Formerly an astronomer and more recently a research project manager in the aerospace and defense industry, Vaughan Stanger now writes SF and fantasy fiction for a living. His stories have appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Abyss & Apex, Postscripts, Nature Futures and Interzone, amongst other noted magazines and anthologies. Like most writers, he’s working on a novel—and has been for many years. He also loves cats, thus further conforming to the cliché. Plus he’s still holding out for that holiday on the Moon he was promised in the dim and distant past. You can follow his writing adventures at http://www.vaughanstanger.com or @VaughanStanger.
The rings are pieces of Dwarf Planets that got torn off in passing, which were then ripped to pieces!
Juno – I don’t care how old this is – is out of safe mode and awesome. NASA is awesome. Humans managed to send tiny hunks of metal, plastic, and glass and throw them super hard and whoop they went out into space and made pictures of planets that we can see (and that we can’t) as just little specks of light. Humans. Can. Be. Awesome. Then again, robots are the ones doing the hard work. Packing up, leaving home, journeying through potentially lethal and unknown space to explore the universe. Didn’t humans used to talk about going out and exploring? Now we just let robots have all the glory?
The true understanding of natural language, the breadth and generality of human intelligence, our ability to both play Go and cross the street and make a decent omelet—that variety is the hallmark of human intelligence and all we’ve done today is develop narrow savants that can do one little thing super well.
Over at Terribleminds Chuck Wendig issued a challenge. Write a flash fiction with words from his small child. Challenge accepted. I wrote about your future. (Or his, if his child turns out to be a super sarcastic partly alien living in a colony growing up in the J cohort. Seems unlikely, but not impossible.)
I even made a quiz. (should be at the bottom of the page too) You can find out your own future. Now excuse me while I go say some not sarcastic things to work this out of my system so I can do other writing.
I looked around the room and peaked at tests. I looked down at my own. 500 questions. I was never going to finish. I only had my name on it.
“Please remember, this is not a test of your knowledge. There is no right or wrong answers.” I rolled my eyes at the teacher. She smiled at all six of us.
No right or wrong but it would determine the rest of our lives.
“Well some answers will be wrong.” Julie, who knew everything, mumbled just loud enough for everyone to hear. Jason chuckled. I rolled my eyes and my shoulders.
“Every job is important. Every position matters. Without each person and their specific talents the colony would not thrive as it does. Soon you will all be important, powerful members of the colony. This will help identify what your skills are.”
Someone made a sucking sound. Probably Jacob. I scoffed and sighed. At least when this was all over I’d be done with the Js and we’d all be off into the rest of the colony. It was so annoying to deal with these immature idiots all the time.
I sighed and looked down at the questions.
What is the most important thing in your life?
◦ The colony
◦ My cohort
◦ Discovering new worlds
Finishing this test. Not being annoyed by the Js to death. Being done with this damn test. Pff. I marked Discovering new worlds.
During free time you…
◦ Study the colony details, history, and optimizing my capacity for learning
◦ Spend time with friends and develop relationships
◦ Tending the animals
They had to be kidding. Ugh. Fine. I selected volunteering. At least my actual record would show I didn’t do that.
In the morning you notice your________first when you look in the mirror.
◦ My eyes
◦ My smile
◦ My fangs
◦ My aural stalks
Come on. Were they all going to be like this? Nothing even about what I was actually good at. I skimmed through the test looking for anything even the slightest bit relevant.
Which trait is the most important?
Diligence would be something like janitorial duty. Compassion would make me deal with the dumbest of the colony, oh wait. I looked around the room…I already did that. I marked Determination. I was determined to be done with this test.
What is your favorite animal?
Oh, I really didn’t want to end up in the barns. I wrinkled my nose. Hawks, I guess. I looked around. Jill was reading each question carefully and stopped to actually ponder the answers. They’d just shove us into whatever jobs they had open. It wasn’t like they’d let the medic job sit empty because no one was naturally inclined to do it. Why were they making us waste hours on this damn test?
Under pressure you are:
◦ A natural leader
◦ A follower
◦ At my best
Oh good. We aren’t biasing our answers at all here. Nooope. Not even a little. Where’s the question about preparing these exams?
When evaluating others it is important to be:
All over the place, random, obtuse, and dismissive wasn’t listed. Which of course just meant that I was absolutely right about shoving us into whatever job they needed filled.
B. I was going to go with B for everything. Nah. Every fifth answer I’d switch it up a little. I started checking boxes. B, B, B, B, A – oh fun!
Jacob was just drawing boobs on his. Maybe they’d make him the medic.
All my questions were answered. Well none of my questions were answered, but that wasn’t going to change any time soon. I filed up to the front and passed the test over to the teacher. I was the third person done. Jacob of course had been first. Boobs were apparently the way to finish fast. I snickered to myself.
Jill had finished before me too. I couldn’t quite figure it out. She was smart, sure. But she’d been thinking about the answers. Maybe I dozed off and took a nap and didn’t notice.
The teacher took the sealed print out from the machine and handed it to me. Putting her fingers to her lips and baring her fangs at me, she pointed out the door.
I headed out. My last day of class.
Jacob was slumped on the floor in the hall. “I’m a janitor. A goddamn janitor.”
“Hey now, you will be the second in charge. You jumped right to the front of the line. And all jobs are very important. And you’ll get to go outside the habitat. You like getting out of here right.” Jill was crouched in front of him with her hand on his knee.
“What’d you get?” Jill sat down next to Jacob and I came over to sit next to her.
I ripped open my envelope and held my breath. “I am queen of the goats.” Lead Goatherd
There was silence for a long moment and then both Jill and Jacob burst into laughter.
I’ve been thinking about the new wave of creative AIs. When will AI be able to take over many of the jobs? It is coming, the question is when. How long until AIs go from iterating (which is primarily what they are doing now) to revolutionizing? That is the real trick with art and creativity in all things. Not just thinking about how to build a better mousetrap, but how to build a house that is mouse proof.
Part of that is you can try a thousand revolutionary things and you’ll be lucky if one of them takes off. Revolution is so much harder, and based on so many other components. But AI might be good at looking at the market trends, at taking in millions of factors, the change in weather, the downturn of the economy, the last revolutionary shift, etc. Take all that into account and it might be able to go, ok here are the 40 potentially revolutionary books that might shift everything. And yes, there might be hundreds of other books or movies or whatever like that, but you just need to be the right one at the right moment to create that entire shift in the way the market is, or to create and entirely new market.
Recently there was the Rembrandt thing, before that the Japanese novel, I was sure that some AI somewhere was creating music.
This is from 2009 so yeah, that’s been a while. She’s gone on to release more records as well. And yes, Emily Howell is an AI. She builds compositions, takes in feedback and adjusts based on if people thought it was good or bad.
Also everyarticle I read absolutely called this AI by the name the programmer (David Cope) had given her, and also calls this AI ‘her’. Which, yup! I am too.
I don’t think either the Rembrandt AI or the Japanese Novelist AI had gendered names. I hope somewhere out there someone is doing a study about what impact using people names for AI has on our brains and interactions with them. (Bonus Rap Bot)
They really talk about it like they are doing this as an extension of Rembrandt. Would you be comfortable with someone taking what you do now and coming up with what happens next? It does happen plenty now. (Wheel of Time anyone?)
Is it very different to have someone else finish a work rather than have an AI do it?
The basics of this seem to be that the human team did an outline and some basic development and then the AI filled it in. This is sort of like the AI ghost wrote the novel. If you could get an AI to ghost write your idea would you? (Although I don’t think that it “almost” won an award. It got past round one, it was not the runner up.
Basically a radio program on the computer. Or like going to the library and picking a series, and then the rest of them are already checked out when are ready for the next one.
If you can think of it, if it is your hobby, something you like, there is a podcast about it. It is the internet, it exists.
Podcasts can be regular, weekly, monthly, daily, or irregular sort of whenever the podcaster puts them out. You can have video podcasts. Most podcasts are audio. They can also range from just a few minutes up to hours and hours.
So how do I listen?
Do you have a smart phone? If you do get an app. For iPhones or iPads I cannot recommend Overcast highly enough. Once you’ve downloaded it, tap the plus in the upper right corner, then find a podcast.
Go ahead and try with my podcast (you knew this was going to come up!) Just type 600 Second Saga into the search directory.
You can add a single episode, or subscribe so every time a new episode comes out it will download right to your phone.
I don’t have an iPhone!
Stitcher is a fine cross platform tool. (Meaning you can use it on your Android phone, or desktop, probably not Blackberry, Windows phone apparently not. Windows phone users might be on your own. I spent over an hour trying to help a friend with this, it was a challenge.)
If you are on Android and use one of the other tools this link (Android) should make it work for you. You can also find me in the Google Play app.
You can listen on the page of the podcast. On the side of the page you’ll see a player, click and listen. You can also subscribe on YouTube if you are a YouTube fan.
600 Second Saga each episode has a link to play right in the browser at the bottom of each post. You can also listen right from my Facebook page.
For other podcasts, most of them will have the ability to listen directly from their webpage as well.
And Overcast has a website too. (I swear this isn’t an ad for Overcast, it is just the best tool I’ve found.)
I did user test these steps with a couple smart but not tech savvy people in my life, but if this still confuses you please comment and I’ll be happy to update it or help you.
Was the Apple Watch Edition a really thoughtful and deliberate example of anchoring?
So my (entirely lay) understanding of Anchoring is basically the first thing sets your perspective of the next thing. A tool used in negotiations very frequently.
Wikipedia says “ For example, the initial price offered for a used car sets the standard for the rest of the negotiations, so that prices lower than the initial price seem more reasonable even if they are still higher than what the car is really worth.”
So when Apple first came out with the Apple Watch there was a super expensive fancy version meant for super fancy people. ($10-15K) I know some people said this was in line with expensive watches. But for those of us who don’t regularly buy expensive watches it is a wow price point. Especially when there are other versions that do basically the same thing with a much lower price point.
So did Apple’s marketing people specifically design this campaign this way? Anchor the price with the Apple Watch Edition versions over $10K and then bring it down and shift their campaign to say, hey, we are for everyone. And now people will look at it and go, oh well it’s WAY less than $10K I can totally afford that. Things like sales and mark-downs all play heavily on Anchoring.
I know this seems not-writing related but I think it is. The way our brains work, and how we understand them is critical. It is also a part of how the world around us is changing and projecting that into the sci-fi of the future. Sci-fi isn’t just about new watches, it is also about how we talk about, think about, and market those things. Consider a world where marketing classes are all taught by people like Dan Ariely. (I took his Coursera class a couple years ago and I don’t think it is out there anymore but it was fantastic and really educational, I highly recommend his book as well.) What does that look like? How does that shape what we do, what we buy, how we save, how we invest, what we decide to do? Do we go to Mars in that world? Do we shoot for something bigger? What are the other changes in a world that shifts that way? What other possibilities are there for it?
Another Friday, another challenge from Chuck Wendig at Terrible Minds. Last week people posted the first sentence for something, only the first sentence. He got over 500 comments, eep!, and selected 10. I picked one of those and this is my take on that sentence.
“Of all the things I expected to find in my tomato soup, this wasn’t one of them.” (Stella Wood)
I grinned and slurped down the chunk of real, fresh tomato. I pushed my spoon through the soup and saw a sliver of green, I dug hungrily for it. Inhaling deeply I could almost smell the real black dirt that must have been used to grow the basil.
The shredded cheese on the top was standard for the cans of soup everyone used, but the rest, was magic. I wasn’t even sure what else was in it but I knew I wanted more. I ate the rest of it with abandon, slurping, licking the bowl clean.
The waitress finally came back over to my table as I leaned back and tore the bread. I hadn’t even dunked it in the soup. It was great too, but great bread was easy to find. Actual tomato chunks? Not so easy.
“That was amazing, how do you even get fresh tomatoes?” I stared up at her in awe.
“We grow them in the hot house. We’ve got lots of herbs and in the fall, fresh squash.” Her warm smile sharpened and she shifted uncomfortably. “It’s perfectly legal and most of our customers like it, you don’t have to eat here. Some people just prefer the whole thing.”
I waved my hand to stop her. “I think it is delicious.” She was worried I was going to lecture her. “The last time I had a real tomato, it was a caprese salad at a very fancy place. They advertised as shipping in all their produce whole grown. It wasn’t anything like this. The waitstaff lectured us about how they did only the bare minimum to enhance the flavor.” She snorted.
“No, you have to salt the tomatoes or they just taste like tangy water.” I laughed and she glanced around the empty cafe. She pulled up the seat across from me. “We use the prettiest ones in the BLTs. You should try one, they are my favorite this time of year. The lettuce is still crisp and the first tomatoes are ripening. They explode with flavor.”
“How can you do it? I know people can grow stuff for themselves, but…” I trailed off not quite sure. Was I asking too much? Prying? Exposing something illegal? I knew the really high end places had to have lots of certifications and the food would be flown in from specialized growers. I couldn’t imagine this tiny little alley way cafe could do that and serve three dollar soup.
“If you don’t buy the vegetables you are ok. We have a garden upstairs in our sun plot. There is always a chance, I suppose, that someone is going to push back against that. Although people who think that spending the time and energy on a potential crop failure should be banned aren’t the kinds of people who usually come in here anyway. They prefer to know exactly what they are going to get every time.” I felt my face turning red as she spoke.
I was one of those people. I went to the same places for all my meals, they were always the same, it was always good. I fumbled for something to say but she reached out and put her hand on my arm.
“We know all of the benefits of that. We understand, there is nothing wrong with it.” She smiled and patted my arm. “We just can’t afford those things. And I personally like making the soups.”
I frowned. “How can you spend all that energy on something that might fail?” I carefully guarded my energy, usually. Today had ended up being a disaster and I had to find new work, I didn’t really have the energy to be here spending time and thought on soup.
“I love it. Sure some days are failures, but those days end. I go to bed and get back up and try again the next day.” She leaned back in her chair and looked at me. “Not everyone thinks a bad day is the end of the world. Not every job fires someone for one bad day.”
I tore another chunk of bread and chewed it, giving myself time to think. Maybe you could be a waitress and have a bad day, though the places I frequented had an immaculate service standard, they wouldn’t sit down with a customer. They wouldn’t have a slow afternoon. I didn’t understand how this place hadn’t gone out of business. “Do your parents own this place?” If they were a wealthy family, maybe that would explain it. Children of owners were the only people who failed with impunity.
“No.” She grinned. The door chimed and someone came in. She raised a hand and waved. “Go ahead and sit anywhere, I’ll be right with you.” She gave me a sad sigh. “They say we are a creative world, but they punish actual creativity. I’ll bet you were released from your current contract today. If you need something we are looking for someone to wait tables in the morning.” She scribbled a number on the paper and walked over to greet the other patron.
I wanted to complain that I was better than that. I was an artist. I was part of the creative class. I was in charge of my own career, I could leave any job when I wanted, find something better.
I looked down at the soup bowl again. I paid the tab and left a good tip. I thought about the soup, the moment when that chunk of real tomato surprised me, discovering the basil. I always heard that art involved discovery. I wanted that feeling again. That rush of something new and unexpected.
Tell a story using a social media platform (FB/Twitter/etc). Yeah, ok Chuck, I’ll grant you, it’s hard to explain! Basically an epistolary using your social media of choice. An interesting challenge. Not one I’m sure I’ll be quick to repeat, but difficult things are good challenges. Though I do love reading messages and tweets from superheroes, I’m not sure that is the kind of writer I am. I am not nearly cool enough for that.
I opted for Facebook, despite my lack of booking of face.
There is no audio with this because I don’t even know how I’d do that. There is however for your viewing pleasure, screen caps of this Facebook Invasion.
I’m not entirely sure the best way to make this accessible in case you want it in a not screen cap format. But I’ve created a PDF of the script for Facebook Invasion. (If this doesn’t work for you please let me know!)
Stay tuned, later this week I’ll be updating you on where I’m at with the upcoming podcast, options for participating, and other cool things. I hope.
The number one thing I’ve learned from this flash fiction piece is I cannot spell “invasion” I keep typing “invation”.
A couple of updates and then onto another flash fiction piece (or jump ahead for Alone – Again).
Thieves has been updated and remastered and is out now on Amazon for $.99. It will also, hopefully, be out soon on Audible as an audiobook. (Check back for updates on that.) I will also have another audiobook (I’m reading someone else’s book) coming out soon on Audible. I’ll announce that when everything is finalized and it is available.
I will be kicking off my own podcast in March. It will be a primarily flash fiction podcast. So episodes will be normally 10 minutes or less of audio fiction. I may also create opportunities to feature flash fiction from other authors, so please get in touch with me if you are interested.
Update: Dead stuff…wait…
I think I found – yet another!- dead podcast, but it had a flash fiction challenge I decided to take on anyway, despite being…months late. Whoops.
The glass shatters on the closing door. I kick the couch and growl at the pain.
“Alone.” I huff and storm across the apartment. The apartment was designed for two, now it would be just me, alone. “Again.”
I brush my hands across my face, red and hot with anger. I growl at the empty space. I snarl at the hole left behind. I won’t get irrational and overly emotional. I’m perfectly rational about this.
She’s the one who is being irrational. I have been nothing but rational, reasonable, and kind.
I grab the plates off the table and toss them into the kitchen recycler. I flick the switch and it starts separating things. The recycler will pull the organic detritus from the strong, sturdy, remoldable plastic.
I storm over to shelves and throw them open. I snap at her clothes “I was great, she said. I was everything she wanted. She loved me.” I grab an armful of her clothes and throw them into the laundry chute. “LIES!” The chute flashes Recycle or Clean. I smack Recycle.
I stop in the middle of the living room and look around for evidence of her. A painting she made. Worthless. Her absurdly, expensive collection of old fashioned silverware. Sell it. She said she never wanted to see me again, so she wouldn’t.
I unclench my jaw and massage my neck. “I don’t deserve this. I deserve someone who cares about me.”
I sink into the chair and lean back into the computer. I look through my files, cleaning her out of them.
I’m going to make her go away. I open my editor and start pulling out memories. I start with the oldest ones, the best ones. I have a note in my editor to never start with the newest memories. I don’t know why it is there, but I trust me. I feel my anger, my frustration rise as the memories slip away. Until, I sweep the last of them out and my body relaxes.
I look at my system, my brain editor is open, I frown for a moment. I must have been stressed out about something but that’s gone now. I think maybe I’ll turn in early tonight. I hear a chime from the door.
A beautiful blonde in an incredibly sexy red dress shoves past me. Her face is smeared with makeup and tears. She grabs down a painting I don’t remember buying, and weird collection of shadowboxes with something shiny inside. I watch her with confusion.
“You already deleted me didn’t you?” She wipes at the makeup, smearing it more. “You’re never going to be happy if you don’t start learning and stop deleting. But it doesn’t matter. You’re going to delete this right now aren’t you?” She snorts and leaves.
I go back to the computer to pull up whatever I’d just deleted. I look at the editor and instead delete my recent memory with a swipe.