All posts by Troim Kryzl

Dralala-ping

“Dralala-ping, dralala-toc-toc, drala…”

“Francis, do turn that phone off. Unless you are keen to get yourself fired. Private phones to be turned off at all times. Ever heard of that rule? Now is the time to stick to it. Or you’re gone. Fired, as in sacked. Got me? And off, as in not on. Not ringing. Got me?”

Baudoin doesn’t sound annoyed. The lead mechanic took up meditation ten years ago. In rehab. After what his doctors insisted on calling his first heart attack. He also lost weight and quit smoking. These two improvements didn’t stick. He’s back to his naturally bulging blob shape. And to puffing. Even though you have to walk for what feels like half your break to reach the one and only remaining smoker’s corner. But Baudoin is zen. At all times. He will look and sound exactly the same, whether he asks for a wrench or gives you the sack.

Francis utters the customary, only subliminally ironic “Yes, boss, sir”. A mechanic doesn’t contradict the master of the private jet maintenance hangar. He also ostentatiously switches off his phone, before stuffing it back into the breast pocket of his overalls. Stupid boss. Stupid job. Stupid everything. Denying a man the slightest tiny crumb of pleasure, them who call the shots are.

He’s of course well aware he’s only got himself to blame. It wasn’t Baudoin who installed the ConStop app on his phone, and connected it to the sensor wristband. It was him.

Originally, it was Sophie’s idea. “We need to save, otherwise we’ll never escape renting” she said. “No house, no family” she added. Francis immediately stocked up on quality condoms. The higher the stakes, the more solid the motivation.

Two weeks later, he installed the app anyway. Has been dreaming of a Hurfay Robinson bike for years. This clever little piece of software will help him realize his ambition.

Customizing ConStop required more than a bit of effort. Francis’ first attempt failed. He started the process in the half time break of the UEFA semi finals. Bad idea. He wasn’t done by the time the game resumed. Nearly missed Lyon’s second goal. He needed a longer slot.

Sophie once again proved helpful, as she occasionally can be. Her enthusiasm for the Eurovision Song Contest provided him with the perfect opportunity. She was so glad he agreed to watch this, a first, she didn’t even notice he wasn’t playing his usual shooter game.

That’s because the customization process is quiet. And pretty simple, too.

You download and install the app. You connect it to your wristband. The very same you use to track and publish your gym prowess.

Next, you browse the internet according to the instructions: “Search for one item you love, and then for one you loathe.” And again: “One you love, one you loathe.” Not really hard, just time consuming. You keep it up until the app signals “Done”.

From that moment on, you save. The first couple of days are a bit rough, but it does the trick. Each time an advert, or a shopfront display, or even a canteen tale, each time anything triggers an urge to buy something, the wristband does notice. It sets off the specific alarm and stops you.

“Dralala-ping, dralala-toc-toc” goes your phone. You have to get it out and walk yourself through a questionnaire.

“Please name the item you consider buying, without using brands”. You actually have to type in the answer. That’s the toughest part. If it’s a pair of Qyle on display, you tend to think “Qyle”. Not “Sneakers”. Quite some reflecting involved. And the typing comes on top.

Luckily, it gets easier from there on. Next, the app will ask “Please do explain how buying… (sneakers, in the Qyle example) will improve your life.” Sounds pretty bad, but this stage is multiple choice. And you’re allowed to pick more than one answer, too.

The app typically lists five pretty good reasons. Plus an “Other” option. Here, you will have to type once more. In the fortunately rare case of not having been provided with a valid rationale.

In the last ConStop sequence, your reasoning will be challenged.

Francis does love this part. Especially in audio mode. He took care to select the sexy female voice. Listening to his ConStop guardian angel always sends him phantasising. He forgets about any potentially desirable items, even before considering her extremely sound advice.

The ConStop app changed his life. For the better. The nerd he met at the sports bar called him an imbecile, for providing an obscure company with a heap of data. As if he wasn’t aware of this aspect. But, honestly, it’s not exactly a secret he likes to get laid. And fancy bikes. And flashy cars. Why would he hide this kind of information? He’s not the central bank. Or some secret service.

The only problems with ConStop are of the interactive kind.

Like when Sophie, who also uses the app, doesn’t fail to notice his alarm won’t go off on seeing wedding dresses. Or prams. Or real estate adverts. They’re not in perfect sync, to put it mildly. Not a big deal, though. They won’t last forever anyway. There’s even the odd chance the Dralala-ping gap might contribute to lessen the blow once they are done. Less of a scene is always welcome.

His phone greeting a picture of his bloke Henry’s boat with an enthusiastic chime was worse. He would have preferred to nonchalantly pretend zero interest. Henry suddenly inheriting a second house, even though he already owns his residence, that wasn’t fair in the first place. Not a good bloke kind of thing to do. Selling it to be able to afford a sports car and a boat made perfect sense. But you would still prefer it to happen to yourself.

And it’s Henry’s fault he got into trouble today. His invitation to give the boat a try this weekend made him check the weather forecast. No harm done, he had to wait for the auto-diagnostic tool to run its course anyway. Turned on his phone for just this one second it takes to look at the weather app. But they had to place an advert for a Hurfay Robinson next to the sunny forecast. Bad luck.

Virtual Voices

Don’t you worry, miss Basil, this is just a plug. It’s perfectly ordinary. Just like the ones for electricity. This one is for oxygen, as it says on the label. And the one next to it, that’s for air. Nothing to worry about, miss Basil. And some patients need it, too.“

Here they go again. Would this be round eight? Or twelve? The solidly built nurse with the jolly good temper not hiding her burn out has to explain the function of the plug. Whenever she enters the room. For whichever purpose. Miss Basil, the patient in the bed next to the window, is convinced to hear a voice. She identified the oxygen plug as the source. Demands to have it sealed. Miss Chole watches from the opposite bed. She tried and failed to keep count of the exchanges. Her side the room lacks the customary TV. She gets to watch miss Basil instead.

And what a well of entertaining anomalies the lady is. Used to be on antipsychotics. When she arrived on the ward, a young lady doctor tried to talk her into resuming the medication. A non-starter. According to miss Basil, these terrible drugs cause constipation. Makes them contraindicated in her case. She had to be admitted in emergency mode because of an inert bowel. She’s certainly not going to swallow anything bound to further worsen her condition. The valiant doctor tried to point out that making do without the antipsychotic didn’t exactly improve her gastrointestinal status, meaning resumption of administration might be harmless. Nice try.

Miss Basil didn’t even deign reply. Her fierce look signalled clearly enough what would happen if anyone tried to force her ever to take that stuff again. And who would want to send a thin little lady crying? Especially one with a hump. She’s enough of a mess already.

The long dark brown hair of a girl frames a greyish-white face so stuck in perpetual resentment you assume she’s going to start sobbing any second. Small wonder, with her biography.

Over meals, miss Basil insists on divulging tons of personal details. After an unspecified career as a studied musician she has been on disability benefits for twenty years. Left the work force because of bulimia aggravated by an addiction to tranquillisers. An expensive combination. To make ends meet, she had to develop kleptomania on top. She readily describes how she used to list her food and drug expenses, juxtaposed to the savings generated by her shoplifting. Sounds proud to have been such a bad girl, right until she fell seriously ill.

Her new career as a professional patient started last year. First, she broke a vertebra. The incident left her with the hump, and a catastrophic prognosis. The orthopaedic team told her this wouldn’t be her last fracture. Her chronic malnutrition had caused osteoporosis. High time to start eating properly, if she wanted to escape the wheelchair.

Miss Basil dutifully proceeded as told, only to discover she couldn’t. Her misused stomach had slipped through a hole in her diaphragm. To get fit for the recommended surgery, she had to wean herself of the tranquilizers. This involved a couple of weeks in a mental health institution, where they put her on antipsychotics. The stomach relocation surgery went well, in principle. She has regained her ability to eat. But her bowels don’t move. Hence the readmission.

Having discovered her former way of life harmed her body, Miss Basil currently plans an autobiography. For the benefit of girls tempted by pro anorexia groups. She used to get praised for her nicely crafted letters, she’s bound to make an excellent writer. Unfortunately, she’s an offline person. Without access to any computer, never mind the internet. When miss Chole suggested to start with a blog, to check if there is an audience for one more bulimia book, she drew a blank.

In the specific context of having to spend three days with three strangers, Miss Basil is a treat.

So was the young lady with the baby. A nurse working at this same hospital, currently supposed to enjoy maternity leave. Stupid timing, to come down with appendicitis when your youngest kid is a mere eight months old. Both fellow patients and staff got enrolled to provide distraction. Making stupid noises and fetching diapers can be quite entertaining, in the absence of any alternative.

The lady with the baby was soon replaced by a half day stand. Miss Dalton arrived at 10 am to be gone again by 11 pm, after a tiny procedure. She’s seriously stressed. Not because of her surgery. That’s just one more minor inconvenience. Same as the acute hearing loss she suffered two weeks ago. Neither fun nor problem. What really gets her down is trouble with her senile dad. He used to be in a care home. Had to be hospitalised four weeks ago. Now he refuses to be returned to his residence. Insists on living with one of his three daughters instead. They offered to sponsor domestic help. Or a better care home. He turned vitriolic in response. Big mess.

Same for miss Aderbeen. Three tubes connected to her body, as opposed to just one for the other three patients. This makes her the resident intensive care case. But that’s not her problem. She would be perfectly able to cope with a little hysterectomy. What stresses her out is her stupid SIM card. The devilish device chose this most inopportune of days to fail her. First her PIN didn’t get accepted. Then the husband she called for help failed to find the PUK. When he finally called back, after thirty agonising minutes, the PUK malfunctioned as well. And he’s on laxatives because of a gastroscopy scheduled for the next day. He can’t drive over to bring the spare phone. Calamity.

“Don’t you hear it? I admit it’s faint. It’s barely audible above the noise from the TV. But it’s there all right. It very clearly states ‘you should have gotten yourself a family, now you will die all alone and lonely’. Over and over. If perhaps we used one of your chewing gums, to fill the plug? This should shut it up.” Miss Basil glances longingly at miss Chole’s busy jaws.

One can’t just damage hospital property to boost the mood of a roommate. But upsetting someone who insists on hearing voices doesn’t feel like a recipe for a peaceful night, either. Miss Chole takes her time to come up with a carefully calibrated response.

“We can’t do that. It probably wouldn’t help anyway. I can’t hear the voice now, whereas you obviously can. Chances are it will stay that way. Chewing gum is supposed to provide lousy sound insulation.” That last sentence, uttered with the confidence of a subject matter expert, does the trick. For the moment. Miss Basil discards the chewing gum option and resumes staring at the oxygen plug. The peace won’t last. Some sustainable distraction is needed.

Miss Darbun, the late night arrival who inherited miss Dalton’s bed, shouldn’t be on this pelvic surgical ward. Her migraine clearly identifies her as a neurological case. Officially, she’s in attendance because this was the only empty slot available at short notice. Informally, anyone familiar with the concept of bariatric surgery for extreme adiposity assumes her presence is a subtle joke, courtesy of the A&E shift. She’s fat. And turns out to be clever, on top.

„Can’t you tell the idiot in your oxygen plug a third of women make do without a family? They are statistically more prone to happiness than their more fecund counterparts. I mean, I don’t hear that voice. But if anyone dared throw this kind of bullshit at me, I would sure tell him to stuff it. Or go ask my fiancé, about how to lead a happy sex life. Without adding to overpopulation.“

A short period of silence ensues.

Miss Aderbeen is neither used to foul language, nor to speaking up against it. Her husband takes care of this type of incidents.

Miss Basil recalls one of her eating disorder therapy groups. Adipose girls are supposed to use their body fat as a shield, to fend of intimacy. No one mentioned fiancés in their context.

Miss Chole ponders recruiting miss Darbun for a stand against the crucifix on the wall and the big fat black bible in each cupboard. This is a municipal hospital, not some church venue. If the fat lady is as ruthless a feminist as her remark suggests, there could be a revolt in the making.

The silence doesn’t last long enough for any of the patients to come up with an initiative.

„Siri would like to meet the oxygen plug. Sounds like a soulmate. And there is no such thing as overpopulation, as far as humans are concerned. You folks just do go vegan, and you’ll be fine. What you need to watch is the European anopheles swarms. Don’t do anything about that very real overpopulation, you’ll succumb to malaria by the millions. Talking of feeding habits: My charger needs to be plugged in. Just mentioning, in case you want to watch the evening news later on.“

Miss Basil collapses in a sob of joy. This voice is much louder than the one from the oxygen plug it just confirmed. A hospital cupboard is an unusual source, but who cares? And all three ladies very obviously heard it. Never again will she get talked into taking antipsychotics.

Miss Chole makes a mental note to discreetly remove her iPhone 10 from the cupboard the next time miss Basil disappears for one of her unsuccessful toilet breaks. The latest Siri version does get a bit uppity, at times. But you have to admit it’s far more versatile than its predecessors.

First episode hurrah

This first episode of the 1kYears series was so much fun to write I’m at advanced risk of jumping right on to the next one, instead of starting work on Parole?, the next long format. Bad Troim.

It’s probably the Dilbert angle of the 1kYears project. A completely fictional global IT service provider, located in a non-existent megalopolis, with an improbable cast of impossibly diverse staff.

Feeling at home already? Looking forward to read about an even more messy workplace than your own, and a worse commute?

Well, there is even more. Immortality looms. Sort of. For nerds. Preferably non-religious ones. Who fancy LGBT pride. In a black majority environment. That would be overdoing it?

This is science fiction, folks, not the social science section of your favourite online news channel. So please do brace yourself and read:

The new client

It’s free, too. Doing a bit of socialism here. But please post who much you would be willing to pay, in case it wasn’t free. 99 cents would be the suggested price tag. Any takers at that rate?

 

Carpe Diem

What a difference two nights can make. Spending them in a hospital, after undergoing extremely minor and totally successful surgery, has a way of sharpening your mortality awareness. This in turn can lead to all kinds of unexpected non-medical side effects.

Less than a month ago, the plan was to submit Think-o-mat to three agents. A mere three agent profiles to assess. A mere three emails to edit. A mere submission guidelines to follow. Impossible not to find a time slot for such a tiny task.

Well, come again. And forget it. Life is short. Fun needs to be maximised. Submissions don’t qualify. Whereas publishing on Smashwords turned out to be easier than the implementation of pharmaceutical industry eCTD guidance that happens to be part of my day job.  Why should I pretend to aim for most probably unrealistic conventional publishing if such simple means do the job? Down goes the to-do list. Up shoots the life satisfaction index.

The new client“, pilot episode of the brand-new 1KYears series, was the proof of concept. The Plugger stuff will migrate to Smashwords once the required PayPal account becomes available and potential issues because of the pre-publishing on this site are resolved. Think-o-mat to follow as soon as copyright registration is confirmed.

 

Three submissions

Writing fiction is tremendous fun, but by the last chapters long format projects tend to turn into a bit of a tedium, as described and tentatively analysed in a previous post. No problem, though, won’t happen again for at least a year, now is hurrah time:

Think-o-mat has been defined completed.

And another dreaded task, writing the corresponding synopsis, has been diligently performed. So far, so milestones.

Now for one more first: The task of submitting aforementioned product, if product status it may reach, to agencies.

After some research and soul searching, three literary agents have been selected for pitching. Yes, three. Three as in 3. Only three.

According to LinkedIn wisdom, thirty plus submissions seem to be considered a must for any newbie author, especially one with as exquisite a selection of handicaps as poor hopeless me. Thirty?!

Come again, folks. Having approached this new task with the kind of open-mindedness essential to keep me performing in my day job, I hereby declare, authoritatively: Thirty is impossible.

Pitching is not a task you can hand over to an assistant, except perhaps in the case of a select few well known authors who won’t need to do that much if it anyway. In my by now lightly informed opinion. It’s mandatory to perform this duty personally, to make sure the first impression is confirmed in the actual work. Just imagine a native English speaker submitting my kind of output. Wasted time and frustration guaranteed, certainly no path to a win-win.

Thirty plus submissions can only mean one of two things:

  • Either you use some sort of bland all purpose template, making only minor adjustments that won’t succeed in conveying an impression of considered targeting.
  • Or you do it properly and end up spending more time browsing agency websites, trundling through submission guidelines and editing pitches than on your actual fiction writing.

The latter is of course justified if you’re convinced your work will become the next library and box office hit, or a Booker Nobel YouNameIt prize, if only an agent got you a publisher. OK. Point taken. I’m a reader and don’t want to miss that one. This situation calls for perseverance. Keep up the good pitching, by all means!

But this is not my type of situation. The same blatant lack of delusion that helps me make good bucks in my day job clearly tells me that my writing has every chance to be considered rubbish, certainly by an audience of native English speakers, most probably also in general. I’m a compulsive writer and enjoy both the writing and reading my own stuff, but a confirmed hooked audience of one doesn’t imply the existence of a wider public. If ever there happens to be a willing readership only waiting for this to hit the (e-)shelves, at least one of three experienced agents will notice and react. If there isn’t, I get myself one more copyright certificate, just in case, have the admin reset Think-o-mat to free access and move on.

Mad old bark

Again?! Bloody pests, why can’t they just go easy, for a change? Indigestion guaranteed, with them around. There can be too much of a good thing. Food aplenty is good in principle. Makes you grow big and strong. But overshooting four seasons in a row, that’s an aberration. Mour feels obscene. Waking up to this kind of trunk expansion should be prohibited. Time to do something about this disaster. It has lasted far too long already. Shouting should help. A proven remedy, against all kinds of nuisances. But only in the presence of an audience.

“Veira? Iscas? Li? Anyone around? You lot turned mute, or what? What kind of bloody cycle is this? And why do I wake up to yet another binge? This was supposed to be ephemeral, right? Li, you promised it wouldn’t last much longer. Well, it ephemeral-my-root-rot does. So what now? Any ideas, anyone?” Mour feels the hot flush of indignation rushing through his bulky shape. That’s an advantage, of boom times. Surplus food allows you to get real angry.

“Relax, Mour. Shouting won’t help. Yes, the bloody nuisances are still around. Even more of them than in the last season, by the feel of it. So what? Let’s look at the bright side. At least we’re not going to starve, right? As long as we’re standing, we’re just fine. It’s pretty fascinating, isn’t it? Them going to such lengths to feed us? Who’d have thought. Valuable learning, in my opinion. For when we try again. Or if ever we need to survive seriously lean times. We just kick these off once aga…” Li would have gone on, in the cheerful way of the seriously senile.

Except Mour won’t have it. If there is one irritation he hates even more than being force fed second helpings on waking up, it’s unwarranted optimism. He cuts in: “Shut up, Li. I’m not in that kind of mood. Yes, we can and will survive this. We always do. No, that’s not enough. You’re old, you don’t understand. You’ve had plenty of properly balanced seasons to enjoy. But me, I’m young. I’ve had enough. I want a life. I want them disbanded, now. That’s the fourth season, Li. The fourth! In a row! This stupid experiment has lasted long enough. Triggering sentience in bipeds was a bad idea. A very bad idea. Our ancestors thought these would do better than the octopeds. Well, they don’t. Plain fact, case closed. Now we need to get rid of them. How do we do it?”

Li sighs. One is supposed to enjoy the presence of youngsters. But this particular juvenile has a talent for ruining what would otherwise be a perfectly nice season. Important not to shout back, though. He will have to spend his precious few remaining cycles in this hot tempered company. This calls for a didactical approach: “Glad to hear your vigor, Mour. You’re  right, the bipeds are a bit of a nuisance. But extermination, that’s not how we do things. One intervention on the mobiles every one thousand cycles, that’s the maximum the rules allow. And rightly so. These experiments need to run their course. Takes a while, to get a clear picture. Even with such a short lived species. You need to observe a lot of generations. The bipeds seemed to be going strong, not so long ago. Looked pretty sustainable, despite their upgraded brains. Not harmless, but susta…”

Mour won’t let a doddery senior interfere with his urge to kill: “Li! I’m not attending this party to talk science, for a wet heavens sake! I asked you how to get rid of the pests. If there is a rule against it, there must be a way. How is it done? What’s the trick?” Mour is curious now. Living in such a small group dominated by seniors is a tough fate for a young sentience. But there are nuggets of wisdom buried underneath the progressing dementia. The parties are much better on the other hill, where over two hundred kids celebrate their second birthday. Whereas here, you get a chance to learn things. All wisdom accumulated over the generations is of course accessible to all of them. But it takes many seasons to make sense of it. Li must be over forty. At least. He knows stuff.

“Did you guys even notice how the shoreline seems to have changed, again? Is that the waves rumbling closer, or what? Li, hate to interfere with your lecture, but this is an emergency. We’re still out of reach of the waves, yes please?” Iscas is tense, expecting the worst. His attention is fully focused on the Atlantic Ocean bashing the feet of their low cliff.

Hearing this shaky voice, Li recalls how nervous a kid Iscas used to be. Even before he got hurt in a thunderstorm. Happened when he was eight. Now he’s approaching twenty, and a penchant for a carefully measured approach has turned into an outright anxiety disorder. The ocean is down there, they are up here. No problem. Except… Li checks his sensors again. Mighty meteorite! There is a problem in the making, after all. Not with the shoreline. But underneath. Salt water is infiltrating the ground. Couple of cycles down, this could indeed cause trouble. Lethal trouble. Not for Li himself, he has grown his course. But the others better enjoy the good times while they last. Should he warn them? Rather not. Mour would waste the remaining seasons on shouting, Iscas on tearful screams. Not an attractive prospect, for an unaffected bystander. Would the imminent danger jolt Veira out of his sulk? He decided never to talk to them again five cycles ago, after one more row over the frequency of apocalyptic solar eclipses. Statistics and probabilities, they really get Veira going. He’s a mere thirty eight, but very convinced of his intellectual superiority.

“Li, I’m talking to you! And it’s not just me. Iscas raised a question, too. If we’re not allowed to exterminate the bipeds, is there at least a way to reconfigure them, to stop them stuffing us? I can feel your patterns, Li, you’re holding back. That’s not fair, not to share knowledge.” Mour pushes the one button than works on the oldie. Appealing to his fairness should do the trick.

Li is glad the shore issue has been sidelined. To keep the conversation on the bipedal pest track, he decides to grant his young companions a glimpse of their might: “It’s of course possible to reprogram the bipeds. They’re DNA based, like all live forms. And they like to eat our fruit. Perfectly easy, to introduce a DNA altering agent. We sent them brainy, we can of course switch them back. Some of them. That’s the problem, Mour. The clever ones tend to survive. Once you’ve triggered sentience in one kind of mobiles, you have to wait it out, preferred option. Or to induce intelligence in the next kind, hazardous plan b option. Let’s say, for example, we decided to upgrade the biwings currently nesting in your crown, Mour. It would be pretty easy, to turn them more clever than the bipeds. And their generational rhythm is even faster. Shouldn’t take them more than a couple of cycles, to replace the bipeds as the dominant species. But they’ll probably fuck up, too, in the longer run. That’s the problem, with mobiles. They can’t handle sentience…”

Mour cuts in once again: “You’re kidding, Li, aren’t you? These little tweep tweeps, they can’t possibly be turned intelligent? They would never be able to handle an upgrade. Wouldn’t know what to make of it. What’s so funny, why you’re laughing?”

Li calms down to answer: “See, Mour, that’s the whole point. That’s why we do it. It’s interesting. You can’t anticipate what they’ll make of it. Not even a mighty statistician like Veira here can tell you in advance what the civilization of a particular species of mobiles will look like. It’s so creative. The ultimate art. For example, the octopeds, most guys daring a prognosis would have guessed…”

The breeze is on once again, the early morning lull is over. A bright sunshine day, not one cloud on the horizon. Even the mighty Atlantic waves seem to be rolling in more gently than usual. So peaceful. Such a contrast to Li’s tale. Apogees of vice and violence characterized the Tarantulean. The octoped civilization went after everything. Each other. Other species. On and off planet. Exterminated a full eighty percent of life forms, before they were brought down by a virus they had engineered as a biological weapon. Only minuscule shadows of their former selves, dumbed down and harmless, grace the planet these days. Good riddance.

Li enjoys himself. What a wonderful cycle. Lecturing the kids is his favorite pastime. One of the last remaining pleasures past middle age. And the Tarantulean was at least an interesting period. Totally different scale of entertainment. Rooting through the records of the octoped exploits as compiled by generations of diligent chroniclers, Li once again regrets to have grown in the wrong era. The bipeds are so boring. Not even achieving space travel. Nor making any serious attempts at living underground or underwater. Just crawling the surface in ever greater numbers. Plain boring lack of ambition. All mobiles turn vicious, once endowed with intelligence. Seems to be an eternal rule of nature. So be it. But they should at least strive to make it an interesting kind of vice. But the bipeds are just boring. Like the ones that come trampling up the hill.

“Dad, there is a sign. Can you read the sign, dad? Is that Portuguese, dad? What does it say?” The kid has reached the top of the cliff ahead of his parents and longs for anything to disrupt the tedious hiking routine. Nothing but stupid landscape to look at for at least an hour, that’s not a holiday, that feels like a punishment. They could at least have put up some interactive educationals, to make up for nothing of interest ever happening here.

Dad has put out his smart phone to make sense of the sign and provides clarification: “Yes, Darek, this is Portuguese indeed. But only the second part, the explanation. The first bit is Latin. ‘Oliva Europea’ is the Latin name of the olive tree. Wow, now look at this, who’d have thought? The tree in the middle, the big one, it has been carbon dated to at least 1,960 years. Two thousand years old, can you imagine? This tree was here before Columbus set sail for America. Wow!”

His wife cuts in, slightly impatient: “Never mind Columbus, darling, you’ll only end up confusing the boy. What daddy meant to say, Darek, is that this tree witnessed the time of Cesar, when the Romans ruled Europe. Like in your comic book, you know?”

Dad is glad for the search engine once again assisting with dignity preservation. It’s his role to introduce his son to science as he’s perfectly able to perform: “It also says here that there seems to be more to the humble olive tree than the banal appearance suggests. With something called a PCR method they have discovered that the trees undergo subtle genetic changes. Every thirty five years, their metabolism speeds up and a peculiar pattern occurs. This tree being 1,960 years old, the pattern will have happened 56 times. And guess what, it’s on now.”

The boy dutifully looks at the trees once again. Nothing happening. Boring. He longs to get back to their holiday apartment. There is an old computer with a wicked game. You get to kill huge spiders.

Last stretch urge

Spent months loving, nurturing, developing, refining and generally never getting enough of my cast. Reach chapter 9 out of 10 and  wham, change of mindset. I just want to get it over with. AFAP.

Judging by what happened with the Pluggers, the last stretch of  Think-o-mat will again consist of a fortnight of tedium. Writing fast and under unfavorable conditions, to get it done. Rewriting a lot, because this way of proceeding ruins a style that is pretty bad in the first place. Without managing to maintain more than a semblance of the low standard achieved in the previous chapters. The last stretch is as much fun as sorting bills. Why?

There isn’t much significance to be gleaned from a sample of two, but twice is much better than no repeatability and now is the perfect time* to speculate about what causes the phenomenon:

  1. The actual fun is less in the writing than in the development of the characters. On the last stretch, they are all set in their ways, the story just rolls on to its denouement. This turns the creative process = fun into work = tedium.
  2. Reaching the end there is no longer any escape from the fact that this is all one big pile of rubbish that should never have been written. The plot, the cast, the style, it all doesn’t make one bit of sense. The daily dire doubts on steroids, minus the chance to escape into plotting the next step.
  3. Writing the finale is no worse than the earlier phases, but awareness of the approaching ordeal ruins the experience. Like trying to enjoy a good movie when you’ve got a dentist appointment scheduled right after it.  Synopsis writing and handling publishing questions would be the root canal therapy equivalents in the authoring business.
  4. Knowing that once cherished characters will soon be abandoned to their very well known fates calls for emotional stabilization, which triggers a kind of premature mourning. If it was still fun, how would you manage to stop writing at the target point?

Enough speculation. A bigger sample is needed first. Perfect time* to ask the subject matter experts on LinkedIn if they struggle with some sort of last stretch phenomenon.

*Perfect time is an euphemism for active shirking. You can only write one piece at any given time. Blogging and posting on LinkedIn postpones the drudge. Oh, and it’s a new month, too. Words to go and the Aspiring Writers Short Story Challenge call for action.

 

Alt Left SciFi pitch

Some amazing advice kindly provided by Ariel Ayangwo:

Eight Ways to Spark More Social Shares on Your Content Fast

It’s targeted at bloggers, but Ariel’s 4U-rule can easily be applied  to fiction writing. The corresponding Alt Left SciFi pitch reads:

  1. Useful: Feeling challenged? Your life no paradise? Regardless of whether you love or hate the changes affecting the world as we know it, Alt Left SciFi will provide distraction while raising your privilege awareness. And up goes the happiness score.
  2. Unique:  Authentic non-native business English, scientific affairs and multination company experience applied to storytelling. Alt Left SciFi plot cores will pass as promising business plans at the height of a corresponding tech boom.
  3. Ultra specific: If you are a member of the non-Anglo corporate or scientific frequent flyer tribe, you will feel at home in Alt Left SciFi. Same for supporting professions. But beware: We are not alone and you won’t feel worshipped.
  4. Urgency: Enjoy it while it lasts! The “Alt” gracing “Alt Left SciFi”  owes its presence to the high probability of upcoming changes. While the plot cores are no more factual than fake news, any look into any history book will tell you that a certain level of inequality calls for a rebalancing, if and when it becomes evident to a sufficient number of sufficiently apt people. Conventional Left promises utopias, Alt Left SciFi predicts transitions. Read Plugger stuff or register as beta-reader for Think-o-mat now to get ready for a dynamic future.

Inside the box

“It’s no worse than an office or a cubicle, Elisa. Will you stop making a fuzz? People were upset, when the first open space workplaces appeared, you know? Saw a documentary about this. One day the workers had each their own office. The next they were assigned cubicles, in a large common room. They suddenly were confronted to each other. Some made a fuzz.”.

Noticing the lack of affirmative response, Sharifa raises her voice: “Why am I telling you this, Elisa? Why talk about offices and cubicles? To remind you that you’ve got a perfectly nice job, of course. Now you go do it. The working conditions are fine. You said so yourself. You told me about the health & safety inspection. You mentioned the certificate confirming everything is in good order. What more do you want? Don’t try telling me you’d prefer to live on basic universal…”.

Elisa, still standing in front of the building, does hate it. Them. Everything. The building, for being her workplace. The raindrops on her glasses, for impeding her vision. The augmented reality feed is all blurred, too. She also hates the rain as such, for making a bad morning even worse. This should be a special day. And the plug inside her left ear, she hates that one, too. For delivering unwelcome encouragement. And Sharifa… No, not Sharifa. She’s not a problem, she’s a solution. Even if she currently sounds like one more mistake. Sharifa is an improvement, compared to her former flat mate. Polymeros, he was a disaster.

Elisa would love to be good at words. Why is it so hard, for Sharifa, to understand she can’t keep doing this? This so called job is an aberration. It’s inhumane, to spent your days at the mercy of weird people. Offices? Cubicles? As if this was just another call center. Some vile clients enjoy their flat rate subscriptions with the RHHB, the Regional Health and Happiness Board. HH as in haha. The acronym is the perfect misrepresentation of average employee job satisfaction.

At the other end, Sharifa takes a deep breath. Freaking out won’t work. She has to play this cool. Slouching on a bean bag chair, vintage 2012, she takes a sip from the replica one-way coffee-to-go cup before resuming the pep talk. Elisa can be so… complicated. Two hours ago, her flat mate stood up, went to the bathroom, had breakfast, summoned a commutopod, folded herself into the guaranteed harassment free mono compartment and rolled off, without one single complaint. Now that she’s there, right in front of her workplace, she starts arguing. Stupid. No wonder she wasn’t considered viable for any more intellectual occupation.

“What’s not to like, Elisa? It’s safe, it’s inside, it’s technology-driven, it’s hygienic,… Your job delivers good marks on pretty much any scales anyone can come up with. Just think of the poor field scavengers following the harvesters. They at least have a reason to complain. Even your hours are good. Every fourth week. When you’re on the 08:00 to 14:00 shift. As you are now. As I hopefully won’t need reminding you. Please look at the watch in your glasses to check, if you don’t believe me. And while you’re at it, please do notice you’re running out of time. If you keep idling in front of that building, you will have to dress up at speed. Don’t you come home moaning about how you had to endure a crease in the gear pinching you mad for six hours…”.

Sharifa trails off again. Sarcasm doesn’t work, on Elisa. She needs a gentle hand. Gentle, but firm. Even for the early shift, the most harmless of the four. Most roboes, as RHHB staff call themselves, are quite comfortable with the early shift. It’s mainly about exercise and shopping, interspersed with a bit of wellness and very few odd requests. Late shifts are far more rowdy. And only the most seasoned and thick skinned employees manage to handle a full week on one of the night shifts without resorting to doping. Antidepressants, mostly.

Sharifa sits up to have another go at exhortations when the little dot on the monitor wall starts moving again. And in the right direction, too. Five more meters. Up the stairs. This is the lock. Hurrah, Elisa is inside. A major milestone. All is not yet won, though. She could still turn around and call it quits. As long as she’s not geared up and plugged in, escape is possible.

This is exactly what Elisa is thinking about, wandering through the hall to reach the elevator. But you don’t get out without an interview. If you try to leave before having performed according to the shift schedule, you will have to explain your motives. All roboes end up in that interview at least once in their careers. Typically early on, in their first or second week. 

It starts harmlessly enough. You get to select your preferred type of voice for the artificial intelligence in charge of human resources: Male, female or hard to tell? Old, young or hard to tell? Intonation oriental, orientav, orienty or plain glob? For anglotrads, please add @ to confirm you claim minority status and wish to be addressed in a complex ancient language.

That’s how the interview starts. Two hours later, you feel like a pile of trash, for having considered leaving without performing. ‘Retroactive depersuasion’, that’s what they call this management technique. Elisa shivers. A six hour shift is bad. Getting interviewed by HR is equally bad. She would like to dissolve into thin air, to avoid both options.

Some of the roboes love to speculate, for hours, about the interview algorithm. It’s supposed to be based on a matrix combining your choice of linguistic interface with your profile. One legend has it that the @ will spare you the worst, whatever your origins and educational achievements. But you need to be more than a bit crazy, to actively claim anglotrad status. Asking to be mobbed, that is. And what if you don’t manage to make sense of the questions? Replete with nuances, the antique lingos. Anglotrad is supposed to be more straightforward than Aramaic, but…

Elisa asked Sharifa for her opinion, on the @ legend, and she just laughed. If Artificial Intelligence algorithms were that simple, she would have made it through the computer science selection process easy. Instead of hitting the wall at level five out of eight and being made to earn the means for her vintage tastes as a mere human medical procedure interface. Better than a roboe, but not a career you proudly mention in sophisticated company. You can’t second guess an artificial intelligence, dumbo. Why not put humans in charge of running RHHB, while you’re at it?

Of all the people Elisa doesn’t like to meet it has to be Polymeros joining her in the elevator. Brimming with service mentality, as usual: “Elisa, isn’t this one wonderful Wednesday? Can’t wait to get online! Just hope it’s not too quiet. Seems like a bit of a lull, lately, doesn’t it? RHHB really need to do more marketing, no offense intended. I had three breaks, yesterday, three! In just one shift! And the longest lasted for upwards of four minutes. Felt like a holiday. I immediately cancelled one of my five days of annual leave, to make up for it…”.

Elisa would love the elevator to accelerate. Instead, it stops at level three. She should have opted for the session with the artificial intelligence. Anything is better than Polymeros. If he got his head stuck into a toilet bowl, you can bet he would scream: “Oh, lovely, a waterfall!”.

She doesn’t know the new entrant by name, but she (most probably she) looks nice sad enough. Especially by comparison. Anything is better than a one-on-one with Polymeros. And she (or would that be he after all?) had business on level three. At this hour, he most probably tried his luck at requesting a reassignment. Only two services, on level three. Vocational counseling and Accident & Emergencies. If you count the row of padded cells as part of A&E, which you should. Nervous overstretch is their biggest occupational hazard.

“…, that would be so nice! Or one more marshmallow addict. Love marshmallow addicts! Did you ever get one of these, Elisa? My last one, he went up to forty six. Forty six! Amazing, what this does to your metabolism. Went on a real high, wanted to keep going. But the emergency stop got triggered. Pity. Whereas your average fancy dress fan, not much happening. You really need to think of an extra, to turn this kind of performance into an experience. Like last night, for example. Because I volunteered for an additional early night shift. Was boring out at home. Just dressing up into a 1899 swimsuit would have been a terrible dud. So I ordered some ice cold water, added a couple of blue ice cubes for additional visual, and splash,…”.

Elisa is glad to see the third floor entrant sharing her feelings. Polymeros, and anyone of his persuasion, will be the first to go when the revolution comes. Perhaps they could be relocated to an island all of their own, the service mentals. Elisa longs for a humane revolution. No killings. Just some gentle relocations. Even though the likes of Polymeros don’t deserve kind treatment. They are every bit as bad as the job itself. Humiliating yourself to provide clients with a live flow of virtual experiences, that’s horrible. Becoming intimately associated with people fancying vanilla pudding, pints of extra sweet vanilla pudding, does ruin your emphatic inclinations. But coworkers pretending to like this nightmare of a job, they are the worst. 

Level eight, finally. Elisa doesn’t want to arrive. But at least she’s getting rid of Polymeros. He rides on to level twelve. Fishy, level twelve. Lots of service mentals. You wonder if they were mad before getting their performance space assigned, or if it’s the level turning them into freaks.

Sharifa was right to tell her to hurry. Elisa is late and has to stop brooding, to put on the captor harness as fast as possible. It might look like a blue catsuit completely covering the roboe’s body, including most of the face, but it is fiendishly difficult to adjust. All sensors need to be in exactly the right place. Feverishly tapping commands on the touchscreen, Elisa forces the material to adapt. All 120 captor point dots need to switch from red to green.

Currently, it’s all green all right. No red dots on display. Except her left ankle feels like shackled. Trying to reposition the captor promptly turns the dot back to red. Bloody fuck-up of a useless technology, will you behave now? It takes her two more attempts to finally achieve both a green dot and a bearable sensation. Someone really should invent a less tight captor harness. But trust the designers not to care. They don’t get to wear this.

Blue. Why does this place have to be so blue? The floor, the walls, the ceiling, the 3D outline of Elisa’s own body, all blue. Only exception: The red emergency stop button that has materialized on the display, next to the countdown signaling she will be online in twelve seconds.

Originally, the red button was intended to provide the roboes with the means to get rid of customers requesting inappropriate action. There are guidelines, and there is a filter, of course. RHHB worries about the potential for scandal anyway. A big company is just one staff error away from fatal scandal, according to Elisa’s trainer. He emphasized their right to cut off customers. In case of improper requests, they are to terminate the connection, at once. Complaint management will handle the rest, including apologies and refunds where necessary. RHHB is a principled employer who will not put staff in harms way.

The emergency stop in practice mostly serves as a pause button. The coffee break concept didn’t make it into modern shift arrangements. But bio breaks are hard to avoid, if you rely on human staff. The sensory stand-in for a customer sampling teas to decide which blend to order will need a bio break, at some stage. Even an artificial intelligence with only the most virtual grasp of the inconveniences associated with a full bladder can accept that input has to be followed by output. And that the next customer is sure to complain, if his experience is perturbed by sensory remnants of previous assignments. RHHB offers a premium service. The clients are made to believe the roboes idle around most of the day, only waiting for them to come up with an idea.

Three, two, one, could have been worse. Elisa’s first job of the day is a workout. To be performed in the body shape of a man. In his fifties. With a serious body mass issue. She looks horrid in this shape. He is sure to have photoshopped the 3D projection to make himself feel good about his appearance. But he’s horrid. The Superman shirt, his idea, makes esthetics worse. But a workout is good. Exercise is fine. Keeps you trim. Allows you to get rid of all the angry feelings.

Amazing how many people believe that remotely experiencing some of the sensations of a roboe exercising on your behalf makes you loose weight. Urban legends…

Elisa puts her heart into it. In her own body shape, this could be borderline pleasant. But doing it for someone else is so degrading. And she has another fourteen years to go. She feels like blowing up the whole place. You don’t get used to this. You can do it for fifty one years, and still hate every single day. And this is no way to celebrate your seventy first birthday.

We are not alone

Really love a post by Elisabeth Giovani on LinkedIn, about the scares and doubts about not writing in our mother languages. Feels good not to be alone, shared scares are lighter scares!

Funny, though, how we automatically refer to native speakers as arbiters who might grant or refuse us permission to write in English. As if they were familiar with the language we are using.

The globalized non-native English speakers and writers, talking mostly non-fiction here,  have developed their own codes and good verbalization practices, as anyone working in an international environment can testify. The rules are fairly straightforward:

  • Keep it simple: The sentence structure or syntax, the vocabulary, the references, the metaphors, all of what you say or write.
  • Forget about stylistic aspirations. Achieving comprehension is hard enough without additional handicaps.
  • Try to avoid cultural references that don’t travel easily. Keep in mind that your Fridays are some else’s Sundays.
  • Think before joking. Humor has the nasty tendency to rely on prejudices that might well be mutually exclusive.

In the world of anglophone non-fiction, you get training to understand what you’re up against and learn these rules. Forget abut elegance. Keep it simple or the plane won’t fly. Those who are not willing to adjust don’t last long.

Making a living in this universe doesn’t prepare you well for encounters with the anglophone fiction writers guild. Turns out the bad English we have been using for decades didn’t make it into this particular sphere. OK, point taken. Think-o-mat is too well advanced to reformat the American and British characters. Starting with the following project, the full cast and the narrator will be non-native speakers. Pity there are no non-native agents and publishers.