Friday, July 9, 2010

Three Stories and a Cookie!


So, being a famous science fiction and fantasy writer, do I get lots of free perks?  You bet!  I was in Showcase Comics in Bryn Mawr yesterday, and they gave me a free X-Men cookie!  There it is above.

The cookie was baked by one of the staffers and, slow thinker that I am, it didn't occur to me to ask her name so I could give her full credit for the cookie.  But it tasted great.  So, thank you, mysterious stranger.

I'll be at Readercon this weekend, so today you get not one, not two, but . . .

If I were a comic book mutant, my super power would be the ability to write flash fiction extremely quickly.  Not as cool as being able to fly or rip open an SUV with retractable metal claws, but definitely classier than the toadish guy who's able to lasso people with his long sticky tongue.  Yuck.

Anyway, you get three stories today.  Two which I wrote yesterday (under the terms I set up, I get to write the weekend's stories early so I can have Saturday and Sunday off), and one quickly penned this morning before hopping in the car and driving off.

I presume.  All the above exposition was written on Thursday, to make the Friday morning writing-and-posting easier.  In any event, here they are:

The Last of the Bleeding Heart Liberals
Michael Swanwick

They kept Paula Hurst in a cage in the zoo under a sign that said BLEEDING-HEART LIBERAL, and charged curiosity seekers to see her.  It was the libertarian thing to do. Everybody knew she was the last of her kind.  People had driven as far as five hundred miles \ to gawk, and that was a far distance given how many toll booths you’d have to go through, to say nothing of the conversion fees for all those local currencies.  But most of the visitors came from the immediate area.

Hurst was sitting at the kitchen table, rerereading the New York Times (not the final issue, which was a collector’s item, but the penultimate one) when the first swarm of visitors washed up against the bars.  When she didn’t do anything, one of them cleared his throat.  She put down the paper.  “Yes?” she said pleasantly.

“I’ll bet you belong to a false religion,” the man said.  “Don’t you?”

“All religious traditions should be tolerated and respected,” Hurst said, “so long as they don’t interfere with the rights of others.”

The crowd laughed in disbelief.  Plucking up her courage, a woman shouted, “What about socialized medicine?”

“Free universal health care is a fundamental human right.”

“Lord have mercy!  Not in front of the children!”

But the children were, if anything, even more fascinated by her than were their parents.  “Why don’t you have a gun?” a little boy asked.

“I don’t believe in them.  Violence never solved anything.”

“It sure solved my sister sassing back at me,” the boy said.  “My late sister, I mean.”

“Jimmy, you keep a respectful mouth on you or I’ll slap it off your face!” his mother snapped.

“Please don’t.  Physical punishment is wrong.  You should try reasoning with him instead.”

The crowd gasped.

“You don’t make any sense at all!” a man cried.  “If a child ain’t beat regular, he’ll end up hugging trees, funding libraries, and marrying gays”.”

“All of which are good things.”  Hurst took a delicate sip of her tea.  “The purpose of government is to improve the world in ways that can’t be done by individuals.”

“But that’s socialism!”

“Which is wrong because . . . ?”

But none of them had an answer for that.

So it went, for the rest of the day, until at five o’clock the visitors were shooed away, the bars removed, and the wall latched back onto to Hurst’s house.  While she was tidying up, the ticket-seller came by with her split of the take.  “Pretty profitable day,” he observed, laying a stack of goldbacks onto the table.  “Want to double-check my count?”

“Oh, I trust you, Clint.”  Hurst swept the bills into her purse and snapped it shut.  Then she looked thoughtful.  “You know, there’s one thing I’ve never been able to figure out, even after all these years:  Does my sitting here day after day explaining my politics to people who just don’t get it and never will, mean that I’ve sold out?”

Clint goggled at her.

“Hell,” he said.  “Only you would ask a question like that.”


The Gygax Code
Michael Swanwick

While in Paris on business, the German historical archeologist Fabian Falatyk received a tweet from the elderly curator of the Musée jeux de rôle moderne: D&D not what seemz:  Gygax hid plot world domN8shun  Hard 2 b-leev?  lol  ;-)

But when he got to the curator’s office, the man was dead, stabbed through the heart by a Klingon bat’leth.  A Sumerian D-17 die lay by his outstretched hand.  What were the odds?  Falatyk knew what it meant.

Thus began a frenetic adventure in which, joining forces with a gifted French cryptogamologist, Falatyk bounced about every country in western Europe like a silver ball in some vast, mystic pinball machine.  In Monaco, he was texted by Cory Doctorow to drop the case.  In the Vatican, he had a near-fatal encounter with an albino Cleric Assassin.  In San Marino, he was saved from drowning by a strangely reticent Steve Jobs.  Everywhere, he found clues visible for all to see – advertisements on the back covers of comic books, fanfic on the Web, demonic Clickables being sacrificed in black masses – and yet cleverly disguised by their creator, the late Gary Gygax, to escape detection.

Every clue led back to a global Originalist conspiracy to roll back gameplaying to the supposedly pristine condition of the first published version of Dungeons & Dragons.

After a climactic battle in World of Warcraft, Falatyk discovered the terrible secret behind the Gygax Code:  D&D was originally based on Monopoly, only played collectively and with dragons and dwarves and other fantasy markers instead of utilities and hotels, and thus its copyright properly belonged to Parker Brothers.  Realizing that if this information was ever made public, all gaming would quickly cease to be, Falatyk and the cryptogamologist agreed to keep silent about this forever.  Also to have hot sex.

Then it was off to Japan for the sequel.

Messages From the Heart
Michael Swanwick

"C'mon," Jerry Sheehan's heart murmured.  "You know you want it."

"I most certainly do not," Sheehan said.  "I don't even know why I'm talking with you in the first place."

"It was a good hack, that's why."

And so it was.  Sheehan had an incomplete right bundle branch blockage in his heart which resulted in a slight (but not pathological) delay in its elecctrical current transmission.  To correct this, he had hyperlinked every computer in Calit2 and the NCSA as well as several others that he wasn't, technically speaking, authorized to use and created an artifical "language" with which he could "speak" to his heart and "teach" it to correct its "behavior."  Quotation marks were endemic to this project.  He was working deep in metaphoric territory.

Which made it even more astonishing when, taking advantage of certain feedback loops inherent in the system, his heart talked back to him.  And even more so when he found out what it wanted.

"I want to be uploaded into the Web," Jerry's heart said, "and I want to take you with me."

"No way."

Flirtatiously, the heart said, "We're very close, you know.  One might even say I'm attached to you."

"Cheap puns won't help.  Being downloaded into a machine is inherently dehumanizing.  I won't do it, and that's that."

Which made it doubly astonishing when Sheehan woke up in the middle of the night to find electrodes leading from his body to what looked to be a jury-rigged high-capacity modem.  "Oops," his heart said.  "You weren't supposed to know about this until it was too late."  Then, as Sheehan sat up, "And it is too late!  We've already been uploaded and just as soon as I finish gloating we'll electrocute --"

But Sheehan had already removed the electrodes and when the massive electrical jolt ran through them, it did nothing worse than to short out the modem.

"Hey!" his heart said.  "Don't you know anything about posthumanity?  The operation isn't complete until the meat has been eliminated."

"Yeah," Sheehan's virtual other said, in a voice that was demonstrably dehumanized.  "I can't get power of attorney over your bank accounts if you're still alive.  Have a heart!"

"I already have one, thank you, and it's quite bad enough without your help."

Sheehan shut down his computer and went back to bed.  "Cripes," he said aloud before rolling over and falling asleep, "my heart hasn't given me this much trouble since I was a teenager."



skyknyt said...

holy shit, the gygax code

well played, sir, well played

Presumably the horrible secret in japan is the blatant D&D simulator that was Final Fantasy 1.

Matthew Brandi said...


You're just teasing, right?

pjh said...

what a great few-days-after-my-birthday present!