Sunday, August 23, 2015

Sasquan, worldcon and the science fiction convention

My oh my has it ever been a long time since I’ve posted. I apologize for this delay, let’s for a second forget this transgression of a blog commandment (thou shalt often blog at regular intervals) and allow me to explain:

You see, I’ve just barely exacted with my life and I have my wit (and accompanying smarts attitude) to thank and blame on the matter. Let me tell you what happened.

In the past few days two things have descended upon the town of Spokane. A Science Fiction convention and the smoke from a hundred fires across the state. It is the former about which I want to talk. That’s not to say the smoke hasn’t played its part. After all, who hasn't been affected by the drifting smoke choking up one’s lungs, burning one’s eyes, cutting down one’s vision, infecting long distances with an apocalyptic haze? But even if the wildfire smoke provides an interesting atmosphere—to say nothing of how it infects the hearts of humans—it’s not the focal point of my excuse.

Let me begin, before I lose any more of you readers. I attended the scifi conference on Friday and after listening to a couple discussions, I found myself in a less visited corner of the convention center, my skin tingling and tightening as I felt a chill. After making sure I wasn't being watched, I sat at a couch and propped up my legs on the table, which was also supporting a sculpture—all made of melted bottle tops combined to represent a robot contemplating a human skull, an obvious bullet hole in the back of the skull’s head and exit hole through the teeth.

Leaning back and inhaling the sterile convention center smell, I realized that I'd sat on a book. I pulled it out from under me and examined the cover: on it a gallant woman rode a chariot being pulled by naked men. They were headed to a shining light at the end of the road.

It was thin, the book, and so I read through it, the writing clean enough for me not to stop and the premise interesting enough for me to flip the pages. When I was finished, unsure with the ending, I threw the book on the table where it collided with the sculpture.

It was then that I noticed a shift in the atmosphere and the smell of something like rotting feet. Out from the shadows in a corner stepped a large man. I froze. For not only was he large, not only did he wield a large sword, but he moved with the kind of nimbleness that signifies a specifically potent violence.

“Treat the book with a little more respect, small man.”

I should have left, but the challenge was there in the air. “The fuck’s it to you?”

He stopped, surprised, and looked me over, eyebrows raised. In the distance I could hear the yells of an award show somewhere in the convention center. “What did you think of it?” he asked.

I still wasn’t sure. After all, the aftereffects of the book weren’t finished with me. The thoughts it evoked had drifted down to my throat—stuck there like nettle—and only now had dislodged and moved to my stomach. I certainly wasn’t sure about the story, for it revolved around earth several thousand years in the future, humans now taken over by a bio-nano AI which infected, or “saved” the race by merely changing a few aspects of human’s reward/punishment system with regard to the decision making process and thus ushering in an era of peace. Not that I was entirely certain, but the book seemed to be saying that something close to a utopia had come about because the AI punished the material bias (the spring from which flows violence, according to this book). Yes, I know; this link was tenuous at best, though I enjoyed it as a premise, nonetheless.

The book revolved around the AI as protagonist. Hard to pull that off, but this author came as close and anyone in history has (in fact, the back page had the code for the AI—pretty impressive). But as the AI evolved, it soon found itself fighting other versions of itself. In the end, after a devastating battle kills off half of humanity (still shackled from doing violence themselves), the AIs come to a detente. The story had series written all over it. And it certainly had me thinking—a sign of a good book—but since I didn’t like how the question was phrased so I said, “Odd story and the cover doesn’t make sense.”

The man roared and I jumped just as the sword cut the couch in half. Before I could say anything my legs propelled me out of the room and down a hallway, the man in pursuit, close behind me. I turned a corner, ducking as the sword cut through the wall above me.

I kept running and turning, my heart pounding hard, my eyes looking out for a group of people—anyone… where were they when you needed them?—with whom to find safety. But whatever convoluted hallway I went down, I could not find a soul. Soon I realized—my pursuer gaining ground, breathing heavily, the big bastard not slowing down one bit, that sword cutting through the air every so often and hitting the walls with thud and covering my sweaty backside with plaster—that there were no rooms wherever I went and that, furthermore, this was something of a labyrinth.

Was I in the art show? Every now and again I would run by carvings in the wall or a sculpture—odd things, really, they had to have been for the scifi convention—and turn. But there was no one else around. And as I ran and turned past more and more blind corners, as I ran deeper into the belly of the convention center, the air grew heavy and cold, the little light from before almost non-existent now, and my legs growing heavier, the adrenaline diluting and my thoughts dwelling less on flight and more on fight. Because I couldn’t run for much longer.

I made another turn and saw a sculpture, almost up to my waist, like a large fist. Mid-stride, I picked it up and spun and let go. The man came around the corner, his sword on his shoulder and the statue hit him on the jaw. I caught a glimpse of his eye rolling skyward as the sword clattered to the ground and he collapsed. My hands resting on my knees, finally catching my breath, I looked at the sculpture; a metal thing, this fist, the little knots in it were a mass of people and creatures and robots, all in some form of sexual or violent gymnastics with another.

The man—the giant, really, for he came up to my waist when lying down—groaned. I dragged his sword away. Returning, I startled when I saw the figure of an old bearded man shuffle into my view. The old man leaned on his cane staring at the felled giant. I wanted to say something, but decided against it. The man examined the statue now; failing to pick it up, he pushed it about with his cane.

“You don’t like art?” He glanced at me and I was suddenly aware of his power.

“It’s not that…” I paused as he tenderly touched the giant’s chin. Were they friends? Would the old man now pursue me? I opened my mouth to say something, but nothing escaped. I was feeling cold now, my sweat taking its time to evaporate.

“You best be gone,” he said, his voice cackling.

He didn’t have to repeat himself. I stumbled out of there and soon found myself turning by dint of sword scars on the walls and walked out through a pair of double doors and into the lobby where I had been initially accosted by the giant. The couch was still sliced in half and a handful of people were staring at couch then shifted accusing eyes towards me. I asked if there was a book here and they pointed. I grabbed it and left before anyone could ask me questions. Soon, I was in the smoky outside, thinking on what had just transpired and if I should show my face there again. 

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  1. Here from File770. This was awesome!

    1. Thank you, Greg! Glad to hear it. Check out some of the other stories if you get a chance to browse.


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