Hello sinister writers! Let's hunker down for an hour and bang out some words, shall we? Comment below with what you're working on, how many words you'd like to write, tell us where you're stuck, etc. Hell, just say hello. Today's soundtrack: Evil Friends by Portugal. The man. Digging this band's sound.
Today's writing prompt: A woman wakes up in a desert and finds that she's suddenly got a beeping metal bracelet around her right wrist. Bonus! today's IMAGE writing prompt:
Inspirational quote: “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.” -Douglas Adams
I'm still working on my new story. It's up to 11,000 words, and it is my goal to significantly increase that number today. It's my first real attempt to write a sci-fantasy humor-ish novel inspired by Douglas Adams, Pratchett, Christopher Moore, and the like. I had the first 10,000 words reviewed by my writing group on Tuesday, and I was given some really good feedback on how to improve it, but early reviews were generally positive. Ok, get writing!
Because I'm having so much fun writing this thing right now, here's Chapter 2. Chapter 1 can be found here.
I still don't have a good title for it, but it's up to 11,000 words now, which isn't bad. It's going to be critiqued on Tuesday by my writing group, so I'm sure I'll have lots of changes after that. Still, sometimes it's interesting to see the raw product, pre-edit, and watch it progress to its final form. I have no problem sharing that process with you.
at his apartment, Geoff put his keys down on the breakfast bar,
shrugged off his blazer and threw it over a side chair in the living
room, and then pulled a beer out of the fridge and guzzled it. The
Valium...er, aspirin, well, ok, the placebo effect, was wearing off,
and Geoff's hands were shaking a little.
offer from Symon Brooks was absurd. Echelon wasn't ready for prime
time. It was just a jumble of code, and a website he'd hacked
together to test a small fraction of its capabilities.
the name wasn't stupid, dammit. It was edgy, techie, nerdy,
intelligent. Geoff wasn't entirely certain what the word meant
exactly, but he had a vague idea that it had something to do with
military formations. Echelon was about organizing data. Regimenting
data. It was Geoff's attempt to order, to filter, to make some sense
out of an external kind of chaos that mirrored the fractured,
half-remembered, unfocused, unending stream of input that assaulted
his mind every day.
gestured at the breakfast bar, and his Air Screen clicked on, the
thin projectors built into the ceiling and the bar glowing as they
wrangled photons into aetheric submission, filling the space between
them with floating data. The image was distorted where he'd put his
keys down, so he picked them up again and threw them somewhere else.
Air Screen installation had been expensive and complicated, a stupid
indulgence, really, but Geoff liked the “living in the future”
aspect of it. He didn't use it as his primary tech device; the
gesture-based interface wasn't intuitive enough for his taste, and
the thing was, frankly, buggy as hell. Still, it was gadgety and fun
to mess around with, and there were some great games on it.
swiped over to look at his email inbox. Brooks hadn't sent him the
contract yet. He scrolled through the endless morass of spam,
catalogues, and mailing lists he kept getting himself on even though
he kept hitting unsubscribe on every single one of them. Email had
been in wide use for more than half a century, and he was still
inundated with crap.
he could try using one of those organizational bots that promised to
clean up his inbox and only show him the important stuff, but he knew
enough from his experiments with Echelon that those kinds of
algorithms could miss stuff. And he didn't want to miss something
important. And he couldn't be bothered. It was fine. He had five
million emails in his inbox, of which he'd read maybe a few hundred
over the past ten years. That was how it was. His friends laughed
at him, with their empty inboxes and neat and tidy e-lives, but he
just shrugged it off. It was easier to leave an email in a place
than to figure out where it should actually go.
was entirely the point of Echelon, really.
Echelon with AI would make it infinitely powerful. Kind of a scary
thought, but Geoff wasn't one of those doomsayers who was afraid of
the latest advances in AI because it might lead to killer robots and
the end of the world. It hadn't so far.
Geoff wondered if it should be his
mind that was uploaded into the thing. Geoff honestly worried that
an AI based on his brain would spend its time bouncing from subject
to subject, distracted and consumed with wonder at every new bit and
byte of data but unable to absorb anything in particular, and find
itself completely unable to handle the task of sorting the data it
was asked to sort. Instead of regimenting the internet, an AI based
on his mind might just make it worse.
knew his own limitations, spelled out in a four-letter diagnosis that
had dogged him all his life. ADHD. An AI based on him wouldn't turn
into an evil robot overlord. It wouldn't be able to stay focused long
enough to figure out the first step to world control. It'd start
hacking into a military database and then get distracted by a video
file of cats yawning.
maybe Symon Brooks could edit the ADHD out of Geoff's digital mind,
take only the good stuff, and Geoff could see his e-self as an
idealized, digital version of the person he should have been all his
life, if only there weren't so many damned squirrels and doorknobs
and shiny shiny baubles.
walked out of his kitchen and into his living room. He finished his
beer and put the empty bottle down on a side table, where it shared
space with two half-full water glasses, a small plate with sandwich
crusts on it from two days ago, a book he'd been meaning to finish
but hadn't, a tablet computer with a dead battery, a new battery for
a different tablet computer that he didn't have anymore, two chargers
for phones he wasn't using, and a pack of gum.
Siamese cat announced herself by meowing a hello and then leaping up
onto the back of his vinyl couch and walking across it toward him.
She headbutted his hand as he passed, and he gave her a few
absentminded pets. Her food bowl was empty, so he filled it, and
gave her some clean water.
grabbed his Baton of his coffee table. Inactive, it looked like its
namesake – a black, plastic stick about the size and circumference
of a cigar. But when Geoff registered his fingerprint on a panel on
one side of the Baton, it split open, and a flexiglass screen
unrolled itself from within.
usual, in grabbing his Baton, he nearly knocked over two empty beer
bottles and a martini glass. He really should clean up the place,
sat down on his couch and swiped open his social networks. One of
his friends had posted a picture of a cat. Another of his friends
was eating a sandwich. A third friend was feeding a sandwich to a
cat. A fourth friend was very angry about something, and there was a
whole long heated argument that had Godwined within twelve comments.
Someone else had posted something from a website Geoff knew was full
of inaccuracies but was relied on unquestioningly by people who
adhered to the No Pepper diet/lifestyle/religion. Someone had posted
a comment to the No Pepper post with a link to an actual well-sourced
news article disproving the original article, and the original poster
had been quick to question the credibility of the news article,
claiming that the pro-No Pepper website had “done the research”
and that was all the original poster needed to know. Another friend
wanted him to try a new VR game that was free at first but required
periodic payments to actually advance.
so on and so forth.
of these tech devices, and it's still all just cats, inane arguments,
and porn, isn't it?
Geoff sighed and swiped upwards on the Baton. It rolled itself back
realized he didn't know what time it was, or whether he needed to get
ready for his date. He opened his Baton again and was immediately
drawn into a web article about a new way to clean your dishes using
only air, and then spent another ten minutes scrolling through a
forum of people interested in antique scooters, and then was curious
about whether there were any old scooters for sale nearby, and then
was curious about the difference between four stroke and two stroke
scooters, and then saw an ad for a new bar nearby and clicked on
that. After a little while he closed the scroll again.
realized he still didn't know what time it was, even though he now
remembered that he'd opened his Baton specifically to look at that.
He opened it back up and looked at the clock.
was 6:30, and he had to be at the restaurant in 30 minutes. Shit.
He realized he didn't have time to change, but he figured the
corduroy blazer he'd worn to the interview would be fine, right?
the cat was now sleeping on it. Damn.
He ran to his bedroom and rummaged through his closet. He sniffed
the underarms of the shirt he was wearing. He was fine there, and
the shirt looked good, it was just sort of a boring and corporate
button-down. Not exactly date wear. He needed to accessorize a
realized that most of his clothes weren't in his closet; they were in
various piles of clean laundry heaped around his bedroom. He was
good about doing laundry.
He just wasn't great about putting it away.
everything was wrinkled and unwearable, and much of it was also
covered in cat hair.
decided to keep the shirt and black slacks he was wearing, just add
his black leather motorcycle jacket to the mix, and call it good. He
also put on a hat. Then he took off the hat. He thought about the
hat. He found a different hat. Then he thought he might wear a
scarf instead. He wondered if he could take this scarf and use it as
kind of an ascot. No. He decided to forget the scarf and the hat.
He rummaged around wildly for his keys, found them, patted himself
down, realized he didn't have his phone wallet, scrambled around
until he found that, opened the door of his apartment, looked down,
and realized he was barefoot. He put his keys down, rummaged around
for his boots and a clean pair of socks, managed that, and then spent
another chunk of time trying to find his keys again.
six minutes until his date was to arrive at a restaurant that would
take him twenty minutes to drive to, Geoff finally had everything.
He took a deep breath and walked out of his apartment.
Ok, as promised, here's the first installment of Sinister's hopefully regular feature, which I'm now going to call the "Sinister Writers Club." Yeah, that's catchy. You're here, so you're sinister. We're taking the word back.
Nightwish - Endless Forms Most Beautiful.
The new album from the Finnish symphonic metal masters finds them exploring and celebrating the wonders of science. Truly one of the best metal albums I've heard in a long time.
Here's the first single from the album:
Buy it here, if you're into buying physical media:
"After sleeping through a hundred million centuries we have finally opened our eyes on a sumptuous planet, sparkling with colour, bountiful with life. Within decades we must close our eyes again. Isn't it a noble, an enlightened way of spending our brief time in the sun, to work at understanding the universe and how we have come to wake up in it? This is how I answer when I am asked -- as I am surprisingly often -- why I bother to get up in the mornings. To put it the other way round, isn't it sad to go to your grave without ever wondering why you were born? Who, with such a thought, would not spring from bed, eager to resume discovering the world and rejoicing to be a part of it?"
— Richard Dawkins
1:05 PM: Ok, this was fun. I'm going to sign off now, but feel free to keep commenting. We'll do this again soon. Stay tuned!
It occurs to me that I'm much more productive if I have other people counting on me. If I'm just relying on my own motivation, no deadlines, no expectations, no shared experience, then I tend to drift off. This blog is a great example of that. No posts since 2013? Come on, self. You can do better than that.
What I'd like to do is create a space for writers like me to come together and write. Call it a "virtual write-in." I'll make a post like this one, maybe with some writing prompts, a soundtrack we can all listen to together, inspiration, that sort of thing. You can comment on my post with something like: "Hey, I'm working on this today, and my goal is to write 1,000 words!" You can say, "Hey, I'm stuck on something - here's what I'm working on, what should happen next?" I'll give you ideas, or maybe someone else will.
Together, we'll cheer each other on. I'm thinking a typical "virtual write-in" will "officially" last about an hour, but I'll turn comment moderation off so you can bounce off each other for as long as you'd like. The only rule I'll insist on is this one: "Be excellent to each other."
You can also send me some of what you've written, and maybe I'll feature it on Sinister.
Look for the first "virtual write-in" post this coming Saturday (April 11) at noon Pacific time. Since it'll be the first one, I don't expect much participation, but if you're around, post a comment and say hello! Let's see if we can get this ball rolling.
Hey, look - it's the first chapter of this thing I'm writing now. It doesn't have a title yet. Tell me what you think!
slammed the crumpled door again. It failed to click, jammed as it
was from when that bastard in the Mercedes crunched it in a parking
lot. Geoff wanted to get the damned thing repaired, but he also
wanted to pay his rent, so the door remained a metallic mess, looking
like the foil you might take off a turkey and ball up. Geoff pressed
against the door with his back, finally hearing the click.
wasn't that his car was anything special; it was just an old electric
Volvo, one of the first generation, built in the old days of “range
anxiety,” before the nation’s highways had been fully outfitted
with charging stations. It had been his mother's car, and there was
some sentimental value there. It had also been this car in which
he'd snuck off to the woods with his buddy Eric to eat psilocybin
mushrooms and talk to the faces in the trees. Later he and Eric had
discovered a mutual attraction that went way beyond the spiritual
connection provided by the shrooms, and had ended up steaming up the
windows as they explored that connection in the backseat of the
that was more than a decade ago, during the fragile and frenetic
years of his stumbling adolescence, and had nothing to do with
Geoff and the Volvo were engaged in a glorious project - getting
Geoff his dream job, one that would allow him both rent money and
cash to fix the car's door. Geoff smoothed down his rumpled corduroy
blazer and made sure the crease in his pants was neatly crisp, that
his black wingtips were shiny. He took a deep breath, ran his hands
through his thinning blond hair, and started to walk toward the
gleaming obsidian spike in the center of the white stone plaza.
didn't want to have to work his way up some corporate ladder, going
from tedious menial nonsense of one type to tedious menial nonsense
of a slightly more important type, all in the vague buzzwordy mission
of some faceless conglomerate whose true purpose was obscured behind
layers of whatever the hell corporations actually did these days.
today Geoff would stride through the glass doors of the skyscraper in
front of him and speak to a man called Symon
at a company called Augmented International, who promised him "fame
and fortune and everything that goes with it," which were lyrics
to a very old
Queen song that was on a playlist that his
grandparents had put on at Christmas sometimes for reasons that
they'd never adequately explained, in
exchange for "certain services of a mutually beneficial, and
entirely legal, nature." The specifics were vague, in that
there were no specifics, and the whole thing smelled entirely like a
scam. But Geoff was curious.
strode through the glass doors, the pounding heat outside
extinguished by cold air conditioning. The black lobby was
illuminated by steel torchieres along both walls, and fronted by a
black desk lit by a single steel desk lamp, where a blond woman sat
and smiled at him. She wore digital lipstick set to rainbow mode,
which was a little disconcerting, and as she smiled her mouth went
from green to orange.
Geoff Besson, here to see Symon Brooks?"
He pronounced his last name the French
way, because he was tired of people thinking it was BESS-un.
nodded and typed something into a screen embedded into her desk, and
then pointed at a row of Mies Van Der Rohe Bauhaus chairs sitting
along one black wall. Geoff hadn't noticed them before because they
were black on black, which seemed a bit...much. He sat down in one
of them and fidgeted.
cavernous lobby absorbed sound in a way that it shouldn't have. He'd
have expected to hear his footsteps ricocheting about the place, but
they were muffled, subdued somehow, dampened.
weirdness of the situation was beginning to increase. Geoff saw no
elevators leading to the hundred floors above him - just this huge
lobby, black on black with black accents, like an enormous corporate
tomb, or an office of vampires? Surely not.
sat for a half hour waiting for someone to tell him what to do,
unconsciously bouncing his left leg up and down, fidgeting with his
hands, wishing for an ebook or a toy or something to fiddle with. He
had always been terrible at sitting still for more than a few
minutes, especially without anything to entertain him, and staring at
a black, featureless room was not helping. He had the urge to pace,
an urge that got worse with every passing second. A million thoughts
bounced around in his idle mind, each one commanding a tiny sliver of
his attention, but none of them actually getting through in any
coherent way. He worried about whether he'd remembered to pay the
cybernet bill this month, or if it was buried in his email that he
occasionally went through in a panic when something was about to get
cut off. He worried about whether that guy from the bar would
actually show up for their date at the nice Italian place tonight.
The guy had been cute as hell, and he and Geoff had hit it off rather
well, at least Geoff thought so. He worried about the prospect of
this new job, which seemed to consist of sitting in a black room
being incredibly bored.
the woman at the desk signaled for him to come to her with a subtle
wave of one hand. Her mouth went from purple to green. He stood and
walked over. She handed him a black piece of plastic the size of a
hotel key card, and then pointed at a spot on the back wall that
looked as blank as the rest of the room. A sliver of light appeared
and grew, and Geoff realized he was looking at the interior of an
he said, the sound of his voice disappearing as soon as it came out
of his mouth. The woman nodded.
entered the elevator, wondering what he was supposed to do with the
black plastic thing. Then he noticed a spot on the featureless white
wall of the elevator was pulsing red in the shape of the card. Geoff
placed the card over the pulsing spot, and the elevator doors slid
closed. There was very little sensation of movement, other than the
requisite changes in gravity that told him he was headed up.
headed up he was, all the way to the top. The elevator doors opened.
was struck with paralyzing terror as he stared at a room made
entirely of fully transparent glass. It looked as if, when he
stepped out of the elevator, he'd be stepping into open space 100
stories above the ground. Acrophobia curled him into a quivering
ball at the back of the elevator, hyperventilating, palms actually
dripping sweat, unable to move.
tall, bald man
floated above his own certain death on that glass floor and crouched
down outside the elevator to look at Geoff. His face was pale crags
and white teeth, his mouth a little bigger than it should be.
isn't exactly a way to show confidence to a potential employer,
Geoff." The voice was clipped, like a
manicured lawn surrounding a stately New England manor.
couldn't find a response - he gasped, panicking, terrified,
paralyzed, at the back of the elevator.
on, you. If you're going to work for us you'll have to get used to
being uncomfortable." The man walked into the elevator and held
a hand out for Geoff to grasp. Then he changed his mind, giving Geoff
a "wait a minute" finger, and walked back out of the
elevator onto that impossible glass surface.
remembered that the peculiar architecture of this building meant that
the top floor jutted out like a pyramidal hat from the rest of the building, allowing for this office to exist, and
man returned with a fluffy white hand towel and handed it to Geoff.
the sweat off y/our palms, Geoff, and then let's go."
wiped his hands off and then grasped the man's wrist. The man helped
Geoff up and pulled him across the impossible threshold. Geoff
immediately collapsed again, unable to move. He stared down 100
stories to his own inevitable death, and whimpered a little.
man grabbed Geoff under the arms and hoisted him up, and then set him
down in a black leather chair across from a steel desk at one corner
of the room. He handed Geoff a pill and a glass of water.
this?" Geoff was able to gasp.
swallowed the pill, his overarching terror letting slip
the question of why exactly Symon had
Valium ready and waiting for him, along with any question of whether
it was actually Valium. His hand shook as he drained the glass of
water. The man took the glass from him and set it on the desk.
Look, let's not let that little display of cowardice ruin our
meeting. I'm Symon Brooks.”
to meet you,” Geoff managed in a quaver.
of course knew Symon Brooks, hailed as the Next Harry Pendergrast,
who, a long time ago, had
been dubbed the Next Steve Jobs. Geoff didn’t really understand
why people had to be the “next” anyone. What happened to being
the “right now yourself?”
was the head of Augmented International, and he'd been the first to
develop a computer that had passed every Turing test the
techno-philosopher crowd could throw at it. He'd named it
Wintermute, after the AI in a visionary science fiction tale from a
long time ago, and it was said that Symon and Wintermute had regular
discussions about life, the Universe, and everything.
Brooks said, “We've actually had our eye on you for a while, which
is why I was so pleased that you accepted
this meeting. Of course, there was no way
to know about your acrophobia. Sorry about that. Still, I always
say the best way to get over a fear is to stare it in the face every
was taking deep breaths and waiting for the Valium to kick in.
due respect, let's get to the point, and then I'd like very much to
leave this room," he said, his voice trembling in such a way
that he was sure it’d show up on a Richter scale.
point. Ok. I am
keen on developing both hardware and software with personalities
based on real people. We'd like to model consciousness in the
want to up your AI game.”
nodded. “What we’re talking about is
true virtual consciousness, nay, virtual sentience,
a computer that can not only pass a
Turing test, but one that can write its own version, and will think
to do that on its own. This isn’t the computer in your fridge that
tells you when to buy milk. This is way beyond that.”
what is the primary mission?”
Holy Grail. An intelligent database - something that can chew up the
Internet and spit out exactly the information you want,
instantaneously, intuitively, without any noise, spam, or nonsense.”
Valium was beginning to take effect, and Geoff began to relax a
little. “Cool. So how do you do that?”
let’s have a few questions and answers first,
me about your schooling. Your resume says you got a degree in
analytics from Purdue.”
tech has always interested me, but when I went to college I had only
kind of a vague awareness of what I actually wanted to do with it.
Analytics seemed a good starting point.”
nodded. “So you studied trends, numbers, the kind of macro picture
of the internet, right?”
and how to build architectures to analyze the metrics I was
what have you done with it so far?”
blinked. Not a whole hell of a lot,
he didn't say. “I've mostly been trying to get myself established
in a career that -”
that's a non-answer, Geoff. I know your job history. Mostly
low-level programming stuff. But I know more than that, right? I
know about Echelon.”
I...that's not even in alpha yet. It's more of a vague idea than--
but it's exactly the kind of thing that brought you to our
attention.” Symon leaned forward in his chair. “Although the
name. It's dumb. But the idea is sound. Collating cellular network
structures to build a massive multi-user open meta-database?”
That's exactly what we want to do. So we'd like to buy Echelon.
we'd also like to buy your brain.”
brain. I'd like to buy your brain. Quite literally. I want to take
project, upload your brain into it, and create a self-aware
can cross-reference everything on the Internet simultaneously and
come up with exactly the result a user wants.
more million Boogle results. No more voice-activated idiot robots
that think you want to order pizza when you wanted to call your
friend Peter. No more bullshit.”
said Geoff. The valium was really kicking in now, and he rode the
waves like a pro surfer.
there's another angle to this project,” said Symon.
current generation algorithm goes through someone's email looking to
tailor ads to the user's email content.
One of this person’s emails mentions the burger chain Flappy
Burgers. What would that algorithm do?”
an ad for Flappy Burgers, obviously.”
leaned forward. “Ah, but the full text of the person’s email
says ‘I hate Flappy Burgers.’”
need to somehow tell the algorithm to place
an ad for one of Flappy Burger’s competitors?”
nodded. “Bingo. See, we still
haven’t got to the point where natural language processing can
truly parse the contextual meaning of something like that. It sees
Flappy Burgers, it’s going to try and sell you Flappy Burgers.”
took another sip of water. “So you want to build a better ad bot?”
laughed. “More than that. Here's
another example. Now let’s say you’re
looking for a restaurant that serves a particular kind of gin, has
gluten-free options, is open on a Sunday, and is quiet.”
I mean, Yalp will find most of that.”
it though? You’ll have to sift through a restaurant’s reviews,
and maybe nobody mentions the kind of gin you want, or whether the
restaurant is quiet. You’d have to go to a lot of different places
all over the web to find all of that information, wouldn’t you?”
could just call a few restaurants.”
spend twenty minutes on the phone and manage speak to two
restaurants, neither of which fits your criteria. Several others
simply don’t answer the phone. Meanwhile, you’ve got five people
coming over in an hour who are very particular about those criteria.
You need a dependable place to take them.”
Well, I’d start to panic, I think.” But the Valium was telling
him he wouldn’t actually panic, that everything would be fine, that
the world was a vast ocean and he was just riding the waves.
if you had unfettered access to a vast database that could
cross-reference every email, blog, webpage, video, text message,
voicemail, forum posting, social media rant and chat transcript?”
I’d wonder who the hell has that kind of access, and why. But
then, assuming I liked the answer to that question, I mean, then it’s
just a question of …but you’d have to start searching each type
of medium for each search term, then score and correlate the matches,
and hopefully come up with the name of a restaurant that meets the
requirements, using some kind of natural language algorithm, right?”
mind was crouched on a surfboard in the
middle of a perfect tube, the foam and water curling around him in
slow-motion. “Ok. So…”
that's why we want to upload your brain and join it up with your
project. We want you to literally be
like Max Headroom?"
that’s a reference I haven't head for a while.” Symon
grinned. “Before your time, isn't it?”
yours too, I’d imagine,” Geoff said.
if we’re doing very old pop
culture references, think Max Headroom meets Skynet, but not evil.
We’d like to create a self-aware database that can perform searches
using instinct and intuition, that understands the context of human
language in ways that no computer ever has."
suppose I should ask the obligatory question about privacy concerns.”
you really shouldn’t.”
me about the compensation.”
annual base salary, plus a percentage of ad revenue. In exchange, we
get exclusive rights to Echelon and
your uploaded mind.”
was more money than Geoff had ever hoped to see in his life. Symon
had been correct about Geoff not needing to ask about privacy
stood and walked back across the desk to where Geoff was struggling
to stand, a roiling combination of vertigo and Valium making it
difficult to figure out how to use his various limbs.
I’ll email you the rest of the contract, and you can look that over
at your leisure.”
grabbed Geoff under one arm and helped him back to the elevator,
where Geoff cowered in the far corner.
meet again tomorrow, same time," said Symon,
"in my downstairs office. It's entirely enclosed, you'll be
happy to know."
nodded. "Thanks. I'll look the
contract over tonight.”
the elevator doors closed, Symon said, “That was aspirin, by the