This Was Not the Corporate Dystopia I Was Promised

The other title for this post is “We Need The Punk In Cyberpunk Now.”

Recent events has me thinking on a big influence on my formative years: the literature and the aesthetic of cyberpunk. While many grew up with images of the space age, with (white, western) humanity cementing its manifest destiny among the stars, I grew up when a certain generation of authors looked at the great space wheel of 2001: A Space Odyssey and wondered how many of the components were built by globalized companies using third world labor.

This was a world were the buds of the modern internet first took root when we started connecting home computers into telephone lines, then immediately used it to trade porn and complain about movies. Cell phones first hinted at the idea we wouldn’t be tied to cables and trunk-lines forever. And corporations grew, adopting a “Shareholder Profits Shall Be the Whole of the Law” attitude which still rules today. Conversations like the one ceased to be dialog out of Alan J. Pakula thrillers:

“We can make tones of money using these quick-term stock scams and hiding the results overseas. Now it’ll crash the economy-”
“What about the quarterly profits?”
“Oh, we’ll see a massive spike before total devastation.”
“We can blame the immigrants. Do it, and we’ll be rich enough to not care.”

And instead became standard operating procedure for every global company out there.

Take all of the above, mingle onto it the visual aesthetics of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, the paintings of Patrick Nagel, and Michael Mann’s visual palette from Miami Vice, and you have the birth of a neon-drenched corporate dystopia where the wealthy live in technological splendor, while the same technology alternately imprisons and liberates those scrambling to survive day in, day out. The tools of the oppressors became ways we could give them a massive “Fuck You.”

But while we have cyberpunk’s technology for the most part (No wicked cybernetics, but re-read Bruce Sterling’s Islands in the Net. The book opens with someone killed by a drone strike, folks), and we certainly have the ever-present corporate domination (Get and watch the Max Headroom collection from Shout Factory. Check “Grossberg’s Return” for the shocking idea of the media creating news, not reporting it –  *cough*InfoWars*cough* – while “Lessons” talks explicitly about education treated as a commodity to keep it out of the hands of the poor), we are missing some things.

The aesthetics for one. I think Starcadian best expresses this longing for a familiar vibe in the video for “Chinatown”

The other part we’ve lost – and some would argue never really had – was the punk part. That rebellious growl at seeing our future stolen, at dehumanization, and at the abuse of power. The part of the aesthetic born from folks like Stiff Little Fingers. Listen to “Suspect Device

They take away our freedom
In the name of liberty
Why can’t they all just clear off
Why can’t they let us be
They make us feel indebted
For saving us from hell
And then they put us through it
It’s time the bastards fell

Don’t believe them
Don’t believe them
Don’t be bitten twice
You gotta suss, suss, suss, suss, suss, suss
Suss, suspect device

Tell me that’s not the punk part of the equation in a song?

This is what we need in the world right now. We need the punk side of cyberpunk. We need our Suspect Devices. We need our Edison Carters, though these days he’d be working for ProPublica, not Network 23.  It’s out there, but right now it’s controlled by people who think swatting a lady for not appreciating the dick picks you sent her after seeing her Steam profile. We need to take it back. We need to use what we learned from our CyberPunk forefathers to take this world and cast it into ugly, sharp relief. We need to channel the growling anger of punk and it’s children, and focus it on the folks who’d take away our freedoms in the name of liberty.

When I see an article posted about how our new administration is taking pages out of Totalitarianism 101 (Say, by de-legitimizing a free press or picking targets for ‘true patriots’ to rail against), I don’t react with a sad face. I use the angry one. And I tell them exactly how they can fight – Maybe not with their fists, but with dollars, votes, and showing up at a town hall meeting with a ZIP code on your chest while getting into a legislator’s grill.

I think anyone writing contemporary SF who felt something shiver inside when they watched the opening minutes of Blade Runner, saw Synners spelled in a unique way, or heard the sky described as television tuned to a dead channel, should do the same.  Or as Henry Rollins put it:

henryrollinsjoestrummer

So, borrowing from Joe’s bandmate, Paul – when they kick down your front door, how you gonna come? With your hands on your head? Or on the record button of your cell phone, streaming live and direct to the world?

It’s cyberpunk time.

Sharing The Orphans

This artwork comes from ALIEN ARTIFACTS, the largest publication credit I have to date. It doesn’t mean the short story therein is the only one I’ve written, of course, but it is the one that has gotten any kind of broad release recently. I do have others out there in the world – submissions to other anthologies, and to various publications – but there are a few which have been tucked away for now. I haven’t found a home for them, or they are just not ready for prime time. 

But this little backwater of the internet isn’t prime time. So, I think I’ll post a few of the stories which didn’t make it through the submission grinding process here.

What of Metaphysical Grtaffiti? I’m putting that to the side for a while. I need to rethink the structure and my ultimate goal with the book. I also need to work on a few more world elements. Some aspects are not quite falling into place just yet.  Given I’m not in danger of getting a book deal anytime before the end of the Trump administration, I’ll be OK resting it, and coming back later.

But, for now, I’ll throw out a few of my abandoned short stories and flash fiction pieces. Hopefully, folks will enjoy them. Do let me know what you think.

Dark Stars in the Sky

We’ve lost quite a few prominent artists this last week. It’s provoked quite a bit of thinking on my part. Especially because these artists in particular all took their own routes to expression.

David Bowie is a classic example of an artist who, on paper, shouldn’t work. Yet, his content re-invention and seeking of his own weird gave him a deep place in our world. They don’t hold Second Line celebrations like this for folks who didn’t make an impact.

Bowie kept creating until the very end. He followed his weird. I think we’re all richer for it.

 

Pandora Sands, or the Dream Author

I still remember standing in the doorway of the bookstore. Blue carpet stretched out under my feet. Above me, the sandy stone archways of the former cathedral now supported chandeliers and signs and at least one wooden ship with brass fittings and a golden sails.  Ten foot tall bookshelves made from old oak mingled with glass cabinets holding rare books, statues and hand-built models. You could walk up to a display of old maps, posters and artwork ripe for a dorm room wall.

And the music, Sonny Rollins style jazz, danced along the walls from an advanced sound system plugged into an old turntable. This was my idea of heaven. So it’s only fitting I’m dreaming the place. It’s hidden is some version of Prague, next to a comic book shop. My fiancée and I discover it and immediately dive into the stacks. She starts browsing, but I dive right to one specific part of the massive Science Fiction & Fantasy section.

It’s in the back, a low shelf topped by a glass display case featuring models of spacecraft held in suspension. The author I want is at the bottom. I sit, cross-legged, on the blue carpet and scan the paperbacks for her name: Pandora Sands

It’s easy to spot her. All of her work is published by DAW books. They feature the bright yellow spines. Her name glows in red while the book titles are solid black. The covers were painted in late 70’s Michael Whelan style.  I picked up the thickest of the books. It featured a woman in sphere – some form of anti-grav travel bubble –  wearing a brightly colored robe, pointing to the distance. The ground was split like a chessboard. Great towers swept above everyone in he background. In the foreground, beautiful men in sandals and thongs shared the scenes with lizard-like aliens.

Pamela Sands wrote like a combination of Tanith Lee and C.J. Cherryh. Her space operas were adventurous, detailed, sensual and political. They featured a freelance troubleshooter, Lady Stacia DuVare, and her travels across the galaxy. Supposedly, the character was created after meeting Stacia Blake at a Hawkwind concert.

In the end, I put the book back and just stared at the shelf. Even in my head, I knew this was a dream. There was no Pamela Sands, no books like this. They only existed in the mists of my mind.  Which is a damn shame.  When I woke up I Googled the name, hoping, but there was nothing.

But who knows – maybe she does exist? Or will, some day. And decades from now, an adventurous spirit will find her books tucked away in a used book store built within a church…

Dialog or Get the Chatter Down

I’ve been thinking about my process for building scenes and crafting prose. Slowly, I’m admitting to myself I go for dialog above description. If a building needs to appear in the story, my first instinct is to have the characters talk about the building. (“Huh. Your apartment looks like the one from Ghostbusters.” “What, the place with Signourney Weaver?” “Yeah.” “Oh, I should be so lucky.”

This is the danger of learning to write screenplays and investing time in creating them. I learn to think in terms of scenes, “actors” and dialog, with the rest as set dressing.

I’m working on a story for an anthology and I realized how much I was relying on dialog in the beginning. So, I decided on a small experiment. Instead of fighting my training, creating full descriptions in the first pass and aiming for lush prose, I’m doing the dialog first.

Very simple, very quick, and a few stage directions along the way so I know what’s happening.

Then, I go back in and fill in the rest. It’s less like sculpting from stone and more like building stop-motion puppet. You start with the armature first. Then, layer on the muscles, and the skin, and the features, until you get a full figure you can start to painstakingly photograph.

I’m hoping this will help me get working faster. If my first instinct is to hear the character’s talking, then I need to have them talk. I’ll then get in the descriptions in.

Well C’mon and Let Me Know…Should I stay or should I go?

I’ve been updating this blog for well over three years now. Two entries ago, I completed part one of Ivre. You can see all the posts here or just visit the initial post in the series here.  There’s still more to come with the book. Two more parts to revise and post. I’ve yet to get any feedback, though, beyond the suggestion to change the title. So I’m left to ask: Should I go on? Should I stay or should I go?

Trouble is, I quite like the characters, and where the story goes. And while I think it’s worth my time, I’m not sure if it is worth the time of others.

So, if you’ve remained silent until now, please take a moment. Dig through the entries. Especially the first chapter. Let me know: should I quit and focus on something else? Or should I keep going?

Ivre – Part 1: Arrival, Chapter 10

Ivre
by
Andrija Popovic

(The following is an initial draft of this work. All content is (c) Andrija Popovic 2015)

A box within a box. The great watchers laugh at me. The beast flailed in the ocean’s depths, grasping at the tiny motes of energy floating around. Fish. Squid. Survivors of the ship which carried his first prison. None offered sustenance. He craved the life-force of one of the sorcerers who dragged him from the oceans of home.

This was a cruel parody of his ocean. The channeler’s basalt prison maddened him, gave him nothing to focus on but the pain of his life essence draining away at the command of some petty energy channeler. Yet this world, this ocean, held no such malice. It could not help blinding him, starving him, driving him mad.

The beast sang, low and mournful, through the wisps of the higher realms where he once lived. It echoed into the sea and sky, unheard by the beings who dragged him into this existence. The world was deaf to his song.

But something sang back.

The the tenor felt nothing like the long, undulating songs of his people. This song resembled a chorus of sharp, brittle chimes which melded into a larger song. It was alien and strange, but close. Close enough to touch.

Can you hear me? The beast sang.

*We can hear you,* the chorus sang back.

How can you hear me?

*You sing the songs of the higher seas. We swim there to travel* The chorus grew discordant. *We swam. No longer. We are exiled here now. Our Queen was cast from the great web.*

I understand. The beast dragged his bulk further out to the sea, focused on the distant signal. I was dragged from my sea by channelers called Tememerans. They enslaved me. He sang sensations of entrapment, fear and pain. Through the aether, he felt sympathy and sadness from the chorus.

*We know the Temerans. When we were first cast to the lower realms, it was near their home continent. They took it as a sign and began a great working. They sought divinity through the higher realms.*

Did they succeed?

*No. It left them spiritless meat.* Sadness bloomed into thick, red despair. *But they trapped us here.*

You have my sympathies. One of his tendrils reached the source of the song: A rocky mass sitting in the sea, coasting like driftwood. You have learned to channel as they do?

*Yes. We disassembled the the Temerans remains. It allowed us to build a semblance of a life . In time, we could have returned to the home webs. But that is impossible now.*

Shockwaves of depression washed against the beast. He plucked out images of fire, of humans in armor, and of a human in white with a long, flowing beard.

Once more, a channeler of this realm causes suffering. Is there no hope?

*For us? No. There is only war.*

I wish you victory. And I wish I could help.

An odd sensation danced across the surface of his mind. For the first time since reaching this blighted realm, he tasted comfort, and the energies of home.

*We can help you. It will take time, but we can free you from this realm.*

The beast went silent. When they heard nothing back, the others reached out to him.

*Embrace our vessel. Listen to our song. Soon, the ways will open and you can swim home.*

The beast curled his tentacles around the rocky mass. The chorus sang, clear and strong, and the song resonated. It gained strength.

He joined his song to theirs, giving them what energy he could. The box would no longer imprison him. He was returning home. For the first time in centuries, he felt joy.