Dread Orange is the boiled down bathtub gin of my inner workings, aiming to warp your neurons a few degrees off their normal axes.
I plan to do this by slinging exotic, nutrient-filled content directly through your eyeballs and occasionally through your ears. You’re offering your valuable time and mental space, so I want to barter well in return.
Want is an evolving ingredient in life. In middle and high school I wanted to be an FBI Agent, and so joined the Tulsa Police Explorers. In university I wanted to be a computer programmer and then a 3D animator (and part-time screenplay writer), so studied at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. And yet I’ve ended up in Tokyo teaching English. Never part of the plan, but turns out it’s a good fit. Pro tip: Enjoy the zigzags in life because it’s in the corners and curves you get the best views.
Throughout all of those wants, two things have never changed: I’ve been an avid reader and writer. Everything else has been facilitating these underlying themes of my character arc. Storytelling is a long, spun-out, challenging, and yet immensely satisfying road. Even as you read this, synapses are pouring plot lines and bystanders are passing out from the sweet, sweet fumes.
I’d like you to join me as I build the Centricity Cycle, a post-post-apocalyptic series full of thought-catalyzing characters, electric espionage, corporate doom-bringers, and political machinations.
From Dread Orange you'll get:
Thanks for taking the journey with me and please share my content with those who’d also enjoy the ride.
Who’s your favorite robot of all time?
There's plucky R2-D2 from Star Wars, always ready with an insult for his befuddled companion C-3PO. Or the Terminator, a killing machine humanized by Arnold Schwarzenegger’s muscled thumb. How about Data from Star Trek, the machine who wants to be more human through the power of disgusting drinks?
Dalek, the Iron Giant, Bender, the Cylons, HK-47, Dot Matrix, Optimus Prime, Mega Man ... the list of greats is so long we need one of their positronic brains to help us organize it.
In this installment of Future of the Past, I'll look under the skin of one of the earliest androids—even before the term android became popularized in the late 1800s. “Android” comes from the combination of the Greek prefix ander- meaning “man,” (as in male person) and -droid, meaning “have the form or likeness of.” Looks like a man. Sorry ladies.
The word "robot" came along later in the 1920s, derived from the Czech word robotnik, meaning "forced worker." Not to be confused with Sonic the Hedgehog's arch nemesis, Dr. Robotnik. I wonder if the name made the man, considering his evil plan included turning animals into robots. His parents really railroaded him there. But I digress.
While many ancient myths speak of creatures brought to life through magical or divine intervention, mechanical, human-like constructions were less common.
So where does this idea of artificial humanoids come from? Many of us might sling our index fingers toward early science fiction pioneers like Isaac Asimov, who devised the three laws of robotics. Which were something about robots having to be sexy, homicidal, or hilarious. That's three, yeah?
Well ... those might not be entirely accurate. You can find the real ones here.
No one disputes Asimov's influence when it comes to peopleish robots, but, as the theme of this series suggests, we're going to jump back much further in search of android origin stories.
Nearly 3000 Years Ago ...
The time is ancient, and the place is Crete, an island in the Mediterranean and—more importantly—a stash pad for (one of) Zeus’ consorts, Europa.
She landed this all-expenses-paid abduction when Zeus transformed into a bull, waited for her to mount, then swam to the island. I know, Greek myths are all sorts of messed up.
To stop any would-be invaders from getting up in his *ahem* bidness, Zeus needs a guardian for Crete. Of course he turns to Hephaestus, the Greek god of blacksmithing, maker of automatons, employer of golden umpa lumpas, and ugliest of the pantheon—the last one's not a relevant point, I suppose.
So which callous, egocentric jackass fells our brave defender? None other than Jason, of Jason and the Argonauts fame. This hero, heroing away without regard to who he steps on to make a name for himself, comes upon Crete. Jason's lover Medea—who's also a witch—tricks (or drugs, depending on the version) Talos into allowing her to remove the bolt holding in his ichor (read, motor oil). His life force drains away “like molten lead,” and boom! I assume it made a loud “booming” sound when he keeled over.
On a side note, the bolt was located in Talos’ heel, a weakness similar to Achilles, thus confirming the ancient Greeks’ foot fetish.
So one of our first androids, a predecessor to all the snarky, funny, empathetic, badass creations to follow, was little more than a glorified security guard. I believe, deep down, he had ambitions, dreams, goals. To open his own ice cream shop, maybe. I know this was before ice cream, or refrigeration, but who knows what amazing things Talos could’ve come up with, given better employment opportunities?
They story kicks off when Zula’s desperate/idiot boyfriend bungles the sale of stolen credit card numbers. For her poor choice in men, Zula is rewarded with a kidnapping, and we are yanked into an around-the-world adventure involving every type of villain ever punched by Liam Neeson (and a few he hasn’t—get on that!).
See, all the makings of a page-turning thriller. And it is, but it's also more, and your enjoyment of the novel will depend on how much you like that "more" part.
Reamde brims with details vast, deep, and edifying. Want a glimpse into the Russian mafia's white collar crime operations? Check. Curious about how virtual terrain and game economies are created and managed? Got that too! Hungering for a comprehensive description of the topography along a section of the US-Canadian border? No? Well, it’s got it anyway.
The first several chapters introduce us to Stephenson's info-heavy style. This block of characterization had me checking the description several times to make sure I was reading a thriller. We get grandpa watching TV, people chatting on a gun range, backstory on a woman killed by lightning.
I understand the why: it developed a clear sense of Richard’s strained relationship with his family, and so made him more real and the ending more meaningful. Cool. But Stephenson could've achieved the same thing with less—an issue that rears its head throughout the book.
Still, power on, it's worth it.
These sidetracks mostly feel quick because of the interesting views along the way. But there are moments where Stephenson’s descriptions of, for example, the hills, rocks, trees, and their exact configuration drain the action of some momentum. Then the next scene roars into your face, drowning out the impatience and forcing you to hold on, white-knuckled.
Multiple story threads take us through China, the Philippines, Seattle and other exotic locals, with an eclectic groups of tour guides: a Hungarian hacker, Russian mobsters, and networked Islamic terrorists. The kind of guides that'll show you a good time right before beating you to death in a dirty alley with a technical manual.
The rich cast of characters had my attention, especially Zula. She’s a fighter but not indestructible, with a textured backstory based on her home country of Eritrea. I connected with her even more than, say, Jazz, from Andy Weir’s Artemis. I also developed a fascination with several of the baddies. Or a fear of. A fine line between the two.
To sum up, despite an info-heavy story and one big infusion of plot thickening coincidence, the brilliant parts equal more than the sum of the whole.
Oh, by the way, it about 1000 pages.
While at an aroma therapy session in an abandoned radar installation, I accidentally tapped into a pirated neural feed—possibly due to the transceiver parts I inhaled.
The static is as ragged and thick as a New Year’s hangover, but I’ll assemble what I get into something approximating coherent thought.
Lucky for us, the first transmission I picked up fits right into February's Valentine theme.
...Despite all your artificial assistants, we predict a sixty-six over six times six percent chance you’ve forgotten to spend your money in the right direction for this special day.
Fear not, I’m Vento Yaster with Nester's Neural Network coming direct to your brain to save you with some last-minute deals from our sponsors. Remember: the three Ns mean you win!
Is the ol’ ball and no brains always harping on you for not following them around wherever they go? No? Well, surprise them anyway by jumping out from behind their favorite kiosk—or from the adjoining bathroom stall—just to say “I love you so much I can’t ever not know your exact physical location at all times” with Tera Tech’s ForEverywhere location tracker!
The beautiful part about this never-apart device: there’re two delivery systems. The software version installs directly into their cerebral implant, integrating into the firmware so it’s nearly impossible to remove—and to detect!—without a complete reformat. The other, more intimate option is a micro-tracker injected into the C1 vertebrae, just below the base of their skull. Only way to be rid of you is to chop off their own head! Physical installation extra. If that ain’t love, then love is a waste of IOUs.
Speaking of debts...
We’ve all been in need of a quick infusion of funds from time to time. And we’ve all done things we’re not proud of to get it—I know I have! I’m still waiting for my children to stop saying they have no father. You weren't grown in a lab, kids! So what if I auctioned off your childhood memories. Get over it! (static) right, yes, I know, shut up.
The point: you needed money. So you used a carton of fermented algae and vending machine sleeping pills to knock out your significant other long enough to remove an organ for resale. Don’t say you haven’t, we’ve read your credit report!
Best of all, when they attempt to use the Xomo organ, the soothing voice of Sheevo Gnoe explains they’ll get a working replacement as soon as your software seance business turns a profit.
Buy now while their body is still warm ... and asleep!
Slide me a tall glass of liquid nitrogen because these deals are overheating.
Subscribe to Satisfaction
With all the hours spent up in virtual space, who has the time—or the orifices—to fulfill your partner’s every whim? I do, for one. Call me, aha! (static) But the next best option is Fun Gunzer’s Leisure Playhouse. A candied buffet of the least-defective recalled pleasure androids still on the market. Ignore the warnings, focus on the low, taut-bottom prices!
An Improved Outlook
Let’s move on to the most important aspect of your partner: their looks!
Imagine this: it's a beautiful evening beneath the flood lights, you're staring long and deep into their eyes and think: this is my soulmate, the only one for me ... at least until the contract expires! Aha!
But really, time stops, it’s just the two or more of you, and everything is perfect ... except for their face. You’re not sure what the problem is, but it drives you up the wall and out the window.
Want the answer? Of course you do. That's why you tune in. And to be told all your fears are justified. They are!
So, what's the problem with your partner's face? It’s not yours! No one’s face is better than your own! So give the gift that looks back at them every day, from every reflective surface, until the end of days. Pick up a Dr. Gentlemen's clone surgery gift card while supplies last.
Make Lasting Memories
Planning the perfect date or a romantic couple’s getaway takes a lot of effort. You have to listen to your partner’s whining about the rights of vat meat stem cells. You have to convince your boss to give you the time off, and make sure a bot doesn't replace you in your absence. And to top it off, you’ve actually got to go! Or, do you?
Why not let Flashback Factory’s dedicated team of engineers craft the memories for you? Really, what’s the difference? If you think you’ve been to the resort hotels of Sukaya, there’s nobody except everybody else to tell you otherwise!
Don’t stop there. Get remembered as the greatest lover ever, (static) reliable, likable, or just plain tolerable. Use your imagination—or let Flashback Factory do that for you, too.
With these gifts, your loved one is sure to love you back! And if they don’t, they probably aren’t worth the trouble anyway. On to the headlines ...
Disclaimer: The views reconstructed here don’t necessarily reflect that of the blog author, his affiliates, or his imaginary friend Pete.
Aliens invade, unfathomable technology, mass casualties, enslavement. Human hybridization follows to help the aliens acclimate to our world. We cast fearless explorers into space to seek humanity’s salvation … and so goes a sliver of the “science fiction” genre.
Who gave us the blueprints for this infinity box we now store so much in?
The Founders, the Mothers and Fathers of Science Fiction, these titles evoke names like Jules Verne, Mary Shelley, and H.G. Wells, who worked between the early 1800s to the mid-1900s. Does this mean sci-fi was born a hundred years ago? Two hundred?
Not even close.
Put on your extra-capacity time machine pants, because we’re going back almost two thousand years.
A True Story targets classical Greek myths, exaggerating tales of heroes to a point where they stretch so far beyond their original shapes as to become something else entirely: science fiction.
The title itself plays with us, as the story is the opposite of true, though Lucian is honest about his lies:
“I see no reason for resigning my right to that inventive freedom which others enjoy; and, as I have no truth to put on record, having lived a very humdrum life, I fall back on falsehood--but falsehood of a more consistent variety; for I now make the only true statement you are to expect--that I am a liar.”
His lies have gotten more mileage than most people's truths.
Alien Races and Celestial Warfare
A war rages around them, fought between the Moon people and the Sun people over colonization and territorial disputes of the North Star. Territorial disputes, the forever problem.
Genetic Hybrids and Future Materials
A Heavy Injection of Fantasy
The war ends, but Lucian’s journey continues. Upon returning to Earth, a whale swallows his crew. Having bumbled into someone else’s house, they battle fish people with Aquaman-esque assistance from dolphins, emerging victorious. Even poking fun at myths, Lucian can’t help make himself a victor.
They island hop across an ocean of milk, running into several “liars” of classical fiction like Homer (author of the Odyssey, not the donut-muncher). Lucian chops the story off here, promising more adventures in future installments. But, as far as we know, none ever came. A liar to the last, Lucian was; though he said he would be, so does that mean he was telling the truth all along?
A True Story overruns with puns and innuendo lost on modern audiences. Further obscuring the humor, Lucian throws most of his satirical jabs at works that no longer exist. He must have been a riot in his day.
Lucian dreamed up enough ingredients for even the most epic space operas, still fresh after two thousand years. Yum.
In our mission to get a story on to paper, we are often starting from less than zero, because zero assumes your only obstacle is the blank page, with you possessing no qualms, an unwavering confidence in your writing acumen, and knowing exactly who your characters are and where they’re going.
If that’s you, teach me your secrets. Otherwise, we have to cross a chasm of self-doubt. I have spent many infuriating hours staring at the computer screen, willing greatness to emerge. Unfortunately, my computer is not haunted by the ghost of Philip K Dick or Robert Heinlein.
Here are a few ways to get you to the other side.
1) Get a running start.
Beginning in media res (in the midst of the action) is an excellent way to stab the reader right away ... or is it grab the reader? No, stab sounds right. Anyway, this works for finished products but can trip us up on first drafts. We end up fretting and dithering because everything is important from word one.
Instead, back up a little. Or a lot. Write about a character’s morning routine. Their trip to the grocery store. Deliberately choose the most boring thing they were doing before the action starts; you now have the freedom to hack it off later without remorse. There’s also a chance of producing unexpected insights into a character’s personality: steamed milk latte or convenience store sludge? Daily life can be illuminating.
2) Don't fear the dirt. It is where trees grow.
We all inevitably produce garbage along the way to eloquence. That’s the way the brain works—until we can replace our wetware with something better. Your goal should not be to avoid garbage, but to use it as compost. Accept it, wallow in it. Even go one step further: tell yourself, “Today, I will write the most cringe-worthy version of this scene I possibly can. I will aim for awful, create catastrophe!” Then you can’t be mad at yourself, because you did it on purpose. It was all part of the plan. So go ahead, write it bad—but write it.
3) Layer it on thick.
This method involves writing in passes. For example, write out all the dialogue, nothing else. Next, internal reflection. Then setting description. Do this until the section is complete. The order you do it in isn’t important, the goal is to make the whole less intimidating by dividing and conquering (and you are very much a conqueror, having overcome the desire to return to your snicker doodles and binge watching). An added benefit is that layering will help you better judge if the ratio of content is working.
4) Do flybys.
When I’m staring at a giant to-do list of chapters I have to write, bleary-eyed, overwhelmed, and not sure where to start, I hop through several chapters in a short amount of time. I’ll write somewhere between a paragraph and a page starting anywhere in the scene, then move on to the next. I find this to be a real present to my future self, who will be tackling a half-done chapter instead of a none-done one.
5) Use people.
But in a good way. It’s much easier to make excuses to yourself than to others. Call on a friend—or anyone willing, really—and make them a promise. Promise them you’ll be finished with a chapter by the end of the week. Even better if they also promise you something; doesn’t have to be about writing. Maybe they need to complete a human diorama for … whatever project requires one of those. Up the anti by devising a punishment. For example, you have to take them out for dinner. You don’t want to disappoint Edwin the building handyman who dabbles in human dioramas, do you? No. So finish that chapter!
6) Watch movie trailers.
When my energy is at stagnant-pond levels, I go on to YouTube and find movie trailers that match my genre. These micro-bites of condensed action and storytelling pump me up and can kick-start my own mojo. Just be careful not to get lost in the infinity chain of YouTube links. Set a time limit of 10 minutes or so.
A note on editing:
Be wary of that infection known as “perfection.” Avoid the urge to tinker until after you've finished. Instead, use top-down editing: story --> chapter --> scene --> line. It'll save you cargo loads of time. When you edit chapter by chapter, you are potentially spending hours fixing something which you'll have to tear out anyway. The first version never survives, no matter how much energy you pour into it. So don’t waste your finger sweat.
I hope these words get your own flowing. They’ve helped me. An encore of inspiration can be found here, to remind you that even the Great Writers had to struggle, just as you do:
Now, get to it.
I went through several openings for this post, and couldn’t settle on any of them…
Fear of failure is one mean bastard. It’s not a weight you can simply chuck into the abyss and be done with. It’s got the tenacity of those creepy dolls from horror movies that keep coming back no matter how many times you burn them on a pile of angel hair.
Brilliant ideas never rust if you don’t get them wet.
Planning is awesome right up until it’s burying your corpse in the backyard under so many good intentions.
…And I noticed I was stalling by trying to come up with a poetic way to describe stalling. No more. I’m strapped into a giant slingshot; time to stop cranking it back and just—
Rewind to 2005. I was taking a screenplay writing course at the Academy of Art University, ...
... a side quest to my ultimate goal of becoming a master visual effects and 3D animation artist. Our assignment: write a 10 page screenplay treatment.
The PI is stumped. Weird events ensue. I vaguely recall a creepy little girl (because of course) in a stairwell and a portal to another dimension.
(I remember neither the author’s name nor the magazine it appeared in, but if this sparks a memory, please let me know in the comments.)
Enigmatic and disquieting, the story provided more than enough fodder to hash out those 10 pages. I received good feedback from the teacher, put more flesh on its bones and ... nothing. Life went on. For six months. That’s a long time when you’re 22.
But the story wouldn’t leave me alone. It watched me from the computer lab shadows. Followed me down Post Street and past Divas to my 2am gym sessions. Its presence was amplified by my growing awareness of all things Japanese, sparked by friends and the culture stew that is San Francisco.
I began with great passion ... and unrealistic expectations. As I clicked my way through thousands and thousands of frames, adjusting control arms, deformation, and timing, I came to realize, painfully, that my love of the end product did not extend to the process.
Animation, like all jobs, has its moments of slog. The surrounding bureaucracy also takes more than a few pounds of flesh. Movie/game release dates are nearly impossible to change, so deadlines must be met, whatever the cost to artists’ evening plans. Clients, even well-meaning ones, are sometimes not versed in how the technology works or what it’s capable of, so their requests can be vague to the point of abstraction. Budgets and plans change, casting aside hours of completed product. And on and on into the void.
But when it all works out, and a vision comes to life, the results are oh so beautiful. Worth all the sweat and tears and caffeine-induced shakes. Some of my former classmates have gone on to help bring major productions to life. While I envy them for that, I don’t regret going in a different direction.
Back to that different direction.
I started writing the sequel to Happy Home in South Korea, titled Fluffy Bunny Kill Force, and finished it shortly after relocating to Tokyo. This book sees my heroines tackle the underbelly of the Japanese music industry and their pop idol assembly lines.
It took me 4 years to write the 2 books. As of now, maybe 50 people have read them. Not entirely the books’ fault. My “marketing strategy” consisted of my parents telling their friends, and me working it into conversations with cute girls: “Hey, I’m writer ... No, sorry, they’re not translated into Korean.”
The Quoddy Tides, a local newspaper in Maine, did review The Happy Home Death Machine, comparing it (very lightly) to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I still do a little dance over that coup. You can read it here. Pro tip: savor every victory, no matter how small it is, or how big you get.
But it was too late. By the time I’d had this epiphany, I’d already moved my mind to a new city, one of my own creation: the city-sphere of Naion.
In a way, it is Tokyo. It is Hong Kong, it is Istanbul and Brussels. Strained through a cybernetic fever dream. My playground, a character in its own right. A place which has seeded an entire series.
Come on in. Don’t mind the smell of burning ozone and street food, you’ll learn to love it. For your safety and enjoyment, keep your eyes open.
While most writers try to extract the tastiest pieces from their ideas and cook them into a satisfying meal, Murakami revels in including everything. Along with a buffet of events both wonderful and bizarre, he wants you to root through daily minutia: taking out the garbage, exercising, pining, cooking, banal eroticism and and and...
These "ands" caused my appetite to wane. At times, I had to restrain myself from skipping repetitive descriptions, echoing dialog, and plot tangents to get back to the juicy stuff (of which there is a lot; it’s over 1000 pages).
Some may feel a literary master like Murakami can get away with this because he expatiates on purpose in his unique style, which is both dreamlike and deadpan. For those readers who enjoy making use of every narrative element, boiling them down, curing them, or otherwise doing the work to extract meaning, 1Q84 will captivate. I, however, had trouble digesting it.
In summary, 1Q84 is a weighty story with an interesting through line, but you need to have a lot of patience and a taste for wandering details.
At one point, there is an exchange between Aomame, the assassin (for lack of a better term), and her main client’s fixer/bodyguard.
“Have you read it?” (Aomame said.)
“No, I’ve never been in jail, or had to hide out for a long time. Someone once said unless you have those kinds of opportunities, you can’t read the whole of Proust.”
“Do you know anybody who has read the whole thing?”
Which book were they actually talking about? This may be a glimpse of 1Q84’s self-awareness.