Cut Material from The Unnoticeables

This is cut material from The Unnoticeables, the first book in my upcoming urban fantasy trilogy from Tor. The book itself won’t be out until June, 2015, with each installment to follow a year after. There wasn’t a whole lot directly cut from the book, which has to be a good sign, right? However, this section was in the first chapter and interrupted the flow a bit. “But Robert,” you say “this makes very little sense out of context.” To which I reply: “Why do you gotta be such a jerk all the time?” And then I sniffle a little bit. You monster.

The exact methods vary, from person to person: I had seen the angels before, but the first man I saw solved was a conductor named Harold, back in Lisbon.

It was 1974, two weeks after the Carnation Revolution, a mostly bloodless, beautiful little moment of peace and love that bucked the odds and won out over violence and oppression. Everybody descended to the streets with flowers in their hands, civilians mixing in with the soldiers, slipping carnations into the barrels of M16s. Into the lapels of grinning young boys in ragged uniforms who, at any other time, in any other place on Earth, might have been emptying their clips into that crowd with set jaws and hard eyes.

It was a crisp, churning mass of collective euphoria. Drivers left their cars idling on the street; mothers picked up their children and left their homes; shopkeepers left their stores to be a part of something unique and beauteous. Which was dumb, in retrospect.

Hey, I wasn’t the only one looting.

Two weeks later, and I was trading shots of aguardente with Harold, a little bug-eyed fellow in the back room of a recently closed brothel. We’d both swung by with conspicuously large bulges of cash in our wallets, and conspicuously average-sized bulges elsewhere, only to find the place half-burned and empty. I had a bottle. He had a flashlight. Neither of us had anywhere else to be. We were playing a drinking game, wherein one person said “drink!” and the other person did.

“Drink!” I said to him, and he drank.

“Drink!” He said to me, and I did.

“Drink!” I said to him, and half the room exploded.

Something pale and shining flared into existence on the other side of the singed sofa. It was impossible to focus on. It was like the aftermath of staring right into a camera flash – that washed out, smudgy brightness that you can’t blink away. I got the sense of an outline in there, something sharp churning in the heart of a star. The light was magnificent, but it was not beautiful. There was something cold and clinical to it, something more like fluorescents in a filthy warehouse than sunshine in a meadow.

“No!” Harold said, slapping at the air, “I did it! It all happened!”

I think the light may have wavered in response. Not something as dramatic as flickered, but maybe it pulsed, or shifted focus. I got the general sense that it replied in some fashion. But that might just be a hard drunk scrabbling to assign relevance to a traumatic event after the fact. Either way, the conductor answered as if it had spoken:

“Look outside! It’s there! It’s all there! Just like we s-“

But the light simply blinked out of existence. When our eyes finally adjusted to the dark, we saw what it had left for us.

Harold’s answer.

His solution was a snatch of discordant music, and a rippling patch of color in the air – something softly red, that undulated blue as it moved. When he heard those notes and that saw that disembodied, shifting swatch of crimson-blue, his heart collapsed. The empty space in his chest sunk into itself with a crackling sound, like tires on gravel. It brought the rest of his body with it, folding his legs and arms up with sickening snaps, and slurping his head down and around like a wad of flushed toilet paper. I still remember the expression on his face: There was no terror there, just pure, unhappy surprise. Like he’d answered the door and found a particularly vile ex-girlfriend standing there, holding a baby.

There was a loud pop, the floorboards beneath my feet rattled once, and Harold was gone. Answered. Reduced to something simpler, I suppose.

Harold got a few notes of strange new music, and a color never before seen on Earth that shifted states through space and time, and he was solved.

You Are Loved.

Early attempt at some more classic sci-fi, circa 2005. I was reading a lot of Philip K. Dick at the time. 

The sun rose on another miserable, rainy day inside Deek’s apartment. The Weather-generators, set to Dramatic Downpour, sent sheet after sheet of torrential waves tearing across his bedroom. Deek lay silently, placidly accepting the lashes of water like a much-deserved flagellation. The drainage pumps thwacked and grinded into action, setting up a harmony of dissonance to the dull, omnipresent roar of the rain. Deek cried silently, his tears lost in the downpour, only adding ever so slightly to the rising water level in the room. Eventually, after hours of weak sobbing amidst the relentless storm, sensors determined the water level to be too high and the Suicide Alarm chimed sadly from the Monitor across the room.

“Sorry big guy,” the speaker intoned, in a carefully crafted simulacrum of sympathy “the water level’s just too high. Anything over an inch and it becomes theoretically possible to drown yourself. I have to shut off the water and drain the room now. Remember… you are loved!”

The static scream of the rain stopped abruptly, leaving only the gentle smack and groan of the pumps – now kicking into overdrive. The waters swirled around the overflow grate, and soon disappeared entirely. The Weather-generators began emanating a slight fog, the smell of a snow yet to come dwelled almost imperceptibly behind it.

Deek sighed heavily, and then again. After an hour of heavy sighs interspersed with an occasional soft moan, he raised himself wearily from the bed and soddenly trudged into the kitchen.

“Wine please. Red. A Cabernet would be good I guess,” he told the refrigerator.

“Aw, come on, pal,” the refrigerator drawled “you know I can’t dispense alcohol in the morning, even on the best of days. Remember, though…you are loved!”

Deek sat down on the floor and placed his head in his hands. He considered crying, briefly, but decided his pain was ultimately futile against such an uncaring, apathetic world.

“Coffee then,” Deek said, “black like my heart.”

“Aw, buck up soldier…” the refrigerator replied, but obligingly stirred into motion.

He took his coffee from the shelf and, slumping back to the floor, sipped at it half-heartedly.

“Sorry sport,” the Monitor interrupted “you’re scheduled for work duty in thirty minutes.”

Deek choked back a yell, looked desperately around him for something to smash and, finding nothing, hurled his coffee cup at the low slung metal box that housed the Monitor’s speakers.

“Come on, buckaroo” the Monitor crooned.

“I’m not going.”

“Aw, buddy…”

“You can’t make me! I’m going to die today! I’m going to die!” Deek collapsed in a heap at the base of the Monitor’s shelf.

“You know the drill, chief…” a dull pulse sounded in the ceiling as a myriad of speakers and vid-screens lowered into the room.

“Pally, you know I have to initiate Ejection Protocols at twenty minutes,” a tension-loaded silence pervaded, the smell of snow somehow amplified by the hush.

“Please…” Deek implored, his eyes ran frantically about the room, seeking anything to implore to, “please!”

The speakers popped once, stuttered, and began:

“LET THE SUNSHINE IN AND CHASE AWAY YOUR BLUES…” the volume carried in the largest of Deek’s bones as he leapt to his feet and charged for the wardrobe.

“CAUSE FROWNERS NEVER WIN… ”

He hastily ripped his work uniform from its hanger and, running-hopping- falling as he dressed, made his desperate, stumbling way toward the door.

“…AND SMILERS NEVER LOSE SO LET THE SUNSHINE…”

The vid-screens set into motion brightly colored animations – chipmunks jumping rope with blue-jays, a smiling sun dancing, kittens fighting – while the lights steadily grew in luminosity until they peaked just shy of the purest, whitest sunshine. Deek yelped and, covering his eyes with one upraised arm, crawled pitifully through the living room. Perfumed shots of air (candy corn and daisies mostly,) began pelting him from the tiny aerosol vents that littered the house. He rallied his strength and, hunching into the smallest protective ball he could manage, vaulted through the doorway just as the padded robotic arms lowered from the ceiling, readying their Projectile Hugs.

“You are loved!” The Monitor yelled its refrain through the closing doors, only half-heard through the blaring horns and peppy strumming.

Deek barked hoarsely, his breath coming in hyperventilating gasps. Eventually, he began to assemble himself. He smoothed his uniform, brushed the remaining water from his brow, and did his best to rub the perfumes from his skin. He set his jaw resolutely, and after only twenty minutes of muttering reassurances to himself, headed off towards Sector Septa and work duty.

Bryan greeted him with mild apprehension; a lowering of the eyes and a timid shuffle of the shoulders told Deek they were in the same boat.

“How’re you feeling?” Bryan asked, skulking over to greet him.

“Got driven out today,” Deek spat, switching the status from Rest to Work on his uniform.

“Yeah?” Bryan seemed to cheer a bit at the news, “me too! What was it? Whistle While You Work? That’s what got me.”

“No,” Deek shuddered, “Let the Sunshine In…”

“Oh good God,” Bryan muttered, as they both contemplated the horror, “You need to be careful then; Binny is manic today. He practically fucking skipped onto duty. Aw, son of a…”

Binny saw them and screamed a friendly greeting from the third level. He leapt spritely from the balcony, sliced through the air, and curled into a ball – trusting the Monitor to catch him. He let out a happy sigh as the nets shot out and set him lightly at their feet.

“How are you guys?!” He ensnared them both with a massive hug, then stepped back to appraise their expressions, “Oh no! You’re both depressive today!”

Deek and Bryan nodded solemnly – Deek visibly restraining the urge to take a swing at him.

“Well don’t worry guys! Tomorrow’s another day, right?” He laughed and tumbled away from them – literally cart-wheeling and somersaulting – into the waiting elevator.

“I swear to fucking Christ this is the day. I’m really going to do it. I am. I will die this day,” Deek whispered.

“I’m with you, man,” Bryan said “let’s do it now before-“

“Work Duty has begun fellas,” The Monitor speakers beneath their feet sounded, “All suicide locks are on; all levels with external balconies are now off limits to depressives.”

Bryan’s knees went out at the announcement. He slipped to the floor and laid still, his eyes unfocused and distant.

Deek fought back a wave of consuming hatred; he steadied his hands and took several deep breaths. “Bryan was right,” he muttered, “tomorrow is another day.” And he swore and undying oath that it was a day he would not see.

“All workers: Your attention please for a special announcement,” the Monitor called to attention “you are all loved!”

Return of the King. Well, Prince. Duke? No? Fine. Me. Return of the Me.

Oh hey, website. Didn’t see you there.

So almost immediately after I ask what fans want to see of writers, and they answer “Something! Anything!” I disappear and post nothing instead. I’m a rebel, and I’ll never, ever be any good.

Real explanation is long and boring, so I’ll just post the short and boring one: I got sick. Really sick, and for a long time. Some sort of mysterious infection, I still don’t know what it is. But it appears to be getting better, and I see a specialist tomorrow. I’ve barely been able to get my work done, and extracurricular stuff fell by the wayside.

It’s not you, dear website; it’s me.

But good news! I read all those responses to what people want to see, and I listened. A lot of it was cut material, or other stuff I’ve written — just content, really. I can do that. I’ll be posting some short stories I wrote, mostly before I actually knew how to write. They’re not very good, but they show an interesting progression as I slowly, painfully learn what the hell I’m doing (sort of). As well as a bit of cut material from my latest book that will make absolutely no sense out of context.

Hey, you bastards said “Something! Anything!” You never said a word about quality. That one’s on you.

New genre: Inadvertent Steampunk

I get pretty viciously dry eyes from my contacts, or my allergies, or maybe a combination of the two, or possibly some sort of gypsy curse. It is very hard to keep track them all. I am considering getting an organizing system. A rolohex, if you will.

Please don’t.

Regardless, the end result is that I’m sitting at my computer typing on my mechanical keyboard while wearing my riding goggles and everything is coming out steampunk.

Regards,
-Valve-Baron Firestache

These Pretzels…

I use Spotify’s discover feature a lot. A week ago I took its suggestion and listened to a lo-fi techno band. So it started only giving me lo-fi techno bands. I checked them out, decided they weren’t my thing and moved on. Now it is giving me suggestions based on me listening to those suggestions. I am trapped in a never-ending spiral of lo-fi techno. Somebody send electrolytes – this Molly is making me thirsty.

This Molly…is making me THIRSTY.

THIS Molly is MAKING ME thirsty?

THIS MOLLY IS MAKING ME THIRSTY!

Help me understand fandom

I don’t really understand fandom.

I don’t mean that in any sort of insulting way to fans of anything. I love my fans (as surreal as it is to think that I have any), I have just never had that gene in my own personal life. I have favorite writers, bands, games, TV shows, etc. — but I know nothing about them, the people that make them and the process they use. I know very little beyond the fact that I enjoy these things. It never occurs to me get more involved.

I don’t know the names of the writers, or the directors, or even most of the actors in my favorite movies. I don’t know which band worked with which producer, or anything about the success of their singles and chart positions. I don’t know who writes my favorite TV show (does Supernatural even have writers these days, or is it all just improv between instances of Sam and Dean slamming each other against identical motel room walls?) I don’t know what other projects my favorite authors have, beyond their books. For example: I love Murakami. Read every single one of his fiction novels. Read absolutely none of his essays, interviews, or experimental screenplays. I have no idea if he’s doing a reading in my town, or if he collaborated on some anthology. I just never had it in me to delve deeper than the surface, and in an odd way, I was always a bit envious of the people that do it.

I have many friends who will sit there and reel off six pages of facts about what went on behind the scenes of their favorite action movie. The anecdotes, the commentary, the on-set spats and original drafts. And all I can contribute to the conversation is “I liked the part where the guy’s balls exploded.” It must be nice to be a fan, but I just fundamentally don’t get how people go about it.

And yet it is vital to my job and everything else that I want to do with my creative life that I understand fans, what they want and how to cultivate more of them.

Admittedly, pretending like this is a problem I have to worry about right now is, at best, naively optimistic. We’re at the early stages here. This site does maybe 30k uniques a month, and that’s when I’m updating it. But I am supposed to head off next year for promotion of my first big book series, so with any luck, that number will grow. If you’re reading this, consider yourself an early adopter. You’re a beta tester for Brockway Industries, and I could use your advice: As a fan, what do you want see more of in an author? What makes you stay, makes you get involved or spread the word? I’m very grateful and appreciative every day that you’re here, but I just don’t know what I can do for you, beyond try to write stupid books about phallus-obsessed ghetto kings and math angels. And I’m already doing that. And you won’t ever stop me. So what else do you want to see?

State of Brockway

State of Decay is one of my favorite games in recent memory. It is quite possibly the best zombie apocalypse game ever made, which is saying something these days, since every genre from point-and-click adventure to Puzzle Bobble are now set in the post-zombie-apocalypse. I have kind of a history with the team, Undead Labs. They saw this article that I wrote about brilliant games we all want, but will likely never have, and they wanted to invite me to an event in Seattle to check out an early build of their game, just to see if they came close. I was interested, but could not attend. Then they released the game, and offered me a free copy, but I had sold my Xbox and could not accept their offer. I apparently hate sweet, free stuff with a passion bordering on mania.

Time passed, the game released on Steam, and I bought a copy. I just kind of figured the offer wasn’t a standing one. Between it and the first DLC, Breakdown, I put about fifty hours into the game. I’ve had nothing but glowing things to say about them, even though I always paid them for the privilege. I even wrote a piece about the game on Cracked. Again, with nothing on the line for me – I was just honestly really impressed by their efforts. Then, last week when their latest DLC, Lifeline, released, I took my first kickback. They gave me a free copy of the game. Because in a way, I was in it:

brockwaygame

As a little nod to my seeming steadfast refusal to stop throwing my money at them, the folks at Undead labs named one of the survivors after me. This may even beat the time Even Skjervold named a bull after me (and apparently ate it. Th…thanks?) I would love to tell you where to find the Brockway survivor in State of Decay: Lifeline, but so far every rescue I’ve attempted has ended with everybody being mauled to death in the streets while a disappointed man yells at me over the radio. But if you find me, do me a favor and use my preferred loadout: No guns, no melee weapons. Just firebombs and morphine. Your favored conveyance is the dark green muscle car. It is mandatory that you take every sweet-ass jump you see, even though the consequences will almost certainly kill you.

Oh, and tell me “hi” for me.

Drugs in the Zeitgeist Sounds Like A Good Name For Your Post-Industrial Band

Stay with me for a second, I’m going to recap my book, but this isn’t about promotion.

I wrote Rx: A Tale of Electronegativity, a weird little cyberpunk novel about a society whose primary form of entertainment is custom drug cocktails. They have Feeds in all of their homes, like we have cable connections. The Feeds are tiny 3D printers, and the user subscribes to blocks of chemicals as we would channels, which they use to build the drugs they want. The main character, Red, is a beta tester — somebody that tests out the early versions of new corporate concoctions to work the bugs out before release. There’s a lot I’m leaving out in that description, but I would like to introduce you to the plot synopsis of Daryl Gregory’s Afterparty now:

Any high school student with a chemjet and an internet connection could download recipes and print small-batch drugs. The creative types liked to fuck with the recipes, try them out on their friends. People swallowed paper all the time without knowing what they were chewing. Half the residents of the NAT ward weren’t addicts; they were beta testers.

Again, there’s a lot I’m leaving out of the description of that book. But wow, look at the similarities! Now, we all have a negative bias towards stuff like this on the internet, but I want to make it clear I’m not calling plagiarism or anything. Daryl Gregory never heard of me or my strange little book before he got his publishing deal. This is kind of how science fiction works: You look at emerging tech, and the direction our society is headed in, and you extrapolate out something cool, strange, or ridiculous from that. Then you tell a story in that space.

Daryl and I both just happened to look at the emergence of 3D printers; at the new smart pharmaceuticals and the increasing acceptance of their role in our culture; at tech fetishism and early adoption, and we both arrived at 3D printed smart drugs with seemingly impossible effects, and the shift from “addict” to “beta tester.” On the one hand, I think that’s pretty damn cool. On the other hand, I think that’s pretty damn concerning. If multiple authors are starting to extrapolate out this kind of future from our present, there might be something to it, and neither of our worlds were all that pleasant.

I’m not saying we’ll have a god drug, like in Afterparty, or uh…stairwell-dwelling phallus kings like in my ridiculous abomination, but there’s clearly something in the zeitgeist with 3D printing, smart drugs, and home users. While having your own custom drug-machine sounds great, there are some very worrying implications to wide-spread smart drugs. For example, check out this story about the implications of a proposed ‘anti-love drug.’ One of which was “curing” homosexuals…

My memory’s a little faulty, and there was a lot going on, but I do believe I saw an advert for “No-Gay” in the background of an issue of Transmetropolitan. I guess I just start to worry when we, as a species, start striving for a world that Warren Ellis wrote.

Fashion Tips!

Fashion Tip #1: Wear clothes, at least around machinery.

Fashion Tip #2: Or don’t!

Fashion Tip #3: Actually, wear whatever the fuck you want, and if people give you shit, flip them the bird and then stick your middle finger down their throat until they puke on themselves. Who’s the “walking faux pas” now, pukeshirt?

Fashion Tip #4: Get a good pair of boots and a reversible belt.