I’ve Seen The Future, Brother, It Is Murder

I couldn’t help but bring Leonard Cohen into this. He’s one of the many artists whose loss gouged great wounds in our hearts. But Leonard’s poetry will live on in everyone he’s touched, and in every story he’s inspired.

This month’s post is about the future. It’s about two different futures, though. One is personal – my hopes and ambitions for the coming year – and the other is about a dominant theme for 2017 in my opinion.

Let’s talk about the big things first:

An image from when my corporate cyberpunk dystopia also was stylishly designed and beautifully filmed. Alas, we know it’s a dystopia by the fact only the worst will come and we won’t have any of the cool features. If you don’t believe me, check out the new Ghost in the Shell trailer. It had me running back to my copies of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex for the definitive adaptation of the material.

But as I was watching, and thinking about the themes of the series, especially the second one, I started to feel how it would impact our world in 2017.

The first series, dealing with the Laughing Man, introduced the idea of a Stand Alone Complex but the second series brought that idea to a more terrifying place: the idea that the phenomenon could be harnessed, with the right manipulation, to political ends.

As I watch it now, I realize this is rooted in something deeper I’ve been touching on in other entries: narrative control. Our world today, moreso than any previous time in our history, is vulnerable to active and directed efforts at narrative control. Information is spreading so fast, and people accept it so readily, one can use this to easily control a post-truth world.

We’ve been seeing this building for many years. But what once were ‘whisper campaigns’ or coded statements have become very open attempts at narrative control, and misdirection. The atmosphere has become so permissive, that people will shoot up local DC pizzerias based on deliberately created lies.

This upcoming year, I see Narrative Control becoming a key battleground for the spirit of the world we live in, but it will be done in tandem with something I’m calling ‘narrative distribution control.’ It’s not enough to create a narrative and set it lose in the world, then back it up. You’ve got to suppress counter-narratives or, even worse, actual facts.

I heard a description of a small mid-west rust belt town from a former resident. He said everyone listened to specific radio stations, which carried specific songs and messages. Listening to anything else got you odd looks. You only believed certain information sources. Challenging those would get everyone looking at you, saying ‘your education is showing.’ And Gods help you if you deviated from the norm.

It honestly sounded like descriptions of North Korea, except in this case the narrative control, and the choking of information to ‘approved’ sources, comes from the community and not the government. What’s more terrifying? A government imposing a narrative on you, or your own neighbors doing so?

So how do we stop this? How do we prevent us from becoming a less colorful version of The Village?

Do not not be pushed. Start small rebellions. Find these communities and the dissidents within. Let them know they’re not alone, that you know the narrative they’re being fed is not the whole truth. Create alternate narratives and find ways to deliver them to occupied areas.

We need to become the pirate radio station intercepting and countering the control narrative. We have to speak the truth, with proof and citation, and sneak the truth under the wire to those who need it. Learn from those fighting authoritarians elsewhere. Fight them here.

And don’t be afraid to yell “You lie!” when needed. They were willing to do so to support easy falsehoods, you have to do so to support the complicated truth.

Now, on a more personal note…

As with all years, I discover a bit more about myself as a writer, and then immediately get angry at college me for not realizing this. Time is the biggest enemy. But here is what I have learned:

Comfortable structures work best: Now, by comfortable I do not mean ‘comfort zone’ or anything similar. I mean finding a structure that works like a good hammer, or a pen that’s just the right size so it doesn’t dig into your hand the wrong way.

In this case, the comfortable structure is the one I was first trained to use: Screenplay outlines and treatments. During November, I cranked out several short stories at a speed which surprised me. And I realized the key was not only having a good old Syd Field outline for the story and writing up a treatment with scene breakdown beforehand.

I’m still working on how to scale this up, and start layering it for multiple plots, but the focus it conveyed contrasts heavily against the way I wandered around on Metaphysical Graffiti. Even using a plot outlining structure there, it lead to a lot of bloated beginnings and boring middles. I’m going to have to tear down the whole project at this point. But I think it’s for the best. I’m still unsure if I am ready to write this book yet.

Short Stories vs Novels – the battle continues: These days, with the limited time I have, my energy has gone into short stories and the submission grind. I’m still working on novels – still developing long form projects – but they are not my sole focus at this point. Right now, short stories are letting me further development my craft and try to get them out in the world. I won’t pretend I’m the second coming of Ted Chaing or Aunt Beast, but the chances of me getting stories published and developing a name is still greater than my chances of getting a novel subbed at this time.

Speaking of novels…

Generating Stories: Here, I come back to the great question – what stories do I want to tell? What do I want to read? I’m developing bits and pieces of backgrounds, thinking about the stories I want to tell, but finding the right voice for them proves difficult. I know the feeling I want to generate – a feeling I can’t get elsewhere – but grabbing onto it is taking a while.

But I’ll keep working on it. Can’t do much else – the stories aren’t being quiet.

Give yourself time: If this November taught me anything, I need time. Concerted, focus time where I can write. During this November’s write-ins with my group, I was able to put down words at a rate I can’t manage when sneaking out time after work, or in the wee hours before my job drains me of everything but anger.

The hardest part? The part of me, brought from a very Slavic upbringing, that says this isn’t real work, and I should be spending this time on the weekends fixing the fireplace. I think the biggest issue I have to overcome is the continued, nagging sense that this is not a worthwhile activity, even though I’d probably go mad if I couldn’t do it….

So, what am I going to do in 2017?

  • -Continue to write short stories, at least one a quarter, and keep pushing them out into the world to see who grabs onto them.
  • -Work on adapting Screenwriting structures to plotting
  • -Find characters and settings that will let me tell the stories I want to tell.
  • -Fight the part of me that won’t give time for writing
  • -Work on connecting with others and building a support network.
  • -Re-plot Metaphysical Graffiti
  • -Brainstorm the type of stories I want to tell and find characters within them
  • -Anger is an energy. Use it.

Talk to you all in the future
-> Andrija, Dec 2017

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Who is this Biomechanoid?

“Who are you?”

This isn’t just one of the great existential questions permeating our existence. For folks who’ve followed me since I began this on-line venture, it’s a legitimate question. “Who is this guy? What does he think he’s doing? What’s with the book chapters?”   Although some of this is covered in the About page, I wanted to dig a little deeper.

Now, I could write something like this:

“Author. Visionary. Dreamweaver. Andrija Popovic’s literary powers have stunned the community into silence. The publishing world is unable to comprehend the sheer primal nature of his antediluvian brilliance. But here, today, at this moment, you can experience him via the shared consciousness within…. the internet!”

But really, it would be an excuse to post this photo again while making an oblique reference to Garth Marenghi. No, the truth is much more mundane.

I was born in one of the nicer parts of the DC metro area. Both my parents are immigrants – one from Serbia and one from Venezuela – so I’ve never quite had a normal relationship with the world around me. I felt both American, and alien, all at once. This solidified when I was very young, and saw my first episode of Cosmos. The episode was “The Life and Death of Stars” and, at the very end, I watched Carl Sagan describe a galaxy rising on the shores of a distant planet.

Over the end credits the pinwheel of the milky way rose over a deep blue-green ocean. Hints of a fiery sunset touched the tops of the waves. My jaw literally dropped and, for the first time in my life, I wept for joy. Every time before, in my memory, I wept out of shame, pain and humiliation – usually at the end of an intense spanking. Not this time.

I wanted to be on that planet. I wanted to see that sunrise. I wanted to feel the sand under my feet. Would it be the same sand? Would it feel different? How would the breeze feel?

Most of the kids around me didn’t think like this. They were focused on the Redskins, or rough-housing during the play periods. I was weird. Football didn’t interest me. Weird places and unusual ideas did. I started writing then. Writing, and later photography, would keep me going through very rough times. They were secret joys, hidden from the demands of family or money. My hobbies, my secret forays into the arts, kept me sane.

But in the last few years, something turned. For the longest time, I was writing, but not for myself entirely. I wrote as a vent, or a way of getting the attention of selected folks.  The point wasn’t to tell my stories, but to tell stories I thought others wanted. But as I wrote my way through short stories which went nowhere, and what would become my first novel, I started writing more and more about the stories I wanted to read, and wanted to tell.

“Well, what stories do you want to read? Which ones do you want to tell?”

I’m still discovering this. Like many things, I’m late to the party but trying to catch up as best I can. This journal, focused on my writing, my convention experiences, thoughts on genre, is one way I’m trying to answer those questions. It my be the long-way around. But it’s how I learn and grow. But as you can probably tell from this entry, memories and the ripples pact acts have on the future interest me quite a bit. As does identity.

“Who are you?” I’m a work in progress. I’m both the same person who started this blog three years ago, and yet not the same person in the least. I am a biomechanoid under constant construction. And this is where you can see the work in progress.

Available Dark

NightOccoquan-12 I’ve heard the most dangerous kind of skier is a mid-level skier. The beginners are slow and tentative. They don’t know what they’re doing, so they’re cautious.

Experts are experts. They can rush through slopes with little effort. Bumps and turns which would panic beginners are easy to navigate for the expert.

Ah, but the mid-level skiers – they are better than the beginners. They have a bit more confidence. But they don’t have the experience level to really judge themselves. They overestimate or underestimate distances. They jump to advanced thoughts while forgetting the basics. And it gets them into trouble.

I feel this way about my photographs. I feel like I took better, more expressive pictures when I was just screwing around, barely knowing anything. Now, I know too much and it clouds me. I need to get back to experimenting. I need to try and test things out. Not overthink, just play.

This shot was me just playing, at night. I’ve got a lot of night shots where I didn’t think to hard, I just let the camera run and see what happened.

A little improv to help the dreaming along.

ReaderCon 24: Default Narratives and Silicon Valley Futures

Two entries in one day after over a month of silence? Thank the one quasi-day off I had after ReaderCon 23. I say “quasi” because work, or in specific my clients and customers, made me pay for the free time. Perhaps one day I’ll feel I have enough back-up so time off isn’t limited by a thin thread. Or perhaps the story of “Andy can’t take a day off or everything goes pear shaped” is now the default narrative.

Default narrative, or consensus reality, seemed to be the underlying theme on many of the ReaderCon panels I attended. Be it a rant about how the default narrative of a space-borne future helped keep SF from recognizing other forms of science or discussions on egalitarian character trauma, or talks about how to write people from different perspectives/sexualities/cultures with respect kept running into this one phrase.

There is a Default Narrative embedded in our culture. Imagine it as a deeper, more pervasive version of Hollywood marketeers who say “Look, this film won’t work if the main character is not white, male and from the south” or “Women don’t go to raunchy comedies, so we’ll just keep making remakes of Notting Hill.” It grows from the stories we hear around us, but also works to keep those stories in a specific status quo, even if we know it’s wrong.

Hands up to everyone who looks at a multi-racial cast in an action or horror film and says, “Dammit. Black guy’s gonna die by the end.” And when it doesn’t happen, we are surprised.

Or, if we’re more invested in the narrative, it triggers a kind of cognitive dissonance. When we see a narrative which goes against the Default, a pain appears behind our eyes. It grows sharper when problems are pointed out in the default narrative, or we notice how much we benefit from the Default compared to others. No one likes change. No one likes to believe they’re small minded or a bad person. No one likes to feel stupid. So there is a reaction – a push back to the ‘norm’ enjoyed and a defense of it.

So how do we fight this? Oddly enough, it’s by telling more stories. Many more stories. And pushing to have them brought out into the light. Andrea Hairston, she of the amazing speaking voice and wonderful choice in hats, noted that narratives about a black president in 24 made it easier for many to see a black president in the real world.

Narratives can change. But it takes time and work on many levels. We have to keep fighting, even if we fail. Because when we do succeed, it lets us build upon it and try to change the Default. One series of agents and editors saying, “You know, that’s it, I’m going to stop telling my female writers to stop submitting SF and push for their stories instead” or a publisher going “Dammit, this inner city retelling of the Arthurian legend is damn good and needs a voice!”

There will be resistance. There will be pining for the good old days. The golden age of when things were Great and Good, as opposed to this wretched world where everything our betters fought for has fallen into ashes and dust. But we have to go beyond them. We have to keep fighting.

I mentioned Silicon Valley Futures in my post. My lady and I were witness to a unique event as far as I could tell. In a panel called “What the future is, and what it is not” about the perils of SF’s predictive featuring John Crowley, Glenn Grant, Vincent McCaffrey, John Shirley, and Bud Sparhawk, a gentleman stood up during the questions.

He announced he was working in Silicon Valley on the technology we will be using five years from now and gave an example of webcams built into televisions which are now being abused by the NSA, and demanded to know why Science Fiction was not writing about the future he and his colleagues were creating, but instead were invested in dead futures.

When the panel attempted to answer stating, yes, people are writing about this future you but this gentleman may not have seen it – the Silicon Valley Scion stormed out. I asked Jonathan Crowley about it later on and he stated this was the first time anyone ever stormed out of one of his panels. And afterwards, everyone talked about his future – and places we saw it, long before he even thought of joining the folks out in the digital frontier.

He appeared later on in a panel on nostalga in SF and Fantasy (featuring Elizabeth Bear, John Benson, Andrea Hairston, Elizabeth Hand, Robert Killheffer, and Scott Lynch), he brought up the same question. “Why is everyone so afraid of my question?” he bemoaned, as if he was Cassandra trying to bring old men and their rocket ships back to the present with no luck.

Elizabeth Bear called him out. To paraphrase: Your question has a false premise. You’re assuming no one is writing about this, or we’re afraid of it, but that’s not true. We are writing about it and embracing it, but you don’t seem to be seeing it. Yet, he continued on, spear-wound in his side, not wanting to look at recent issues of Clarke’sworld or Lightspeed or anything written by Bruce Sterling or Charles Stross.

For the Scion of Silicon Valley, the default narrative was “I’m creating the future, I don’t see anyone writing about it, therefore everyone is ignoring my future and sticking to their lazy Default Narrative.” He railing against the default narrative and refusing to even acknowledge the efforts of people to change it, he created his own default narrative and was trapped by cognitive dissonance within it.

If we really want to change the Default, we have to do more than raise our fists in anger, or stomp off when we don’t get change. We have to applaud those who are making changes, support them, and spread the word about them.

Change the question from “Why are people not writing about the future I’m making?” to “Where can I find and support people who are writing about this future I see coming?”

Or better: tell your story. Show us the future you see coming. Add to the pool of stories that will crack the Default. Because only we can change things. It takes time and action, and it will hurt. Dissonance will strike back, and it has powerful friends. But don’t ever let that stop you.