Thursday, June 30, 2011

Saving the environment...before we blow it to hell

Even the U.S. military is getting in on the green.

Remember that report from back in 2004?  Pentagon officials named Global Warming and the end of the stable weather patterns of the past 12,000 years as the greatest threats to national security, even more so than terrorism.  The destabilizing effects of environmental disaster will lead to a decrease in livable land, food shortages, riots, and perhaps even nuclear war.  Now, in an effort inspired at least in part by saving the environment, military officials are now very interested in alternative energy sources.  Projects include humvee-like vehicles that run on hybrid fuels and solar power for navy ships.  In one interesting move, the Air Force even once suggested (I've looked all over the place for a link to this, but sadly can't find one) that its ICBMs will soon be powered by clean-burning fuel.  Nice to know that a nuclear missile won't contribute any more pollution into the atmosphere until it reaches its target.

What I find especially interesting his how these initiatives must be pitched to politicians in order to secure funding.  The angle is that for example, a solar powered ship (which makes sense as a ship at sea can soak in a lot of solar energy) can remain operating at sea for a far longer stretch of time before it has to come back in to a friendly port and get resupplied.  Less dependence on oil means no tankers of gas moving in convoys through treacherous locales in Afghanistan or other theaters of operation.  Face it, those fuel trucks might as well have great big "hit me" signs plastered on them for terrorist ambushes.  Supply convoys can now become shorter and more streamlined...or at least a bit less explosive.  A decreased dependence on oil also means less need for political appeasement in the Middle East.
All of this is logical and makes good sense in tactical terms.  What gets me is that none of it could be proposed under the auspices of "reducing Global Warming."  There are Republicans in Congress who are set to vote against any piece of legislation that even mentions Global Warming as being a reality.  Nothing like playing politics with our own environment.
Don't get me wrong.  To paraphrase Bono, I'm no hippie with flowers in my hair.  I wear combat boots, not sandals.  I know all the words to Fear's "I Don't Care About You," not The Byrds' "Turn Turn Turn."  The issue of our environment is beyond hippie versus punk or Democrat versus Republican.  It's all about how we're going to live and what kind of world that living will take place in.  Personally, I'd like a world with a sustainable climate, clean air, available water (a bigger challenge than you think), and freedom from a killer storm every week (see Newsweek, "The New Normal.")  If we can give our armed forces an advantage in the process...bonus.

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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Take me for a drive

Finally.  A gadget that is a bit more useful than your standard Sharper Image toy.

The state of Nevada has asked its Department of Motor Vehicles to work on regulations for self-driving cars.  While “auto-pilot” cars have been tested for a while now by firms such as Volkswagen and Google, this is the first time that a governmental body has given any signs that such cars are on the way.  By “on the way,” I don’t mean that self-driving cars will be on the highway in Nevada tomorrow, but that the state sees what’s coming down the road (pardon the pun) and is choosing to prepare for it.  And in my opinion, Nevada would make a good trial location for this sort of technology.  Having driven through that state, I can assure you that traffic is for the most part not an issue (what up, Rachel NV!) 
One might ask, exactly what constitutes a “self-driving” vehicle?  Nevada’s definition is “a motor vehicle that uses artificial intelligence, sensors, and global positioning system coordinates to drive itself without the active intervention of a human operator.”  “Self-driving” is also known as “autonomous.”

I have never been a big fan of cars.  Even as a kid, when my friends were in the bathroom, wanking themselves to Car & Driver, Road & Track, Oily & Greasy or whatever, I just didn’t care about cars and which one had a “dual cam exhaust” or however one is supposed to impress another in car lingo.  Subsequently, I was none too eager to learn to drive a car either, but much to my chagrin, driving is indeed a necessary part of every day life and I do it anyway.  So any technology that will take that bit of drudgery from my already drudge-filled existence is most welcomed.  And before anyone asks, no…there really aren’t viable public transportation options for me (would that there were) but that’s beside the point.  It seems that no matter how you wish to avoid it, society demands that you drive.  On the plus side, I’m a car salesman’s worst nightmare; unable to be swayed by appeals to masculinity or “grown up toy” tactics.  Those guys typically find my aphorisms discouraging.

I’m certain I’m in the minority when it comes to cars and that many will be more than reluctant to turn control of their driving over to an AI.  For me however, it’s a sweet prospect to picture myself tooling down the street as a passenger and not a driver, drinking my latte while U2 and Duran Duran entertain from my MP3 player.  I’d even go so far as naming the car’s AI “Gus.”  That way I could adopt the old Greyhound ad line and just “leave the driving to Gus.”

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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

UFOs Over London

Last Friday, a YouTube user uploaded a video of what he or she claims to be multiple UFOs over Britain’s capitol city.  The video features several dot-like objects in the daytime sky, streaking over the streets and buildings several times.  Admittedly, the objects do not exhibit flight characteristics of typical aircraft.  Their speed is higher and their maneuverability is sharp and jerky, lacking the languid sorts of turns we’re accustomed to.  What’s more, a shiny disc appears sort of catawampus in the frame.  This silver object appears much larger than the other UFOs and has been called the “mothership” by the videographer.
By now, other videos have surfaced of the same sort of phenomenon over the skies of London.  One video shows UFOs over the Tower of London and another clip of footage appears to be shot from the offices of The Mill, a company that does post-production effects for movies.  Rather telling, that.  In this day and age with so many robust computer applications for photo and video manipulation, I automatically assume any anomalous footage I see to be a hoax.  Might sound sad, but unless I see evidence to the contrary, “fraud” is going to be my default stance.  It’s just too easy to fake this sort of thing these days.  By “fake,” I don’t necessarily mean the work of pranksters, either.  This could all be a sort of viral marketing campaign for a new feature film.  Wouldn’t be the first time we’ve seen this happen and given the suspected vantage point for one of the videos, one really must wonder.  The YouTube user has of course been defiant about any allegations, citing the number of other videos and the varying vantage points, as well as offering the open challenge of  “If you believe it's easy Photoshopped why don't you make a video & show us all.” [sic]  

So what if, just what if, this is the real thing?  Mass sightings over metropolitan areas are not unheard of.  Washington D.C. had a significant wave of sightings in July of 1952.  Investigator Robert Stanley was on Coast-to-Coast AM just last night talking about this flap and several other sightings of discs, cylinder-shaped motherships, and the like over the capitol.  Phoenix in 1997 was the site of an infamous mass sighting that has yet to be satisfactorily explained.  So if this London footage is demonstrated to be genuine, then it would appear we have well-documented mass sighting over one of the world’s major cities.  

Oh who am I kidding?  There may be a simple means of verification, one that I am uniquely able to offer.  Right now, our man Bernard J. Sell, my co-author of Monsters! (plug, plug, plug) is in London, hard at work in the researching of his next installment of Ghosty.  As much as possible, I will be publishing Bernard’s reports from the field as we try to get to the bottom of all this.  To Bernard I issue one simple and familiar directive: “keep watching the skies.”

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Monday, June 27, 2011

Another fine miss

Remember a while back when I posted about asteroid impacts?

Today…that’s right, todayasteroid 2011 MD will miss Earth by about 7,500 miles.  That qualifies as a “near miss” in astronomical terms.  In fact, the asteroid will dip beneath the orbit of a few of our communication satellites.  This comes on the heels of another miss earlier in the year with that one coming as close as 3,400 miles.  The UK’s Daily Mail lists today’s asteroid as being the size of an “office block.”  The estimates from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory measure it as being about ten meters…which really makes me wonder about the size of “office blocks” in Britain.  At any rate, an object that size and at that proximity should be bright enough to be seen tonight with an amateur telescope. 
Smaller asteroids such as 2011 MD and the one from earlier in the year are difficult to detect in the depths of space.  In both cases, we had only about one week’s warning that they were even nearby.  NASA, however, maintains a “no big deal” viewpoint.  Neither 2011 MD nor its earlier predecessor had any real chance of striking Earth.  Even if one of them had, the consequences would have been locally disastrous (think nuclear blast-sized) and not a worldwide catastrophe.  That attitude makes me wonder if they really would tell us the truth if it were otherwise.

I can understand how such a perspective of shoulder shrugging comes about.  The odds of a truly massive asteroid impact aren’t all that high.  We’re at much greater risk of having our power grid knocked out by massive solar flares.  There is also the matter of trajectory when it comes to asteroids.  If one does enter the atmosphere and it happens to be at a shallow angle, the object might very well bounce back out into space.  If the approach is a steep one and the object is the size of 2011 MD, then the asteroid would burn faster and break up in the atmosphere, thereby attenuating the danger.  But history teaches us that massive asteroid impacts are a fact.  They have happened before in our planet’s cosmic history and will likely happen again.  This leads many in the populace to say, “Oh well.  What can we do about it?”
To that, my answer is always “a robust detection system and a viable plan of repulsion.”

But then if the Republicans have their way…

Here's another article on 2011 MD that apparently had a superior copy editor to the one that went over the Washington Post's article.

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Sunday, June 26, 2011

Hard Port

Now, as promised, the reason behind my post yesterday about black holes...beside it being informative and timely.
What follows is an excerpt of a short story I just finished.  It's the first draft, so there's still a ways to go revision-wise.  It will be part of a collection of science fiction stories that I am tentatively calling Esoteric Synaptic Events.  This story is called "Hard Port."

    Rogers was dead.  I didn’t know for how long, but no color remained on his face.
    “Hard port!”  Captain Zambrano’s voice called through the ship’s intercraft speakers.
    The ship lurched to port.  My upper left arm met a fixture of chromium steel.  I heard the engines strain and the smelled the faint odor of electrical fire.  The purpose of my visit to the engine room was to offer Rogers a sandwich.  Quite measly fare for dinner, but it was tuna on wheat, light mayonnaise with a touch of garlic.  Just the way he liked it.  Lucky for him, it was the one meal I could prepare despite the pitch and wobble of the ship. 
    Should I cut him down?  I wondered as I watched the dead man dangle from an electrical cable tied to the catwalk.  Did it really matter at this point?  Nauseated by the corpse’s sway, I decided there must still be such a thing as dignity, even in the final hours.  No.  More like minutes. 
    The X, crown jewel of the Quest shipping line, carried a cargo of thirty thousand tons of silicon in its hold on this, its fifth day out of Altair 6.  A slow freight vessel, it slogged its way through the quadrant on a heading for Earth and the conclusion of terms between Quest Shipping and the Viably Experienced Galactic Mineral Company.  It was my 23rd flight through space with the crew.  It was my first mission serving under Ricardo Zambrano as Captain.  Zambrano came up through the ranks with me, just as the rest of the crew did and he was possessed of a well-seasoned record.  We kept implicit faith that Zambrano could steer the ship through any challenge. 
    Hell of a way to test a theory.
    “Hard port!” Zambrano called out once more.
    I stumbled as the ship again lurched to the left again.  The action seemed to dislodge an old story from my mind, one told by my great-grandfather, droning on in an Alzheimer’s trance about his Humvee hitting a roadside bomb in Afghanistan.  It meant little to me at the time, thinking it the prattle of an aged man nearing death. 
    A hand pressed fingers into my shoulder…ebon, Tanzanian fingers drained of color by pressure at the tips.  A face came with the hand, one with wide eyes and an open mouth.
    “Quon, do we have alcohol?” Mbutu asked.
    I jerked.
    “Don’t usually see you outside the cargo hold,” I replied.  “And you know we’re not allowed to keep that on ship.”
    “You never use it for cooking or anything like that?” Mbutu asked.
    I fell quiet and considered the question.
    “Mbutu, how often did I ever make cherries flambĂ©?” I asked.
    The jittery hand left my personage.  Mbutu ran said hand over the scrub at the top of his head. 
    “If we had booze, I’d be drinking by now,” I said.  “Rogers hung himself in the engine room.”
    Mbutu thrust his hand forward in a fist.
    “Selfish son of bitch!  How could he do that to his family?” he asked.
    “Uhhhh Mbutu?  Have you noticed what’s happening here?”
    “Because ships have gotten out of this, right, Quon?” he asked.  It came off not so much as a question but a plea.  “We just need to blast the engines, right?  I mean it’s not like we’re too far in yet, right?”
    Silent, I walked down the corridor.
    “Where are you going?” Mbutu asked behind me.
    “To see if they want anything to eat,” I answered, giving a point to the ceiling.
    The slender Tanzanian pursued. His shaky form came into my peripheral vision.
     “I have to speak to my daughter,” he said to no one in particular.
    We entered the lift and I selected the top floor.  Along the way, Zambrano called out “hard port!” once again.  The ship heaved left.  The sharp veer turned into a gentle drift back to an upright position.  I could sense a tugging at the ship, almost as if a tether hung from the hull, constantly returning us to original attitude.  Mbutu had fallen onto me during the turn, both of us crashing into the wall of the elevator.  His skin was cold to the touch and his face as pale as a Tanzanian’s could be.  Fear.  Panic.  The raw honesty of it in Mbutu shook me.
    When the elevator doors slid back, they revealed the expanse of the X’s wheelhouse.  Zambrano stood over the conning station. His massive form, his brown skin glistening with sweat as his nostrils flared with rage…he resembled a bull preparing to charge.
    “Where’s your head?” Zambrano barked over his shoulder.
    I stumbled.  At first I thought myself the target of the verbal dart.  Turning to my left I saw Corey at the navigator’s station, poring over the scanners.  The invectives and the expletives continued to pelt him like hale.
    “We ain’t dying here,” Zambrano said.  “Not losing my ship on my first run…and I’m living long enough to kill you, Country!’
    Everyone called Martin Corey “Big Country” due to his Kentucky origins. If the threat invoked fear or pain in Corey, he didn’t show it.  He continued to stare at the streams of data on his console.
    “Yeah, that’s right, puta!  Kill you dead!” Zambrano continued his tirade.  “Hard port!”
    I fell to the deck with Mbutu as the ship tilted and then drifted back to a level angle.  The tugging sensation remained.  I picked myself back up and informed Zambrano of Rogers.  With no small amount of profanity, the Captain informed me that he didn’t care, citing a mixture of greater problems and Rogers’ lack of testicular fortitude in facing the situation.  Zambrano continued to stare straight out the window.  I followed the man’s gaze.
    Windows on spaceships are most often tiny things.  The precarious balance of pressures does not afford for expansive glass enclosures.  Advances in polymers have allowed for increased size since the pioneering days of space travel, but the portholes still remain thick, modest things.  Despite that, the ones on the bridge of the X granted us all a disquieting view of what we faced.
    A spiral.  The outward arms of the shape as gentle curves sweeping like the spray from a lawn sprinkler.  Like watching the drain in a sink or tub as the water evacuates, swirling round and round towards a destination unknown.  Like a pinwheel in slow rotation, but churning with raw power. 
    A mouth.  Sucking eternity through a straw.  Consuming what matter it can without any indication of sating itself.  You could almost hear the vacuous, whooshing sound of suction, even though there was no air involved in the process.
    A pinhole.  The scar of a pinprick jabbed into the black hide of an air or spacecraft.  The contents of the vessel vacuumed to the outside from the resultant depressurization.
    A black hole.

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Saturday, June 25, 2011

Death by black hole

This story is a smidge old but relevant nonetheless to a future post.
Astronomers have recently been able to observe a star as it was shredded apart by a black hole.  It was the Swift spacecraft that first noticed the stellar demise, registering it as an enormous burst of gamma radiation in the depths of space.  The duration and intensity of the burst befuddled scientists as to the nature of its origin.  After review of the data, it is now strongly believed that the gamma rays were the dying gasp of a star as it fell into the gravitational vortex of a black hole.

For the uninitiated, black holes are thought to form after a star goes supernova, leaving behind an incredibly dense remnant.  This region is so dense that nothing, not even light, can resist its gravitational pull.  A gas and other matter are dragged  into a black hole, bursts of light and radiation are emitted and can at times be visible on Earth.  In certain ways, black holes may be the most pivotal occurrences in cosmology, acting as the great destroyers/creators in the universe.  
Everybody go that down?  Good.  Check back tomorrow for how it applies.

In other space news, Saturn's moon Enceladus has been observed spewing ice and water vapor through geysers.  This seems to indicate that a large saltwater ocean sits beneath the moon's icy surface, an ocean that may support life.
The cluster of galaxies known as Pandora (no, not the planet from that dumbass Avatar) is now thought to be the result of a collision between four or more galaxy clusters.  The study of this exact collision may yield a greater understanding of dark matter.

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Friday, June 24, 2011

Film Review--Dead Ringers

starring Jeremy Irons, Genevieve Bujold, and Jake Peavy as The Beav.

Identical twin gynecologists (Irons)…I’ll give you a moment to take that in…capitalize on the fact that no one can tell them apart.  The more confident of the two seduces his patients.  When the woman grows tedious, he passes them on to his sibling.  This all changes the day an actress (Bujold) comes into the clinic for fertility treatment.

Ahhh David Cronenberg.  What a charmer you are.  While you might be a bit too “out there” at times for even me to handle, I have boundless respect for how you seem to choose projects that you know will drive away the vast majority of the movie-going public.  People can say what they want about you, but there’s no denying your creativity.
A few of Cronenberg’s other classics have a strong special-effects component to them.  I’m talking about films such as The Fly and Videodrome.  This one relies more on twisted psychology (though somehow the picture still manages to include his penchant for “throbbing meat.”  Not sure how else to put that but if you’ve seen his films you know what I mean.)  These twins are in a complete state of psychological and to a degree, physical symbiosis.  True co-dependence.  The descent into lunacy is stunning to behold when they are driven apart.  Their behavior highlights not simply mental illness, but the obsessions and yes, at times, madness that is associated with truly brilliant people.  Another mesmerizing aspect of the film is that although Jeremy Irons plays both twins, the direction never lets on that there’s only one actor.  No hokey, Disney, Parent Trap camerawork here.  A feat like that takes true talent, especially considering that this was done all the way back in 1988. 
Admittedly, this film is not for everyone…like so much of Cronenberg’s body of work.  But if your mind is eager for a sabbatical from the gooey pap of mainstream film, this just might do the trick for you.

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Thursday, June 23, 2011

I remember when comics died


Sure, the death knell for comic books has been sounded many times.  I just know that it has been dead for quite a while now in my personal life, as I have not bought a first-run comic in years.

It doesn’t sound like I’m alone, either.  In the month of May, there was not a single comic book that sold over 100,000 copies.  Revenue from the Top 300 comics dropped 17%.  This has been an ongoing trend.  What’s to blame for this?  I have a few theories.  Here they are but please keep in mind these are only my musings and opinions.

Many will be quick to point the finger of blame at the Internet and video games.  “Kids don’t read anymore,” grumble grumble and all that.  While kids are more technologically oriented these days, I don’t believe that is to blame.  Kids are reading.  At least my students are.  I continuously see them with books, thick books even, such as Twilight, Hunger Games, Percy Jackson, and the good ol’ standby of Harry Potter.  Think what you will about any of those franchises, but kids are reading.  And whatever gets them reading is a good thing in this educator’s opinion.  Comics are in the reading mix, too…they just happen to be mostly manga.  I can't blame them from steering away from today's current crop of mainstream superhero-fare.  I remember when you had to read comics.  There were narration boxes, thought balloons that allowed a character to internalize, and…well…actual words on the page.

Price and access could be a factor.  I remember a day (damn I’m old) when comics were available in grocery stores, pharmacies, and newsstands.  I actually begged my Mom to take me to the grocery store with her, simply so I could sit at the comics turnstile.  You could get comics for 50 cents in those days.  That price rapidly rose to a dollar, which still wasn’t too bad.  Currently, you’ll pay close to five dollars for a single, regular issue.

Those factors and many others contribute to why kids don’t want to read comics.  So who is still buying them?  Old school geeks like me in my age demographic.  Because of this, the major companies feel that they need to tell more sophisticated stories.  A just point of view, but they have, in my opinion, extended that line of reasoning beyond the pale.  The late 1980s is considered by many to be the beginning of the Dark Age of comics: anti-heroes, bloody violence, heroes with marital problems or addictions or the unbearable lightness of being famous.  The audience was older so the writers felt everything needed to be ratcheted up a few notches. 
Instead of being an escape from bleak news on TV and my everyday problems, comics became a constant reminder of those things.  Yes, I am far older than when I was when I started reading comics, I have more responsibility, and I’m above the stilted, cheesy dialogue of that time.  But I still need what I came to comics for in the first place: fun.   Wonderment.  The idea that the fantastic could happen.  Heroes that espoused the finest ideals a human (or non-human could have) while still hampered by ordinary flaws.  The comics printed by Marvel in the late 70s and early 80s are evidence, to me anyway, that you can tell an escapist story and still be intelligent.  I’d argue that DC Comics of the 1990s was much the same way.  Somehow or another, I didn’t put an issue down and want to slit my wrists over the swirling toilet our society has become.

So I’ll stick with all my old issues, the mangled but enjoyable copies from the quarter bins, and collected editions like Marvel’s Essentials and DC’s Showcases.  I don’t necessarily begrudge the industry for what they’re writing now.  I just don’t have to read it.  And if they’re losing money, they need to look at all the reasons why.

And for a more eloquent critique of the "darker, edgier" cliche, please check TV Tropes.  It's where I purloined that inspired piece of Smurf art.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Fembots...or the Modern Pygmalion

It was bound to happen. 

This link goes to Neatorama and footage of a quite realistic android in Japan.  It moves, speaks, even mimics facial features.  I find it interesting that the designers chose a female identity for it.  Shouldn’t be a mystery as to why.  One of the user comments at the bottom of the page probably sums up the true motivation: “Can I f**k it?”

That’s right.  We’re just this close to having fembots around.  I know that there are a few primitive models already in existence.  I’ve heard mention of a lifelike pleasure robot in Japan and there is of course Real Doll (that link is definitely NSFW) line of adult entertainment products.  Those are a long way from something like Pris in Blade Runner, but it’s only a matter of time before men, and presumably women, will have their own artificial companions to service their “needs.”

Why do I say this?  Just look at how much the sex industry has driven technology forward.  The advent of the VCR was brought on so that porn could be watched at home as opposed to in a seedy theater in the bad part of town, interactive DVDs had their own prurient origins, and the influence of porn on the Internet is many storied.  As for the fembots, the notion is really as old as Pygmalion, the mythical character who sculpted a woman to spec.  Now Pygmalion, meet the cult of celebrity.  Porn stars have molds cast of their…ahem, body parts and even duplications their whole likenesses in the case of a few Real Dolls.  Is it that far of leap to say Britney Spears or Kim Kardashian might do the same?  Come to think of it, those two are rather fembot-like as they are now. 
Perhaps they wouldn’t license their likeness out for lewd or base activities, but it’s inevitable that models could be constructed that would be xenogenic enough as to avoid lawsuits.  Admit it, this would play into the male fantasy of having a sex toy to boss around.  You know, "servicing" a guy and then getting them coffee, folding their laundry, et. al. 

Not sure I’d be into it.  Even as tempted as I would be with fembot versions of Asia Carrera or Natalie Portman, I require a spark of conversation and interaction, not servitude.  Honestly, I'm attracted to someone's mind more than anything else so there would need to be one helluva AI at work inside the fembot's cranium.  Besides, the whole idea of keeping lifelike bodies around is sort of a ghoulish, serial killer motif, especially when the bots would have to shut down to recharge.  I’m no Luddite, but this is one aspect of robotics I’ll take a pass on.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Meanwhile, in Cydonia...

Take a look at the photo above.

I have gone back and forth many times on the subject of artifacts on Mars.  In my teen years, I first saw a photo of the supposed “face” as taken by one of the Viking missions.  I believed that there had indeed been a civilization on Mars at one point but that race went extinct when all water evacuated to the poles.  Not only did planetary geology prove that notion wrong but also new photography. In the 1990s, photos from orbital probes demonstrated that the “face” really wasn’t much of a face at all.  Chalk it all up to the human tendency to see faces or objects in things or discerning them from background “noise,” an ability that has helped our species to survive.  In light of that new evidence…or lack thereof…I’ve been pretty much a downer on the idea of “Martian artifacts” ever since.

Then I came across the writings of smart guys who do still believe in such things.  I speak primarily of the late, great Mac Tonnies, author of After the Martian Apocalypse.  The pic displayed above is from Mac’s blog.  When I first saw it, I had to look at the picture for a goodly amount of time.  I have never before seen a photo like that from the surface of Mars.  Not only does it show a hint of the “face,” but note the pyramid structures with the sheer sides that suggest no natural process was involved in their creation.  There is also the matter of what I first thought was a crater but upon inspection seems too perfectly circular in composition to be a natural formation.  Additionally, there appears to be a network of…roads, for lack of a better term…connecting the various structures.  Then there’s circle toward the left of the frame.  What the heck is that?
My first thought was that this image is the result of Photoshop or another such graphics program.  I don’t me to say that I think it’s a fake, I simply mean that when you play with contrasts or gains, you can lose a bit of fidelity to the original image.  Since the photo is copyrighted, I decided to search the name of its owner, Mark Carlotto.

Mr. Carlotto is an imaging specialist who has been involved in researching the “face” anomaly since the 1980s.  He has written two books (at least that’s how many are listed on his website) on the subject of Martian artifacts.  One of the texts, The Martian Enigmas, is described as being based on data from the 1976 Viking missions, so I’m not sure I’d call that fresh.  Again, that is only going by the description.  The Cydonia Controversy on the other hand, appears a little timelier or at least as timely as a 2002 publication can be at this point.  He seems to be asking important questions and I intend to look into his work.  

The idea of a failed civilization on Mars need not be the only hypothesis for these strange structures, in addition to trick of light and perception, that is.  Aliens from another planet could have landed there and left these monuments behind for reasons known only to them at this point.  Or maybe the rock structures really are from Martians, victims to an "ecological 9/11" as Tonnies describes.  One thing is for certain, I intend to give the notion of a fallen civilization on Mars another think-through.  In the meantime, let's get a manned expedition there sooner rather than later.

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Monday, June 20, 2011

An Uploaded Society

“If you were here I could deceive you.”—Thompson Twins

I mused for a while at lunch today.  My mind wandered to one of its perennial subjects, namely “all of reality is a computer simulation.”

Right off the bat let me stress that I do not really believe this to be the case.  There is no evidence for it.  Then again, how would we expect to come upon such evidence?  A chat message that simply says, “Wake up, Neo?”  Anyway, I am confining these thoughts to the realm of pure speculation.
Imagine that we have all had our minds and consciousness uploaded at some point into a computer system.  The brain is scanned, mapped out, and copied or moved en total to a digital location via a brain-computer interface (BCI).  What we now experience as “real life” is in truth a virtual reality simulation while our own essences are nothing more than a set of electrical impulses, a series of zeroes and ones stored in memory.  And if indeed this can be done, there would be nothing to stand in the way of the manipulation of this data.  You wouldn’t have to remember a thing. 
Things needn’t stop there, either.  Our existence may be just one of several other simulated “realities,” coexisting as subroutines in a Russian doll sort of data structure.  Our own experiments with sims and artificial intelligence would be, thus far, further nested down the scale.  You can easily how the mind can boggle at the recursive nature of the theory.
It becomes an attractive possibility if you stare out your window long enough, watching everyone as rats chasing after cheese dangled before their noses in the maze.  Stepping all over one another to get that house, car, job, or material good that we’ve been duped into thinking we simply cannot live without.  It would be fascinating to study.  Even more intriguing would be to analyze “those who are not as others;” the people who don’t wish to pursue the dangling cheese, unable to stuff down that sense that “something just isn’t right.”  It’s obvious to see how The Matrix became such a popular movie, besides just the pretty pictures.  It speaks to the people I refer to above.  It proposes a fictional case where there is indeed a reason why things to seem right, it isn’t our fault, and there are others just like you who want to fight back. 

Again, I don’t place a whole lot of faith in the notion that we live inside a computer simulation, but there are times I think it’d be nifty as heck.  None of the things that drive you crazy are real; they were generated that way as a sort of stimulus test.  By what sadistic entity I have no idea, but would explain why, as Stephen Jay Gould said, “The world, unfortunately, rarely matches our hopes and consistently refuses to behave in a reasonable manner.” 
Let’s just hope that BCI technology does come around and I can finally upload myself into a cyborg body.  One that need not require diet, exercise, or other weaknesses of the human flesh.  And if I cannot have that, at least lead my uploaded consciousness to this place:

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Sunday, June 19, 2011

A.I. vis-a-vis Cyberpunk

I told you that I was feeling rather cyberpunk.  In my recent meanderings across the World Wide Web, I stumbled upon this essay from way the heck back in 1999/2000 on the Singularity, artificial intelligence, and how they are viewed through the literature of cyberpunk.  In other words, comparing the fantastic and sometimes cautionary views of AI development with what we are currently seeing in the real world.  
As pointed out in the text, we already live in a world of AI if we can look upon the definition of that as "solving by machine (hardware) or by a program run on a machine (software) specific problems that are precisely defined (which means that the solver, either a program or a machine, is provided with algorithms for solving them or have such algorithms built into itself). A machine (either hardware or software) that possesses such capability would also be called AI. We already have machines that translate documents in real time (like babel fish on the Internet) or play chess and win with grand masters (like the computer Deeper Blue.)"  
However, what is typically implied by the phrase "artificial intelligence" is "a machine that can think as a human does."  What is the definition of "thinking" in this case? The author of the piece wisely chooses the same approach as Turing in that "if you ask an AI a question and its response is indistinguishable from that of human's, then it thinks."  Very Singularity in nature, that notion of human becoming indiscernible from machine.  Our current status might be seen, in an albeit clumsy way, in terms of concrescence as Terrence McKenna refers toAll things considered, AI is an inevitable development in our lifetimes.

Judiciously, the author of this essay, one Paul "nEo" Martin (yeah, you can tell that this was written in the wake of The Matrix), chooses William Gibson's Idoru as a singular cyberpunk text to make comparisons to.  "Idoru" literally means "idol" in Japanese.  One of the main characters of Gibson's book is Rei Toei, a rockergirl idol who is not human but a computer construct.  An AI.  All that she's artificial.  A construct.  In less respects, our mass media culture already has plenty of idorus, celebrities whose entertainment persona exists only on stage/screen but whose real identity is rather far removed in real life.  Examples of this include but are not limited to Alice Cooper, David Bowie, and Gene Simmons.  Interestingly enough, all three of those cited have had or are now having (in my opinion) difficulties resultant from when the artificial construct overlaps into real life.  But I digress...
One principal argument in the nature of AI development is that AIs will ultimately take on the persona and mores of their human creators and perhaps even augment them into a coldly wiser state of awareness.  Martin develops an intriguing comparison with Idoru in that:
"This approach, however, is reflected in neither of the cyberpunk works discussed here [the other being Ghost in the Shell,--J.]. Rei Toei may take the sensibility to human problems after their designers (which is especially shown in her attitude towards Chia), but she surpasses her creators in terms of wisdom and insight and, therefore, seems to judge the events around her with a cold certainty of a superior being that recognizes human emotions, but, as a being practically immortal, is beyond them."

Examples of AI "cautionary tales" are all over the place in fiction.  SkyNet is probably the most widely recognized among them in terms of the current generation.  While it is admittedly outside the scope of Martin's paper (and from experience, I know how tempting it can be to branch out all over the place like a drunk in connecting seemingly disparate ideas in academics), another example, even if in the literary virilocal sense, could be the Otherland series by Tad Williams.  A private, multidimensional artificial universe that is inhabited by the wealthy elite, falls to ruin under the monstrous AI that runs it, an entity known as "The Other." (Be on the lookout for tomorrow's post on "uploaded societies" as it ties into this concept.-J)  It's one of the more intelligent descriptions of an "AI menace" that I have yet read.

But like Martin asserts in his conclusion, I am not so fearful of AI development as the Luddites and the cautionary tales would have us be.  I am never one to eschew the downsides of The Singularity.  Of course they will be there.  They always are even in the most paradisaical of scenarios.  That said, I believe that the advent of AI will not be a dark time for humanity, but one of change.  Change, as we have become intimately acquainted with in my lifetime both publicly and privately, is inevitable.  Every bit as much as AI is inevitable.  Technologically, the genie is already out of the bottle, so to speak and there is no feasible way of putting him back.  More to the point, why would we want to?  The end results of AI could be transformational but whatever they are, they will be the consequence of human decisions, not anything else's. 

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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Film Review--Surrogates

starring Bruce Willis, Radha Mitchell, James Cromwell, Ving Rhames, and James Earl Jones as The Beav.

In this future society, humans remain indoors and interact through surrogate selves, robots under direct neural interface with their owners.  An FBI agent (Willis) is called upon to investigate the matter of a young man who was murdered through his surrogate.

One of the best things about this film is the concept.  It is, to me anyway, a vision of a not entirely unattractive future life, although I slightly prefer the "Jondroid" concept of another self I can send to fulfill obligations and drudgery tasks, but I'll take what I can get.   Granted, this life does not come without its detriments and those are fairly well laid out in the film.  Another thing going for the film is that it is generally entertaining and diverting.
The downsides?  Well one of them is an almost a system-wide virus in the modern thriller genre: all the so-called "surprises"...aren't.  You can see them all coming if you simply adopt the binary mindset of "no one here is who they seem to be."  I'm not trying to give out any spoilers, merely stating a fact.  Secondly, there is an overall, in my opinion, broadcast of thinly-veiled Luddite propaganda inherent in the delivery of the surrogate concept.  "We're losing our human soul!" and all that rot.  That may be an eisegesis of my own doing, resultant of a first-blush response, but I'm making it anyway.  This is the kind of attitude that casts an unjust shadow over transhumanist concepts.  Technology, when used creatively and judiciously, is not a threat.  It is the next step in evolution.  Again as I always caution, of course there will be a few undesirable outcomes.  There always is with any innovation.  But that is how progress is made.  The supposed "message" in the film really took me out of the otherwise entertaining and thought-provoking aspects.  It's not often I say that but this movie managed to make me feel that way.  Therefore, it's just kinda so-so in my humble o.

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Thursday, June 16, 2011

The sounds of cyberpunk

I am close to completing a collection of short science fiction stories.  As my work habits are erratic, I can’t really give you a due date by which you can have the collection in your sweaty little hands, but I can tell you that I plan to add three more stories to the ones that I already have.  Two out of these three will be cyberpunk.

To get myself into the proper headspace for that, I’ve done what I always do in the pre-writing phase: turn to my music collection.  Now there has been a long, bloody online war raging since about 1990 as to what cyberpunk “is.”  A sub-argument of that is “what is cyberpunk
music?”  I do not contend that any of the songs I’m about to list are or are not cyberpunk. 
I really don’t care either way.  I just know that they help set the spirit for what I’m about to write.  After all, the best definition I’ve heard for “cyberpunk music” is “in the end, real cyberpunks listen to whatever they want.”

Kraftwerk, “Radioactivity”
A couple German guys produce music entirely with machines.  That sets the tone for me.

Fear, “I Don’t Care About You”
Definitely the cyberpunk attitude.

Front Line Assembly, “Mindphaser”
If the song doesn’t do it for you, the video certainly will. 

Duran Duran, “Wild Boys”
You know I couldn’t get through this without at least one DD track.
Here once again, it is the video that really makes it cyberpunk in my
humble o.

Duran Duran, “Out of My Mind”
Fits directly into the concept of identity, a theme of one of the stories.

U2, “Zooropa”
“Let’s go to the Overground, get your head out of the mud, baby.”

Bjork, “All Is Full Of Love”
Bjork becomes a cyborgized, androginized, android. No sign of the swan dress, sadly.

Orgy, “Fiction” and their cover of “Blue Monday”
Dreaming in digital, because it’s better than nothing.

Nine Inch Nails, “Zero Sum”
A mournful tune that sounds like the headspace of someone looking over a post-cyberpunk landscape.

They definitely captured the spirit of the burgeoning Internet back in 1993.

Just getting into this one.

Adam Ant, “Stand And Deliver”
Fits one of my characters.

Einstuerzende Neubauten, “The Garden”
My friend Daiv turned me on to this song and Chris, another friend, recently listed this among his own set of cyberpunk tunage.  I think it works.

Billy Idol, “Shock to the System”
Yeah, totally kidding on this one.  He probably should’ve finished reading Neuromancer.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Sci-Fi Spy

I know.  I know that I am not even close to finishing Cryptonomicon (on page 338), but one of the books I bought at Printers Row Lit Fest just keeps calling to me.  Its title and cover art just keep promising such pulpy, hokey fun that I couldn’t resist it and I read the first few pages before bed last night.

The name of the book is Agent Of T.E.R.R.A. Book 1: The Flying Saucer Gambit.  The principal protagonist of the narrative seems to be one Hannibal Fortune, special agent for T.E.R.R.A.  What exactly T.E.R.R.A. is beyond being “the good guys” is unclear to me as of yet but I’m assuming they are a “supreme headquarters for an international espionage/law enforcement division.”  It is the year 2572 and one of Fortune’s fellow agents has been killed in a double-cross, just as he was about to deliver the plans for a new secret weapon deployed by EMPIRE.  Again, I have no idea what EMPIRE is other than “the bad guys,” something akin to Cobra or SPECTER I’m assuming.  But the plot sickens as Fortune discovers that EMPIRE intends to enslave Earth by going back in time to change the future.  In fact, the evildoers are traversing the 20th century globe in their “skimmer” ships that look remarkably like flying saucers.  This gives rise to the UFO sightings of the time.  Our hero and his shape-shifting little sidekick creature, time-travel back to 1966 to get the job done.  Little do they suspect that there is a double agent in T.E.R.R.A.’s midst.  And there’s a talking monkey.

Copyright information on the inside gives the publication date as indeed being 1966.  This was the height of the “spy craze” in entertainment.  James Bond, Our Man Flint, and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. were big hits.  In fact, Larry Maddock, author of the book, had originally pitched the plot as a story idea for the aforementioned TV series, but it was rejected as being “too sci-fi.”  Interested in cashing in on the secret agent wave, Ace Books published The Flying Saucer Gambit as part of a four-book T.E.R.R.A. series.  Now I am not expecting great literature from this by any stretch of the imagination, but it sure does look fun.  And it’s got a talking monkey!!  My crotchet for pulpy goodness may well be my undoing one of these days.

For now, however, Mr. Neal Stephenson is expecting me to finish what I started.

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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Film Review--Gattaca

starring Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, Jude Law, Gore Vidal, Xander Berkeley, Maya Rudolph, Blair Underwood, Ernest Borgnine, Alan Arkin, Tony Shaloub, and Hall and Oates as The Beav.

In a not-too-implausible future, people are separated according to their genetic enhancements.  Those without modifications are relegated only to manual labor.  One man (Hawke) refuses to accept this and follows his dream to travel in space.  To do this, he assumes the identity of another man (Law) who is genetically perfect but was crippled in a car accident.  Our protagonist spends years fooling and dodging DNA tests, until one cataclysmic event places his elaborate ruse on the line.

This film died a fiery death at the box office upon release in 1997 and it's obvious as to why.  It's slow, it's smart, it's superbly acted, and it does little in the way of special effects.  It is far from an estival romp.  This is a film that makes you think and that is a rarer and rarer occurrence lately in terms of science fiction.  There are enormous issues raised here.  Will entirely new forms of prejudice and discrimination come about as an unintended by-product of genetic engineering (in many respects, this is one of the best films I have seen on the subject of prejudice)?  Will we offer our orisons to the members of this new upper class rather than gods?  Just what is "identity?"  How far are you willing to go to get something that you want?
Sadly, this film does not come without its flaws.  Despite my earlier praise, it does get a bit too slow in spots and unfortunately it suffers from a weak ending.  But that is not nearly enough to dissuade me from seeing it again.  A few other fun perks include Gore Vidal in a rare acting role and Xander Berkeley, whom those of you who watch the mildly entertaining series Nikita will recognize as the deliciously evil Percy.

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Monday, June 13, 2011

Blatant self-promotion ahead!

As I am sure you know, we creative types get by these days by doing three things: promotion, promotion, and promotion.  If you will indulge me for this, my 400th post, I would like to tell you about Monsters!

Monsters! is a collaboration between author Bernard Sell and myself.  We’ve known each other for 23(!) years now and have just gotten ‘round to working with one another on a book.  Despite this friendship, I assure you that Bernard did not cosher upon my stories and that only the best made it through.  The book is an anthology collection of short stories built around the theme of “monsters.”  Or as Bernard describes in the teaser text:

“Who's that scratching at your bedroom door? Or the inside of your brain?  Monsters! Jon Nichols and Bernard Sell team up to bring you a sometimes haunting, sometimes hilarious, always thought-provoking collection of shorts that will keep you looking over your shoulder and looking into your very soul. But might not like what you find!”

Monster” is an almost deliberately innocuous term considering the stories in the collection.  Bernard’s contributions are so wide and varied as to creatively stretch the definition of the theme to its utmost.  He has written about werewolves who have a penchant for motel art, corn cults, siblings seeking solace on a cross-country road trip who only come to find that one of them has a hideous disease, and a story called “Dr. Ramses Ozymandias and the Frankenstein Complex.”  The title alone makes it worth it.

And my stories?  I have two short stories and two novellas in the collection.  Surprisingly enough, I would only call one out of the three a science fiction piece (my interests are rather varied, after all.)  That one is called “Nothing Left But the Cockroaches,” a satirical, globetrotting mash-up of Kafka and Voltaire that posits the notion: “If the world is deteriorated beyond management, turn yourself nto the ultimate survival machine…a cockroach!”  You can read a sample of it here on Strange Horizons from almost exactly one year ago.  Aside from that novella, the other pieces are reflections of the “monsters” of the human mind and the hope that there is a redeemable soul in all of us.  “Buck” looks at a nefarious and deranged ex-baseball player.  The novella “The Requiem” deals with an assassin trapped in Catholicism, existentialism, and Nova Scotia.  As a writer, I’ve tried to have a little sympathy for the devil in these works, hoping that sinners might make the best saints.  Then there might be hope for me after all.

Monsters! is available for download here on Smashwords in Kindle, Epub, PDF, RTF, and many other formats.

Thanks for permitting my little bit of marketing.  Pimpin' ain't easy.

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Sunday, June 12, 2011

Green Slime: Earth War Ep. 7: Well, we're committed now.

 Smoke filled the long stretch that was lined on either side by stores.  Helmets and rifles, along the bodies of their former owners, were strewn liberally across the path.  Rankin tossed away his nearly drained laser and picked up one that was in only slightly better condition.  Aside from their footsteps, Martin’s low, painful moans, and Rice’s mouth breathing, the mall was quiet.  Too quiet.
“Martin,” Jack said, hoisting his rifle to the ready.  “Cover formation.”
Wounded but loyal, Martin grabbed his own weapon from the floor and joined Rankin in leading the way into the shopping mall.  Sounds echoed.  Things stirred.  Rubble shifted but ever so slightly.  Something was moving in the smoke and amidst the strewn remains of store inventories.  Just what it was...they could not see.  
“Ahhhck!  Dead kid!  Dead kid!” Rice screamed like a six year-old girl.
He followed that by scorching the entire floor in front of him with laser fire.  Benson attempted to restrain him as Rankin got knocked in the head by a child’s arm flung airborne by the blasts.  Well, the arm of a child mannequin from a kid’s clothing store, at any rate.
“Whoa!  Whoa, there, Tex!” Rankin ordered.
He took hold of the rifle barrel and nudged it skyward.  Lisa had her arms around Rice’s waist and her hands conveniently atop his crotch.  The smell of ozone wafted from the charged air of the barrel as Rice’s heavy breathing slowed.  As it did, his eyes shifted rapidly left to right.  No slime creatures in sight, he immediately felt silly.
“Sorry,” he said.
Martin returned from a recon of the area and brought forth a glass bottle in one hand and an Orange Julius in the other.  He declared that the bottle had been found while making a sweep of a looted pharmacy and then tossed it towards the commander.  Rankin caught it with his cat-like reflexes.
“Night Train,” he said reading the label.  Twisting off the cap, he took a drink.  The smooth spirit rolled down his throat, filling his mouth with the taste of cheap wine and even cheaper women past.  “Not bad.  Think the kid could use it more than me, though.”
Rankin handed the liquor bottle over to Rice.  The young man’s eyes lit and glistened before he twisted off the cap and hoisted the bottle high to drunk fully from it.  Rivulets of purple fluid dripped from the corners of his mouth.  In time he disengaged the bottle from his mouth and thanked the Commander, saying “he needed that.”  Dr. Benson approached the Commander and placed her hands on his elbow.  
“Jack, do you think it wise to give alcohol to a young man in this situation?” she asked.
Rankin shrugged.
“His chances of getting out of here are just as lousy as ours,” he said.  “I say, what the hell?”
A light, draping sensation went down Lisa’s back.  This was followed by a tingle in her nerve endings that bordered on pain, conjuring memories of her curious, five year-old fingers in a light socket.  In a slow rotation made with the greatest of trepidations, Lisa turned a half circle to look behind her.  She found herself gazing into a single eye and the hiss of a hot breath on her face.
Lisa screamed as the slime tentacle wrapped around her.  Upon hearing the woman’s cry, Jack turned to open up with a hail of laser fire.  The tentacle severed and fell to the floor, just in time to spare Lisa from electrocution.  Her clothes were not so lucky.  The ripping claw had, in an event of uncanny coincidence, torn away certain parts of her unitard to leave her with what amounted to a bikini top.
“All right!” Rice voiced his approval of Lisa’s new look.
Multiple bangs echoed their dull sound from a wall next to Spencer’s Gifts.  On the other side of the party, the fluid draining from the creature’s tentacle began to bubble and congeal.  Martin slurped the last of his Orange Julius through the straw and let the cup drop to the ground.
“Oh, how long can that wall hold out, Jack?” Lisa asked as she clung to Jack, their bare skin touching for the first time in years.
“How should I know?  I’m not a structural engineer!” Jack said.  “Back to back circle formation!  Termination sweep!”
The four of them took the commanded stance.  The thuds grew louder and the call of creature shrieks crescendo-ed into form.   Unable to take the strain of the continuous hammering and beating, the wall gave in and the monsters flooded through.  The three men started shooting.  They kept shooting until the sustained fire heated the barrels of their laser rifles to a near translucent white.
“Dance, bitches!” Rice cackled, blasting the creatures while pulling gulps of liquor from the Thunderbird bottle.
“Commander!  We’re running out of time!” Martin implored.  “We’ve got to get outside before the evac pods leave!”
Rankin nodded a “yes” and then moved out, taking the now scantily-clad Lisa with him.  Martin followed suit, spraying laser cover fire.  Attempting to do the same, Rice backed towards them.  The kid at that point however, was a little too drunk for his own good.  He tripped over his own foot and fell to the floor.  The creatures then swarmed over him and the smell of burnt flesh hit the air.  A few of the things died with him though, as Rice sent short bursts of laser into the air, along with a final, drunken cry of “dance, bitches!”  Meanwhile, the others fought on towards their escape route.
Plan A of escape was vaporized as Martin kicked open the door to the outside.  The silhouettes of hundreds of creatures greeted their eyes.  Shock and dejection kicked them in the collective crotch.  Rankin and Lisa did a rapid about face and ran in the opposite direction.  Martin did the same, but before he could cover any real ground, a clawed-tentacle ran itself from the back of his head out the socket of his right eye.  Blood and skull fragments went flying while his body twitched with convulsions.  Unable to do anything else for his impaled comrade, Rankin shot him.  
Air burned in Lisa’s and Jack’s lungs from constant running.  The creatures weren’t especially fast, but what they lacked in speed they made up for in number.  The couple could hardly make a turn in the mall without running into a mass of the things, or jumping back to evade sweeping tentacles, or pausing to fire bursts from the laser.  Eventually, the two of them, all beaten and used up, emerged from the shopping mall...just in time to see the evac pods lift off from the open grounds and shoot into the starry night sky.
“Oh you pus-buckets!” Jack exclaimed with a slap of the rifle against his legs as he watched the tiny ships disappear from sight.
“What do we do now, Jack?” Lisa asked.
A gradual enclosure began to build around them, one of writhing creatures with spiky-clawed tentacles.  A rumble sounded.  Jack looked upwards and saw that attack helicopters were still making final runs to ensure the escape of the final pods.  Looking about at the red claws that glistened with green slime in the firelight, he knew there was no way the choppers would make it to their position in time.  Then, perhaps out of sheer terror and the need for emotional connection in desperate times (or she was just plain horny), Lisa kissed Jack.  
“Lisa,” Jack said as he took hold of his ex-girlfriend, maybe for the last time.  “It looks bad for us.  So I need you to know once and for all just how sorry I am about Vince.  That’s why I got you this.”
He reached into his pocket and produced a terra cotta pig with a plastic bag of seeds taped to it.  With a loving touch, he placed the pig in her soft hands.
“It’s a Chia Pet,” Jack said, eyes glowing with pride.  “Grabbed one for you back in the mall.  It’s supposed to grow a fuzzy, planty afro.”
The doctor’s face contorted, expressing confusion as she looked from the pig up to Jack, and then back down to the pottery pig in her hand.  The creatures were swarming, drawing closer and closer.  Her last moments on earth were at hand...and they were going to be spent in a bikini top in front of a bare-chested, mustard faced man while holding a Chia Pet.
“Jack...” she gasped.  “You jagoff.”
A rush of hot air coursed over them in a whoosh.  Both of them watched as a fighter plane circled back around in the sky and came in low and fast on their position.  Jack caught a glimpse of its starboard side.  An opening had slid...well, open and a vicious looking gattling pulse cannon protruded from the hole.
With a cry, Jack knocked Lisa to the ground.  The fighter interceptor opened up with its cannon as it passed over, wiping out the encroaching monsters.  Green blood splattered onto the cowering couple and shredded fragments of creatures sprayed across them like coleslaw from a blender.  Again the blast of hot hair enveloped them as the fighter slowed to a hover, extended its landing gear, and came to rest on the ground before them.  The canopy popped up and the pilot with the blonde flattop spoke to them.
“You lost your shirt, Jack...and there’s mustard on your face.”
“Vince!!” Lisa called out.
Indeed it was Commander Vince Elliot, somehow, inexplicably, back from the dead.  Corpse or not, it did not stop Lisa Benson from running straight for the man, throwing her arms around his neck, and kissing him deeply.  Jack Rankin approached the cockpit with less lust, but an equal amount of astonishment.
“Vince?” he asked.  “H-how...?”
“I wasn’t dead, num-nut,” Vince replied between tongue-suckings.  “And you left me there!”
Elliot then explained how.

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