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Ether Mind

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Monday, June 15, 2015

Attack of the Nazi-Bots

Up on a rocky crag, upon the craggy rocks, a broken castle squatted like a Titanic gargoyle, peering inscrutably at the desolate field below. A hundred shattered walls folded around the keep like stone wings, and a hundred dark eye sockets gazed unblinking. Each night, when the Sun passed beyond the horizon and night fell, perhaps for the last time, dark clouds would gather and hurl lightning like angry spirits. This night, the poltergeist was fierce.

Festering in the distended bowels of the dungeon, a strange society met.

“Brenda! It’s so good to see you!” gushed Mary Sue Lawrence. “How’s Michael doing?”
“He’s doing fine,” said Brenda, pushing back the hood of her crimson ceremonial robe. “He loves to complain about not being able to mow the lawn, because he can complain all weekend and not actually have to mow the lawn. Before he could only complain about mowing it for an hour on Saturday.”

Mary Sue giggled. “Men. You know I can mow the lawn as well as any man, but they want to feel that pride of battling nature and doing the tough work the ladies supposedly can’t. You know I used to do hedge sculptures-”

Mary Sue was suddenly cut off by a blood curdling shriek, just as the lights went out. The guests were left in terrified pitch blackness for a heartbeat, and then the lights came back on. There was scattered laughter as everyone looked at each other. The Space Mask cosplayers stopped their awkward dancing.

“All right, was someone ‘murdered?’ asked Jim slurriedly. That’s quickly, yet unclearly. Clearly. “How about you ladies? See any ‘stiffs’ around here?”

Brenda cringed away from Jim’s creepiness, while Mary Sue quickly pulled a yellow card from her designer purse and held it up to protect them. It consisted on the word “OK” with a red circle around it and a red diagonal slash through it. Jim sighed and slouched away.

“It’s ok, Jim.” said a large, lardy lad in a tabard. “They won’t report you to Penny.”

“Where is she anyway?” asked a frizzy, yet lively woman. Her toga was white and dappled with paint, as if she wanted to give the impression of being an artist. “She was supposed to bring the Karaoke.”

“And she’s our only normal friend,” said Jim sadly.

"Let's forget our troubles with a ten hour round of Space Mask role-playing," suggested the large man cheerfully. "I'll be Space Master."

"No one wants to play the role playing game you made up, Steve," said the frizzy woman patiently.

"I might," said Jim.

Meanwhile, at the Altar of Refreshments, Sister Autumn was enjoying a nibble of fine fondue from the extravagantly shimmering, lighted fountain of cheese. She basked in the attentions of her suitors. They each plied her with sweetmeats and delicacies, which she sampled with the finicking of a cat, only after the most impassioned supplications. She did not notice the blackout, as her eyes were closed in the rapture of Steppermint Essence. Once she opened them, she was the first to see the fingers slowly sinking.

“There’s a hand in the fondue,” she said dumbly, and then crashed to the floor. Her retinue fled out of the way in the nick of time, then turned to look. One of the men moaned loudly in horror. Another looked up in time to see a uniformed figure drop from the ceiling. It landed lightly, but the limp form in its inhumanly strong grip flopped and cracked sickeningly.

“Oh my god,” wailed a filipino with a lisp, “You killed Penny.”

It stepped forward awkwardly into the light of the fondue fountain. The cascade of lights, so festive when it shined on innocent cheeses, was cold and malevolent as it revealed the details of the uniform. A red armband, a white circle, and a black ideogram, the symbols of a recurring nightmare ideology that had plagued the Last Planet for aeons.

“You Nazi bastard!” the gentleman lisped in fury, before being gunned down. The Nazi swung its gaze upon the rest of the Society. Red eyes blinked mechanically, not open and closed, but on and off. Suddenly, more Nazis appeared from the entrances, dozens of them, then hundreds. They herded the society toward the center of the room, killing at a leisurely pace with found objects.

“Bull! Fire your cannon!” yelled Brenda.

An older fellow made his way as quickly as he could across the battlefield. His face showed the strain as he climbed over a fallen friend to reach his trusty cannon. Finally, he fell across it, wild-eyed in terror. “Absolutely not!” he exclaimed. “It’s in mint condition!”

“It’s up to us, Brenda!” Mary Sue shouted, eyes blazing. She pulled a yellow card from her purse and flung it, ninja-like, across the room. It hit one of the Nazis in a nigh-invisible seam and shorted it out. The thing fell, lifeless, onto the stone floor. Hydraulic oil mingled with the blood of humans.

“We can stop them!” exclaimed Brenda. “Go get’em, Mary Sue!”

“I only had one card,” said Mary Sue with a frown, before being crushed by a falling chandelier.

“The Nazis are killing everyone!” shrieked Jim.

“Don’t worry, they’re just robots,” said Bob, a chronon before he was struck down by a feloniously foraged fire-axe.

“I should have fired her when I had the chance,” said Bull sadly, resting his hand on the old cannon. A gurgling gentlemen fell to the ground, dropping his tiki torch. The mosquito-repellant flames revealed the name engraved on the gun’s chassis…. Rosebud.

* * *

“OK,” said the director. “That’s a wrap.”

The bodies of the slain began to rise from their places and shamble toward the living.

Floodlights throughout the old castle’s basement activated, as the victims began to remove their wounds and drop them into a large trash can labeled “death props.” Bull straightened up and strode energetically toward the Director.

“Deuce, can we do that last line one more time? I-”

“No.” said Deuce firmly, scratching under his traditional fedora. Drops of sweat gathered in his neckbeard. “We are screening this tomorrow night, which is actually tonight, because it’s really late, and I still need to to post-production. Your performance was great.”

The actor pulled off the Bull mask, revealing a younger, haughtier face. “Why can’t we just wait and release it at the Kansas Film Festival?”

“This is a classic morality tale. It’s all about the message, which is that authoritarian violence is wrong, and navel-gazing self indulgence is doomed. There is a third way. We need our performance to go viral before the Winter Election if we want to have an impact. Also…. tomorrow is New Year’s Eve. The day after is the New Year.”

The other actors gathered around. They looked at each other and shrugged.

“We don’t want to compete in the same awards year as the new Space Mask movie.”

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Here's an Idea

Just quit writing banal articles stereotyping "Millenials." Stop saying the word. Just... find something else to talk about. Next time you are tempted to make some kind of pithy generalization, just picture a stocky Mexican teenager learning to operate a welder. There's your Millenial. Or how about a gang member knocking out old people. In Seattle.

Bless Your Mechanical Heart

This was a decent compilation. However, the editor definitely doesn't deserve the Hugo win. Why? Well, the stories were fine individually, but collectively, a theme emerged: Robot flavored fiction. Science Fiction? Some of it did indeed explore scientific ideas, maybe. I can't remember an example off the top of my head. I'm going to say that what it really explored was FEELZ.

Yes, that is an annoying word. But aside from the Progressive / liberal / pop-culture PC talking points used as minor plot devices, flavor commentary and social commentary, there were ample FEELZ included.

Robot gets bullied. Robot falls in love, writes romantic poetry, and then dies for no reason. Robot is programmed with religion and begins judgmentally killing sinners. Robot kitty social worker helps addict, and sticks it to her greedy corporate employers. Robot rescued from dumpster obeys original programming. Robot... sleeps for a long time, and then I don't remember what happens. Not that memorable. There were a couple of Robot Soldiers, but no fighting. And let's not forget the robot who tried to find her mistress a boyfriend. That one was one of the weaker stories, especially since 1) the woman was married to a husband, and they never overcame their trauma or repaired their relationship, and 2) the science-flavored aaspects of the story were by far the worst in the collection. It literally used her husbands Hollywood-level hacking abilities as a Deus ex Machina... twice. Someone that ignorant about computers should not be allowed to write science fiction publicly.

So, read it if it sounds appealing to you, because it's a decent anthology. Maybe the editor(s) did a good job, but I couldn't really tell. All I could discern from the collection as a whole was that they picked a bunch of Pink SF stories with Robot FEELZ. There was none of the clever logic or real scientific speculation one might associate with robot stories in the vein of Asimov, Clarke, or even those mediocre 90s post-cyberpunk things.