Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Book excerpt: Addy's Boom and the Blast Frontier--Chapter 8: Unlocal madman

Chapter 8: Unlocal Madman

John Whardall, who was best known not because of what he had done in life but because of his last name—a name that, in his small town, was connected to a family of people that would shoot each other at family reunions and rob each other at keg parties—thought about what or who he might kill when he crawled out from the beaver-like den he had made from the debris he had found around him. 

When the first wave hit, he saw it from some distance and enclosed himself in a 100-gallon plastic container with a twist-on lid and sealed himself in.  He wasn’t a bright man, and didn’t expect his trick to work, but it did; he had a plunger which he shoved down onto the lid of the container which was lying on the floor beside it but it wouldn’t stick; he dumped a can full of motor oil on the lid and tried again, getting a firm suction on the lid.  With the lid in hand, he climbed into the container and pulled the lid down as tightly as he could and held it. 

A fifth-grade dropout who had made his living as a deck hand who took orders and followed them—a fighter, by nature, who hated everything he came across and every one of the people who encountered—John Whardall’s only hero in life had been Ted Kaczynski who he had only known about because a cousin had explained the man to him.  A man who just enjoyed issuing death, as far as John could tell, was the right kind of man.  John believed that people really just needed to be really thinned out.  There were too many, and they were ungrateful, and undeserving, and disrespectful.  He didn’t believe in God or the devil.  Didn’t believe in democrats or republicans or capitalism or socialism or communism or anything else except that there were too many people that weren’t worth anything and they ought to die. 

His private-time fantasies were those of massive, worldwide destruction that would kill most, not all but most living creatures, and were fantasies that had guided his thinking for the 40 years of his adulthood so far and had become lodged in his heart like undeniable truths that couldn’t be disproved.  He wasn’t even sure that he should be one of the ones that survived.

He crawled slowly out of his den for the 6th day after the wave had receded; the 6th day since he and his survival drum and the weapon he clung to became motionless after a rough and tumble 2 hours of motion… 2 hours of breathing slowly to preserve his oxygen, even as he strained to keep the lid pulled close to the container as water made a slow trickle in… stuck in a tree that was lodged into the side of a mostly destroyed brick structure. 

His beard did its regular scratch and tug routine as it caught on the branches outside of the den door.  He looked around at the soggy wasteland around him, still recognizing nothing that might indicate where he was.  He held his gun close to him in what was a growing habit.  The .22 lever-action rifle that he had brought with him in his survival drum was more of a teddy bear, now.  It was his comfort item.  He didn’t love the gun before… it was just one of a few he had in his trailer that sat behind his uncle’s house in a field of weeds that used to be used to farm soybeans and corn in the middle of North Carolina.  He loved the gun now, like a good friend that wouldn’t fail him.  He loved knowing that if he couldn’t find something to kill, he could kill himself when he chose to.  That felt good to him.  It made him, even in these circumstances, a happy person inside. 

He smiled.  Looked around.  Took some time to breathe and smell.  Took some satisfaction in knowing that the bulk of humanity had just been thinned out; he only hoped it was reduced to a few million.
Out past some trees that were bunched up some 2 miles away, he could see something that looked unnatural.  It was too straight.  He took a long, thin branch and tied his handkerchief to it, then posted it beside the den so that he could find his way back. He loaded a round into the chamber with a click-clack of the lever and put the safety on, pulling the hammer back slightly, and began a deliberate march through the soggy debris to find out what was sticking out of the ground, past the lump of trees, 2 miles to his north. 

With a slight limp because of his arthritic hip, he meandered around the debris toward the crane.  Past a pile of trees and brush, he began to see the outline of a building; first the roof, then the tops of the walls, then the broken glass of the display windows.  He stopped.  Stared.  Furrowed his eyebrows and thought.  He saw movement and ducked low.  He changed his walk to a slow creep, avoiding thin branches or anything that might make noise.  As he rounded the right corner of the pile of trees that had hidden the building, he noticed the movement had stopped.  He could hear no other noises except for the slow, steady breeze that came from the northwest. 

He slowly began creeping in a direct line toward the crane and the building beyond it.  He saw the cherry-red car with the branch lodged into it, upside down on what used to be a road.  He crouched down to look inside, and he could see a body.  He poked it with his gun; no movement. 

When he stood up and turned around toward the building again, Addy was in full flight jumping toward him.  He cocked the hammer and fired before any other thought crossed his mind.  Addy yelped, landing sideways, then attempted to run but fell motionless after two steps.  John then heard Boom yell, and he loaded another round in the chamber with the familiar clack-clack and took aim toward the diner store.

Here Comes Nothing; Kev's Guess for Future Stuff

Periodically, I like to take a stab at putting my predictions into print.  I did it once in college in a sociology class and the professor liked it so much, it was the only one she wanted read in front of the class (reluctantly, I did; it was 10-pages long or so).  After that, I poked another guess or two about where computers were going.  If I have a weakness in this area, it's expecting growth in technology to accelerate. In other words, I expect the new stuff prematurely (back in 1999, I was telling my customers at Gateway that in 10 years, cables would be a thing of the past... close, but no cigar--in 2000, I guessed that we'd have things like holographic displays and floating speakers by 2016--unlikely).  So, for you, I've adjusted my timeline in hopes of being more accurate.  Who knows?

1.  By 2030, you will no longer drive your car. It already drives itself for parallel parking.  It won't take long for us to realize that if we can get a bomb to hit a target the size of a dime using gps, we can get our cars to follow a pre-determined route.  You climb in, set destination, and go to sleep.  Flying cars won't materialize.  We'll go straight to personal helicopters.  That will be the norm in 2055.

2.  Verified electronic ET contact will be made by 2100.

3.  Nuclear war will never happen, but terrorist attacks will never stop.

4.  We will start colonizing the moon by 2050; Mars by 2120.  We will first walk on Mars around 2035.

5.  Robots will be a military standard by 2045. They will be a personal and business standard by 2065.  They will cut grass, run errands, walk dogs, protect property, and do almost anything else a human can do.  By 2200, robots will be so human-like for those that want them that you would need several minutes with one to know it was a robot.  This will be motivated by the lust of men.

6.  People will die in larger and larger amounts as we near 2100 due to starvation and thirst.  As world population grows, resources become necessarily less available.  That will lead to a new biological epidemic that completes a 2nd part of a 1-2 punch to humanity around that time.  World population will be cut by 20%.

7.  There will be a global currency by 2150.

8.  People will be genetically engineerable as a matter of routine by 2075.  Parents will be able to browse their own eggs and sperm, choosing which to combine, choosing the child that will be created, from hair color down to likelihood of graduating college.

9.  Around 2500, world population will have plateaud around 22 billion, with even more than that living on Mars, the moon, and 1/10th of that living outside of the solar system.  Space travel will have been drastically enhanced by gravity manipulation.  Verified in-person ET contact will have been made.

10.  By 3500, Earth will be nothing much more than a tourist destination.  Theoretical research will have begun on how to create a new universe to replace the one that we have, which will eventually die.  It will start with artificial suns (or controlled, natural suns) and planets.

11.  By 2300, the average life span for those that can afford it will be 250 years, and it will grow without end.  By the year 6000, we will have our first 1,000-year old person who will, theoretically, through treatment, never have to die.

12. By the year 5000, humans will have figured out how to artificially control all known entities in the universe, including black holes, wormholes for time and distance travel, and many new discoveries such as black dents (nearly black holes that do not destroy matter), space-time voids, and humans will have 7 senses instead of 5.

13.  By the year 25000, humans will occupy 1/10th of all known galaxies. 

14.  The first major divisions in human environmental adaptation changes (sometimes referred to as evolution, but should be referred to as adaptation) will be noticeable by the year 35000, and by the year 70,000, many branches would be unrecognizable as humans, after combining adaptation changes with man-made bio-changes..

15.  By the year 100000, all of the universe will have been successfully cataloged.  Intergalactic space laws will have been formed to govern all intelligent life.  There will be, essentially, a space NATO.  People, and other intelligent beings, will be beginning to expose alternate realities.  And Chuck Norris will still be beating people up and the Dos Equis guy will still prefer Dos Equis and Snooki will be having her 90,000th child..

Friday, March 9, 2012

A Major, Easy, Rewarding Solution to Many of your Problems

First, I need to post this link by Life Hacker which finally put something into words that I hadn't bothered to before: basically, it is a truly brilliant article written by Thorin Klosowski that teaches you how to define or re-define your reality, after you realize that your reality is nothing more than perception.

I'm not going to repeat things that are in that article; I'll add to it.

If you believe you are failing in some way, or that you need to move "up" in society, some argue in defense of such thinking, claiming that such thinking is a strong motivator toward a more positive path of action.  That path, arguably, would lead to a more fulfilling life. 

I disagree.  What I push for is the realization, first, that your reality truly is perception.  Your reality is this: your actual situation as decided by how your mind perceives it.  If you grew up being taught (and still believe) that a man should always have at least a few thousand dollars in the bank, and yet you find yourself paying non-sufficient fund fees regularly with no savings, you will deem yourself a failure in that way.  That's very specific, but that thinking is very vague and you apply that thinking across the spectrum of your behaviors.  People never seem to question why they think they are failures in some way.

In other words, you have a perception--a working truth--within your mind of what success is.  It may vary wildly from your peers/friends'/family's perceptions.  You have learned (and believed) little fragments of information here and there, through people, books, tv, movies... little fragments of information that came together to shape your view of what success is and ultimately what reality is.  Now keeping that in mind, here's my question; what makes you so sure that your perception of success is right, fair, or normal?  All that definition is, for you, is a perception based on fragments of information that piled up--information that you chose to base your beliefs upon.

That makes your definition of success or failure a choice.  It is a choice.  It can be changed.  It isn't hard; all you have to do is go into your mind, find out where you think you're failing, and examine the belief by which you are judging yourself for that specific situation.  Although the article doesn't go into detail much about this technique, it does refer to it as "story editing," as labeled by Timothy Wilson, psychologist at the University of Virginia and author of Redirect: The Surprising New Science of Psychological Chance.

I can think back to college when we were learning about Rene Descartes who, at one point in his self-appointed mission to discover what reality truly was, had convinced himself he had no hands.  That's the deeper end of this spectrum of discovery.  I'm just trying to get you to step into the baby pool because you can instantly re-define who you are and what you are about and what your value is to this world or whether or not being a value to this world even matters.  No hands?  It's possible.  Your hands could be illusions that your mind has made up to explain how we do things with only our minds... something that could help us make sense of breaking the normal laws of physics.

It wouldn't be fair not to mention that there are plenty of other things in the article, other than just defining your reality vis a vis success and failure.  It also touches on the importance of forcing yourself to open your mind up.  Socrates said something like, "Only one thing that I know; that is that I know nothing."  I have learned over the years that it is the intelligent people that can open up their minds, even where they have a pretty strong faith in a belief or set of rules.  They allow for new possibilities. 

To be fair, I have to add that it seems like the less open-minded (and, usually, more judgmental) people are less intelligent.  I won't get into the cause and effect vs. correlation argument as to why they are less intelligent (e.g. are they less intelligent because they refuse to learn new things by closing their minds on subjects, or is there simply a correlation that has nothing to do with their closed minds making them less intelligent--a simple correlation showing that the more close-minded they are, the less intelligent they are, where the root could be a philosophy or religion or medical issue).  In fact, I know of a few super-duper immature adults that play "games" with those they don't like, and I swear it, those people are almost always less intelligent than their peers who refuse to engage in such games.  Maybe that, also, is a mere correlation, but I see it (at best) as a state of arrested development with a component, fittingly, of arrested education.

Open-minded people tend to dislike very few people.  There is a deep and semi-respectful understanding of differences.  They judge less.  They listen more.  They aren't typically racist or sexist.  Einstein said something like (this isn't even close to a quote but it's the same analogy), "To continue to learn, you must let information come and go like traffic through a crossroads, always making room for more information by not holding on to any information too tightly," or, as I like to put it, "Let knowledge go so knowledge can flow."  Those that won't let "knowledge" go tend to seize up on old ideas.  They are more likely to be racist, sexist, and immature.  You probably know at least one or two people like this. 

So, to close, I guess what I'm hoping is that I can bring you some light along with the great article referenced in the first paragraph.   There is no easier, more fulfilling, or meaningful way to change your reality, right now!

Monday, March 5, 2012

One Great Tug-o-War for Fiction Writers

I was working on a book today and a truth revealed itself.  This is something that you may have already known (I was even taught it, formally) but still not "learned."

As a writer, if you want to even have a chance of getting discovered in what seems like a sea full of authors, the first thing you have to master is avoiding mistakes.  One of the easiest mistakes to make is to write a story or even just a small part of a story that is not believable.  Ironically, a person writing make-believe stories must keep his or her story even more believable than reality, because the subconscious mind of most readers is always on the hunt for the improbable or impossible.  It can cause a reader to slam a book shut faster than you can say, "Should have edited."

But making a passage believable follows the same, merciless rules as making an entire story believable does.  As an author, you are putting yourself in a very difficult position.  You are writing something that a wide variety of minds that have had experiences you have not had must be able to agree is believable.

 That's asking a lot of yourself.

If you're a trained auto mechanic who knows that a valve cover gasket cannot be made of glass, and you read in my story, "Reynold set the valve cover on top of the battery, unwrapped the valve cover gasket and promptly dropped the gasket as he prepared to put it in, watching it shatter into a million shiny fragments," then I'm busted.  The average reader might let it go, reading on, but you have just lost all respect for me.  You have been jerked out of the story by something you know is impossible using today's automobile standards, and even if you try to read on, you are nagged by the fact that I have tried to squeeze something past you because I didn't want to do my research.  In your mind with your training, you can't shake that nagging thought that this author has fumbled, making you believe that sooner or later, I will have fumbled again and again, and wasted a lot of your reading time.

But wait.

Wouldn't it be rather boring if every book was a product of making certain that every single thing was believable?  That's a technical journal.  That's a news report.  That's not a fiction novel, is it?  At the least, I have to have something like, "Reynold leaned over the engine and placed the gasket onto the steaming steel, adjusted it into perfect positioning, and reached for the valve cover without looking, grabbing, instead, what was the wrist of the only man he had hoped to avoid--the one that had loved to watch him fail so many times before--his stepfather, Jack Muller."  I mean, when I read that, I want to know what's up.  Who is this Jack Muller?  I already get the idea that he is a prick, but I want to know why.  And I want to see him "lose," already, just from what I've read if I like the character named Reynold.  So, now, I've written something believable but intriguing. 

Those are three common states you'll find in fiction; believable but boring, unbelievable and believable but intriguing.  Nobody reads fiction to see what they've seen tens or hundreds of times before which can be a result of an author emulating a well-established writer's style.  A reader wants something new, but it must be believable and intriguing.  You can't just decide that people suddenly have a third and fourth eye on each elbow unless it is fully supported in the background of your story (i.e. you are on an alien planet or in some alternate dimension or you are going, bravely though it be, into the abstract form of our art--intentionally throwing out odd, non-realistic details here and there for effect).

My suggestion to myself and anyone else who wants to be successful in writing fiction, for the purposes of this post, are to perfect "believable but intriguing" in your writing.  I know--there are 10 million tips out there for writers, and this is just one, but it seems to me to be one of the top overlooked guidelines of all.

Keep it believable without being boring (often referred to by readers as the "slow" parts of the book--these boring but believable runs) without having every paragraph be too intriguing as to become unrealistic.

*Quick side-note: Tim O'Brien's book, "The Things they Carried," is an awesome example of how you can have perfectly believable and often boring things happening to characters while maintaining a constant allure to your readers as to what might come next by peppering your story with unexpected surprises as well as making those boring things part of the very plot--making the boring things part of the "problem."  It is the closest dance you'll find around metafiction without actually stepping into it.

Best of luck!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Great Human Pretenders

Have you ever wondered how we've managed to survive so long while living life as if the atrocities we've been through, witnessed, or perpetuated are ignored?  Or forgotten?  Or just never talked about?

There is a dark side to every human mind.  In the greatest among us--those that are saint-like in their behavior--this dark side still exists.  At the very least, it would surface when their lives or their families' lives are truly threatened by another human or an animal.  A mother who looks like the perfect, model-mom will rip your face off if you attack her child.  She will tap straight into the ugly, automatically.  Wired in.  Unchangeable.  And that's good.  It becomes questionable when she knocks another mother and child off of a floating piece of lumber after a shipwreck so that she and her child, instead, can survive.  All kinds of questions arise, then.

Maybe that's how the strongest among our species has made it this far; tip of the hat to Mr. Darwin.

But for any living creature to ensure long-term survival for his species, he must constantly make right decisions when in critical situations.  When making decisions, do we not require information to make good ones?  Information is everything when making critical, tough decisions.  We need to stuff as much info. as possible into our brains so that when we need to make a decision, a good one can be made.  Those who consistently made bad decisions were, presumably, removed from the gene pool early on.

Fast-forward to now.  Not fast-forward through evolution as I firmly believe that evolution is an illusion (we have never grown toward a greater status or finality; we have simply changed in response to stimuli... in response to environmental demands and the supporting genetics for whatever those very random demands happened to be during a time of real change).  Just fast-forward to today through all of the random loops and curves that got us here.

A 21st-century people doesn't talk about its dark side much.  It doesn't talk much about extreme behaviors involving physical abuse or attacks.  Doesn't talk much about vengeance and rage.  Not much about incest, murder, or dangerous group-think dynamics (basically, the way people can somehow justify a behavior while in a group that they would not be able to justify as an individual, such as the Russian rapist soldiers as they entered Germany in 1944 or the Japanese rapists entering China or the American murderers who killed known innocents in Vietnam--no people is without those that have dark sides).  You don't hear much about the strategies involved in corporate competition or cheating on a spouse without getting caught or seeing somebody in public who obviously needs immediate help as people drive on by.  It's negative, and I hate negative more than anybody, but because of this shroud, we don't have all of the information, do we?  To make good decisions?

Have you ever noticed that weird feeling that comes when a "dark issue," I'll call it, arises among a group of people?  It's a kind of, "You are now way too close to an area that I don't know if I'm comfortable talking about," feeling.  When it happens to me, it's not comfortable (I'm usually the one bringing up the dark issue because I believe it needs to be discussed but it doesn't matter if another brings it up; the feeling is the same).  I don't like it, but I feel a sense of obligation to further humanity.  For example, just a couple of weeks back, I felt a need to show two little girls a scenario that could happen to them.  We were in a store, and I told them I would walk up toward them first as a normal man who was just shopping--one who was just going to walk on by or grab his product and go, and then I showed them the nervous, slithery behavior of a man who might try to snatch them.  I walked up beside them, looking around is if looking out for authorities or cameras.  I randomly picked up and put down products with a relatively wide-eyed, definitively non-shopping related look.  I made them study me.  I wanted them to be able to recognize the questionable people.  I didn't like it; it actually depressed me a bit as it always does when I have to get into these types of discussions about bad things.  I only do it because I believe the information can help people and save lives or lead to, at least, further study by way of exposure.

Yet we walk along in public, bobbing our heads and smiling like the world is a Utopia and nothing ever goes wrong.  Not aloof; we know how bad people can be, but we shut it out.  And that really does bring up a serious question, which is this: Can we keep the facts about how bad people can be in our active, conscious minds and still remain happy?  It's easy to picture a person not trusting anybody, for any reason, and walking around always suspicious, and always worrying, and never enjoying life because they finally have let into their conscious thoughts the fact that a lot of bad people do a lot of bad shi8 in this world, and sometimes, the best of people do bad shi8 in this world.  Who wants to think about that?

What I know already is that we are quite good at pretending.  Religions often push the dark matter under the carpet, but even non-religious folks abide by the out-of-sight, out-of-mind creed.  What I don't know is how we can keep a more realistic view of human behavior in our minds without spoiling the joy we find in daily living.  I don't know how I can expect those two girls to smile while shopping if they're scanning for shady types.  Yet, it is information that they need to potentially save their lives or others.

I'm a instant reactor.  That can be good or bad.  It's good when my family or friends are threatened; I'm the first one, always, to get into the face of the threat and take action.  I like to believe, as I've said a few times before (and in one of my books) that I'm the guy you want to be around when shi8 goes wrong.  It's bad to be an instant reactor when it is a misunderstanding or when used to spray hate at somebody who has behaved in a way I dislike instead of dismissing their (probably) child-like behavior.  To credit myself, I will say I've become much, much better at containing the instant reactions in questionable cases; I will never contain it if I know it leads directly and instantly to defending innocent, living creatures, especially those that I care about.  I actually made a Facebook page titled something like, "I'm a nice person; please take the shirt off of my back.  But threaten my family or friends or get in my face and I will erase your ass!" which lots of people "liked," as I imagined they would.

So let me wind this down in the form of asking for your opinion on a few questions (which will help lead us all to a better way forward).  How do we get people thinking about the very real, very negative threats and human behaviors while not sapping their happiness, whatever happiness they may be normally feeling?  And to what degree, and under what circumstances, should we use our instant reaction capability?  In WWII, they used to make German soldiers wait at least 72 hours before filing a grievance--theory being that they would calm down in that time and be thinking more rationally and less hatefully which can dramatically change the tone and outcome of a complaint.  Where is the balance between reaction now and necessarily reacting some hours or days later?  And, finally, do you agree that we as a people should have more forthright conversations about the dark sides within all of us?  Thank you for all of your input; help all of us understand what the best approach would be in your view; we will not judge.  We just want to learn.

Next week or two, I'm going to blog about what could happen during an economic collapse, and what your hindsight might show if you hadn't prepared as well as ask your ideas on how we should prepare, if at all.