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Thursday, July 30, 2020

Today's Free Sci-Fi Story Idea



RIPPED FROM THE HEADLINES!
The USDA and agriculture officials across the U.S. have issued warnings about unsolicited shipments of foreign seeds and advised people not to plant them. Officials are concerned the mystery seeds, which appear to have originated in China, could be invasive plant species.
My first thought was, “Didn’t Frank Herbert use something like this in The White Plague? Terrorists spreading their bio-engineered killer disease by spraying the spores on currency, then mailing the cash to people selected at random? Being free money, people couldn’t resist the temptation to open the envelopes and handle the bills?’

But then I had a better thought:
What if these packages of mystery seeds aren’t really being sent from China? What if they’re being sent out by aliens, who are here to “terraform” the Earth to be more suitable for their species? What if this is all part of a brilliantly insidious plan to use social engineering to co-opt humans into helping carry out their evil plan?!   
Over to you...

~brb

Sunday, July 26, 2020

SHOWCASE: “Sunday Dinner with la Famiglia (and Nonno’s Brain)” • by Franco Amati

Art by Justine Backes


Sunday dinner with the family was a little different this week.
We all sat around a dumpy-ass table in the middle of the nursing home. From where I was sitting, I could see a big bowl of pasta. My younger sister Gina was across from me, and next to her was the big jar with Grandpa’s brain in it. We called him Nonno, and he didn’t say much these days. A few of his usual phrases once in a while, but that was it.

The jar was filled with this blueish fluid, and there were all these sensors and wires coming out of Nonno’s lumpy old sponge. Attached to the cart that held the jar was a mounted rig with a large mechanical arm that Nonno could control if he wanted to.

“Whattatheycallit again? A vath?” Gina asked.

“A vat, honey,” Mom said.

Gina was a little bit of a moron. She also just had a kid. Her son, Baby Nico, was sitting on the other side of her in his high chair. Next to him was my mom, who was periodically feeding him spoonfuls of smushed spaghetti. I was on the other side of my Mom. My dad was next to me, and next to my dad was my grandma, Nonno’s wife, who will probably be getting her own vat real soon.

Technically, she’s Nonna, but for some reason we just call her Grandma. She had her fifth stroke last month on her ninetieth birthday. She’s practically catatonic most of the time, but if she gets riled up she has these uncontrollable outbursts where she gets violent, and you can’t understand a word she’s saying. When they put her in the vat, I wonder if she’ll act the way she does now or if the doctors can fix her brain up a little so she can act the way she used to.

“Hey Tone,” Mom said to me, “maybe you can get an internship here and help out with all the brains or somethin’.”

“Ma, I graduated college six years ago. They don’t let you do internships if you’re outa school already.” My mom doesn’t know anything. She’s never had a job in her life, and she’s got no clue what it’s like to try to get a career going.

“Okay, well then just volunteer or somethin’ to build your resume. You never know, honey. Gotta make connections is all. It’s all about who you know.”

She’s ridiculous. She goes on the same spiel every time we’re in public. Soon when the doctor guy comes over here, she’s gonna try to get him to talk to me about his career path. She’ll be like, “Hey doctor so and so, how could my Tony here get into the brain-jarring business? You guys are real miracle workers here. Extending people’s lives like that. I want my Tony doin’ somethin’ worthwhile like that.”

Out of nowhere a garbled computerized voice blasted through Nonno’s speaker. “Eyya, Happy New Year!”

“It’s not New Year’s, Pop. It’s the middle of July,” Dad said.

Then Gina said, “Hey, I always wondered. How do they get the computer voice to sound all Italian like that?”

“Nonno’s brain is being kept alive in a jar, and you’re worried about how they get his voice to sound Italian? Sheesh,” I said, “you’re so dumb.”

“Guys, behave,” Dad said. “Don’t be mean to each other, or no allowance this week.” He was wearing his traditional white and blue Sunday polo shirt with white pleated khaki shorts, which were pretty much the only pants he wore throughout the summer when he wasn’t working. And he had these stupid rimless glasses that he got like twenty years ago that he thinks still look good because, you know, without the rims no one can tell he’s wearing glasses.

“Hey can someone pass the sauce?” I asked.

“You mean gravy,” Mom said.

“No, I mean sauce. That’s what everyone in the freakin’ world calls it.”

“Well in Italy and South Jersey we call it gravy.”

“I’m pretty sure no one in Italy has ever called it gravy.”

Then Dad chimed in, “I dunno why you gotta always bring up the same shit all the time. Can’t you just respect your mother and call it what the family calls it? When you’re not with the family, call it whatever the hell you want. But when you’re with us, you call things like we do.”

Then outa nowhere Nonno spoke again: “Mincia, questo è stoonad!”

The volume of the speaker scared Baby Nico, so he spilled his juice. Gina completely ignored it because she was laughing so hard at what Nonno said. “Ohmygod Tony. See even Nonno thinks you’re a freakin’ idiot!”

I wasn’t gonna dignify it with a response, but then Dad defended me by saying, “He didn’t call Anthony an idiot. He called him a stoonad.”

“Same thing.”

“No. A stoonad is someone who can’t pay attention that good. Your brother’s not an idiot. He just gets distracted sometimes is all.”

I couldn’t believe this. I needed a break from these people. So I excused myself and got up to go to the bathroom.

The place was a weird kind of nursing home. It was sort of set up like a hospital, but since all the residents were reliant on expensive-as-hell technology to stay alive, the place looked more like a science lab. Even the cafeteria had rows and rows of hardware lined up everywhere, up against the walls, under the tables, on the ceilings. Even in the age of wireless, this place was somehow wrapped in a never-ending rainbow of extension cords. I guess brains require a lot of upkeep.

Honestly, I don’t get why so many people wanted to live this way. I could never. There’s no way any of these people are even remotely happy floating in fluid with only one robotic arm to do stuff with. The hand on it doesn’t even have the right number of fingers. Nonno’s probably so pissed he can’t give anyone the middle finger like he used to.

On my way to the bathroom I walked by a few of the residents’ rooms. I didn’t get why they had beds. Floating brains didn’t need to sleep. But then I walked passed another room, and I saw why. There was a sad, middle-aged woman curled up on the bed trying her best to spoon with her loved one’s vat. I guess it can be pretty hard to let go.

The bathroom was at the end of the hall. There was one urinal, and it was overflowing. So I had to use one of the stalls. When I got out to wash my hands, I noticed at the end of the room there was a vat just sitting there. I didn’t even hear it roll in. I pumped the pink soap onto my hands and tried to ignore it. But I couldn’t. It was just parked there, right in front of the full-length mirror, not moving at all. Does it even recognize itself? Jesus Christ. Creepy as hell. I rinsed my hands and got the heck outa there.

When I rejoined my family, it looked like they had stopped eating.

“What the hell, Tony—did you fall in? Get over here. We forgot to say the prayer,” Mom said. “Now sit down. We were waiting for you to get back this whole time.”

“Jeez, you coulda prayed without me.”

“Let’s go. Everyone hold hands. Gina, take Nonno’s arm.”

“Ew, no. I don’t wanna. It’s got hospital germs on it.”

In unison: “Bless us, oh Lord, for these thy gifts, which we are about to receive, from thy bounty, through Christ, Our Lord, Amen.”

“I think I heard Nonno yawning during the prayer,” I said.

“Don’t make fun of Nonno. You’ll be like that too one day,” Dad said.

“No I won’t. I’m gonna be cremated.”

Mom, in her angry tone, “No you’re not. When your heart stops beating, you’re either goin’ right in the jar like Nonno or you’re goin’ in the mausoleum with Zia Carmelina and her cats. This way Saint Jude and Mary and all the other saints can watch over your spirit.”

I changed the topic. “Um, is Grandma okay? She looks kinda spacey right now.”

“She’s fine, she just needs to eat. Honey, make sure she gets some spaghetti down.”

“I don’t think Grandma even knows that it’s her husband in there. Every now and then she glances at the jar, and she gets this brief look of disgust,” I said.

“What are you talkin’ about?” Mom said, “She always looked at him like that.”

“I think she’s just getting hypnotized from all the bubbles in Nonno’s jar. Look at her,” Gina said.

“Stop it. Your grandma can’t get hypnotized. Remember when we took her to that psychic doctor to try to cure her seizures?”

Dad groaned, “What a waste of money.”

Dad was always talking about money and work. He was cheap as hell with everything. Probably because he was dropping a fortune to keep Nonno here.

Dad, looking right at Mom,“You shouldn’t trust anyone with your money unless you can see your reflection in the glass frame of their diploma hanging on the wall behind them. That’s what I always say.”

Then Gina said, “Not true Dad. Tony’s got a diploma hangin’ up all shiny in our house, and he’s still unemployed. How old are you now, Tone, thirty-two? And you still live at home with mommy and daddy.”

“Leave him alone, Gina,” Mom said. “He helps out more than you do. Isn’t that right, baby?” Then she kissed me on the cheek.

“That’s right, Ma. And at least I finished school. How long has it been since you started beauty school, huh? What’s this like the fourth time you’re gonna take that final test?”

“Uhh, third actually. And for your information, the average person does take multiple times to pass the practical.”

“The average dumb person.”

“Son, listen. What you need to do is find a good-paying trade, and just work until you retire. That’s all there is to it. Look at me. I got a family, a house, and everything I need.”

Mom adds, “Pshh, and a ton of debt! Oh, when is it that you’re gonna retire already? You’ll be sixty-six next month.”

“Amore, look at this body,” Dad said, flexing his bicep. “Does this look like the body of a man ready to retire?”

“Dad, why is Nonno Francesco in there anyway? Was it his choice?” I asked.

“He’s in there so that when they have the technology to transfer his memories to a robot, then he’ll be all set. When I was a kid, your grandpa told me one time, while he was reading me a story, that he was going to live forever. I believed him. And now we’re lucky we live in a time where we can make his dream come true.”

“But doesn’t it cost a lot of money to keep him here?”

“We’re not discussing this right now, Tony. Not in front of your grandparents. Don’t worry about it. You let your father worry about the money.”

Don’t worry about it, don’t worry about it. That’s what he always said when he wanted to avoid controversial topics.

Dad’s voice was sounding kind of angry. It was upsetting the baby. Nico was getting restless and started crying. Mom and Gina tried to calm him down by giving him a meatball. But Nico started flailing and went full-on temper tantrum. He grabbed the meatball out of Gina’s hand and threw it wayyyy up into the air. We all gasped.

The meatball was headed right towards Nonno’s vat.

Dad, in a quick motion, leaped out of his chair onto the table to try to catch the meatball before it landed in the vat. But in doing so he knocked over the pitcher of wine, and it landed right on Grandma’s lap, drenching her completely. Her white blouse was now covered in purple, and she started to flip out. Meanwhile the meatball splashed right into the vat and sank all the way down to the bottom, settling just under Nonno’s cerebellum.

Grandma unleashed a torrent of obscenities, a tirade of nonsensical Italian gibberish.

“Oh my gawd! The meatball is touching Nonno!” Mom shouted. “Please, someone help!”

For a second it looked like Dad was gonna stick his hand right in the vat to pull out the meatball. But one of the staff members came running to help. Another staff member went to help Grandma with her blouse, trying to pat her down with a towel. But Grandma fought back, throwing weak, old-lady punches and spewing more Italian venom in the aid’s face.

“Sir, please don’t put your hand in there!” a tall man said. “I’m Dr. Wilcox, head of Neural Gerontology. Please do not do that. The liquid will severely irritate your skin. The meatball is fine in there. Leave it alone. It’s not going to do anything harmful to your grandfather’s cortex.”

“What do you mean it’s not going to do anything harmful? It’s practically touching his brain stem. That can’t be good,” Dad shouted.

“It’s not ideal. But the brain itself doesn’t have sensory receptors. He can’t actually feel the meatball touching him. And that liquid can preserve anything. You can seriously just leave it in there forever and nothing will happen.”

“Oh no, I don’t want my father to have to live with a meatball next to him like that. It’s embarrassing.”

“I mean, we can do a complete replacement of the liquid. But it’s very expensive. Really, it’s only necessary from a cosmetic standpoint. If it bothers you that much, we can remove the meatball. But I doubt you father’s insurance will cover the unnecessary fluid replacement. But, like I said, if you’re willing to pay, we can take care of it.”

Then, as they were talking, I heard a creak and a clank behind us. It was coming from Nonno’s arm. He was moving his arm!

The doctor started to realize what was happening. So he called in his staff to intervene. “Hey, can one of the techs get in there and turn off that arm?”

That’s when dad stepped in.“You stop it right there. I don’t want any of you smart-asses touching my father. That is his arm. He moves it of his own free will. You have no right to turn off his arm.”

Dad knew what was about to happen. That Nonno was gonna reach into his own jar and pull out the damn meatball himself. That’s Nonno for you. When enough was enough, he’d always take it upon himself to do what he needed to do. It was good to see there was still some of that left in him.

So we all just watched Nonno raise his enormous arm and reach down into his jar. Some more of the juice spilled out as the hand became submerged.

We all looked at each other like yeah! Right on, Nonno! But then, something else happened. Nonno didn’t go for the meatball. Instead, he used his metal claw to clench his own brain, and he whooshed it right out of the fluid. The blue stuff splashed everywhere. We all got out of the way, worried the liquid would touch us. The arm stuck straight up in the air, brain trembling like jello, goo pouring down, with the still-attached wires glistening under the fluorescent lights. Then Nonno tossed himself right on to the table. The brain bounced once and knocked over the bowl of tomato sauce. Red splattered everywhere. The table was covered in grey matter and marinara.

“Folks! Everyone stop what they’re doing!” Dr. Wilcox said. “We can salvage your grandfather’s brain. But you all have to leave immediately. Nurse, please call security to escort them. Get this family out of here right now! And you,” he pointed to one of the orderlies, “clean up all this sauce!”

We grabbed our things and headed for the exit. We were all pretty much speechless. Except for Mom. She walked right up to the doctor and said, “It’s gravy.”

 



Franco Amati is a speculative fiction writer from New York. His educational background is in cognitive science. His fiction has appeared in The Colored Lens, Northern Speculative, Utopia Science Fiction, and other places. You can find more of his work at francoamatiwrites.com


Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Help Still Wanted

Just a quick reminder that I have a bunch of (slightly irregular) trade paperback copies of THE LOST PLANET that I will be happy to give away to people who are willing to help us promote this book.

If you have a clever idea for how to promote this book, and the time, energy, and willingness to do so if you read it and find it worthy, drop me a line at brb@rampantloonmedia.com and I will mail you a copy. Please include a few words about how you propose to promote it, as if we get more requests than we have books to give away, we’ll pick the most appealing ideas.

If on the other hand you'd prefer to get the book in e-book format, I can also do that. This won’t be an unrestricted free e-book giveaway. We’ve found that those are unproductive, in ways I will explain if anyone is interested. But if you’d prefer to have the book sent to your Kindle, we can do that.

On a purely personal note, I have read a lot of science fiction, and I think this one is Vogel’s best novel yet. In some respects it reminds me of Heinlein’s Citizen of the Galaxy, but most of all it reminds me of everything I loved about Andre Norton’s novels and stories when I was a kid. If you’re one of those people who sighs, “They just don’t write ‘em like that anymore” — well, actually, writers still do, it’s just that the Big Five publishers don’t publish ‘em anymore. BUT WE DO!

Help us get the message out. Email me your pitch this week. We’ll make our decisions and start mailing out copies on Saturday.

Thanks,
~brb

P.S. After talking to my shipping expert, I’ve learned that we can ship this book to Canada. Australia and the UK are still out of the question, though. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

On Mythaxis: “Writing Cyberpunk”

This went live more quickly than I expected. Over on Daniel Scott White’s site MYTHAXIS you will find “Writing Cyberpunk,”, which went live this morning. It’s a sort of a—well, I don’t quite know what to call it, but it grew out of Mr. White’s asking me a lot of questions about my early writing career and a certain story we all know. Rather than repeat the entire article here, you should go over to MYTHAXIS and read it there. It’s an ambitious new site—“a platform dedicated to reviews, publishing, art, and technology”—and I will be watching it with great interest. And probably stealing some design elements from it for the SHOWCASE relaunch. 


Monday, July 20, 2020

Help Wanted

Through a technical oversight I wound up with a bunch of copies of THE LOST PLANET that I can’t sell because the margins are off-kilter and can’t return because it was our mistake that caused the margins to come out that way in the first place. Originally I was planning to donate them to the local high school, where a teacher I know is trying to build up a science fiction library, but then the schools shut down and we still don’t know if they’re going to reopen in the fall.

Ergo, here’s the deal. I have a bunch of (slightly irregular) trade paperback copies of THE LOST PLANET that I will be happy to give away to people who are willing to help us promote this book.

If you have a clever idea for how to promote this book, and the time, energy, and willingness to do so if you read it and find it worthy, drop me a line at brb@rampantloonmedia.com and I will mail you a copy. Please include a few words about how you would like to promote it, as if we get more requests than we have books to give away, we’ll pick the most appealing ideas.

On a personal note, I’ve read a lot of science fiction, and I think this one is Vogel’s best novel yet. In some respects it reminds me of Heinlein’s Citizen of the Galaxy, but most of all it reminds me of everything I loved about Andre Norton’s novels and stories when I was a kid. If you’re one of those people who sighs, “They just don’t write ‘em like that anymore” — well, actually, writers still do, it’s just that the Big Five publishers don’t publish ‘em anymore. BUT WE DO!

Help us get the message out. Email me your pitch this week. We’ll make our decisions and start mailing out copies on Saturday.

Thanks,
~brb

P.S. Sorry, but this offer is for readers in the US only. The USPS has changed their rates again and sending trade paperbacks to the UK or Australia has become insanely expensive—which is disappointing, as Australia used to be one of our best markets.





Friday, July 17, 2020

Update re THE LOST PLANET

Sometimes a quote comes in that’s just so good, I need to share it before I’ve figured out how I’m going to use it in advertising. This one concerning Henry Vogel’s novel THE LOST PLANET came in yesterday afternoon.

“This has old-style big-picture adventure, somewhat Heinleinian in flavor and alien-invasion tensions. I liked it!”

—Gregory Benford

THE LOST PLANET - Available now in trade paperback, on Kindle, or free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

PRE-ORDERS AND EARLY-BIRD PRICES

Kindle users
: Hart for Adventure is now available at the special introductory price of $0.99. Pre-order now and it will be auto-delivered to your Kindle on July 8.


Book readers: If you’d prefer an actual printed and bound trade-paperback book, God love ya, the print edition of Hart of Adventure is available for order now, at the special introductory price of $9.99.


Or what the heck: at those prices, why not buy both?

Friday, July 3, 2020

GREAT BIG BOOK SALE!

In celebration of the upcoming release of Henry Vogel’s latest novel, Hart for Adventure, we’ve put his entire catalog on sale! For the next few days the Kindle versions of most of his books will be just $0.99 USD each, and a few selected titles will be absolutely free! Load up your Kindle with a whole summer’s reading at a great bargain price!

Since Hart for Adventure is a new standalone book set in Vogel’s Terran Scout Corps universe—not part of any series but sharing a common background with his other Scout novels—you’ll probably want to start by picking up these other books: 

SCOUT’S HONOR
: The bestselling book that started it all. If you like your heroes brave and true, your heroines smart and feisty, and your plots rushing along with all the cliffhanger-driven energy of an old Flash Gordon serial, you’ll love this series!  Read ’em in this order:

Scout’s Law - $0.99

After finishing the original series Vogel did a remarkable thing, in that he gave his original heroes a happy ending and let them keep it. But because he wasn’t close to being finished with telling stories in the Terran Scout Corps universe yet, he wrote another book I wanted to call Scout's Honor: The Next Generation, but he titled:

 
Same universe! New characters! New adventures!

“If you loved the first 4 books, this one is essential to make you happy. This is how you hand the torch off to new characters, while still maintaining what made the first books great adventures. A good mix of John Carter meets Flash Gordon, in my eyes.”


For his next three novels, Vogel then did a pivot and produced something completely different: the bestselling Fugitive Heir trilogy.



I never knew quite how to describe these books without going into too much detail, but then a reviewer hit the nail right on the head by calling it a romantic comedy road-trip adventure in space!


Of course, Captain Nancy Martin proved to be such an appealing supporting character that she got her own spinoff series. This artwork should be flipped left-to-right, because you should read The Counterfeit Captain first.



The Undercover Captain - $0.99 (sale price may still be percolating through Amazon’s system)

After The Undercover Captain, Vogel decided to try something really ambitious and produced the Recognition trilogy. These books got good reviews and even made the shortlist for a major award, but never sold as well as we’d expected. Is literary quality and mature storytelling overrated? Is it just that the very expensive original cover art doesn’t click? Read them and let us know what you think!




Which brings us at last to...

“The shades of Poul Anderson and Gordon Dickson, James Schmitz and Andre Norton, Christopher Anvil and Keith Laumer must all be looking down approvingly on Henry Vogel’s THE LOST PLANET. Its two bright, engaging, and surprisingly tough protagonists, Glen and Elise, rollick across a palpably real galactic milieu stuffed with exotic aliens, nicely rendered worlds, and a suspenseful set of wartime maneuvers. Toss in a lighthearted love story and some cosmic mysteries regarding the forerunner race known as the Progenitors, and you have a space opera that will enchant, excite, and delight!”

—Paul Di Filippo


Thursday, July 2, 2020

Flirting with Syncretism • by Bruce Bethke



Once in a while it seems worthwhile to pull back the curtain and explain just how I got the idea to write something like yesterday’s “Culture Considered as a Generation Ship.” The piece didn’t really have a well-defined point of inception or a conclusion in mind when I began. Rather, a whole slumgullion of ideas were floating around and in play in my mind. In no particular order:
  • Henry Vogel and I were having a lengthy exchange of email concerning ideas for promoting the release of his latest novel, Hart for Adventure, which we’ll be releasing... next week, I believe. Among other things we decided to do a promotional sale featuring all of his previous novels, but there was a problem with The Counterfeit Captain, which put that book and its premise front and center in my mind.

  • At the same time I was copy-editing Helen French’s novelette, “Outrider,” which really put the whole generation ship concept into a prominent place in my forebrain.

  • At also roughly the same time I was trying to find the original file for “Jimi Plays Dead,” a story I wrote back in the 1980s about an A.I.-equipped electric guitar that in real time edits whatever its owner plays to make it come out sounding as it would have sounded if Jimi Hendrix had played it. At the time I wrote it, I thought the story was just pretty wiggy sci-fi. Now, I’m not so sure. (See the bit on autocorrect, below.) The original manuscript file, it turns out, was written using a program I no longer have and saved on a 5.25" diskette. It’d be faster to retype the story from the printed copy than to try to port and recover that computer file.

  • In the course of researching an unrelated matter, I ran across a cryptic reference to “the Scotch 206 scandal.” Given the amount of irreplaceable original content I have in storage on reels of Scotch 206 or 207 (same tape formulation; same problems; the difference in the part number has to do with the thickness of the polymer backing) this immediately got my attention, so I had to read up on it and ponder the implications. Interestingly enough there is a way to restabilize the oxides temporarily and recover content from tape that is beginning to delaminate, but the catch is, it only works once, and pretty much destroys the tape in the process. You get one shot at copying the content to another medium. No pressure there.

  • I’d recently read an article about researchers at UC Berkeley’s Hearst Museum of Anthropology using a new laser technique developed by physicists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to recover songs and spoken-word recordings from thousands of previously unplayable century-old wax cylinders. The collection includes a large amount of material in California’s 78 native languages, many of which no longer have any living speakers. To be honest, this is the kind of applied science that really fascinates me.

  • In case you missed it, Merriam-Webster recently changed the definitions of some well-known and commonly used words. Seriously. Here in the Internet Age, you can’t even count on a word to mean what it meant yesterday. If you don’t find that disturbingly Orwellian, you need to read 1984 again. 

  • Free speech, censorship, and the general problem of people who can’t stand the idea that other people might not agree with them—these are topics that are always on my mind, but especially so lately. Do I really need to explain why?

  • Finally (I think), I happened to be in the room when my wife was having yet another battle with autocorrect, which insisted on changing the words she’d actually typed to be the words that Google in it’s infinite wisdom decided she should have typed. Again, while it at first seemed amusing, on further reflection, and particularly with “Jimi Plays Dead” floating around in the back of my mind, it began to seem like a disturbing harbinger of the world to come.
So you take all those ideas and observations, put them in the old cognitive blender, press the button for purée, and voila! A 1200-word column emerges!

And now, as your reward for reading the foregoing, here’s a sneak peek at Henry Vogel’s newest novel, Hart for Adventure.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Culture Considered as a Generation Ship • by Bruce Bethke



I made a disturbing discovery the other day. 3M’s Scotch 206/207 recording tape, the standard for pro audio studio work in the 1970s through the 1980s, is unstable unless stored under exactly the right conditions of temperature and humidity. Given enough time and less-than-perfect storage conditions, the adhesive holding the oxide to the backing will deteriorate, causing the oxide to flake off the moment the tape is loaded onto a deck and played back. When 3M made this stuff 40-some years ago they apparently never imagined that this might happen someday, or that customers might be keeping reels of tape for so long.

Of course, 40-some years ago 3M also never imagined that the linings of their toxic waste landfills would also deteriorate someday, permitting their carcinogenic chemicals to leach into the underground aquifer and contaminate all the drinking water wells in this county. And yet people still ask why I am an environmentalist...

Rewind. (An obsolete verb: ask your parents what it means.) The reason I find the Scotch 206/207 issue so disturbing is that I have miles of it in storage, waiting for the day when I would have a little free time and be able to put my recording studio back together and resume puttering with electronic music again. An entire career—nearly 15 years of original master tapes—is possibly reduced to unrecoverable fragments of oxide now. I have not yet been able to work up the courage to open any of the boxes and find out.

Ironically, this is not the first time something like this has happened to me. Twenty-some years ago I had a little free time and started transferring some of those master recordings to CD-R’s, along with the backups of otherwise unrecoverable files from the first twenty years of my writing career. Unfortunately the brand of CD-R media I used for those copies and backups turned out to be made with an organic dye that unless stored under exactly the right conditions of temperature and humidity (do you detect a pattern here?) is prone to developing the same kinds of fungal infections that can invade and destroy the coatings on old 35mm camera lenses.

Hours upon hours of original music masters. Twenty years of manuscript files. Reduced to a stack of unreadable fogged-up CD-Rs that may as well be plastic coasters.


Monday, June 29, 2020

On Writing: The Curse of “Write What You Know” • by Bruce Bethke



Aspiring fiction writers and Creative Writing instructors share a lot of really bad advice with each other, but of all these, “Write What You Know” is probably the worst, or at least the most misunderstood. I hold this one piece of advice and everyone who shares it personally responsible for all those whiny novels about angry middle-aged housewives trying to work up the courage to file for divorce, those excruciating short stories about the terrible angst and drama of growing up gay and Jewish in suburban New York, those tedious novels about 20-something-year-olds with newly minted MFAs who are simultaneously working at Starbucks, breaking up with their girlfriends, and struggling to find their existential purpose in the world, and most of all, for all those wretchedly unreadable novels about middle-aged small-college Creative Writing instructors who are going through their midlife crises, estranged from their own children, separated from their wives, crushed by self-doubt because they never really pursued their dream of becoming a novelist, and tormented by their desire to have an affair with that hot and perky 19-year-old in their 10:00 MWF American Lit 201 class.

(Or perhaps even worse: the corresponding attempted novels by hot and perky but marginally literate 19-year-olds who are like totally creeped out by the way that smelly old professor—I mean like, seriously, really old, like, he must be almost 45!—stares at them all the time in their 10:00 MWF American Lit 201 class, but then again they’re just starting to realize that there might be an easier way to get an “A” in the class than by reading that big fat book by that Moby guy.)

C’mon people, this is fiction! “Write What You Know” isn’t a license to give voice to your inner Theodore Dreiser and whine at length about all the tedious and frustrating details of your daily life! It’s a spice you can use to add flavor to what you write! Use it sparingly!

Especially if you’re writing science fiction: write what you don’t know! Write what nobody knows! If you’ve had an interesting and exciting life, write an autobiography! If you’re only twenty years old and all you know is what you’ve read in other people’s books and seen in other people’s movies and TV shows, get out of the dorm! Live a little!

If you’re writing science fiction because you are in fact the latest reincarnation of an alien who was exiled to Earth ten million years ago and you must purge all your negative memories before you can return to your home planet—look, they’ve made great strides in psychiatric medications in recent years. You really should give them another chance.

Saturday, June 27, 2020