Just thought I’d quick let you know that the video of the audio of Prometheus and Chiron is up on YouTube now. Here it is:
Just thought I’d quick let you know that the video of the audio of Prometheus and Chiron is up on YouTube now. Here it is:
Greetings, everyone. I hope you’re having a good day. This post should be relatively short, but I thought I’d give a few minor updates.
First, as those of you following this blog will already have noticed, I posted the audio for Prometheus and Chiron here yesterday. I think it turned out reasonably well, and the sound quality overall was a step up from Ifowonco. As I’ve said before, I think I’m getting better at audio production as I become more used to the process, but I imagine there will always be room for improvement.
Unanimity is coming along well—I haven’t been slacking on it, even though I’ve been working on these audio projects. It is, however, going to end up being rather longer than I thought it would be, because there are quite a few more things that need to happen before the story is done. I’m not bored of it by any means; quite the contrary. But I have been surprised by how quickly it’s grown. I’m sure the rewriting/editing process is going to be daunting, but then again, it always is.
I’ve decided that, from now on, I’m not going to stop writing new things (i.e., first drafts of stories), even while I’m editing older material—I’ll just set a lower target every day for the new writing during those times. For instance, right now, when new writing is essentially my entire focus (excluding the audio), I’m writing roughly three pages a day, five days a week (with two days set aside, one for this blog, and for my other one, Iterations of Zero). Once I need to get into editing Unanimity (after it’s been set aside for Stephen King’s recommended weeks-long resting period), I’ll plan to write only one new page a day, and then spend the rest of my mornings editing.
That’s the plan, anyway. Of course, we all know what Rabbi Burns (ha!) said about the best laid plans of mice and men and all that, but I’m not too worried about achieving that goal precisely, just in spirit.
Other matter, other matters…
Now that the audio of Prometheus and Chiron has been released, I’m soon going to upload the video version of that audio to my YouTube channel, and I’ll notify everyone here once it’s up. As before, don’t expect much from the video portion; it’s likely just going to be a still image of the cover of the story. I just find that YouTube is an incredibly widespread and easily shared venue in which to post something, including audio. I’ve noticed that quite a few people make similar videos of the audio of podcasts, for instance. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I often like to go to sleep while listening to a lecture, or discussion, or something of the sort playing on YouTube. I don’t know how well that would work with my audio—my stories aren’t really designed to ensure restful slumber—but if you think they might, feel free to play them, in either venue. As I think I’ve said before, I plan on creating audio versions of all my short stories eventually, and then—possibly—releasing audio of at least some of my novels, a chapter at a time. When that time comes, I’ll gladly take your input on with which book to begin.
There’s not much other news on the writing front this week. I plan next week to post an author’s note for Hole for a Heart. That will no doubt rehash some of what I’ve already talked about here when I was writing the story, but it’s going to be far from redundant, I think. Then I think I really need to get started on my series of explorations of my favorite antagonists from books, stories, graphic novels, comics, movies, etc., under the general heading, “My heroes have always been villains.” I’ve been intending to do this for a long time—planning it, you might say (see above about plans)—but it’s high time I put it into motion.
That’s about it. It’s been brief, as I said it would be, but I will post here also just to let everyone know when the Video of the Audio is up, so you won’t feel too short-changed. In the meantime, try to enjoy (in the northern hemisphere) the slowly developing Spring. As always, feel free to comment, and thank you for reading.
Here it is, now, the audio version (read by me) of Prometheus and Chiron. Feel free to listen, to download, etc., but don’t charge anyone for the privilege. I think I’m getting steadily better at doing the audio, though I welcome your feedback.
Enjoy! And if you do enjoy, please do consider buying the e-book on Amazon, here. It’s only 99 cents.
Prometheus and Chiron is a more or less straightforward horror story, and its trigger was also straightforward—so straightforward that you might be able to guess it without me telling you, once you’ve read the story. But I’ll tell you anyway.
One morning, in the waning months of the year, I was nearly alone on the train station platform, waiting for my usual train. The sun had not yet risen, so it was still quite dark. As I dithered about (most likely doing some writing or editing), I glanced across the track, and saw a woman standing very still beneath one of the electric lights on the other side. I looked away for what seemed only a moment, though it could have been quite a bit longer, and when I looked back up, the woman was gone, as though she’d vanished into thin air.
A look down the platform soon revealed that she had simply walked to the other end, for undisclosed reasons of her own. But her initial silent presence and subsequent seeming vanishment made me think about the possibility of a ghost haunting a railroad platform. What might have led someone to die in, and then to haunt, such a place? Under what conditions would such a ghost be visible? What if it were a ghost that only a certain type of person could see? This wouldn’t necessarily be a person with psychic abilities (as in my story If the Spirit Moves You, from Welcome to Paradox City) but a person who has certain characteristics, perhaps similar in some special way to the person whose ghost remains.
The story took shape pretty quickly from there. I don’t recall how long it was before I started writing it, but by the time I did, all the elements were present. I wanted to deal, of course, with the hellish experience of a spirit being trapped in one place, right where she had died, and the frightening fact of a living person finding himself able to see such a ghost. But I also wanted to deal with the much realer hell that both of the characters in the story exemplify, one with which I’m familiar on many levels: as a physician who has treated those with chronic pain and with addiction problems, as a sufferer of chronic pain due to back injury, and as someone who has seen friends and family die as a consequence of addiction.
The ghost-woman trapped at the station represents the classic, purely self-destructive individual that most people probably imagine when they think of drug addicts: someone who, for whatever reasons, started taking drugs and got hooked on them. I dealt with this tangentially in Ifowonco, but it’s central to Prometheus and Chiron. This ghost is a woman whose life was ruined—and ended—by her abuse of narcotics. Unfortunately for her, at the place she died, a supernatural force was present, one not merely destructive but actively malevolent.
Tommy, on the other hand—the protagonist—is a different breed of addiction victim. He’s a former Marine, a hard worker, a basically upright citizen and good person, who worked in the construction industry. Because of an accident on the job, he’s been left with chronic pain from low back and knee injuries. He’s qualified for disability benefits, but as many people know, these can be woefully limited in the relief they provide. To cover his cost of living, Tommy has to do at least some paying work now and then, but he has to hide that work from the authorities, so he doesn’t lose his benefits, and he has to treat his pain to be able to function at all. Unfortunately, the only available medicines capable of dealing with significant chronic pain are opiates…and they come with a series of liabilities, including increasing levels of physical dependence—and the risk of psychological dependence—and consequent, agonizing withdrawal symptoms if one is suddenly deprived of them. This is a terrible, no-win situation in which all too many well-intentioned people find themselves.
It’s this dependence on opiates, which he shares with the ghost-woman, that allows Tommy to see her, and that, combined with his good heart, makes him vulnerable to the danger he encounters.
The title of this story arrived after I’d almost completed the first draft, but it must have been percolating through my subconscious for some time. It is, in a way, somewhat pretentious, but I couldn’t help myself; it seemed so appropriate. It also risks, for those familiar with mythology, giving away the end of the story. I recognized that possibility but decided that the risk was worth it.
Prometheus and Chiron is shorter than many of my short stories, and it’s fairly concentrated and direct. Writing it was enjoyable—it almost always is—and more than a little bit cathartic. It allowed me to express some of the personal horror I experienced while taking prescription pain medications for many years while at the same time suffering through the pain that made them necessary. (It wouldn’t be too over-simplistic to say that those experiences were a large part of what led to the crashing and burning of my previous life.)
Writing Tommy’s character was a revelatory experience. Knowing that he was going to be going through some very bad things indeed, I named him after someone I knew—not well, but well enough to know that I didn’t like him much. However, as I wrote, I realized that my fictional Tommy was a far finer person than my impression of his namesake. This led me to wonder if, just maybe, the real person had aspects to his character that were also quite admirable, if only on some small scale, and which I was being uncharitable in not recognizing. I can’t give you an answer to that question, because I only knew the real Tommy briefly and haven’t seen or heard from him in a long time. Maybe, though, if we all knew the inner workings of other people’s minds as well as we experience imaginary characters through the medium of fiction, we would find at least some sympathy for even the most unpleasant of people. For me, at least, that’s probably a lesson worth considering.
Enough philosophizing. Ultimately, Prometheus and Chiron was meant to be, and is, a fairly simple supernatural horror story, and I don’t expect or ask for anyone to care much about it on any other level. I hope you enjoy it.
Hello, good day, and welcome to April 2018.
For those of you who might have missed my recent updates and posts: within the last two weeks, I’ve posted the audio for my short story I for one welcome our new computer overlords on my blog here, and I subsequently made it into a video and posted it on YouTube. The blog post linking to the video is here.
Don’t misunderstand the fact that the story is posted as a video. Like many others before me, I simply took the audio and added a single video image—the cover of the e-book, floating in a black background—as the video portion of the file. This is probably a relief for many; you don’t have to go through the misery of watching my ugly mug as I read the story aloud to you. I posted the audio story in both places and forms to make it more easily accessible, so that more people who might want to listen will find it easy to do so. It’s just over two hours long, but YouTube lets you start and stop videos in the middle, so you can pick up where you left off, which is convenient. If you’re the sort of person who likes to listen to bedtime stories—and there are, pleasingly, many adults who do—then you can set the video playing on YouTube as you lie down in bed and listen to it as you make your way off into Slumberland. I’m told, by relatively disinterested parties, that I do a decent job of reading people to sleep, and I’m also told (hopefully not just to spare my feelings) that this is a compliment.
In the meantime, I’ve returned whole-heartedly to writing Unanimity, and the first draft should/may be done sometime within the next month or two. Then, of course, the hard and crucial work of rewriting/editing begins, so don’t get too excited. Unanimity will not be available as beach reading this summer by any stretch of the imagination, though I do hope it will be out in time for you to consume it on a few dark, wintry evenings as 2018 draws to a close and 2019 begins. It’s the sort of story best read alone in the dark.
Which brings up an interesting, tangential point: I’ve noticed that, no matter what time of day I’m writing, even if the blinds are wide open on a sunny afternoon, I always feel like I’m working in the deep dark of a silent night, when everyone else is asleep. I’m not sure why that is, but it’s consistent. Many times, when I’ve drawn to the close of a stretch of writing and stood up, I’ve been utterly surprised to find that it’s daytime. It’s probably something to do with the fact that writing is like hypnosis. I wonder if other writers experience this.
In addition to writing about three pages a day on Unanimity, I’ve also started something I hadn’t really planned to do. After completing the audio for Ifowonco, I had originally intended to take a break before doing audio for any of my other works, but I’m afraid that I couldn’t hold myself to that plan—or I didn’t want to and didn’t choose to, which amounts to the same thing—and have already almost completed the first “draft” of the audio for Prometheus and Chiron. Of course, this is a shorter story than is Ifowonco, so it’s not that impressive that I’m already almost done with that draft.
I expect, given how interesting this process has been, and depending on how many people seem to listen, that I’ll ultimately do audio for all my short stories. This will take a while, even though I don’t have all that many such stories to purvey. But then, once that’s completed, assuming it continues, it raises another question that seems obvious to me: will I do the audio for any of my novels?
One thing is quite clear, I would not be doing such audio in single, whole-book form. I’m happy to listen to full audio books, especially during my commute, but the file size alone of a complete audio book, even a short one, is daunting. I can’t even estimate what the comparable video size would be, even if the video portion were just a blank screen. However, I haven’t ruled out the possibility of doing such audio one chapter at a time. In fact, that might be kind of enjoyable. I’m a bit nervous, of course, that doing so would expose me to too many imperfections in my prior works, but if I’m honest with myself, I recognize that collision with imperfection as a good thing. In fact, that alone might be reason enough to do it, even if not a single person in the wide world listened.
Of course, I still haven’t even begun my planned series of blog posts about my favorite villains. I haven’t forgotten (obviously), it’s just gotten pushed to the back burner because other plans have gripped me and seemed more urgent. I may, though, start doing them on a monthly, or perhaps bi-weekly basis, once I’ve completed my series of author’s notes on the works I’ve written to date, and that series will soon be complete.
Well, that’s about all that I want to talk about today. I wish you all the best, and hope that those in the northern hemisphere are at least looking forward to full springtime and the summer that follows. Do be good to each other.
Here it is:
There’s not much more to say than that. Enjoy!
I for one welcome our new computer overlords was the first new short story I wrote after having completed Mark Red, The Chasm and the Collision, and Son of Man.* Despite what you might think, this was not a story that driven by its title, though that came along shortly after the story began, and I’ll deal with it first. The title is a direct quote from Ken Jennings, who wrote it as his Final Jeopardy answer when he and his fellow all-time human Jeopardy champion lost to IBM’s Watson computer. It was a good joke, referring back to an episode of The Simpsons, when news anchor Kent Brockman mistakenly thinks that a space shuttle mission is being attacked by a “master race of giant space ants,” adding, “and I for one welcome our new insect overlords.” The obvious joke—particularly funny because Brockman’s conclusion is so ridiculous—is about how real people do sometimes, cynically, and in cowardly fashion, try to ingratiate themselves to powerful ruling classes or individuals.
Peter Lunsford, the main character of I for one welcome our new computer overlords, is no coward. He’s a seemingly simple man—without college education, a widower, a loner, a phone salesman. But he’s a voracious reader, and even more, he is a deeply thoughtful and intelligent person. Because of his own experiences with irrationality, even in people he has loved, he pines for the advent of a higher class of mind, which he expects to come from the eventual creation of artificial intelligence. But he’s by no means a misanthrope. He laments the senselessness of much human behavior but has an optimistic attitude toward the possibilities inherent in human creativity. He also has a deep sense of the tragedy of the loss of brilliant people like his wife who, because of the scars of her harsh background, self-sabotaged her future through a fatal drug overdose. Thus, when Peter wins a nearly billion-dollar lottery jackpot, he uses it to create an educational program and a scholarship fund to help people like his wife avoid the tragic end she met, and to allow at least some of them reach their potential and make great contributions to the world.
The triggers for this story were discussions by neuroscientist, writer, and podcaster Sam Harris, of whom I am a fan. Harris began to think publicly about dangers that might be posed to humanity by our possible creation of artificial intelligence; he recommended that we think very carefully about such dangers, so we can avoid potentially irreversible errors. His concerns are shared by such luminaries as Max Tegmark, Elon Musk, and the late, great Stephen Hawking, in contrast to the quasi-Utopian attitudes of such writers and thinkers as Ray Kurtzweil. Both points of view are worth considering, and it’s an issue I think we should approach with our eyes as wide open as we can possibly get them. But when contemplating Harris, et al’s concerns, I couldn’t help thinking that, if a truly superior artificial intelligence were to make humans obsolete, would that be such a terrible thing? Peter Lunsford is my proponent of that perspective.**
I wanted to write a story revolving around those concerns about artificial intelligence, but I didn’t want to write about a cliché takeover of the world by AI—in this, my title is deliberately ironic. Personally, I suspect that ethics and morality are generally improved by higher intelligence, all other things being equal, so I think that artificial intelligences might be inherently more ethical and reserved than we humans, with all our non-rational evolutionary baggage. In this, Ifowonco is a story of wish-fulfillment. It’s my daydream of the possibility that someone winning a truly gargantuan sum of money might use it to deeply positive philanthropic effect, inspiring others to act likewise, then leading, through that beneficial action, to a great leap forward in intelligent life (yes, I would without embarrassment refer to AI as a form of life).
Of course, you can’t say that Ifowonco is a uniformly happy story. It entails a (non-nuclear) World War III, the rejection of AI by the human race, and of course, Peter Lunsford’s willful self-destructiveness. Overall, though, it’s optimistic. Darrell White is my example of a brilliant, world-changing mind springing from the least promising of seeming circumstances, wanting only the opportunity and nurturing that would allow such a mind to flourish. He and my imagined AIs represent of my personal conviction that reason and morality and vastly more powerful than their antitheses; I cite as evidence for this the fact that civilization continues to exist and grow, even though it’s so much easier to destroy than to create.
In some senses, Ifowonco is the most personal story that I’ve written hitherto. Of course, any character in a story must be a reflection of some part of the mind of the author—a person incapable of dark thoughts could hardly write a believable villain, for instance. But Peter Lunsford is the avatar of a large part of my personality, in both his positive and negative character attributes. Though I’ve had almost twice as much formal education as Peter, that difference is inconsequential because of Peter’s incessant self-education. There is, in fact, almost no daylight between Peter Lunsford and me (and what little there is must generally be in Peter’s favor). I would even like to think that, were I to win a prize such as Peter wins, I would choose to do with it something like what he does; in this, also, the story is a form of wish-fulfillment.
Speaking, in closing, of wish fulfillment: I deliberately made the reality of the second half of the story ambiguous. Do Darrell White and his creations, and all that comes with them, even exist in this universe? Or are he and those subsequent beings and events simply a species of dream that Peter has while his brain succumbs to hypoxia?
I know the answer to this question in the universe of the story—and yes, there is a correct answer—but I’m not going to tell you what it is. I’d rather have you draw your own conclusions. I think it’s more fun that way, and it may even be a useful tool for personal reflection, bringing us back to that whole question of consciousness that troubles thinkers like Sam Harris. I’d be intrigued and delighted to hear any of your thoughts on the subject, so feel free to send them my way, either here, or on Facebook, or on Twitter. I wish you well.
* Just this week I released the audio of this story, now available to enjoy, for free, here on my blog.
** I don’t have the concerns, which Harris does, about the possibility that AI could be highly intelligent and competent but might nevertheless not be conscious, for two reasons: First, I strongly suspect that consciousness is a natural epiphenomenon of highly complex information processing involving internal as well as external monitoring and response, though I’m far from sure; and second, I can’t be philosophically certain even that other humans are conscious (I think they are, but this extrapolation is based on my own experience and their apparent similarity to me), but it doesn’t seem to matter much for the purposes of their function in the world.