows who wrote the code or even the IRL identities of the people who first noticed it, but once it caught a little attention, its popularity snowballed. Alix, a fiend at Starfighter herself, gets a lead on where it might have come from. The movie opens with her on her way to a big SF/gaming convention in some large city. At the convention, she meets a fellow we’ll call Greg, because he asked for it. Greg knows Starfighter amazingly well, not just its game mechanics and the design of its fictional world, but the details of its code, too. They joke around about Phillips-head sonic screwdrivers, reversing the polarity on the main deflector dish and so on.

Alix and Greg are walking back to the convention after dinner with some champion Starfighter players, when some ominous guys who have been skulking about the shadows burst out and instigate a fight scene. Greg snaps into action and fights them off, using martial-arts moves that escalate until they really should be impossible without wire work. Just when the ominous guys have been roundly trounced, their reinforcements arrive, and they run over Alix with a Humvee. Fade to white.

Alix awakens, floating in microgravity, wearing a jumpsuit uniform over skin that feels a bit too much like plastic.
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Nixiepunk

A few years ago, my friends and I came up with the label “nixiepunk” for science fiction set in a world where atomic spaceships are navigated using slide rules. Nixiepunk would be analogous to 1930s–50s science fiction as steampunk is to Victorian proto-SF. Whereas classic cyberpunk projected a future, clock-, steam- and nixiepunk reinvent a fetishized past. Choosing the term nixiepunk over “atompunk” emphasizes the other child of the Manhattan Project: computation over raw destructive force. But to live up to the “punk” half of the name, the genre must concern itself with the preterite, with the “Left Behinds of the Great Society.” If Asimov’s The Caves of Steel or the Byron the Bulb excursus in Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow came out today, they’d be nixiepunk.
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Vignette (The Best Foreseeble Ending)

Reading what people write as they try to cope with the assault on our common humanity known as Fifty Shades of Grey is weirdly addictive. Midway through one recap/critique, I realized that given the “hero’s” character, this “love story for the ages” would honestly have ended a few chapters in, and very badly. Then I realized just what TV show Christian Grey—rich, arrogant, with an opinion of his own intelligence far exceeding the evidence—would have been a murderer on.

“The officer outside said it looks like an accident.”

“Yes, well, any time a person dies not under a doctor’s care, my department gets involved. Usually it just comes down to paperwork. Always the report, we have to file.”

“And she had just graduated college, you say? Such a shame. A lovely, bright young woman like that. She had her whole life ahead of her. I hardly knew her, but I can’t help… Such a tragedy, and so unfair.”

“It never is fair, sir, you’re right about that.”

“If you don’t need me any longer, Lieutenant, I’ll be on my way. You can reach me through my office.”

“Oh, I think we’re about done here. We’ll give you a call if anything turns up.”

“Please. Good afternoon, then.”

“Oh, Mr. Grey, just one more thing! For my report, you know….”

Down-Home Cyber-Pulp Baggage

The following is the first chapter of a novel my father began about fifteen years ago. He never finished it, and thanks to the way the Endless are, he never will — but at least it provides evidence that I come by my expository style naturally.

Reading it now, after all this time, I can’t help but feel that Joe Bob worked for the Discovery Institute.

CHAPTER 1

BAMM!!! Then, again, BAAAAMMMMM!!

Then, one more time, hard, BAAAAAMMMMMMMMMM!

The echo pounded back and forth off the walls of the dingy little hotel room. And damn near made my ears bleed.

Finally, I’d done it. That asshole Joe Bob was downright dead. But it wasn’t over.

I smelled as much as heard the other one, off to my right. I didn’t think. I just dropped down on my right knee and swung the barrel over on a shape hunkered in the corner…. But — even in the evening shadow — I could see the body language didn’t say “ambush.” It was more like cowering.

I know. I shoulda just blown that other muther away, too. Those two lowlifes had given me every reason to blow them both straight into dogshit heaven.

There were four rounds left in my fist. And the sick hate boiling up in my gut — and the adrenaline rush — wanted to flat out kill the other one too.

But she just looked so damn pathetic.

So, I’d regret it later. That’s how it always seems to go.

She just moaned: “Ohhhh, shit! Ahhhhh… heeeey…. whyja havta do that fo’ … Whoa…. ”

Like I say. Pretty pathetic. Right?

I’ll grant you, that cheap little room was quite a sight. Impressive ugliness. Well, $12.50 a night doesn’t buy much to begin with. A 10-foot by 12-foot worn-carpet space with a saggy twin bed, a beyond-scuffy dresser and a dirty two-foot-wide window view of the brick across the street. And now…
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Spectre upon Science

Argh. Somehow I’ve become the rewrite guy for a paper on modeling the United States healthcare system. Big chunks of the material we have so far is a direct transcript from somebody’s talk, so it has to be thoroughly revamped. Also, the people we’re writing it for have apparently forgotten everything junior high school taught them about logarithms, which makes explaining why a power-law distribution looks like a straight line on a log-log plot rather, well, interesting. I’ve been told to exile all actual equations to the sidebar. While I get on with my head-impact-wall moment, here’s something I found on my hard drive. I promise some juicy and weird stuff about statistical physics and neuroscience, once I regain my esteem for humanity.

SPECTRE UPON SCIENCE: A VIGNETTE

“These are dark times, my fellow Americans.

“Do you know what is happening across this country? Dawn is sweeping from one coast to the other, mothers are rousing their children from bed, and children are walking and bicycling to school, where they are being taught how to lie with statistics. In math class, little Johnny is learning how the axes of a graph can be distorted, the dangers of selection bias and that correlation is not causation. He and Mary go to English class, where they’re trained in today’s tool from the ‘baloney detection kit‘. They learn that ‘All the aggressor’s attempts to advance beyond Baghdad have failed‘ is a cover for the loss of Baghdad. I’ve just received poll results showing that for the first time, seventy-two percent of Americans know that electrons are smaller than atoms, seventy-eight percent believe that human beings evolved from a common ancestor shared with apes, and ninety-two percent know that the Earth travels around the Sun! These figures shock us all, I know, but they are only the most visible edge of a phenomenon which threatens the continued existence of our organization.
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Moral Code Zero

And now, we return (momentarily) to Earth, where Warren Ellis has found a particularly inane screed from the Science Fiction Writers of America’s current vice-president. Quoting just a little bit:

I’m also opposed to the increasing presence in our organization of webscabs, who post their creations on the net for free. A scab is someone who works for less than union wages or on non-union terms; more broadly, a scab is someone who feathers his own nest and advances his own career by undercutting the efforts of his fellow workers to gain better pay and working conditions for all. Webscabs claim they’re just posting their books for free in an attempt to market and publicize them, but to my mind they’re undercutting those of us who aren’t giving it away for free and are trying to get publishers to pay a better wage for our hard work.

The comments on Ellis’s site are, for the most part, scathing (although one person already wonders if it’s all a joke). Snide remarks about “webscabs” are just the sort of thing which make me want to give words away for free. Unfortunately, I don’t have too much science fiction sitting around in such a state that I would call it ready for release. . . .

One SF vignette follows below the fold. Nothing serious — just some text with which one can play “Count the Allusions.”
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