Thoughts on Current SF&F in Cinema – Part 1

When I was much younger, I remember wondering if there would ever be a time when the state of the art in “film” would allow a decent version of the Lord of the Rings to be made.  When Ralph Bakshi’s cartoon over live action was made in 1978, I was quite surprised at how good it was.  And I hoped that he would continue the project to finish the complete story.  But he never did.  Maybe he didn’t make enough money or maybe he got bored.  And so, it would be another twenty years before anyone tried again.

Peter Jackson did a remarkable job both visually and artistically of capturing Tolkien’s story.  And I think he proved that we have reached a point where regardless of the unreal or fantastic nature of the story CGI can produce a convincing visual representation of that story on the screen.  And that was an important moment.  For a fan of science fiction and fantasy this is the promised land.

And yet, what have we got now?  For every film like Dune where the story faithfully reproduces a worthwhile piece of fiction, we get ten movies like “The Marvels” or “The Last Jedi” or “Madame Web” where the visuals are successful but the story and the acting are unwatchable.

Well, that’s reality.  The cultural and societal standards are pretty awful so even if some interesting topic like the Second Age of Middle Earth (Rings of Power) or Harry Seldon’s Psychohistory (Foundation) are being filmed chances are that the result will be terrible.

But the only good thing I can say is that the potential exists for a rogue force like Elon Musk to come along and fund an independent studio to produce some exciting projects.  So, eventually we will get good movies.  Eventually the profit motive will succeed.  Who knows we may be forced to watch Chinese or Hungarian movies in subtitles but it will come.  So, patience, patience.

And what might make a good project?  Well, based on what we know would sell, how about space opera that is a lot more interesting than the Star Wars universe?  How about a project to film the Lensman series?  A few updates to the technology might be needed and the chronology might need to be tweaked but then the story would be easily turned into a series of films.  It has likeable heroes, awful villains, interesting aliens and plenty of space battles.  And best of all, not a girl boss in sight.  Just classic square-jawed heroes saving the day and rescuing the damsel in distress.  I would guess that the Lensman saga would be easily as popular as Star Wars and in fact more so.

Now another popular film idea would be the Heinlein juveniles.  There are several good candidates.  As a first choice I’d go with, “Have Spacesuit Will Travel.”  It has all the requisite ingredients for a good young adult movie; human interest, suspense, adventure, pathos, humor and the resolution of a coming-of-age story.  As a second choice I’d recommend, “The Star Beast.”

It’s an interesting thing to reflect that a really satisfactory movie version of a Heinlein book has never been done.  The only one he ever had a hand in was Destination Moon.  And while technically there were interesting aspects to the production as a movie it was pretty cut and dry; more of a primer on rocket flight than work of fiction.  In terms of popularity, I guess Starship Troopers is the best of those produced, even though the director made it in the spirit of a mockery of the underlying philosophy of the book.  A faithful portrayal of Starship Troopers would be an amazing idea for a movie.

And rounding off my picks for Heinlein would be, “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.”  I think this story would make an excellent film too. I’d especially enjoy seeing the rail gun attack on Earth on the big screen.  And I think the friendship between Manny and the artificial intelligence Mike would work great on the screen.

I’ll have to think of some other classic sf&f books that would make good movies.  If you can think of any you’d like to see made, leave them in the comments.

Sequential Horror

Hollywood seems incapable of making anything original and all the sequels and reboots they make suck mightily.  So, I have decided to step into the breach and provide the ultimate in sequel mashup awfulness.

Movie Treatment: Cosmic-Horror-Palooza

Rick Deckard is at home with his wife Rachael having breakfast before he heads off to work as head school crossing guard at the Philip K Dick Elementary School in Portland Oregon.  Rachael is pregnant with their first child and asks Rick to bring her some sweet gherkin pickles on his way home.  She chastises him briefly because this is the third time he’s forgotten.  He absorbs the abuse kisses her on the forehead and heads out the door while absently loading .45 shells into his revolver.

When he reaches the security office, he notices on the various video surveillance screens that a protest has set up shop in the intersection adjacent to the northwest corner of the school.  A mostly crossdressing mob of activists with signs that say REPLICANT-PHOBIA IS HATE were chanting and marching in one of the crosswalks.  This would not be an easy day.

Suddenly an energy bolt blazed across the screen and struck one of the extremely plus-sized blonds-wigged transwomen in spandex and left a visibly gaping hole through his body before collapsing onto the asphalt.  Several other energy bolts followed in quick succession wreaking havoc with the chant as deep bellows and hoarse screams erupted from the targeted activists.

Deckard bolted for the door and sprinted toward the crime scene.  As he approached, he could see that the attack was coming from a tree located fifty yards from the corner.  He approached warily, shielding himself from view with the side of the building and ending up very close to the base of the tree.  Peering carefully around the corner of the building he could see a shimmering patch of foliage that was the source of the deadly beams.  As he watched he could make out what looked like a humanoid form and aiming for the head he unloaded with his .45.

The shimmering patch fell to the ground and Deckard ran over to it.  What he saw there startled him.  A man shaped creature lay on the ground but the inhuman head had insectoid mandibles.  The .45 slugs hadn’t done the head any good but Deckard added a couple more through the cranium just to be sure.  Looking around on the ground he found a long rod with a blinking light at one end and what probably was a trigger near the other end.  Picking it up and sighting through the blinking light device he aimed at the tree and pushed the trigger.  A bright red bolt drilled a two-inch round hole precisely through the 36 inches of the tree trunk and elicited a respectful whistle from the impressed former blade runner.

Looking into the foreground he could see a shimmering area about twenty feet down the sidewalk.  Suddenly four of the humanoid creatures approached with their right arms raised in the universal sign of respect for a successful warrior’s victory.  They came bearing a large blue lawn dart which one of their comrades had claimed as his trophy over a human in a 1968 Cincinnati Ohio suburb.

But before they could bestow this trophy on Deckard, other creatures poured out of the dimensional portal that the four earlier beings had opened.  These creatures were decidedly unlike the first ones.  They were about eight feet tall with extremely elongated heads with two sets of jaws, one inside of the other.  They had long claws on the feet and hands and a long, pointed tail.  Deckard instinctively knew that the saliva dripping from the creatures’ jaws was molecular acid and that this wouldn’t end well.

About twenty of the creatures attacked the four earlier visitors and an enormous battle ensued.  The bug-jawed warriors put up a hell of a fight with their energy weapons and the lawn dart but there were just too many of the xenomorphs (Deckard somehow sensed this was what these other creatures should be called).  Seeing that the battle would soon be over Deckard called his office and ordered his team to lock down the school and call the authorities.  Then he sprinted over to the protest site to warn them away.

Unfortunately, the activists had repurposed the event into a day of rage against transphobic energy-beam wielding haters and they had begun turning over cars and torching them.  They had formed a kind of funeral pyre for their fallen comrades but it hadn’t really done a thorough job of consuming their bodies so a very questionable pile of remains remained.  Seeing Deckard running toward them carrying the energy weapon they assumed he was the killer and they charged toward him.  He stopped and looked around.  Behind him the remaining ten or so xenomorphs were coming up quickly in his direction.  With the two groups converging on his position imminently, he did what any clear-thinking individual would do.  He ran sideways and hoped for the best.

And that worked extraordinarily well for him.  But much less well for the angry mob that suddenly intersected with the xenomorphs.  It turns out xenomorphs are not transphobic.  In fact, it turns out they’re transphilic.  In fact, I think they even enjoyed eating the wigs.  It wasn’t pretty.

Deckard took the opportunity to sneak over to an entrance to the school and punch in the entry code and head for the security office.  When he arrived, his crew updated him on the current state of the “battle.”  The xenomorphs were somewhat leisurely feasting on the four warriors and the fifty some-odd rioters.  Deckard tried in his mind to come up with a strategy to hold off the xenomorphs until Space Marine troops could be summoned.  But nothing occurred to him.  He did remember that he had to get those gherkins for Rachael but that didn’t really seem to improve the situation.

But then a very odd thing happened on the screen.  One of the corpses of the warriors suddenly stood up and metamorphosed into something that was a combination of the xenomorph and a rioter.  It looked like a xenomorph wearing a yellow wig.  But it grew to five times the size of one of the xenomorphs and began eating the other xenomorphs.  And each time it ate one of them it got bigger.  The xenomorphs never ran away and kept fighting but one by one they were swallowed by the shape-shifting creature.  At one point a xenomorph managed to rip an arm off the shapeshifter and throw it to the ground.  The arm sprouted six spider like legs, a mouth full of teeth at the shoulder and proceeded to attack the xenomorph.  Within half an hour the battle was over and the shapeshifter and the walking biting arm coalesced into an amorphous mass of protoplasm.  After a short time, the blob flowed over to the school and covered it in a layer of pulsing goo.

Deckard watched in horror as all the doors began to slowly ooze rivulets of the creature.  He sent his crew to the doors and they used CO2 fire extinguishers to freeze the jelly as it attempted to enter the building.  Things were looking quite bleak as the extinguishers one by one were emptied of their frozen contents.  But suddenly the ooze retreated from the doors and the creature flowed off onto the nearby street and reformed into the shape of a yellow wigged transwoman complete with alarmingly overstretched spandex body suit.  The creature was apparently asleep.  As Deckard watched the sleeping form evaporated completely.  At that point he saw that there was a similarly sized shape on the ground about ten feet from where the sleeping creature had been.

Gathering his courage Deckard walked out of the building and approached the shape on the ground.  When he got near it, he saw that it was what looked like a giant seed pod.  And as he watched it burst open and slowly a living being pushed its way out.  When it had exited the pod, it was seen to be an identical blond wigged transwoman; spandex and all.  Deckard stood his ground, pointed the energy weapon at the creature and asked it to explain what had just happened.

The creature adjusted its costume, scratched at its beard and explained that its species sent spores throughout space that land on planets and produce seed pods that mimic other life forms and then replace them with their own individuals.  And slowly they replace all individuals of the local dominant species and thus take over that world.  However, because of all the various different cell types that were present in this individual’s new body, life on Earth was just too painful for it to continue and it begged Deckard to finish it off as a mercy killing.  And Deckard promptly obliged it using the alien energy rod.  At that point the creature evaporated into the air (except for the spandex suit and wig).

When the police finally showed up, they wanted to know what the hell was going on.  All that remained of the battle were the few burned out cars and the spandex suite and wig.  Deckard started to tell the whole story then thought better of it and just said there had been a protest that sort of got out of control and left it at that.  One of the officers asked him about the energy rod and he said it was a prop for a school play.  The police did a walk around and cited the school for a safety violation because of the empty fire extinguishers and Deckard had to fill out a lot of paperwork and give some of his staff a mental health week off to keep them from quitting.

He didn’t get home that night until ten thirty and when he walked in the door Rachael asked him how his day was.  He said it was okay.  But then she looked at him and said, “You forgot the gherkins!”

So, he turned around and headed off to the grocery store with his walking stick blinking along.  She said after him, “Men are so easily distracted.”

Serializing the Uncompleted Novel Sniper – Installment 20

For anyone who has read all or part of the story and would like to help me gage its quality, I’ve added a poll at the end to get some feed back on what you thought about the book.

Thanks

photog

 

As part of my previously discussed plan to make my site more interesting to me I’m going to publish my ongoing attempt at a dystopic science fiction story, “Sniper.”  Part of my reason for putting it up on the site is to get feedback from sf fans and also because I hope at some future time to finish it and put it up for sale.  If anyone likes the story, I highly encourage him to spread it to anyone among his acquaintances or sites that he thinks would be likely to be interested.  After all the whole reason for the internet is mass communication.

Also, I’m encouraging all comments; positive and negative.  Feedback is greatly desired.  And away we go.

 

 

Link to Installment 1

 

The American Archipelago

Book 1 – The Sniper

Chapter 14 – Aftermath

The world woke up to a strange new America.  Panic reigned supreme in the corridors of business, finance, diplomacy and almost every other endeavor that had formerly been overseen by the Global American Empire.  Things were just generally pandemonium.  The Strategic Air Command was in high level communication with global allies and adversaries reassuring and threatening that the United States nuclear arsenal was still the deadliest power on the planet.

But aside from that organization, the rest of the United States leadership in whatever capacity was in stunned inaction.  Finally, the governors of Maryland and Virginia agreed to declare a joint state of emergency and call in their National Guard units to restore some semblance of order in Washington DC.  At first, the command of the army units based in Virginia balked at a state government taking this initiative.  But after confirming that neither civilian nor military hierarchy effectively existed within Washington anymore, an ad hoc arrangement was worked out to utilize the guard units to crush the very serious rioting and looting going on in the city.

Eventually the Maryland governor requested that his colleague in Virginia establish some kind of temporary council to run the day to day needs of the city.  The mayor of DC had been murdered during the rioting and the rest of the city government had fled.  The Virginia governor reluctantly agreed and so slowly and painfully martial law began to bring that benighted city back into some kind of order.

In places like Manhattan and Chicago; Los Angeles and San Francisco there was stunned disbelief.  After the announcement of the nuclear strike on the “terrorists” and then Connors’ broadcast of his decapitation of the United States federal government the oligarchs of the American Empire were in shock.  With much of the managerial elite dead and the databases and systems that they used to direct the levers of power, no one in the lower echelons of the government knew how to respond to this disaster.  The strike had taken out whole divisions of the government.  The FBI now consisted of the local offices.  The Justice Department had effectively ceased to exist.  Interestingly so had the IRS.  And the intelligence agencies had been especially targeted.  All of the data repositories including the “cloud locations” of these agencies had been destroyed completely.  The attacks had been thorough and precise.  Nobody in the remaining portions of the federal bureaucracy knew anything.  They were isolated and completely overwhelmed by the scope of the losses.

But outside of the cities the reaction was quite different.  In the red states and even in the countryside in the blue states it was as if a great weight had been lifted off the shoulders of these people.  Their oppressor was gone.  And it was as if they heard the quote from Revelations, “And he cried mightily with a strong voice, saying, Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird.”  And even though many feared that this fall would unleash chaos and war and death, still, they felt their hearts lightened and people began to hope that  life would become better without the tyrants who ruled them from DC.

Current end of unfinished story. 

 

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The Long National Nightmare of Me Being Way Too Busy is Over!

Today I finished up a weeklong marathon project that really made my life a misery and seriously cut into my on-line time to the detriment of this site.

Whew!!!

So here I am looking around and I see…

The same crap as the week before!

Hmmm.

Okay, there’s a claim that Biden’s poll numbers have gone up a point or maybe two.  Let’s grant that.  But his swing state numbers, both with and without third party candidates are the same or maybe even a little bit worse than before.  And inflation has gotten worse but the disastrous housing market is forcing the Fed to drop interest rates to try and generate some good news for Biden.  Which will make the inflation worse still.

And the Zoomers are really angry about Gaza.

Apparently, the big tent party is beginning to turn on its Jewish contingent because of Biden’s support for the Gaza War.  And this is causing pundits like the Ragin’ Cajun James Carville to hit the panic button.  His exact words were:

“I’ve been very vocal about this,” Carville said. “It’s horrifying, our numbers among younger voters, particularly younger Blacks, younger Latinos … younger people of color. Particularly males. We’re not shedding them, they’re leaving in droves,” he added.”

So, Biden has lots of election problems because the country has lots of problems and it’s too late to fix them before November.

And the border crisis is worse than ever and the criminal aliens are in the news every day.  And the cities are becoming war zones.

And now ships are crashing into bridges and destroying them.  I mean, you can’t make this stuff up!

Sure, this is more of the same.  But it’s like a train crash.  Once you’ve discovered that you have no brakes and you’re closer than some minimum distance “x” then you can’t avoid the crash.  But the closer you get to the impact the more terrifying is the view from the engineer’s seat.  So, I’m sure whoever is running the Biden campaign is in daily contact with the voting officials in Pennsylvania figuring out if they can add an extra five million votes to the Biden total on Election Day.

Well, enough election crap.  Instead something nearer and dearer to my heart; my novel (The American Archipelago: Book 1 – The Sniper).  Thanks to all who’ve been reading along and special thanks to those who have provided feedback.  Honest criticism is extremely valuable when you’re trying to make a story attractive to the publishers and compelling for the readers.

Anyone who has a taste for dystopian science fiction, I ask that you give it a whirl and leave some comments that reflect your take on the story, positive or negative.  And the more specific the better.

Here in Dunwich the weird is the rule and the weather is no exception to this.  It’s supposed to snow tonight and then rain will freeze up tomorrow night and create a Class IV Kill Storm. So tomorrow, after helping Camera Girl navigate the frozen tundra, we’ll probably hunker down and enjoy the sounds of squealing brakes and screeching cries on the road outside as the black ice claims numberless victims on the crater strewn back roads of Dunwich.  Afterward I’ll go out for the traditional gathering of the pocket change from the bodies of the crash victims and I’ll return as a conquering hero (of sorts) as I dole out this largesse to my minions (dog one and dog two) in the form of low-quality pressed rawhide that I purchase on the websites of third world competitors of Amazon dot com.

I’ve often wondered what would happen if a prolonged storm cut off the supply of these “treats.”  I fear that my minions might notice that there is a disturbing similarity between pressed rawhide and, well, me!  Me thinks Dog One has a lean hungry look about him.  Such minions are dangerous.

Well, anyway, enough yammering.  I’m back and on the job.

Serializing the Uncompleted Novel Sniper – Installment 19

As part of my previously discussed plan to make my site more interesting to me I’m going to publish my ongoing attempt at a dystopic science fiction story, “Sniper.”  Part of my reason for putting it up on the site is to get feedback from sf fans and also because I hope at some future time to finish it and put it up for sale.  If anyone likes the story, I highly encourage him to spread it to anyone among his acquaintances or sites that he thinks would be likely to be interested.  After all the whole reason for the internet is mass communication.

Also, I’m encouraging all comments; positive and negative.  Feedback is greatly desired.  And away we go.

 

 

Link to Installment 1

 

The American Archipelago

Book 1 – The Sniper

Chapter 13 – Reaction (continued)

As Chastain had feared, the Attorney General told him that the failure to arrest Connors was his final failure and he was off the case effective immediately.  When he reached his office that night, he still had access to the main data and communications systems but the passwords for the task force databases and the team messaging page had been changed and he was locked out.

But when he opened up his outside browser it was covered in news bulletins announcing that a nuclear device had been detonated in the middle of the American heartland.  There had been no casualties reported but so far, the federal government was holding off comment on the shocking event.  Looking at the satellite footage, Chastain knew exactly where the nuclear weapon had been detonated and he exclaimed out loud, “That insane coward.  He actually did it!”

In stunned fascination he listened to the clueless newsmen and pundits trying to bring reason to this horrifying reality.  Panic had broken out in many of the larger cities with gridlocked highways filled with cars trying to flee what were feared to be targets for nuclear annihilation.

Eventually the network and cable news stations alerted the general public that the President would be making an announcement of the circumstances of the nuclear detonation and other associated news.  He would be pre-empting all other broadcasts in fifteen minutes.  This only increased the level of cluelessness of the blather that the pundits were spewing so Chastain walked down the hallway to get a cup of coffee.  When he got back a test pattern was on the screen to focus the audience on the announcement to come.

When the President appeared, he seemed almost jovial in his demeanor.  Chastain was almost shocked at how the practically catatonic man he had recently seen had recovered his composure and managed to read his prepared speech in an almost off-hand way.

“My fellow Americans, a short while ago, at my direction the Air Force delivered a ten-megaton nuclear device into an underground location that housed a base of the dangerous traitors who have been creating a reign of terror.  These were the same people who have been assassinating high level government officials and even managed to destroy the FBI headquarters right here in the nation’s capitol.  These rebels had perfected technologies that allowed them to tunnel under our very feet and sabotage important government installations and threatened the very existence of our beloved federal government.  They even included me on an assassination list.  I kid you not.

Conferring with my top advisors it was decided that the only way to eliminate this threat was to completely destroy the whole organization at once.  Because of the technological advantage this enemy had underground we decided that it was necessary to deal them a fatal blow.  Like a radiation treatment is used to destroy a malignant growth we used a radiation treatment of our own and have now successfully excised this cancer from our nation.

In days to come more details will emerge on how this secret society came to be and whether any of its members have survived this attack but the nation can now sleep easy knowing that I, your President, have acted decisively and effectively to protect you all from a creeping menace that was plotting against us right beneath our feet.

God bless you and may God bless America.”

After it ended Chastain stood in silence and felt a blankness.  An American president had just ordered the American military to nuke American citizens.  He felt disgusted and empty.  He walked over to the window and stared out at the Washington skyline.  And as he watched he saw the dome of the Capitol disappear.  And then the lights went out.  The building started shaking and swaying under his feet.  Chastain started to drunkenly stagger toward the exit staircase.  The few other occupants of the building; the cleaning staff and a few overly zealous public servants crowded with him through the doorway and half-rushed half-fell down the eight flights of stairs to the street below.  When they reached the sidewalk the ground stopped shaking but other than a few emergency lights here and there the street was pitch black.  It was a cloudy night with no moon and Chastain could barely see the people standing around him.  Everyone was trying to call someone or check the news feeds.  But it was as if the whole cellular network had failed.  Everyone was chattering at each other around Chastain and he was starting to feel an almost existential dread.

Finally after about a half hour in the dark a few cars headed toward them.  One was a police cruiser with its lights blinking blue and red.  When the car reached their position the officer in the passenger seat got out and approached the small group with a powerful flashlight and his gun drawn.  “What are you people doing out on the street?” he demanded.  This struck Chastain as fairly ludicrous.  He answered the bellicose man, “Well the standard operating procedure during an earthquake is to get out of the building.  The building was shaking underneath us so we got out.  What would you want us to do?”

The cop shined the light in Chastain’s face and said, “I want you to listen carefully and stop giving me trouble.  This is an extreme emergency and if you don’t do as you’re told I’ll guarantee that you’ll spend the night in jail.”  Chastain shielded his eyes with his hand and read the policeman’s nametag.  “Officer Morales, I am FBI Special Agent George Chastain.  I have my ID in my jacket pocket.  I suggest you tell me what you have been told by your chain of command and what your orders are.”  Morales’ eyes widened and he redirected his light out of Chastain’s face and after seeing Chastain’s ID he holstered his gun. “Sorry Agent Chastain, this is a very difficult night and we have had a lot of damn trouble out there.  Looting and arson has already begun and emergency services are struggling to start search and rescue operations around the Capitol and White House areas.”

Now it was Chastain’s eyes that widened, “What happened at the White House and the Capitol?”  The policeman looked agitated, “They’re completely gone.  Just big holes in the ground.  Nothing to see.  And not only that, the Pentagon’s gone too.  It’s like a science fiction movie.  And the power is knocked out to half the city.  Panic broke out and the streets are a mess with most of the traffic lights out.  Too many wrecks to count and lots of fatalities.  We’re trying to get everyone off the streets to allow emergency services to treat the injured but the looters are making it hard.  So far we haven’t been given the go ahead to charge the rioters but hopefully it will come soon.  Otherwise, they’ll burn down half the downtown.”

Chastain absorbed this information then said, “Are the cruiser radios working?  Can you get a message out for me?”  The officer nodded, “Yeah, the radio is working but none of the cell towers seem to be.  It’s messed up.  That’s part of why everyone is freaked out.  They’re not used to being without their smart phones.”  Chastain said, “I need to get a message to the Attorney General.  Pass along my name through your superiors and ask for the AG to patch through on your system.”  The cop shook his head, “Can’t do it.”  Chastain shouted, “Do it!”  Morales shook his head again, “You haven’t heard.  The AG’s gone.  They’re all gone.  President, VP, Secretaries of Defense, State, all of them, gone.”  They went when the White House fell.  I think the last man standing is the Secretary of the Interior.  But the Secret Service has him in hiding.  So currently no one is running the show.”  I heard a few of the generals are coordinating some kind of security plan with international leaders and letting the world know that the nuclear stockpile is intact and capable of revenging any foreign attacks.  It’s chaos out there.  And the higher up in the food chain you go the more freaked out they are.”

If the officer could have seen Chastain’s face clearly in the low light he would have seen shock.  Chastain had anticipated a huge disruption from the attack but hearing that the entire leadership of the United States had been decapitated was too much to process.  He nodded his head and wandered back into the building and sat down at his desk and tried to think what he could do next.  He couldn’t call his wife so he decided the next best thing was to get in his car and drive home as carefully as he could and regroup.

As Chastain slowly negotiated the street corners of the blacked out city by his headlights, he reflected on how the lack of power turned a large city into a nightmare landscape.  Small groups of urban dwellers were roaming the streets with flashlights allowing them to find their way around.  Every once in a while, he heard sporadic gunfire.  In several places he could see burning buildings and what looked like looting of storefronts.  But the darkness seemed to have curtailed human activity to a surprising degree.  As he reached the outskirts of the city he came upon a large convoy of military vehicles heading toward the downtown on the main highway.  There were no main battle tanks but there was every smaller vehicle in the army caravan.  The noisy parade impressed him with its size and added one more proof that the old world of sanity and normalcy was gone.

As Chastain pulled into the driveway he saw his wife was at the front door with a shotgun aimed at his car.  But as soon as she could see through the glare of his headlights she placed the gun on the driveway and walked around to his side of the car.  He met her and by the light of his open car door he could see tears in her eyes, “Where have you been George?  I thought the world had come to an end.  There’s no one around here.  I was all alone.”  He put his arms around her and she began to cry uncontrollably.  Finally, she quieted down and he got a flashlight from his car and led her into the house.  He retrieved the empty shotgun from the ground and escorted his wife into the living room where he proceeded to build a fire in the fireplace.  It wasn’t nearly cool enough for such a thing to be useful but the light from the fire was comforting and he figured it could allow them to make some coffee with his camping equipment.  He went to the sink and discovered that well pumps don’t work so well without electricity.  So he took a gallon of water out of the dark refrigerator and began the process of making some pretty primitive coffee for the two of them.  While he was doing this his wife pulled out a card table and a couple of chairs and set them up near the fireplace and got some coffee mugs and cream and sugar from the kitchen with a flashlight tucked under her arm to see by.

When the coffee started boiling George poured off a cup for each of them and after pouring the cream they drank.  George found the coffee surprisingly good.  A few grounds here and there but surprisingly good.  His wife went back in the kitchen and brought two plates with a slice of crumb cake on each; his favorite.  He laughed at this attempt at happiness in the face of catastrophe and so did she.  “Betty, you always manage to find the bright side of every atomic explosion” he said.  She smiled, “Well, it’s late and your blood sugar is probably low.  I don’t want us yelling at each other while the world is coming to an end.  So while we’re on the subject, why is the world coming to an end?”  George said one word, “Boghadair.”  She nodded and sipped some of her coffee, “Will the lights be coming on anytime soon?”  He savored a little more of the cake and shrugged his shoulders, “Hard to say.  We’re not on the same grid as the city.  I assume that when the city blacked out it caused balancing issues across the whole area and eventually they’ll break enough links to allow our area to come back up regardless of what’s happening in the city.  If I were to guess I’d say no more than another twelve hours but really it could be anytime now.”

And as he finished his sentence, the lights came on.  They both jumped.  And the various household devices; the refrigerator, the dishwasher and the air conditioning hummed back to life.  Almost as a reflex Chastain turned on the television.  At first there was a public service message telling them to remain calm.  But suddenly the picture shifted and there staring at them was Paul Connors.  His face was covered in bandages and scrapes and there was an angry fire in his eyes.  He said, “Earlier today, the former President of the United States attacked my people with a nuclear weapon.  Based on the suspicions we had over his past sociopathic behavior we had recently moved our base of operations far afield from the site of the bombing.  But the weapon was so powerful that thousands of our people were killed and enormous damage was done to our underground infrastructure.

In retaliation we performed a decapitation strike on President Miller and his regime.  Reconnaissance has confirmed the success of that action so don’t bother with any rescue operations around the White House.  In addition, we staged a carefully planned attack on a number of ICBM silos.  All of those weapons were successfully captured and moved to safe locations.  Our technicians will be able to reprogram them for our own use.  If another attack is made on our people we will respond in kind.  And know right now Washington DC will be first.  I will be in touch with the surviving members of the armed forces upper levels of command.  I will clarify with them exactly what actions would trigger a response.  Your job as citizens is to convince your state governments to begin a peace process that will allow my people to coexist with your governments.  Until new elections can be held the federal government will be … somewhat disorganized.  At the same time there may be those who desire to come after us because of our decisions and reactions.  I urge you to tell your state representatives to do everything in their power to discourage that desire from being acted upon.  I’ll leave you now.  Think about what I’ve said, carefully.”

The screen shifted to a reality show featuring some truly stupid celebrity living her useless life in a fifty-million-dollar Manhattan Upper East Side penthouse apartment.  Chastain found the remote and turned the television off.  And surprisingly, he suddenly felt relief.  In a sense, his problems had resolved themselves.  The burden of deciding whether to acquiesce in the treason committed by his superiors had been lifted.  They had been quite thoroughly punished and it appeared that a much higher pay grade than his would take up the case of Joseph Boghadair.  And assuming the United States federal government was still in business, he still had a job and wouldn’t be without a paycheck this month.

Betty looked into George’s face and said, “What should we do?”  George smiled and drank some more of his coffee and said, “Honey, we’re taking the day off tomorrow.  I’m sleeping until ten in the morning.  My boss is dead and his boss is dead and no one will figure out whether I am or not for a few days.  So, I’m going to sleep in and enjoy the morning.  What about ham and eggs for breakfast?”  She shook her head, “You’re a very strange man.  Okay, I’m too tired to think about it.  We’ll figure it out tomorrow.”  And they sat back, turned off the lights and watched the slowly dying fire before heading upstairs to sleep.

End of Chapter 13.

Link to Installment 20

Serializing the Uncompleted Novel Sniper – Installment 18

As part of my previously discussed plan to make my site more interesting to me I’m going to publish my ongoing attempt at a dystopic science fiction story, “Sniper.”  Part of my reason for putting it up on the site is to get feedback from sf fans and also because I hope at some future time to finish it and put it up for sale.  If anyone likes the story, I highly encourage him to spread it to anyone among his acquaintances or sites that he thinks would be likely to be interested.  After all the whole reason for the internet is mass communication.

Also, I’m encouraging all comments; positive and negative.  Feedback is greatly desired.  And away we go.

 

 

Link to Installment 1

 

The American Archipelago

Book 1 – The Sniper

Chapter 13 – Reaction

When Connors’ orders began the migration of his personnel underground, Grace and her sons were also uprooted.  Their beautiful simulated bubble of an outdoor world would be swamped with tens of thousands of people migrating down into the far reaches of Connors’ realm.  The boys were sorely disappointed but Grace was not the kind of mom to let kids whine about things that couldn’t be helped.  So up they got and soon they and their scantest belongings were traversing the tunnels and passages of the underground world.

Their new quarters were a far cry from their former ones.  They had one room with ten cots that they shared with other as yet unseen future occupants and a kitchenette and something that would have to pass for a bathroom.  But they were grateful that it was in a cul-de-sac which meant that unlike many of the other residences it was not in the main footpath of those arriving hourly by the thousands.

By the end of their first day in their new quarters a semblance of normalcy had been re-established with Grace fixing some very basic provisions for their supper and the boys helping each other work on their homework assignments.

Then the lights went out.

When the lights went out it became very quiet because the ventilation had also stopped.  But quickly the tunnel began to fill up with the talking and shouting and even screaming of the panicking inhabitants.  And then the floor of the tunnel began to shake, knocking people and belongings to the floor.  Finally, a few seconds later, an enormous shock wave compressed the air around them and left them stunned and battered where they lay.

Sixty seconds after the onset of the event, emergency lighting snapped on.  It was dim and reddish colored but it relieved the sense of panic almost everyone felt when the lights first failed.  But it was very clear that the ventilation had not restarted.  Now, the air was in no way detectably less oxygenated at that point but after several people had announced that the ventilation system was stopped another panic ensued.  Looking out, Grace could hear shouting and see crowds of people surging back and forth in the corridor beyond their dead-ended area.  Suddenly two loud bangs and two flashes announced someone with a gun.  The crowd was shocked into silence.  She could hear a loud, gruff voice declare, “The next one of you stupid sons of bitches to run past me in a panic is getting shot.  Stop!”

Grace left the boys in their room and peaked out into the main corridor in time to see one of Connors’ lieutenants waving a big pistol around in the air and facing down the panicked crowd.  It was a retired military guy named David Tarent who had earlier handed them their room assignment.  As she watched he unlocked a box on the wall and lifted an old-fashioned telephone receiver from its cradle and punched in a number.  He spoke into the receiver some unintelligible words and hung up the phone.  Then he opened a much larger box revealing a panel of switches which he proceeded to work.  After resetting several of the switches he brought up a touchscreen, selected a number of squares on the screen and finally threw one more switch on the panel.  And like magic the normal lighting clicked on and the ventilation fan began to whir back to life.

Those panicked individuals who had so recently been cowed into silence now sent up a subdued cheer.  Grace could feel how tentative their celebration sounded.  Apparently those gun shots had made a robust impression.  She slowly walked over to Tarent and cleared her throat to announce herself before saying, “Mr. Tarent, thank you for your help.  Do you have any instructions that we should receive?”  He immediately recognized her and said, “Mrs. Boghadair, I don’t have all the details.  There is a lot of confusion right now and decisions are being made based on preliminary information.  But my instructions are to sit tight and break out the emergency supplies.  We’re using the emergency local ventilation system because there was a nuclear attack and all the emergency isolation locks have been closed.  Well, that is, wherever they still exist.  Some of the caves didn’t survive. At least based on what we know right now.  As far as I can tell we are in no immediate danger but everyone will have to wait until communications are fully restored and emergency plans have been formulated before we can spend a lot of time answering everyone’s questions.

She nodded, thanked him and returned to her children.  The words, “nuclear attack” kept replaying in her mind.  The unreality of all that she had been living with for the past months struck her powerfully.  Could all of this really be because of her husband and her father-in-law?  As real and as important as their personal tragedy was to her could it really be the cause of all this?  It seemed impossible but here they were with all that had happened and there was that phrase “nuclear attack.”  It was hard to interpret it any other way.

Pushing all of this down in her mind she concentrated on how to get through the next few days.  The boys were somewhat frightened but also curious about what was going on around them.  Her oldest, Joseph came over to her and said, “Mom, how long are we going to be here?”  She looked straight into her twelve-year-old son’s eyes and said, “I’m not sure Joey.  Maybe a long while.  Is something wrong?”  He looked over at his younger brothers and then back and said, “Well, when that gun went off and you went away the two little guys started crying so Billy started yelling at them, then Danny punched Billy and Billy punched him back so I yelled at Billy and he hit me in the shoulder so I punched him back and now everybody is mad.  And the little guys haven’t got any toys so they don’t know what to play and we all just want to get out of here.”  She shook her head and smiled wanly, “How did Zack manage to avoid the fight?”  Joey smiled back and said, “He didn’t.  He was hitting Danny before things got started.  But he’s always hitting Danny so I didn’t bother with that part.”  Grace walked over to the cots with Joey to where the other boys were sitting and gathered all four of them as close as she could in front of her, “Boys, I’m very sorry we have to be here.  I know this is pretty awful and boring and you’ve all been pretty good.  But later on I’ll talk to some of the other moms and we’ll organize something to get the kids together.  Maybe even some kind of classes.”  Zack covered his face with his hands, “No more school!  I’m sick of school.  Can’t we play sports?”  She looked sympathetically at her youngest and said, “Sure Zack, we’ll figure something out.  Just be a little more patient and we’ll work this out.  Can you really try not to fight while we’re here though?”  He nodded his head and she patted his shoulder.  Grace went back to the doorway and looked out at the corridor.  She could hear the sound of too many people with not enough to do worrying about things they couldn’t control.  And she thought, “How will Paul Connors manage to fix this?”

When the Air Force’s cruise missile entered the “Void” it was programmed to detonate as it approached the bottom of that mile by mile square shaft.  The unimaginable energy from the fission chain reaction of that device triggered the even less imaginable power of the fusion reaction which was then unleashed on the tunnel.  At the tunnel floor where the closest solid matter came in contact with that maelstrom of tortured subatomic particles and torrents of pure energy everything was converted into plasma and then reflected up out of the shaft.

The kinetic energy of that plasma propelled it out against the air in the shaft and the inability of that air to get out of its own way produced a shock wave of prodigious proportions.  Near the bottom of the shaft it transferred enormous energy into the surrounding rock creating a seismic wave that was felt for a thousand miles in all directions and shattered all the tunnels that had been built within fifty miles of the Void.  As the plasma ascended the shaft it melted the surface of the walls.  But even a thermonuclear device is finite and as it expanded the forces unleashed quickly mixed with more and more normal mass and the temperatures and pressures while still inhumanly high no longer threatened to defy the laws of ordinary nature.  And a mile square is an enormous cross-section.   Once the fire ball had reached the top of the shaft most of the power of the explosion had been transferred and the damage done.

Paul Connors and his team had long ago anticipated that someday the government might decide that sending a nuke down into the Void was a smart move.  And so most of his important assets and infrastructure had long ago migrated what he had thought would be a safe one hundred miles radius away from his original base of operation.  And once he had gotten all of his people below ground he had sealed the tunnels leading to the Void with solid rock for what he thought was a generous safety factor.

But a ten-megaton thermonuclear device had been an order of magnitude crazier than he had calculated his enemies to be.  And so portions of the nearest bases had been partially or totally destroyed.  Sitting in his new control room he looked out at the map of his underground world and he could see four of the forty locations blinking red.  Only one of those four had been reached by phone.  Casualties there had been seventy percent fatalities.  The other three locations had not been reached.  Teams had been sent to try rescue operations but he feared those caves were completely gone.

Based on the limited information he possessed there might be ten thousand people dead.  Connors felt awful grief and guilt.  But more strongly he felt an unquenchable desire for vengeance.  He had called a meeting of his lieutenants to plot out both the rescue plans and also offensive operations.  But first he needed to speak to Cutter and Boghadair.  He needed eyes and hands on the surface.  But contact to the surface had been knocked out by the blast.  His communication techs had finally created a work around by stringing together several networks that had other primary functions.  He put through the call and Mel’s face appeared on his screen.  She smiled and said, “Boy am I glad to see you but Bogey’s going mad worrying about his family.  Can you give me some good news about them?”

Connors was incensed at being interrogated by this impertinent AI when he had needed Cutter immediately but he suddenly realized that Bogey must be suffering the agonies of the damned while fearing for his family’s safety.  Losing his irritation he said, “Mel you can let Bogey know his family is safe and sound.  But I need Cutter right now.”  She nodded curtly and Cutter’s face took her place on the screen.  “How did she do that so quickly?” he wondered.  But he shook off the train of thought and acknowledged his collaborator.  “I’m gonna need you and Bogey to pull some rabbits out of a hat.  I lost ten thousand of my people and I intend to end this thing now.”

Cutter nodded, “Whatever you need.  We have to finish this off before they figure out they haven’t finished us off.”  Connors held up a sheet of paper and said, “I’ve posted a timetable with your action items.  Basically I need you to use whatever surveillance you can muster to confirm the locations of the hit list tonight.  Anyone outside of DC will have to be ignored for now.  But I need the addresses of all those in the city.  We’re gonna go for a clean sweep.  I’ve been hoping to avoid a lot of collateral damage but their attack tonight has forced my hand.  Now it has to be this way.

Cutter scanned the document on his screen and replied, “Connors, I want you to add a few additional targets.  It’s time to take out the intelligence agencies’ data acquisition, analysis and storage assets.  These assets have allowed the feds to control and persecute anyone who objected to their Orwellian methods.  Taking them out at this point will disorient and panic them even further.”  Connors thought for a second, “I’ll add them on but they’ll have to trail the rest of the list.  I assume they’re not extremely time sensitive.”  “Sure, sure.  Anytime today or tomorrow will have the same effect” replied Cutter.

Connors tried to read Cutter’s cryptic expression and said, “Alright.  Are you prepared to fall back to one of my safe houses if they come for you and Bogey?”  Cutter smiled, “I think if you get fifty percent of the names on your list we can stop worrying about their hit squads.  Oh, by the way, remove Chastain from your list.  He’s been fired by his various bosses.  At this point he’ll be on the sidelines and might be useful in the aftermath as a building block for the rebuilding of the federal government.”

Connors shook his head.  “You’re three steps ahead of where we are.  Let’s just get through this day.”  Suddenly Bogey appeared on a new window, “Connors, you said my family was safe, Can I talk to Grace?”  Connors shook his head, “Not yet Bogey.  She’s in a remote location that we haven’t reconnected with.  They’ve got power, food and water but communications is relegated to an old fashioned telephone line that we haven’t interconnected to anything but an emergency system.  I’ll have something set up in a day or so but right now be assured she’s safe and far away from any threat.”

Chapter 13 continues after this.

Link to Installment 19

Serializing the Uncompleted Novel Sniper – Installment 17

As part of my previously discussed plan to make my site more interesting to me I’m going to publish my ongoing attempt at a dystopic science fiction story, “Sniper.”  Part of my reason for putting it up on the site is to get feedback from sf fans and also because I hope at some future time to finish it and put it up for sale.  If anyone likes the story, I highly encourage him to spread it to anyone among his acquaintances or sites that he thinks would be likely to be interested.  After all the whole reason for the internet is mass communication.

Also, I’m encouraging all comments; positive and negative.  Feedback is greatly desired.  And away we go.

 

 

Link to Installment 1

 

The American Archipelago

Book 1 – The Sniper

Chapter 12 – Action

George Chastain took a flight to see his boss and the rest of the president’s cabinet.  He explained that he had identified the organization that was behind Boghadair’s operation and he had plugged the leak that allowed this group to penetrate the FBI’s data collection and communication systems.  The meeting was long and contentious.  The president kept shouting, “Send in the army and capture everyone with any link to this “Typhoon” Industries.  We can’t take any chances.”  The attorney general was more cautious.  He wanted the army to back a deployment of FBI agents, a few thousand strong, and proceed cautiously to avoid the appearance of ham-handedness, “We’ll always have the army there in case they put up major resistance but escalating immediately to tanks is very poor optics.”  The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff reminded the president that stronger options were always available if things got out of hand, up to and including a nuclear option.  This caught the president’s attention immediately but the secretary of state warned him immediately that foreign adversaries would pounce on such an action as proof that the American government had become unhinged.  He admonished the chairman for even mentioning such an escalation.  But the president had a gleam in his eye that meant he was fixating on this idea.

Finally, a plan was approved.  Federal agents backed by national guard troops would raid all of the Typhon Industries locations and all properties owned by Connors and arrest everyone in a management position on criminal conspiracy charges.  And everyone else associated with these sites would be questioned and investigated including spouses and grown children.  All of Connors’ properties and assets would be seized and all documents and data would be combed through for evidence and to locate the remaining members of the organization, especially Boghadair and Melissa Cutterson.  Chastain had assured the president that within a few days, the threat would be contained because even if Boghadair remained at large, without his support network he would be unable to attempt to target government officials without being caught.  At the end of the meeting the president said, “Chastain, this will be your only chance to succeed.  If you fail, I’m handing it over to the military.  And they won’t fail me.”  Walking out of the meeting Chastain thought, “Cowardly moron.  I hope he gets you.”  But then he began planning the raids.

Three days later he had all the resources staged and was ready to spring the trap.  He planned to be part of the raiding party at the main company headquarters.  The caravan of law enforcement split up and closed off all of the trunk roads entering and leaving the small town.  No one could get in or out.  The raiding party found the doors locked at the headquarters.  They quickly breached them with an armored vehicle and the SWAT teams went in with flash grenades at every corner and automatic weapons bristling.  And they found … no one.

The raiding parties all found the same thing.  Every building was empty and every manager’s house was too.  In fact, when they began to check they found that every regular employee and their families were gone too.  These were many thousands of people.  How many were gone wasn’t exactly clear because they found not a single record.  Every hard drive had been removed and there were no paper documents to be found.

But that’s not completely correct.  There was one paper document, a letter.  There was an envelope on Connor’s desk addressed “George Chastain.”  This was sent to the lab and tested for toxins and biological agents but came up clean.  It simply read:

Dear George,

Sorry we couldn’t have stayed to greet you but my people don’t belong in jail.  They’re decent human beings.  Joseph Boghadair is a very good friend of mine and I support him in his mission to bring his son’s killers to justice.  If you get in his way while he performs this work you may get hurt.

Tell your masters that they no longer have any legitimate authority over us and if they come after us then we’ll do the same.  And warn them if they value the lives of their people, they had better not endanger the lives of mine.  We can defend ourselves very effectively.

Yours truly,

Paul Connors

(King of the Mole Men)

 

Chastain thought about this last line, “A joke?  A reference to the underground technology they utilized?”  He got in touch with the other teams to find out if any of them had had more luck.  The team that had gone out to the mine site had something important to report.  Where the buildings surrounding the mine shaft had been, there were now only some holes in the earth at least a few hundred feet deep with building debris at their bottoms.  Standing near these holes the agents could feel significant heat radiating up at them.  The huge mine entrance was an enormous enigma to the men looking into it.  Its lightless depths were frightening but nothing on its rim or visible walls showed any irregularities from recent activity.  But eventually the men began to move farther from the rim.  Its proximity unnerved them.

Chastain made the trip to investigate this evidence and it confirmed his fears.  Connors had taken his people in their tens of thousands and had vanished from the face of the Earth.  Somehow he had amassed the incredible resources necessary to feed and shelter those multitudes underground.  This was a staggering thought.  But it also meant that in the short term he couldn’t hope to use Connors to get information on Boghadair.  He had to hope that Cutterson was still a trail he could follow back to the sniper.

He dreaded the call he would have to send to the attorney general.  The president was practically irrational with fear and this setback would set him off.  Chastain wasn’t even sure if they would keep him on the search but he began to plan what steps he would tell the attorney general should be undertaken next to find Cutterson and Boghadair.  He spent the ride back to the airport on the phone with his team and later with his boss.  He pointedly did not mention Connors’ letter with the attorney general.

 

 

 

When Boghadair returned to Cutter’s base they noticed a profound change in the man.  Later on, Mel asked Cutter, “Is this the real Bogey?  I normally got at most three words a day that weren’t mission critical.  Now he’s talking to me about his grandkids and I’m not even a real woman!”  Cutter looked up from his coffee at the monitor and said, “I hope it hasn’t affected his focus on the mission.  From now on we’re gonna be threading the needle every time we walk out the door.  There’s no room for error and no place for emotions.”  Mel scowled at the old scientist, “Well, show a sliver of humanity, you old crank.  Just because we don’t have any family doesn’t mean it’s a crime to be happy.”  He stared at her image and considered this outburst.  Had he consciously included this in her programming?  Had she “learned it from her contact with human behavior?  It was strange.  She often now surprised him with her reactions to human behavior.  He must look into all this after the crisis.  That is, if there were an after.

“Mel, don’t get distracted by the human side of all this.  We’re skating on the razor’s edge.  We don’t dare deviate by a hair’s breadth.  You’re my eyes and ears.  Stick to the plan down to the letter.”  For once, she seemed to accept his warning.  She silently nodded her head and disappeared from the monitor.

Later on Bogey joined Cutter at his control panel and gave him his thoughts on the briefings he’d had with Connors, “Connors thinks we have to finish off the rest of our list all at once to prevent the feds from getting us first.”  Cutter asked, “Do you agree?”  Bogey nodded, “Yeah, I do.  He convinced me that eventually our luck will run out.”  Cutter nodded, “In fact it kinda already has.  We got wind of Chastain’s discovery of Connors’ link to you and barely got his entire organization underground before the SWAT teams arrived at his headquarters.  We’re going to have to accelerate the decapitation strike plan immediately.  And we’ll be flying a lot blinder and with less cover.  Chastain has shut down some of our back doors to his surveillance and communication systems.  We’re going to be taking much bigger risks from now on.”

This caught Bogey by surprise, “Are Grace and the boys alright?”  Cutter nodded his head, “You know they were already underground before anything started.  Connors has been planning for this eventuality for a very long time.  Everything is under control.  But if you want we can call Connors through the link I have to his command center.”  With worry still in his eyes Bogey said, “Yeah, I really would like to hear it from Connors personally.”

Cutter opened up a panel on his main monitor and pretty soon Connors face appeared, “Cutter, Bogey, what’s up?”  Cutter replied, “Bogey wanted to find out how his family was doing in the midst of the evacuation from the surface.”  Connors image nodded, “Bogey, Grace and the kids are here with me.  We’ve had to rearrange things a good deal to accommodate the evacuation but they’re fine and we’ll make sure they stay that way.”

Bogey began to reply when Connors’ image disappeared leaving a black rectangle on the large screen.  Cutter started swearing under his breath and punching keys trying to restore the link.  But suddenly Mel’s image filled the large monitor and said, “You’ve got to see this.  This is a satellite feed from thirty seconds ago over Connors’ base.”  A night time satellite view of whole state suddenly erupted into a stab of pure white light that overexposed the exact location of the main shaft.  Cutter and Bogey immediately knew exactly what they were witnessing, the flash from a nuclear detonation.  The feds had nuked Connors’ base.  Cutter exclaimed in hushed tones, “The crazy murderous bastards, they actually did it.”  When he looked at Bogey he saw a man with a look of horror on his face, “Cutter, we killed Grace and the kids.”

End of Chapter 12.

Link to Installment 18

Guest Contributor – Xavier – 23MAR2024 – Genre vs Literature

This post raises two important and related questions. One is the question of genre fiction versus fiction/literature or entertainment versus literature. The other, how technology impacts this balance.

On the first point I think the best guide for the use of imagination in narrative fiction or really any literature is could it be real. That is, literature always fabricates events, but only events that could be real, at least to the viewer. This may seem overly restrictive, but even if we look at even the most fantastic events in literature, they are literature precisely because they are convincing. The narrative is not just believable, but super believable, as the clumsy moniker of surrealism suggests. The reader has to have a reason to suspend disbelief and that reason has to be both compelling and convincing.

This is why Macbeth can include incanting witches and Hamlet a ghost. Same for Dickens, Joyce, etc. We don’t mind Old Hamlet showing up every night to drive the action. His presence is utterly real to mind of any son that lost a father to murder. That reality may be the reality of a dream or some subconscious memory acting on a son’s emotions, but it plays as real almost universally.

The second question relating to our kids watching stories inside game applications like Minecraft and its relation to literature and media has a very direct precedent in movies. As soon as movies got past the novelty stage when they were sequestered in menageries they looked to literature to augment the spectacle. I can be argued that screenplays almost never satisfactorily translate literature, not even drama where the analogy seems direct.

I believe literature doesn’t translate well because movies, like radio, video and now video games, are essentially entertainment media mixed with mass communication. It is not novel to say that the commercial dimension of these media plays a much greater role than they do in traditional art forms, which were mostly centered around patrons.

Some radio dramas, such as those produced by there Mercury Players, seem to approach the experience of attending a play. So maybe these mass media/entertainment forms can become like literature if they survive long enough to establish the required conventions to seem real. But movies and radio were quickly supplanted by TV and now video games. So perhaps the balance for literature requires a limit of commerce and reliance on technology, as these certainly are not timeless.

Most traditional “critics” would say that the need to seem “real” is undermined, rather than supported, by technical or futuristic artifacts. They don’t make good literature impossible, but they raise the bar to get an audience to suspend disbelief and to tell the underlying story that the reader wants. This is why genre fiction is such good fodder for farce. If the story doesn’t need these obstacles, it’s probably better off without them. But if the fun in writing with them can overcome their drag, the story could soar even with rockets. They’re just a heavy narrative load to bear.

Serializing the Uncompleted Novel Sniper – Installment 16

As part of my previously discussed plan to make my site more interesting to me I’m going to publish my ongoing attempt at a dystopic science fiction story, “Sniper.”  Part of my reason for putting it up on the site is to get feedback from sf fans and also because I hope at some future time to finish it and put it up for sale.  If anyone likes the story, I highly encourage him to spread it to anyone among his acquaintances or sites that he thinks would be likely to be interested.  After all the whole reason for the internet is mass communication.

Also, I’m encouraging all comments; positive and negative.  Feedback is greatly desired.  And away we go.

 

 

Link to Installment 1

 

The American Archipelago

Book 1 – The Sniper

Chapter 11 –  Sifting

George Chastain had been given all the resources that his former boss, the late Director Sparks, had promised.  The Attorney General had temporarily assigned Chastain as his direct report until such time as a replacement for Sparks could be appointed.  And honestly no expense or effort was being spared.  He felt confident that if he asked for a division of infantry or martial law to be implemented over half the country it would be granted.  That’s how scared the upper echelons were.  Currently he had something close to ten thousand government personnel working on his three task forces.  In addition he had the complete cooperation of the big tech companies in Silicon Valley helping his cyber team to hunt down the source of the leaked information and the cyber-attacks that had occurred as part of the Boghadair war.  And all of this cyber stuff was a black box to Chastain.  In a rudimentary way he understood what the team was attempting to do.  They were sifting for evidence of the attacker’s methodology so they could set a trap for him.  That was enough for him to know.  As for the team investigating the destruction of the FBI headquarters, the government had recruited demolition and mining experts to investigate the crime scene and figure out how it was done and hopefully by whom.  This was also not his field of expertise but he trusted the scientists on the staff and their contractors to get to the bottom of this attack.

What Chastain was concentrating on was the manhunt for Boghadair.  Between the gathering of physical evidence and the profiling of the criminal he was in his element.  Chastain had studied all of the information that was available about Boghadair and he was horrified by the what he found.  Boghadair wasn’t a criminal at all.  The man was a highly decorated war hero who had lived a blameless life and who apparently had been the victim of a government program that employed the dregs of society as street enforcers during political theater that served the purposes of Chastain’s bosses.  He had analyzed enough of Cutter’s “evidence” to see that color revolution tactics and false flag operations had been unleashed on the US population and Boghadair had been at ground zero for one of the worst outrages of this program.

But regardless of Chastain’s sympathies he believed that what Boghadair and his associates were doing threatened to destroy the United States government and throw the whole nation into chaos.  For this reason he saw it as his legitimate duty to find Boghadair and stop this reign of terror.  But the problem was how.  Boghadair was like a wraith.  For such a large man he seemed to just appear at each of his targets and disappear just as quickly.  He seemed to leave no record on the myriad of video cameras that were now scattered everywhere.  He moved from one side of the country to the other without showing up at bus stations, airports, train depots or even showing up on the cameras of gas stations.  And he didn’t live anywhere either.  Chastain had combed the rental properties near each of the attacks and there wasn’t a trace of anyone even slightly resembling Boghadair.

Part of this, Chastain attributed to Boghadair’s IT partners.  Some extremely high-powered tech was being used to erase or fake all of this surveillance evidence.  But that couldn’t explain it all.  Police surveillance of roads and rail transportation had reached a point where facial recognition alone would have spotted Boghadair coming or going from the cities that he had attacked.  Chastain was convinced that Boghadair was working with an organization with truly massive resources and capabilities.  And he believed searching for this organization was the key to finding Boghadair.  And that was exactly the direction he took.  And between the resources he could bring to bear to analyze data and his own skills as an investigator that’s exactly what he did.

Chastain concentrated on the time period between the death of Boghadair’s son and the first attack.  At the beginning of this interval Boghadair was easy enough to trace.  His car trips and phone records placed him in the vicinity of his home and he was easy to track.  But a few weeks before the first attack all of the phone records ended and his car sat idle in his driveway.  The last data point was a piece of video footage from a bus station about a hundred miles from his home that showed a very disheveled Boghadair paying cash for a bus ticket.  When Chastain had someone check on the bus company records it was believed that the ticket was a long distance route that went all the way to Columbus Ohio with transfers in Montana, Minnesota and Chicago.  There was no record of any transfers so, somewhere between Boghadair’s home and Billings, Montana he must have gotten off.  So Billings became the center of a circle that Chastain drew.

To be safe he started with a 500-mile diameter with Billings at its center.  He did a search for every business entity and organization that had a presence inside that circle.  Then he eliminated all the entities that the US government controlled either outright or through infiltration by its agents.  All the tech companies were accounted for as were the Fortune 500 companies that toed the government’s line on virtually everything they specified.  Then he eliminated any group that was obviously too small to pull off the stuff that Boghadair had done.  When he got finished there were no names left on the list.  So all the candidates were either too small or too controlled to do what he was looking for.  “Georgie boy you’re making a mistake” he told himself.  “Either someone is not as controlled as you think or something’s not as small as it seems.”

He scratched the beard stubble where his side burns would be and considered the problem.  He decided that a company to fit his profile would be more likely to hide its size than it would be able to hide its independence.  So he looked at companies to see if any had something to hide.  He looked for companies that caused problems.  And then he hit pay dirt.  Whenever there was an investigation of an irregularity by the IRS or the EPA or the EEOC of a company that was doing things its own way and required all kinds of variances and special reporting, nine times out of ten it would involve, in some way, a connection to Typhon Industries.  And the more he looked at Typhon the more he became convinced there was something really big going on with it.  There were just too many threads attached to too many other small businesses to make any sense for such a small company.  It was a web of connections.  It was a network that included a multitude of products and services serving a shockingly large number of people.

And just to follow the trail from the other direction he looked for a link back to Boghadair and of course he found one.  Typhon had an arrangement with a local retailer that had a contract with Boghadair’s freight company.  In fact it turned out something like 40% of Boghadair’s income was provided by this contract.  Chastain knew he had his link.  He had found the hidden hand.

And now he analyzed the personnel in Typhon.  The owner was a man named Paul Connors.  Connors was something of an enigma.  He had various connections to the government through his work on software development and artificial intelligence but he was surprisingly independent when it came to providing information on his operation.  He had been the subject of investigation by half a dozen government agencies but none of these inquiries had made much progress pinning down their subject.  That alone should have raised enormous red flags already.  And this intrigued Chastain.  No one could hide from the bureaucracy.  Just trying to resist the probing eye of Big Brother would inevitably bring the whole weight of the federal bureaucracy crashing down on the rebel.  Something extremely strange was going on.  It was as if Connors had infiltrated the US government and was controlling the information that was being reported on him.

And, of course, that focused on the final piece of the puzzle.  The cyber attacks and the leaked video footage.  Connors had a mole in the Justice Department.  But this mole either had a cadre of people working for him or he was an IT genius.  Now he was in a quandary again.  Chastain was not tech savvy.  Sure he could maneuver around the programs and applications that had been given to him to use but he had not the slightest expertise with any of this cyber stuff.  “Damn, stupid, hacking crap, kid stuff!” he exclaimed to himself.

He would have to trust someone in that lane to figure out what was going on.  But how could he know whom to trust?  He might be confiding in his enemy.  And that gave him another thought.  He would test his IT resources by feeding each of them different misinformation and see which one triggers a response.  He didn’t like this strategy.  He would be sowing confusion in his own organization.  But now that he was starting to see what he was up against he needed a way to get ahead of the curve and cut off the enemy’s intel at the source.  Plus, if he could capture the tech specialist Boghadair would be extremely vulnerable during an operation.  They might be able to unwind the whole network at once.  That would simplify the mop up.

So Chastain looked at his organizational chart for the IT operation.  At the top were the managers who took credit for the work that their technicians accomplished.  He ignored those names.  They were placeholders who knew nothing about the actual work.  Looking through the reports that had been produced he clicked on a number of attachments and was surprised that all of them were produced by the same analyst, a contractor listed as Melissa Cutterson.  “Something about that name” he thought.  He looked at her picture in the file and saw that she appeared to be a relatively young woman and he conceded quite attractive.  This seemed quite unusual based on his experience with IT departments.  And now all his instincts were telling him something seemed very wrong.  All the investigators on the IT side seemed to be using the same technical contractor for all their substantive investigating.  How could these idiots not see that they were being led around by the nose?  How possibly could he be the only one to recognize this?  And then it came to him.  None of them were technically qualified to do their jobs.  The contractor was the only one able to understand the systems and do the work.  We were being led to the slaughter by the enemy already running our computer systems.

Chastain was bowled over by this insight.  What the hell was he supposed to do first?  His first instinct was to arrest Cutterson.  He called up the head of the IT team, Travers, and told him to report to his office.  When the man arrived he told him they would be going for a walk.  Once they were a couple of blocks away from the office building he leaned against a light pole and asked him, “Travers, where is Melissa Cutterson working from?”  Travers, cleared his throat and said, “Well she works remotely.”  Chastain restrained the urge to scream at his subordinate and strangled out the words, “That is not an answer.  Where on this planet does this woman physically reside?”  Travers looked down and said, “We know she’s definitely within the limits of the North American continent.  That’s certain.”

Chastain just shook his head for a few seconds, “Travers, if these were normal times I’d have you fired immediately.  But these are far from normal times.  First of all understand that Cutterson is probably the mole in our network.  Now I know that you are a lazy fool but concentrate carefully on what I tell you.  Don’t change anything in your behavior toward Cutterson.  But make damn sure you follow every order I give you to the letter or I’ll make it a priority to have you prosecuted for criminal stupidity.”  Travers gulped and nodded his head.  “And understand that she has access to everything you communicate by e-mail, phone or any other electronic device that our surveillance systems monitor.  And that includes video cameras and sound recording devices.  Anything that you need to tell me about her must be done the way we are currently operating here.  Away from the building and hopefully out of range of video surveillance equipment.  Do you understand that?  Or should I break it down into words of only one syllable?”  Travers looked down and shook his head.  Chastain walked away from his subordinate and headed back to his office.

When he got back to his desk Chastain actually felt a little less panicked.  He hadn’t figured out the details of his plan but he knew who his enemies were and how they had been so successful.

*********

Later that day back in Cutter’s control room Mel appeared on one of Cutter’s monitors.  She looked at him and said, “He’s figured it out.”  Cutter nodded and asked, “Has he figured out Connors yet?”  “Yeah, he was reviewing the business records that deal with Connors’ contract with Bogey.  So what’s our next step O Great Wise Exalted One?”  Cutter replied, “Just follow the plan.  He’s going to do predictable things.  We won’t.”  Mel’s image looked doubtful, “Okay boss.  But you’re beginning to put worry lines on this classically beautiful face.”  Then her image faded to black.

Cutter started typing, “We’ve begun Phase II of the operation.  Expect incoming from now on.”  He punched the enter key and took a deep breath.  Good men were going to die soon and nothing could be done to prevent it.  He only hoped that it wouldn’t be for nothing.  Then he went to Bogey’s room and filled him in on the Chastain situation.

***********

Connors looked at the message on his screen, “We’ve begun Phase II of the operation.  Expect incoming from now on.”  He sighed deeply and began issuing orders to all of his senior staff.  The plans had been put in place long since but somehow they had never felt real until this very moment.  And suddenly he felt like he was betting everything and everyone’s future and everyone’s life on a desperate gambit.  He was racked with doubt.  But he also knew it was way too late to do anything else.  He was committed up to his eyebrows and the wheels were already turning.  And once that second thought hit home he started to feel a little better.  There was plenty to do and it was hard to dwell on the future when the present has you doing twenty new things every minute or so.

Connors left his desk and walked out of the building into the late afternoon sun.  Already he could see people queueing up at the freight elevators headed down into the Earth.  And it occurred to him that some might never see the sun again.  Then he went back in the office and continued monitoring the exodus and the other preparations for Phase II.  It would be a very long day.

************

The next day Chastain reached out to a friend in the Pentagon, a General Parsons.  He arranged a face to face meeting and he described the situation with the IT mole.  The general was able to put together a task force to perform some cybersurveillance on Melissa Cutterson.  The mission was to figure out how much damage Cutterson had done to the FBI surveillance system and repair it.  And just as important they were to locate Cutterson and attack that position.  If possible she would be captured but if necessary a body would suffice.

Next he visited the team investigating the FBI building collapse.  The head of the team, Carl Dreisser was a mining engineering expert who contracted with both industry and government as an expert witness on demolitions and mining accidents.  He was a tall thin man with a noticeable limp and a high weak voice, “Mr. Chastain, I’ve concluded my investigation and you aren’t going to like what I have to say.”  Chastain smiled.  Here was an honest man.  “Mr. Dreisser nothing about this incident is to my liking.  But if you have drawn any conclusions on how the disaster occurred, then I’ll be in an improved situation and that will suit me.”

Dreisser nodded, “That building was undermined completely in just under an hour and then detonated remotely at someone’s signal.”  Chastain thought about what he was told, “Is that difficult?”  “No,” said Dreisser, “it’s impossible.”  Chastain smiled wryly and said, “Well that’s no problem, I encounter a new impossible event every day on this case.  But please clarify.  Why is it impossible?”

Dreisser got up from his desk and walked over to a white board.  He sketched a fairly neat picture of the FBI building.  He added in an underground layer in cross hatching and put some dimensions on the drawing and then began to talk, “The amount of solid rock that would have had to have been removed from underneath this building in one hour couldn’t be done by any tunneling equipment that I’ve ever heard of in less than two months and that’s leaving out safety concerns.  It just can’t be done.”  Chastain put his hand up to silence the other man. “Don’t tell me it’s impossible, tell me how they made it possible.”  Dreisser stepped away from the board, “They have perfected equipment that tunnels and removes the spoil a thousand times faster than the current state of the art I’m aware of.  That’s the only thing I can come up with.”  Chastain nodded his head, “Alright, if someone possessed such machines what advantages would it give him in industry?”  Dreisser shook his head, “It’s very hard to say but undoubtedly his ability to produce extremely long or deep tunnels would be immeasurably improved.  He could recover enormous quantities of minerals in a short time and as you can see this technology would revolutionize war by allowing an army to undermine an enemy position.  That would be a disastrous capability.”

After signing off on Dreisser’s invoice Chastain left the building and started the drive back to his office.  He thought, “How the hell has this Connors guy slipped below the radar for so long?  What else does he have up his sleeve, ray guns?”  When he got back to his desk there was a message from Parsons.  It said, “Have located the backdoors that were used by Cutterson to hack the FBI systems.  All have been shut down.  Your breach is now secured.  Still working on Cutterson location.”  That elicited a huge sigh of relief from Chastain and he starting planning how he would modify the IT team.  He planned on finding a replacement for Travers as soon as possible.  He’d have to ask Parsons to loan him some personnel.

Then he noticed an e-mail in his inbox.  It had one of those ridiculous strings of alphanumerics for a name and the subject line was Cutterson Exit Interview.  He opened it up and there was a photo of Cutterson waving goodbye and a link that read “face-to-face.”  With unbearable curiosity he clicked it.  A video-conferencing software screen opened up and he was looking at Melissa Cutterson.  She smiled and said, “Hey your camera is off.  I’d activate it but they cut all my controls inside your little world.”  Thinking the risk was worth the chance to learn something he turned on his camera.  “That’s better.  Your picture looks a lot younger.  Special Agent in Charge Chastain you should get more rest, you look very tired.”  Chastain felt surprisingly amused by this flippant banter about his health, “Young lady I’m sorry to say that you should be a lot more concerned about your own well being.  You are involved in a crime of enormous consequence and it is decidedly uncertain that you will survive what is to follow.  We will be using every avenue available to us to find and neutralize your friend Boghadair and his associates and unless you surrender yourself very soon you have a very high likelihood of being killed during the operation.”  On the monitor Mel shook her head and said, “I heard from someone who knew you that you used to be an honest cop.  Well if you still are, then tell me if you honestly think you’re on the right side?  Your side murders innocent Americans.  Is that what you took an oath to uphold?  Maybe instead of worrying about me being killed you should worry about what happens if you live through all this and have to explain your part in it.”

Chastain felt his face freeze up and he couldn’t answer.  The AI continued, “Well think about it a little Mr. Chastain because when the dust settles maybe you may be sorry for the side you picked, at least when you go to sleep at night.  I’m proud of the people I’m working with.  They’re fighting evil.  You’re helping it.”  And the connection was broken.

Chastain sat at his desk for the better part of an hour and thought about her words.  It was if she had read his thoughts.  He knew she was right.  But how could he battle the United States government.  That was an impossibility.  But then again how many impossible things had he seen lately?  Back and forth his mind turned.  Finally, too tired to think anymore, he walked away from his desk just as it was and headed home.

End of Chapter 11.

 

Link to Installment 17