Monday, September 21, 2015

"Loving Grace" Audio Version & Story Notes!

In case you missed it, the audio version of my story "Loving Grace" came out a little while ago on the Clarkesworld site. So if you like stories, but hate reading, give it a listen. Thanks to Kate Baker for the excellent narration!

While I think the story is fairly self-explanatory, notes seem to be the thing to do, so I figured I'd talk a little more about what inspired the story. It springs (sprang?) from one simple question: Why do we still have a forty-hour workweek?

Because when you think about it, we shouldn't. Advances in automation should have made our lives easier, but instead, people are working longer hours than ever. What makes it even worse is that so many of the jobs that we do are unmitigated bullshit. The job I have now is real, but I'm sure I'm not the only person who has had a job warming a desk for hours upon hours a day, not really doing much of anything at all. What is a "project manager"? Machines are taking our jobs, which is a good thing (as Marybeth says in the story, "machines can do things better than we ever could"), but we aren't seeing the benefits of automation, only a shift into jobs built on endless paperwork. Politicians talk about "job creation," which is another way to say "make work." Nobody is saying the obvious: that we need a Shift in the way we think about jobs and money, that we are closer to fully automated luxury communism than we know.

This could be us if we want it to be.
In the world of the story, luxury communism is within society's grasp. But because of the American work ethic, nobody is willing to just accept the fact that capitalism is transitory and enjoy this bountiful stage of advanced civilization. Or rather, they might accept it... except that the government has made it illegal to revel in your fully automated life. So in addition to the employment lottery, things are shoddier than they have to be. The characters could have real food, fine clothing, adequate transportation, but they haven't "earned" these things. Hell, setting up a draft and keeping everyone cowed is more work than just letting utopia reign, but living in luxury without "earning" it is obscene. Never mind that there is no actual way to earn it! The workers are psychologically invested in this racket as well (e.g. draft volunteers, Chase being anxious about the Shift instead of joyful, and so forth).

I believe in a basic income. I believe BI is the pathway to post-capitalist economic liberation, and that if we had one, scientific and artistic progress would skyrocket. But we'll never get there if people who stand to gain the most by a massive automation-fueled economic Shift remain obsessed with "welfare queens" and the concept of "earning" things we should have by rights.

So anyway, that's the story. Read or listen! Support basic income!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

"Loving Grace" up at Clarkesworld

So happy to announce that my story "Loving Grace" is live at Clarkesworld Magazine. Here's a sample:

When full automation made human employment superfluous, the first reaction was panic. Pink slips fell like confetti. Even Chase had protested against the coming of the machines at first, though Marybeth hadn’t.
“It’s a paradigm shift,” she’d said. “Relax, Chase. It’s the way things were meant to be. Machines can do things better than we ever could.” 
The early days of the Shift were a time of great upheaval, as people who’d spent their whole lives working suddenly found themselves without a job, a purpose. The solution was drastic: a complete social safety net, and a draft. Every day, a few people were called for employment, targeted by the drones that also swept the city clean, monitored crime, and performed chit drops. Stretches of employment varied from a few months to a few years. 
You’ll come back, the Employment Bureau said. Everyone will come back. We count on it. Chase knows nobody who has returned, but that doesn’t prove anything.

This issue also features fiction by Robert Reed, Bao Shu, Elizabeth Bourne, and many others! I'm not going to break my usual pattern of not talking about my stories, but I will say that the article "On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs" by David Graeber was a huge inspiration for this piece, and of course this poem by Richard Brautigan. Read it if you want to, and let me know what you think!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Erica's Infrequent Book Reviews Presents: CHAFFS by Douglas P. Lathrop

Every dystopia actually reveals the writer's anxiety about the present. In Chaffs, Douglas P. Lathrop follows the Tea Party movement to its natural conclusion: a fascistic nightmare state that slaughters people of color, tortures queer people in reeducation camps, and spies on its citizens, all for the glory of the "Fourth Great Awakening," headed by President Muldoon, a cult of personality leader whose framed picture hangs in every home.

The narrator, Tyler Treppenhouse, knows there's something odd about himself, that he doesn't quite fit into the rigid masculinity required of all males of his world. But it's not until he meets handsome skater boy Casey that he realizes the truth: he's gay, and in America after the Fourth Great Awakening, that means he might as well be dead. As their relationship develops, Tyler gradually learns that his world is built on horror upon horror, and he must make the ultimate sacrifice to save Casey's life: becoming a mole at a reorientation center. Yet, queer folks aren't the only ones who suffer under the Muldoonian regime, and during his mission Tyler learns that the resistance is bigger than he ever thought possible.

For all the talk about diversity, there really doesn't seem to be that many gay protagonists in YA fiction, and very few in YA science fiction*. Actually, I can't think of any right now, though I'm definitely not as well-read in YA as some folks. The love story which drives the plot feels raw and true, and Tyler's gayness isn't a tacked-on identity. Nor is it the kind of gay love story that's written to be titillating to straight women; there is a lot of sex, but it's all necessary to the plot, and in a world where either of the main characters could die at any moment because of their love for each other, the sex carries a lot of emotional weight.

The setting of Chaffs also hits much closer to home than most dystopias, there is the real sense that this could be our world (and if you don't think that, then you must have not been around in the 2000s). One interesting quirk is that aside from weaponry and surveillance, technology has been pushed backwards, so there's no Internet, no smartphones. Much like North Korea, the Muldoonian government tries to stifle revolution by isolating people from one another. Queer people who came of age before the Internet might also find this especially true to life. Tyler's isolation from any sort of queer community, his feeling like he's the only gay person in the world, was something that really resounded with me. LGBT rights are mainstream now, and even in the most rural areas gay teens can find some kind of community. But twenty years ago this wasn't true at all, especially in small towns, and the confusion of not knowing what you are and the fear of being found out all felt very honest to me. Even if I never had to deal with fascist shock troops, I still grew up at the tail end of a period where queerness just wasn't discussed except as a slur. It Got Better, but if you came out (if only to yourself) before the turn of the century, you don't forget what it was like back then. As a gay man a generation older than me, Lathrop was clearly mining some personal experience here.

Lathrop was an excellent writer, with a knack for believable dialogue, well-detailed description, and tightly-paced plotting. Sadly, this is his only novel, as he died last year. A truly great loss, as I think Chaffs was only the beginning to a great career. It's available from Amazon now, and I'm guessing there will be an electronic version as well. Whether you're queer or straight, an adult or a young person, this is a book that wins both on its politics and on being a fast-paced adventure into the heart of a sinister alternate America that could have been... and could still be, if we're not careful.

*Or adult science fiction, honestly. Especially gay males. I know there are exceptions, and I know things are changing rapidly, but... publishers still gotta cash in on that straight male nerd demographic. But that is an article for another time!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

"States of Emergency" Is Live!

My insane short story "States of Emergency" is live on Shimmer! Here's an excerpt:

The house always wins. So does the Autonomic SmarTrak DwellingUnit 3.0. 
Step inside. Allow the polished servo-mechanisms to lift you up, float you through the air like a luck-kissed cherub. Spin the wheel. Roll the dice. Make merry. Have another scotch. Ante. Raise. Call. 
Later, when the lights go dark and the thrill of winning is gone, sink into the luxurious honeycomb of the fully furnished basement. Order some room service. It’s on the house.

I spend a lot of time in the shower thinking about stories, which I found out is actually a pretty common thing. This story, though, was a first in that it was inspired by the shower, or more specifically the new curtain we bought at Fred Meyer when we moved to Portland.

For a couple of months, I amused myself by imagining all the terrible, personalized fates that could befall residents of the fifty states. Then I wrote them down, because why not? And from there, a story was born. It's fragmented on purpose, can be read in almost any order, and is pretty wacky. Hope you enjoy!

Also, I haven't mentioned it yet because this blog is severely neglected, but I'll have a short story out soon in Clarkesworld. Yes, after an eight-year gap, I'm finally going to be in Clarkesworld again. It's an unabashedly political story about drones and full luxury communism, and I can't wait to share it with the part of the world that reads short stories.

Friday, July 3, 2015

New Stuff!

Issue #26 of Shimmer is out! This issue includes my story "States of Emergency," an insane travelogue set in an altered America:

In a no-tell motel just outside Billings, the psychotic cattle rancher known as Paranoid Jack freezes when he sees the baby-blue eyeball glowering at him from the mouthpiece of the Bakelite phone.

This issue also contains stories by Lavie Tidhar, Roshani Chokshi, and Cat Hellisen. My story will be online in August, but if you want to read it now, go grab a copy.

Meanwhile, some rad folks had some nice things to say about "Bucket List, etc." Over on, Brit Mandelo calls it "a nice brief punch of feeling," while K. Tempest Bradford at io9 Newsstand named it as one of her stories of the week. What are you waiting for? Get the full issue of Lightspeed's Queers Destroy Science Fiction now!