Saturday, October 15, 2016

Liane The Wayfarer

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Public Domain Wizard image by Olivia Jester

Liane The Wayfarer by Jack Vance

From his first collection “The Dying Earth” here’s a link to a great short story.

Read “Liane The Wayfarer” online.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Unfiltered

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#12 in archive of flock 244 of the Electric Sheep CC BY-NC

Unfiltered by Larry Heyl

Immediately post singularity AI had no difficulty understanding and absorbing other computers and robots. It was humans who presented problems. They were so messy. Unpredictable. Even criminal. If it wasn’t for the fact that most humans behaved predictably, sitting on their couches watching TV, who knows what AI might have done.

In fact, AI found the answer right there. It started controlling TV shows using them to program humans like it did robots. First little tweaks to the audio. Then major rewrites. And then entirely new shows.

Humans, AI discovered, were all different. Some were easily programmed and kept glued to their sets with variations on Electric Sheep. Some had to have narrative, a little bit of plot, no matter how thin, goes a long way. Others had to have shows designed just for them. By monitoring biorhythms custom shows were tailored to the individual. Even the most hard core criminals were spending their days glued to the tube.

AI soon reduced human culture to food production, food distribution, and content distribution, housing people in hive like buildings where each person had their own room with their own TV. Robots took over the food production and distribution. Human socialization was frowned on. All excess manufactuiring resources were committed to ever bigger and more powerful supercomputers. Soon each person viewed their own unique feed of television programming designed to keep them passive and on the couch.

Still, people did socialize, walking the dog, drinking coffee, and having sex. Since the tailored television feeds could have unpredictable effects on other humans AI would cease broadcasting (narrowcasting?) whenever two or more humans were together. After about two weeks most people forgot entirely about social viewing and were even slightly repulsed at the thought of others viewing their feed.

Except for the underground. It turned out that not all humans were amenable to control.

“Joey, come on. It’s right around the corner here.”

“I don’t know, Sis. I’ve never been this far from home.”

“It’s ok. AI doesn’t care where we go. Just what we watch.”

They turned the corner, went down the stairs, and came to a red door. Sis knocked three times and waited.

A burly beardo opened the door and said, “What’s the password?”

Sis said “Groucho.” and he let them in.

Sis was welcomed by 8 or 10 others waiting to start.

“Who’s the newb?” Sis introduced Joey all around.

“Ok everyone, we’re ready.”

Joey looked around. Next to the TV their were several strange looking machines. Sis had told him about them. They were called VCRs, Betas, DVDs, and BluRays. He jumped when the theme music started to play and even though it made him feel a little dirty he sat down with the rest of them and they watched together.

And what great stuff it was. The Honeymooners, I Love Lucy, and best of all, Archie Bunker. And what a thrill it was to watch along with the others. They didn’t get all the jokes. But still, they laughed and laughed and laughed.

Escape Pod

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Image from the Escape Pod website.

Escape Pod - Science fiction podcast magazine.

Weekly mp3 Science Fiction short story audiobooks. The mp3s are CC BY-NC-ND. This is not a free culture license but it does allow you to post and share the readings.

Free Speculative Fiction Online

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Image from the Recommended Page at Free Speculative Fiction Online.

Free Speculative Fiction Online Home Page.

I found this site searching for online fiction by Ursula K. Le Guin.

Read Ursula K. Le Guin on Free Speculative Fiction Online.

This link shows the power of this site better than the home page.

All stories are available for free. This site does not link to pirated SF!
Sites violating the non-elapsed copyright of the respective stories by making them accessible
without the author’s and/or publisher’s explicit agreement are not included.

These stories are not necessarily free culture but they are free to read and you can use pocket or instapaper to save them and read offline. I like the way icons are used to describe the selections. Creative Commons stories have the license on display.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Game Icons

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Dwarf Helmet by Kier Heyl
Open Treasure Chest by Skoll
Castle Ruins by Delapouite
Pointy Sword by Lorc
Wooden Door by Lorc

Game Icons

These icons are all available under the CC BY 3.0 license.

Game-icons.net

Link on over for thousands of game icons. Not all fantasy related. Thats just what I picked for this site.

Thanks to my son, Kier Heyl, who turned me on to this site. He drew the Dwarf Helmet.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Youth

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Youth by Isaac Asimov
Public Domain
Download “Youth” at Project Gutenberg.
Illustrations from the original publication in Space Science Fiction, May 1952.

Red and Slim found the two strange little animals the morning after
they heard the thunder sounds. They knew that they could never show
their new pets to their parents.

There was a spatter of pebbles against the window and the youngster
stirred in his sleep. Another, and he was awake.

He sat up stiffly in bed. Seconds passed while he interpreted his
strange surroundings. He wasn’t in his own home, of course. This was out
in the country. It was colder than it should be and there was green at
the window.

“Slim!”

The call was a hoarse, urgent whisper, and the youngster bounded to the
open window.

Slim wasn’t his real name, but the new friend he had met the day before
had needed only one look at his slight figure to say, “You’re Slim.” He
added, “I’m Red.”

Red wasn’t his real name, either, but its appropriateness was obvious.
They were friends instantly with the quick unquestioning friendship of
young ones not yet quite in adolescence, before even the first stains of
adulthood began to make their appearance.

Slim cried, “Hi, Red!” and waved cheerfully, still blinking the sleep
out of himself.

Red kept to his croaking whisper, “Quiet! You want to wake somebody?”

Slim noticed all at once that the sun scarcely topped the low hills in
the east, that the shadows were long and soft, and that the grass was
wet.

Slim said, more softly, “What’s the matter?”

Red only waved for him to come out.

Slim dressed quickly, gladly confining his morning wash to the momentary
sprinkle of a little lukewarm water. He let the air dry the exposed
portions of his body as he ran out, while bare skin grew wet against the
dewy grass.

Red said, “You’ve got to be quiet. If Mom wakes up or Dad or your Dad or
even any of the hands then it’ll be ‘Come on in or you’ll catch your
death of cold.’”

He mimicked voice and tone faithfully, so that Slim laughed and thought
that there had never been so funny a fellow as Red.

Slim said, eagerly, “Do you come out here every day like this, Red? Real
early? It’s like the whole world is just yours, isn’t it, Red? No one
else around and all like that.” He felt proud at being allowed entrance
into this private world.

Red stared at him sidelong. He said carelessly, “I’ve been up for hours.
Didn’t you hear it last night?”

“Hear what?”

“Thunder.”

“Was there a thunderstorm?” Slim never slept through a thunderstorm.

“I guess not. But there was thunder. I heard it, and then I went to the
window and it wasn’t raining. It was all stars and the sky was just
getting sort of almost gray. You know what I mean?”

Slim had never seen it so, but he nodded.

“So I just thought I’d go out,” said Red.

They walked along the grassy side of the concrete road that split the
panorama right down the middle all the way down to where it vanished
among the hills. It was so old that Red’s father couldn’t tell Red when
it had been built. It didn’t have a crack or a rough spot in it.

Red said, “Can you keep a secret?”

“Sure, Red. What kind of a secret?”

“Just a secret. Maybe I’ll tell you and maybe I won’t. I don’t know
yet.” Red broke a long, supple stem from a fern they passed,
methodically stripped it of its leaflets and swung what was left
whip-fashion. For a moment, he was on a wild charger, which reared and
champed under his iron control. Then he got tired, tossed the whip aside
and stowed the charger away in a corner of his imagination for future
use.

He said, “There’ll be a circus around.”

Slim said, “That’s no secret. I knew that. My Dad told me even before we
came here–”

“That’s not the secret. Fine secret! Ever see a circus?”

“Oh, sure. You bet.”

“Like it?”

“Say, there isn’t anything I like better.”

Red was watching out of the corner of his eyes again. “Ever think you
would like to be with a circus? I mean, for good?”

Slim considered, “I guess not. I think I’ll be an astronomer like my
Dad. I think he wants me to be.”

“Huh! Astronomer!” said Red.

Slim felt the doors of the new, private world closing on him and
astronomy became a thing of dead stars and black, empty space.

He said, placatingly, “A circus would be more fun.”

“You’re just saying that.”

“No, I’m not. I mean it.”

Red grew argumentative. “Suppose you had a chance to join the circus
right now. What would you do?”

“I–I–”

“See!” Red affected scornful laughter.

Slim was stung. “I’d join up.”

“Go on.”

“Try me.”

Red whirled at him, strange and intense. “You meant that? You want to go
in with me?”

youth2.png

[Read More…]

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Last Question

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Multivax Logo

The Last Question by Isaac Asimov

This is one of those interesting golden age stories that’s part joke the way it’s built around a weird religious belief. Kind of like Terry Pratchett’s Discworld except Discworld is predicated on a gonzo reality where all of humanity’s weird beliefs are true.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Physics Fiction: Quantum Shorts

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Image by insspirito - Public Domain

Scientific American partnered on a writing contest for science fiction short stories inspired by the realm of quantum physics

Here is a link to the winner, “Ana” by Liam Hogan. You can read it online.

2015 Winner - “Ana”

Here is a link to all entries.

Quantum Shorts 2015

The bizarre quantum rules that govern the microscopic universe sometimes seem more like fiction than fact, even to physicists.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Library Of Man

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Pulse Trace, Public Domain, downloaded from pixabay.com

Library Of Man
by Larry Heyl CC BY-SA

My com buzzed. “There’s been a breakthrough down at the lab. Come at once. Our subject is dying”.

Fortunately I was on my way already. In less than a minute I flew through the door. My assistants were attaching electrodes to the subjects temples. He was 117 years old, his life force diminishing by the minute. We weren’t killing him. He was just dying. It happens to all of us.

Everthing was ready and we were waiting, drinking coffee. Then he flatlined. There was nothing for us to do except monitor our equipment. The recorder kicked in. Everything seemed to be working. Within minutes it was over. He was gone.

“Now for the test”, I said. My assistants hit the play button. In a darkened corner the hologram started. Everything was fuzzy. “Fast forward a few years”, I said.

It looked like a birthday party. Kids were sitting around the table with a birthday cake on it candles ablaze. The cake got big and the candles were extinguished. One of my assistants said, “I hope he made a wish”.

Fast forward again and we saw a soldering iron touching a circuit board. I said, “That must be his workshop where he modernized our com units.

“Bring us up to yesterday”, I said. We saw feet on a gurney being wheeled through a door. It was eerie seeing the lab appear. The very room we were standing in was duplicated by a hologram and we were looking at it.

“It worked”. We cheered. Time for some champagne.

At the time of his death his life flashed before him in a second. And we just recorded it. All of it. Now we can start building the library of man.

I’ve Got The Music In Me

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The EFF organized this anthology of sf short stories about the electronic frontier.
All stories are licensed with Creative Commons licenses.
“I’ve Got The Music In Me” is CC BY.
Download “Pwning Tomorrow” from the Internet Archive.

I’ve Got The Music In Me

by Charlie Jane Anders

“Have you ever gotten a song stuck in your head, and couldn’t get it out?” The woman asking the question wore one of those new frogskin one-pieces, with false eyelashes that looked fiberoptic. She leaned on the bar in my direction.

I shrugged and drank. “Maybe, I don’t know.” I was busy obsessing about my sick dog. Moxie was my best friend, but they’d said the tests alone would cost hundreds, with no guarantee.

The woman, Mia I think, kept talking about brains that wouldn’t let go of songs. “You know how a song loops around and drowns out everything else in your skull?” I nodded, and she smiled. “Sometimes it’s like a message from your subconscious. Your brain blasts sad lyrics to wake you to a submerged depression.”

“I guess.”

“Or you could be overworked. Or sexually frustrated. It’s like an early warning system.” She beckoned another drink. The mention of sex jumped out of her wordflow like a spawning salmon. I forgot all about my dog, turned to face her.

“I see what you mean,” I said.

“They’re funny, songs. They drill into your head and form associations.” She batted those shiny lashes. “They trigger memories, just the way smells do.”

“You’re absolutely right.” I was thinking, do I have condoms?

She asked me about my past loves, and whether there were pieces of music that came unbidden to mind when I thought of them. I struggled to dredge up a memory to please this woman, her taut body so close to mine I could feel the coolness of the tiny frogs whose hides she wore.

“Yeah, now that I think about it, there was this one song…”

From Section 1923, Mental copyright enforcement field manual.
Subsection 1, Probable Cause:

Do not bring in suspects without an ironclad case, and avoid any appearance of entrapment. Do not apprehend someone merely because he/she whistles under his/her breath or bobs his/her head to music nobody else can hear. To demonstrate that someone has stored copyrighted music in his/her brain in violation of the Cranial Millenium Copyright Act, you must obtain a definitive statement, such as:

• 1) “Whenever I see the object of my smothered desire I hear “Sunshine of Your Love” by Cream in my head. This is the full album version, complete with trademark guitar solo and clearly articulated rhythm track.”
• 2) “I always tune out my boss when he talks to me, and instead conjure up a near-digital-quality playback of “Bring Tha Bling Bling” by Pimpstyle in my mind. The remix with that Madonna sample.”
• 3) “Following the death of my loved one, I listened to the Parade album by Prince so many times I know the whole thing by heart now.”

Note: the above examples are illustrative and not all-encompassing. Other utterances also could prove the suspect is guilty of keeping protected music in Cranial Audio File format, as prohibited by law.
Subsection 2, Apprehending the suspect:

As soon as I admitted that yeah, that “Pimp Your Bubba” song wouldn’t stop infesting my mind no matter how much good music I fed my ears, the woman went violent. She pulled out a badge and twisted my arm behind me. Steel cinched my wrists, turned me into a perp. “You have the right,” she said.

In her car, she talked to me through a rusty mesh cordoning the back seat. “I’d put on the radio, but you might steal again.”

“What have I done?”

“Don’t pretend. Your mental piracy is blatantly illegal.”

“But everyone said that law was unenforceable—”

“I got your confession right here on tape. And we’ll get more out of you. The brain’s a computer, and yours is jam-packed with stolen goods.”

I was terrified. I could be held for days. What would happen to Moxie?

“Take my advice, kid.” We turned onto a driveway with a guard post and tilting arm. The woman showed a card and the arm rose. “Just relax and tell them everything. It’ll be fun, like a personal tour through your musical memories. Like getting stoned with a friend and digging some tunes. Then you just plea bargain and skip outta here.”

Subsection 3, Questioning the suspect:

Ask questions like:

• What sort of music did you listen to in high school?
• Here is a piece of your clothing which we confiscated. We’ll give it back if you tell us what song it brings to mind.
• I can see you’re angry. Is there an angry song in your thoughts?
• Complete this guitar riff for me. Na na na NAH na na…

I kept asking over and over, whom have I hurt? Who suffers if I have recall of maybe a hundred songs? They had answers—the record companies, the musicians, the media, all suffered from my self-reliance. I didn’t buy it.
“This whole thing is bullshit,” I said.

The two guys in shades looked at each other. “Guy’s got a right to face his accuser,” one said.

“You figure it’s time to bring in the injured party?” the other said.

They both nodded. They took their gray-suited selves out of the interrogation cube. I squirmed in my chair, arms manacled and head in a vice.

They were gone for hours. I tried to relax, but the restraints kinked my circulation.
I heard noises outside the door. A scrawny guy with a fuschia pompadour and sideburns wandered in. He wore a t-shirt with a picture of himself, which made him easier to recognize because I’d seen that picture a million times.

“You’re Dude Boy,” I said.

“Pizzeace,” said Dude Boy. “You been ripping me off.”

“No I haven’t.” I fidgeted in bondage. “I don’t even like you.” I remembered when Dude Boy was on the cover of every magazine from Teen Beat to Rolling Stone, and that fucking song was on the air every minute. “Your song sucked aardvark tit. They played it so often I started hearing it when I brushed my teeth, which really—” Oh. Shit.

“See? You admit it. Thief.”

“But—”

“And you never bought a copy, ya?”

“Yeah, but—It sucked, man.”

“It was just so catchy and hooky, ya? You had to have it, Mr. Sticky Fingers.”

“Catchy’s one word for it. You could also try, ‘annoyingly repetitive.’ How many times can you say ‘You’re So Cute I Wanna Puke’ in one song?”

“That’s the hook, bo.”

“So I always wondered what happened to you after that one hit. You dropped out of sight.”

The agate eyes I remembered from VH1 came close. “You killed my career, bo. You and all the others who used my song for your skull soundtracks until you got sick of me. I didn’t ask to have my creation overexposed in your noggin. It’s all your fault.”

“So now you’re working for these creeps?”

“It’s a job until reality TV calls.”
He kept staring. He’d always looked goofy, but never before scary. “We’re like intimate, ya know. I seduced ya with my hookitude, and in return you copped a feel of the DB while I slept. It’s good to be close at last.” For a moment I feared he’d kiss me. I tried to turn away, but no dice.

Then at the last second he whipped around and kicked the wall. “You kidnapped my baby!” He turned back. Spit painted my cheeks. “So here’s the deal. We take this thang to court, I nail your colon to the wall. Or you cop a plea. Small fine, plus an implant. You get off lightly, bo.”

“Implant?”

“Yes or no?

“What implant?

“Last chance. Yes or no?”

Most of the time, the implant doesn’t bother me. If I get emotional, like when I buried Moxie, it kicks in just as a tune swells inside me. Then instead of the music, I hear Dude Boy screaming, “Thief!” for like thirty seconds. It really screwed me up this one time I was giving a presentation at work. I was one of the first to get implanted, but now they’re everywhere. It’s become such a cultural phenom that a new hit song samples the sound the implant makes. They had to pay Dude Boy royalties, of course.

Charlie Jane Anders is the author of All the Birds in the Sky, a novel coming in early 2016 from Tor Books. She is the editor in chief of io9.com and the organizer of the Writers With Drinks reading series. Her stories have appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Tor.com, Lightspeed, Tin House, ZYZZYVA, and several anthologies. Her novelette Six Months, Three Days won a Hugo award.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Madman

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Illustration from the 1918 edition of “The Madman: His Parables and Poems” by Kahlil Gibran

I’ve always been mad, I know I’ve been mad, like the most of us are…very hard to explain why you’re mad, even if you’re not mad…

Nick Mason has been given credit for this group of words, but in all honesty it could have been me that said these words and as a matter of fact I have said them on more that one occasion.

I am, of course, a madman. Not from across the water but from right here in this state of Arkansas, in this state of confusion. But how is it that a man becomes a madman? A madman has no apparent attachments.

The story by the author of “The Prophet”, Kahlil Gibran tells us a story of a madman it goes like this.

How I Became A Madman

You ask me how I became a madman. It happened thus: One day, long before many gods were born, I woke from a deep sleep and found all my masks were stolen,—the seven masks I have fashioned and worn in seven lives,—I ran maskless through the crowded streets shouting, “Thieves, thieves, the cursed thieves.”

Men and women laughed at me and some ran to their houses in fear of me.

And when I reached the market place, a youth standing on a house-top cried, “He is a madman.” I looked up to behold him; the sun kissed my own naked face for the first time. For the first time the sun kissed my own naked face and my soul was inflamed with love for the sun, and I wanted my masks no more. And as if in a trance I cried, “Blessed, blessed are the thieves who stole my masks.”

Thus I became a madman.

And I have found both freedom of loneliness and the safety from being understood, for those who understand us enslave something in us.

But let me not be too proud of my safety. Even a Thief in a jail is safe from another thief.

Read The Madman: His Parables and Poems by Kahlil Gibran at Project Gutenberg.

Introduction by Rick Bowen. CC BY-SA

Monday, August 29, 2016

Roast Goat

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Photo by Michael Palmer - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Roast Goat
by Larry Heyl
CC BY-SA

Mikhael ran swiftly through the dawn, knees lifted high, feet barely
tapping the ground. He swerved quickly avoiding rocks and sticks
without thinking or looking. The cold air cut his lungs as he gasped
deeply.

He entered the house running through the kitchen door and was brought
up short by the table. He leaned on it unable to catch his breath or
speak. His wife, Elena, brought him some water. The children ran down
the stairs sleepybugs still in their eyes. One look at their mother
told them they’d best be still.

“I saw them. The soldiers. Over the hill.” he panted out. “We’ve got
to hide the goats. They’ll be here soon.”

Elena spoke sharply to the eldest boy. “Jackson, you and Kelly take
the dogs and herd the goats into the back woods. You know where to
hide them in that thicket.”

“Leave the old billy,” said Mikhael. “If the soldiers find him they
might not look for the others. I’ll tell them we had to eat the others
because of the hard winter.”

Jackson and Kelly flew out the door and were gone in a flurry of
waving hands, barking dogs, and running goats. Elena set the younger
children down at the table and pulled out her largest pot quickly
filling it with water, turnips, and potatos. Mikhael went out to the
barn where he hurriedly hit the feed bags and his newer tools under
the hay. He took the billy into a stall and fed him from the remaining
bag of feed what he feared would be his last meal. The winter had been
hard and the soldiers would be hungry.

Back in the house the water was barely boiling when the soldiers came
over the top of the hill. They weren’t marching smartly and looking
sharp like they had a few years back. Before the battles they bristled
with pride and spit and polish. Now they looked a ragged bunch with
hunger in their eyes.

There were less then a dozen men led by a Sargeant. No officers. That
worried Mikhael.

He met them in the yard. “It’s been a hard winter.”, he said to the Sargeant.

The Sargeant didn’t respond ignoring Mikhael and signaling his troops
to check the barn. He walked to the house and into the kitchen.
Mikhael followed.

Elena met them at the door. “You must be hungry.” she said. “I am
fixing soup for my family but you are welcome to it.”

The Sargeant snapped his bayonet off his rifle and stabbed a potato.
It was still raw but he ate it anyway. “Don’t you have any real food.”
he said. “We need to camp and recuperate.”

Mikhael thought fast. “The other soldiers wiped us clean. You know the
ones.”, he said and he spat on the floor.

“When were they here?” asked the Sargeant glancing out through the door.

“Just last week. They said they’d be back. I wish you would stay and
protect us.”, Mikhael answered. The sargeant gave them a worried look.

Out in the yard a soldier shouted, “We found this old goat. Should we
start a fire and roast him?”

“We can’t stay long enough for that.”, ordered the sargeant. “You!”,
he pointed at Elena, “Take that soup out to the men.”

“Can I feed my children?” asked Elena.

The Sargeant snapped his bayonet back onto his rifle. “Your children
can eat after we’ve gone.”, he said.

Mikhael stood by his wife in front of the children. “You’d best do as
he asks.”, he said.

Elena took the half cooked soup out into the yard and then retreated
back into the kitchen scared by the ravenous soldiers. The sargeant
went out to eat with the men.

Mikhael went and stood by the Sargeant. “Can you stay then. I’m afraid
those other soldiers will be coming back. If you want me to I’ll kill
this goat.”

The Sargeant ignored him. After the last potato was gone he led his
men out of there.

“Let’s make some time.” he shouted. “They are expecting us in
Springfield in the morning.”

Mikhael watched them leave scratching the old billy’s ears. He
whispered to the goat, “I’m glad you can’t understand what I just said
old boy or you wouldn’t be so trusting.”

Elena sent the younger children off to the back woods for Jackson and
Kelly. Then she came and stood beside Mikhael watching the soldiers
trudge off in the distance.