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Story Notes:

Ad Aware
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.

False Idols
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:
 ancient

and Travel:
travel

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 because...

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.

The Arena
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.

Heaven 2.0
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.

Flawed Copies
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.

Shattered Possibilities
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 explanation.

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.

Soul Mates
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 international bestseller:

False Idols 70s cover

Don't have a time machine? Purchase here, available in print, and a vast plethora of ebook formats!