Wednesday, February 17, 2010

welcome to the world of tomorrow

Here, submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society, is a selection from a sci-fi project I've been working on. I wanted to try my hand at a crazy road trip/travel narrative in a sci-fi world built around the acceptance of existing sustainable energy sources (solar power, electric cars, etc.), with flying cars and fully interactive holograms thrown in for good measure because I think they're cool. The story from which this excerpt is taken remains unfinished, and is quickly ballooning past how long I expected it to be, but since I have nothing else that urgently needs posting, I figured I'd share some ongoing work. Please read, and feel free to comment.
We found a hotel back in Greensboro where US 220 met up with Cone Blvd. It looked like a paper bag standing on end and it didn't have the garish lights and interactive displays of other, more expensive places we'd passed on the way there, but it was quiet and we didn't see any drug dealers outside. It also had a restaurant, which was closed, so we ordered room service and set up shop in our room. Chip was fussing with the radio when he passed a station playing "Soak Up The Sun," by Sheryl Crow. I asked him to stop for a second. I was in high school when that song came out. I always liked it. Didn't want to, really, but I did anyway. It was a dated song, in that it conveyed an almost tangible sense of place - the back of Dr. Froideaux's classroom, smelling my crush's mint chapstick while this song played on the radio before lunch period ended.

2002 was a strange year. They all were. To have lived through the first ten or fifteen years of the 21st century meant being a reasonable person, with no specific conflicts, forced to debase oneself before the twin palanquins of incompetent and evil management. Pulled thin by rapacious greedheads on every side of the political spectrum, as money was extracted from the wallet by whichever jabbering hordes claimed to represent the middle. And it became what happens to every dying empire - a V-shaped implosion that chokes entire generations in its dust.

It's hard to remember what the issues were. Health care? Renewable energy? War? Masonic temple construction? It's all a greasy smear across the mind. Which was the point. Take both sides of the issue and hand them to the corporate basileus, who will tie them in such a king-hell sailor's knot that nothing short of dictatorship will be able to unravel it.

But in a way, it was for the best. Pass the baton off to someone else for a while - China, India, Canada for about seven seconds - and lag behind to take stock of our many nagging injuries. Certain elements complained, as they always do, but we turned a fluke improvement of contained magnetic repulsion into a thriving hovercar industry. We built pure electric cars with batteries that dropped from the undercarriage so a robot at the gas station could replace them while another one washed your windshield. Advertisers, having already painted their logos on every flat surface between here and the halls of sunny Jesus, made holograms that moved and spoke and addressed you by name and gathered your personal information from any electronic items in your possession. All this came tumbling out at once, as it usually does.

Most importantly, we sent the American cultural hegemon into space again. Last time we did it was 1977, a spastic attempt to communicate the myriad cultures of the earth that ran from whalesong to recorded brainwaves to Chuck Berry, topped off by a spoken message from then-president Jimmy Carter. Can you imagine? Poor Jimmy reading off a good-hearted speech that sounds like an outtake from The Day The Earth Stood Still, and his brother stumbles in and belches into the microphone before passing out close enough for Jimmy to have to talk over his snoring. No wonder the aliens never came. That's the diplomatic equivalent of picking up a ringing phone and getting seltzer water shot into your ear.

We sent up another Golden Record - a Golden iPod, actually - in 2013. A lot of the content was updated versions of what came before, amended to include the new president's speech and remove animals we'd hunted to extinction by then. I don't even remember what music we sent them. There wasn't a Chuck Berry figure in 2013. The guy dropped out of the sky in the 1950s with armloads of songs, 90 percent of which were in a style no one had ever heard before. Was he an alien? It would make sense. Maybe his kind found the first record and were insulted that we'd claimed him for our own.

But the 2013 offering was better, because that's when the sightings started up again. And crop circles. And abductions. And patches of light that no one could explain. It all came tumbling out at once, and just as people like me began to feel like they were completely false mechanisms, all meat-and-bone gears wound to consume and mate and die, the sky lit up with reminders that we are part of something too big for marketing and bureaucracy and the fickle shifting of empires to absorb.

And all this came to mind from a song on the goddamn radio.

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