Someone’s Going To Die And It Sure As Hell Isn’t Going To Be Me

Dave Stukas Truly lost in the cosmos writes about John Scalzi's Redshirts copy 2

Being a science-fiction comedy author, I decided to read John Scalzi’s Redshirts. It’s a thinly veiled parody of the original Star Trek television series, told from the viewpoint of the lesser members on the starship Intrepid. The plot centers on the character of ensign Andrew Dahl, who uncovers a sinister reality: senior members of landing parties always survive extraterrestrial encounters while ship members of lower rank—wearing signature red shirts—die terrible deaths.

They’re disposable.

The story is about Dahl’s attempt to change the course of fate. It’s a comedy poking fun at the science-fiction conventions of the TV series.

I’m not going to get into reviewing Scalzi’s book. There are plenty of reviews online…go read some of those. My opinion isn’t all that important. Either you’ll either love it or not. Me, I enjoyed it.

But it was my reaction to the book that surprised me the most. A reaction that arose when I started watching the original episodes of Star Trek on Netflix. I hadn’t seen them in decades.

I got angry. And the more I watched, the angrier I became. As each episode enfolded, I got angrier about the callous, arrogant way Kirk, Spock and Dr. McCoy paraded around, smug in the knowledge that they would always survive. They had become assholes. Meanwhile, the innocent, underdog redshirts would be zapped, strangled, gassed, crushed, speared and incinerated, then tossed away after a poignant but short speech made by Captain Kirk.

It was like I was seven years old and someone had told me there was no Santa Claus. I sat there stunned. Here was a TV series that I had grown to love as a child, watching it with my dad in one of the few bonding rituals I had with him. And now, the series had turned on me. Deceived me. Tricked me. There was more going on than I had ever suspected.

I’m pretty sure this wasn’t the reaction John Scalzi wanted in his readers when he wrote this book. It was probably just great fun, showing things from a different viewpoint. I’m a comedic writer…I should know better.

But I can’t help it. I still haven’t forgiven my parents for lying to me about the fat, jolly man who supposedly lived at the North Pole.

The lie was fun while it lasted, though.

A Fellow of Infinite Jest?

Dave Stukas movie End of the Tour

A few months ago, I picked up David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest because I felt that I had to read it. I was late getting on the bandwagon, but I was intrigued from what I had heard about it–both good and bad.

I jumped in, struggled and gave up after 250 pages.

Today, I went to see The End of the Tour at the Hollywood Arclight theater. Terrific movie. Great performances. Not a dry eye in the house at the ending. Based on actual recorded interviews, the person of Mr. Wallace comes across as funny, deeply moral, inquisitive, observant, shy and in the end, disarmingly everyday. A regular Joe.

I wanted to know more.

Apparently, the trust established after Mr. Wallace’s suicide didn’t want the movie to be made. Probably because the reclusive author would’ve hated being in the limelight. But what the movie did was make a lot of people want to read more of his work, whether it’s his doorstopper Infinite Jest, or his various essays. That alone would make the movie a huge success.

I’ve already listened to several podcasts either recapping the author’s life and work or featuring previously recorded interviews and I was struck by some of the insights this man had about culture, human behavior, and the absurdity of life.

When I go on vacation in October, I will pick up the book again. And give it another try. I might just learn something.

Alcohol in the Cosmos

Supposedly, this was a Public Service Announcement using scenes from Star Wars. Which is ironic since in the Sagittarius B Cloud in the Milky Way there are 10 billion, billion, billion liters of ethyl alcohol floating in the cosmos. Scientists believe that once you remove the noxious compounds mixed in there, the alcohol would taste like raspberry rum. I wonder if Bacardi is interested?

Someone Who Loves Books As Much As I Do

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I saw these two little street lending libraries on Vista Street and Curson Avenue where I live in the Hollywood hills. It was wondrous to see someone else who loves books as much as I do–and is willing to share. For me, books opened up entire worlds I could escape into and explore, leaving me richer with each visit. As Thomas Jefferson said, “I cannot live without books.” For me, I think I live because of books.

An Except from My Science-Fiction Comedy

These chapters are from my sci-fi absurdist comedy, Someone Has to Save the Earth. I’m looking for the right agent to shop it around, but until I find one, I place some of it here for you to enjoy. In these chapters, my Arcturan extraterrestrial character named Stan Parallax explains to Earthling Morris Blazik the history of his species, the Arcturans:

“Roughly one million years ago, the Arcturans had reached a precipice of their own making. Because of the way their genes were constructed, they were born to fight. They had been doing it a long time. And they were good at it. It gave them a sense of purpose.

“They fought over the smallest of differences. They fought because some Arcturans spoke differently. They fought over religion. They fought all the way down to the color of the bombs they dropped on each other. The Arcturans living on the northern land mass felt that their bombs, especially the incendiary devices, were more pleasing if they were painted a sort of light periwinkle. The inhabitants on the south continent, on the other hand, liked their weapons of mass destruction in a sort of orangey-frost color, the exact color of the flames created when these bombs exploded. This was referred to as the war between the North and the South.

“They even fought about the way the two countries pronounced the word aluminum. Some said it just like it was written: a-loom-a-num, while others emphasized the second syllable and added an extra one near the end: al-U-min-E-um, even though everyone knew there was no i in the last syllable. This difference of opinion resulted in the Great Pronunciation War.

“Like most warlike species, they would have gone on fighting until the last of them had gone extinct. But something happened.

“One life form stood up and said that the insanity must stop. His name was Vartanian the Foolhardy. He pointed to their once-beautiful planet now lying in waste and proclaimed they must cease their endless warfare based on pointless differences. They must band together and work toward a common cause. And an amazing thing happened: the North and South landmasses paused and for the first time in a millennia, began to question their motives and the consequences of their actions.

“Then they publicly shot this Arcturan to death and went back to fighting.

“There were various reasons for this. Some Arcturans still harbored dominant and aggressive genes that just made them want to fight. Some couldn’t think of anything else to do with their time. And still others pointed out that jobs, factories and huge military forces depended on constant aggression. Their economies were built on it. True, no one was very happy, but at least everyone had a purpose—albeit a destructive one.

“But the wheels that had been set in motion were unstoppable. Soon, a second life form stood up and said pretty much the same thing as Vartanian. They publicly shot him, too, but only after sticking a red-hot poker up his ass, disemboweling him while he was still alive, cutting him into small pieces and burying the whole shebang in a dung heap. After all, while they all knew that this Arcturan was speaking the truth, they were getting damn tired of hearing it and wanted to send a clear message to anyone questioning their way of life.

“But as they say, third time’s a charm. An Arcturan of considerable charisma and stunning appearance stood up and said essentially the same message as his two predecessors. This time it was heard. The reason people listened, some said, was that they had run out of energy and patience, but mostly aluminum. The second reason was probably more likely, but less apparent: the guy had charm. Over and over throughout time, great ideas had fallen on deaf ears only because the bearer of the message wasn’t photogenic. It’s a widely understood fact in the universe that it’s not how you say things or even what you say that’s important.

“The critical element is that you look good while saying it. And this Arcturan had good looks in spades.

“Anyway, the message of this life form, Aragos the Stunning XXIV, was clear and displayed another important rule of presenting pivotal and groundbreaking messages: have a good sound bite. And Aragos’s was this: The Orb. The Arcturans would band together to create an amazing kind of technology. They had long ago discovered the atom and learned to combine it into complex molecules that were used to make bombs, missiles, bullets or occasionally, more useful things such as homes, medicines and food, if you were so inclined. But they would all work together to create a device that would manipulate matter on command, let people see and experience everything in their heads instead of viewing books, movies or the more advanced holographic projections, allow travel over great distances without a spaceship and blow shit up with their eyes. Oh, and make buttloads of money from it.

“People gave a lukewarm response to the idea of working together to end constant warfare as well as manipulating matter with their minds. But the part that really caught their attention were the pie charts Aragos showed them that explained the buttloads-of-money part. This meant no one would ever have to work again. Aragos’s message of eternal leisure hit pay dirt.

“Behind The Orb was a simple principle envisioned by an incredibly intelligent Arcturan  known as Grabelfrob the Really Smart. He reasoned that while the Arcturans, through a stunning series of wild coincidences and completely undeserved genetic mutations had leap-frogged into one of the most advanced life forms in the universe, evolution was still too damn slow. Why wait millions of years for parts of the brain to increase in size and complexity when you could make it happen overnight? All it took was a quantum computing mini-Orb and a self-disposing nanobot. You swallowed the two tiny components together and The Orb would slide into a spot in the brain carved out by the nanobot—a spot previously occupied by the primitive and aggressive parts of a life form’s brain. Once The Orb was in place, the nanobot would then make alterations to the DNA and RNA, enabling The Orb to work better with the life form’s physical structures. The brain was the hardware and The Orb, the interface. Grabelfrob would slingshot them all millions of years into the future. Evolution and the law of natural selection was about to get a good ass-kicking.

“These individual Orbs would connect to The Really Big Orb on Arcturus, a mammoth quantum computer able to compute on a scale unimaginable. Unthinkable, Morris.

“The Arcturans sat down, rolled up the sleeves on their robes and got to work. And they worked. And worked. The cost overruns were horrendous, but the Arcturans saved so much money because they were no longer putting all their resources and energy into making bombs and weapons which blew up buildings and homes, which then had to be reconstructed so that more bombs and weapons could blow them up again. Plus, working on this huge, planet-wide project gave them a purpose and kept them out of trouble. Generations came and went and a million Earth years later, their work was complete.

“They then turned everything on and the information began to flow in and out, from billions of personal Orbs spread out across the galaxy to the Really Big Orb. And before you knew it, an astounding thing happened: The Orb network created a consciousness. A huge collective consciousness. It became a thinking, sentient being. And it became really, really smart. Much smarter than Grabelfrob the Really Smart. So intelligent, in fact, that it recommended improvements to itself and The Orb network. And all this intelligence was imparted to the Arcturans. Its crowning achievement—besides allowing people to blow up shit with their eyes—was that it not only figured out how to allow the Arcturans to slip in and out of intersecting dimensions, but it mastered the art of traveling across the entire universe in just seconds. Good-bye tedious, dangerous travel in spaceships.

“The Orb network was a huge hit on Arcturus. As The Orb replaced the primitive areas of the brain that lead to never-ending fighting and everyone became infinitely more intelligent, they let go of mindless superstitions, irrational thinking and imaginary differences. They stopped fighting once and for all.

“For a while, the Arcturans kept their amazing Orb to themselves, while they worked out the bugs. Then, salivating about the money it would soon earn them, they rolled out The Orb to the general galaxy. The Arcturans kept the most wide-ranging abilities to themselves, including the ability to blow up shit with their eyes. The premium package so to speak. To everyone else, they would provide a more limited range of abilities, such as traveling across the universe instantly, kinetic manipulation, and the ability to see and experience everything in their heads, keeping everyone in the loop with improvements created by regular updates. Regular subscription updates.”

“Can I go to the bathroom, Stan?” Morris interrupted.

“Morris, I’m telling a story here.”

“The wine. I’ve really got to go.”

“Okay,” Stan relented.

A few minutes later, Morris returned.

“Continue …The Orb … Arcturus was about to get rich,” Morris reminded Stan.

“Yes, well, Grabelfrob’s prophesy came true. The Arcturans were making buttloads of money. Everyone on Arcturus became filthy rich. The Arcturans had various life form subscribers by the balls, but no one resented paying the regular fees. After all, they could now do amazing things never thought possible. With their minds.

“The money continued to roll in. Planets everywhere wanted this amazing device. The Arcturans, whose planet had lain in ruins for so long from constant warfare and the all-consuming work of building The Orb, embarked on a beautification program. They transformed their planet into the most stunningly beautiful lump of rock in the galaxy. With their newfound money, they brought in the best designers, terraformers, biologists and interior designers and redesigned the entire planet and its three moons.

“They added mountains everywhere since Arcturans just liked them and they looked good on holographic postcards. They made their seas crystal clear and threw in exotic, colorful fish gathered throughout the universe. Terra-decorators added flowers that produced hydrogen as a by-product of their photosynthesis and floated in the air. There were cute, absolutely adorable animals and bird-like creatures in every hue of the rainbow. And calming, ambient music piped throughout the planet. Year after year, Arcturus landed at the top of every 10 Most Beautiful Planets list and was featured on the cover of the hippest planetary design magazines. Everything seemed perfect.

“They had become the galaxy’s richest trust-fund babies. They had plenty of money and time on their hands since no one had to work. And that’s where the trouble started.

“The money kept showing up and the Acturans kept spending it. On outrageously powerful vintage spaceships, boats, and obscenely expensive handbags and shoes that were thrown out after one season.

“They vacationed on chic, tropical planets. Took months off for ski trips to exotic, frozen moons. Went clubbing all night long, which on Arcturus, lasted 178 hours. There were oceans of alcohol. And mountains of designer drugs, literally created by fashion designers. It was a wild, crazy time. Everyone was having fun. But despite the fun and excitement it looked like they were having, the Arcturans were incredibly bored. And just inches away from destroying themselves.

“The turning point came when a group of frat boys fashioned a whoopee cushion 2,000 miles long and blew away an entire inhabited planet—a practical joke gone horribly wrong.

“Enough was enough.

“The Arcturans woke up, looked in the mirror and what they saw wasn’t pretty. Everyone looked tired and worn out. Rehab clinics were full to the rafters, and for the second time in their history, their astonishingly beautiful planet lay in ruins.

“They needed a leader to get them out of the mess they were in. So they turned to Grabelfrob, the inventor of The Orb.

“Grabelfrob went up into the Mid-Sized mountains to think, and he had deep and long conversations with The Really Big Orb about what they could do. Grabelfrob’s departure became a topic of conversation all over the planet, and hoards of Arcturans began to gather en mass at the foot of the mountain, awaiting his return. Forty Arcturan days later, he came down from the snow-capped mountains to the people of Arcturus carrying a stone tablet with a single commandment inscribed on it.”

Morris looked skeptical. “This story is beginning to sound a little familiar.”

“Morris, throughout the history of the universe, if you wanted to make a big statement, you had to put it in stone. Everyone knows that. Terribly primitive, but it works. People respond to it.”

“So what was inscribed on this tablet?”

“Two simple words that would guide the Arcturans forever.”

“Let me guess. Ah… ” Morris ventured, struggling for a prophetic answer. “Love thy neighbor?”
“That’s three.”

“Well, it’s got to be something meaningful,” Morris continued, racking his brain for something that would look good etched in stone. “Know thyself?”

“No: Keep busy.”

Morris hesitated, then spoke. “Are you sure?”

“Absolutely.”

“And they bought this?”

“Swallowed it hook, line and sinker. They were desperate, Morris. It didn’t matter that Grabelfrob’s proposal seemed simplistic. The Arcturans were ready to follow just about anything that sounded good to their alcohol-pickled, drug-addled brains. But Grabelfrob wasn’t out of the woods yet. Far from it. Because the question the Arcturans now asked was how were they supposed to keep busy?”

 

CHAPTER 18

“It seemed rather obvious, you know, keeping busy,” Stan continued, “but for the Arcturans, it wasn’t so easy because of their history.”

“I don’t follow you,” Morris shrugged.

“For almost a million years, the bulk of the planet was involved in building The Orb. And before that, during the constant wars, there were basically three roles: bomb maker, bomb dropper, and bomb dropee. They didn’t know how to do anything else.”

“So what was his solution?” Morris asked.

“He did what great leaders have done since time immemorial.”

“What was that?”

“He pulled an answer out of his ass. Grabelfrob needed an activity that would keep the Arcturans continuously busy, burn through the obscene amounts of money that were endlessly piling up on the planet, and look really important. Really, really important.”

“I’m sitting here in suspense, Stan.”

“He proposed that they would answer the biggest questions in the universe. It was a brilliant idea.”

“Because finding the answers would keep them occupied for centuries?”

“Forever, he hoped. Plus, he knew the search would take big, expensive buildings filled with big, expensive equipment, run by big, expensive bureaucracies. Then there would be awards, awards ceremonies, documentaries about the big questions … it promised to be endless,” Stan said, going uncharacteristically quiet.

“That’s not the end of the story, is it?”

“No, it’s not. The Orb took the liberty of running the questions through its processors and it came up with answers.”

“All of them?”

“That’s what Grabelfrob said!” Stan blurted out. “So he asked The Really Big Orb to make sure the answers were correct. They were. It had taken 42 seconds.”

“No way!” Now it was Morris’s turn to be amazed.

“Yes.”

“So what did Grabelfrob do?”

“He asked The Really Big Orb if it had told anyone else its results.”

“And its answer?” Morris asked, on the edge of his chair.

“No.”

“What was Grabelfrob’s response?” Morris asked.

“Short and sweet: ‘It will be our little secret.’”

Send Your Photos on an Acid Trip

front yard original copy 2Front yard copy 2If you’re into fantasy literature and science fiction like I am, this site is the perfect place to send your photos. You upload your photos and they’re sent through a Google Deep Dream AI filter and your processed photo comes out looking like this. Trippy, huh? Because of the popularity of the original processing site, I’ve added this alternative site which processes instantly. Just upload, choose one of 16 different filters and boom, you have a fantasy landscape, pet picture or portrait. Dreamscape Happy tripping.

Words to Live By

Dave stukas truly lost in the cosmos the secret to happiness copy 2

Sitting on a nightstand next to my bed, are these words from ancient times. I still follow them every day, and they sustain me. Especially as I work on getting a suitable agent my seventh book, a sci-fi comedy. Smart people those Athenians.

Back to Black: Amy

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Went to see Amy yesterday at the Arclight Hollywood, even though I knew very little about her or her music. Tragic self-destruction-story aside, I liked that the movie (at least the first part) concentrated on her music and where that music came from. And how electrifying she could be on stage. I had no idea that she first started off as a jazz singer. And an extremely good one, too.

Most tender moment: when she and jazz great Tony Bennett sing a duet in a sound studio. He handles her wavering self-confidence like a newborn kitten.