Fiction Pick of the Week: "Exist West [Excerpt]"
An excerpt from Hamid's latest novel: a man and a woman caught in between escape and uncertainty.
An excerpt from Hamid's latest novel: a man and a woman caught in between escape and uncertainty.
Inside the real lives of people who came early to intentionally provoking, confusing, and generally screwing with strangers online.
How phone phreakers, many of them blind, opened up Ma Bell to unlimited free international calling using a technical manual and a toy organ.
He was an 18 year old Marine bound for Iraq. She was a high school senior in West Virginia. They grew intimate over IM. His dad also started contacting her. No one was who they claimed to be and it led to a murder.
Steve Jobs, age 29.
"It’s often the same with any new, revolutionary thing. People get stuck as they get older. Our minds are sort of electrochemical computers. Your thoughts construct patterns like scaffolding in your mind. You are really etching chemical patterns. In most cases, people get stuck in those patterns, just like grooves in a record, and they never get out of them. It’s a rare person who etches grooves that are other than a specific way of looking at things, a specific way of questioning things. It’s rare that you see an artist in his 30s or 40s able to really contribute something amazing. Of course, there are some people who are innately curious, forever little kids in their awe of life, but they’re rare."
The Academy of Art University in San Francisco is very profitable for the family who runs it. But not so much for the students who attend in hopes of becoming artists.
The residents of Green Bank, West Virginia, can’t use cell phones, wi-fi, or other modern technology due to a high-tech government telescope. Recently, this ban has made the town a magnet for so-called electrosensitives, and the locals aren’t thrilled to have them.
On a 16-year-old Silicon Valley wunderkind.
An interactive fiction: a son and the illusion of his dead father; the intersection of technology and real life.
"Once I created his page I tried to return to my life. I was twenty-six years old, a man of inconsistent employment. During the winter I shoveled snow for the elderly. They paid me in germs and butterscotch candy. My landlord, an independently wealthy sexagenarian, accepted the candy as payment. She also insisted I tidy the complex. I changed light bulbs. I dusted the parking lot. I swept cigarette butts into the street. I clubbed the occasional beehive. My life was guarded and lonely, and susceptible, I soon discovered, to the distraction my father provided."
A troubled wife's obsession with her husband's ex.
"I’d been researching generic articles on divorce for a long time, but never found anything that reminded me of Henry’s. They were young, but they weren’t as stupid as he seemed to say. They seemed to have really been in love. The picture he’d shown me was of them on a boat on a lake—a lake we’d been to, one we’d brought a picnic lunch to. They looked so happy and he looked so young, his hair not yet flecked with stray whites and grays."
A pair of hardware hackers bond and brainstorm.
"I grabbed a corner and walked backward. The box was heavy, but it was mostly just huge, and when we reached his beat-up minivan, he kicked the tailgate release and then laid it down like a bomb-disposal specialist putting a touchy IED to sleep. He smacked his hands on his jeans and said, 'Thanks, man. That lens, you wouldn’t believe what it’s worth.' Now that I could see over the top of the box, I realized it was mostly padding, layers of lint-free cloth and bubblewrap with the lens in the center of it all, the gadget beneath it. "
An oddball team of ship salvage mercenaries is tasked with uprighting a tipped two-football-field-long cargo ship before it sinks into the darkness of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands.
An online mystery surrounding animal abuse and porn.
"A different room, a different couch, but the rest of the room just as bare as the other. The couch is a futon, in couch form for now; it will be in its bed form but only much later. The camera's pushed far back enough that you can see the couch entire and you can see part of a window above it, the thick pebbly glass of the plastic-lipped pane. The Porn Star sits upon the couch. He is reading a magazine, right leg propped, wagging. The shoes he wears have fat black tongues and the laces that keep them on tight are bright orange. His pants are riding low on him, the chain on his wallet cascading the fabric. He's wearing a hoodie, the hood cinched in close and the sleeves of the sweatshirt tube down past his hands. He's reading the magazine, foot faintly wagging. There's a look on his face but it cannot be seen."
Ted Nelson's Xanadu project began in 1960 and was supposed to be the universal, democratic hypertext library that would help human life evolve into an entirely new form. It didn't go that way.
Update: The software was finally, quietly released in April.
A 42,000-word, 3-continent spanning “hacker tourist” account of the laying of the (then) longest wire on earth.
A world in which an internal software turns anger and intense emotions into involuntary exercise.
"Then there are the monthly upgrades, downloaded automatically from GRUNT. A few months back the upgrade reprogrammed our sensors to monitor facial expressions and the tone of one’s voice, so you can’t fool it anymore by smiling or speaking softly. A quiet argument is still an argument to the executives at GRUNT. It certainly changed around Brad, my supervisor, who liked to hint at our utter worthlessness in this very quiet voice, a smile stretching across his face. There was something disturbing about watching him grin, and place his arm gently over your shoulder and lower his voice as his called your work garbage, your very existence a nuisance, all with this soft, earnest voice. Now he wears track shoes to work and does sprints in between insults, weaving in and out of the cubicles, stutter stepping like a hall of fame running back."
Technologies of literacy, technologies of memory.
"Millions of people, some my age but most younger, have been keeping lifelogs for years, wearing personal cams that capture continuous video of their entire lives. People consult their lifelogs for a variety of reasonseverything from reliving favorite moments to tracking down the cause of allergic reactionsbut only intermittently; no one wants to spend all their time formulating queries and sifting through the results. Lifelogs are the most complete photo album imaginable, but like most photo albums, they lie dormant except on special occasions. Now Whetstone aims to change all of that; they claim Remem’s algorithms can search the entire haystack by the time you’ve finished saying 'needle.'"
Disconnect and minutiae of modern urban life.
"In the end, we can be separated despite our best efforts at staying together. We can be separated by tragedy, then by arguments, by fair and unfair blame, by couples therapy. Then by divorce and new addresses. Now we are too far away and want to get closer. If we still owned a car we would park it up your street. If we owned a bike, we would ride it past your apartment. Instead there is only the bus, the cab, the train. There is only the running, sockless in our new shoes. All day we make the blue dot follow us to the places of our previous habits. They are all diminished now but we go anyway: Here is the park. Here is the restaurant. Here is the shop and the store and the bank. Tourists would need maps to find these places, but these are not the places tourists would think to find. We have lived here too long for their kind of maps. Our maps are stretched tight across our skin. We carry them everywhere with us so that when we are lost they might carry us."
Two malcontents engage in a phone romance.
"We talked for a long time, more than an hour, until I got sleepy, so I started to fall asleep with her on the phone. The next night, around the same time, she called me again. I was really happy she did that. We had a nice conversation. She told me this story, how she used to prank call a math teacher of hers in junior high. She did it so much, she figured out how to reprogram his outgoing message, using his two-digit remote-access code. She redid his outgoing greetings, said things that were explicitly sexual. Her teacher didn’t understand technology or remote-access codes. He assumed someone was breaking into his house each day to rerecord his message. It filled him with fear and paranoia. He bought a dog. He had an alarm installed and got a prescription for sleeping pills. It was a long time—nearly a year—before the police identified Koko and got to the bottom of the mystery. "
An "architectural fiction" centered around a city built by machines, for machines.
"Social spaces for machines bear the fragments of their tasks, and nothing superfluous. Machines don't need places to eat or sleep, but they need places for their own sorts of socially evocative maintenance rituals. They need places where auto parts can be partially assembled and taken apart, time and time again, like a game. Machines hang out in cafes while working on mundane maintenance tasks, with their component addresses made public in unique ways, so that other machines can gather together and show off their range of operations. Machines that build other machines take their half-finished constructions out in the company of other machines, so that they can build them together and get input on possible alternatives. There are public machine exercise spaces, where machines go through their range of motions and data abilities, for the purpose of showing off their various tolerances."
The story of a lead squandered.
A middle-class father, seeking to impress his daughter, purchases an unusual status symbol.
"After dinner, strolled grounds with Emmett, who is surgeon, does something two days a week with brain inserts, small electronic devices? Or possibly biotronic? They are very small. Hundreds can fit on head of pin? Or dime? Did not totally follow. He asked about my work, I told. He said, Well, huh, amazing the strange, arcane things our culture requires some of us to do, degrading things, things that offer no tangible benefit to anyone, how do they expect people to continue to even hold their heads up?"
Disorientation and dissociation in urban Taiwan.
On the bus Erin slept with her head on Paul’s lap. Paul’s father slept one row behind. It was around 10:30 p.m. Paul stared at the lighted signs, some of which were animated and repeating like GIF files, attached to almost every building to face oncoming traffic—from two-square rectangles like tiny wings to long strips like impressive Scrabble words but with each square a word, maybe too much information to convey to drivers—and sleepily thought of how technology was no longer the source of wonderment and possibility it had been when, for example, he learned as a child at Epcot Center, Disney’s future-themed 'amusement park,' that families of three, with one or two robot dogs and one robot maid, would live in self-sustaining, underwater, glass spheres by something like 2004 or 2008. At some point, Paul vaguely realized, technology had begun for him to mostly only indicate the inevitability and vicinity of nothingness.
A cautionary satire about the potential excesses of an unchecked Google.
"'My Google Being anticipates everything I would think, everything I would want to say or do or feel,' Larry explained. 'Everywhere I would go. Years of research have gone into this. It is in every way the same as me. So much so that my physical form is no longer necessary. It was just getting in the way, so we removed it.'"
The first published excerpt of J.G. Ballard's disturbing novel.
"The optimum auto-disaster. Panels consisting of drive-in theatre personnel, students and middleincome housewives were encouraged to devise the optimum auto-disaster. A wide choice of impact modes was available, including roll-over, roll-over followed by head-on collision, multiple pile-ups and motorcade attacks. In an overwhelming majority of cases a crash complex was constructed containing elements not usually present in automobile accidents, i.e. strong religious and sexual overtones, the victim being mounted in the automobile in bizarre positions containing postural elements of both perverse intercourse and ritual sacrifice, e.g. arms outstretched in a notional crucifixion mode."