In the Heat of the Sun: Desert Noir

Film noir. Two words which conjure images of unshaven men in fedoras, dangerous women in evening dresses, rain-slicked back alleys in America’s cities, and… prospectors in California mining towns?

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And yet, I’m starting to find the arid lands outside of the great noir settings hold just as many people making bad decisions in a desperate attempt to escape their circumstances.

Every Sunday morning at 10am Eastern, I visit Noir Alley.  Hosted by Eddie Muller – a man who earned the title “The Czar of Noir” with his work in the Film Noir Foundation – I watch our host lead us through classic films of the era. And while I’ve seen my share of bank jobs gone wrong, or loves turn to murder (and tweeted along to them on #NoirAlley), I was surprised by one location which kept appearing: the desert, and the mountains.

Humphrey Bogart and Ida Lupino’s High Sierra is a famous example. This early noir ended in the desert town of Lone Pine, California, with a sharpshooter taking down Bogart after a tense stand on the rough mountains. But as films went on, the desert became more and more prominent.

In Framed, Glen Ford’s follow-up to Gilda, Ford plays a mining engineer looking to start anew. He finds an old prospector, a chance at a good job, and a James M. Cain style murder plot all under the glaring sun.  The end of The Prowler, a dark little film staring Van Heflin and Evelyn Keys and written (in pseudonym) by blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo, ends with the larcenous pair trapped in a ghost town where their adulterous desires will meet a brutal end.

And then there is Split Second. On the surface, this is a hostage drama with escaped convicts. But instead of an urban home, everyone is in an abandoned resort town in the desert under a ticking clock. In this case, an above-ground atom bomb test.  This is the first time I’ve ever seen someone get their (film production code mandated) bad end through a nuclear detonation.

But even through other films, the desert shows up. Las Vegas becomes a setting in many places. A good number of chase scenes take place out away from the city. I know it’s likely just because it’s cheaper to film out there, yet I think here’s something more.

Take Ida Lupino‘s brilliant film, The Hitch-Hiker. Without the desolate beauty of Baja California, would the main character’s plight as hostages of the high-hiker been half as tense? In the desert, you can run anywhere, and still have nowhere to go, and no safe place to escape.

Think about this the next time you’re heading down a dark road in the middle of the desert, no companions but scrub brush, coyotes, and a strange man who asks you: “Got a light?”

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The Ticking Clock

The Ticking Clock
By
Andrija Popovic
(C) 2017 Andrija Popovic

4:19 AM Eastern Time. 

Every morning, an hour and a half before his alarm was set to go off, he awoke. His eyes snapped open. He took a deep breath, almost gasping. Reaching out, he touched his snoring wife’s form to one side, and his snoring cat’s from to the other. 

You have time. Just go back to sleep. He would tell himself this lie every time. But his mind would never fall back into torpor. He was awake. The ticking clock inside him said it was time to walk about, to rise. The rest of his body obeyed, despite his mind’s dearest wishes. 

After the fifth night, his wife said: “You need to see a specialist.”

So he visited the body shop and had his specialist crack him open. As he lay back, brain case exposed, the specialist peered at a tiny bit of grey matter held between two foreceps. “Well, that’s your problem right there.”

“What?”

“Damn biological clock was never set to auto-update for daylight savings time.  Gonna have to reprogram it and get it synced again. That’ll probably be another nine-hundred or so.”

Goddamned highway robbery, he thought. The specialist took the grey matter away and tinkered with it, quietly, in the background. Another two thousand down the tubes. Still, what was the value of a good night’s sleep?

4:19 AM Eastern Time. His mental clock did not go off. He did not wake up suddenly.

He woke up slowly, and really had to pee. Son of a bitch…

It Was A Day

It Was A Day

by

Andrija Popovic
(c) 2017 Andrija Popovic

I’d just returned home and downloaded into my standard body when Theta pinged my personal network. “Hey? You centered yet?”

“Gimme a bit. I’m still synching.” My work body, designed for zero-G work, rested comfortably in the wall transfer closet. I shook the pins & needles from my normal form. No prehensile feet and tail on this one. Just a baseline model crafted to match against my original body’s DNA.  I watched the counter on my iris-HUD click over to green. All experiences from work were now synced, and backed-up in off-line memory. “Still feeling a little post-sync crud. Heading to the shower. Join me there?”

“Already have it warm for you.” Thea v.7 was one fork of a SyntheticIntelligence I met at work. She (preferred pronoun) ran predictive micrometeorite tracking and helped keep the orbital free of debris. Most nights, she was syncing with her sisters, matching version numbers and trading the day’s news around this time. I’d come home, we’d talk – she liked low-level processing. Said it felt more thoughtful.

When she dropped by early, she was usually interested in syncing with my nervous system, and playing hologram in my tiny apartment. Stepping into the shower, I felt her request for connectivity. Granting it, I closed my eyes. Water ran down my back, pushing aside the transfer closet’s preservative sludge.  Opening my eyes, I saw her in the shower with me. She manifested as a curvy lady in her mid-40’s with curly dark hair and shimmering koi tattoos running along her back.  We complimented each other well. I leaned in and kissed her, the system pairing tricking my nerves into thinking the projection was real.

“Hey. How’s the family?”

“Well. They’re doing well.” She wrapped her arms around my waist. The shower was barely big enough for myself and her hologram. She glitched slightly against the walls. One day, we’d be able to add another sector to our habitat module. Get a full-sized shower with double the projectors. But, I supposed those are the dreams young transhuman couples have: move in together, get more cloud and physical storage, maybe settle down into something permanent. “The sisters did ask me about something, though. And it lead me to think. I took a work cycle of personal time to help sort this through.”

“Oh? What’s that?” I let the shower hit me with soap and hair jell.

Thea reached up and showed me the palm of her hand. The koi tattoo along her back drifted, swimming up to her palm. When it surfaced, it blew a bubble with a compacted optical scan code embedded in the surface. I decoded it in a blink. It was her root address – the one she shared with all the other instances of herself. But it was too long. It had–

“Is this…oh, Thea, are you sure?”

“Yes.” She took my hand. “Maxi, I’d like to single-instance myself with you. I’d like to be a unique Thea. One that lives with you. If you’ll have me.”

By way of an answer, I reached out and took the code from her hand. My personal network read the address information, and instantly gave it a unique presence in my systems. Thea no longer shared a root system with her systems. She shared it with me.”

“I’d be honored.” I held her against me, enjoying the illusion of her actually being in the shower with me. “Welcome home, Thea v.7.m.” And then I laughed. “So, what next? Furniture shopping together.”

“Maybe. Did I tell you I was looking for datalife friendly bodies? Found a few I liked, but wanted to get your thoughts…” Thea smiled. I closed my eyes, picked through a memory of a particularly interesting kiss from my past, and dubbed her into it. She almost purred.

“Thea, hon, you are always in my thoughts. Now, let me get dried off. We can hop the mesh into one of the monitoring satellites and watch the sun hit the orbital as we talk.” Thea returned the kiss, edited and enhanced, and stepped out of the shower. I had a moment to myself.

Shared networks. It was time. And I’d been thinking of asking her. Now the body, that’s a different commitment. We’d need to slow down a bit, but we had time. As I shut off the shower, and walked over to the wall screens where Thea’s preferred bodies were displayed. Most were starter kits – simple, but a good place for any SI to begin feeling the new world. A year from now, maybe we could afford a more advanced model for her.

What is the one-year anniversary gift for a mixed SI/transhuman relationship? I didn’t know. but I wanted to find out.

(Inspired by a recent viewing of Blade Runner 2049.)

Armored Trooper VOTOMS – “Orange Crush”

So, I made an Anime Music Video for Armored Trooper VOTOMS set to R.E.M’s “Orange Crush.”

Update: Click on the Red Shoulders to watch…

Babooshka & Delirium’s Mistress at Tea

Often, when I write, it’s downstairs on the couch. Usually there’s a cat attempting to knock my iPad out of its Qwertkey keyboard. Often there’s sun spilling through the blinds. But always there’s something playing on YouTube. Usually, it’s music. Today, it was about music. I threw on a 2014 BBC documentary on Kate Bush as I wrote up notes on various possible stories and novels. And as I listened to Kate Bush’s songs, and watched her videos, a notion hit me.

I posted this on Twitter: “In my imaginary world, Kate Bush and Tanith Lee used to spend afternoons together, laughing, and telling each other stories based on dreams.”

And I could see it. I could see the two of them in a small house somewhere – either Lee’s residence or Kate Bush’s Wickham Farm home studio. Kate would be working on Hounds of Love, singing bits and pieces of it, toying with a piano or keyboard. Tanith would be writing everything longhand, as if possessed, and reading early drafts of Delirium’s Mistress or “Medra” from a battered and cluttered writing desk.

Why these two? In some ways, I’ve always tied them together. The first time I heard Kate Bush sing, it was “Love & Anger” from The Sensual World.  Around that same time, the first of Tanith’s books – the Flat Earth Series – found their way into my hands. The back of my brain connected their voices.

But watching the documentary on Bush, and thinking back to ReaderCon discussions about Lee, I realized they were kin to each other. They were strange and sensual voices in a time plagued by sameness. No one could ever read one of Tanith Lee’s novels or listen to Kate Bush’s songs and say, “Well, it’s obvious they’re just riffing off this artist…” You can’t draw a direct line from their works to some antecedent.

They would always surprise you. They’d go down their own path and invite you along for the ride.

After all, these are ladies who would describe snow as ‘hooded-wept’ and ‘warm as toast.’ How could they not share garden space in the neighborhood of my mind?

Death of All Things – Now In Print

The new anthology set from Zombies Need Brains, LLC, is now in print. This includes The Death of All Things featuring my short story, “Finding the Dancer.”

Please, pick up a copy, and encourage your friends to do so as well.  I share space with some amazing writers, and had the privilege of being edited by two authors I admire: Kat Richards and Laura Ann Gilman.

You can also get the amazing cover for this book as an art print at the ZNB store:

Death-of-all-Things

While you’re there, pick up the companion anthologies Submerged and All Hail our Robot Conquerors! My earlier appearance in ZNB’s Alien Artifacts anthology is still in print. You’ll want it for “The God Emperor of Lassie Point” alone. Trust me.

We Can Be Heroes

They say you should never meet your heroes. You will realize they have feet of clay, lecherous hands, and spiteful mouths. Let them remain a shadow in the back of your mind. The Platonic idea of your hero will always beat the real thing.

In this case, I’m glad I didn’t listen. Over ten years ago, I went to GenCon with three close friends. We were there to support our favorite mini game at the time. And I realized that Michael Stackpole, fantasy and tie-in fiction author I admired for years, was not only attending but presenting  a multi-day workshop on writing. At the time, I dabbled and tried get a few things published – mostly to see if it would impress folks who really didn’t deserve the attention.

Michael Stackpole changed all of this.

I met him through the Battletech tie-in books. The Warrior trilogy in particular grabbed me by my little mech-powered heart over many a summer when I was young. His Rogue Squadron books influenced some of my favorite sessions of the old West End Games Star Wars RPG. And I will say his fantasy novel, The Dark Glory War, still haunts me.

And I mean it. The ending haunts me. The protagonist lives, but gods, you wish he had death’s peace.

So, I was concerned about the seminars. Would he grab the novella I had tucked in my backpack and set it afire in front of everyone, as I heard some Clarion instructors were wont to do?

No. He was open, forthright, friendly, and smart. His lectures completely turned me around. While they are currently trunk novels, it’s because of him I have three completed books hidden away.  He gave me just the right push, at just the right time, to start acting like  writer. Later, when his 21 Days to a Novel came out, I used it as a blueprint for one of my projects. Michael Stackpole still had a lot to teach me.

I returned to GenCon this year with three publication credits to my name – not much, but a start – and ran into Mr. Stackpole at the Catalyst Games booth. Not only did he put up with my stammering, he graciously signed my autograph book with two words: “Keep writing.”

No worries, sir. I will. Damn right I will.

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