I love a book that kicks me in the head.
You know what I’m talking about: you open the first page, start reading, and some idea, some turn of phrase, something about the book rears back from the pages and smacks you in the skull, leaving you breathless and starry eyed and saying, “Oh, wow” for the next two hundred pages. It’s nice to have a comforting book, one that slowly pulls you in until you’re in way over your head, but, every now and then, I need the kick, and iD by Madeline Ashby is chock full of it.
(Disclosure: I have made buttons with Madeline’s words on them, much to our eventual consternation. I have hung out with Madeline. I would write all of this if I hadn’t, ’cause her work is so bloody good.)
iD is the sequel to vN, her debut novel about a self-replicating robot who eats her grandmother (complications ensue). If you dug Javier, Amy’s companion/foil/teacher/eventual partner, then you’re going to love iD, ’cause it’s all about him, where he came from, what he’s done, and where he’s going. There’s sex and violence and so many geek references that I had to stop myself from emailing her every time I came across one.
But that’s just the carbon skin over the aerogel muscle and diamond-lattice bone. iD cuts deep into questions of choice and free will and imperfection, and it hurts. Are the vN a reflection of humanity? Or are we the vN seen through a glass, darkly? How much of our own cultural and genetic programming drives our choices, makes us who we are? Would we be better off if we were nothing but a massive set of algorithms and processors? Can imperfect beings create perfect ones?
iD comes out late June, which means you’ll have enough time to get vN to prepare. Buy both. You’ll be glad you did. But wear a helmet. You’ll need it.
Hello. Do you live in Santa Monica? If so, please read. Note: there is potential for you to get delicious, delicious cookies.
I want to get this out here now, while the coffee is still working.
What do I want this city to be like in five years? In ten? In fifty? What do I want to change right now if I could, cost and public wishes be damned?
Let’s start big and absurd and work down from there.
If cost and public opinion were no object, I’d lower the streets by two stories. I’d pay for every construction crew in the continental US to come here, dig down down thirty feet, moving pipes, wiring, the whole kit and kaboodle. I’d make it so every garage in the city had elevators or ramps that shot straight down to this magical network of trenches. All streets that lead into Santa Monica will turn into tunnels, descending into the rich bowels of the earth. Then I’d make double-decker underground streets, with all of the wiring and piping easily accessible, and cover them up. Housing, ventilation units, pedestrian paths, bike tracks, and tram tracks will go into this newly liberated space. The miserable hulking parasitic devices known as automobiles will be banished to the underworld. Bam. Traffic circulation, housing shortages, and unemployment solved, all preserving the urban village feel that I and the city’s marketing department like.
Also, since I am Benevolent Dictator With An Infinite Budget, I close the airport, rip out the concrete, connect it with Clover Park, creating a massive public space for all to enjoy, including cyclocross racers, because fuck you Parks Department, we’re riding our bikes on your grass and you’ll like it.
Also, all future Downtown development proposals that are more than three stories high will result in both the architects and the developers thrown into stocks that I will set up at Wilshire and Ocean, where they will be mocked for their greed and hubris by the public, who will be able to pelt them with scale models of their monster buildings made out of sponge cake.
What else that’s impractical yet would be awesome? No more chain stores. Montana, Main Street, and Downtown become Special Economic Entrepreneur Zones, where people can set up their pop-up stores, restaurants, boutiques, whatever. They have a year to make a go at it, rent-free, and the ones that have the most cash and votes from the public get to stick around, though they’ll now a) have to pay rent, though they’d know that would happen when they first moved it and would have planned for it and b) have to make the citizens of Santa Monica shareholders in their business. It wouldn’t be a huge cut, and the shareholders wouldn’t have voting rights, but they could choose to collect their dividends or sign them over to the city’s Public Awesomeness Fund.
Hotel taxes are tripled, except during the Rose Bowl, when they are quintupled, because I’m sick of all these Wealthy Midwestern Alumni strolling around the farmers market, getting in the way of my winter produce. Same with AFM, too, because you’re keeping me from the butternut squash, you badge-wearing wank.
What else? Well, since I have infinite budget, I’m going to finally solve the county’s homeless problem by providing proper goddamn mental health for a start, right at St. John’s, because fuck you St. John’s for your parking idiocy. So, everyone sleeping on the streets gets fed into a fully funded, professionally staffed facility that will set them up with recovery, meds, counseling, job training, all that. And, if none of that works, if all they want to do is drink or get high, then they can live out the remainder of their days in wet housing, which I will build in Beverly Hills, because fuck you Beverly Hills.
There. Now that I have my outrageous ideas out of the way, here are the less outrageous ones that could be enacted this year that would make the city a better place. No, I don’t want your input, because you did not talk me out of drinking this cup of coffee this morning.
Traffic sucks because there is too much traffic. How do we reduce traffic? By making it expensive and annoying. If you don’t live in Santa Monica and can’t bring yourself to ride a bike or take the bus or aren’t excited about the Expo Line because you like driving yourself and only yourself in your car instead of taking the time to get to know your fellow workers and carpool with them despite their cultural/political/personal space differences, you’re going to pay for it. Non-residential congestion pricing starts yesterday, suckers. Closed circuit cameras go up at every intersection on Santa Monica’s borders, and they are aiming right at your license plates. Optical character recognition software reads the plate and checks it against a DMV list of residential car registrations. If you don’t live here, you’re paying for it. We’ll say $5 a day, $4 if you buy a day pass the night before, $3 if you buy a block of twenty weekdays every month. All that money goes into the city’s transportation fund, which will pay for infrastructure and the Big Blue Bus. There will be income exemptions based on tax returns, though if you try and use any accountancy tricks to weasel out of it, the city will bring the hammer down on your ass. The city can’t do anything about state and federal oil subsidies, but it can sure as shit making driving into Santa Monica more expensive than bussing, training, or riding.
All future development follows the LUCE, period. No DAs except for current development, and that’s only after passing strict EIRs that show any redevelopment won’t have a negative impact on pollution, traffic, or any quality-of-life issues. Yes, DAs allow for flexibility in the case of disaster (if the Big One hits and One Wilshire collapses, I think they should be allowed to rebuild their current structure), but that flexibility comes with costs. Land is expensive in Santa Monica, sure, but there’s no reason except greed for getting us to subsidize developers’ bottom lines.
We do like Zurich did with parking and instate parking maximums. We crank up the parking rates at every structure and parking meter in the city. All the cash goes to bike infrastructure and the Big Blue Bus. Santa Monica will become a car minimalist city. Car culture is dying, and I’d rather it evolve into something healthy instead of having Road Warrior death spasms. Car dealerships: gone. No more business licenses for you, because cars have no place in the next hundred years of Santa Monica or any healthy American city. Parking prices change to meet demand and go up because they’re too cheap and YOUR CAR SUCKS. Ride a goddamn bicycle, you complaining, hyphen-abusing idiots on Patch; you’ll probably all feel better. Same for you, Bill Bauer. YES, BILL, I’M USING YOUR NAME; SEND YOUR SOCK PUPPETS AND SHOUTY MAN AVATAR AT ME, I DON’T CARE BECAUSE I’M FITTER AND SEXIER THAN YOU ARE.
High speed internet for everyone, subsidized. (I’m finally getting tired and running out of steam, so deal with it. Spitballing and bullet points from now on. Shut up. COFFEE.) Free wifi everywhere except at the big hotels, because see points above. City staff, city council members, city commissioners all have to eat their own dog food on every idea they present, so no free parking, no taking over red curbs, you all take buses or ride bikes or carpool to the max (which I know some of the city staffers I’ve met do, and I think you guys are awesome. I just want everyone to do it). Personal trainers have to pay for licenses to use any parks or beaches for classes or clients; the citizens of Santa Monica don’t create that much wear-and-tear on the grass nor bring boom boxes or shouts to the parks, kids. You want to use the land, you pay for it.
We will have a goddamn Santa Monica Triathlon. It will be a sprint, and it will be on a Sunday, and it will be awesome.
Oy, up in five hours, what else…
Oh, no more door hangers for menus, businesses, or political whatevers. Any PACs that spend money on any Santa Monica elections have to disclose the source of every cent, including names and addresses. Candidates may only campaign during the month of September, and then they shut the hell up until the Saturday before Election Day, when they’re allowed one more reminder campaign day. SMRR has to disclose their leadership, their funding, everything, as do every other group in the city.
DOUBLE PARKING IN THE BIKE LANES GETS YOU FINED SO MUCH THAT YOU’LL NEVER DO IT AGAIN I’M TIRED OF SWERVING AROUND YOU LAZY ASSHOLES.
The library gets to hire however many librarians they want. No, I don’t know where the money comes from, but the library is awesome and it gets what it wants.
Okay, I’m finally exhausted. Cars and tall buildings suck. Santa Monica shouldn’t. I love you. Good night.
The Overheating Greenhouse Future.
You will put these things into your brain, and the book that you will want to read will be the result. Don’t stress. Finish your work, let it stew, have a curry. It will all work out in the end.
Last night, I got an envelope from Hoboken, New Jersey. It was not the envelope I expected.
Hoboken is home to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. I’d submitted a short story entitled “Oh Give Me A Home” back in September, and I’d included a self-adressed, stamped envelope, as per their guidelines. This was not my envelope. It had a printed address label. Maybe my envelope got soaked from Hurricane Sandy, I thought, though a tiny voice in the back of my head said, …or maybe not.
I handed the envelope to Anne. She opened it and looked at me with a big grin. “There’s a check inside,” she said, holding it up along with a contract.
Am I stoked? Hey, man, are fish tacos awesome?
I have no idea when it will be published, but I’ll be sure to let everyone know. And thank you to everyone who read and critiqued it; you helped me make a better story.
tl;dr Holy crap, I sold a story to F&SF!
One last election post: no matter who wins, we will still never be rid of the recurring problems of Political Attention Addicts. In two years, the Half-Term Halfwit, the Semi-Sentient Hairpiece and That Bloated Adulterous Pustule will be back, trying to get another fix of the spotlight. We can’t vote out the ratings-hungry producers who let these creatures–who would barely pass a Voight-Kampff test–re-enter our public consciousness. We’re not going to have a better political process until more of us start paying the right kind of attention and get past sweater vests and hair and how candidates make us feel and start screaming bloody murder about candidates that plan on fucking us over for their own benefit. And if that means you and I and everyone with a conscience and brain cells have to start organizing and running and doing all the crap work it takes to get elected, we will have to do it.
There is too much at stake in the next thirty to forty years to leave the hard decisions up to pundits who hop from one cable show to the other, or candidates who are only interested in hoovering up contributions. We need to make serious concrete plans on how our society is going to deal with climate change. We need to make sure that the runaway costs of health care get reined in before our parents retire and crush the system. We need to make sure that women have control of their own bodies, that their health problems don’t get sidelined so someone can get subsidized boner pills. We need to kick our addiction to carbon. Anyone who talks about anything else is a distraction and should be ignored. I’d like the second half of my life to be a good one, and I’d like all of my daughter’s life to be excellent.
Vote, because your life does depend on it. And then we’ll get to work on the next round.
Food always brings me back.
If I’m having a slice from Grey Block Pizza, I remember the first time I ate there, back when it was Abbot’s. I was taking accounting at SMC, right across the street, and I’d leave work early enough so I could park, take the shuttle, then cross campus to get two slices of Wild Mushroom for dinner. I’d bring along a copy of Fantasy & Science Fiction, because that was the year I had decided that I was going to be a writer. Being a writer meant studying the markets, and that was the market I wanted to crack. I’d eat my pizza, read stories, and realize that I so did not want to learn accountancy, not when I could be writing, dammit. That was eleven years ago. I’ve only got the one sale, but I’ve got two novels in the can, one ready to get sent out on the Agent Dance Circuit. There’s a new one I’m working on. All of this started in that grungy place, with two slices on white paper plates. I have some Wild Mushroom, and I’m back there.
Thai food brings me way back, to late nights at Harvey Mudd, when we’d pile into someone’s car for a trip to Sanamluang. Thai food was exotic and sophisticated and exciting, even though it was in a run-down restaurant in a run-down strip mall in a run-down city. I can still taste the ka nom pa kard, a dish that only Sammy’s makes. You shred daikon, make a thick paste out of it, then you fry slices of the paste with cilantro, bean sprouts, and brown sauce. When I went back to Mudd for the fifteenth reunion, I had a plate, and it was heaven. I remembered going to Sanamluang after gigs with the band I played drums for. I remembered the relief at having a real meal after I’d gotten horribly sick my sophomore year. I remember falling in love, and I certainly remember having it all blow up in my face.
I taste Carb-Boom gels and Accelerade, and I’m racing. I Ragin’ Cajun, and I’m back at Realtime. It’s always the cheap food, the everyday food, the stuff I’d have out of habit that ties me to somewhen. I can remember fancy meals, but I can’t recreate them. I can have a strawberry donut, and I can remember all kinds of things.
I had a crap race today. It was hot, and I’m out of shape, and I just couldn’t hack it. I stopped. I walked. I would have been better off staying home. But I drove out to Chino, came in last place, and I decided I wanted a burrito from El Pavo in Montclair. It was a bit out of the way from Mudd, but there was something about the place that stuck with me. I think it was the way the women behind the counter would put the tortillas into a steamer with a giant lever on its side. One of them would slam the lid, lean on the lever, and the tortilla would be flash-steamed–light and fluffy and sticky and, oh. It was comfort. I needed some comfort, even if it was out of the way.
El Pavo, I found, after winding my way through Chino and Ontario, past one taqueria after another, is now closed. Somewhere in the last fifteen years, it had turned into Alberto’s; the shadow of the old sign was still on the boarded-up storefront. I didn’t bother to get out of the car. I didn’t want to see if any of the old equipment was still in the kitchen, if there was an old menu floating around. It had been turned into a shell a long time ago.
Sometimes, you just want lunch. Sometimes, you want to remember comfort. Sometimes, you want both.