The Hiro and the Failure: thoughts on Snow Crash and Timmy Failure

I recently finished reading two books virtually simultaneously. I would like to claim that this is because I’m an incredibly dedicated reader with amazing time management skills, but actually I cheated. One of them was an audio book. Which, while we’re on the subject, is it appropriate to tell people you’re “reading” an audio book? It feels like a lie, but the absolute truth feels clunky and awkward to explain.

ANYHOO.

Book one was Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made by Stephen Pastis.  It is a book with pictures. It is a book for children. It is amazing.

Book two was Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. It is a seminal work of science fiction with high action mixed in with history, philosophy, and comparative religion. It is…okay.

Now at this point I’m thinking I sound kind of shallow, but hear me out. Because you know what Timmy Failure had that Snow Crash didn’t? A polar bear named Total.* No wait, I’m sorry. What I meant to say was, “internal conflict and character development.”

In Snow Crash Hiro Protagonist is trying to save the world from an virus that infects your mind. In Timmy Failure, our eponymous (I love that word) hero is trying to get back his mom’s Segway which he was not supposed to be riding around before his mom finds out he’s lost it.

Now here’s the thing. In Snow Crash, that’s it. That little snippet I just gave you encapsulates the entire plot in a nutshell. None of the characters, and I mean none, ever have to deal with any kind of internal conflict, never have to overcome any personal failings. It’s all swords cutting people’s heads off and Gatling gun duels, interspersed with long conversations about Sumerian mythology and hacking. Which is fine as far as it goes. I really did like the bits with the mythology, and it was nice to have the spoonful of fictional sugar to help them go down. But in the end the story had very little depth.

In the case of Timmy Failure however, there was nothing but depth. Timmy claims he does not live up to his last name. Timmy lies. In fact his detective agency doesn’t actually solve any of the cases he’s given in the book. But the charm of the story is in the layers, in the way we see the world through Timmy’s eyes.

Timmy Failure is an entirely unreliable narrator, because he’s seeing the world through a egotistical, child-sized lens. Through that lens we see the troubles his mom is having with the bills, and how she’s dating a guy who’s a bit of douche in the hopes of bringing some stability back into her and Timmy’s lives. We see how Timmy’s nemesis is really just a girl who wants her dad to spend more time with her.

In other words, the story is about more than what the story is about.

Is Snow Crash a bad book? No. But it’s utterly flat. It makes the mistake of thinking that what the readers really care about is whether or not the world is saved.

Screw the world. Let it burn. What readers really care about is personal. It’s the inner journey that brings power to the story. Without that, all you have is spectacle.

 

*Seriously, how hard would it be to have a polar bear in a book named Snow Crash? Talk about your missed opportunities.

Advice for Singles in Fact and Fiction

There’s something that’s bothering me more and more lately about single people. Not all single people necessarily, but many of you at the very least are obsessed with not being single anymore. You think you can finally be happy if you find a suitable mate, that one person that understands you like no one else, and you’ll finally have the chance to share life with someone instead of going it alone.

And yeah, as a happily married person, I can say those things are pretty awesome. If you find the right person to spend the rest of your life with, you can count yourself very very lucky.

But lets examine that phrase at the end there shall we? “The rest of your life.” The rest of your life is hopefully going to be quite a long time. I mean even if you’re smoking like a chimney, drinking like a fish, and singlehandedly keeping your local Burger King afloat, you probably have at least twenty or thirty years ahead of you. And the thing you’re missing, the thing I missed until after I was married, is that you’ve got an incredible amount of freedom right now. You probably don’t have a house payment, you don’t have to worry about your kids having enough diapers.

How well do you think James Bond would function as a married man? And I mean really married, like to someone he cares about with long term goals and kids and stuff? How about Luke Skywalker? You think he’d have dashed off to join the Rebellion if he’d had a couple of mouths to feed back on Tattooine? If you do ever run into a fictional character that’s married or got kids, he’s either estranged from them or they’re getting kidnapped for him to go and save. Heroes almost never have to deal with normalcy. 

And that’s you right now. You have options a married guy or gal couldn’t imagine. You can go on a secret mission overseas. You can fly your X-wing and destroy the Death Star. You can move without being bothered by the the fact that you’re underwater on your mortgage.

Okay, so maybe mostly just that last one. But that one’s bigger than you’d think. You have the freedom to take risks us married folks don’t have.

So stop your whining. Stop being bitter. Stop turning Valentines into Singles Awareness Day.

Finding someone to love is awesome, sure, but so is having the option to jump in your car and drive to the Grand Canyon, picking up odd jobs washing dishes along the way. One day you’ll be married. One day you’ll have a kid and a house a dog and, oh yeah, a job you can’t afford to lose because your family counts on those health care benefits.

Don’t stop looking for Mr. or Mrs. Right. But don’t forget to celebrate what you’ve got right now.

Oh, and writers? About all those single characters: I know how tempting it is to write characters with no attachments, believe me, but maybe you could at least consider the fact that attachment raise the stakes. And not just in the cliched sense of “I’m worried the bad guy might kidnap my family.” What kind of character would James Bond be if he had to worry about paying his mortgage, or deal with the guilt of the fact that his child sees him so rarely he doesn’t even recognize him, on top of having to save the world? Think about it.

Hodgepodge and Miscellany

It’s been a while since I wrote anything really substantive in this space. That’s not an apology so much as an observation. Things have been busy. I’ve been busy. I probably could have made myself blog more than I have, but if I’m forcing myself to do something I don’t like…well what’s the point in that. If I’m going to do things I don’t like, I’m at least going to get paid for doing them.

But there are a few things I thought some of you might like to know. First, Thing 1 and Thing 2 are out of our house once again and working toward a more permanent placement with some relatives. They packed up everything last week and headed out of state. The odds are decent that I won’t see them again, at least not for a very long time. I would be lying if I told you I didn’t cry when they left. But I would also be lying if I told you that I wasn’t at least a little glad that they’re gone. Between their school schedule, and trying to spend time my wife and our baby, things were stretched a little thin for us. I’m looking forward to having a little more free time to write.

Speaking of writing, I’m working on a new story which I think is going to be titled, The Death and Life of the Human Electrode, which is about a homeless superhero. And I’ve got one out for beta reads right now called In the Shadow of Doubt which is about faith and giant spiders and a tribe of squirrels that lives in a world-tree.

In other news, the parenting adventure continues. Baby AJ is now mobile. Which means you’ve got to keep an eye on him, because if you don’t the next think you know you’re hearing the thump of the trash can in the kitchen and when you get there he’ll be eating used coffee grounds right out of the filter. Really.

Also, he likes dog food for some reason. I’ve tried to convince my wife that this is a possible way to save money over all that expensive formula and baby food she keeps buying, but so far she’s not going for it.

Here is a video of him wearing pants on his head:

 

Actually, Go Ahead, Pirate My Books

So yesterday Chuck Wendig wrote this thing about digital piracy of books. The upshot of this thing was that he’d really rather you didn’t do it, because hey, he worked hard on those books and they are not unreasonably priced and he deserves to be paid for his work BUT he’s not going to get all angry at people who do pirate because- Actually, it was kind of a long post. Maybe you should just go and read it.

As a corollary to this Wendig has declared today to be “International ‘Please Don’t Pirate My Book’ Day”. Now I’ve got nothing whatsoever against Mr. Wendig, and for the most part I agreed with his post, but much like the those who choose to celebrate “Singles Awareness Day” instead of Valentine’s I’ve decided to make up my own opposing holiday. I’m calling it “Go Ahead and Pirate my Book if You Feel Like It” Day.

Why would I decide to encourage people to read my work without paying for it? I’m so glad you asked.

1. You Want to Pirate my Book? That Means You’ve Actually Heard of Me!

They tell you not to write for exposure. Don’t put so much of your work up for free that you can’t sustain your writing. But you’ve got to think that if practically nobody has heard of you a little more exposure couldn’t be such a terrible thing right?

If you’re looking to “steal” my book that means you’ve taken at least a passing interest in me as an author. How could I complain about that?

2. Money is Tight These Days

I don’t know about you guys, but I’m pinching every penny I can. I’m not living in squalor or anything, but there’s not a lot of extra. I reckon there’s a good number of you out there in the same situation.

It bears mentioning that my books are pretty reasonably priced. Nothing I’ve got out there on the digital marketplace costs more than three bucks. So if you’d like to pay for my work it bears mentioning that this isn’t “Don’t You Dare Pay for my Book and Support me as an Author” day.

3. I’ve Totally Been There

I’ve pirated digital content. I’ve pirated books. Books I liked. Books I wished I had the money to pay for. I buy new when I can, but I’m constantly looking for the deal, the remaindered bins, the yard sale, the book shelves at the Thrift Store. And sometimes I pirate. It’s not something I’m necessarily proud of, but it’s there.

4. Piracy isn’t Stealing

This is something that Chuck Wendig said in his original post, but it bears repeating here. When it comes to digital content there isn’t a finite number of possible copies. If you pirate my work, that doesn’t mean you’ve taken that work away from anyone else.

That’s not to say that there’s no moral grey area, but calling piracy stealing is like playing QWOP on your back porch and telling people you’ve been out running.

5. You Can Pay Me Back Later

Piracy today does not necessarily lead to piracy tomorrow. If you like what I’ve written maybe you’ll pay for my next book. Maybe you’ll tell a friend. Maybe you’ll leave a nice review on Amazon. Maybe you’ll just tell me that you like it. There is value in all these things

 

So go ahead, matees. Shiver my timbers and pirate my books. Can’t find a torrent site that’s heard of me? I’ve included some links below to get you started.

The Mulch Pile

A Prairie Home Apocalypse or: What the Dog Saw

Shards of Darkness

The Arachnopocalypse Redux

Hey ya’ll, remember that flash fiction challenge I issued a while back that required the entrants to imagine an apocalypse caused by spiders? Well, it’s back again, only different, but also the same.

The same because, it’s still about the arachnopocalypse. Different because there’s an actual cash money prize to be won this time around. (Well okay, maybe not actual cash, because this is the future and we have fancy digital currency transfer mechanisms, and speaking of which where is my flying car anyway?)

Here’s the deal. Me and Tony Southcotte host The Human Echoes Podcast, and we’re looking to expand our horizons from rambling about movies, life, and bull testicles, into producing the occasional bit of audio fiction. We started out close to home with me reading my story “Of Teeth and Claus“, but now we need your help.

Send in your story of the the spider-infested end of the world in one thousand words or less, and you’ll have the opportunity to a.) Win ten whole American dollars b.) Have your work released in audio form on the podcast. (Don’t worry it won’t be me reading it this time. We’ll get someone who sounds halfway decent.)

The deadline for entry is noon o’clock Central Time on February 8; that gives you a little over a week. The winner will be announced on the podcast two weeks after. Send your entries in to HEPodcast@gmail.com. If by chance you had written a story for the previous Arachnopocalypse challenge you’re welcome to resubmit that.

Good luck and happy writing!

My Christmas Horror Story, Of Teeth and Claus, Now Available in Audio Form, Just in Time for…um, Valentines Day I Guess?

So the title pretty much says it all. A couple weeks back Tony Southcotte, my co-host on The Human Echoes Podcast (you are listening aren’t you?) helped me put together an audio edition of my short story Of Teeth and Claus which is available for download here. You can also listen to it in the embedded player below. Or if you can’t stand the sound of my voice (I wouldn’t blame you) you go all old-school and can read it with your eyes here.

Sons of the Damned, Chapter 26: The Tellekill Two-Step

To say the Director doesn’t trust the intel the Karl-thing gave him would be an understatement, but he’s not fool enough to ignore it either. He sends his suggestions to OS-5 and gets back confirmation within half an hour: triple the compliment of men guarding the circle. Keep a close eye on Church movements. Be ready for everything.

In practice however, this proves to be more difficult to do than say. The Director pours through lists of deployment stations, scouring them for over-staffing, cutting back the ones that might not quite hold the same priority as others. And THEN he has to get the extra men to the Circle and get them briefed on the situation and absorbed into the Mole Rats’ command structure.

The end of reality itself might be on the way, but he is at least determined it’s going to be well-managed.

 

They’ve been driving for hours now. The sun is up and glaring at them through the windshield.

Vinny can feel the symptoms of sleep deprivation coming on hard now. He hasn’t shut his eyes in over 24 hours, and its getting to him. But he can’t bring himself to do it. Not while the woman sitting next to him is being held hostage by the thing living in his mind. He fights his way through a wash of emotions, guilt, fear, confusion, helplessness and tries to find something he can grab on to, anything to keep his head above water.

“Are you going to kill me?”

Vinny almost jumps in surprise. It’s the first thing the woman has said since he got into the cab. But then his surprise turns to suspicion. “Is this a trick?”

“What?”

“I mean, is it really you moving your mouth and speaking. Because we’ve already established that the thing inside me can make you say the words it wants.”

“Is it a demon? Like in the Bible?”

“I- don’t know. I’m not much of a Bible guy to tell you the truth. Probably. Anyway, you’re evading the question.”

“No, I’m not. I’m sorry, I mean, I’m just so scared.”

She looks it too. Her makeup has run into streaks and Vincent sees that she’s crying again. Maybe she’d been crying all through the night. That realization hits him in the chest like a punch. He’s been so wrapped up in what all of this means for him, that he’d almost forgotten what his driver had been going through.

“I don’t think he can make me talk like this,” she says. “I mean, he can make me say whatever I want, but he can’t make me look like I mean it.”

“I…I’m sorry,” Vinny says, feeling the weight of guilt pressing down even harder now. “It’s not me. I don’t want this any more than you do. Believe me.”

“You still haven’t answered me. Are you going to kill me?”

“No.”

But something inside him, maybe the Traveler or maybe the voice of his own self-doubt asks, How can you be sure?

But before he can think on this further the woman continues speaking, her voice halting and choked with something between grief and terror.“I always…always wanted to go to Florida. So I guess…I guess that’s a good thing right?”

Vinny smiles a sad, tired smile. “It’s not like what you see on TV,” he says. “Not where I live anyway. Whenever you see Florida on T.V. it’s either Miami or the Everglades. But most of it’s just boring suburbia and pine forests.”

“You’ve still got the beaches, right?”

“With sand as white as snow.”

“Really? I always thought that was, you know, Photoshopped or something.”

Vinny shakes his head. “They’re the real deal. Though a guy like me doesn’t get down there too often.”

“Imagine what it would be like to live in France.”

“Huh?”

“Sorry, you were just talking about how TV shows things, and I was thinking that it must be terrible to be from France and every single time your country shows up on television there’s the Eiffel Tower in the background. I bet the majority of French people haven’t even seen the Eiffel Tower in person. What do you think?”

“I…I don’t know.” Vinny tries to process the fact that he’s having a semi-normal conversation with a woman that the ancient entity living in his head is coercing into driving him across the country and fails rather miserably.

“I’ll do what you ask, you know,” the woman says, breaking his reverie.

“Okay?”

“I mean, that thing, whatever it is inside you, he doesn’t have to puppet me anymore. I promise I’ll be…compliant. Whatever you want me to do, I mean anything, you just say the word and I’m there.”

“I’m…not the one in control here. At least not of him,” Vinny says. “I’m…sorry about what he’s done to you.”

“I know, I know, I just thought, you know maybe that he would hear me.”

“Oh. Right.”

“Because…what’s your name?”

“Vinny. Vinny Price.”

“As in Vincent Price? The actor from way back when?”

“Yeah. I mean I’m not the same guy, I’ve just got the same name. But…you could probably have figured that out on your own. What’s your name?”

“Rachael. Rachael Anderson.”

“Rachael’s a nice name.”

“It’s just…I want you to understand where I’m coming from. I want your promise that that thing inside you won’t try to…to push me, or whatever you want to call it, again.”

“I told you before, I’m not really in control here, but-”

“I will die before I go through that again. Do you understand? If I sense that he’s even close to trying to get into my head again, I swear I will take this car off the road at full speed with all of us in it.”

“Rachael, I-”

“I’ve been raped before. I’ve never told anyone about it. Not even my husband. But I’m telling you now, so you’ll understand that I’m dead serious when I say that I would rather go through a hundred of those experiences than to have that thing you’ve got in your skull try to pry it’s way into my mind again.”

Vinny opens his mouth and then shuts it again, completely at a loss for what to say. Until the voice in his head says, [Tell her that if she cooperates, everything will be fine.]

“He…it, whatever it is, says you’ll be fine if you cooperate. For what it’s worth I don’t think he really likes doing things that way. It seems like it’s difficult or something.”

“It may be difficult,” Rachael replied, “but don’t think for a moment that he doesn’t enjoy it.”

 

On the same road, not more than half a mile behind them, a box truck is being driven by men wearing foil hats.

The one driving points at the dash mounted clock and the other nods and picks up what looks like an overly complicated walky-talky. “Base, this is the Mobile 5, do you copy?”

“I copy Mobile 5,” the handset crackles back. “Any deviation in expected course?”

“Nope. They’re headed your way, straight as an arrow. Assuming they don’t stop to rest, I’d estimate arrival time at sometime tomorrow morning. Ya’ll going to be ready by then?”

“Don’t worry about us, Mobile 5. We’ve got it under control here.”

“Roger that Base. Next call-in at Oh-Nine-hundred. Over and Out”

The man in the driver’s seat turns to his compatriot and says, “What do you think we look like? Couple of guys driving around wearing foil hats.”

“Hey, say what you want to, but if that thing is jiggering around with people’s minds I want no part of it. I’m more worried about the side effects.”

“What’s this stuff called again?”

“Telekill. Feeds off telepathic energy. Blocks psychic readings which is useful and all that, but they say that over time it feeds off your brainwaves. The longer you’re exposed to it the dumber you get. Stuff literally EATS your thoughts.”

“Yeesh. Where do the eggheads dig all this stuff up anyway? I mean, I’m prepared to believe in bigfoot or UFO’s or whatever, but the amount of weirdness I’ve seen since I started work with the Foundation is freaking ridiculous.”

“Dude, who knows? Why is anything the way it is? Sooner or later you got to learn to just take it as it comes, one day at a time.”

“Said the man wearing the thought-eating tinfoil hat.”

 

As it happens at that moment they aren’t the only ones with Telekill on their minds. Back at Site 14 the Director is waving a sheet of paper in the face of an irate engineer, and saying, “I EXPECT you to do your job, Wilkins.”

Wilkins does not react well to this. “Get one of your D-Class goons to do it,” he yells. “They’re expendable. I’m not. If you want me to build this for you, I’m going to need to see written confirmation with the signatures of every single member of OS-5. Until such time I’m not touching that stuff with a ten foot pole.”

The Director grabs the man by his lapels and pulls him close, his eyes burning into the engineer’s like a laser. Something passes between them, something unspoken, and then the Director says softly this time, “Are you SURE you don’t want to build my little project for me?”

The engineer swallows hard, his eyes suddenly filled with something between terror and confusion. “I’m…I’m sure we can work something out.”

“Good. How long have you been standing there gawping, Dr. Hyde?” the Director asks without turning.

“Er…sorry sir. Not long sir. Only, you’d better be sure about this, sir. OS-5 isn’t going to be happy you went over their heads on the Telekill thing sir.”

“The board moves too slowly in situations like this Hyde,” the Director says, leaning hard on his cane with each step he takes, yet still somehow managing to move in such a way that the younger man finds it hard to keep up. “They’ll forgive me for going over their heads if it saves their necks. Now what do you WANT?”

“Oh, sorry sir, I should have said. “It’s commander Maverick. He says everything’s in place.”

The Director stops suddenly, and Hyde nearly plows into him from behind before coming up short. “Do you ever worry, doctor, that you’re beginning to enjoy your job just a little too much?”

A confused look passes over Hyde face, before he replies, “No sir. Not the first time.”

And with that the Director breaks into laughter that seems to go on for a very long time.