The Critic Free Write

I’m going to do this as a free write, the same way I did for Emos vs Emus. I’m considering doing these sorts of “movie plots” as a podcast as my fiancee yelled at me to follow my dreams last night and I never have the time to write these things out long form. And this is more or less what my mind naturally does anytime I stare out a window.

-The movie opens in the Louvre, panning down a long line of people waiting to look at the Mona Lisa. The Louvre has just opened and the viewing room is not accessible yet. There’s some of that French riverside music you hear anytime you’re in a movie and you want people to know “THIS IS FRANCE.” We see a small boy and his parents walk by the line. The parents are pointing excitedly at random works of art. The child is absorbed in his cell-phone, playing games.

VOICE OVER: “The problem with the modern world, is that nobody really stops to notice anything anymore.”

With a majestic renaissance painting in the background (the kind that obviously took decades to create) the boy continues to play some kind of mindless freemium games and gets to some level where he’s completely absorbed in clicking on coins.

VOICE OVER: “This is, of course, to be expected.”

In the periphery of the screen, some security guards hear something come in on their radios and walk off. The walk becomes a jog. We sense that they’re running a few seconds later but by this time they’re off the screen and the French riverside music is clashing with the sounds of the boy’s video games.

VOICE OVER: “The world is simply too big, too enormous. It is no mistake our minds are encased in a shell of bone. Every moment we are alive, our minds seek to shut out the fullness of life lest it overwhelm us.”

The parents of the child push him until he’s walking in a new direction. In the background we see breathtaking statues, incredible sculptures and more of the kind of paintings that make you want to cry.

VOICE OVER: “But this is no way to live.”

There are alarms sounding now. More guards are rushing to and fro. Still, the child has not looked up from their video game. Although the parents are obviously befuddled. The parents make their way back toward the entrance of the Louvre, part of a massive herd of people being pushed in that direction.

VOICE OVER: “From time to time, the shell must be smashed. Beauty must flood in, unrestricted. The world must be seen anew, bathed in all its glory.”

A scowling detective arrives in the Louvre, bumps into the boy, and knocks the boy’s phone out of his hands. The boy looks up but another officer has accidentally crushed his phone already as the whole of the Louvre goes into quarantine. The French guards all gather in a circle and say “Impossible” but in that French way where’s there’s one less S or something.

The detective suddenly shouts in a silent Louvre, “WHAT DO YOU MEAN THE MONA LISA HAS BEEN STOLEN?!?!?”

The boy, suddenly snapping back to reality, for even he understands the significance of this, gasps. Moments later, people are crying and generally causing an uproar.

VOICE OVER: “And when something opens us in this way, we call it art.”


Cut to one of those super nice trains that only exist in Europe, and not like in America which only has the Walmarts of trains. A stunning young auburn haired Polish INTERPOL agent is reading a French paper and highlighting various passages. She has impeccably organized files next to her and her entire bearing speaks of meticulousness, order, and an unwavering belief in structure.

Several young students, who are dressed in that way young people are when they’re playing the part of who they’re going to be, before they’ve quite actually figured out what that is and gotten good at it, are arguing in front of her.

MALE STUDENT 1: “Francois Pierre or some other French name is the greatest! His work shows the meaninglessness of our lives! The despair and nihilism of existence! Of course this Critic, this agent of the bourgeois, demeans his work!”

Another equally dramatic student declares:

MALE STUDENT 2: “Merde! You sound like a reactionary newspaper! These tastes? These paintings he has stolen? Impeccable, I say! And the crime itself? A masterwork!”

FEMALE STUDENT 3: “You are both small-minded misogynists? He? Such assumptions! Did you not see how the Critic took from the works of female artists? Evelyn Esperanza? Lilly blah blah? The Critic is obviously a woman!”

The students begin talking over one another, trying to decide what it all means.

The train comes to a stop. It becomes apparent as the stunning young INTERPOL agent stands and surveys the train that everyone is talking about the recent theft. She grabs her items and leaves, walking through the streets where again everyone can be seen to be talking about the incident. She eventually reaches a police line where she shows her badge and is admitted.

We find the grumpy detective from before. The INTERPOL agent coughs politely but is ignored.

“What do you mean there is no camera footage? It’s the FRENCH F WORD LOUVRE! No prints? No DNA? Nothing?!?!?!”

“Pardon me,” says the stunning INTERPOL agent but she is ignored..

“Where did he take all the paintings then? He took three dozen paintings! Where did they go? How did he get them out of the building?”

There’s some more yelling.

“Pardon me,” says the stunning INTERPOL agent again.

“I have the FRENCH F WORD PRESIDENT on the phone! This criminal defaced her husbands work! I have to have someone to put in front of her, and at this point I don’t care if he’s guilty or not!”

The stunning INTERPOL agent taps the grumpy detective on the shoulder.

“WHAT?!?!” he barks.

“Have you tried analyzing the paint he used?”

DETECTIVE GUY: “What are you even talking about?”

INTERPOL AGENT: “He Flunked Francois Pierre, isn’t that right? He almost never does that and when he does he always uses red paint, made from materials common during the regions Golden Age or from the work of a superior contemporary artist. We almost caught him in Poland by tracking them down. I led the raid on his hideout. The soup was still warm.”

GRUMPY DETECTIVE: “YOU?! You are the INTERPOL liaison? Some… girl child?”

INTERPOL AGENT AMANDA reaches into her briefcase and pulls out some files.

AMANDA STAND IN: “I have prepared some files to catch you up to speed. You are aware that the Critic has been active for the last ten years, no?”

GRUMPY DETECTIVE: “I do not have time for some Robin Hood story-”

AMANDA STAND IN: “He is not Robin Hood. He is a fanatic. If you are to have any hope of catching him, you must understand that.”

Reluctantly, the Grumpy Detective takes the files, moved by Amanda’s obvious competence.

AMANDA STAND IN: “He has committed over three hundred thefts, if you count the returns. His first crime was in New York, or at least the first believed crime, was in New York. He stole a Banksy from a private collector. It was gone for three months and then returned exactly where it had been taken from. This was thought to have been some kind of private prank. Only later, when word got around the art community, did it emerge as his pattern.

“He would take paintings from museums, private collections, sometimes even from studios when the paint was barely dry, and then after some indefinite period of time, rarely as long as a year, he would return them with a little white card. A few sentences written in black ink and a letter grade. His tastes and observations have been universally lauded as impeccable.”

GRUMPY DETECTIVE: “If he has been active so long… leaving HAND WRITING SAMPLES… why hasn’t he been caught?”

AMANDA STAND IN: “Because the art community will not cooperate! It has been most frustrating trying to make in-roads. They consider him to be some kind of mythical standard. Every artist, every style, every nation, they all dream of having their work stolen and judged by him. Whenever I arrive at a crime scene it is the same. Those whose work has been taken? They smile and will say nothing. Those whose work has been left behind? Even they will not cooperate! They cry and wonder what they did wrong!”

GRUMPY DETECTIVE: “Well, this will not stand in France! The Louvre is not a library! And he defaced the work of the President’s husband! A painting valued at over five million euros!”

AMANDA STAND IN: “That is the fifth time he has done that. Or rather, the fifth artist. In LA, he Flunked an entire gallery of Thierry Guetta’s-”

GRUMPY DETECTIVE: “Mr. Brainwash? I thought that was a prank? A set-up?”

AMANDA STAND IN: “If it was, the Critic did not appreciate the prank. He hates cynicism. The only commonality among the artists he has flunked is that they were acclaimed and that they hated humanity.”

The pair have walked into the Louvre and now stand below a giant painting of the Earth aflame in an image of a smiley face. Over this image, defacing it, is a large letter “F.”


Okay, I have to do laundry and dishes so we’re going to be very very brief here. You never actually see the Critic’s face by the way. He’s always just a bit too far away or a bit too far in the shadows.

-There’s some scene in a cafe where the grumpy detective is eating food and just inhaling it and going over the political realities of the situation and revealing that the French President’s husband is a huge eco-terrorist asshole who believes that everyone should die because death is awesome for vague intellectual “reasons.” Everyone in the cafe is on their phone and not looking at anything. Amanda Stand In just drinks a regular coffee with nothing in it, solidifying her as an ascetic.

-They have a breakthrough on the paint and run down to a shop, interrogate an owner who is painting a picture. The owner is distracted as they question him and he keeps going back to paint and says he doesn’t remember the person who bought the paint very well, just the way he felt when he spoke to the man,  like he was being listened to and understood. And how the man encouraged him to paint the truth in his heart, and it didn’t matter what it looked like, as long as he made it the best way he could make it. They eventually get a receipt and track it down.

-They interview an improv artist who does stuff similar to Improv Everywhere and he talks about how he met a man he believed to be the Critic once. They were doing a prank that made people very happy and he says that he spoke with the Critic and the Critic said they were colleagues making artwork in the “Genre of Positive Crime” meaning tricking people into being happy in ways they hadn’t expected or consented to.

-They go to a small hole in the wall one-room apartment place where they expect to find the Critic and there is a chase, where as the chase goes on the detectives and the pursuing team realize it’s been meticulously orchestrated to be fun. They never quite catch up with the Critic as they’re defeated into doing things like sliding around on marbles and falling off of buildings onto goose down pillows and getting embroiled in a paint gun war right when they think they’ve caught up to the Critic.

-There’s another scene at the exhibition of the nihilist eco-terrorist guy, thrown with a bunch of fancy people and the detective and Amanda have to stand guard. The evil artist guy gives a speech about how man is out of ideas and how it is time to accept the death of the species, although never quite that outright, but in a very smart way that I would be able to decipher because I would be writing it, but which would just leave you feeling pissed off and flustered and unable to articulate why. He goes to unveil all of his new paintings and everyone gasps as they realize they’re all the works that have been stolen from the Louvre minus the Mona Lisa. From behind the evil artist guy, on a building across the way, a fire can be seen on a roof top.

The detectives run over to investigate. They see a group of the young art students from the train earlier painting by firelight on blank canvases. Amanda scrapes on one of the paintings and reveals that it had one of the evil Artist’s paintings underneath. In the burn barrel, are some of the various traps that were set for the Critic.

-Another chase scene with the critic, this time on a train. Every car they run through has a setting from a different artistic era from Rome, to ancient China to modern day America. The Critic is almost caught by the Grumpy Detective but at the last moment the Critic knocks his gun aside and sticks a tasty well-made version of whatever it was that the Grumpy Detective was eating before in the detective mouth. He also fights with Amanda Stand In and lets her hair down, cuts her clothing not to be more revealing but to be more fashionable and gives her a better coffee than what she had been drinking before, which he does by taking a coffee pot she had been trying to smash against his head and then putting various things in it as he dodges her.

-The film culminates with the entire French police force trying to catch the Critic as he is returning the Mona Lisa. The Critic distracts them with a dazzling light show, a paint gun like the Mythbusters had that shoots the image of the Mona Lisa onto a whole group of people and tanks and things. As he enters the love he fights AMANDA STAND IN and GRUMPY DETECTIVE who is, plot twist, me and he makes them sit down to a nice dinner by knocking them down into chairs and things and twisting their arms and putting champagne glasses in them.

They eventually fall back in their chairs, utterly outmaneuvered and exhausted, too beat up to move, sitting at a candlelit table in front of the Eiffel tower.

-The Critic confronts the evil artist guy in the Mona Lisa room. The Evil artist pulls a gun on him. The Critic reveals that he never destroyed any of the paintings, and that he made replicas and destroyed those instead. He gives an inspired speech, which will be totally moving, about how the greatest wish of any artist is to be understood and that he has understood the Evil Artist and what he has to say is not joyous. The Evil Artist counters that all art is not meant to be joyous. The Critic responds “True, but all art is meant to be human.”

The Evil Artist says he does not understand, but that he thinks he did, once, when he was younger.

THE CRITIC: “Art is a moment caught in amber, a mote of dust passing through a sunbeam, a breath between one moment and the next to step back and reflect on what it is to be here on this Earth. Art is there for when we need not to look but to SEE, not listen but to HEAR, not to sense but to FEEL. When being alive is not enough and only being human will do.”

The EVIL ARTIST Lowers his gun and nods at the Mona Lisa.

THE EVIL ARTIST: “What were you doing with her?”

THE CRITIC: “Appreciating her. Seeing her. Up close.”

We leave with a scene of the Evil Artist putting the Mona Lisa back in place, with a faint Mona Lisa smile on his lips.

-The end scene is of the kid at the beginning working on his computer, looking out a window and going back to his computer. His phone is left on his nightstand and it looks as if it has not been touched in a long while. On his computer he is constructing a VR replica of the Louvre.

The Critic

This is the time of year where I don’t really have much time to do anything but work, sleep and eat. I’ve also been hitting the gym pretty hard these last couple of days, what with having a reason to live and all. Last night, I couldn’t sleep because a cramp in my left tricep locked my arm in place and anytime I turned I woke up in agony. Today, it’s my calves, though I feel very strong and invigorated. Wonder of wonders (also, an arm bike I used to work out the cramp) I have the ability to use my arm again. So I figured I’d write an update.

What fun things have happened?

-I went to a poetry slam. I think I have a new form of PTSD because now anytime someone says anything even mildly provocative I cringe and wonder how they’re going to turn it into a rant about the government/feminism/their childhood.

“Billy Murray plays an old man-”


“Man, these days just go on and on-”


“Do you ever wonder what the world-”


Not to say that the slam poems I heard were bad, but as the three things I fear most in life are performance, crowds and emotions it was probably not an art form I’m apt to be comfortable around. I like deep and meaningful thoughts on the nature of existence, privately formulated, and reluctantly if ever shared.

-I will have a dog soon. We are still deciding on the name but it is a border collie rescue. It fears cats and walks around constantly with its tail tucked between its legs. But when I am done? It will be a loving dog who smiles big stupid doofus smiles and is reasonably timid around cats without fearing them.

-Fiancee is moving in here permanently early next month, which will involve a long drive in a U-Haul, a stop for blackberry milkshakes at a burger joint that God forgot and some potentially icy roads. Moving is never fun and I’ll be glad when it’s over. Feels like I’m waiting to take a breath and that I can’t take breathe until she walks in the front door and my life becomes real again.

-My father offered to drive her over in the U-Haul, which if it had been offered in a respectful manner would have been very generous, but as it was done more in the style of him remembering me as an incompetent twelve year old was not. I had to explain that I am thirty years old, that I have operated heavy equipment on various job sites, that I have never been in an accident unlike him, and as the woman in question would soon be my wife that it is also, in fact, my job to perform such duties.

Sensing a loss, he changed the subject.

So he went on a long and rambling story about threatening someone, being talked to about it by his boss, and explaining to his boss “Listen, I can do anything you f**king want on this job, but I can’t suck c**k and I can’t take it up the a**.” Which goes right up there with his all time classic quotes such as “Yeah, I believe in God and all that f**king horses**t” and “There’s a difference between being mean and being cruel, don’t be mean.”

Though in terms of sheer meaninglessness my favorite has always been “When in doubt, do as the Romans do.”

My father will turn 61 in June.

-Random movie plot for a crime heist thriller comedy called “The Critic”

I play an international art thief made legendary by the fact that artists long to have their works stolen by me, as it is considered the highest accolade attainable. My tastes are renown in the art world as top notch, I am lauded as a master criminal and true connesseiur and I have stolen from all styles and all genres, BUT I also don’t necessarily steal the most expensive pieces. I will often go to art galleries and steal the works of lesser known artists and leave the work of successful frauds in place. I have made careers by taking an artists’ pieces and to be in a place I have robbed and have your art left behind is ego shattering or career-ending.

I am hunted by an attractive young Polish INTERPOL agent named Amanda, after an insult to a modern abstract artist who is the husband of the President of France. For you see, only very rarely in my career as an art thief, I will write with dazzling red ink “F” on works I think are not only poorly executed but artistically bankrupt and destructive to the human spirit. After giving such insult to France, and devaluing the works this artist has sold to wealthy patrons who have invested hundreds of millions in their pieces, I am a hunted man.

I also have an art gallery lair hidden behind a waterfall but also somehow in a crater where the sun can shine through my glass ceilings.

I’ll write the ending to this next update.

Sneak Peek at Paul Bunyan of Mars

“Y’know, I’d appreciate if you dropped the Martian tough guy act. Just because I’m a folklorist that doesn’t mean I haven’t worked hard before,” of course, I regretted the words as soon as they left my mouth.

The Martian, one of those well-mixed fourth or fifth generation spacemen who descended from a complicated combination of the Astronauts, Cosmonauts, Taikonauts, Vyomanauts and X’ers too crazy to live in an actual Martian city like Unum, didn’t so much as turn. Not that that was unusual. All I’d seen of him for the last two hours was his back. Even as I’d stumbled and tripped while trying to accustom myself to the gravity and the terrain, my guide hadn’t turned around once. Unaccustomed to such hardship, I’d been competing with myself to say more and more obnoxious things the whole time.

Back at launch school, the simulated walk on Mars hadn’t been so difficult. What the launch school had failed to take into account was two-hundred years of terraforming. The Martian summer made the ground under my feet somewhat… soupy. A great deal of mud was splattered all over my front visor from multiple falls. I’d only barely been able to scrape off enough of the mud to see. My guide hadn’t stopped for or turned around for any of those falls, either.

With great effort of will, I stopped myself from checking my comm computer for a thousandth time to make sure it was working. Or, for that matter, throwing a rock at the back of the Martian’s head, which became more tempting with every quiet moment. No use looking like an idiot since I was already in a position of no respect. On reflection, I’d probably lost what little respect I’d had when I freaked out in the rover when I realized the Martian was driving manually instead of using the Nav Computer. At least I’d have impressive stories to share at the faculty parties back on Earth.

I wondered if this walk wasn’t somehow spiteful. If the Martian hadn’t lied when he told me the Rover couldn’t handle the muddy terrain. If all of… this, wasn’t merely a way to punish me for having been born in the cradle of Earth.

“You can’t expect me to be at home here, is all I’m saying. Not being able to walk here doesn’t mean I haven’t endured hardships. Every summer my crazy uncle had me chopping wood until my hands were raw. Crazy old man kept fearing another AI take-over. Wouldn’t let me use the robot or anything. It was bad enough the authorities had to intervene. They also don’t exactly give you a helping hand to get through launch school. So you can stop with the blatant disrespect,” were words I also regretted saying. Immediately.

I had never even told my spouse about the summers with my uncle. God only knew how emotionally off-center I was to bring it up here. Not that Martians had a race per se, other than Martian, but they were conspicuously and frustratingly racist against the Earthborn. They treated us like… undergrads. Though, I’d never even talked down to an undergrad the way I’d been talked down to since landing.

The Martian laughed. I stopped in sheer surprise. Then my guide said something, which my comm computer couldn’t decipher because every time the software thought it recognized the root language, the root language changed. It wasn’t hard to tell it was insulting.

“I won the New Pulitzer, the New Nobel for Literature and the New Man Booker Prize for my work! No one else has ever done that! Not even before the Reboot!” I screamed.

My guide slowed not a bit.

Gritting my teeth, I decided to save the recording for later. Hawthorne was eager to track the linguistic developments on Mars and the residents of Prometheus in particular were hardly forthcoming with samples. Unum still pretty much used entirely English, but the combination of English, Mandarin, Arabic, Hindi and Russian used in the outskirts had rapidly evolved and it was gradually changing the language the whole planet. In another century, as the population of Mars grew, it would likely simply become known as “Martian.” Plus, I could use it in a lecture for a few laughs whenever I actually finally found out what it meant.

Everyone complimented my bravery, my reckless courage, when I had left Earth. The faculty party they’d thrown for my departure had ended with me lifted on the shoulders of my colleagues, as several of the visiting professors had laughingly strewn me with rose petals. I had even felt like a hero.

Now, standing on this hellish planet, covered in reddish mud, quivering like a wet cat, I had never felt so small. All I wanted to do was scream and throw things and sit there. Wait for someone to come and get me. Except I also knew that no one would come to save me from myself. Not here. Not on Mars.

“I’m just saying… ah hell, never mind,” I muttered.

We walked another thirty minutes through the slippery mud, during which time I managed to fall only twice, before arriving at the glittering silver airlock leading to Prometheus. My guide, who also hadn’t bothered to give me his name, opened the outer door without word and silently stood to one side waiting for me to get in. His red space suit made him all but invisible against the rocky background.

“Aren’t you coming?” I asked.

He shook his head and I realized, to my mounting shock… that he was smoking a cigarette inside of his helmet. There also appeared to be an ashtray in one corner of the helmet with remnants of several cigarettes that I hadn’t noticed before. The smoke appeared to be following a current to the left side of the helmet. I couldn’t tell where the cigarette had come from. My mouth hung open and I found myself transfixed, unable to look away.

“What? How? Why?”

“Calm down,” said the Martian.

“But, your oxygen reserves. What if something happened?”

The Martian shrugged.

“It’s fun. Keeps me awake. And think about what happens if too many people survive to old age out here,” he said.

I gulped. I’d heard stories about the outer colonies. About hardships not seen since the days of the First Fifty. For perhaps the first time I realized how different things were out here, away from Unum. When I’d first landed on Mars in the capital city, apart from the gravity, I could have confused my surroundings for a botanical garden back on Earth. The geodesic domes gave me a sense of nearly unrestricted freedom. Staring at the cigarette though, I became aware again, that the smallest mistake out here could kill in an instant. What kind of courage did that breed?

“Where will you go? Aren’t these your people?” I gestured again to the airlock.

The Martian laughed, rich and deep and for once the man seemed too bewildered to be cruel.

“No one told you?”

“No one has told me anything.”

“I’m Muskeeni.”

I examined the red pressure suit, frowning. I’d been surprised when I’d first seen it, because it was the most dangerous color a pressure suit could be on a red planet. I would have asked about it, but I’d been thoroughly disabused of the chances of having an open dialogue before I could ask. Red suits, red planets, people who did not live in mapped colonies. Mosque, Moscow, Musk. Old stories came to mind. The same ones that had led me here. Was this some sort of elaborate prank?

“There’s no such people,” I said, finally.

“Suit yourself, folklorist.

Before I had time to ask another question, the Martian turned his back to me and walked off into the distance. A coming dust storm made itself known by a sudden breeze. I staggered. Even as much as a hundred years ago a hundred mile an hour wind on Mars would have felt like someone throwing a fistful of feathers. Not anymore. Not since Terraforming had thickened the atmosphere. Yet the wind seemed to affect the Martian not at all, even as red dust swirled madly about him. His tall and slender limbs adapted without effort and the Martian leaned into the wind.

I turned back to the airlock. There was a face pressed up against the window of the inner door. Rude gestures followed. The entire colony of Prometheus consisted of only a few thousand people all crammed cheek by jowl inside a series of hollow lava flows. I knew Martian etiquette was that you entered and exited an airlock as quickly as possible. Still, I stood there, too curious to look away from the figure of my retreating guide.

I sent one last comm after the disappearing figure, desperate for an answer:

“If you’re Muskeeni, you must know. Was he real? The ten trillion iterate, the King of Mars, the one who saved Earth during the Collapse? The Man that Beat the Community? Is that why I was asked here? Was he real?”

I heard a low chuckle through my comms system.

“Ask the Prometheans, folklorist. Ask them to tell you of ‘The Paul Bunyan of Mars.’ They remember more than most. Do not worry that they will be silent out of disdain for you. I told them how you once cut wood for your uncle.”

Then the sand became too thick to see and he was gone.

Waiting, Musings and Mars

There is a large and scary gray cat that lived near my house. I fed it, cared for it, and even tried to capture it so I could take it to the vet once. Then it snowed and my heart became sad when that cat put its paws on my back patio door. Meow, that cat said. Anyway, as I said, that cat doesn’t live near my house anymore. Now that cat lives IN my house.

His name is Gandalf and he currently sleeps on my couch.

We sit next together most nights, waiting for my bride to be to make her way to me.


I’ve been going through some of my old writing, and worse, some of my old e-mail correspondence. The writing seems half-formed, undone, and lacking full perspective. I can see the spark there, though. There’s some redeemable potential in the writing. The email correspondence, though? I shudder to think that I was ever that person, but alas. There is no denying it. I was.

Once upon a time I had never gone to therapy, had never gone to group counseling and was just spouting my damage out into the world. Then when I got way too popular way to quick in college… well. I am so sorry.


Y’know, in an odd way, it’s probably good I fell apart when I did. Lucky, even. A blessing in disguise. You get the picture. There was so much stuff that needed to be worked on… the only thing that would ever have made me fix it was to have it all blown away.

Not to say that those demons aren’t still there, somewhere, but now they’re smaller and I know how to fight them better. There’s nothing you can’t come back from. Which implies a daunting amount of responsibility. But it’s a good and invigorating responsibility.

I’m also glad I got to be in super great Batman shape for a year or so. Makes me realize how much of life I was missing out on by not being able to do one-hand push-ups or run indefinitely. I need to get back there, if only because it feels great and one day I’ll probably have kids and I’d like to see them grow up.

So, perspective.


I still love Mars. Everything is Mars. I go to write and Mars comes out.

I wonder that the whole world hasn’t become drunk on Mars.

As an act of self-punishment, I decided to look through the twitter feeds of several prominent science-fiction writers (save yourself the agony!) to search for their comments on SpaceX’s rocket landing. You know how many comments there were? How many interesting thoughts? Precisely none.

As in zero.

Although they did yell at twenty-year old kids in self-righteous and self-aggrandizing fashion.

By the time I die, there will be something of a civilization on the Red Planet. There will be a group of people on a new planet with the rarest of commodities: a fresh start. A unique chance to start anew that will not come again in the history of our species.

Who is writing the stories that will be the foundation of their culture? Who is trying to lay out the paths that will keep them clear of our shortfalls? Who is trying to find a way ahead that doesn’t just mire us down in the misery of our past?

Precisely no one.

The mechanisms are there. The ability is developing. But where is the culture? The passion? The fire that we will pass onto the Martians?

I cannot seem to find it in contemporary American story-telling traditions.

I do not imagine myself to be equal to the task. With a few of these stories, however, I will dare to try. It is an invigorating responsibility type of thing. Even though I’ll fall short.

Someone must succeed.

Impossible Dreams

Impossible Achievements
Click here for a primer on SpaceX so you can better understand my obsession.

No one has yet compiled a handy list of the people who said that re-using and landing a rocket is impossible. I don’t imagine that will happen until SpaceX actually starts sending their stages back up over and over again and those people are proved not only wrong, but egregiously wrong. Then we can have a nice list of quotes akin to “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers” and “This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication” or “Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?”

I imagine we’ll get a slew of nay-sayers if one of the re-used stages explodes early on but the one thing I love about SpaceX is that the company never says die. They never give up. Never surrender. And they never stop believing that every destination is reachable if you can only find the right path.

And that’s not only something to admire it’s something to live by.

Which brings me to…


But first a moral, and then its story.

The Moral:

It’s a hard thing, when you’re not dying as fast as you’re giving up. Gives you a whole lot of life to do nothing with. The thing about being technically alive even if you don’t feel alive, is that doing nothing eventually gets pretty boring on a purely chemical level. So out of sheer frustration with nothingness, you’ll probably end up trying anyhow. That just proves it’s better to keep trying right from the start.

The Story:

I began seeing someone about nine months ago. I told her it would likely not end well, I apologized in advance for my various shortcomings and the impending disaster which would leave both of us emotionally devastated and broken. I told her the only sensible thing she could do would be to leave my presence, that I lacked sufficient strength to send her away if she insisted on staying, and that no love could ever hope to fill all the cracks that life had put into me. I was scar tissue, all the way through.

It was a very impassioned and dark time during which I cast myself as some sort of romantically disfigured Quasimodo of the soul.

Cut to nine months later, and I’m using words like “Schmoopy” only half-ironically, deploring that a simple lack of “snuggles” will keep me from a good night’s sleep, and understanding more and more and day by day how much of humanity rests upon putting a bit of one’s most fragile self in another person.

A few days ago I took her to a restaurant overlooking the water in Olympia. I took out a ring and said:

I set my mind to write a poem
but however far I set my thoughts to roam
I could not find the words to say
with the proper urgency
Amanda, will you marry me?

Which was the best poem I could write about not writing a poem that still got the point across.

She said yes.

And that makes me very, very happy.


The Fate of the Worlds

I feel very passionate about Mars. So passionate, in fact, I have also lost all ability to have rational conversation about it. It’s a bit like when I was awkward around women in high school.


How about that Mars, huh?

That’s a whole different world… when you think about it.

Have you heard about all that terraforming and stuff?

Y’think… I don’t know… maybe… people might go there one day?


Maybe WE could go to Mars… oh no, I wasn’t serious! I was just joking! I swear!

And then get very red in the face and just walk away. Or stand completely still with the most awkward body language imaginable, hoping the world will explode. Or start randomly fixing things as an excuse to not have to look at anyone.

I really like the idea of Mars colonization, is what I’m saying. Also, I’ll have some news next week about my general awkwardness around women and how I won’t have to worry about that anymore. And I’ve written a couple of Mars stories. I’m submitting them to professional venues so we’ll see how that goes.

ShawShaw said one of them was among the very best stories I’ve ever written, to the point she had dreams about it. Nare said it made her cry, and she has a cold war-torn immigrant’s heart. Ringing endorsements abound. So look forward to that.


Still scared shitless by the novel because I think it could be good. The most “passionate” Mars stories were written in the course of a day and I think it’s time I stop meandering about and put in some work on something more commercial. Plus, I have some ideas on how to make it more fun and more cool. The way it was fun and cool when I started.

Having had some distance from it for a while, I realize now that the existing prologue should just be tossed. Ruins the mystery and I have a great opening line with chapter 1. Some of the best dialogue I’ve ever written is in the introduction sequence and it all just… fits. I’m going to be diving back into the novel tomorrow. That will probably involve me reading what I’ve written and getting back into the world. Then I need a month or two to fix the first third and cement the voice.

Cyborg children super soldiers with a genetic destiny to fight evil are awesome. Need to give some more opportunities for that to shine through so everyone else can feel how great that is. Having metallic bones that are also fusion reactors is pretty great and I want the world to know that too. And being a petite thirteen year old girl who looks like a ballerina, but due to tissue density weighs approximately seven hundred pounds is also pretty damn hilarious.

This is an opportunity for me to have a lot of fun and that’s great.


I think, before recently, I always sort of assumed the world would end very shortly after I died. This made me sad. I also felt like it was unavoidable.

Have you ever played the game Spore? You create an interstellar civilization and as you expand to other worlds the game more or less becomes an exercise in putting out fires. By the time you exist on a few hundred worlds, the civilization becomes so big that there’s always something happening on every world. Always. Problems. Everywhere.

The problems we face today seem pretty intractable. Religious extremism. Climate change. Racial animosity. There are over seven billion of us on the planet and each of us doing something all the damn time. Each of us is part of an incredibly complex and unpredictable system.

Climate change was the big one I thought would get us. I figured the solution would require too much work and not the kind of work where you can show up and go through the motions. The kind of work where you have to be mindful every day and think until your head hurts. I didn’t think humans were up to that kind of work.

I figured that over the next hundred to hundred-fifty years that the sea levels would rise and displace the coastal cities. In turn, this would displace billions of people causing strife and human suffering on a level that was previously unimaginable. Wars would follow. The political climate would probably destabilize to the point that World War III would become a real actual problem. Then someone somewhere would get ahold of some nukes and there goes the whole mess. The light lit thousands of years ago in the East and the West would extinguish instead of spreading over the globe.

Whatever civilization would be left wouldn’t have much of a chance of stopping a runaway greenhouse effect. So, I thought, the last human being might die only a few generations after I do. What about my life really mattered in the face of that? And if not that, then the universe will die one day. So what does anything mean, really?

Which is why I’m excited about Mars colonization. If we can do this, that means we aren’t as short-sighted as I thought. We can figure out how to make worlds livable instead of poisoning them. We could develop carbon sequestration technologies. We could map ecosystems and break down complex systems. We can take care of all the problems because we can become a species of problem-solvers.

I truly and deeply believe that if we can build a self-sustaining base on Mars that the greatest gift to the human species will not be our status as a multi-planetary civilization, but the creation of the Martian race. Not because Earth has to die or that I don’t think life here matters, but because the harsh conditions of a dead world on a civilization of engineers will create a forcing-function that drives scientific and social development.

Imagine an entire race of people descended from the elite of every nation. Not the rich. That only sometimes happens to be the same thing. The best of the best. The bravest, smartest and most humane of us. The Astronauts, Cosmonauts and Taikonauts who were inspired and smart enough to travel 15 light-minutes through deep space to a dead world because they had the intelligence and will to believe they could fix it? How long will those different populations really care about Earth distinctions? How long before Chinese Taikonauts, Russian Cosmonauts and American Astronauts simply become Martians? How long before we have a genius race with no recognizable backwards Earth-ethnicity?

A self-sustaining Martian city, to me, automatically implies a Martian renaissance. Even if civilization on Earth fails for some period of time, the hard drive would be backed up to the point it could be rebooted. We could make it through the night. That gives me hope.

SpaceX is going to try landing an orbital rocket at Cape Canaveral on Dec 19th Sunday, Dec 20th Monday, Dec 21st 8:30pm EST. I’m rooting for them. I encourage you to do the same.

BOOKS and BILLIONAIRES that I am Thankful For


If you like Fun and Fantasy with capital F’s then this is the book for you. It’s like taking your brain out of your skull and dunking it in Joy Juice. Sword and sorcery, magically strong heroes and evil sea demons, this book has got it all and it’s all punching you in the face with awesome. Plus, not only is it a new fantasy world, the quest also has some actual moral relevance to the society where it takes place and every page and every word presses into your eyeballs with the undeniable assertion “This matters.” It was written by someone who gave a shit and it shows.

For a brief while, in the 80’s, you could find a certain sort of entertainment that used violence in a way that made you feel both happy and clean inside. MacGyver, the A-Team and Knight Rider are but a few examples. I feel this was because it was a less cynical time in the country where people still believed 1. it was possible to effect positive change and that 2. one person could make a difference all by themselves and 3. some people really ARE just evil dicks who aren’t going to stop hurting people until you stop them. Larry Correia still writes in those kinds of worlds and I find that wholly refreshing.

We seem to live in a world these days that’s telling us that we’re powerless. That the problems we face are too intractable to solve. That history is a sort of chaos problem where human will cannot possibly guide the fate of the world. Perhaps, for the most part, that’s truer than I would like. But every now and again you find yourself standing at the pivot point where you CAN make a difference. And when that happens, it’s nice to have a worldview to draw on that will get your ass in gear.

Do yourself a favor and buy this book.

SCIENCE OF THE DISCWORLD by Terry Pratchett, Jack Cohen, Ian Stewart

My favorite experience in life is thinking something will totally suck and finding out that it’s actually incredible. I’ve read pretty much everything ever written by Terry Pratchett and after a while it became predictably incredible. The man was a genius and possessed of a unique and unparalleled skill to breathe humanity into his words. In fact, if we ever make a general AI (more later), I think we’re fine as long as it’s a fan of Pratchett novels. Anyhow, I was getting down to pretty slim pickings on the list of Pratchett novels and I picked up what I figured would be one of “Shit-List” works. This book was called The Science of Discworld and I took this to mean “A Money-Grab, but Hey, don’t you owe it to me after all those other great books?”

I’m a fan of Pratchett but I wasn’t expecting much from The Science of Discworld. I mean, I’ve written things that weren’t A Material, and I certainly don’t begrudge someone for not operating at peak performance at all times. I’ve got a Shit-List of things I’ve written. Yet, I missed the man and his mind and I didn’t care that what I was reading wouldn’t be his best work. That was my expectation going into the The Science of Discworld but I could not have been more wrong.

These books were written for me. If you, like the Death of the Discworld, often think “What’s it all mean, really? When you think about it?” and have a medium science and math background these are books you will enjoy without reservation. These books are the rarest of treasures: truly intelligent masterworks that don’t sacrifice entertainment for exactness. There were even, dare I say it, areas of knowledge explored in these texts that I hadn’t known about previously.

To put this in perspective, I was getting an oil change when I first started reading this. The mechanic came in and shook my shoulder and said “Man, I’m sorry. We just got so busy. Oil changes aren’t supposed to take two hours.”

I said: “I’ve been here for two hours?”

I’ve added Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen to my list of “people who I would like to talk to for hours and hours and hours.”


I have lots of thoughts about AI. I wonder what it means for something to be human and intelligent, what it is that keeps us all wrapped up together experiencing life as a cohesive agent, and how far you could expand the capacity of a mind before it just sort of divides or drizzles all over like a water drop on a sheet of glass that got too big. I have certain vague fuzzy notions of these things but I’ll save them for science fiction stories at a future date.

As it happens, Nick Bostrom also has a lot of thoughts on AI. He wrote a book, in fact. And this is a book that will absolutely knock you on your ass. You will get in your best ninja stance. You will give your best arrogant Steven Seagal talk about chi flows and how you are a former CIA agent. This book will still knock you on your ass. If you thought that you thought a lot about AI, Nick Bostrom is going to do to you with this book what Eminem did to the opposing rapper in 8 Mile and just destroy you.

I daresay, unless you are actually actively involved in AI research there is something here for you to learn and think about. Perhaps even if you ARE actively involved in AI research. Don’t want to take my word for it? What about Elon Musk and Bill Gates? They both vouched for this tome. I couldn’t pull my eyes off the page and it will actually also change how I write stories about the future. I don’t know that it’s ethical to talk about AI anymore without also talking about AI Control. Or as I will call it “AI Humanity.”

Perhaps, if I ever do become the more handsome and more appropriate Isaac Asimov of a new generation of science nerds, I can inspire a nascent AI Engineer to do the one thing that will save all of mankind. Teach the damn machine to care, kids! Biology is not humanity and in whatever shape our species survives, the light of humanity cannot be allowed to founder.


I am very good at talking to people, digging deep inside their heads, and figuring out what they really “are” inside. This allows me to portray realistic characters. I’m also very good at creating consistent economic models that I have absolutely no interest in implementing outside of fictional story settings. Jeff Bezos has similar abilities with the slight distinction that he also has the ability and will to use these skills in the actual, real, world. See? We’re almost the same except for that one tiny thing.

This year, while I was making a list of things to do like “Finish a novel” and “Lose some weight” or “Meet someone” Jeff Bezos was making a list like “Use automated drones to instantly deliver products to consumers” and “Expand a publishing paradigm that completely democratizes knowledge” and more recently “Launch a rocket into space and recover the launch vehicle.

I’m about to talk about Elon Musk in a moment, because I think Elon Musk might, disturbingly, be the most important human being alive on the planet Earth. But I also want to talk about Jeff Bezos because I don’t want it to be lost that he is also one of the most incredible human beings on this planet at this moment in time. While I don’t believe in the “Great Man” theory of history I definitely believe in what I call the “Great People” of history. History isn’t some automatic process. People have to show up to get things done and Jeff Bezos has definitely shown up and put skin in the game and the world is better for it.

The most valuable ability a person can have at this time in history is the ability to “Fuse” disciplines. A person must possess wide knowledge of medium depth, across a wide variety of intellectual endeavors, so that they have the precise acumen and understanding of first principles required to identify the true experts are in a field, and to then leverage their expertise together in novel ways to achieve incredible outcomes. Steve Jobs did this at Apple. Elon Musk is doing it at SpaceX and Tesla. Jeff Bezos is doing it every day in a million quiet ways to improve the consumer experience of an entire planet.

There was some kerfuffle recently that Amazon’s “Blue Origin” reusable rocket wasn’t as impressive as it was made out to be. There were a couple of articles that were making an actual informative distinction, but most of them were setting a truly fantastic achievement in hostile language. And to those who advance such ideas, I say: how dare you.

One of the few things that makes me genuinely angry is the expectation that people have that the world owes them these incredible inventions. The most perfect example of this I’ve ever seen is when someone invented bulletproof skin and people commented en masse to say that it wasn’t bulletproof enough. Where is YOUR bulletproof skin? Where is YOUR reusable rocket? Where is the last volume of YOUR sprawling grimdark Fantasy epic?

To reiterate, this is distinct from people who are trying to provide actual helpful scientific distinctions. What Bezos did wasn’t the same as what Musk is trying to do. Which is fine because neither he nor Musk said it was the same thing. It wasn’t until a bunch of dumbass “science journalists” started comparing the two that Musk had to provide clarification to defend his company. Which he did cordially and without hostility. And then there were a bunch of click bait stories about them having a dick measuring contest.

Jeff Bezos and his team accomplished a great thing. They deserve to stand for a moment in the sun. They should be strewn with rose petals.

“Science Journalism” was in quotes because it is apparently the one field that requires no knowledge of either of the two fields that comprise its name.


Elon Musk decided his goal in life was to build a sustainable energy infrastructure, eliminate fossil fuel use, and oh to make mankind an interplanetary civilization. And in whatever way I can, I want to help him succeed in those missions because I don’t know how much longer the Earth has for someone to get those things right. Those aren’t just interesting economic possibilities, they’re vital to the survival of humanity.

I arrive here with a sense of trepidation. I prefer either silence or great praise. I also find it important, however, to give correct praise. You see… I am forced to conclude that if Elon Musk is successful in achieving his stated goals at Space X and Tesla (and he is closer to this than most people realize) that he may be not only be one of the most important human beings currently alive, but one of the most important human beings in all of history. And not just history in the sense of human history or even scientific history. Elon Musk may become the one individual in all of history whose name should be in biology textbooks, next the place in the tree of life where humans become a multi-planetary species. This is also a terrifying and not-desirable state of affairs as the loss of a single individual could set back these technological advancements by decades, perhaps even a century, and we may not have a century to solve these problems. I’ll justify that enormous statement in a moment. If you’re impatient go up and click on the “Wait, but why link.” First, a defense of the man himself.

I see people compare Elon Musk to a super villain or describe him as having a “temper” or as being “too hard on people.” Some of these comments are jokes but some of them are not. I don’t think those people have ever had to lead others. Oh, they may have been technically “accountable” at one point or another, but they never had to lead. They’ve never had to take someone who didn’t believe, even in themselves, and turn them into something greater. To be the one who held the vision and chose the path to get there. Who felt the weight of failure and refused to be crushed by it. Who kept the faith even when there is no clear path. Elon Musk can feel the death screams of the human race and he is not paralyzed by them, as I am.

Instead, Elon Musk does what he does because that’s the only way he can get things done. He has set before himself the challenge of increasing the human capacity for sustainable energy generation and storage and space transportation. To do this, he has to push individual humans to their utmost limits, extracting from them all of their useful capacity. This then expands the extelligence of the entire human race. Before you judge that as being cruel, imagine what enormous faith that takes in humanity. To so strongly believe so much that any person is capable of more than they imagine, that you make them believe it too.

Consider how close he has already come to landing an ORBITAL rocket back on Earth. Once he does this to the point that the rocket can be reused, the cost of launching something into space fall dramatically. The idea of putting human beings on Mars falls well within the economic realities of even a faltering economy. This, by the way, is a feat that neither the United States nor the Soviet Union were able to accomplish at the height of the Cold War with nearly unlimited budgets. Granted, he hasn’t accomplished it either but even that miss is the equivalent of shooting a postage stamp with a rifle from the top of a skyscraper on a windy day. When he finally does land a stage? Remember where you were that day, because it won’t be too long after that, that people are walking around on Mars.

Oh, there will be problems. Check out Kim Stanely Robinson’s latest novel Aurora (not recommended unless you’re a die hard nerd as it is very bleak) for a selection of the problems of colonizing other worlds. We’re going to face problems of dazzling complexity during the colonization of Mars and people WILL die. For the first few decades people will basically be living inside of submarines. But now that we have a human being dedicated to that vision who approaches problems with an attitude that problems are there to be solved, it WILL happen. Those problems WILL be solved. And humanity WILL find its place off this world, starting with the planets of our solar system.

Holy shit.

I wish there was something more I could do to help Elon Musk succeed and I would like to press that drive onto the few of you who are reading this. I plan to buy a Model 3 as soon as it’s affordable for me to do so. I would have gotten solar panels but they’re not available in my area yet. I’ve even written a few Mars stories set in the near future, where Space X plays prominent and powerful roles and I’m submitting them to contests. This makes me happy in ways I can hardly even describe.

No Words

I wrote a long thing about the Paris and Beirut attacks. I took it down shortly after publishing. If you saw it, I took it down because I couldn’t find words that didn’t feel hollow. I think any words of mine are kind of meaningless at this point. I also don’t really know what to do that’s of any use so I figure it’s better to just not say anything and do something when it comes time to do something.

There are people with things to say though. For example, this is a great piece my Maajid Nawaz.

In addition, a father in Beirut threw himself at a suicide bomber trying to save his child. He failed at that, but he did save other people.

What the hell does some guy in Idaho have to say to that? I wish it had never happened. I wish he’d lived and his daughter had lived. I wish those people in Paris went home with their families and loved ones. Doesn’t change a damn thing but that’s how I feel.

I’ll also add, in case this somehow worms it’s way into your subconscious: If an evil person comes for treasure, give them the treasure. You can always get more later and it’s not worth your life. But if an evil person comes for blood, never stop fighting. Throw yourself at them. Gouge out their eyes. Turn, for a moment, into a vicious animal with no conception of good or evil. That might be the only way you or anyone else has of making it out alive.

And I hope you never have to do that.


I just finished a rough draft of a short story and I’m going to submit it to a contest. It’s quite good and I like it. I was going to recommend some books here but I’ll save that for a week from now so it’s not connected to this.

Quietly Beautiful Things

I once read a testimonial from a subscriber to National Geographic magazine who found himself stuck in an active War Zone. As we can all agree, this was unfortunate. More unfortunate, he was later captured by soldiers.

After some unkind tossing about, threats of death, etc, the soldiers got around to searching his wallet for valuables. Here, there was a bit of luck, for they chanced upon his National Geographic Society card.

Confusing him as someone who worked for the magazine rather than a lowly subscriber, the soldiers became immediately friendly and announced that he represented the only group of people in the history of the world who had never tried to pillage their country for its natural resources.

He was released, unharmed.

That is the sort of reputation an organization can achieve only through years of blood, sweat and tears and devotion solely to the truth.

About a week ago, National Geographic became a Fox property and its editorial staff was laid off. It is unlikely in the extreme that the magazine will survive the acquisition in any non-sensationalized form. Rather than finding myself angry, I instead find myself thinking “oh, of course.” National Geographic magazine was a quietly beautiful thing, taken for granted and like all quietly beautiful things you never really know how much you loved it until it was gone.

In cynical moments I don’t think we live in an age that’s good enough for National Geographic anymore. Our age of social media, twenty-four hour news networks and feelings over facts has no place for National Geographic magazine as it was. In some ways, it was the last print publication that actually tried to report on things.

Reporting in the modern age is all about sides and political narratives, clips and soundbites. It goes right around your higher nature and aims right at the unresolved issues you have with your mother and/or father and exploits the ways that makes you emotionally susceptible to propaganda and advertising. Modern media certainly has no time to seek out the subtle breath-taking beauty of an Afghani girl’s sad green eyes or for taking long ponderous journeys through exotic locales that offer a thousand questions about what the world is and where it’s going but don’t wrap it all up into a pro-conservative/pro-liberal package.

I’ll miss National Geographic the way it was, and I hope I have more appreciation for the next quietly beautiful thing that comes along.


There is no intimacy without vulnerability.

It took me quite a long time to understand that. I’ve always been good at appreciating art or considering complex scientific principles. Things, in other words. I am excellent at things. One of the best. I am less good with people.

For most of my life if I found myself getting too close or too attached to someone I’d push them away and make sure I never spoke to them ever again. I’d react to the words “I love you” like most people would react to viable death threats. Then I’d go do something that hurt so much that I wouldn’t have to look at who I was and what I was doing to myself…

Then the unfortunate circumstances of a few years ago happened and I thought to myself: Nothing could ever hurt me more than this and if anything like this happens again I won’t have anywhere else to go other than where I’ve gone.

Change is hard and slow and there’s a lot of backsliding. And I felt small in the ways you can only feel small when you’re doing things you’re not very good at. And I thought what reward could there be for this, that makes it worth it? I’ll never be as good at being human as other people. It’ll never click for me.

During a date, I found Red Robin too overwhelming and couldn’t stop shaking after I got home. I always seem to be able to make it out of the crowd before my adrenaline crashes. So there I was, trembling, and feeling stupid for being unmanned by Red Robin. Intellectually, I know most people with PTSD are other people with childhood trauma but Jesus is it hard to believe, even to yourself, that it’s okay to be freaked out by too much noise and Towering Onion Rings.

Crucially, however, I didn’t walk off into the night by myself. In the past I did this so I could go hide behind a tree somewhere until I stopped shaking where it would be safe to drive. I’d had too much therapy by that time to do this again. My date was with me as I got home and forgot to turn off my car after parking it in my garage. As I stammered and strained to be able to hear things. As I apologized and explained that I get overwhelmed by crowds of people. As I realized I felt safe doing this in front of her and that I was in love.

And I put my head in her lap and she stroked my hair and I didn’t need to tremble anymore and that was a finer thing than any book or theory I ever read.