Non Sequitur: Toys and Politics

There is a moment in Toy Story when Sheriff Woody realizes that Buzz Lightyear is really, truly delusional; Buzz is not merely acting the part of a Space Ranger, Buzz honestly believes that he is from the Gamma Quadrant and must return there to continue the fight against the evil Emperor Zurg. Woody, at this point, has reached the end of his rope: he has been effectively replaced as Andy’s favorite toy by a state-of-the-art plastic man with absolutely no concept of reality whatsoever. In a moment of pure, unadulterated frustration, Woody shouts, “You are a child’s plaything!”

This, of course, does nothing to convince Buzz. Woody’s outrage might as well have been directed to the spaceship-shaped box in which Buzz arrived in Andy’s room; the result is the same: Buzz continues to live his delusion.

Woody’s frustration and rage are compounded by the fact that he and Buzz are lost; far away from Andy’s room with little hope of ever returning. Yet Buzz presses ever onward, driven further away from his true home by a delusion, completely divorced from reality.

If the precise sentiment Woody expressed to Buzz doesn’t apply to the men and women who govern the United States of America, ((I’m more inclined to think of our representatives in the legislative branch as sullen, recalcitrant children than toys, but at least we’re dealing with approximately the same level of maturity.)) the degree of frustration I feel certainly does. This body purports to be, among the entire population of the country, the most suited to create the rules by which we must all live, yet they cannot put aside their bickering and backstabbing, their snide remarks and open hostility toward one another to pass a single piece of legislature in time of crisis.

I don’t know if the $700 billion “bailout” is a good idea or not.  It’s not my job to understand the intricacies of the plan; my taxes pay the salaries of people who are ostensibly sworn to do that for me. My frustration is not derived from the fact that the bill was not passed yesterday, but rather from the fact that the only thing the past week has accomplished is to elevate the rhetoric to altitudes approaching Low Earth orbit. After risking the largest single instance of collectively-strained trapezius muscles in history by calling a press conference ((News Flash: the “Main Street/Wall Street” contrast was tired and trite already last week; it’s even more so today. Please, find something original to say about this financial apocalypse or don’t say anything. Better yet, stop talking about it and start doing something about it.)) on Saturday to congratulate themselves for working on the weekend (all for the good of their country), this most august of bodies proceeded, two days later, to accomplish absolutely nothing. ((The concept of playing well with others is apparently isolated to kindergarten; it is certainly not embraced in Washington, D.C.))

I can yell all I want, but the simple, sad fact of the matter is that, like Woody, I am effectively impotent. My words will fall on deaf (or worse, deluded) ears and I will achieve the same result as if I, too, were talking to a plastic toy. The biggest difference here is that Buzz Lightyear eventually comes to grips with reality and works with Woody to find a solution to their dilemma.

That’s where Woody’s main advantage over me comes into play: he lives in a Disney movie. Just once, it would be nice if I did, too. Just once, it would be nice if the people who govern this country came together and accomplished something for the sake of something larger than themselves, and did it a measure of dignity and camaraderie.

I wouldn’t be even the slightest bit annoyed by the Randy Newman music.

The Amazon Rush: Comes the Apocalypse

As August of ought-eight was drawing to a close, a new composition by an enterprising and imaginitive young woman named Mur Lafferty was made available for purchase to those individuals with the means to connect their personal computational apparatuses to the Internets. The very idea that a woman would have not only the time to write a book—I suspect her child routinely goes unfed, her floors have not been scrubbed in weeks, and her husband rarely arrives home after a hard day’s work to find dinner a-table—but the audacity to publish it raises moral questions aplenty, ((To speak nothing of the home environment that allows a woman to become enterprising and imaginative in the first place.)) but that is an issue for another time. For the moment, let us allow that Ms. Lafferty has written and published a tale of sheerest fantasy, a yarn involving citizens who are possessed of extra-ordinary abilities, quite probably as a direct result of consorting with Satan; it might well be an allegory, but as it is told through the pen of a woman, the moral and metaphor—if they exist at all—have escaped me entirely.

I ought not dwell on the particulars of Ms. Lafferty’s fantastickal tale, for my purpose here to-day is not to discuss the merits and moral abiguities of said tale but rather the means by which it had—prior to appearing in the on-line marketplace—come to my attention. As has been previously noted, Ms. Lafferty is a woman of enterprise and imagination, and she posited that it was possible to increase awareness (and thus, potentially, sales) of her tale by giving it away to the public at no charge. Reckless seekers of thrill and vice who were savvy enough to access the Internets could, by means involving daemons named “Syndication” and “Enclosure” and “Pod-catcher”, freely partake of the tale as told in Ms. Lafferty’s own voice. In making her story thus available, Ms. Lafferty was able to ensorcell a number of unfortunates who would eventually become her pawns, a throng of adherents only too willing to transform their mistress’ every whim into reality. Despite my iron resolve, despite my nigh-indomitable will, despite my every precaution, dear reader, I was drawn into this web myself, a web that stretched the world wide.

On the day when Ms. Lafferty’s manuscript became available for purchase at on-line retailers, the authoress bade her disciples ((I hesitate to mention that they are often referred to colloquially as “Mur’s Bitches”, for the moniker gives rise to even further suspicions that Ms. Lafferty—and, indeed, those who supplicate themselves at her feet—truck with The Devil. The simple fact that her devotees do genuflect in her presence, coupled with Ms. Lafferty’s penchant for tiaras, smacks of idolatry.)) to engage in something known as an “Amazon rush”. This, I am relieved to report, has nothing at all to do with legions of Scythian warrior women; rather, it is a concentrated free-market assault on a single on-line purveyor of books: Amazon.com.

Set loose upon the unsuspecting merchant, Ms. Lafferty’s loyal flock exchanged the currency of the land for bound copies of her fanciful narrative. When the sun set upon this particular day of commerce, the rabid fanatics had propelled Ms. Lafferty’s manuscript to the very zenith of one particular column on the merchant’s ledgers: that column titled “Science Fiction”. In the space of four and twenty hours, the loyal adherents had made Ms. Lafferty’s tale a best-seller. In doing so (and, more imporantly, while doing so), the disciples had flooded the tubes—the very tubes that form the circulatory system of the Internets—with electronic missives acknowledging that they had complied with their mistress’ wishes and encouraging others—particularly the unensorcelled—to do the same.

It is important at this juncture to note that the concept of the “Amazon rush” did not spring forth fully formed from the mind of Ms. Lafferty. The tactic had been used with similar results (up to and including the flooding of the tubes) by several of Ms. Lafferty’s peers. The earliest documented case being April of ought-seven, when fantacist Scott Sigler encouraged a group of erudite and learned bibliophiles to purchase his tale of science-gone-awry, Ancestor. Mr. Sigler’s success encouraged other authors to follow in his footsteps, and ought-eight saw no less than four such “rushes” between April and August, including a cooperative effort from Tee Morris ((I include Mr. Morris here only out of a sense of duty to report the facts fully and accurately. While I hold Mr. Sigler, Mr. Harwood and Mr. Selznick in high esteem, the same cannot be said of Mr. Morris, for he is a unapologetic gadabout.)) and Philippa Ballantine ((Ms. Ballantine was the first female author of whom I am aware to rush Amazon.com, setting an uncomfortable precedent as well as a singularly unwholesome example for the fairer sex. However, Ms. Ballantine is from New Zealand, a country known for its loose morals and relaxed attitude with respect to the proper role of women, and I would expect nothing less from a country so perilously close to Australia.)) scarcely more than a fortnight before Ms. Lafferty unleashed her hordes upon the merchant.

Jack Wakes Up by Seth Harwood Infected by Scott Sigler Brave Men Run by Matthew Wayne Selznick The Case of the Pitcher's Pendant: A Billibub Baddings Mystery by Tee Morris Digital Magic by Philippa Ballantine Playing for Keeps by Mur Lafferty

Each of these “rushes”, as I have previously noted, caused considerable flooding of the tubes. As men more qualified to speak on the matter than I have already attested, flooding the tubes in such a fashion can lead only to disaster. When I realized that the veins and arteries through which the lifeblood of the Internets flowed were at nigh-constant risk due to these “rushes”, the scintillating threads and strands of bedazzlement spun by Ms. Lafferty began to clear from my mind and I beheld the looming peril: with the tubes so flooded, there was room for little else. In a delirious panick, I dispatched an electronic advisory to my friend and colleague, Mr. Chris Miller. In doing so, I drew back the gossamer veil that had covered his eyes and he, too, saw the threat.

Together, Mr. Miller and I resolved that we would not sit idly by in the face of the coming chaos. When my impassioned pleas to Mr. Selznick went unanswered, Mr. Miller issued a statement decrying the use of the “Amazon rush”. “The danger,” his first draft read, “is imminent; the consequences, dire. This practice must be abolished at once, not only for the good of those who will yield the brunt of the coming storm, but for those who will follow us and feel its echoing reverberations in years to come.” ((Alas, the published version of Mr. Miller’s warning does not hew so close to the truth of the matter; I suspect his tone was tempered not with cool reasoning, but with cold, hard currency. His further statements on the matter lead me to believe that the veil I so abruptly tore from his face has been replaced and is now stitched to his very flesh.))

As I write this, the debate rages on. In my desire to alert the world to the dangers of the “Amazon rush”, I may have inadvertently done more harm than good, for even now the tubes fill with comments from authors and statements issued by pundits. The demise of the Internets, it seems, may be a self-fulfilling prophecy, and I its unwitting prophet.

Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.

Pseudopod 109: In the Coils of the Serpent

Pseudopod: the sound of horror

Episode 109 of Pseudopod features the story “In the Coils of the Serpent” by Scottish author William Meikle. I make a point of noting the author’s country of origin because there is not only an ocean between that country and the one in which I was born, but also at least one accent. If you’ve ever heard me “do” a Scottish accent, you’ll understand why I narrated this story without one.

“In the Coils of the Serpent” is a detective story of sorts. A murder mystery that takes an unusual turn on the twisted path to the truth and winds up somewhere ancient and evil.

A word of caution: if you’re the sort who’s bothered by words like “clitoris”, I’ve probably just offended you. Also, you may not wish to listen to this particular story; at least not the first sentence.

I Love My Wife (Reason No. 8,192)

Coffee Love by Ahmed RabeaAfter spending 20 minutes on the Internet and another 10 minutes on the phone with my bank trying to resolve an error that turned out to be entirely my fault (thankfully it wasn’t the kind of error that costs money), I emerged from my office, met by the aroma of freshly-brewed coffee.

“Oh,” I said. “You made coffee while I was being dumb. May I have a cup?”

“Sure,” she said, “but I don’t think it’ll help.”

Interlude: The Wedding

Soft music filled the late-afternoon air as the wedding guests arrived at the manor house, exchanging waves and pleasantries, gathering near a peaceful pool where a fountain of clear, cool water glistened in the sunlight. On the summer solstice, it was said, the steps of the manor house, the fountain in the pool, and the stone parapet that jutted from the hillside were three points in a perfect line that pointed to the setting sun. Even in early September, one had only to stand on the massive stone edifice and look through the trees toward the horizon to understand what a stunning sight that setting sun must be.

The sun was still high in the sky when three shapes became visible on that far off horizon, growing ever larger and ever more distinct as they approached, accompanied by a soft, steady tattoo that soon rose to drown out the lilting music: the whup-whup-whup of narrow blades cutting through the air.

The guests turned, almost as one, as the three helicopters raced overhead, scant inches above the manor house’s many dormers and towers. Two of the black behemoths veered off, one north and the other south, circling in a wide arc over the gardens to hover over either end of the wading pool. A moment later, the third helicopter reappeared, looming directly over the apex of the stone steps.

Black Hawk 60 by Mario Del Leo

Then they came, the groomsmen in their black and white tuxedos rappelling from the southernmost helicopter, the bridesmaids resplendent in black chiffon and lace descending from the chopper to the north. Scarcely had the first polished wingtip touched the grounds when an ear-splitting cry rang out from the shaded woods nearby. Dozens—perhaps hundreds—of ninjas ran from the trees, each brandishing a ninjatō—the ninja’s short, deadly sword—in a two-handed grip, each screaming loud enough to be heard above the roar of the helicopters overhead.

The groomsmen sprang to action, launching themselves unarmed at the onslaught. Ducking beneath one deadly blade, the best man felled the first assailant with a quick leg sweep, followed by a jab to the fallen ninja’s throat. In the space of three seconds, all of the groomsmen had similarly dispatched their nearest foes and stood in a resolute line—each now brandishing the razor-sharp ninjatō of a defeated ninja.

Across the courtyard, the first wave of ninjas from the north met a hail of bullets as each bridesmaid dropped her bouquet to reveal a silenced Beretta Px4 Storm pistol. Calmly, the bridesmaids fired round after round into the oncoming sea of black shinobo shozoku, delivering a dispassionate death to those who sought to disrupt the ceremony.

As the groomsmen and bridesmaids dispatched the ninja horde, the helicopters from which they had descended retreated once more to the west, leaving a lone UH-60A Black Hawk hovering over the steps of the manor house. Into this carnage, two figures rappelled from the Black Hawk; both men carrying an air of purpose as they descended their respective ropes, and one carrying something more: a Holy Bible.

As the groom and the pastor lit upon the stone platform, the final helicopter tilted forward and accelerated to the west. In the space of just a few seconds, the only sound that remained was the soothing melody of the piano. The groom calmly surveyed the scene: no ninja remained standing. The groomsmen approached the steps, each bowing in turn and placing a bloody ninjatō at the groom’s feet. The best man made a quick gesture with his left hand and the tuxedo-clad groomsmen snapped to attention, assembled on the right side of the stone steps in order of descending height.

The bridesmaids retrieved their bouquets, daintily concealing their still-smoking handguns once more, and marched to the opposite side of the stairs, the diminutive flower girl tossing handfuls of rose petals on the granite path as she walked. The pastor nodded to the pianist and the music swelled with the familiar strains of the Processional.

rose petals on stone stairs by mahalie

For a long moment, the guests craned their necks to the left and right, over their shoulders, and to the sky, hoping to be the first to catch a glimpse of the bride. Without warning, five F/A-18 Super Hornets, flying in a tight “V” formation rocketed across the sky from east to west, leaving trails of white smoke in their wakes…and through this smoke descended the bride, her parachute a dazzling white that was outshone only by the brilliance of her gown. Delicately, she landed mere feet from a decapitated and disemboweled ninja. With a flick of her wrist, the bride detached the parachute’s harness and stepped forward, treading lightly upon the pink blossoms strewn over the stony path.

A cry rang out. One of the ninjas had feigned death and was now racing toward the bride, his ninjatō poised to deliver a deadly blow!

She never paused.

Her step never waivered.

She didn’t even turn her head toward her assailant.

Eighty feet away the groom’s right hand shot out, a glint of silver catching the rays of the sun as a single shuriken sliced through the space between his hand and the ninja’s throat. With a wet, agonized shriek, the would-be assassin fell, his ninjatō clattering to the stones only a few inches from the bride’s long, white train.

All eyes turned once more to the bride as she crossed the courtyard and ascended the stone steps to stand next to her beloved. The music faded away and the pastor smiled at the couple standing before him, then looked to their friends and family in the courtyard below.

“Before we begin,” the pastor said, “if there is anyone here who knows of a reason why these two should not be joined in matrimony, let them speak now or forever hold their peace.”

A battle cry echoed through the gardens and another wave of screaming ninjas poured from the surrounding woods…

Kristen and Gunnar - 13 September 2008