Rick and Morty Forever

Rick Sanchez, a flask swigging, morally relativistic, quantum party animal and super-genius inventor, has returned after a lengthy absence to live with his daughter Beth, an equine surgeon, her insecure, unemployed husband Jerry Smith, their impressionable teenage daughter Summer, and their nervous, fretful son Morty. Rick has enlisted Morty to be his wing man and fellow adventurer in a series of inter-dimensional, trans-temporal, and routinely hair-raising capers.

Belching, stammering, chin perpetually slathered with drool, Rick occupies himself crafting marvels in the family garage for his own amusement from household odds and ends and exotic minerals from other worlds, exposing himself and Morty to a googolplex of dangers, with warning advisories typically issued just after the nick of time.

“I know that new situations can be intimidating,” Rick assures his grandson. “You’re lookin’ around and it’s all scary and different. But, you know, meeting them head on, charging right into them like a bull, that’s how we grow as people. I’m no stranger to scary situations. I deal with them all the time. Now, if you stick with me, Morty, you’re gonna be… Holy crap, Morty! Run! I’ve never seen that thing before in my life. I don’t know what the hell it is. We gotta get out of here, Morty! It’s gonna kill us. We’re gonna die!”

Dispatching him on an emergency mission into the internal organs of a dying man, Rick slams a helmet on Morty, positions him on a miniaturization platform, and punches a control button, mentioning at the last moment, “Hold your breath until the process is over or your lungs will collapse.”

Rick is not merely the smartest man on earth. He is the smartest man in the universe. He has fashioned a handheld device to twist open portals to an infinity of parallel universes. In the infinity of timelines every possible Rick or Morty does or does not exist. Regardless where his portals lead him, Rick’s wave function rarely collapses from uncertainty.

He is impatient and unsparing. “There is no God, Summer.” Rick coaches his granddaughter. “You gotta rip that bandaid off now. You’ll thank me later.”

Rick invents a miniature robot with artificial intelligence to pass him the table butter. “What is my purpose?” the robot asks. “You pass butter,” Rick says. “Oh, my God,” the robot slumps in despair.

Arriving at the Blips and Chitz arcade for a holiday of electronic abandon, Rick raises cash by peddling a weapon to an assassin. “You sold a gun to a murderer so you could play video games?” a scandalized Morty cries. “Yeah, sure. I mean, if you spend all day shuffling words around you can make anything sound bad, Morty.”

Rick has built himself a car equally well equipped for road trips or space jaunts. “The first rule of space travel, kids, is always check out distress beacons. Nine out of ten times it’s a ship full of dead aliens and a bunch of free shit! One out of ten times it’s a deadly trap, but I’m willing to roll those dice.”

When alien parasites attempt to populate the earth by assuming affable characters and implanting bogus fond memories of themselves in their human hosts, Rick must lock down the Smith house to stymie the confusing proliferation of invaders.

“Dad, why does our house have blast shields?” his daughter inquires in surprise.

“Trust me, Beth. You don’t want to know how many answers that question has.”

Landing on a planet to refill his wind shield wipers, Rick informs Morty, “It’s a purge planet. They’re peaceful. And then, you know, they just purge.”

Morty: “Tha… that’s horrible!”

Rick: “Yeah. You wanna check it out?”

To power the battery in his car, Rick siphons energy from a micro-verse of intelligent beings he has created, endlessly churning treadmills that they think supply the juice for their own world. They have evolved a genius of their own called Zeep who replaces the treadmills with energy captured from a mini-verse he has invented that in turn has evolved beings who have created a teeny-verse they can sap for power. A battery failure pulls Rick and Morty through levels of micro-travel to solve the energy crisis. Rick and Zeep face off in the teeny-verse, trading jibes.

Zeep objects, “That’s what you use my universe for, to run your car?”

“Don’t flatter yourself,” Rick sneers. “There’s always Triple A… Someone has to bring a little culture. And it certainly can’t be someone whose entire culture powers my brake lights!”

Meanwhile, Summer has been left behind in the car, shivering in fright as the car executes its vague order from Rick to “keep Summer safe” with heartless efficiency and horrific consequences.

Some of Rick’s inventions run off the rails with catastrophic results. A love potion he gives Morty to help him seal a romance triggers a storm of rabid suitors for Morty’s attention and Rick’s concoction to offset the love potion “Cronenberg’s” the entire human species into mantid monsters that decapitate their mates. Rick and Morty escape to a parallel reality where everything is identical except that they are dead and must bury their own bodies in the Smith’s yard in order to effect their seamless substitution  of themselves.

In a subsequent episode, Morty implores his sister not to run away from home. He points to the back yard from Summer’s bedroom. “That out there? That’s my grave. On one of our adventures, Rick and I basically destroyed the whole world. So we bailed on that reality and we came to this one because it wasn’t destroyed. And in this one we were dead. So we came here an… an… and we buried ourselves. And we took their place. And every morning, Summer, I eat breakfast twenty yards away from my own rotting corpse!”

“So you’re not my brother?”

“I’m better than your brother. I’m a version of your brother you can trust when he says ‘don’t run’. Nobody exists on purpose. Nobody belongs anywhere. Everyone is gonna die. Come watch TV.”

The animated Rick and Morty series (2013), created by Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon, was introduced on the Adult Swim network (a prodigious cradle of invention for humorists working in video media). Roiland provides the voices of the title characters. The featured voice actors are Sarah Chalke, Chris Parnell, Kari Wahlgren, and Spencer Grammer, supported by a multiverse of regular voices and an impressive roster of guest appearances, including David Cross, Stephen Colbert, Tom Kenny, Alfred Molina, Keith David, Alan Tudyk, Ice-T, Dana Carvey, and others. Ryan Elder composed all the music, kicking off with a pulsating Rick and Morty theme reminiscent of Doctor Who that throbs like an accelerating heartbeat.

Writers and story board artists drive the concepts and dialogue: Ryan Ridley, Tom Kauffman, Wade Randolph, Eric Acosta, and others too numerous to list.

Rick and Morty is a teeming comic thicket that bristles with sharp stabs at family values, formal education, sexual mores, species chauvinism, conventional science fiction tropes, and Panglossian optimism. Is this the best of all possible worlds? Let’s hope not. Let’s party. Wubba-lubba-dub-dub!

The pilot episode concludes with Rick’s fervid lubricated rant: “It’s just Rick and Morty. Rick and Morty and their adventures, Morty. Rick and Morty forever and forever a hundred years Rick and Morty. Some… things… Me and Rick and Morty runnin’ around and… Rick and Morty time… a- all day long forever… All a- a hundred days Rick and Morty! Forever a hundred times… over and over Rick and Morty… adventures dot.com. W W W dot at Rick and Morty dot com W W W… Rick and Morty adventures… Ah- hundred years… every minute Rick and Morty dot com… W W W a hundred times… Rick and Morty dot com…”

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Body Count

“What in God’s name does it mean to be human if we have to be saved from ourselves by a machine?”

The machine in John Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar (1967) is Shalmaneser, a Micryogenic, liquid helium-cooled super-computer, the property of mega-corporation General Technics, so powerful and sophisticated in its capacity and processing speed that scientists and philosophers debate whether it is self-aware. There is no dispute that it is the most functionally intelligent entity on the planet.

Shalmaneser is vital to many of GT’s enterprises, among which is SCANALYZER, a broadcast service that supplies daily holographic news programs to its subscribers in the persons of Mr. and Mrs. Everywhere, projections of the users’ own images from the world’s hot spots and happening events right into their own living rooms.

GT also owns the rights to develop the Mid-Atlantic Mining Project, the world’s most promising source for energy and precious minerals, if only some way could be devised to exploit them.

“Old GT”, ninety-one year old General Technics owner and founder Georgette Tallon Buckfast, is still very much in charge and looking not a day over sixty, due to periodic replacements of failing organs, frequent treatments of her bone structure and musculature, as well as regular cosmetic enhancements, courtesy of Guinevere Steel and her Beautiques.

Physiological and cosmetic maintenance are available to all who can afford them, aiding their longevity and acquisition of social status. Good for them but not necessarily for the world they inhabit that suffers from a dramatic excess of population with its attendant pressure on resources, living space, and general equanimity.

According to census, if all human beings on earth stood shoulder to shoulder, they would cover every square inch of the island of Zanzibar.

Crowds everywhere have their consequence in outbursts of rage; muckers often appear, venting their psychoses in random homicides; subversive politics and religious intolerance breed saboteurs; psychological breakdowns and furious resentment against nearly universal reproductive limits and eugenic controls are on the rise.

Norman House, a bright, ambitious executive in the inner circle of GT’s brain trust, is its only Afram, measured in his appearance and demeanor, and driven to prove that he belongs among the elite. His roommate, Donald Hogan, is a reserved and scholarly synthesist, well paid by a government agency to study areas of interest to himself, absorbing all he can about trends in science and social developments. The roomies get along without friction, enjoy shiggies of easy virtue according to their proclivities, with drugs agreeable to their tastes, and manage to cocoon themselves from the stresses rampant among their Greater New York neighbors. Norman is unaware that Donald is a sleeper spy for the U.S. military.

Zadkiel Obomi, the dying President of Beninia, an impoverished, poorly developed West African nation on the Bight of Benin, the only post-colonial leader his country has ever had, is worried that it will be torn to pieces by vying neighbors or be subjected to takeover by former colonial masters after his imminent death. He has conceived a daring strategy to save his peaceful Shinka people, but he needs the aid of his longtime friend, Elihu Masters, U.S. Ambassador to Beninia, to involve General Technics, Shalmaneser, and the Mid-Atlantic Mining Project.

In the Pacific Ocean, from the one hundred islands nation of Yatakang, comes stupendous news. Doctor Sugaiguntung, genius of genetic manipulation, has invented a process that will guarantee optimal, supremely intelligent children, free of hereditary maladies, to all prospective parents. The repressive Solukarta regime has trumpeted the breakthrough, but it has not offered to share the technology with anyone.

The stunning promise of such a scientific miracle for the future of all humankind has provoked jealousy, outrage, hope, and fear among the rest of the world’s population, clamoring for their governments to take action to ensure that they too can profit from this astonishing biological advantage.

Even popular sociologist curmudgeon Chad Mulligan has surfaced from his cynical, despondent, self-imposed exile to respond to the challenge. The threat to U.S. interests has prompted the activation of Donald Hogan for a dangerous mission to Yatakang.

John Brunner presents his novel with innovative style, ancillary characters, cut-ins from the “happening world”, topical clips from SCANALYZER, and wry observations from Chad Mulligan. Alternating chapters between mainline action, sideline views, and close-up glimpses of the tense, conflicted world, give us a whirling sensation, as if the story were a galaxy of reflections from mirrors rotating at the hub of a carousel.

In the 30,000 years since modern humans outlasted the competition to emerge as the earth’s most dominant primate, the world’s human numbers swelled to 3.47 billion by 1967. Today, less than half a century later, the population exceeds 7.3 billion people, an increase of 110%. Can we doubt that John Brunner’s alarm at population growth was less than prophetic? Where will we stand a half century from today?

(HIPCRIME  You committed one when you opened this book. Keep it up. It’s our only hope. – The Hipcrime Vocab by Chad C. Mulligan)

(Review posted on Amazon.com, November 2015)

Sky Times

“The desire for control, in a universe ever moving toward entropy, is based on unreality.”

The hologram of Spider explains this to G-Boy. An inexorable truth, but has it ever obstructed the reach for control among those obsessed with the grasp of power? The compulsion for control of lives is the nemesis in Fools’ Sacrifice (Kindle edition, 2014), Geronimo Bosch’s brilliant projection of tyranny and resistance in a future all too near with an extrapolation of existing technologies and familiar psychoses all too real.

Dominion City, a megalopolis responding to the gradual disappearance of land and roads reclaimed by rising seas, has turned its attention skyward. The most common modes of transport are airborne: Sky-Dos (“skidoos”) rocket the skies, Zooters, Floaters, and Wings, dodging thrill-seeking daredevils in helium-filled Loons. The aerial congestion has prompted traffic control: authorization procedures and monitoring devices centralized by State agencies, patrolled by Buzz Cops. Centralizing authority has endued a State that “rules by decree” with intimate knowledge of its citizens and their movements with concomitant power to control them.

Access to sky travel moves along class lines determined by economic circumstances – largely controlled by State – and Dominion City itself reflects distinctions of wherewithal, geographically distinguished into InCity, MidCity, and OutCity dwellers with corresponding degrees of privilege. Alienation rises among the intelligentsia as a corrosive steam expressed in private whispers and public protest. A predatory outlaw culture exists for the reasons it always does: envy, avarice, dispossession, and despair.

The most profitable enterprise for outlaws is skidjacking – the heist of skidoos to be consigned to networks of remodel shops, stripped, rewired, repainted, and resold on the black market. Such operations require the pooling of outlaw resources in Garages, gangs with organizational sophistication, technical expertise, and, most importantly, suicidal courage for Humming, skipping from roof-to-roof across the sky traffic.

This last aptitude for the Skidz – the skidoo theft trade – is most commonly found among the Yoot, young OutCity Slummers with nothing to lose except their lives.

G-Boy is one of these. Formerly Lee Lazarus, a promising artist and muralist, his gang tag reflects his talent for dazzling graffiti. Teamed with Spider – so called due to her tattoo of shape-shifting nano-organisms – they are assigned by gang leader Zoot to run a decoy mission, to jack a Pegasus Speedster from a parking facility. The craft belongs to Priority Client Doctor Uberhalser. Their theft is smoothly executed until the unthinkable occurs: Uberhalser’s Pegasus has been booby trapped. G-Boy and Spider avoid the explosion, swapping the doomed Speedster for another skidoo in mid-flight, but the calamity wreaks havoc with air traffic and other Zoot operations and slams the full weight of State’s wrath and Zoot’s vengeance against them.

G-Boy and Spider flee, take refuge in a crawlspace, and assess their situation. “The Skidz breed skeptics,” the saying goes. Was the Pegasus meant to assassinate Uberhalser or were they themselves set up by Zoot? Summoned to the Yard, an abandoned Garage hideout, Zoot interrogates them roughly. Buzz Cops attack. G-Boy is rescued by a curious Space Dwarf.

The Space Dwarf delivers G-Boy to Long Hedz Inc (for Incommunicado), where he undergoes transformations that boost his knowledge exponentially, but also stimulate his suspicions. Why has he been selected for special treatment, but not Spider?

He is relentlessly pursued by gangsters, bounty hunters, and thugs from State in their Goonboats. Like Alice, he dives into rabbit holes, ingests substances that alter his mental and physical dimensions, and passes into a looking glass reality not of wonder, but of horror. He visits Terminal Junction, the Church of August Revelations, the Shifting Spectral Fortress, Rollo Horne’s bar, King Knut’s Oohs and Aahs, the Church of the Spiral Cacophony, and the Dead Pools. Having received from Long Hedz Inc (for Incommunicado) an interactive salamander nano-tattoo to guide and, when necessary, to repair him, he also gains assistance from Spider, beautiful Thea, and childhood sweetheart Eiddwen.

G-Boy’s external odyssey is companion to internal discovery. His past – erased by traumatic events, but gradually restored by recovered memories – holds the key to unlock an appalling plan concocted by State. Only G-Boy has the savvy to stymie totalitarian designs of unspeakable evil.

Geronimo Bosch unfolds his superbly harrowing tale with masterful command of language, original, pictorial, lyrical. He presents densely detailed scenes with a painter’s eye, keen for color, shape, and motion. Vivid characters populate the story: “Around his right eye socket, a softly rotating pentagram; on the opposite cheek a circle-A anarchy symbol on slow fade and repeat; through the bridge of his widish nose, a horizontal Variglo cone-tipped spike; piercing his thick bottom lip, a vertical spike, identical in all other respects; in both ear lobes, silver death’s head studs; topping off this image of defiant non-conformity were larger Variglo cone-tipped spikes arranged trans-dermally along his shaved scalp in a Metal Mohawk style.”

OutCity Slummers speak an internationalized argot, spiced with Caribbean flavor. “Hey Lazarus. How’s it all goin’, maaang? Hope yo’ head ain’t too noxious. I gotta hand it to you, bruv, you was rare spaced… Alright so, take it easy frizzle fry. You were burning up ‘da heat, so we had to take you off ‘da Grid. Im gonna drop by when ‘dis gig is done and parley parley witcha, devil dog.”

The special charm of science fiction has always been its fascination with technology and the anticipation of its possibilities. The Bosch genius blooms, an efflorescent panorama of exquisitely integrated electro-mechanical apparatus, bio-chemical pharmacopeia, and socio-political structure.

The English language is a grand basilica that welcomes all pilgrims, foreign imports of fresh fruit as well as native tributes of glittering coinage. Fool’s Sacrifice stands shoulder-to-shoulder with classic cautionary novels graced with agile linguistic invention, such as George Orwell’s 1984 and Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, each concerned with government manipulation not merely of our hearts, but more menacingly, of our minds. These literary cannons arms our vocabulary for conceptual combat as we confront the insidious imposition of “socially constructed inhibitions and corporeal ineffacacies” sanctioned by State for its own corrupt ends.

Geronimo Bosch warns us not to succumb to the “Excited Delirium”, but to “Remember: you are not alone.” The flatulent self-infatuation of governments, the naked self-aggrandizement of corporations, and the hollow self-service of religions are not reality. In our individual selves, we are. And we are not alone.

(Review posted on Amazon.com, October 2015)

Copernicus Flips the Earth

Those who wish to date the genesis of the European Scientific Revolution are at liberty to point to several likely moments in history. The revolution was a confluence of many streams of thought and endeavor, some of which had prehistoric origins, all of which developed gradually over the course of centuries. Consensus among historians of science often settles around 1543 AD, the year Nicholas Copernicus published The Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres.

Copernicus was born in 1473 at Thorn on the Vistula River, the son of a copper trader. He studied in universities at Cracow and Bologna, taking his doctorate at Ferrara. He spent the last 34 years of his life in the quiet Prussian province of Varmia. A man of diverse interests and abilities, he was a mathematician, a country doctor who fashioned his own medications, a canon of the Catholic Church, and an astronomer. He recorded only 27 observations of the sky; he never once glimpsed the planet Mercury. His book was published by Andreas Osiander, a German Protestant, and presented to Copernicus on his deathbed.

Having completed his work 67 years before Galileo’s telescope magnified the heavens, Copernicus had only his own observations, those of past astronomers, and his insight to work with. His book asserted that, contrary to appearances, the cherished ideas of Aristotle, Ptolemy’s comprehensive Almagest, and the entrenched authority of the Church, the earth was not the center of the universe around which everything in the firmament revolved. He stated, and proved to his own satisfaction with intricate demonstrations of plane geometry, that the sun stood at the center and that the earth revolved around it.

The Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres was an unlikely treatise to launch a revolution. Although Galileo was later to prove him right about the relationship between the earth and the sun, Copernicus had been wrong about two central premises he had assumed from Aristotle and Ptolemy: that everything in the sky must be composed of a material different from the four elements known on earth, a perfect fifth element, a “quintessence”, and that the planets, being perfect, must necessarily move in perfect orbits, circles. These concepts confounded his attempt to reconcile celestial appearances with his geometry. Furthermore, his proofs were abstruse, comprehensible only to those well acquainted with both Euclid and the astronomical tables used for navigation and calendar calculations – in his day, a very select few, mostly clergymen committed to defending the Church.

Today, after so many centuries of observation with increasingly sophisticated technology and the exploration of space itself, the reach of astronomy has so far surpassed the grasp of Copernicus that his revolutionary work is rarely read by anyone other than scholars. As Arthur Koestler wrote, “It is one of the dreariest and most unreadable books that made history.” The casual reader would find The Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres exceptionally daunting. Fortunately, William T. Vollman has undertaken this task for us and written a splendid book about it.

Uncentering the Earth (2006) recapitulates Revolutions chapter by chapter, decrypting the language and logic of Copernicus, identifying his antecedents, placing his ideas in the context of their time, describing the man himself and the world he inhabited, and reminding us how courageous it was to challenge the doctrines of the Catholic Church at a time when it was reacting vigorously against Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation by means of the Inquisition.

No doubt anticipating that Copernicus was begging trouble, Osiander had added a preface to Revolutions that invited readers not to take it literally, but to regard the work as hypothetical musings cast into the sky to make celestial mechanics conform to terrestrial mathematics. When Copernicus read it, he was furious because he very much intended that his book be taken as a literal explanation of natural phenomena. His apoplectic rage may have been a contributing cause of his death.

Vollman writes about an arcane subject in an entertaining, conversational manner, with humor and self-deprecating admissions of his own inadequacies. He admires his subject, but withholds worship. He quotes Copernicus, “If I could bring my computations to agree with the truth to within ten degrees, I would be as elated as Pythagoras must have been when he discovered his famous principle.” Vollman notes, “That was Copernicus for you. As the saying goes, he didn’t ask for the moon.”

With regard to the rudimentary tools at hand for Copernicus and his contemporaries, Vollman says “…the narrow limits of observation were merciful and forgiving to their theories.”

The instruments Copernicus had for measurement – astrolabe, torquetum, and parallacticon – were the same as those used by Ptolemy when he had produced his Almagest in 151 AD, which in their turn had not much improved since the days of Hipparchus of Rhodes or Aristarchus of Samos in the 2nd and 4th centuries BC. Ptolemy had written, appreciating the labors of his predecessors, that they were “The work for another’s love of wisdom and truth.”

About all such labors – the work of scientists – and cognition itself, Vollman remarks, “The purpose of conceptualization is to transform reality’s perceptual randomness into patterns.”

“What is reality?” he poses. “The history of science, not to mention life itself, teaches us to suspect that more will always exist than we have yet apprehended.” Later he adds, “Reality is what we perceive now. What a pathetic, parochial definition! But it is the truth.” And, “Truth, at least of the scientific kind, is arrived at (approximated, I should say) only in increments of ghastly drudgery.”

Uncentering the Earth provides 20 helpful diagrams to illustrate the various concepts of celestial mechanics and projections of the celestial sphere imagined by Ptolemy, Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, and Johannes Kepler, as well as our present day perspective.

William Vollman has compressed the “ghastly drudgery” of 25 centuries of astronomy into an illuminating book that is, indeed, an excellent “work for another’s love of wisdom and truth.”

(Review posted on Amazon.com, November 2014)

The Customer Survey

I was wrong. I admit it. Here I’ve been thinking all this time that the corporations – the big ones that run the retail chains and discount outlets where I take my custom for groceries, sundries, apparel, and sometimes even a telephone, a computer, or a car – were just heartless, even swinish, multi-national leviathans, bottom liners whose executives only answer to their stockholders, their boards of directors, and the litigants who file the liability lawsuits. I thought our relationship was entirely feudal: they are the ruling class, the lords that own the castles, the land, and the tillage with the protective support of the State, and the benevolent blessings of the Church, and I am the helpless serf who plows their fields, dependent on the meager portion of the harvest they let me keep for myself. I thought they didn’t care about small fry like me.

But I was wrong. It seems that they really do care about me personally. They want to know what I think and how I feel and where I live and how to send me information about the marvelous things I can buy from them. Why else would they always ask me to fill out a Customer Survey?

At first, I was only annoyed. How could Lindaniel, the clerk in the orange and purple smock at the discount department store, insist that my participation in the survey was crucial to his next salary bump? When Kutricia rang up my purchases at the supermarket, why did she always draw a circle with a pink Magic Marker on my receipt and beseech me to complete an online form the moment I have packed away the fat free pretzels and instant porridge into my pantry?

How callous I have been! It was never the fault of the people who swipe my credit card that they must implore me to spend 20 minutes on a survey every time I shop for anything. I was just being selfish. I was irked because I thought I was done with homework when I dropped out of school.

I feel better about the surveys now. It’s gratifying that my opinion matters. I’m flattered. In fact, I want to help.

Here is my suggestion: make the survey questions more interesting.

I accept that there are excellent reasons why the surveyors want to canvass my shopping choices with queries about which creams are most efficient in masking my unsightly blemishes, what cleansers I prefer to banish the coffee stains I’ve dripped on my sofa, which remedies I reach for when my bowels disagree with me about my dinner selections, or which lubricants I like to have on hand when I look at naughty pictures on the internet. But, to be truthful about it, these questions are boring the first time they are posed, never mind the nine hundredth time.

I believe I would rush home and remember to charge my laptop if I were asked to weigh in on questions like these:

“If you met an extraterrestrial in the shoe department at Target, what question would you like to ask?”

A. Which actress do you think is hottest?

B. Do you get to ride in the Popemobile?

C. Do you think these moccasins make me look fat?

“If you purchased a table light at Lamps Plus and a genie popped out when you rubbed it, what would you wish for?”

A. That McDonald’s would serve breakfast all day?

B. A lower rate on your auto insurance?

C. A hotter genie?

“If you met the hottest actress while browsing in Bed, Bath, and Beyond, would you ask her…”

A. To buy you a new waffle iron?

B. To recommend a good wetness shield for your mattress?

C. Does this bath towel make me look fat?

“Which of these products would you like to see on the shelves of your local Kroger Market?”

A. Reusable tissues that are good for sneezes, floors, and kitchen counters?

B. A diet pill that reduces fat and builds muscle without exercise or unpleasant side effects?

C. A microwavable soup that would let you see five minutes into the future?

“When you visit Home Depot, what are you most likely to do?”

A. Shop for a bathroom medicine cabinet that refills itself?

B. Admire the area rugs and be amazed at how long it takes to have one delivered?

C. Find a toilet wand that you could wave at barking dogs and egotistical bloggers to make them shut up?

See what I’m saying? Just jolly up the surveys for me and I will cheerfully surrender my time, energy, and the fractional increment in my electric bill to oblige. It’s not as if I have anything better to do. While I’m in between surveys, I think I’ll run over to the discount department store and follow Lindaniel around for a while to see whether he really deserves that raise.

The NFL Halftime Show

The Mox 110% American Sports Report, brought to you by:

Blast Off Beer – “The Countdown Starts Here!”

Wreckless Insurance – “Don’t Worry. You’re Covered.”

Jakarta Motorworks, makers of the Jitney Super-Mini Truck – “As Cheap As It Gets!”

“Live from Coach Kartemoff Stadium: the Tucson Gila Monsters take on the Lake Placid Kayaks!”

(On the set, five men sit at a semi-circular table dressed in identical blazers with identical shirts and ties. Each wears a rhinestone Stars and Stripes pin in his left lapel and a red, white, and blue ribbon in his right lapel. The backdrop display is the cherry, frost, and azure Mox logo superimposed over twenty smaller iterations of the NFL logo in scarlet, eggshell, and cerulean.)

“It’s the Mox Halftime Report and I’m Delmartin Quilk, here with our analysts, Wilyard ‘Dirt’ Workman, Bernie Brainy, McKinley ‘Spit’ McNitsky, and Rachmed Medrock.”

Delmartin: “Dirt. What do the Kayaks have to do to get back into this football game?”

Dirt: “They’re gonna have to run the football. That’s how you loosen up a defense. Pound the football into the holes between the tackles and just keep pounding.”

Bernie: “The Kayaks have to throw the football. They have to run deep routes and quick outs. That will leave the middle wide open so they can hit the receivers with the football and put the safeties and corners back on their heels.”

Spit: “The Gila Monsters have the best defensive line in football. That’s why the Kayaks will have to make them cough up the football with their special teams. If they get turnovers, they can get the football back and start their drives with good field position.”

Rachmed: “The Kayaks have to be more cognizant of their percentage plays. Last football season, they had a 46.2% conversion rate on 3rd and 17. This year, they average 2.6 yards when they run the football on 1st down. That’s less than 1.5 yards more than their 1st down efficiency with the football in road games and more than 1.8 yards less than their success percentage at home. They have to be smarter with the football.”

Dirt: “In the football season when we almost made it to the Super Bowl, we learned that the most important thing is to secure the football. Coach made us practice it every week. If you’re gonna run, you have to secure the football.”

Delmartin: “As I recall, the most important thing you secured in that football season was your commercial for Blast Off Beer!”

(Boisterous laughter from everyone at the table.)

Spit: “And you fumbled your line.”

(Louder boisterous laughter.)

Bernie: “If the Kayaks want to cut into the Monsters’ lead, they have to put the football into the hands of their wide outs, tight ends, and split backs. They have to throw the football underneath the coverage into open lanes and crossing routes.”

Rachmed: “Last year, the Kayaks were 12 for 48 on field goal attempts outside the 35-yard line. They can get back into this football game if they opportunize their possessions inside the Red Zone and put the the football through the uprights every time they get inside the 20. Their winning percentage increases by 14.8% when they score points with the football.”

Spit: “That’s right, Rachmed. The Kayaks have to play this football game one down at a time.”

Dirt: “The winner is usually the football team that puts the most points on the board.”

Delmartin: “The football teams are coming back on the field. Let’s go to our sideline reporter, Dabetta Plumpton. Dabetta?”

Dabetta: “Thank you, Delmartin! I’m here with Coach Blocklin. Coach, how do you plan to slow down the Gila Monsters’ running game in this half?”

Coach: “Yes, Dabetta. We have to slow down the Monsters’ running game.”

Dabetta: “Do you plan to throw the ball more or use more trick plays?”

Coach: “Yes, Dabetta. We need to score more points with the football. The winner is usually the football team that puts the most points on the board.”

Dabetta: “Thanks, Coach! Back to you, Delmartin!”

Delmartin: “Thank you, Dabetta! We’ll be back with the second half kickoff right after these words from our sponsors.”

The 110% American Sports Report. “Just watch. It’s American!”

Wired World

In When Gravity Fails (1987), George Alec Effinger transports us to the year 2172 and drops us gently into the Budayeen, a walled quarter within a city located near the forbidding Sahara Desert. The world has long since become politically Balkanized; the old mega-countries are now fractured into republics, kingdoms, principalities, and emirates. It is an otherwise quite recognizable place. People travel in traditional conveyances, cars, ships, and planes. Communication technologies are no more advanced than the ones we use today. Economics are not necessarily manipulated by vast corporations controlled by unseen hands, but are still very much a matter of personal dealings in small markets, souks, and shops. Business is business.

Religion too is still with us. The Budayeen, its surrounding city, and all of North Africa is permeated by Islamic civilization. The Word of the Prophet is revered, the surahs of his Qu’ran are respectfully observed, and, inshallah, peace prevails.

Nevertheless, the Budayeen is a dangerous place. It is a rough-and-tumble tourist trap, featuring bars, clubs, street thieves, con artists, flagrant prostitutes, and murderous predators, all rather casually policed, with a well-populated cemetery.

The distinguishing difference in this world of tomorrow is the development of medical procedures and pharmacology with particular regard to and much encouragement of physical re-engineering and sexual transformation. Men can readily become women and vice versa, producing an indeterminate sexual gestalt and a general climate of experimentation and tolerance. Direct modifications of the human brain are now commonplace through surgical implants that permit those suitably “wired” to become anyone or anything commercially available in “moddies” – or, more menacingly, black market personality modifiers. By the simple expedient of “chipping in” a small circuit board package, one can become any fictional character from literature or any actual character from history from James Bond to Genghis Khan. Under the stimulation of a “moddie”, one vividly experiences that person in thought, word, and deed for as long as one wishes, with true identity submerged. “Daddies” are also on hand – temporary data transfer chips that lend instant knowledge of any language, skill, or corpus of facts, however esoteric, for as long as the chip is in place.

To navigate this world safely, unaltered by surgery, with integrity intact, one must be “the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world.” Our narrator, Marid Audran, is such a man.

Marid is an easy-going hustler from the Maghreb, an arid, desolate region of Algeria, where the common denominator is poverty. He has found a home in the Budayeen, pulling himself up by his bootstraps from nothing to next-to-nothing by virtue of his reliability and brass. He has an uneasy relationship with the police, welcome acceptance by nightclub proprietors, camaraderie with his trio of friends, and the love of Yasmin, born a boy, now a voluptuous club dancer with the knockout looks that only surgery could provide. Muslim by birth, Marid is well-versed in his creed, but knows how to take it or leave it. He refuses to have his brain wired, preferring to find pleasure and solace in pharmaceutical products. As he puts it:

“Drugs are your friends, treat them with respect. You wouldn’t throw your friends in the garbage. You wouldn’t throw your friends down the toilet. If that’s the way you treat your friends or your drugs, you don’t deserve to have either. Give them to me.”

Politics is politics, so even the Budayeen is not impervious to influences agitating the world outside its walls. Marid accepts an assignment from a foreign diplomat to locate a missing person. His client is murdered before his eyes. Soon others in his social circle fall victim to grisly homicides. A monster is on the loose. He is recruited by Friedlander Bey, the Budayeen’s wealthy godfather, whose interests are threatened by the murders, to track down the killer. To prepare Marid for his dangerous mission, Friedlander Bey cajoles and intimidates Marid into the brain wiring he has always avoided, adding an extra implant and a rack of special “daddies” that sharpen Marid’s senses and suppress fear, anger, hunger, thirst, and lust. His investigation confronts mystery and mayhem with street smarts and hard-boiled banter.

In the book’s prefatory page, Effinger (1947 – 2002) acknowledges his debt to Raymond Chandler and his source for the title in a quote from Bob Dylan’s “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues”. He wrote two sequels to When Gravity Fails. A Fire in the Sun (1989) and The Exile Kiss (1991) return Marid Audran, Friedlander Bey, the Budayeen, and many of the original characters, including Bill, the transplanted American taxi driver, who has had one of his lungs removed and replaced with a sac that drips a continuous psychotropic fluid into his bloodstream – a deliciously sardonic invention considering that the author suffered from childhood ailments that rendered him unable to pilot an automobile.

George Alec Effinger was born in Cleveland, Ohio and lived much of his life in New Orleans. His employment of courteous Arabic verbal genuflections and Muslim pieties add spice, and flavor his trilogy with cultural insight. If you relish science-fiction whodunits, inshallah, you may enjoy all three.