Showing posts with label prose. Show all posts
Showing posts with label prose. Show all posts

Monday, December 20, 2021

An Object of Scorn


Affixed to the altar before the apse was the cross. It’s edges were frayed, roughly hewn from quarter sawn timber long ago. The reclaimed piece was swollen and pocked with burls. Striations of discoloration, wrapping around the trunk, intimated the shape of a hobbled man, or a rot in the wood. Well-lit by the clerestory above the chancel, the cross was positioned prominently, as if basking. The carpenter had placed the cross there, shunting it into a notch in the ground, embroidered with mosaic tile. He cursed the splinters collected by his hands. 

Over time, the basilica changed many hands, each flock with their own vice and preference. For a century or so, the cross absorbed bitterness and contention. In-fighting broke out across the aisles, until a meeting was convened to determine the spirit of their creed and what they said about their Lord. Most were satisfied by the outcome. At the end of it, the rich young ruler who ordered the meeting stepped forward and placed a thoughtful hand upon the hardened exterior, sensing great things ahead. 

Not soon after, it was stained with blood. Buckets of coagulated sanguine absorbed into the sword-gouged trunk, bright red, before fading to purple and blue. Suffering abounded in the lands choked with smoke and ash, until a pragmatic flock emerged, resourceful enough to stifle the sickness of violence that seemed to infect the sullen, stagnant air. The cross was crowned with temporal power by the rich young ruler, but the gilded crown bore the likeness of a bad forgery.  

New edicts were established regarding what the cross could and could not be. It took the aspect of many things. The cross was showered with wealth and abundance. Even the soft gold coins withered the cross’ face, bruising and softening the wood. Two attendants fought over the cross, for a time, until they conceded, finally, to a stalemate. Each mutually regarded one another with hate, their flocks diverging. They sat apart from one another, on either end of the cross. It stood between the camps, buffeted by anger and distain. After a time, the flocks relented, weary of the conflict, abandoning the refuse of entrails and sinew they had draped over the arms of the cross. The dawning light, emerging through the open portal in the narthex, exposed the rot. And members of both flocks returned to clean it as best they could.  

The cross still stands there now, black as charcoal and steeped with dried blood. Some still approach, as if recognizing an old friend. Those that stay, marvel for a time and consider the carpenter that left it so many years ago. Those that depart, do so quickly, though not before dressing it in fashionable clothing, berating it, and covering it with semen and feces. The weight of shackles, handcuffs, bandoliers, braids of Ethernet cable, fascist flags dipped in gasoline, drape around its neck like a noose. There, on the altar, it stands: objectified by filth, defeated. 

Yet, despite all this, the flock heaps their burdens upon it willingly.  And they depart, each one, with a spring in their step.  


Thursday, March 25, 2021

"Oncoming Traffic" By Stuart Warren

 


There was traffic on West 580, right in front of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. 

Traffic rarely happens. When it does, it usually inspires fascination, even wonder. The passing traffic does not stop. Motorists spying in the moments between moments. Life oncoming, then gone.

This time was different though.

There were two cars hedged off to the right shoulder: a 2038 Tesla sedan and a 2018 Honda Civic. The rear crush points on the Tesla were pancaked—what remained of the trunk space, mostly gone. I glanced out of my window and saw the two drivers in a heated fight, a paramedic between them with her hands up. A police officer was dragging a dumbbell set—ejected from the trunk of the Civic—off the center lanes while we waited.

By 2028, most of the Bay Area was autonomous. By 2032, the rest of the state followed. The current Administration established a buy-out program for manual-pilot autos, encouraging the conversion. But, among the millions, a small minority held out. Mostly older men, and a younger generation galvanized by passionate rhetoric to retain their “right-to-drive.” When accidents happened, it always involved a manual-pilot car. There would be a highlight on the evening news—national coverage if the collision was big enough.

The Civic’s owner was red in the face with anger, spittle ejecting from her mouth. It wasn’t about the car. She stood her ground. This would be on camera, the pavement her stage. Ten-thousand talking heads explaining the nuance of car ownership, the “right-to-drive.”

It was something we debated at work, before our managers would step in to re-establish office etiquette. At church, I would argue the nuance of scripture, how the church adjusted for cultural changes, while others flatly denied my points, on the basis of free will and choice. In school districts some advocated—think of the children, they would say—for manual-pilot school busses, that it was unconscionable to entrust students to the cold will of the onboard intelligence.

But as passionate and antiquated the logic was, we all knew that 94% of auto-accidents involved manual-pilot vehicles. 100% of all autonomous cars were zero-emission, and manufactured by carbon neutral companies. Average commute time was lowered by 30% as the speed limit was raised by 25% across the western United States.

The police officer signaled to the line of stopped cars to proceed after a few minutes. I cracked open my book and thumbed to the page where I left off, feeling the pull of my body into the seat, the scene disappearing from view.

Where 580 merged with 101 North, brake lights crept up along the frontage road.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Tacky Hawaiian Shorts: North - By Stuart Warren

North

Corrugated metal and patchwork bracing hold them together, the forgotten Victorian storefronts along the sparse Akoni Pule Highway. The road terminates at Polou, where wild guava and coconut line the trail down into the valley. Driftwood shifts in the roiling grey waters, traversing blackened sand and decimated stones. The deafening valley howls. Crashing waves, then the receding of water.

 

The ones left behind carry on, despite the inclement conditions. Paradise lost to the progression of time and the markings of colonists. The sweet smell of chicken braising in coconut milk wafts through the air, and with it laughter and gossip, in celebration of another day completed in the company of friends. A depreciated flat screen rolls ESPN highlights in the adjacent dining room. The static washes over them.

Friday, August 7, 2020

Tacky Hawaiian Shorts: West - By Stuart Warren

 West

Two women with calloused hands haggle in a prop-up tent. Vendors eye each other suspiciously, unboxing imported merchandise. Trinkets and baubles. Captured essence of island life made by the hands of children thousands of miles away. The coffee is “Kona”. One pound for twenty-four dollars. “I’ll give it to you for twenty,” says a Filipino woman.

The Martian desert lies above the tourist alcoves, parched by the exhausted wind; a dry heat. Golf carts roam in herds on distant greens. Lonely highways, arrested by total darkness in the quiet hours, lit only by sickly torches of fluorescent light. Beaches, purified by time, covered in plastic awnings, are serviced by the true wards in the shadow of Pu’ukohola.


Monday, June 1, 2020

"Thought Experiments" - An Original Short by Stuart Warren




“What’s he doing?”
                A woman, behind Jack, pointed down the line at a frumpy young man in his late twenties fumbling with a phone and a half eaten sandwich. Jack focused on the smartphone’s display and saw a lively procession of emoticons and ascending praise.
                “He’s an influencer.
                “A what?”
                “An influencer.”
                “What’s that?”
                “Someone wealthy enough to have free time, but too poor to sustain it indefinitely.”
                “That sounds awful.”
                Jack nodded. It was awful.
                The line snaked along theoretical lanes inside the crowded government facility. Etched into the bones of an aging strip mall, the Department of Motor Vehicles exuded an odor of wet drywall and day old urine. False hope abounded, embodied in the musty d├ęcor and hopeless faces of employees required, by law, to work inefficiently. Above Jack, a sign fixture dangled perilously from the ceiling:
USE OF MAGIC PROHIBITED
UNLAWFUL EXPERIMENTATION WILL RESULT IN REMOVAL FROM THE PREMISES
The woman beside Jack groaned.
                “Christ!”
                Jack chuckled. He would’ve liked to see Jesus here, kicking over desks and whipping frightened attendants like weary cattle. He was the first Magus, the supreme Mesmer. He would have burned this all down were it not for the brief detour back to the realm of immaterial.
                “Are you here for the certification too?”
                Jack turned around and saw the woman for the first time: a retro embodiment of sixties kitsch, replete with beehive hair and a tropical muumuu. She saw the surprise in Jack’s expression and shrugged. “I’m in theater. You know? Plays… This is art, okay.”
                “I’m not here for a certification,” Jack replied, slyly. “I’m here for a License to Think.”
                The woman sputtered jealously. “Lucky guy.”
                “Correct,” Jack agreed. “But it’s not all glamorous.”
                “That’s bullshit. Magic is awesome. I wish I could do magic.”
                “It has its perks. Not all of them good I’m afraid.”
                The woman snickered.
                “I haven’t seen you online, have I?”
                Jack shook his head.
                “When Experimentation Goes Wrong is one of my favorite shows,” the woman continued. “It’s like screwball comedies, if everything was on fire!”
                Jack smirked.
                “My name is Annie.”
                “Jack.”
                Jack shook Annie’s hand. It was sweaty.
                “This makeup makes me burn up. Sorry.”
                “Nothing to apologize for. Far be it from me to judge another in this desolate place. You might as well be Cleopatria in the nude, compared to the ghouls they have here.”
                Annie frowned. “That’s sexist. You’re sexist. Of course you are. You’re a fucking magician.”
                Jack wrinkled his nose.
                “I’m not a magician. I’m a philosopher,” he replied smugly. “And it’s a profession that precludes manners.”
                “Asshole,” Annie grumbled. “I’m always next to a creep…”
                Jack looked ahead, unmoved by the altercation. A ghoul, with layers of foundation caked on to her putrid skin waved him forward.
                “Nnn… Next…” she croaked.
                Jack approached the counter and flopped an envelope onto the plastic shield, protecting the faux laminate wood. “I’m here for my license.
                The ghoul looked down, straining her failing eyes. A valid birth certificate was splayed out with a social security card and a utility bill. She ground her teeth, snarling thoughtfully.
                “Ahhh… arrrr… are you pruh... prepared for a vuh… verbal test?”
                Jack placed his phone faced down on top of the documents and emptied his pockets of loose change. The ghoul looked down, identifying the rhetorical objects and growled.
                “Duh… door, four.”
                Jack smiled. “Thank you, my dear.”
                The ghoul smiled, worms crossing between blackened teeth. She dragged her arm across the countertop, sweeping the contraband into an iron lockbox. It would be returned after the assessment.
                The examination rooms were standing compartments: cubby holes with irritated, bespectacled gentlemen shuffling tarot cards and organizing talismans. Jack entered the booth, placing both hands—palms down—onto a blue stencil outline, while “Steven” carefully categorized the mystic paraphernalia with sterile precision.
                “With your hands bound, and relying only on verbal commands, you will be tasked with transmuting three objects,” Steve recited, speaking dryly from a memorized script. “You will be timed and all tasks will need to be completed before this undisclosed time expires. Do I have your consent to proceed?”
                “Yes, yes. Please, I’m ready,” Jack replied.
                Steven drew out one yellowed card from a dispenser. He reached into a box of bric-a-brac and grabbed a pewter soldier and placed it in the center of the space between them. Steven flipped over the card.
                “‘If matter is material, then what is consciousness?’”
                Jack looked down at the soldier and frowned.
                “It is the immaterial made material.”
                As Jack spoke, celestial energy coalesced around the inanimate object. The soldier flexed, the cracking of bones and flesh faintly audible, and its green skin became pink and soft
                “Oh my god,” the soldier wailed, thrashing on the ground. “Not again… Please god, make it stop!”
                Steven quickly slapped down an opened Styrofoam cup onto the homunculus and slipped the dialogue card underneath to carefully remove the figurine from the surface.
                “That’s actually my specialty,” Jack murmured whimsically.
                Steven looked at Jack, unamused. “Whatever it is that you people do, I don’t want to know.”
                Steven drew another card from the dispenser, retrieved a feather from the box, and flipped over the card.
                “I… also know this one.”
                Steven paused, tapping his finger on the countertop. He flipped over the card.
                “‘How do you make a feather weigh eight hundred pounds?’”
                Jack shrugged playfully.
                “You move it to Jupiter, obviously…”
                The feather flexed against the countertop, warping the plastic fibers of the manufactured wood, until it ripped through and crunched into the linoleum flooring below.
                Steven left the side of his booth and motioned for Jack to follow him to the next cubby over.
                In the second booth, Steven took out a dollhouse, placing it off to the side. With a swipft, Steven took another card and cleared his throat.
                “Why is there a global housing shortage?”
                Jack took a deep breath and squared his shoulders. “I hate this one.”
                Steven, who probably lived alone in a one bedroom apartment, nodded bleakly. He turned to the side, looking over at someone and silently shook his head. Jack, meanwhile, focused and breathed through his clenched teeth.
                “Not too much time left…” Steven muttered.
                “It’s because people don’t share,” Jack said, though not particularly to Steven. The dollhouse shifted sideways, a transparent weave embodying the structure of the original, only minutely as dense. Steven took out a telescoping pointer and prodded the copy, which firmly resisted. He unclipped a pen from his front facing pocket and jotted down a signature on a blue receipt.
                “Bring this voucher to desk 12F.”

Jack was out and back into the world a half hour later, holding in his hands a provisional license to think in the State of Oklahoma. As he walked out to his car, he shuffled through his pockets, feeling for the familiar shape of his key fob. As he did, a blinking light on the seat caught his attention. The fob was laid out across a pile of junk mail and a half eaten energy bar.
                “Is there such a thing that I don’t lock my keys in the car like some pedestrian simpleton?” Jack bemoaned. As he did, an identical fob took shape inside his clenched fist.
                Jack grinned. “Imagine that.”
                When he opened his hand the fob was half materialized through his knuckles.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

"In Observance of Space Time" - An Original Short By Stuart Warren


 Seems like everyone is doing a video with DeepFake these days: a technology that allows the over laying of a digital face onto a real body. (But of course you know that.) It made me think, “why not a DeepFake for reality?” Once we know the ingredients of the universe, what’s to stop us from baking?


In downtown Santa Barbara, in the Neon District by the train tracks, venture capitalists gather at a coffee stained countertop, cramped with cracked cell phones and money clips. Across from them a haggard grad student in a threadbare T-shirt—once red, now pink, perforated around the neckline—types into a simulator awash in cyberpunk highlights. He’s about to change the world.

It couldn’t be possible, even in Frazetta-scaped science fiction rags, they said. The universe is made of strings, infinitesimal and taught with reality. One needs only to equalize the frequencies, mix spectrums across the dimensions, and you can be an astronaut-ballerina, that puts out fires and has x-ray vision. For one hundred million dollars and change, pocket dimensions fit in your coffee tin, palmed like a silver dollar populated with sentient life.

Anthony sits in his living room, plastered with melting clocks and anorexic giraffes. The Napa valley sun, wet with dew, stabs rays through the crystal endtable. In his hands is the DeepReality™ projector. It’s shivering in 5 dimensional light, and Anthony can’t shake the image of liquefying porn stars from his mind.

Madeline is on her way into the office, lying on a pristine private beach in French Indonesia. On her customized planet, orbiting three suns at the edge of the galaxy she named “M-243”—M for Madeline—she is the majority shareholder of Fabian Micro Technologies. She is experimenting product rollouts there, and in sixteen other dimensions to predict Fall projections. Platinum lily sells better in the Asian markets. Chrome olive didn’t test well in QA due to poor color retention.

Thugnanimous is at a golf resort with his menagerie of publicists and promoters. In the hotel sitting room, a pound of cocaine is being haggled over. Out on the impossible green—an emerald island outside of Phoenix—his girlfriend is training for the US Women’s Open. Far away from his lawn chair perched on the deck, he is a child, running across a beach with his father (who stayed) and his brother (who wasn’t killed in a drive by shooting when he was 3 years old). Afterward, they are going to get ice cream in Cardiff, and then drive back to Carlsbad.

Despite the personal testimonials by tech moguls and pharmaceutical companies, the premier success of DeepReality™, as reported by the New York Times, is the testbed of constitutional reboots and experimental politics. “Despots, 39% of the time, avert ecological catastrophe by implementing climate change policies at the onset of the industrial revolution, whereas democratic socialists have a mean of 85 years before open hostilities between constitution adopters and anarchists erupt into full-scale genocide. ‘DeepReality™ succeeds where all speculative fiction and philosophy fails,’ said the company founder, Horus Cort. ‘It’s the ultimate thought experiment, the wet dream of R and D firms everywhere…’ When asked about the controversy over the sentience and preservation of life within these fabricated dimensions, representatives for Cort declined to comment.”

There is no actual way to escape into the facsimile realms, according to experts hired by the DeepReality™ Board of Directors. Despite the advancement of aggressive bacterial strains, overpopulation, and radioactive contamination, “We are here to stay. This is our world to fix, not to escape and do it all over again.” Outside the DeepReality campus protesters wear lead lined ponchos and pound the gates ineffectually. Horus’s son is escorted by military contractors to and from school. Melanie Cort is putting flowers on her parent’s grave at Hollywood Forever. Within minutes they shrivel and boil like salted snails. She is thinking about her husband, and his dirty secret.

By the time the last leaf falls on to the polonium caked earth, Osmund Cort, steps into his private projector with his girlfriend, never looking back. The sky is oily and metallic. The air is phosphorescent. Vacant skyscrapers covered in ash stand silent, their skeletal remnants melting together on the horizon like Lovecraftian horrors. Here, on Earth Prime, not even the cockroaches survived.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

"The Wake" - An Original Short By Stuart Warren


Awash in cerulean light, I’ve walked under the firmament all my life. Never left the hanging city though... Scholars and natural philosophers debate to no end what is, or what could be, beyond it.

Like them, I live in the Wake, where waters flow eternal, from pole to pole.

The hanging city goes by a proper name. The elders call it Loo’alblo. Still, most just call it the Wake: the everyday “Average Joe” folks. Hardworking schmucks. Myself? I’m a priest and, or, local informant—should the need arise. I interpret the scrolls of time. Long ago, the Great Sculptor held his chisel, and he hammered into the coral to make our world. Like mold, we grew in the crevasses, spawned in the open air of sunlit plains. Our first nomadic ancestors journeyed here, following the living path—the algae, grown in the rock. Divine times. Good times.

While I meditate on my mat in the great light, I consult with those seeking the will of the Great Sculptor, occasionally making a deal or two in the same stride. Lots of kids… Young, eager to be closer to the source. Some are cheaters. Want to spawn with another mate, recreate on the side—I have a notebook for that, when opportunity knocks. It’s a simple life. Mostly, I enjoy their stories: to be connected with the culture, the mire, the gestalt of commonality.

For instance: a farmer came to me once, confided in me, said that his living path was dying, that the great light was too great, burning it. I proceeded through the “thees” and “thous,” naturally. The beasts beyond the firmament came up. Titans and giants, treading the horizon, afterimages projected onto the sky full of cosmic terror. Wild shit, I know…

One of my regulars, who spawns for payment, came to me scared out of her wits by a “vision.” She told me, quite confidently, that the eternal gods that be were to shut down the great flow of aqua. After that, the great drying will come, and we will burn on the surface of the coral, forever and ever, again. It’s “routine,” she said.

I sent her away, promising her peace, diffusing the chaos, making her feel all warm and fuzzy.

Later now, I regret that. Their fibrous hands, their sweet looking faces, their implements and the tremors produced by them, cause quakes that shatter our homes. They seem to like their work, the bastards.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

"Sight Without Sight" - An Original Short by Stuart Warren

His coat was a charcoal grey, faded black, from months of exposure in the noonday sun upon the saltflats. Now he knew, what is was like to be hunted, a fear potent with the tang of sweat and urine.

In the cataclysm, the great war between the United People of Corvelia and the rest of the known world, he was a janitor at the Camp of the Sunless, a place where prisoners of war were sent to go mad in sensory deprivation. Moping up feces and sick, he would hear their screams outside, encountering each other in the abject blackness.

He was once called to the recreation room, where bloated generals stroked what remained of their graying hair in the polish of aluminum. In an argument over cards, one of them had flipped the table, spilled some coffee and trays of boiled cabbage, served with salted potatoes. And as he cleaned, covertly, he would look into the void at those who had not yet died, shambling forward with spittle on their uniforms.

Sitting on the transit platform, waiting for a railcar to take him to the park, Lawrence closed his eyes, trying to forget.

Two hours later he was in a park, thrust into the center of the green that defiantly remained despite the breath and scope of New Halberad.

As he sat on the bench, feeding the rats that skittered around between his legs, another body approached. He could hear the tapping of a stick against the cobblestone streets, and in the periphery it sat beside him. Lawrence glanced sideways and saw an elderly woman perfectly still, with rummaging fingers diligently retrieving a leather sack of mouse feed. Etched into her arm was a black sun, with edges faded like spilt watercolor.

Stories of the Camp of the Sightless were varied. As to how the political prisoners and activists lost their sight is up to interpretation. Many simply entered and could no longer see, met by a blinding whiteness that burned out their retinas instantly.

She hummed the tune of a ballad, scattering the feed across the ground.

"Well? I'm here. Will we talk, or are you just content to sit there?"

Lawrence straightened up, sniffling.

"Good day to you," he said, attempting to smile.

"Is it? I can't tell..."

The words were like sinking barbs, tearing at his flesh. Nevertheless, she chuckled.

"I'm giving you a hard time, Lawrence... I can feel it. The sun is out. It must be beautiful outside."

Lawrence had met Cordelia at one of the amnesty dinners, five or six years previously. She was slightly older than him, having been twenty years old at the time she was taken from her college dormitory. He never asked why.

"I had the dream again," Lawrence said, leaning forward. His knee bounced up and down under the ball of his foot. "I'm sorry. Please forgive me."

Cordelia chuckled. "I don't know if I can. But you are here. That is, at least, something."

A rat crawled up his leg to Lawrence's hand. Open palmed, Lawrence pressed his eyes shut and let it feed.

"I could have done more. I was a janitor. I had keys..." he shivered, waiting anxiously for the rat to leave.

Cordelia snorted with a laugh that shook her whole body. "What could a boy do?"

"Something..."

"We are here, Lawrence," Cordelia interrupted. "That is enough."

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Super Shorts

I used to write these little, 100 word stories (or at least what was small enough to fit in a twitter post).

I miss doing that. 

So I decided to do it! (Again.)

One of my lifelong dreams is to write comics, someday. And while every Joe Schmo says, "Hey, I can do it!" I can't even begin to imagine the labor involved, having to come up with a story every month, and communicate full time with the art team to make it happen. And, on top of all that, continuing the story in perpetuity... These aren't quite that, but I'd like to say they are seeds for the stories that I wish were told in comics.

Here we go!


Shazam!
The lightning he had was now gone. A dark, damp road lay ahead, the switchback driveway to Fawcett University that he drove every day to school from the radio station. Running ads for supervillains and their daytime talk shows. On his television, game show sets plastered with luminous chrome confetti ran re-runs. Joker’s Last Laugh will leave you screaming for more!

In his rear-view mirror, Billy saw the Captain in the back seat, smiling confidently, immaculate white teeth reflecting the orange glow of the Sivana Model Z dashboard.

“Just say it Billy, one word. And everything will be fine again.”

Superman
Three weeks of chemo and six doctor visits later, the news broke. And the man, allegedly made of steel, buckled under the weight of the poor prognosis. It was, as he feared, the reality of life and how fragile we are. Wisps of smoke from an extinguished match.

She lay there with translucent skin, jaundiced, weakly typing a column.

I could have seen it early, he thought. But that’s not true. J’onn was clear on that.

What do you give to the man who has everything, when he has nothing left?

But a cure was possible. He could still hope.

The Flash
How does it start, Wally?”

“There’s a thought in my head, racing faster than I can control it, until it’s all I’m thinking about. I don’t like to even talk about it because I’m afraid it will trigger an episode, you know?

The Martian nodded, gaunt featured under the metallic silhouette. “A psychic connection protects you, Wally. Please continue…”

“Have you ever wondered if it was worth it? What we do?”

“Very much, Wally.”

Wally fidgeted, tapping fingers vibrating 330 times per second. A sharp musical whine.


“I can outrun anything… by dying? I’m afraid of dying, J’onn. Oh god…” 

Darkseid
A good death. That, above all things, is my greatest gift.  Yet, even after discovering the Anti-Life Equation, defeating my foes, vanquishing my own son, the throngs of Hunger Dogs cast before me leave me… unindustrious.

My faith is just and pure. And as my subjects embraced oblivion for my cause against New Genesis, I too gained faith. And all make pilgrimage.

A war with the Kryptonian’s rebels is petty in comparison to what lies beyond the Source Wall. I have made parley with this new paradigm and absolute power. And so, when my worship concludes, it will be mine. 


Sunday, March 31, 2019

Waiting for the World to Load


I purchased Watch_Dogs 2 this past week and I’ve been blown away by its attention to detail, which, I suppose, invokes a greater design concept inherent in “open-world sandbox” games. (I say this in quotes because, typically, the most exhilarating moments of playing these games comes when the player is constrained and limited, which seems antithetical to the core philosophy of in-game freedom.) In order for these environments to feel lived in, they require elements of immersion to trick the player into thinking that the non-playable characters are “real,” as if every character interaction is a form of Turing Test. The representative populace of San Francisco, in my opinion, seems to be the most true to life distillation, especially when taking into consideration the carefully kept balance between technology (ie. in-game rendering of the world) and iconography (ie. contents of the world). One little detail, to those who are listening, I will share regarding my next book is that the setting is the San Francisco Bay Area. And, having spent a good portion of my childhood visiting and experiencing the Bay Area first hand, Watch_Dogs 2 will be instrumental in my approach of gaining a better visual frame of reference. Because, up until this point, I’ve used Google Maps and the street view to encounter and better understand the environment. The former is, at the very least, three dimensional. That helps.

As much as I hate to admit it... this is too fucking real.

 
When I saw the early screening of Shazam! the weekend I was in town to attend my grandmother’s memorial service, I was a little disappointed of the lack of an appearance by Black Adam (played by Dwayne Johnson), who is by far one of the most interesting anti-heroes/villains in comics today. Villains, much like the environment that a story takes place in, are critical in building the world, specifically because villains are foils to both the physical appearance and ethical constitution of the hero. In the case of Billy Batson (ie. Captain Marvel/Shazam!), his personal desire to aide those systematically disenfranchised (foster children, the terminally ill, victims of child abuse, et al.) contrasts with Black Adam’s autocratic characterization, and how this influences his view on Justice and the role of the fate of the “oppressed” in society. Whereas Billy is forgiving and patient, Black Adam (born as a slave in Egypt) consolidates power via the brutal suppression of his opponents (up to, and including, summary public executions). Both arrived to the wizard Shazam from similar circumstances, but their responses are black and white. And this ultimately builds the world, its ethics, its ultimate purpose as a theater for thought experiments on Justice, Rehabilitation, Consequence, and Fairness under the definition of Natural Law.

Villains, in general, have such potential for story-telling. It’s strange to me that there have only been small attempts to develop villain centric properties. I would love to see a series on Solomon Grundy, who, despite being an undead abomination, has displayed lots of depth throughout his character history. Likewise, a Vertigo-esque character study—similar to Neil Gaiman’s run on The Sandman—for Darkseid could have momentous potential. Other than the Joker (via The Killing Joke), this hasn’t been attempted with critical acclaim (at least to my knowledge).

Simply put, the above is easy to conceive on a purely theoretical level. Actually writing it down is another thing altogether. Consider what has already been done. The formula to creating a villain is nothing new. So creating these characters is almost like building another piece of the world. The opposition requires a narrative that is equally as credible as the hero, as well as symbolize stasis. Being the catalyst for change, the hero interacts with the opposition, not the other way around. Bringing it all back to where we began, the setting of all narrative is like wallpaper, and the hero is pushing through it into the moldy drywall.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

"The Gospel According to IT" - An Original Short By Stuart Warren



I had an idea to write a short story, originally a tongue-in-cheek attempt at trying to tell the Gospel through the best practices that I’ve learned since starting in the managed services industry. Below is my attempt. Over the past few weeks, I’ve chipped away at it wanting to do something more comprehensive, actually trying to turn it into a “short-medium” short story. Clocking in at 2200+ words this is a reasonable size, what I would typically expect for a short story with a well-established world and narrative progression. Also, something to note, the story may be interpreted critically, either for better or worse, how the Gospel’s narrative has shaped our understanding of literature and the arts. (Structurally, the Gospel is a “comedy” in the classical sense, ultimately concluding with a wedding (as seen in the Revelation of Saint John) like most of the Shakespeare comedies.) I will leave you to be the judge of that, however. Anyways, enjoy!

Praise Him.

In the beginning there was the Operating System, and the Operating System was with the Engineer, and the Operating System was the Engineer. From crowded rack space and winding spools of cabling effervescent, the Environment was unmade, without purpose or clarity. The Engineer, on the first billable hour, made the host, and it was provisioned. The Engineer, on the second billable hour, allocated the datastores with virtual machines of all variety and utility: A domain controller to elect, a file server to preserve, an intrusion prevention system to protect, an exchange server to commune. And it was provisioned. On the third billable hour, the Engineer PXE booted His VMs, the Operating System giving shape and form to them, filling their disks with files to give glory to the Administrator, who sent the Engineer onsite to be with the end user, but not of the end user, as a staff augmentation. On the fourth billable hour, the Engineer deployed group policy, making the end users in His image. And the Engineer looked down on all he had made and said, "it is provisioned."
And then the Engineer rested on His lunch hour, telling the end user before leaving, saying, "All that I have made is yours—that I have created—for your productivity and purpose. You may access the network shares. You may leverage email. You may create files as I created them. But you must not have administrative access, for if you do, you will surely compromise the integrity of the Environment."
While the Engineer was away, Amy and Steven in accounting were running end of month billing. And they enjoyed the responsiveness of the workstations and the synergy felt by one another working together as one, without network latency or corrupted installations. But the Sales Manager was also in the Environment, and approached Amy as she made copies in the break room.
"Why have you not installed BitTorrent to your local workstation? Greg in HR has, like, three seasons of Game of Thrones already..."
Amy replied that she did not have administrative access, and that the Engineer said explicitly that they should not have those permissions.
"But if you are an Administrator, you will be like an Administrator. And you will know the difference between being able to install programs and uninstall programs," replied the Sales Manager.
So Amy allowed the Sales Manager to make her a local admin, and then a domain admin, all the while installing iTunes and internet games and opening emails with strange documents. When Steven saw Amy playing Candy Crush on her laptop in-between calls, he asked Amy to make him a local admin (as the Sales Manager had shown her) also. Amy then gave him administrative access so that he too could play games and view private folders with her.
But once they had downloaded the programs, each of them looked at one another realizing that their machines were burdened, slow, and filled with adware. And so they began to complain.
But when the Engineer returned early from his lunch he called out to Amy and asked her, "Where are you?"
"We saw that you had come back from your break and needed to close out of our programs. But they were too slow," Amy replied. "Slow your roll, man."
"What made you think that they were slow? Did you install non-work related programs onto your machines when I forbade you to?" said the Administrator, coming out of His office.
But Amy and Steven reproached the Administrator, first complaining that they needed to run updates to Quickbooks and then that they had needed to give each other access in order to do so. This made the Engineer frustrated, as well as the Administrator.
"It was Amy that gave me the access," said Steven defensively.
"It was the Sales Manager that told me I ought to have access," said Amy. "I need music and games, so that I don't get stressed out while I work!" 
So the Administrator stripped them of their access, not before mentioning that their workstations would be slow and toilsome for the rest of the quarter. "Behold, I will send my Engineer to terminate the Sales Manager's employment for violating the Acceptable Use Policy, though not before the Sales Manager will, in anger, delete the company share on the file server, causing the Engineer to spend many project hours to recover the files from the Nimble storage backups."
So what seemed like centuries passed, as, every day, the machines loaded non-essential startup programs, demonstrated visual artifacts, and loaded applications inefficiently.
Until, one day there came a crying from the branch office, from John the Office Manager, saying that the Engineer would be onsite again, as was promised by the Administrator long ago. For John had been in a Highfive conference with the Administrator, who had approved of the Engineer's restoration of the company shares saying, "Joshua did a bang up job with that DR restore. I'm going to send him to corporate to finally fix the other issues we've been scoping." Therefore, in an abuse of "hey, everybody," John prepared them by sending a staff email.
When the Engineer arrived, the Sales Manager was sitting outside headquarters, covered in rags and living homeless behind the row of juniper trees planted along the perimeter of the building. The Sales Manager recognized the Engineer and approached Him as he ascended the steps, skirting past a dried fountain and looking out for the bulbous security guard patrolling in his golf cart.
"No hard feelings, Josh."
Josh turned to the Sales Manager and stopped, curious and bemused.
"You know how many people are hiring for an on-premise IT guy?" the Sales Manager said lethargically, drinking from a brown paper bag. "You could get work for any of those guys and make waaay more money, kid."
"The Administrator once told me, job success and happiness is better than a pay increase. I'll stick with that, thanks."
The Engineer began to walk again, but the Sales Manager grabbed Him again and pressured, "You have no idea, do you? Those suits up there, they'll eat you alive. You need to have the Administrator come out. Only he can fix this."
The Engineer rolled his eyes, removing the grasping fingers from around his arm. "He sent me to handle this. I'm not going to bother him about it."
"Oh yeah?" complained the Sales Manager. He shouted loudly across the pavilion. "Come work for me then! I'm starting my own company, and it's going to blow! This! Shit! Up! Home loans and short term lending. I'm telling you, this is going to be the next big thing."
Josh blinked, incredulous.
By now, Hank was waddling up to them pumping his fat arms against the sides of his tremulous belly. "Hey! What did I tell ya'? Get ova' 'ere!"
The Sales Manager was startled, jumping up into the air and shuffled off like an ape. The Engineer watched, amused, and shrugged. He was ready to get back to work.
When the Engineer, sent by the Administrator, entered the bullpen, and returned to see many of his co-workers, bent and low, cursing their duties, he wept.
Going around the office the Engineer went to each machine, performing maintenance on them, miraculously restoring print spooler services and casting out malware, with the power of the Operating System's native antivirus software. But Management watched him all the while, cursing his name for all the overtime he was logging, saying to themselves, "He's not certified," and "He never got our approval for all this OT!"
Though some disagreed, saying to themselves, "Didn't an email already go out about this?" and "Who cares? Look at all the good work he's doing."
But Josh heard them grumbling, saying these things to themselves and replied, "Something is coming down the pipe that will change the way we do billing. Don't worry about it, it'll be fine."
At the end of the week, while working in the later hours of the afternoon, Josh was approached by a woman with malware on her personal workstation. She had heard of all His hard work and tugged on the hem of His faded UC Santa Cruz sweater. Feeling the weight of her need, Josh turned around and asked, "Who was that?" and looked down to see the woman, for she was kind of short. 
"My machine is slow. I know that my computer isn't work related, but could you just look at it really fast?"
Josh nodded in agreement. "Well, I'm here to fix the broken machines, not the workings ones."
Powering on the machine, looking at the startup programs, scanning for adware and potentially unwanted programs, the Engineer extracted all the bloatware and installed antivirus that was continually scanning. "This should keep scanning automatically. It'll help keep your machine running well even if there are issues going forward." Josh paused to pull out His phone and sent an email to the woman. "I just sent you the acceptable use policy. Please read it and remember what I have told you, so that this doesn't happen again. But I'm always a call away if you need anything."
As the woman thanked the Engineer, the management watched. And they said to themselves, "He's doing things out of agreement now. We have to put a stop to this!"
That afternoon, they brought Him into the large conference room at the north end of the building. 
"You've been here for a full day, helping everyone, even working on assets that we don't want you supporting. Do you expect us to pay for all these billable hours?"
"It'll be fine," Josh assured them. "You'll see. The Administrator has some big plans about how we'll be doing IT infrastructure management from now on. All the work I just did was covered under the 'New Agreement.'"
The management team were confused and angry. "You were not mentioned by our account manager. And all of this work you did is going to cost us a fortune. The Administrator made this very clear to us in the beginning."
Josh shrugged. "I don't know what to say. I mean, you're just going to have to trust me. There is a New Agreement coming. It will be cost effective and allow us to do more work for you. It will be mutually beneficial and built and sealed with trust. The way things are working right now were good before, but we've all been working up to this New Agreement. The Administrator trusts me to offer this New Agreement and has put me in charge of negotiating it."
The management team became angry when they heard this, getting up from their chairs and kindly asking the Engineer to leave, saying, "I think we would like to seek other solutions for our internal IT. We would like you to leave."
"You're firing me?" Josh asked.
"Yes. And we are also going to file a formal complaint with the Administrator if you have any intention of making us pay for the work you did while you were onsite today."
Josh called the Administrator.
"Yeah, you've reached Yale's cell, owner of Moody IT. I'm not here right now, but leave me your name and number—and the time you called—and I'll give you a call back."
As Josh left the building, looking at his phone, the Administrator never called back. 
And Josh stepped out into the rain, shoving his phone into his pocket. "Man? What the hell..."
On the following Sunday morning at the Chamber of Commerce Sausage and Egg Breakfast, some of the members were gossiping, saying to themselves, "Did you hear about what happened to Josh? Tough break. It sounded like all he was doing was trying to help those guys at Wright, Cody, and Stubb."
Another member, one that they did not immediately recognize approached and said, "Who's Josh?"
Hal Bailey, the owner of the local co-op, answered, saying, "He was the on-prem engineer for Moody IT. Super cool guy. Shame what happened to him."
"He must have been fired," the other member replied, drinking a mimosa.
Hal laughed, shaking his head.  "Guy was fucking crucified. For doing his job no less." The others agreed with Hal, nodding silently under the glare of florescent lights, highlighting the polyurethane gloss of hardwood furniture and the scuffed chrome of industrial toasters. 
Josh revealed Himself to them, laughing at their surprise.
"Woah! Hey man! Didn't recognize you in those big dumb sunglasses. Since when do you wear those?" Hal said. 
Josh folded them up and put them into his pocket. "I ran out of contacts. This was all I had lying around from when I last saw the optometrist."
"So, what's going on?" Hal asked, waving what may had been his third mimosa that morning in a wide, hyperbolic gesture. "I heard you were fired?" 
"Sort of," Josh said looking at his feet. "Yale is still trying to talk them down from the ledge right now. In the meantime we are pushing out our new strategy to new clients. It's all based off of remote management, with a call center, where I'll always be available to talk, and unlimited support for a fixed rate. We're in the process of re-branding right now."
"Congratulations," said Hal, raising his glass. "You have any new hires yet?"
"A few, but I've got a good feeling that we'll be blowing up pretty soon...."


Sunday, February 3, 2019

The Process (Of Writing a Book)



For the first time in a long while I have nothing to do this weekend. My wife is currently looking at my second draft, while I am on child duty until she completes. While it would be nice to catch up on my personal reading, I’m not sure if that will happen or not. I seem to have less and less time for that these days, unless I’m on vacation. I mean, there’s certainly time to do all these things, but binge watching Star Trek: Enterprise has monopolized our evenings. Everyone likes to shit on that series, but it’s great. When I imagine a speculative fiction of the first years following warp space flight, Enterprise embodies what I would expect to occur: cultural tensions between alien races that are trying to be helpful, humanity’s own immaturity, and the collective mustering of human potential for the better of tomorrow. Ideally, a Star Trek property should encourage us to be explorers, to be understanding, to be open to learning new things, and more than any other, Enterprise exceeds that vision.
                So maybe when that is over I can start reading in the evenings again, especially while my kid is still content on going to bed at 7pm every night. She’s like her dad. She sleeps like a rock and we are very grateful.
                While I’ve written about this before, most of my older posts were archived permanently post-rebranding. I wanted to revisit and share again the process by which I write books. It’s probably my personality—well, definitely—but I never have issues getting ideas on paper. Many times I’ll read something that self-referentially talks about the writing process as this creative struggle. Personally, I don’t get what the big fucking deal is. But it only recently occurred to me that maybe my “system” has a lot to do with the way I lay out everything and then fill in the gaps
                Usually I’ll get an idea, a two sentence extract, and start with that. It’s concise and purposefully focuses on conceptual details rather than specific characters or settings. That’s “part one-and-a-half” of the recipe. The second part of this is really the expansion of the extract, which I call a “concept bible.” Any ideas relating to the story are put in this document, almost as if it was a wiki entry all spread out. See below for screen shots from the Concept bible for my third book:

Usually my wife writes a few notes on the first chapter so that I know I am going in the right direction. This is followed by a plot extract, detailing the full overview of the plot from start to finish.

Usually if my book has a central philosophical point that I want to explore or rediscover I have a section dedicated to this. My next book explores  the different facets of artificial intelligence, hence the above.
I like exploring different languages so usually I will create a fictional language and explain their rules so I can remember
them later. Also, main characters get a large paragraph with a full explanation of their visual appearance and motivations.

Any characters that appear in the book, even minor characters, I write bios for. This is helpful because, it helps me keep track of details like their visual descriptions and any characters I might forget about and never feature again. 

Every book will have minor subplots that affect the main plot. Sub-plots can get lost in the writing process and become non-sequitur, off-hand references, so I write them down to keep track of them. Some notes don't fit with other categories. World building details like population size, laws, cultural values, go here. As you can see above, I wanted to invent different types of drugs at one point. 
The above are only screenshots of a large document. By the time the book is finished, this document balloons in size. But I can’t even say how many times this document has saved my ass and helped Alyssa track all of my thoughts.

                What I started doing for this book—and I think I will continue doing so—is that I created a character mythology. Every main character follows a journey (ie. Heroes’ Journey) that demonstrates how they grow and change over the course of the narrative. Immaturity to maturity. Child to adult. Unknown to known. I wanted to start keeping track of these details because I felt like my books didn’t demonstrate enough internal character development. Similarly, I create artificial rules for the narrative before I begin writing, which I just call “Book Rules.” Whereas a character mythology is written after I receive feedback for the first draft, book rules serve to, from start to finish, ensure that certain technical practices are consistent throughout the story. For instance, if I create an artificial language for my story, I write down the proper syntax in this document so that both Alyssa and I adhere to these rules throughout the entire book.
                The first draft feedback, like my first novel Spirit of Orn, was provided by my best friend Desmond White. This document I rely on is invaluable. Good feedback is critical in tone, which helps in two ways. First, good feedback is humbling. I laughed so hard when I read the feedback for Spirit of Orn, that I was crying. Desmond lays into my books and points out all the inconsistencies where my ideas are pompous or overcooked. The second thing that’s valuable about feedback is the substantive additions that come from the reviewer. Desmond, for instance, suggested that I read Brave New World and Notes From Underground to supplement and further some of the compelling ideas I was exploring in Spirit of Orn.
                The last document that I keep around is the “cut” document. Most of draft one is rewritten for draft two, and sections that are conceptually valuable, but no longer suitable for the story, I cut and paste to a separate document. Draft two of my upcoming book has the same word count of my previous draft, but my cut document is 21 pages long. I’m never sure what I’ll need or return to, so this document is a backup of old (and mostly bad) ideas.
                The process that I use works for me. I like the structure. I’ve always been very good at visualizing the grand narrative, but the minutiae is so hard for me to keep track of. I’m always encouraged by hearing from others about their way of doing things, so I hope that this is just good perspective.