Here’s a new short story by Tim Maughan — a tale of surgically enhanced long distance love between two neoreactionary seasteaders:
Timo waves at him one last time, as he pulls down the garage door entrance to his studio-slash-operating room. It’s not quite what he’d envisioned a backstreet grinder clinic would look like, and?—?despite his subtly animated tattoos and achingly faux-scruffy beard?—?neither is Timo. What the drop-out med student turned artist has just done to him is technically illegal, yes, but then the Amsterdam authorities have a penchant for turning their eyes away from such things, hence Timo is able to operate out of this prime location overlooking the Singel. Just across the water from the flower market. Lovely. A certain clientele expects a certain standard of surroundings, he tells himself.
He takes the tram home, Timo advising him it’s best not to drive. It makes him uncomfortable, itchy, sitting here amongst the unwashed, unchosen. Even through his face mask, the stench of untweaked, un-perfumed sweat and fried-food flatulence scalds his nerve endings. He touches fingertips to his cheek, feels a numbness there that he knows is caused by more than the December air, that recalls childhood memories of dentist’s anaesthetic, feels a sickly tumour like solidity under his skin where the gel’s excesses are still dissolving into his blood. It reminds him of touching his mother’s heavily botoxed face as he wiped confused, angry tears from her dying eyes.
I had two goals for the year. One was to learn how to spell restaurant without checking. That one I actually managed pretty quick, once I set my mind to it.
The other was to finish and sell at least one short story. That was harder, but I pulled it off. Today my first short story “The Faraday Bag,” was published in an anthology called Membrane. It’s a sci-fi/crime story set in the near future, where the economy has collapsed and student loan debtors are hunted in the streets.
It also includes nine other stories stories, each with a full-color illustration, about “android cannibals, a clown plague, Nazi zombies, alien cancer, killer nuns, and more, as well as original and vintage art and photography.”
All proceeds will go to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.
Here are the first few paragraphs of my story:
I knocked out Brock’s front left tooth the day I met him. He and Colton tried to mug me during my first delivery to the Complex. They were just a couple of scrawny teenagers, but I’m not a big girl and they had knives. So I hit Brock in the mouth with my bike lock. Colton’s older brother, Connor, broke-up the fight before it got any worse.
Two years later I still had nightmares about it and still hated doing deliveries at the Complex. My heart pounded as I approached their perch on the picnic table in the center of the courtyard. They didn’t even glance up from their phones.
“Going to see Carl,” I said, handing them a couple of warm energy drinks from my bag. “Keep an eye on my bike, yeah?”
“Si, senorita,” Brock said with a big toothless grin. I hated him calling me “senorita.” I didn’t even speak Spanish.
And seeing his missing tooth always made me feel like shit.
The Complex was a block of six withered apartment buildings on the edge of Seattle. They were supposed to have been condos, but construction had halted on the neighboring light rail line during the Iran War and it was never completed–so the Complex ended up as low-income housing instead. It bordered an abandoned shopping center full of junkies with a habit of breaking into people’s cars and apartments. Brock and Colton were like the Complex’s immune system. I guess they decided I was non-harmful.
I jogged up the stairs to Carl’s apartment. He answered the door as out of breath as I was and, dragging his oxygen tank, went into the kitchen to make me a cup of instant coffee. He never let me help, so I took my customary place on the spine-mangling papasan.
“The apartment next to mine just opened up, Juana,” Carl said, handing me my coffee. “We could be neighbors.”
“I haven’t saved enough for a deposit yet,” I said. “And I couldn’t rent an apartment in my own name, even if I could afford it. Loan Enforcement would pick me up, throw me in a restitution camp.”
As if I’d wanted to live there anyway. But hey, at least it would be my own place.
I set his pills on the coffee table. A month’s worth of black market Avastin, a cancer drug, fresh from the pharmaceutical printer in Landon’s basement. A year’s supply would have cost him about $100,000 if he bought them from the pharmacy.
“I never should have gone to college in the first place. It’s not like I ever wanted to work in an office or anything,” I said.
“At least you had the opportunity,” Carl said. “Those boys out there probably never will.”
I hadn’t thought about that. Colton’s mom had been serving cocktails at a strip club ever since self-driving trucks went online and all the truck stops closed down. I had no idea what Brock’s parents did, or whether they were even around, but I was pretty sure they wouldn’t be co-signing on any loans.
“I wonder where they’re going to end up,” I said. “These days you can’t even get a job as a dishwasher without a degree. Hell, I have a degree and I can’t get a job as a dishwasher.”
Carl tapped his phone to confirm the purchase. I always felt like letting the clients keep my cut. Carl barely scraped by on his Social Security check.
My phone rang on the way out of the building, and my stomach did a backflip when I saw the caller ID. I almost let it go to message, but answered at the last second.
“I thought you didn’t want to talk to me anymore,” I said.
“I never said that,” Nicole said. “I just wanted to give it some time, after what happened.”
“Yeah, so why now? It’s been, like, six months.”
Seven months and 12 days, but who’s counting?
“I need someone I can trust,” she said. “Can you meet me at Bar Nuit in an hour?”
I wanted to say no. Wanted to tell her to find someone else to be her puppy dog. But of course I said yes.
My first short story, “The Faraday Bag,” will debut next week in the Membrane art and fiction anthology from Dreadful Cafe on Thursday December 12. My contribution is a near-future sci-fi story about the precariat, 3D printed pharmaceuticals and student loan debt. It also includes nine other stories stories on “android cannibals, a clown plague, Nazi zombies, alien cancer, killer nuns, and more, as well as original and vintage art and photography.” Every story includes a full-color illustration.
Membrane will be released initially as an e-book only, but a print version will follow sometime next year. All proceeds will go to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.
An ambitious new e-book pushes the boundaries of interactive fiction by requiring readers to visit specific locations to unlock new parts of its story
If you want the full experience of The Silent History — a new e-book available on the iPhone and iPad — you’d better get ready to do some traveling. The Silent History is “part medical case study, part mystery novel, and part-real-life scavenger hunt,” says Sarah Hotchkiss at KQED, and the e-book aims to personalize its narrative for each reader. (Watch a trailer for The Silent History below.) The Silent History is divided into two parts: Testimonials and field reports. The testimonials, which are divided into six volumes of 20 chapters each, are automatically unlocked as the story unfolds each day. But the field reports require an unprecedented level of interaction: They can only be read by traveling to specific locations, and readers are encouraged to write and contribute their own localized installments.
They explained the manifesto. Any device that was known to be approaching release, they would fabricate and wield in public. Their devices were seen in blurry street photos, profiled in gadget magazines of the highest order, spotted in the wild when by rights, they should never have been. They intentionally subverted the release cycle paradigm, and in doing so redirected the entire gray market of development, hype, and design. “Permanent beta techno-anarchism by the deed,” was the phrase I remember best, though this commodity insurgency was certainly permeated by the occult as much as any politics. Perhaps it was something in the incense smoke affecting my powers of reason, but there was a dark magic implied in these counterfeit devices.
Their work displayed the usual anti-corporate merit badges, measured in leftist buzz words and culture jamming cache. Every counterfeit device they made and used in public was a lobbed stick of dynamite at the Silicon Valley scabs, who had commodified the spirit of invention and delivered it up to the bosses. But there was a deeper symbolism at play. The devices they produced in this pseudo-lab were hexes, a transubstantiation of the spirit of consumption, simultaneously capturing the specter and setting it upon others. The market of gadget futures was a field of energy, invisible to anyone who wasn’t ensconced in this culture. And the Group played with this metaphysics as if it was their own personal toy. There was an incredible amount of power invested in the development of the newest, the most cutting edge, the most must-have consumer devices. The Group was blackening it, stealing this occult knowledge for their own purposes, hijacking it into unholy loops that they were attempting to channel. Also, sabotaging and rupturing the rights-of-way that railroaded this energy back to its supposed owners. And if the Group were throwing these bombs into the market square, then there were definitely Pinkertons out there, looking for them.
Tim Maughan uses design fiction to sketch a vision of our precarious future:
Nicki is awake even before her mum calls her from the other side of the door. She’s sat up in bed, crackly FM radio ebbing from tiny supermarket grade speakers, her fingers flicking across her charity shop grade tablet’s touchscreen. She’s close to shutting down two auctions when a third pushes itself across her screen with it’s familiar white and green branded arrogance. Starbucks. Oxford Circus. 4 hour shift from 1415.
She sighs, dismisses it. She’s not even sure why she still keeps that notification running. Starbucks, the holy fucking grail. But she can’t go there, can’t even try, without that elusive Barista badge.
Which is why she’s been betting like mad on this Pret a Manger auction, dropping her hourly down to near pointless levels. It says it’s in back of house food prep, but she’s seen the forum stories, the other z-contractors who always say take any job where they serve coffee, just in case. That’s how I did it, they say, forced my way in, all bright faces and make up and flirting and ‘this coffee machine looks AMAZING how does it work?’ and then pow, Barista badge.
The problem, perhaps, with addressing the concerns of the day – particularly in science fiction that hopes to predict the future – is that it ages pieces considerably. Simon Ings (Hot Head; Dead Water) said of Paintwork: “[Tim] catches those fleeting moments of possibility in stories that ought to have no shelf life whatsoever – and which, regardless, linger in the mind.”
With very positive reactions, this timeliness obviously doesn’t concern Tim too much. In fact, he embraces that idea, mentioning how dated – but still enjoyable – films like Alien, Blade Runner and Outland are. “The idea behind many of them,” he tells me, “is that we’ll go into space and it’ll be this massive industrial enterprise; we’ll build these huge mining platforms – and that’s a reflection of the 1980s right? That’s a reflection of what industrial corporate technology was like then. It’s not a reflection of what industry’s like now.
“If we do ever expand our industries into space, it won’t look like that because the only way we could do it would be with more sophisticated technology – with nano-technology, and much sleeker approaches to doing things. We’re not going to go and build huge mining cities on Io, or whatever. But that doesn’t make those films any less beautiful to watch and it doesn’t make them any less relevant. In the1970s and the 1980s, we were building these huge oil platforms out in the North Sea in order to exploit the resources we had there. And I’m a big believer in that sort of science fiction; I don’t mind getting things wrong.”
He can even see his own work becoming dated, despite only being published in July 2011. “I get the impression that QR Codes are already going out of fashion,” he continues. “I don’t mind that because when I was writing about them, they were a fairly new thing. It’s interesting: I think the reason they’re going out of fashion is because they’re so easily hacked! They’re so open to malware – and you don’t know where it goes.
“That’s what Paintwork is all about. I like the idea that you can look back at science fiction from the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s, now, and go, ‘well, that’s wrong about the future, but that doesn’t matter because it was reflecting the values and concerns of the time it was written.’” It’s like a time capsule. “It makes science fiction an important and historical document,” Tim agrees. “You can’t get the future right, you never can. So coming back to those films, I watch Alien and Blade Runner and those movies all the time because they’re visually stunning. For that reason, there’s a place for it and it is nostalgia.”
“‘Burgerpunk?’” Tamsin squinted at me over the rim of her ironically ugly spex. “And that’s…what?”
Her eyes aimed down again, I could tell she was reading from some non-existent document floating in her own private space, my portfolio I presumed. It was also painfully obvious this was the first time she’d seen it. I stifled a sigh.
“Well…it’s a phrase I coined when I was in Shanghai. It’s…let me think. You know what steampunk is, right? Do you remember that?” She was probably too young.
“Sort of.” She half nodded. “Vaguely. Cogs and robots dressed as Colonial Saunders. Airships.”
“Yeah, that’s it. Pretty much. It was this romanticised idea of Victorian Britain but with this…this steam powered technology stuff. Anyway it got really popular in the States mainly, the reasoning being it allowed Americans to fetishise this sanitised, romanticised British Empire, because they’d never had one. I mean they had an economic, military and cultural empire – but not a physical, old school empire with an exciting history, right? Their empire never showed up on any maps.”
“So, the Chinese have the same problem, right, but slightly different – they’ve got this economic and maybe military empire, but they don’t even have a cultural one. Because of the language thing. Nobody outside China apart from a few nerds is watching Chinese movies, reading Chinese comics. So they’ve started fetishising America’s cultural empire. Burgerpunk.”
“Right.” It didn’t seem like Tamsin was completely following me, but I carried on regardless. It was too late to stop, I guess.
“So over in Shanghai and Beijing they’ve got all these AR parks and shopping malls and restaurants, where these salary men and factory workers take their families, and they can sit and eat burgers and milkshakes in fake ‘50s diners served by robots that look like Ronald Reagan and Lady Gaga while clips of the Vietnam war play on flat screens. Just outside Beijing there’s actually a theme park where you can dress up like gang members, and drive around this hyper-real recreation of an anonymous LA retail park – all burger franchises and outlet stores – in replicas of exactly the sort of gas-guzzling US muscle cars that the Chinese government has just had to ban.”
Paul Graham Raven introduces the idea of “infrastructure fiction,” a derivative of design fiction (itself somewhat related to science fiction):
No one would describe Douglas Adams as a “hard” science fiction writer, but I’ve long felt that he was better than many of his more serious contemporaries at communicating the paradoxical relationships we humans have with the world we inhabit. Near the start of the third Hitchhiker’s Guide novel, Life, the Universe and Everything (Adams, 2009), Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect observe the arrival of an unusual spacecraft (which, if I remember correctly, looks rather like a low-budget Italian bistro turned on its side) in the middle of Lords cricket ground during an important test match. This spacecraft remains unnoticed by the players, the crowd, or even the stolid BBC reporters covering the match; this is because it includes a device which generates a “Someone Else’s Problem” field, whose inventor realised that, while making something invisible is very tricky, making something look like someone else’s problem is much, much easier, as most people are predisposed to that position.
The challenge for infrastructure fiction is to dispel the Someone Else’s Problem field and reveal the elided centrality of infrastructure to pretty much everything we do. Its challenge is to explore what infrastructure means.
After a while, most serialized webcomics start to look the same. Just about every series seems to strike a similar balance of influences from anime and western animation. But not Light Years Away, which draws inspiration from European sci-fi comics by artists like Moebius and Tanino Liberatore.
LYA is set in a world where many — perhaps most — people have cybernetic implants. But there’s a growing, violent anti-implant movement called the Puritans. The first story arc, Escape from Prison Planet, tells the story of Milo, a repeat offender doing time on an off-planet penal colony, where he ends up in the middle of a prison gang war between the Puritans and the implantees. Soon, however, he finds out there’s something bigger going on.
I talked with writer Ethan Ede and artist Adam Rosenlund — the Boise, Idaho based duo behind the series — about webcomics, the future of the series and other projects they have in the hopper.
Left: Ethan Ede Right: Adam Rosenlund
Klint Finley: First, I’m curious why you guys self-published online. Did you shop it around to publishers first?
Ethan: We self-published this story because we wanted to do it our way. Having control over our product is very important to us, that’s one of the reasons there are no ads on the site, because that is content we can’t control. At the time when we started Light Years Away we were shopping several products around to publishers and we wanted to put something out in the meantime. We actually picked LYA because it is the least like the stories we normally tell.
Adam: As well as the story being built for the format. We were kind of frustrated at the pitch process when we decided on LYA. We just wanted to get some stories out there and read, and at the time, no one was buying science fiction. The market was in contraction, and publishers were reticent to take a chance on what we were selling.