Saturday, February 21, 2015

Day Dream Log - Aliens of God

The aliens arrive in the very near future.  And they look like us.  Bipedal.  Humanoid.  You would have a easier time telling the difference between two people from Korea and Japan than you would telling the difference between us and them.  
While the scientists turn themselves inside out trying to explain this, the aliens introduce themselves to the world.  They are friendly.  They are open.  They are peaceful in their intent.  In some ways they are incredibly liberal and progressive.  In others they are more right than the most right-wing conservative.  But they are tolerant.  They listen with respect, express forthrightly where they disagree and do their best to work with us.  
They are, of course, more advanced than us technologically.  That's pretty much a given for any people that can sail the vast empty seas of the Milky Way to find us.  They don't have a "prime directive" to wait until we're ready.  They are more interested in "uplift," helping us find our way past the mistakes they made in developing new technologies.  Like cell towers in the jungle, they will lead us past the need to string wires for telephones straight to what their experience has taught them will work best.  
As one might expect, though, disaster strikes.  Nothing can go perfectly well for very long.  
It happens in the Middle East.  Isn't that where most of the disasters we perpetrate upon ourselves take place these days?  Two aid workers, working with the aliens that came to treat wounded children near the border of Syria and Iraqi are taken hostage.  A video is posted online.  They are bound, kneeling, in orange jumpsuits.  A smooth-talking spokesperson with an educated British accent tells us the aliens are enemies.  Worse than infidels.  They are devils come to lead mankind away from the proper devotion one should give to God alone.  They have caused people to lift their eyes to the skies in false home, when they should be lowered in humility and prayer.  They demand that the devils that command these two leave the Earth immediately.  If they do not, then they will be executed in the name of Allah, ever-merciful.  
The aliens do abandon the offices and embassies they've created, retreating to their ships orbiting above.  But they do not leave orbit.  This is where we see hardened resolve of beings that learned to survive and flourish after nearly destroyed themselves many more times than we've experienced.  They issue a warning of their own.  The two hostages, who only meant to do good, are to be returned to a place of safety where they can be picked up by one of their landers.  If this is done, the aliens will negotiate with their captors to find a resolution of their goals.  
If this not done, the alien communique goes on to say, if they are killed as threatened, then every member of the organization that had a hand in their deaths, "to the seventh degree," will be killed in turn.  The final statement of the communique is a plea that the group holding the two aid workers believe their resolve in this to be true and not force their hand.  
Two days after the alien communique is broadcast, a video appears online showing the beheadings of the two aid workers.  
The day after the video is posted, all hell breaks loose.  
It starts with an orbital bombardment.  The aliens news release indicate it is focused on the regional headquarters of the group that murdered their aid workers.  Greater explosive force than was used in the entirety of the Vietnam War is directed toward this site in the space of twelve hours.  
The next day, shooting stars fill the skies over the region.  The literal translation of the term the aliens use are "Orbital Samurais."  They are relative few, only a few hundred over an area larger that Texas.  But each one has the equivalent tactical responsibility of a modern armored battalion.  They can target something the size of a golf ball moving at the speed of a fighter jet two miles away.  They can be as precise as a scalpel, delivering the force of a tactical nuclear device.  
And with them, they bring their drones.  Flying drones.  Swimming drones.  Drones that stalk the ground looking like mechanical versions of saber-toothed tigers.  The various news agencies ignore the alien's term for these devices.  They use the one that has gone viral throughout the 'net for them: "terminators."  
It is a slaughter. 
Supporters of the group that killed the aid workers level claims of atrocities against the aliens.  But every claim is rebuked by the video evidence the aliens provide on their websites.  Helmet cameras from the orbital samurais and terminators record the ending of each life the aliens choose to take.  Just as they were open with the information they provided when trying to help us, they are just as forthcoming with documentation of their killing.  The images are varied.  Fighters trying vainly to stand up against these super-technological foes.  Others running, screaming for help.  A few on their knees, begging for mercy or for a miracle.  The results are the same.  The aliens are both precise and brutal.  Only fighters are killed.  
It is over in less than a week.  The initial explosion of death turn into accounts of smaller and smaller groups being hunted down.  Then individuals in widely separated areas.  Finally comes the announcement that they have nothing further to report.  The operation is complete.
After the orbital samurais and terminators boost back into orbit, a single structure is left behind.  It is a giant scale.  It is as tall as the Eiffel Tower.  On one tray, there are two coffins.  Reporters ask the aliens if they contain the actual bodies of the murdered aid workers.  The aliens never confirm this.  If you climb the structure and stand before either coffin, you see a presentation summarizing the lives and work of both of the two.  Both videos end with the uncensored video of their execution.  
On the other tray are thousands of clear coffins.  Inside each one, sealed like a fossil trapped in amber, is the body of fighter killed by the alien forces.  As with the coffins of the aid workers, if you stand before one of these coffins you see a presentation.  Instead of the story of the fighter's life, you see a short video documenting how the fighter died.  
The two trays are shown to be in perfect balance. 
The aliens announce they must leave us for a time.  They need to "cleanse" themselves.  It is part of their cultural belief.  They will come back in seven of our years, once this process is done.  They do not respond to any attempts to communicate with them as their ships, one by one, boost from Earth's gravitational pull and then seem to shrink to nothing and vanish.  
There are attempts to blow up the giant scale, but it turns out to be impervious to any effort short of a nuclear blast.  After the reporters visit and film it, give their opinion of its meaning for us and the aliens, it is rarely visited.  Everyone who does go to view it, though, comes away with the same feeling, and the same question, though often couched in a wide variety of terms.  
The feeling is, "We should have done...  Something."  We, collectively, should have done whatever was needed to resolve this problem.  It was our problem, not theirs.  It was our responsibility.  What the aliens did was like an answer to a prayer.  The result was as if God heard the prayer of one side in a conflict and acted on it.  
And the question was, "What if, next time, God listens to the other side's prayer instead?"  

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Automotive Musings

I got a new car a couple of months ago.  It's made me reflect on cars in general.  
I'm not a car person.  I have a friend that really likes cars.  Not hot rods or sports cars, just cars in general.  He has three or four cars that he owns and drives when the situation arises.  He likes dogs, too and had six of them.  I'd say he likes dogs more than cars, but its probably more accurate to say that dogs are less expensive to obtain and maintain.  You can get a stray or rescued dog for free, or the cost of shots and spay/neutering.  
The way things are going with cars, you might be able to do something similar in the somewhat near future.  
The last car I bought was about fourteen years ago.  Cars have changed quite a bit since then.  Even though I got a "standard" model, it has features in it that I'm not used to having.  
The gizmo that I spent to most time playing around with: My automatic trunk door opener.  Yep.  I thought that was the coolest thing.  I double-click the button on my key and the trunk pops open with the trunk, tail and license plate lights all coming on.  It was as if the car were a great big dog welcoming me home, begging for a treat.  
"Oh, oh!  You're back!  Let me take those bags for you!  Just put them right inside!"  
Every day for the first week of owning the car, I see how much father away I could be and still make the trunk pop open. It's about sixty feet at a guess.  
Sorry, sorry...  I forgot to tell you what I got.  It's a 2014 Ford Focus.  Black.  Stick shift.  I found out from people at work that the socially correct thing to do when you buy a new car is to tell them you got it the day you drive to work into it.  And you're supposed to take them out to the parking lot and show it to them.  And offer to drive them someplace to pick up lunch.  Why these things are, I have no idea.  I didn't do any of them.  People said I was strange.  
Buying the car was a lot different than before.  When I bought my previous car, a 2001 Chevy Prism, silver-gray, also a stick-shift, I was a bit disappointed in myself.  I compiled a list of cars I wanted to look at, the Prism, the Corolla, the Golf, etc.  I started driving around to the nearby dealerships, thinking to have a look, a test drive and then go home to pick out the one I liked best.  The Chevy dealership was the second one I stopped at.  
I couldn't leave.  I was held hostage.  The manager of the dealership kept me in my chair whilst the salesman I first spoke with guarded the door.  Every time I tried to leave, telling them I would think about it, the manager would ask me, "What will it take to get you to buy this car?"  
My friend that likes cars told me I should have said, "Give it to me for free."  I hadn't thought of that fourteen years ago.  I kept putting out these little things, I'd like to have a better stereo, can I get lower payments, which would have the manager say, "Ok.  Done.  Do we have a deal?"  In the end, I signed and drove off with the Prism.  
It had 285,228 miles on it when I got the Focus.  I've bought four new cars in my life since high school.  The Prism had the fewest miles on it when I traded it in of those four.  I remember someone telling me that it is better to buy a new car instead of a used one because with a used one you inherit the problems the previous owner had with it.  I believe that.  
Buying the Focus was completely different.  First, I found out that there are a lot fewer dealerships out there than before.  Second, they all have their inventories online for you to search through to see if they have the features you want.  Third, they have "internet sales" managers to answer questions about the cars, warranties and pricing via email.  I had my list, just like before, but this time I sent my questions to dealerships, got their answers, had them run numbers, then picked the car I wanted.  I took a test drive, signed the papers, wrote a check then drove off.  
I like this method much better than before.  It's more civilized.  
Why did I pick the Focus?  It was the stick-shift.  Of all the cars listed in my area, about sixty per dealership, it was the ONLY one in any of the inventories that was a manual transmission.  
Unless my next car is some antique or a high-end sports car, it could very well be the last stick-shift I drive.  It just might be the last car I own that I drive, period.  
It was while I was buying my new car that the Motor Trend International Auto Show was taking place in Las Vegas.  There were several news stories coming over the speakers of my new car's stereo.  
One was about a pair of reporters that covered cars riding to the show from Silicon Valley.  Not driving.  The car that took them there drove itself.  The reporter being interviewed talked about the looks he got from kids in other cars waving at him when he waved back at them with BOTH hands.  
One thing they said which hadn't occurred to me was how the owners of the first driverless cars to go out into the street "for real" would have to be better drivers than average, because they would have to be able to assess traffic situations more accurately to know when something happened where they would have to take over directing the vehicle.  This is disappointing to hear since I think the biggest problem with cars today are the people driving them down the road.  It's an irony of how people think, but once driverless vehicles come into widespread use, most people will think it will be safer if they're in control when it's more likely that letting the car take control will make things safer for everyone.  
At the same show, BMW was demonstrating a "remote valet" self-parking feature they've developed.  You go to where you're going, then you go inside while your car finds its own parking and parks itself.  When you come out, click a button on your key and the car returns to pick you up. 
Hearing this made me wonder if cars of the future would be more like a family pet or service dog.  Need something from the store?  Send your order via email along approval for payment, then send your car to pick it up.  It goes to the store by itself.  Its loaded by the robots the store employs for that purpose, then it drives itself home, sending you a signal when it gets back.  
"Oh, oh!  Look what I brought for you!  I carried it from the store all by myself!  After you put this stuff in the refrigerator, maybe I can take you for a ride...?!"  
If your car can't find a parking space, does it just drive around, keeping itself busy until you're done shopping, eating or watching the show?  Can you imagine being a teenager with a self-driving car?  My first sexual experience wasn't in a car, but I did have sex in the first new car I owned (Chevy Chevette.  Dark Blue.  Only manual I've every owned.  It had 335,673 miles on it when it broke down in the middle of Kansas).  I only tried that once and was scared the entire time that a cop of someone would come tap on the glass while I was being what passed for romantic during that time of my life.  You don't have that problem with a self-driving car.  Just like the car do the driving and you can...  Take care of business, so to speak.  
I foresee the day when there might be a posting on whatever social network we use in the future.  There'll be a picture of a car, newly washed, its trunk popping open the way a dog wags its tail.  The caption will read...
"Lost.  Black and Silver compact.  Goes by the name 'Sparky.'  Last seen looking for a place to park near the corner of Del Mar and Colorado.  If you see her, send message to this account."  
Too bad, you'll think to yourself.  It might be time for that person to get a new car. 

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Day Dream Log - Dreams Come True Overkill

This is an entry from my day dream log...
It's the near future.  2016.  I'm sitting in a darkened auditorium in Kansas City.  I'm nervous.  I'm fidgeting.  I keep pulling at my collar to loosen my tie.  How long has it been since I've worn a tie?  They don't even make me wear a tie at work.  My "real job."  The same place I've been working at for...  Crap!  Twenty-two years.  That's a long time.  
But not as long as I've waited for something like this to happen.
I'm at the Hugo Award ceremonies at the World Science Fiction Convention.  This is my ninth straight WorldCon.  I've gone to every one since the one in Yokohama in 2007.  And I've gone to every Hugo Award ceremony during that time as well.  Most of the time I'm not even sure what is nominated, finding out when they give me the program.  Often I've not even read the stories that were nominated.  That has gotten better since they started sending out links to members to download the nominated stories in order to read them before voting.  
This is a special WorldCon, though.  And this is a very special Hugo Awards ceremony.  This year, I'm nominated.  And Nominated.  And Nominated, Nominated, NOMINATED!!
I am nominated in all four fiction categories AND for the writing part for the nominated team for best Graphic Novel.  
I can't stop fidgeting.  Winning a Hugo Award is a dream of mine.  Hell, just being nominated is a dream, and this is that five times over!  
I figure I've got to win at least one, right?  Just one win.  That's all I want.  I say a prayer to the literary gods.  To the Secret Masters of Science Fiction.  I cross my fingers.  I try to sit still.  One out of six.  That's all I want.  
What makes this moment even more special is that my parents are with me.  Kansas City is close enough to their home in Arkansas that I was able to convince them to join me for the ceremony.  Not since my High School graduation have they been at a ceremony as important to me as this.  
The lights go down.  The ceremony starts.  It is running late, as usual.  It's moving slowly, as usual.  But it's still way better than most because...  Well, I've already told you why, right?  
"Next...  The aware for Best Graphic Story."  
This is it.  My first shot.  The presenters start talking about the history of the graphic novel.  It's place in literary history.  Yeah, yeah...  We know all this.  Come on, come on...
"The nominees are...  Modern Shamans.  Story and script by Erick Melton.  Art by..."  
There is applause.  A lot of applause.  Oh, God...  I'd be so happy if...  If only...  Just one  out of six...  That's all I'm asking...
"Modern Shamans!"  
Eh?  What?  Are you Kidding--?
The artist I worked with has grabbed my arm.  She's trying to pull me from the chair.  Someone is clapping me on the back.  I get up.  I look toward the stage.  I waiting for the announcer to add, "--Is NOT this year's winner, instead..."  
I find myself on the stage.  A heavy piece of wood and metal is in my hands.  I recognize the rocket at the center.  It has to be part of every Hugo.  That's the rule.  
The artist gives her thank you speech.  I'm stunned by how heavy it is.  But I'll leave all my clothing and possessions behind to get it under the luggage weight limit and get it home.  
I step up to the podium.  I clear my throat.  I start to giggle.  People in the audience laugh.  I remember what I want to say.  I thank the quirk of fate that brought me and the artist together.  I think the publisher and editor we worked with.  Then...
"Most of all, I want to thank the two people who are most responsible for me being up here tonight, who happen to be in the audience.  My Mom, who, when I was a child, had a hard and fast rule that I had to be in bed by 9 PM on school nights...  Unless, there was a pirate movie on.  That's all you need to know about how she raised me.  And my Dad, who chuckled when I told him I wanted to be a writer saying, 'I never woulda thought someone in our family would do something like that.'  But he followed it up the next day, coming to my room while I was reading a comic book in bed..."
"'So, son,' he asked me, 'Did you do any writing yesterday?'"
"'No,' I said to him.'"
"'You gonna do any writing today?'"
"A frown crossed his face.  'You gonna do any writing tomorrow?' he asked, using a softer version of the tone he used when asking if I finished my chores."  
"'I dunno.  We'll see,' I replied."  
"His frown deepened.  'Boy, I don't know much 'bout this writing stuff.  But I always figured that them writers, they...  Well...  Wrote!'"  
I tell the audience, "That was the best advice you ever gave me, Dad.  Thank you.  Thank you, Mom.  I love you both.  This trophy is for you!"  
I find myself back at my chair.  I can't recall how I got there.  I'm watching as Mom and Dad examine the trophy.  
This would be a pretty good day dream if it ended right here.  But why limit yourself in what you dream, right?  
"The winner for Best Short Story is...  Robot Boss, by Erick Melton."  
"Best Novelette is...  Divine Implementation, by Erick Melton."  
"Best Novella is...  Particular Gods, by Erick Melton."  
It's feeling like I've slugged back half a bottle of wine in one gulp.  Coherent thoughts are rapidly becoming impossible.  I can hear stunned expression of "Oh, My God" between the applause.  
I'm also becoming afraid.  Nothing this good has ever happened to me before.  Just being nominated in all the fiction categories is a first (If anyone wants to fact-check this portion of my dream, feel free, but I think it's true).  Each trophy seems to weigh heavier that the last.  I imagine, when placed all together, the gravitational force of their combined weight will create a micro black hole that will suck me inside it.  How can I write another word after this?  My internal critic will be screaming at me every time I approach my computer.  
"Are you Fucking Kidding Me?!  It's SUCK in comparison."  
I was fidgeting before.  Now, I'm trembling.  They are reading off the list of nominees for Best Novel.  
"And...  Spell of 13 Years: Inception, by Erick Melton.  And the winner is..."  
The presenter opens the envelope.  He reads what is there.  He shakes his head. 
"What do you know, he did it," he says to himself.  He leans over the microphone.  "Spell of 13 Years: Inception..."  
I go deaf.  That's what I'm thinking to myself.  I've gone deaf.  I can only hear the buzzing in my brain.  It is the end of my writing career.  A death by drowning in the orgasmic flood of all one's dreams coming true all at once.  
People, friends, other writers, are pushing me to the stage.  I mount the steps.  I stand in the wings, hidden by the curtains.  I start to step out, then stop.  I wave the presenter over to me.  
"They said you called my name...?"  I whisper to him, but he has the mic in hand.  They can all hear my voice.  
"Yes.  I did."  His whispered voice carries over the mic too.
"No shit?"  I hear people laugh.
"No shit."  I hear more people laugh.  
There are epilogues to this dream.  Me, sitting at convention panels, behind the table this time instead of in the audience.  Me, trying to figure out how to get five heavy boxes home (I end up giving two to my folks, to save on shipping and make good my "this trophy is for you" promise.  Can you guess which two they get?).  But like most epilogues, I won't make you read them.  The important part is out there.  It is the acknowledgement that I AM good at something I want to be good at.  That's it.  
This is a day dream.  A fantasy.  I don't replay it very much.  Just when I do something like sit down to write a story.  Seven days a week.  Holidays included.
Dream big.