Health Care is a hot topic right now, with many Americans clamoring for
universal coverage - but in the end, there is no such thing as a free
lunch. Meanwhile, advertising is now omnipresent in our daily lives.
You can’t go to the movies without having product placement rammed down
your throat. Television channels display ads on the bottom of the
screen during shows, even on channels I’ve paid for. Video games
costing $60 a pop have ads integrated into the gameplay. Combining the two
issues was the next logical step.
This story has a long history. There is an excellent site called Illustration
Friday. They put up a new topic every week, you illustrate
it, post it on your website or blog, and link the result. In addition,
it has a very supportive community. So a few years back, they had two
words – Ancient:
Both pictures had a classic
science-fiction feel to them. I devised a rudimentary storyline about a
rocket captain (inspired by Ray Bradbury’s Captain Wilder and David Ossman’s
Firesign Theatre character Mark Time,) who crashes onto an an
alien planet, which is inhabited by Bug Eyed Monsters and the idols
they worship. Over the span of a year, I animated about 90% of it:
You have to love loop soundtracks.
Then, as always, real life got in the way: There was work, two kids,
and I began to focus more on writing than animating. I came back to the
animation a few times with the intent of finishing it, but I realized
contemporary standards had passed me by. Some shots look beautiful,
others look very dated. I would have to re-model and reanimate most of
it. So it sat on the shelf, or rather, in the hard drive.
I decided a few years ago to put the short stories I had written over
the years together and sell them on Amazon. I figured that nine was a
good number. I had five written, I needed four more. So, on my Andriod,
I fleshed out the story during my subway commute.
While the animation started out as an homage to classic sci-fi, I
realized there was no logical way to make a rocket landing work. So the
unnamed captain became Travis, whose escape pod crashed. He was a
criminal... no... a good man who broke the law to do what he had to do
And viola, a story was born.
The story has two main themes. One of them is obviously genetically
modified crops. “Intelligrain” is a blatant play on Monsanto’s
SmartStax brand of genetically modified seeds. Now GMCs in and of
themselves might not necessarily be bad things, and do have potential
benefits. However, when they cause diseases and overwhelm other crops,
and when the corporations that make them are deeply entrenched in our
government (e.g., The Farmer Assurance Provision, aka the Monsanto
Protection Act, coupled with the fact that a former Monsanto vice
president and lobbyist was appointed to the FDA as Deputy Commissioner
for Foods for a start) then something has gone very wrong.
The other theme is religion vs. science. I consider myself agnostic, by
which I mean I really have no idea if there is a higher power or not.
While I don’t subscribe to religion (though I was raised Catholic) I am
happy that so many of my friends take comfort in their faith. I have no
issue with nativity scenes at town halls, prayers at graduation
ceremonies and football games, or what have you. What I DO take umbrage
over is when fundamentalists pass laws that make teachers include
creationism in a science class. You can read my rant about it in depth
here, but it shocks me that we’re in the 21st century and this is even
up for debate. If you want to do god’s work, then learn how his
creation really works so you can do so. Here endeth the rant.
This story is actually twenty-three years old. When I was a junior in
high school, my creative writing teacher gave us a picture to write
about. It was a blurry black-and-white photocopy of a bullfighter. He
was standing against a wall, but the way I held the paper, I thought he
was lying on the ground. I wrote a short story called "Toro". It had
pretty much the same plot, except it took place in Spain in the 1940s.
It was easy to adapt into science fiction - and as such, is possibly
more believable. Spain became Ganymede, and the bull became the
Flopper. I suppose its clockwork mechanics are another throwback to
Bradbury, although the Steampunk subgenre is gaining in popularity.
All Part of Being a Dragon
This was the last story in the collection to be written. It went
through a few different forms. Originally, I wrote a very different
story, with Azrael and Theresa as the main characters. He was an
android priest, in a post-apocalyptic future where locusts ruled the
planet and humanity was enslaved. I may still write that one, but the
characters were wrong for the story, and it didn't go anywhere.
I recently re-read Philip K. Dick's classic novel Ubik. One of his
prevailing themes is "What is reality?". I started a novel years ago
about "angels" whose job it was to keep the "Tapestry" of the universe
together, but other projects got in the way, and I never finished it.
If you're a fan of this blog, then you've read my many rants about the
NYC MTA over the years. When my original story didn't work, I tried
putting Azrael and Theresa on the E train I was stuck on. Azrael became
a cyborg, and immediately started complaining about the quality of the
subway system. Echoes of my unfinished novel came forth, and he became
an angel in service of the Tapestry. Of course, an angel needs a devil
to fight, but nothing is ever that simple - especially if you're up
against an army of demonic chickens.
One of my closest friends pointed out that my stories had no heroines,
so I decided to write one full of them. I had just spent the weekend
visiting friends of mine, and one of their daughters owns an albino
boxer. I wondered where the ancient feud of dogs vs. cats came from. I
searched online for legends about dogs, and found some fascinating
ones. The same goes for cats.
A bunch of other ideas went into the writing of this. The economy is
still reeling from the sub-prime-loan fiasco, and I thought about how
banks promise you the moon, but then eviscerate you with the fine
print. I installed a new program, and pondered over the fact that no
one really reads the convoluted legalese of software user agreements.
That, and I had just bought a Jimmy Durante album for my father.
So I combined all of these things into a story. Yes, it's an age-old
Pact With the Devil tale, but with a fresh twist. And VGA graphics.
I wrote this story a few years ago, but as a piece of literary fiction
for a class at UMUC. The main character was a man whose wife had
committed suicide, and whose violent tendencies had caused him to lose
custody of his daughter. Then I read an article about how in a few
years, they will be able to clone sperm from female DNA, making us
Y-chromosome carrying bastards redundant. I imagined that this bit of
genetic engineering would create certain "perfect brands" of women that
were bred for certain jobs. But life is life, and we didn't get this
far without mutations of the genes. No matter what science comes up
with, nature always finds a way of forcing its original blueprints.
The late great Peter Bergman of the Firesign Theater said that when
they wrote their first album, Waiting for the Electrician or Someone
Like Him, they decided to make the jokes as subtle as possible and
layer their meanings. That way, people would listen to the album over
and over, trying to figure it out. I wrote this story with that plan in
mind, but I think I chickened out and added a little too much
This story does have a hidden inspiration, however. I'll tell you what:
Whoever figures it out first, if you're ever in NYC (while I still live
here,) I'll take you out for a sandwich at Katz Deli. Your mouth will
love you for the rest of your life.
I've always wrestled with my weight. Some years I win, some years I
lose. It depends if Pluto is in line with Venus, and how good the local
Chinese takeout is.
The thing I absolutely love about this story is how vile every
character is. Don't get me wrong, there are good and bad people in
Suburbia, just like everywhere else. But it's always a great setting
for black comedy, and sometimes my sense of humor gets a little dark...
The Autumn People
This is my favorite short story that I've written. I read an essay by
sci-fi giant Harlan Ellison, in which he said that writing subtext into
fiction was essential. I started by writing the first sentence, about
the bar table being worm-eaten. The story unfolded from that point.
9-11 has been a taboo subject for fiction for many years, but it's
impossible not to write about something so prevalent. And if you live
in a NYC apartment, it's impossible not to come across an insect or
twenty over the years. Mix all that up with the sludge at the bottom of
my brain, and this is the result.
Thank you, I hope you enjoy reading these. And since you got this far,
here's a treat: the cover of the edition that I published in an
alternate dimension, in the 1970s - where of course, it was an
Don't have a time machine? Purchase here, available in print, and a vast plethora of ebook formats!