What? More free reading for you? Why not? It’s summertime, kick back, take it easy. And here’s a mind-blowing little gem, a short story from my Reality Machine collection that I think, in all honesty, is one of the ten best I’ve ever written.
“New World Man” owes its origins to some time I spent with…I guess you’d call him a street kid. I met him at a record store/head shop after we moved back to Saskatchewan (from Baffin Island) in the mid-90’s. Hung out with “Kyle” (not his name), met his extended family, seven or eight young people sharing a grotty one-room apartment, sleeping bags spread out on the floor like nests, music constantly playing. Kyle was a Rancid freak and tried to convert me–didn’t take, pal, sorry. He introduced me to someone who morphed into the “Marvin” character and gave me a peek at a sub-culture, a way of viewing the world that was invaluable to the writing of the story.
But “New World Man” also reflects my growing misgivings as I watch the increasing prevalence and attraction of video games; we’re on the cusp of functional virtual reality, full immersion in an invented, interactive environment. What will that do to relationships, the role of family and friends, regular social intercourse with strangers on the street, at the market? More on this subject in a future post…
A German editor selected “New World Man” for an anthology of the 20 All Time Best Science Fiction Stories (Goldmann Publishing); he told me with some glee that my tale bumped one by Ike Asimov from the book. My name even made the cover, along with Arthur C. Clarke, Philip K. Dick and William Gibson. Wow. The story also appeared, I should add, in the Canadian science fiction magazine On Spec.
If you really love this tale, you’ll find it in my book The Reality Machine, which is available through my virtual “Book Store” (above)–you can also pick it up from Mark Ziesing Books, Amazon, abebooks.com, etc. Originally published in 1997, it contains some of my favorite short pieces, including “Also Starring”, “While You Were Away” and “RSVP”.
Now get reading:
Click here for a free download of my short story “NewWorldMan“
Yoko Ono is right, there are a lot of lonely people out there.
Yup…and a lot of weird ones too.
And a site like mine is bound to attract its fair share of strange individuals. I mean, I use the occasional multi-syllabic swear word when expressing my somewhat hyperbolic views on matters of interest to me and I’ve written books with titles like Sex & Other Acts of the Imagination. So when people are tapping in key words for salacious subjects near and dear to their perverse little hearts, some might just bring them to Beautiful Desolation.
Poor dears. Go searching for good whacking material and instead get sent to me.
The thing is, thanks to the people here at WordPress I can actually view the search words and “tags” people are using when they get steered to my site. Some of them are hilarious, some disturbing, others are out and out surreal. I’ve written down the best of them so far and will now take this opportunity to share my “Top Ten” list with you (hopefully the folks involved won’t be too embarrassed). You type in the following terms and, somehow, you will be directed to a blog devoted to the scabrous scribblings of some Canadian nutter:
10. “stupid editors at publishing house” (okay, that one I understand)
9. “male masturbation hobbyists”
8. “words that rhyme with forget”
7. “fantasy invisibility sex stories”
6. “man is not born a thief but circumstance”
5. “stories about wrestling action figures”
4. “pissing snap on mouth”
3. “will short child be short adult”
2. “opinions are like assholes”
–and, at numero uno, easily the most fucked up turn of phrase that people used to find my blog: “self pissing for pleasure”.
And Sherron wonders why I’m a ball of nerves every time the kids are out of my sight even for a second.
Well, keep ’em coming, folks. Reading through that “Top 10” list fills me with joy at the sheer diversity of people out there and also a rather smug sense of satisfaction because it has always been a central tenet of my worldview that there’s no such thing as an ordinary, normal human being. “The sane are madder than we realize,” the great Anthony Storr has noted and he’s a guy whose opinion should carry some weight.
I think the internet grants timid souls the anonymity they crave so they can explore certain aspects of themselves their innate shyness and squeamishness usually forbid or deny. And I suppose that’s a good thing…but the flip side is that it emboldens creeps and arseholes to seek material to feed their sick fantasies, using cyberspace as the ultimate porn emporium.
Anonymity also allows one to embark upon “flame wars”, harassing and belittling other individuals by employing gutless pseudonyms. These lame fuckheads wouldn’t have the nerve to behave like they do in face to face encounters, they know they’d get the shit knocked out of them. There have been a few people who’ve posted to this site, noses out of joint because not only have I just served up one of their sacred cows to them, I also offer a full range of condiments to enhance their dining pleasure. Some of their remarks are nasty but I promised myself when I started out I would never censor people for their views or offer any kind of public rebuttal (that would be unsporting). Sometimes it’s hard to resist the urge to reach through cyberspace, grab certain twats by their throats and squeeze ’til their fucking eyes pop out but…I manage.
Civility is in short supply, I notice it in on-line forums…but I also see it in supermarket lines. Unsmiling faces, not even a nod of thanks if you surrender your place in line or hold the door open for someone, the cashier looking haggard, refusing to make eye contact. Are the “trolls” popping up all over the internet a manifestation of the deep sense of anger and unhappiness people are feeling? There’s a disconnect out there, the global villagers locked in private houses, browsing for internet porn or arguing over the latest film remake of a bad TV show instead of meeting in the market square for shopping and socialization. Or maybe that browbeaten cashier is just counting the minutes until she can go home and get on-line and switch to her other identify, an avatar known only as “Coquette”, courtesan and spy in a digital community with the virtual population of a medium-sized country. Tens of millions of people assuming the personalities and lives of nonexistent alter egos…and pining for those invisible realms when they’re away from them for any period of time.
We just signed up so we can read our own utility meters and pay our bills on-line. No longer any need for the friendly, neighbourhood lady from SaskEnergy to pop by in the afternoons to check my meter or any necessity to wait in line at the bank, chat with the cashier, pay my bills, crack a few jokes.
All of this bringing to mind my tale “New World Man”, a family isolated within individual rooms of a house, locked in their own private worlds, largely oblivious to each other. Is that where we’re headed? Is that how you want to live?
* * * *
Progress on the novella: it’s coming along slow and steady. No big breakthroughs. Because I was having some trouble getting started I made the choice early on to write the novella out of sequence…a decision I may come to regret. This approach presents some special difficulties, coming up with segues and links, for example. The natural “flow” of the story mustn’t be inhibited by its episodic structure (God I love writer talk).
Plenty of music keeping the office rocking. Recent arrivals include new Foo Fighters and Radiohead (thanks, Jess), as well as Modest Mouse’s latest release, “We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank” (courtesy Elaine). Still enamoured with Interpol (I slam on “Heinrich Maneuver” to get things started in the morning) and “The Fountain” soundtrack (Mogwai and the Kronos Quartet collaborating) provides great atmosphere, as does Schubert, Jeff Beck, Aqualung, music from “Black Hawk Down”, Jesus and Mary Chain…
Last night I decided to unwind with an old movie and went down to my basement and dug out a VHS copy of “Dark Star”. It was late and after a long day tapping away in the office I was too tired to really give it my full attention. But it was fun, a trip down memory lane. “Dark Star” was made around 1974 and has managed to garner that much-sought after designation as a “cult” favorite, largely because it was John Carpenter’s directorial debut and features Dan O’Bannon in a variety of gigs (including supporting actor–er, don’t give up the day job, Dan). It’s fun stuff. Made me want to haul out my old Super 8 movie camera, string up a model on fishing line (just like the old days, eh, Brent?) and waste an afternoon making magic.
Hmmm…but not today.
There’s magic to be made, all right, but it’ll happen upstairs, first room on the left. The novella awaiting my attention, the house to myself until tomorrow afternoon, no excuses or distractions. Hoping that this morning I’ll feel inspired, the tumblers falling into place. Not oppressed by pride or envy, working with courage and perseverance. Waiting in anticipation of my muse seizing hold, watching with growing wonder and awe as the story unfolds before my eyes, the process still as mysterious as it ever was: a lovely bit of misdirection, a sleight of hand I must’ve seen a thousand times and have yet to figure out the trick…
I’m a Space Age guy, wired up wrong for the IT revolution that’s in the process of transforming our world into the inside of a video game. Me, I’m still stuck with Neil Armstrong on the Moon while the rest of modern civilization rushes toward The Great Singularity.
The Singularity is like the Rapture, dig, you get taken up, leave your earthly body behind and, like, evolve into a higher state. The difference is, with the Rapture you have to earn your way into heaven…the Singularity doesn’t discriminate. As long as your credit is good and you can afford the technology, you can spend the rest of eternity fucking Marilyn Monroe senseless in the honeymoon suite of the Hilton. Virtuality allows for limitless possibilities and is capable of reproducing any era, any conceivable reality. The interface between humankind and machines. The beginning of the end or the end of the beginning?
Our family has finally joined the 21st century—yup, we now have a home internet connection, a computer on-line 24 hours a day. I’ve ducked and bobbed and weaved and tried my damnedest to avoid this day. So now we’ve got a window on the world, a valuable resource, an educational aid, a tool like no other in the history of the world—my question: when I turn the fucking thing on, what’s looking back at me?
But Sherron needs to get on-line because she’s doing her Master’s and the boys can use it for their homework assignments and research projects. And with all the weird, esoteric shit I put in my tales I can benefit greatly from access to the all-knowing, all-seeing Google.
Then again, it also means I can now spend hours fucking around on favourite sites like Senses of Cinema and Book Forum…or checking to see if there are any cheap plastic model kits for sale on eBay (don’t ask)…or “tag surfing”, looking for kindred spirits out there in cyberspace, posting comments on sites of interest, only looking up when I hear the boys’ bus stopping in front of our house after school…
What next? Cable TV? Stuck in front of the Space channel when I should be bending my brain on new fiction? Right now we have two channels and don’t feel we’re really missing anything. We, my family and I, aren’t the hippest people around. Not into brand names, fashions, trends. Big readers. About the only program we follow with any regularity is the new “Dr. Who” series. We’re completely out to lunch when it comes to what’s hot and what’s not.
Confession: I have no idea what’s on the bestseller list.
I can’t tell you one of the top-selling music CD’s or singles.
I don’t remember the last recent movie I watched. “300”? God, no wonder I haven’t seen anything since. The last new release I can remember liking is “Lord of War”. The opening title sequence of that movie is…stunning.
And these are not the least of my crimes:
I’ve never seen a single entire episode of “Lost”, “Amazing Race”, “Friends” or “The Sopranos”.
Have watched less than a nanosecond of “American/Canadian Idol”.
Reality TV? What the fuck are you talking about? It’s TV, dummy. None of it is real.
To those people who arrange their schedules around a beloved TV program or camp out overnight in front of their local theatre to be first in line to see the latest, greatest sequel of a sequel of a remake, let me ask you one simple question:
WHERE THE FUCK DO YOU FIND THE TIME?
There’s a line in a very under-rated little movie called “Those Lips, Those Eyes”. Frank Langella’s character is an aging actor, clearly talented but stuck in a shitty little touring company, playing to rubes. At one point he complains bitterly of his lot, shouting: “Time’s winged chariot is flying up my ass!”.
That’s the way I feel. I’m killing myself on this writing gig, going at it seven days a week, 6-10 hours a day, keeping up a murderous pace for months on end…and meanwhile looking over my shoulder, a la Satchell Paige, wondering what’s gaining on me.
You have to understand, the men in my family are prone to shortened life spans. And it isn’t the usual suspects—heart disease, cancer—that hand them St. Peter’s calling card. Oh, no. Details are hard to nail down; secrets are tightly kept in my family. It’s like an iron curtain descends. When you ask about what happened to Uncle So-and-So, dead at thirty-two, or cousin Fred, felled in his early forties, you receive unsatisfactory, even curt replies. “Lockjaw” or, just as likely, “Lepers got him.”.
And that’s it. No amount of questioning will pry loose anything more significant or helpful than that. “Some things are better left unsaid.”
It’s likely some old, half-forgotten scandal, a small nugget of shame but people act as if the government is involved.
Now, I happen to be a particularly morbid individual and so I look at this dismal track record (Burns male = early death) and I begin to consider my own circumstances. I’m forty-three, soon to be forty-four. What grim fate awaits me?
Will it be (reluctantly, through tightly pressed lips): “Furnace explosion”? “Spontaneous combustion”? “Gangrene”? The suspense is starting to get to me.
It’s too bad. I think I’d like to live to a ripe, old age. Work right to the bitter end. Celine finished the last draft of Rigadoon, told his wife he’d completed the book and died that evening. That’s the way I’d like to go…but it’s unlikely I’ll be that fortunate.
Allergy to book dust…
Bad paper cut…
Whatever happens, it’ll have to be sudden, unpredictable and utterly preposterous. After all, I have a family tradition to uphold…
* * * *
News and Updates
This blog has grown rather large and ungainly. There are plans currently afoot to organize it. Nothing will be lost, just a reshuffling of the deck, posts filed under their proper designations, the home page slimmed down. If you can’t find something, drop me a line and let me know.
Had a busy summer, lots of writing, a few stories, many prose poems, everything still pretty much in the first draft stage. Seem to be scribbling constantly but there isn’t any focus, can’t latch on to a project that really engages my faculties. Plenty of candidates, no clear favorites. Some of the projects I have in the bin require enormous amounts of research, time and energy that I don’t possess right now. The failure to find a publisher for So Dark the Night has damaged my confidence and I feel daunted by any project longer than two or three thousand words. I spent three years on a terrific thriller that I can’t get anyone to seriously consider.
Right now, So Dark the Night is under consideration at five different (very different) publishing houses, including Ace Science Fiction (New York), who have had the manuscript for over sixteen months. In all, I’ve contacted sixty-four (64) publishers and only a small handful agreed to have a look at it. Many begged off with form letters, saying they no longer considered unsolicited manuscripts. A few didn’t bother replying at all (despite the self-addressed, stamped envelope I enclosed).
Some good news though. Kelley Jo Burke, producer for CBC Radio’s “Gallery” program, bought my short story “Matriarchy”. It should air some time in the new year (I’ll post times and dates when I get the word). It’s a mainstream offering, set immediately after a funeral. I really love the story and it’s perfect for radio. Hope you’ll be able to tune in.
Also, miracle of miracles, someone actually accepted a poem of mine. You’ll find it at the Words on Paper site. Should take you about a second a half to read it. Go ahead, time yourself.
I note that Peter Watts didn’t collect the Hugo Award he so richly deserved for Blindsight. Peter really showed a lot of growth with Blindsight and I especially admired the way he was able to make the transition to the deep space environment (Peter’s an underwater guy, not of them thar physicist-hacks). Better luck next time, Mr. Watts…and there will be a next time, bet on it.
On a personal note, our albino hedgehog Ponyma is ailing. Yeah, I said hedgehog. You just knew we wouldn’t have conventional pets, didn’t you? We have two of the buggers, part rodent, part pin cushion. Low-maintenance creatures, I’ll give them that. And they both seem very devoted to my eldest son. Even after two years I still shriek like a high school girl whenever one of the things ventures anywhere near me.
Losing a pet is tough and I think it will hit my son hard. Death rearing its ugly head. He’ll be angry, wanting answers. What kind of God allows wonderful creatures, good friends to die? Tough one. But we’re a family, we’ll get through it. And, who knows? Maybe they’ll manage to convince me to accept another oddball pet into our oddball home.
Does anyone out there know where I can lay my hands on an armadillo? A platypus on the cheap? Call this number…
* * * *
I’ve been playing lots of music lately, accompaniment for my aimless scribbling. Faves right now include Interpol (they just released a new album, “Our Love to Admire”), Grandaddy (“Just Like the Fambly Cat”), Aqualung (“Strange and Beautiful” ), Wolfmother, White Stripes (“Icky Thump” and “White Blood Cells” ), Jesus and Mary Chain, Elbow (“Asleep in the Back”), Beck (“The Information”), Ministry (“Rio Grande Blood”), Audioslave (“Revelations”), Eels (“Shootenanny”) and NIN (“Year Zero”).
In terms of my viewing pleasure, I found a site where they archive TV shows and you can tune in for nuttin’. Finally got a chance to see “The Mighty Boosh” after hearing rumblings about it for ages. Great stuff. And “Black Books” is wonderful—Dylan Moran should be declared a national treasure. And then I couldn’t help myself…I watched the very first episode of “Land of the Giants”. For old time’s sake. And reacquainted myself with “Mystery Science Theatre 3000”, a show I’ve always found hilarious.
A friend of mine (hey, Mark!) was good enough to send us a compilation of the Quay Brothers short animated flicks and that was smashing. I’ve also recently developed a passion for the films of Henri-Georges Clouzot. I’ve seen his three most notable efforts, “Le Corbeau” (1943), “Wages of Fear” (1953) and “Diabolique” (1954). I’ll take this guy over Hitchcock any day, folks. Sherron and I also viewed Bergman’s “The Virgin Spring”—very powerful. Not as visually arresting as we would have expected (Sven Nykvist was his cinematographer, after all). The vengeance von Sydow’s character wreaks at the conclusion of the film renders him almost an elemental force. And then the miraculous finale…
An author should plug a few books: I finished Margaret McMillan’s account of Nixon’s 1972 trip to China and didn’t find it nearly as interesting as her previous effort, 1919. And, yes, I made it through the last Harry Potter book. Let me quote from the notes I scrawled afterward:
“Give the gal credit—Rowling brings back practically everybody for one final appearance, including the whomping willow and the Chamber of Secrets. Lots of battles and close scrapes—some of the magic of the movies has rubbed off on Ms. Rowling. Animated suits of armour leap off the walls and there are Star Wars –type firefights in the skies over England…The conclusion seems to go on forever, another byproduct of a clunky, rather tuneless book. Rowling is determined to get the job done, gritting her teeth and winding things up with a flourish, trying her best to satisfy Harry’s myriad fans and wash her hands of the whole thing.”
I guess you can tell I wasn’t impressed.
But I was impressed by Gerard J. DeGroot’s myth-busting take on the “real” story behind the events leading up to that great day in July, 1969, Dark Side of the Moon. I’ve been an astronaut buff for years but some of this stuff was news to me. Humankind’s greatest feat was achieved with the aid of Nazi war criminals (whitewashed for public consumption), the space race only an expensive diversion for successive adminstrations who couldn’t solve thornier issues like civil rights and poverty.
In my dreams, I’m the first man on Mars. I place my right foot on the dry, rust-coloured soil, making sure to leave a deep impression, an imprint easily visible to the folks at home. Settling my full weight on an alien land. Pausing, clearing my throat. “I claim this world in the name of the people of the planet Earth…and the corporate sponsors of this mission, which include WalMart, Sony, Compaq…”
Within five years there will be gigantic billboards on Olympus Mons.
The human stain, spreading ever outward…