Archive for October, 2013

North Carolina Comicon!

25/10

Ill be atWe’re just a couple weekends away from North Carolina Comicon, and I’m thrilled to announce I will be attending and signing books!

I’ll have plenty of copies of Sidekick for those of you who haven’t gotten your copy yet, as well as a slew of my other stuff. I’ll be happy to chat, answer questions, pose for pictures, and so on.

As a special treat for readers of the blog, the first several (depending upon how many copies I can burn before then) people who tell me “Bobby sent me” will be surreptitiously slipped a copy of the Sidekick Soundtrack. And if you’re really nice, I might let you read the first couple chapters from Crush Story.

youarehereI’m not going to be the easiest person to find at Comicon; I’m stuck way in the very back of the very back of the venue. I will be in Hall “A,” the smaller of the two exhibition halls, at table A4 as indicated in the picture to your right. I will try to make it worth the trip. Promise.

As for signings, here’s my basic policy. If I wrote it (or part of it, if the paperback edition of Very Superstitious is available in time), I will sign it. You do not have to have bought it from me. You do not need to buy it at the table. I will sign it. If I did not write it, I will not sign it.

I’m looking forward to this visit! Please come on out and see me.

Division by Zero

23/10

In 1993 I had an amazing opportunity. I connected online with another area writer named John Passarella to develop an idea of mine for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Working through his agent at the time, we submitted our spec script and were invited in to pitch to then-story editor Robert Hewitt Wolf.

We never did manage to sell a pitch to DS9 (although one of our “B” plots eventually formed the basis for the seventh season story Take Me Out to the Holosuite) but we were both given an open-ended invitation to pitch to both DS9 and Voyager, which was in development at the time. (I’ll talk about my Voyager experiences later on, if you ask really nicely.)

Although I’ve held on to the second (and I think better) spec script that we collaborated on, as well as a copy of John’s own solo spec script for DS9, I had thought that the script that had gotten us through the door was forever lost.

Until I started trying to recover some of my old floppies this week.

At the time I was actually still writing on an Atari 130XE. My PC days were months away, and I went through hell trying to convert files back and forth between Atari’s own proprietary data format and something readable by Jack’s PC. To facilitate the conversion process, I dumped the script as a generic text file onto a PC-formatted floppy disc using a kludge program to let Atari users read and write DOS floppies. I forgot about that backup copy, and ended up dumping it into a box with other floppies that I never bothered to look at.

Today, I found it.

The date on the disc is August 21, 1993, and while the label says “Acts 1-4,” it also included a copy of the full merged script, revised on August 27, 1993. I can’t remember which one of us did the last revision: Jack or I. In any case, I’m reasonably sure that was the version that we submitted, and since neither of us can profit off of it, I’ve decided to put it out into the wilds for those who might be curious.

I had the story concept in the early days of DS9’s first season, and Jack and I wrote it during the closing days of that season before we even had a chance to look at the series bible. A lot of things we touched on were eventually negated, retconned, or even ignored as the series continued. (The main story comes from facts about Trill physiology from TNG.) We got the news that our script had been formally rejected but we had been invited to pitch, oddly enough, a week before one of the episodes doing those retcons actually aired.

So if you can ignore the fact that this was written before most of what we now know about the characters of DS9 was firmly established, and that we wanted a chance to do some of that character development, go ahead and read it. But don’t be surprised if it doesn’t feel like the DS9 you remember; you probably aren’t thinking about what the first season felt like.

You can read the script by clicking here.

Once again, people don’t learn.

23/10

Another school shooting brings out the same old tired mantras. “Motive unclear.” “Heroic blah blah.” “Crazed gunman.”

For those of us who actually give a shit, there was no mystery about the case of Sparks Middle School. Just as there was no mystery about Lanier High or Carver High or Taft Union. Or Paducah, or Jonesboro, or (despite the best efforts of historical revisionists to change the narrative) Columbine.

Eventually, the truth will out. And it finally has once again in the case of Sparks Middle School. It was a bullying victim who felt no other option but to take matters into his own hands.

The problem with school shootings, at heart, is one of denial. As I wrote in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Columbine:

“By all rights, Columbine should have gotten the message across loud and clear to kids across the country: don’t fuck with the wrong people or you will end up dead. It didn’t, though, and neither did the killings that came later, because people love victims. Because a couple of kids who were sick of being kicked around killed their oppressors, they wound up making themselves into the bad guys, and made the bad guys into victims in everyone’s eyes. People were too overcome with grief over the senseless bloodshed to think about what had driven the two shooters to do what they did. And for those jocks, having their blood spilled wound up washing away their sins as far as everyone was concerned. Don’t think about what they were really like, turn them into perfect little angels in everyone’s eyes. And, personally, I am not really in favor of giving the world of jocks any new martyrs.”

In Americans’ minds, being shot makes you the victim. Never the oppressor. No parent wants to consider that their kid brought on their own demise through their actions. No one wants to say, in effect, that they got what they deserved. We’re too busy grieving and wringing our hands to actually think about what happened.

We keep having school shootings simply because we don’t make a real effort to stop them. We add security checkpoints and metal detectors and spot inspections but we never address the underlying cause.

I’ve said before that if I’d had easy access to a gun when I was in High School, I would have wound up like one of these shooters. I was a victim of bullying just like so many others. I carry the scars to this day, even as some of the people who bullied me now try to pretend that they’re my friends.

Are we finally going to get serious about ending school shootings? If so, we need to get down to the root cause of so many of them: bullying. And I mean a real effort, not the eyewash that we’re trying to pass off as an effort now. Here’s a start.

END “ZERO TOLERANCE” AS WE NOW KNOW IT.

Our current “zero tolerance” policies only aggravate the problem. If a kid tries to defend himself against a physical attack, he gets suspended or expelled. If a kid complains about bullying to administrators, their hands are tied because it becomes a “your word against mine” situation so the bully gets away with it.

We need to change zero tolerance so there’s zero tolerance against the aggressors only. We need to start suspending and expelling bullies, not their victims. We need to have administrators respond when complaints about bullying are made, not brush them off.

We need to show kids that their problems can be solved another way, through a system that works.

Because if we don’t, more and more kids are going to feel they have no other option to end their suffering than to kill their oppressors and then themselves.

…Only to Find Gideon’s Bible

22/10

 

…Only to Find Gideon’s Bible

 

A Short Story by

Pab Sungenis

 

Inspired by Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by

Cory Doctorow

 

I will never forget the look on the first guy to realize what a mistake had been made. And when I say “never,” I really mean never. When you have all of eternity to look forward to, you don’t throw words like that around lightly.

“But I don’t understand,” he sputtered in disbelief, “we cured death!”

* * *

I was running intake that day at the Gates. In the early days, the traffic was light enough that one guy alone could do the job, so Peter took it upon himself to greet every newcomer. But the humans felt the need to take “be fruitful and multiply” a bit too literally, so we ended up needing a team to process everyone who had shuffled off their mortal coil so to speak. That day it was my job to oversee the operation, and within seconds of starting this one’s entrance interview, I knew we were in for big trouble.

“You can’t cure death,” I explained with a sigh. “Everything dies. It’s the nature of being.”

“Yeah, but our scientists took care of that. Backup and restore, you know? Retire the body, and restore the mind from its backup.”

I vaguely remembered seeing a memo about this. “The Bitchun Society,” the humans called it. It seemed that over the previous few decades they’d been busy dirtside. They’d discovered the secrets of free energy (or at least something they called that). They’d managed to do away with scarcity. They’d replaced money with some abstract concept they called “Whuffie” which no one up here had managed to figure out; heck, most of us had barely come to understand money! Finally some particularly bright human had come up with the idea of copying all the data stored in a human brain into electronic data, then implanting it into another brain.

“The cure for death” they called it. They were so, so wrong.

“Let me see if I can explain.” I motioned to a chair. I didn’t really need to sit, since I don’t get tired, and neither do the spirits of dead humans for that matter. Still, we had been told that it was a good idea to get them to sit when we delivered bad news, since it tended to make them calm. “Your scientists really didn’t understand the true nature of human life. You were concentrating on the biotech side and didn’t think much about the supernatural side, so to speak.”

The guy looked back at me like I’d told him that he was secretly born a giraffe. I knew I would have to take a different tack. “I’m sorry,” I said in an attempt to rewind the conversation, “what did you say your name was?”

“Gideon.”

“Nice name.” I didn’t tell him it was mine, too. Didn’t want to get too connected to the clients. “What was it you did while you were alive?”

“I was a computer engineer.”

Perfect. I had just the metaphor I needed. “Then you know how a computer is really the sum of a number of component parts. Hardware, firmware, software?”

“That’s a little simplistic isn’t it?”

“Oh, what I’m comparing computers to is even more complicated, but it’s still the best way for you to see where I’m coming from. Stay with me now.”

“Okay.”

“Now let’s say that a human being is like a computer. Humans have hardware, which they call bodies, and they have software, which they call the mind. Do you understand so far?”

“I think so.”

“Good. What you call the ‘cure for death’ is roughly equivalent to backing up all of the software from one computer, and installing it onto a different computer.”

“But the same computer! An identical one! And we dispose of the old computer afterward.”

“That doesn’t matter. The two aren’t completely identical. Your motherboard, processor, all that sort of thing, are they going to have the same serial numbers?”

“Of course not. How else are we going to tell parts apart?”

“Precisely. Every piece of computer hardware has a Globally Unique Identifier, or GUID. Correct?”

“Yes.”

“Well, so do humans.”

The giraffe look came back so I tried to sum up. “What do you know about the soul?”

“You mean like Stevie Wonder?”

I shook my head. What were they teaching these creatures dirtside? “No. Every human being has a unique bit of firmware, I guess you would call it. This is that human’s soul. It’s eternal, indestructible, and sorry to say non-transferrable. When you copy a person’s mind into a force-grown clone, what you are doing is creating a brand-new human being with their own individual soul. You are giving that new person all the memories and personality of the first person, so they think that they’re the same, but they’re not. The soul is different. And when the old body is ‘retired,’ its soul is released and comes here.”

“So, I’m dead, and there’s a new guy down on Earth who thinks he’s me?”

“As far as everyone on Earth is concerned, he is you. Up here, however, it’s a different story.”

Gideon still didn’t seem to have a handle on the matter, so I kept trying to find some metaphor that would make sense to him. I had no idea how long I’d actually been trying to shed light on the subject until I heard a knock on the door.

“Uh, boss?” One of the lesser angels was standing there with a look I hadn’t seen since shortly after the Crusades. “I think you’d better take a look at this.”

He gestured behind him and opened the doorway wide enough for another dead human to enter.

It was Gideon. Or, at least, another Gideon. They looked nearly identical both in body and in spirit. It was a toss-up as to which of them had a goofier look on their face upon learning their fate.

“I was out skydiving. Celebrating my recovery from my first death, and….” The newcomer Gideon looked at the first Gideon.

“Who are you?”

“Who am I? Who are you?”

“Or should I say ‘who am me?”’”

“I am me, and you are me, and we are me.”

“And we are all together,” I sighed. “Goo goo ga joob.”

* * *

Things did not get much better over the next few years. More and more people showing up at the entrance were so confused at the thought that they had actually died that we had to triple our intake staff to handle the processing delays caused by talks like I’d suffered through with Gideon.

Eventually, someone came up with the idea of creating a new orientation film of sorts, which would be presented to new arrivals from the Bitchun Society, outlining their misconceptions and how things really worked. I tried to get the Gideons (there were twelve of him by that point) to help me put one together, but it proved to be more trouble than it was worth.

“I don’t understand why we have to show it to everyone,” one of the Gideons said. “We could flash-bake this whole thing as they come through the doors, and….”

“Wait,” another one piped up, “’flash-bake?’ What are you talking about?”

“You know,” a third offered, “direct mental implantation of memories and experiences.”

“Never heard of it.”

“Come on,” yelled a fourth. “Iwe invented flash-baking when iwe worked at Disneyland Beijing!”

“I’ve never been to Beijing!” protested a fifth.

“Yes, iwe have!”

I was truly frightened by this point. It had gotten so bad that they were inventing their own grammar. I quietly snuck out while they were arguing about which of he had done what and decided to offer the task to a half-dozen author who might do a better job of getting the idea across.

* * *

Before long, the situation had gotten completely out of control. The overcrowding situation on this plane of existence was threatening to become as dire as it had been dirtside. Eventually it would probably be worse since the birth rate on Earth had slowed to a trickle, but the manufacture of unique souls through the restore-from-backup process was actually accelerating as humans became more and more irresponsible as death became little more than an inconvenience as far as they were concerned.

Before long, we had to expand our operation. We briefly considered a merger with Hell, but it turned out that conditions were even worse for them. We tried to purchase room from a number of different planes that hadn’t seen as much of an increase in traffic as we had (practically no one had gone to Valhalla or Hades for centuries, for example). Finally, after a land-for-peace swap with the Islamic Paradise and a hostile takeover of the Planet Kolob, we managed to stabilize our expansion at a sustainable rate.

I breathed a sigh of relief as room was finally located for the last of our overcrowded souls and space was anticipated for what had become the new normal arrival rate. I had hoped to settle down for a couple of centuries, maybe enjoy a cup of tea or two, when a new knock came at the door.

“A new problem, Boss,” the minor angel moaned as he came in. He was holding an object in his hand which he laid on my deak. It resembled an old computer floppy disk.

“Deleted backups have started to arrive.”

I folded my head into my wings. The heat death of the Universe couldn’t come soon enough.

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