#Blogtober2021 Day 7: Oh, I’m still doing this, am I?

Hey gang.

It’s 11pm. I have been working since the kids went to bed this evening (just took a 20 minute break to watch Youtube videos with my wife and eat some oatmeal–so much for tonight’s fast!). And then I rememembered, oh yeah! I’m supposed to post something every day!

So here I am. Typing to you. Hi.

This is one of those posts where I feel like I’m just wasting your time. I don’t have anything interesting or insightful to say at the moment. I remember hearing/reading something from…someone (I dunno, maybe Jeff Goins?) about how successful blog posts are reader-focused–posts in which the author is providing information, or a recommendation, or something that makes his or her readers’ lives better. In other words, I should be giving you some sort of return on the investment of your time spent reading my work.

If you want to write something introspective and personally expressive, he said, you should put that in a diary or journal, not on a blog.

And I get that; that makes sense. If you don’t know actually me, there’s zero reason you should care what I’m doing at this moment. Odds are, if you don’t already have a relationship with me, you haven’t bothered to read this far. (If you have, thank you, but also…why?) Let’s face it, most of the people in my actual flesh-and-blood life don’t read my blog and can’t be bothered. That’s totally fine, too. But if I can’t compel my closest friends and loved ones to read each post, it’s a fool’s errand to expect a stranger to, unless I’m giving them a good reason.

So, what am I doing here, at 11:11pm (make a wish!), with nothing to say but still nattering on line by line? (What’s worse, I’m blogging about blogging, which is even more double-boring!)

Why am I bothering? Because I need to learn to become consistent.

I want to challenge myself to string together 31 days of writing something. Because if I can do that, maybe I can do 30 more, either here or elsewhere. Or maybe 60 more. Maybe I can start doing the thing I keep telling myself I need to get around to doing: being the writer I’d always hoped I’d become. Maybe I can actually write this crime novel that’s in my head and that I would love to share with you (and the two sequels that might follow it). Maybe I can finally work on typing up years of Bible study notes and Sunday School lessons into resources that would be a blessing to the people of my local church and the wider Church as a whole. Maybe I can keep working hard to produce valuable content so that I can start earning some real money through my writing.

That’s why, on Day 7 of Blogtober 2021, at 11:28pm, I’m taking thirty minutes away from the never-ending cascade of work tasks that have kept me up late for the last two weeks, so that I can pop on here, say hello, and let you know that I want to become the kind of person who writes every day.

And at this very moment, you’re helping me do that. So, thank you.

Talk to you tomorrow.

Friday Feed (7/10/2020)

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Hey y’all! Here are a few things I’ve found fun or interesting in recent weeks. Enjoy, and I’ll be back next week with actual posts! Seriously!

 

Friday Feed (9/27/2019)

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In case you’re confused by Wednesday’s post, YES, I’m still going to post a #FridayFeed from time to time! Just because I don’t want to be just a curator doesn’t mean I’m not gonna share some cool links with you people!

Submitted for your perusal: 10 posts worth checking out this weekend.

Hope you find something useful here. If you do, maybe pop into the comments below and let me know? That would help a lot. Thanks.

 

Friday Feed (8/30/2019)

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Happy last-Friday-of-August, y’all!

Here are some useful and/or interesting links for your weekend:

Hope these were helpful. If you liked any of these links, I’d appreciate you leaving me a comment below (or hit me up on Twitter!) so I know what you find helpful.

Have a great weekend, friends!

 

 

 

52 Stories #8: “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale” by Philip K. Dick

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[What is #52Stories? Check it out.]

This week, I wanted to talk about another classic tale from legendary sci-fi writer Phillip K. Dick. Thanks to my long-time friend Trevor Taylor for the recommendation of a PKD story!

I read this story in a PKD collection I checked out digitally from the library. You can find it here.

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The Set-Up

Douglas Quail dreams of having adventures on Mars and pays Rekal, Incorporated to convince him he’s been there.

The Pay-off

“He awoke…and wanted Mars.”

I’ve never seen Total Recall (either version), the famous film adaptation of this material. Going into this story, I had heard that it involved memory manipulation, Mars, and a woman with…unusual physiology. (That last one is apparently just in the first film version.) Nevertheless, the source material had a reputation as being one of PKD’s finest short stories, and it did not disappoint. I appreciated the details, the escalation, and the way the story resolves, though it was just oblique enough that I had to read the last few paragraphs again to make sure I understood what he was implying.

The Takeaways

Now, the hail of spoilery Martian bullets–and if you aren’t satisfied, we’ll refund half of your fee (that’s more than fair, Mr. Quail):

  • Let’s jump right to the big twists: first, PKD reveals that Douglas Quail actually *was* a secret Interplan agent, and then doubles-down by revealing that he is in fact the most important person alive, on a cosmic level. That’s…bold. One thing you have to appreciate about PKD, he just GOES FOR IT. No half-measures.
  • That said, there’s an almost quaint groundedness to his settings, as if he can’t quite fully imagine the great leaps of technology affecting every part of life. Example: This is a world of space travel and memory wipes, of 3-D hologram phones and cranial implants, but they still use “microtape phone books” and typewriters with carbon paper. Just a reminder, kids: you actually do live in The Future, with your email and Google and whatnot.
  • Buried in this pretty straight-forward science-fiction story is an interesting peek into the life of someone who just needs to feel important, as well as a brief consideration of the nature of memory and experience. Is having the memory of an experience a suitable substitute for literally experiencing it? You could draw a jagged line from Rekal’s pictures-and-props approach to the fragmented documentation of life we maintain on our social media feeds. “I don’t remember much about the concert, but I got some great footage on my iPhone…” Is it really that different? As Morpheus would say, “…Hm.”
  • Some of PKD’s grammatical construction got under my skin–to the point where I jotted it down. Example: “You remember,” the policeman said, “your trip…” There is no reason to break up that phrase, Phil. None. Stop it. Stop it now.
  • Was Kirsten an Interplan operative, in place to keep an eye on Douglas? It’s not explicit, but PKD implies yes, and that Douglas knew this all along, at least subconsciously. It reminded me for some reason of The Truman Show. (By the way, would you like some of this delicious Mococoa Drink?)

In a word, I liked the story–it was a tidy and effective sci-fi story that gives you just enough to be satisfying while leaving several questions unanswered. It doesn’t have any emotional resonance, but it’s well constructed and fun. You should read it.

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Agree? Disagree? Any observations of your own? Let me know in the comments!

52 Stories: 3 Stories about the Tyranny of Smart Tech

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[What is #52Stories? Check it out.]

Today, let’s take a look at 3 science fiction stories about “smart tech” and the danger of AI that becomes a bit too independent.

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#4: “August 2026: There Will Come Soft Rains” by Ray Bradbury

I remember reading this story back in high school (more than 20 years ago!), specifically the concept of an autonomously-running house, so I decided to revisit it for this project. You can find it online here.

The Set-up

A “smart house” springs to life, in the stillness after war.

The Pay-off

My memories of this story were solely of the idea of an empty, automated house, but I had forgotten the actual reason why the house was empty. The line that most clearly explains what happens is almost a throwaway, but its simplicity and starkness caught me off-guard. This was part of Bradbury’s themed short-story collection The Martian Chronicles, which is an undeniable classic and a must-read for anyone interested in 20th century science fiction.

The Takeaways

  • While there were some limits to Bradbury’s imagination (would a robotic house still use film reels and spools of audio tape?), you have to credit him for foreseeing the popular uses of personal tech. (“Hey Alexa…”)
  • The idea of personal automation continuing to run after the demise of its owners is both tragic and a bit chilling. Plus, you factor in the contrast between an “easy, everywhere” life of household convenience and the sudden horror of atomic war, and it’s hard to see the future with quite as rosy a lens.
  • “August 2026” isn’t a story as much as a scene or vignette, a stack of photos (do anyone besides hipsters use actual film anymore?) depicting a society after its downfall. There is no plot or movement of action–just a description of slow collapse at the end of an era. If there is a message, it’s a warning against the threat of atomic war and the idea that no civilization is so advanced that it cannot still destroy itself.

#5: “Autofac” by Phillip K. Dick

My friend Leann K. on Facebook recommended this one to her feed, in light of our current cultural discussions on advancements in AI within social media. I had never read it, but I was a little familiar with the author, so I thought I’d check it out. I found it in a collection of Dick’s stories from the library, but you can find it online here. (And thanks to Leann for the link!)

The Set-up

A group of people seek to stop a factory on auto-pilot.

The Pay-off

Most PKD stories I’ve read are great ideas that never quite landed. It always seemed to me that he concocted great scenarios or set-ups, but they were better fleshed out by others. (Minority Report and The Man in the High Castle stand as evidence.) However, I have to give him credit on this one (and another story I’ll review soon): “Autofac” was a pretty effective yarn — lean, kinetic, and comes complete with that Rod-Serling-style gut-punch at the end.

The Takeaways

  • In the war of Man vs. Machine, PKD seems to argue that machines will win because they are single-minded, relentless, and unaffected by hope/disappointment. In “Autofac,” humans try to throw off the rose-petal shackles of a machine-run economy by force, by reasoning, and by subterfuge, but in the end, the machines’ innate drive toward self-perpetuation wins out.
  • I don’t know anything about PKD’s politics (and might just be scandalizing his devotees in saying this), but “Autofac” feels like a pretty effective allegory of statism’s eventual choke-hold on economic freedom. (For example, the machines say they will relent when the outside (human) forces provide the same level of  product output as theirs–yet they control all the materials for production.) Money quote: “We’re not children! We can run our own lives!” Throw in a “taxation is theft” meme and a Gadsden flag, and you’ve got a Libertarian protagonist.
  • Nanobots! How cute and absolutely terrifying! But seriously, though: PKD is writing about nanotech in 1955. Either he knows Dr. Emmett Brown, or he was WAY ahead of his time. Theoretical physicist Richard Feynman wasn’t talking about nanotechnology until 4 years later.

#6: “Digitocracy” by Andy Weir

I recently read a great piece by N.A. Turner on Medium about reading short fiction, and he mentioned how new short fiction is being written and shared on Medium, including new work from authors like Andy Weir, who wrote The Martian, one of my favorite novels from the past few years. Here is the short story by Weir that Turner mentioned.

The Set-up

A man on a mission to destroy the electronic “brain” controlling his city.

The Pay-off

…Eh. “Digitocracy” has a plot, such as it is, but again is little more than a scenario: a lone man stands against an “all-knowing” artificial intelligence, seeks to destroy it, and fails. I was looking forward to this story, based on my appreciation for the author’s longer works, but either the format didn’t give him space enough to flesh this out fully, or he didn’t have enough of a story idea to run with yet.

The Takeaways

  • I thought the idea of the city-computer-hivemind-entities taking the names of their locations (Wichita, Madrid, etc.) was fun, as was the fact that the cities discussed the events of the story after the fact as if they were a funny little anecdote.
  • I wonder if “Wichita” manipulating the events of Damak’s life to increase his “happiness” is Weir’s critique of the idea of a sovereign god. I have to admit, reading the story through my own theological lens, I couldn’t help but see Wichita’s dialogue about incorporating new events into an unfolding plan to bring happiness or satisfaction to its citizens as mimicking an “open-theism” style of Arminianism. On the other hand, Wichita’s grooming of Damak as a happy rebel could be argued as a weak critique of compatibilism. (I’m not sure Weir had any such thoughts beyond the conflict between free will and determinism, but hey, you ask a theology student to read science fiction… wait, you didn’t ask? Huh.)
  • Oh good, extended discussion about an unseen character’s same-sex relationship. Mark your social awareness bingo cards, kids!
  • The story left me a little cold. Damak was a cipher, and “Wichita” didn’t have the time or material to develop into a true menace like “HAL9000” did in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Rather, it was a little too “aren’t-I-clever,” even as it started monologuing like a Bond villain. You could strain and draw an idea that Weir might think the war over control of technology has been lost, but that would be reading way more into the story that what was likely intended to be a fun little bit of scary-AI fluff. Judged on that standard, then sure.

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Agree? Disagree? Do you welcome the smart-tech overlords? Let me know in the comments!

52 Stories #3: “How to Talk to Girls at Parties” by Neil Gaiman

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[What is #52Stories? Check it out.]

My third story in this series is “How to Talk to Girls at Parties” by Neil Gaiman. (Thanks to Pedro Jorba on Facebook for the recommendation!) It’s part of Gaiman’s 2007 short story collection Fragile Things (and was apparently made into a motion picture).

The Set-up:

Two teenage boys crash a house-party hoping to meet some new girls and have a fun evening, but end up getting much more than they bargained for.

The Pay-off:

Wow, there’s a lot going on in this story. It begins as an everyday “boys being foolish on a weekend” tale and then slowly morphs into something else entirely. The protagonist’s matter-of-fact naivete is both funny and sad, as the reader picks up on what’s going on long before he does. In the end, this story is haunting, strange, and incredibly effective.

The Lessons:

  • This is a story that pays to read at least twice. Gaiman seeds the story with clues about the twist from the very start. When you begin to pick up on the references throughout, you have to shake your head at the author’s cheekiness.
  • What makes this story so effective is that Gaiman uses the science-fiction genre to explore the inscrutability of females to young men of a certain age and maturity level. The cliches about “Mars and Venus” are true in some sense when it comes to teenage boys who are both confused and intrigued by the fairer sex. Strip away the fantastic elements, and this is still a story about feminine mystique and masculine mistakes.
  • The title points to the recurring theme of talking without listening. The narrator’s inattention adds to the slow-burn reveal of the plot twist. Even when it seems almost incredible that he isn’t picking these clues up, I’m reminded again of how foolish boys are in high school. (And while I *hope* I wasn’t that clueless, I can’t be too sure.)
  • Although this collection of stories was published in 2007, you could probably draw some takeaways regarding the current #MeToo conversation, as well as discussions of masculinity and respect. But I’ll leave that to more skilled analysts.
  • I was just thumped by the sentence, “I bet an angry universe would look at you with eyes like that.” Well done, Mr. Gaiman. Wow.
  • The ending, and the implications of the ending, are well-served by what is left unsaid. I’ll admit, while I have an idea of what is implied by Vic’s comments, I’m not 100% sure. Truth be told, I’m happy to keep it that way, because what I’m imagining is bad enough.
  • Here’s the thing, though: not every story should be made into a movie. After reading this one a few times, I’m convinced that any movie treatment of this short story would likely destroy what makes it effective by adding anything to it. And though I have not seen the 2017 film adaptation, seeing descriptions of it that include the words “romantic comedy” and watching just the first 30 seconds of the trailer is enough to prove me 100% right. What a bizarre and lousy transformation it seems to have had.

In the end, “How to Talk to Girls at Parties” is a surprising and slightly-unnerving story about the dangers of not listening. If you’re looking for a quick read that’s creepy and strange, it’s worth a look.

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Agree? Disagree? Any observations of your own? Let me know in the comments!

What is #52Stories?

 

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Happy Tuesday, friends!

I thought I’d take a minute–just sit right there–and explain this year’s blog project: #52Stories (formerly #100Stories, because I tend to set overly ambitious goals).

I first started writing fiction in grade school, turning 10-sentence vocabulary homework assignments into 2-3 page serialized adventures, featuring explorers and spies with surprisingly advanced word-usage. My teachers encouraged me to keep writing, and I did, even if it wasn’t for class credit. I wrote short fiction throughout high school and shared it with friends and family. I loved exploring ideas or scenarios in this format. In college, that creative itch shifted toward poetry and dramatic scripts, and eventually a few false-starts on full-length novels.

In recent months, I’ve been thinking about turning my attention back to writing some short fiction (as I try to rebuild a writing rhythm), and that has me thinking: What can I learn about the craft of short story writing by reading (or re-reading) a ton of short stories suggested by everyone I know? 

That question is the inspiration for my 2019 personal reading/blogging challenge: #52Stories.

My list will be based on the recommendations of my blog readers, social media circles, and friends/family, along with a few of my own additions. I’ll be reading all across the dial in terms of genre, while trying to maintain a mix of classic and modern. I don’t purport to have a perfect demographic representation of human writing or experience (my social circles are admittedly limited), but I have tried to open things up as best I can (and I’m absolutely open to more suggestions!).

My plan is to read each story and write a reaction post with 3 parts:

  • a one-sentence blurb about the story’s plot/idea (“the Set-up”);
  • my possibly-but-not-necessarily spoilery reaction to how well it unfolds (“the Pay-off”); and
  • something I can take away from it in terms of how to write better stories (“the Lesson”).

If the story is (legally) available online, I’ll post a link for you to check it out, and if it’s not, I’ll tell you where I found it.

I hope you enjoy #52Stories, and that you find it as fascinating and useful as I expect to. I’m excited to get started–which is a good thing because, at one story a week, I’m already behind! Gotta get cracking! Talk to you soon!

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Any suggestions for #52Stories? Post them below!

#30ThankYous “Day 27”: You.

Dear reader,

I have been blogging on and off since 2002. When I first started blogging, I was on the cusp of a job-and-relationship-collapse, and unfortunately the internet bore the brunt of my overblown emotions. After a while, I found my groove, I think. I talked about pop culture, church life, my feeeeeeeeelings, and other trifles. For some reason, people kept reading. (What shocks me beyond words is that some of you are still reading, after all these years!)

My online writing has evolved, as I have grown and (hopefully) matured. I’m learning how to write things that actually benefit others, rather than treating my online presence like a public diary with which to vent my spleen. Over the last few years, I’ve had more and more people follow my progress and subscribe to my site–as of yesterday, The4thDave.com is almost up to 100 followers!

Those kind of numbers don’t really move the needle for the “platform-building” gurus and social media experts. But you know what? They really matter to me.

You really matter to me, dear reader.

I want you to know that I don’t take for granted the time and attention you generously give me. I want to make sure that what I write is encouraging, inspiring, provocative, and entertaining. I want to keep growing as a writer, so that I can be a blessing to you and others through my work.

Years ago on another blog (don’t dive into the archives, it was really terrible), at one of my really low points, I wrote that the reason I blogged was to pretend that I wasn’t alone. While a good deal of that was just the self-pity and lingering break-up hangover talking, there was a glimmer of truth there. That old blog became the one “friend” who always had time for me. Praise God, life kept moving, things changed, I grew up quite a bit, and my heart has healed. Now, my life is full of people I love who love me. Blogging isn’t a lifeline or a drug; it’s a joy and a responsibility. It’s a gift that I can give to others, and a gift that they–you–give to me.

So thank you, dear reader. Thanks for giving me and this blog a chance. Thanks for being patient when my posting schedule has been erratic at best (or, more often, non-existent). Thanks for supporting my work here. Thanks for sharing my posts, and interacting in the comments. Thanks for just being there.

I plan on doing this for a long while, Lord-willing. I’m looking forward to sharing the adventure with you.

Your friend,

Dave

#30ThankYous: Lightning Round Part 2!!!

Let’s go with another lightning round of #30ThankYous posts! Today, I’d like to highlight 4 writers whose work has deeply affected me creatively, emotionally, and/or spiritually. (And please forgive the seemingly-random numbering–I’m trying to keep track of the days I skipped this month!)

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#19 – Ray Bradbury

Ray,

I don’t remember when I first encountered your work–it may have been a short-story that was given as part of a reading assignment for school. But from the first time I read your prose, I was hooked. I loved your imagination and the way you highlighted the enchantment and magic of everyday things, the mystery hiding just behind the ordinary. I think most people know you just as the Fahrenheit 451 or Martian Chronicles guy, but you had so much more to offer. Books like Dandelion Wine and The Illustrated Man captured my imagination even more, and made me want to be a short-story writer. Even now, I love the short-story format, and I find myself drawn back to it every time the writing bug bites. Thank you for sharing your magic with the world and inspiring a generation of writers who came after you.

#20 – John Bunyan

Brother John,

Your testimony is powerful and convicting, and your passion for the truth, no matter the cost, humbles me. But I want to thank you most for The Pilgrim’s Progress. Your little book has had a mammoth impact on me. Every page drips with Scripture, and every scene reveals truths about human nature and the Gospel. The stories of Christian and Christiana have become more and more affecting to me in recent years, and each time I read them, I am gripped again by the power of grace and the faithfulness of God. This is a book I encourage every Christian to read because it reveals a vault of wisdom and a treasure trove of insight with each reading. I praise God for your ministry, your witness, and your words.

#25 – Tim Challies

Tim,

It’s hard to think of another Christian writer or blogger today who has as much influence as you do and uses it so well. Your book reviews have become a trusted resource for me, and your frequent blog posts full of links and recommendations are helpful in directing my attention to edifying and insightful content. Your books, like your blog, are written in a clear and compelling style, full of humble exhortation. I was particularly helped by The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment and have used it more than once to prepare for Sunday School teaching. Even when you had to shift mediums due to your recent physical challenges, you have still kept your focus on serving your readers (and now, viewers) well. Thank you for honoring the Lord by striving for excellence and consistency in your use of the written and spoken word. Your contribution to the Church should not be underestimated.

#26 – Charles Spurgeon

Pastor,

It’s unavoidably trendy for a young (or, I suppose, now middle-aged) Calvinist to be an admirer of yours. Frankly, it’s almost become a cliche. I’m sure the surge of “Spurge” fandom would be embarrassing, if not infuriating, for you. But if you will allow me a moment (and how can you not, since you’re in heaven, enjoying the presence of God, so why would you care?), I want to express my gratitude for your writing.

Your preaching ministry is renowned and rightly so, but your writing has made a huge impact on my spiritual walk. Lectures to My Students and your articles in The Sword and the Trowel have been challenging to me both as a preacher and teacher and as a follower of Jesus. Books like All of Grace have brought me comfort and hope. Your handling of the “Downgrade Controversy” demonstrates a constancy and perseverance few in my day could muster. No doubt, the opposition you faced wore you down all the way to the end of your life, but while your candle burned, brother, you shined brightly, and generations who have come after you have seen your good deeds and praised your Father in Heaven.

Thank you, pastor, for your faithful pen, and for your faithful heart. You have strengthened multitudes with your work.

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Okay, that almost catches me up! Four more “Thank You’s” to go! See y’all tomorrow!