Fiction

Fiction Prediction: How Crichton Prophesied Our Awful Internet Age

The past two or three years, in my late twenties, I’ve almost exclusively read fiction. Call it escapism, call it the consequences of a creative writing college program, call it what you want — but after years of reading memoirs, business biographies and spiritual poetry, I’ve sunk my brainteeth into something else. I read fiction because I believe that is where the truth lies.

The author, or the voice, or narrator — whatever — through the guise of fiction is freer to speak.

As original hipster Sir Philip Sidney famously wrote:

Now for the poet, he nothing affirmeth, and therefore never lieth. For, as I take it, to lie is to affirm that to be true which is false; so as the other artists, and especially the historian, affirming many things, can, in the cloudy knowledge of mankind, hardly escape from many lies. The poet, as I said before, never affirmeth… He citeth not authorities of other histories, but even for his entry calleth the sweet Muses to inspire into him a good invention; in troth, not laboring to tell you what is or is not, but what should or should not be. And therefore though he recount things not true, yet because he telleth them not for true he lieth not.”

-The Defense of Poesy (1595)

Kevin, why are you quoting poetry? You don’t even like poetry.

Because I’m about to quote a Jurassic Park book, and I want to seem smart before I do.

What Sidney is saying is that the poet (or the author) has more power to tell the truth than anyone else, because storytelling taps into something that arguments, facts, and heavy rhetoric cannot. It taps into the human experience, which, of course, is truth. The reader is not agreeing or liking characters, but absorbing and experiencing, seeking to understand and further enrich his or her life. We might not agree with Ahab, for instance, on his search for the white whale, and we’re certainly not rooting for Kurtz in the African jungle, but we understand their quests and motives, and it teaches us something about ourselves, even if it’s dark and ugly.  

Whew. Okay, that took too much brain power.

A few months ago I read the sequel to Michael Crichton’s mega-famous novel, Jurassic Park, called The Lost World, and there was a passage in a stretch of dialogue that metaphorically punched me in the proverbial stomach.

Those who have read Crichton’s novels know the man was a genius. Agree or disagree with his logic, the guy had brains. As it turns out, the late science fiction author (that is, science with a sprinkle of fiction) of The Andromeda Strain, Jurassic Park, Sphere, and a bunch of other fantastic tales, was also a passive-aggressive Internet prophet.

In Crichton’s 1995 novel, The Lost World, his protagonist — the chaos-theory-mathematician Ian Malcolm (played brilliantly by Jeff Goldblum in the movies) — aptly predicts our modern, ultra-aware, internet-addicted, hyper-connected population. His outlook, however, is bleak.

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Our Lost World

“I think cyberspace means the end of our species.”

Say what now? (more…)

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Sharing Saturation Through DeLillo’s “White Noise”

Over summer, my wife and I visited the most photographed lighthouse in the world. We didn’t question the claim’s validity. We just went with it. The lighthouse stop was part of our New Hampshire and Maine last minute road trip. It was a good trip. We slept in the car and jumped in the water and ate a lot of seafood. We were in York when we heard about it: “The most photographed lighthouse.” Just up the road, said the internet, a few miles from where you are.

So we jumped in the car and found it. Instinctively, my first thought was, Yes, this looks like a lighthouse. It’s cute, scenic, impressionable. It is all the things lighthouses are and should be.

I didn’t want to take a picture.

Rather, it seemed better to be the guy who visits “Most Photographed” type places, and doesn’t take pictures. The concept would make for a good blog. But as I stood there watching dozens of tourists snapping their film and tapping their screens—a fervent mixture of new and old technology, crunching, shaking, iPhones uploading moments through invisible data, data that I too could claim!—something crept up inside me, like a tremor, and before I knew it, there I was, unceremoniously taking a picture.

So here’s the picture:

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It wasn’t until later, while reading a novel by Don DeLillo, that the lighthouse was *uhem* illuminated once more inside my head. As I’ve come to understand, DeLillo is a cultural critic; his novels address society’s many obsessions and explores what roles these obsessions play in our lives, as well as how they define us. Death, technology, consumerism, media, crowds, for instance, these are common motifs DeLillo highlights with excellent vision and irony.

His novel, White Noise, takes a look at these motifs and addresses them in terms of family life and the suburbs (also there’s an Airborne Toxic Event). Here’s what a book cover may look like: (more…)

Saturday Skit: Roll With It

“Smell it,” he says.

“I don’t want to smell it.” Davey lifts up the plate and pushes it towards my face. I jerk my head back, saving my nose from shame.

“Piss, right?”

“It does not smell like piss.”

“My sushi is drenched in piss, here—“ he lifts the plate higher. “Brian, I’m telling you, my rainbow roll is absolutely radiating of piss.” We stare at each other, and Davey doesn’t budge: “Smell it!”

“Get your sushi out of my face.” One by one, surrounding tables pick up our conversation and begin eating their edamame like popcorn. One skinny Japanese waitress—the one who isn’t fooling anyone with that accent—she walks by and finds us arguing.

“Ever-ting arright?” She twirls her pointer in a curl. Her name tag says Sarah.

“Fine, thanks.”

“It’s not fine,” Davey fires. “Ma’m, my rainbow roll… it…”

“Uh-huuh”

“It smells like pee.” The quick sound of a half-popped edamame shell plopping into a bowl of soy sauce is heard. Even the fish have stopped swimming. (more…)

Saturday Short: Training Day

The following is flash fiction. Check out my other Saturday Shorts here.

Training Day

Fresh air and midday sun (through glass) taunted lungs, and the mothers and fathers, settled and unsettled; the heavy eye balls; the sleepers in the stalls—all of us—sorted and slightly rocking. Our shoes and briefcases brimmed the aisles, and our mouths coughed. Blind but secure, the train rattled, and what could we do but wait. Care for a cup of tea? Anything. Just bring me anything.

Outside the corn was dead and dry. A man sat in the window seat and was careless to view any of it (us, sanctioned together by wretched fate), staring at his shoes, considering maybe, the asphalt that marked them. “You look familiar” I finally admitted as a gesture.

The musician began. He, like all else, assumed his story was worth telling, and he spoke, and I thought about the birds: free, hungry, singing, and why fly next to trains?

“—not as easy as you think, you know.” Around my age but much richer, he hated his life as much as I hated mine. I bought a few of his records, a decade ago, and once I shook his hand in a parking lot before a gig. He was an asshole.

“Why not quit?” I keep him busy, like a four-year old with a new toy. And I wonder off: free, hungry, singing.

“There’s no career fair for me. No running away. Like a monkey I’m expected…”

If listening is a skill, we must all get it wrong. The man spoke, and I couldn’t care, and when I spoke he didn’t care. Where you out of? he’d say, shortly shifting his attention a couple rows down to a partially unbuttoned blouse on an attendant who bent forward for a piece of trash. (more…)

Short Story: Jake’s Jacket

The water’s just too damn cold.

Jake stood on the shore of California’s blue expanse, examining its horizon, noting the abnormalities under it. The ocean seemed empty to Jake. Sure, there was life teeming underneath, but nothing above he could see. The waves tumbled; the sea foam, in clockwork, came and went—hugging Jakes’s ankles, offering shallow solace.

Born on a farm in Pennsylvania, standing now, ankle deep, at the edge of existence. How did I—

“Why don’t you come back in?” Michael’s voice stole Jake away from his thoughts. He reached out his hand, “Let’s talk.” Michael’s body, not yet in the water but just out of grasp of the ocean’s reaching, rippling fingers, awaited response.

A black dot broke the surface in the closest series of waves.

“There!” pointed Jake, his arm outstretched, “Do you see it?” He laughed. A black seal broke the surface twenty yards or so from where they stood. “He’s come to watch me die,” Jake turned around and met Michael’s stare, offering a deflated grin,  “and you too?”

“Come on out.”

“DON’T!” Jake yelled, closing his eyes and breathing heavily. “NO!” He began to scream. Michael shot his hands in the air.

“Nothing in my hands.” Michael signaled, “Nothing in my hands.”

– – –

Inching slowly, ever so slowly, Michael approached Jake. Cold seeped in through Michael’s shoes and bit his skin. Jake had since opened his eyes and was reexamining the water. Finally, the two stood side-by-side; Jakes’s explosive vest was visible to Michael for the first time.

“Every inch you move is another towards death, my friend.”

“There’s no gun…”

“… so its been since birth.”

Michael closed his eyes in defeat.

The seal again broke the surface and Jake smiled. “I’m glad you’re here.”

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A short story exercise, 300 words or less. My first in a while. Thoughts?