The Edge of Sleep

Half-dreamt thoughts on the edge of sleep. Little things seen out of the corner of your eyes. A double-take revealing nothing extraordinary. A memory of a moment in the future, forgotten until it happens.

“Anxiety” they said, “manifesting as insomnia and psychosis.” Sleep studies, sleeping pills, and sleep aids.

“You brain is just firing neurons. There’s nothing to worry about.” Pills, therapy, and even meditation, all to fix an imbalance that never budged.

“It’s a form of schizophrenia. We can figure it out.” More pills, more therapy, but also a treatment center this time.

Whispered conversations on the edge of hearing. Reports handed to parents with only the occasional word revealed to me. The knowledge they talked about me like I wasn’t there anymore and there was nothing I could do to convince them otherwise.

But it was all real. There were cracks in the world, slowly letting the magic and majesty of the old world back in. Atlantis had sunk, but not in water.

Now, after millenia, it was coming back, guided by creatures that looked like the worst nightmares of the woman in the cell next to mine whose wordless screams of pain and fear no words could have described better.

There was one other girl who knew. She showed up after I did but her family never visited. They kept us apart. “It just feeds your psychosis” they would say.

By the time they believed us, it was too late. The wards were sealed and they waited for the Atlanteans to get around to them before taking out the only people who could have stopped them.

It was easy. We were locked in cells and restrained in jackets. A flash of light and it was over.

I have that memory-dream every night, but no one believes me.

Under the Gun

Living underneath an orbital defense cannon was interesting. The geostationary satellite cast its shadow elsewhere, most of the day, but Fred always made sure he was outside when it passed through his town. He’d been a child when they first put it in orbit, but he still remembered just how safe he’d felt, knowing it was up there.

Now, he just liked sitting in the shade and marveling at human ingenuity. In two generations, they had gone from launching orbital defense cannons to no longer needing them. They’d become a last, defunct line of defense in a war that was over. Curios from a past that stuck around because they weren’t worth taking down.

Today, as the shadow passed overhead and Fred enjoyed his lunch, something about it seemed a little off to him. As he munched his way through a ham sandwich, he looked at the familiar dark outline about his head. It took him a couple of minutes to figure it out, but he eventually realized that the shadow seemed off because the various shapes in its profile were on the wrong sides.

It looked like someone had just spun the whole thing around. Fred pulled out his cell phone and pulled up the space transit blotter, looking for a reference of a satellite maneuver, like they do during maintenance. Today turned up empty.

After a few more searches left him empty-handed, Fred leaned back and watched the cannon again. It was clearly pointed down at Earth, rather than just rotated around on a different axis. Suddenly, the looming shadow around him wasn’t the constant comfort it once was. It felt like he was sitting, eating a boring sandwich during a break from a dead-end job, right underneath a gun. One shot was all it would take to-

U.S. Football in the Future

It all started with a tweet. I’d been browsing Twitter while waiting for my pizza to finish cooking and one of the people I follow closely had retweeted Jon Bois’ tweet (the one linked above, if you haven’t looked at it yet). Curious about what some random guy though the future of football (specifically, U.S. football which shall be referred to as “football” in the rest of the review) would hold and interested because of what seemed like a bit of a weird comment in the retweet, I decided to click the link. I caught a glimpse of something weird further down the article and wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. Thankfully, I resisted the urge to scroll down for a look and, instead, started reading the article to figure out what was going on. When I finally started scrolling down, I had a moment of panic followed by several long minutes of confusion. Thankfully, everything became clear in time.

Honestly, I recommend you go look at that link if you haven’t already. Just go, read through the first bit of the article linked in the tweet, and then follow through until you’ve got to click on something to get to the next part. The first steps of this journey were so much fun to discover on my own that I don’t want to take that away from you. Go, click the link, and then come back here once you get to the end of the first bit and you can then read the rest of my review without worrying about having anything spoiled for you. Seriously. I’ve only got so much ability to take up space here before I run out of things to say and get down to writing the rest of this review which will include spoilers. Well, spoilers for the first part. After that, I won’t be revealing any further spoilers and, honestly, this story doesn’t really have spoilers. There’s no major mystery to be uncovered, no real plot to develop. It’s an article. A think piece. Something to make you wonder.

AND EVERYTHING BELOW THIS LINE IS GOING TO SPOIL THE FIRST SECTION.

Because the entire thing is a story about the purpose and changes to football for an imaginary future set some 15,000 years in the future after Humanity suddenly stopped aging, being born, and dying.  All of which is relayed to you through characters who turn out to be satellites that, through the millennia, gained sentience and now just kinda hang out in space, chat with each other, and check out the games people are playing on Earth. Turns out, football changed a lot after people became effectively immortal, what with the end of entropy (so no one ages or dies of “natural causes”) and the installation of a nano-tech safety net that keeps people from accidentally dying or intentionally killing people. It is no cross-country football and some games take decades to complete. Part of the story even covers a game going on for over 10,000 years. The first game is shown as one of the players runs toward a tornado. As it turns out, their strategy was to get sucked up into a F5 tornado and then thrown in a random direction in order to lose the defenders that had been closing in on her. She wouldn’t get hurt because the nano-tech safety net would cushion her fall and keep her safe from getting hit by debris in the tornado.

There are a lot of rules in football that are still the same, such as tackling, turn over, downs, etc, but a lot that clearly aren’t. There’s a whole section devoted to discussing how the rules changed and how they have kept changing. It turns out that the first huge changes happened during an NFL game where one of the teams discovered they had the legal ability to claim ownership of part of the field. That led to teams fracturing into smaller teams who then claimed ownership of other parts of the field, which lead to a game that can’t end because no one can reach an end zone, no one knows where the football is, and there are residential buildings, skyscrapers, and grocery chains in the way. And people still show up to watch. The interesting part is how the game is used as a metaphor for the development of humanity. The rules started fairly simple, but they grew more and more complex as people tried to wring more specificity and personal benefit out of the rules until it got to the point where people were outright exploiting the overly convoluted rules for individual gain rather than to support their team or the sport as a whole.

My favorite part of this whole series of articles was that it was more of a story about human potential, the quirks of humanity, and the way we all search for meaning even when it seems like ever self-assigned meaning is meaningless. In this distant sci-fi future, humanity rose to their utmost potential and hit a wall. There was nowhere else for them to go now that all of their problems were solved (since immortality and sustainability mean there’s no reason to compete and living forever really gives people the incentives to take care of their world and the whole race) and it turns out that there’s not much in space but distant chunks of rock covered in various non-intelligent stuff. Sure, immortal humans could travel the universe since their speed doesn’t really matter, but they don’t want to, just like they don’t want flying cars and perfectly peaceful, easy lives. Humanity doesn’t want everything to be super easy or always new. They want old, familiar things for the most part. They want the life they’ve known and to eventually reach a point where things don’t change that much. They want to watch weird football games, have a decent day, and struggle with relatively minor problems like stubbed toes and disgusting hamburgers at Burger King.

The whole piece, disguised as a discussion about futuristic football, is really a think piece about meaning and the future. There’s plenty of football references and the like, but it’s mainly used as a widely available reference for metaphors about trying to find meaning in existence. Immortal humans created a set of rules for a football game that has been going on over 10,000 years, but that hasn’t majorly changed in years because all the players are stuck in a gorge, unable to climb out because the cliffs are too steep to climb when you’ve got people trying to pull you back into the water. There’s a guy who is hiding in a cave for ten thousand years so his team wins by default since their score is so far down that there’s no chance of them making up the difference and he keeps himself entertained using those little handheld sports games from the nineties. There are humans whose goal is to meet everyone they possibly can. They create all kinds of games and rules, giving themselves difficult, time-consuming goals to pursue so that there’s some point to every day they will live through.

The whole piece, whose inner depths and interpretations I’ve barely scratched, will take you a couple of hours to experience. There are videos, long bits of text, doctored images, 3D modeled bits, and a lot of big thoughts to consider, all told through the story of Pioneer 9, the spacecraft, finally achieving sentience and wondering what the hell is going on after all this time. The multimedia presentation of the piece can be a bit difficult to take in all at one, so I suggest taking your time with it rather than trying to read it all in one go like I did. Despite that, it is still an incredibly clever bit of writing and arrangement that was a ton of fun to read and experience. I suggest checking it out if you haven’t already.

The Brown Package

Sal was chosen to do a special job. Employment can happen to anyone, if they’re not careful, and Sal was no exception.

Post-scarcity society was pretty good. Sal never needed to work to put food on the table or a roof over their head. Those things had always just been there. An entire lifetime of ease and self-exploration came to an abrupt halt when, instead of food, a tablet appeared on Sal’s table.

“If you want to continue living off the largess of society, there is a task you must complete. If you do not, you will never eat again.”

Sal pondered those words as they walked down the street toward the Mag station. Death seemed like a high price to pay for not delivering a bunch of bundles wrapped in brown fiber. Sal was curious and more than a little frustrated that their attempt to open one of the packages had result in an alarm. A flashing warning that said disobeying the instructions would lead to instant death.

By the time Sal got to the station and dropped off the first package, they were dying of curiosity. Deciding death was preferable to not knowing what was inside the package, Sal ripped one open as they stood in the center of the daily chaos of the Mag station. Inside was a small bundle of red sticks, a tangle of wires, and a retro-styled digital clock.

Sal started to poke one of the sticks, but the clock start beeping. Something deep inside Sal started panicking, so they threw the bundle as far as they could. As it reached the peak of its flight, the bundle flashed, let out a huge boom, and burst into balloons, confetti, and some holo clapping hands while the words “Happy Retirement, Jerry!” flashed above it all.

This Book is Stuck in my Head!

If you’ve already read John Scalzi’s Science Fiction novel, Lock In, or its sequel that just came out, Head On, you know the title is a tasteless joke and I’d like to apologize right now for being unable to resist it. If you haven’t already read either of the aforementioned Scalzi books, then I will apologize after I’ve explained why the joke is tasteless. In the mean time, the most important thing for you to know is that my favorite Science Fiction author has started a new series and the series is excellent.

Lock In and Head On follow FBI agent Chris (No, I don’t just like this series because the protagonist shares my first name. It certainly doesn’t hurt it, though) Shane who isn’t what you or I might call an ordinary person. Agent Shane is what is called a “Haden” in his world. A Haden is someone who contracted a flu-like virus, survived all three stages of the disease (Stage 1 is flu-like, Stage 2 is meningitis-like, and Stage 3 is a coma), but never woke up from their coma. They’re still mentally all-there and capable of sensory input, they just can’t make move and their brains have been altered by the disease (which is why the title is in bad taste). Some of those who wake up from the coma also have their brains altered, but we’ll get into that in a bit.

Agent Shane, like a lot of Hadens, gets around the meat world by using what everyone calls a “Threep,” a nickname based on C-3PO from Star Wars for what is legally called a “Personal Transport Vehicle.” It is basically a high-tech robot body that communicates with the device implanted in his brain so he can experience the world with a minimal amount of lag and all the perks of being able to record everything, access the internet with a thought, and bail out of your body if it gets trashed (as happens more than once). There are certain limitations, of course, such as the inability to eat things and the rather pervasive (if relatively minor) prejudice humanity if famous for, but it allows Agent Shame and many of his fellow Hadens the ability to live a relatively normal life.

To further help the Hadens live a normal life, there are these people called “integrators.” Integrators are the people who progressed all the way through the disease but did not either fall into the coma or did not stay in it. Because of the way the disease altered their brain, they were also able to be fitted with a brain implant device that lets a Haden basically take a certain degree of control over their body. The control is limited, as the integrator remains conscious and aware the entire time, able to reassert control over their should the Haden attempt to do something illegal or harmful to the integrator.

There’s a whole culture that grew up during the decades are the disease first appeared, and they place a central roll in both of Scalzi’s books since the protagonist is a Haden who works for the FBI and his partner is an ex-integrator. The two work out of the Washington D.C. office of the FBI and investigate Haden-related crimes that fall into federal jurisdiction. In the first book, Lock In, the story kicks off with an integrator who is found next to a dead body in a hotel room after a sofa is thrown out of a window. The investigation serves as an excellent showcase of Haden culture and some of the finest subtle world-building I’ve ever read. It introduces readers to many aspects of Haden culture as the two FBI agents try to unravel the true tale of what happened in that hotel room and has a lot of nods to the way the modern, primary world works. I’ll admit I might like it a bit more than I otherwise might because it changes our world’s history a bit to fit better in the future Scalzi created along with showcasing the kind of positive development you’d like to see happen in our species, but it feels like it really could just be a couple of decades down the line from our current time.

The characters are all wonderful, each of them a complex person with layers. There are no caricatures in Scalzi’s novel and that’s worth mentioning because the circumstances of the story make it incredibly easy to justify using them. The books are better for having a full cast of complex, multi-faceted characters, and while there a lot of the same characters across the two books, different ones are highlighted in each book. You can tell Scalzi is building a series out of these books without even taking into account the novella explaining Haden’s Syndrome and its history in greater detail than either of the novels does.

Head On focuses around a sport developed as a result of the ability to destroy a Threep without killer the person inside it, as one of the players in a huge game dies during the match after behaving strangely. A lot comes up during the investigation, including a few nods to current events, but ultimately the story winds up feeling pretty similar to Lock In. Which isn’t a bad thing. Head On doesn’t feel like Lock In repackaged in a new book, but it has a lot of the same qualities and features the same character work and subtle story-building. The investigation is different and you can see some growth in the characters, but it ultimately was made to serve as a stand-alone book featuring the same characters rather than a sequel building off the last book in any significant way.

If you’re looking for some new, fun science fiction to read and like these sort of “cop” books as well, I highly recommend checking out John Scalzi’s new book, Head On and the first book in the series, Lock In. You don’t need to read them in order, but it does help if you do.

Saturday Morning Musing

Rejection is hard. Few people enjoy it. I spent all of last weekend resting because of it. I did my first submission of 2018 and got a form email rejecting my submissions, so I decided to spend my weekend reading, gaming, and resting.

Rejection is something I’m still not used to facing. It has become familiar, but I don’t know that it will ever become something I am used to. I’ve faced it numerous times, as a writer and in other parts of my life. I didn’t exactly spend the four years between my relationships not asking women out. I didn’t just quietly hate my old job and the way things worked at my old company. I’m an action-oriented person. I do things. I ask people out, take risks, and try to affect change when I think it needs to happen. I submit at least one creative piece a month, and used to apply to any conference I thought was relevant in college. I have seen a lot of rejection and I’ve gotten good at processing it.

I was actually planning to not submit anything this year. I’ve got a lot on my plate with daily blog update, trying to figure out how twitter works (I think I’ve gotten the first couple steps down, but tips are always welcome!), and trying to get back into the swing of working on my books. There isn’t much time in there for me after you factor in my job, self-care like sleep and working out, and dating. But I guess I’m back to it? There’s no reason not to submit if I’ve got a contest or magazine and something appropriate sitting in the wings. Except, you know, rejection.

These days, rejection is a lot like a bee sting. It is painful and uncomfortable, but hardly fatal (I’m not allergic, so the analogy works for me) and the pain will diminish as time passes. Before long, all you remember is that you were stung. That’s what these rejections were. Painful and not something I wanted four of at once, but I handled it fine and I’m alright now. Honestly, the most frustrating part, and the only thing with any emotional bite left to it, is the lack of feedback.

Feedback is super useful when getting rejected because it means the reader like your stuff enough to make suggestions, even if it wasn’t what they were looking for. I don’t remember where I read it, but someone wrote that the process of getting published follows a pattern. First, you get form rejections. Then, once you have improved your craft, you start getting rejections with feedback. After that, you start getting a few small acceptances mixed into the rejections with feedback.

I know the above process is hardly something I can count on and not even an unlikely expectation, but it still sucks to not have gained anything from the stress and work of preparing something for submission and submitting. As annoyed as I felt, I felt even worse for my friend who had written an entire short story to submit and gotten a form rejection. I just took some poems, wrestled with my doubts, cleaned them up, and sent them off. Took about five or so hours, all told. My alpha reader spent several days working on this story, getting feedback, and turning it into something I honestly thought was a perfect fit.

While I didn’t enjoy it, I am thankful for this rejection. It forced me to slow down and take a break. I keep myself running at a high level of stress to maintain my focus, but I have a tendency to not let go of my tension when I need a break. I hold onto it and ruin my ability to enjoy whatever rest I’m allowing myself. Thanks to the rejection, I’m spending more time on taking care of myself and prioritizing doing things to recharge. I had someone contact me via my blog to recommend a game and I started playing that last weekend. I’m loving the game so far and enjoying having something super rewarding and engaging to invest my time in. I’m planning to review it for next week’s review day, so hang tight and you’ll get to read about a game that wound up being thematically appropriate to me and my life right when I started playing it.

The rejection sucked. The rest was good. Today, I feel more ready for the future than I’ve felt in well over a year. I am doing new things every week, constantly expanding my capabilities, and improving myself. I’m just over two months into 2018 and I really feel like this is going to be my year. I don’t know what it will bring, but I’m ready for it.

Tending a Garden

I have planted countless thoughts in my garden.
Though many took root on their own,
Unminded and without attention,
More still are those I set in place
With all the tenderness of a mother
Caring for her first-born child.

I have tread the paths of my garden without end,
Watching the ideas shoot through the ground
Even as I continue to sow more.
Some shoots are plucked quickly,
“For the sake of the others” I explain,
And the remainder now flourish

Mighty now are the results of my labor,
Dappled shadow and bursts of color
Leave me in awe even as I know
That they will become greater still.
My life and path lie in their shadow
As I wait to see what they will become.

Snowy Tow

The snow came down, coating trees and drifting into mounds beside the road. Rosie didn’t think every drift had a car in it, like the one she was looking at, but the thought pressed on her as she tried to focus.

It was a simple job. Wait for calls on snowy nights and then drive the truck into the snow to rescue unfortunate drivers. This was probably her last call of the night. Once 3 a.m. rolled around, it was someone else’s turn.

After checking with the driver, she towed the car onto the road. Ten minutes of work and talking and the driver was on their way again. As she sat in her car and filled out the last bit of paperwork, her attention kept drifting to the mounds of snow. She’d lived around here all her life. She knew the fields down route 44 were lousy with heavy bushes and hills, but something kept pulling her eyes to the sea of white.

She set the clipboard aside, bundled up, and waded into the snow. It was up to her shins, but a particular mound kept calling to her. She walked up to it and started digging with her hands.

Twenty minutes later, she was back in her truck, driving. It had been only snow over a large bush. As she rounded a bend, looking for the county route home, she got a call. There was someone else who needed to be pulled out on route 44. Dispatch sent her back out, even though her shift was over, since she was close.

She turned the truck around and started looking for a car in the snow. She spotted it a few minutes later and smiled, despite herself. She’d been right about the drift, just half an hour early.

Soonish: Fun Science and Funny Pictures

“Soonish: Ten Emerging Technologies That’ll Improve and/or Ruin Everything” by Kelly and Zach Weinersmith (a scientist and a writer/cartoonist, respectively) is probably one of the best books on the market for the casual sci-fi/tech nerd who wants a break from fiction. The basic premise is exactly what the title states, focusing on ten different technologies we can see on the horizon. It breaks them down into where we currently are, where we’re going, what the technology could mean, and then how it could ruin everything. A liberal dose of background information, interviews, jokes, and short comics is sprinkled throughout, keeping the science-sections from getting too dense.

Probably the coolest part of the book, for me at least, was how they were able to take turn some incredibly difficult science into an informative book that people would be able to understand and enjoy. The metaphors for the more complex bits of physics when they wrote about space elevators are clear and fun. The examples used to illustrate (literally and metaphorically) their points about space travel are easily grasped and, from what I understand, surprisingly accurate. Even the comics sprinkled throughout add to the reader’s understanding in addition to delivering quick jokes.

The biggest downside was how hard it is to read in large chunks. There’s so much interesting information packed into each Chapter that I haven’t actually read more than one a chapter in a single sitting. I usually wind up taking a break so I can digest what I’m learning and let it get comfortable in my brain before I start reading the next chapter. Which isn’t to say it’s poorly written. The Weinersmiths did a great job of making the entire book a delight to read and I’m excited to read each and every chapter. I just wound up reading only one chapter a day and starting another, much simpler, book to read after my daily chapter.

The other side of the problem is that I have a lot more interesting conversation topics now that I’ve learned so much about space elevators, interstellar mining, and programmable matter. While these things don’t come up very much in my typical day-to-day conversation, I’ve now got a lot of excellent ammunition for the next time my friends and I decide to drink and talk about how cool the future could be. I’ve already used some of what I’ve learned to start a discussion at work, during a meeting, since one of my coworkers used to work for an elevator company and a few others just love talking about future technology over lunch. This book is easily worth getting just for the conversations it starts.

My favorite part of the book, and what I consider to be the reason the book is so delightful to read, is the sheer enthusiasm the Weinersmiths pumped into Soonish. Even after a few years of research, writing, revising, and editing, you can still feel just how excited they must have been to learn about everything they covered in the book and there are even a few panels of comics in the book that show it plainly. If you follow Zach Weinersmith’s comic, SMBC, you can see a bunch of comics he wrote about it, scattered throughout the past year, showing just how enthusiastic he and his wife were. Reading a work of passion is always a much better experience than reading something someone felt forced to write.

I suggest picking up a copy of the book for your coffee table or library. It is on sale pretty much everywhere, right now, so I suggest getting it now while its cheap. Or later, when it’s less cheap. This book is easily worth thirty bucks.

Saturday Morning (Evening) Musing

Today was a nice day. Tomorrow marks three months with my girlfriend. That’s not a whole lot, objectively speaking, but it’s longer than most of my relationships have lasted so it feels nice to reach and mark it. Since we’re both busy tomorrow, we met up for a bit today to just spend some time together and we wound up spending most of it grocery shopping. We both love to cook, so it was preparation for both of us to spend the afternoon cooking. She was cooking meals for a friend who just had a baby. I was cooking because I wanted stew, my bean dip, and cider.

I, of course, had to clean the entire kitchen before I could start. It was too dirty and covered in dishes to cook, so I had to make some space and clean my surfaces. At the same time, it feels very good to get something visibly clean and I find it mentally refreshing. Part of cooking is, for me, imposing order on disorder. Taking several disparate things, my own knowledge and culinary senses, and bringing it all together to make something better than all the parts on their own.

Right now, my dip is made, my stew is simmering (to thicken), and my cider is delicious. It feels good to sit back and lent the scent of all of my creations wash over me as I watch the Overwatch League matches I missed during the day. I’ve got friends coming over to help eat the food I’ve made, and a nice warm house to enjoy during this cold weather. I’ve got no chores that need doing, no errands that need running, and no pressing business to attend to other than my writing and stirring the stew.

I catch myself thinking of the future a lot, of when I’ve finished paying off my student loans and finally settled down to live comfortably as I try to make ends meet as a novelist. I think about how quiet and peaceful my life could be, how idyllic my life would become. On days like today, I feel like I catch a glimpse of this future. Like I’ve gotten to look through a window into the eventual life I’d like to live. The problem with that idea, though, is that it does a disservice to my life right now. Sure, I have student loans and a good job that I don’t hate, but are those really reasons that I can’t build the life I want today?

There’s a reason we use words or phrases like that when we talk about the future. There isn’t one part that just magically makes it all come together, just like there isn’t a “right time” to start. We have to work on the life we want one step at a time, one thing at a time. I think I’m going to try to focus on that idea a little more often and let myself enjoy days like today as a solid step toward the life I want to lead.