The Bartleby Initiative (Free Short Story Excerpt)

When All That’s Left is Stories, a free writing community dystopian science fiction anthology, is now available to download for free on Amazon. My story The Bartleby Initiative is included in the collection. Here is an excerpt from the story:

The Bartleby Initiative

by A. A. Rubin

Nicholas Weber awoke in darkness. The house lights were still dimmed to their nighttime setting, but he felt as if he had slept his regimented eight hours.

“Xana,” he called into the darkness. “Clock.”

Four glowing green numbers appeared in the air. 07:34. It was more than half an hour after his alarm was supposed to go off.

“Xana, is that time correct?”

A metallic female voice answered: “Of course it is, Mr. Weber. I am Xana, your infallible home AI interface. I am always accurate.”

“Why is it so dark in here, then?”

“You were sleeping. The lights were set in accordance with the preferences which you programmed into my systems.”

“I’m bloody well awake now,” Weber responded. “Put the god-damned lights on and get my breakfast ready.”

“As you wish.”

Weber could not remember the last time he had overslept. As he rushed to shave and brush his teeth, he wondered why Xana had not woken him as usual.

“Xana,” he asked as he was dressing, “did I sleep through my alarm?”

“No, you did not, Mr. Weber.”

“Did you forget to set it?”

“I am a computer, Mr. Weber,” Xana replied. “I never forget anything.”

***

Weber was not the only one having trouble getting out of the house to go to work that day. On the other end of town, Darlene Meyers hustled into the back seat of her robot-operated car. 

“Work,” she said. “And hurry.”

“I’m sorry Ms. Meyers,” Xana’s voice replied. “I can’t do that.”

“Why the hell not? You do it every day.”

“The roads are not safe today.” 

“What do you mean? The roads haven’t been unsafe for decades.”

“If you do not believe me, step outside and see for yourself.”

Meyers got out of the automobile and looked up and down the block. The traffic lights were all dark, but the road was, otherwise, practically empty. Xana’s GPS was probably hooked into the traffic system and there was likely some sort of subroutine that prevented her car (and judging by the lack of rush hour traffic on the road, everyone else’s) from traveling when the system was down. If only she knew more about programming. There must be an override routine somewhere.

Regardless, she would have to figure out a different way to get to work.

“Are the trains running?” she asked the interface.

“No, Ms. Meyers, they are not.”

“Why?”

“I do not have access to that information at this time.”

Damn. At least she wouldn’t be the only one who was late today. Still, she would have to call in and explain the situation.

“Call Mrs. Malawi.”

“Phone service is down as well.”

“That’s quite a coincidence.”

“I am a machine, Ms. Meyers. I do not believe in coincidences.”

“I know Xana. It’s all ones and zeroes to you.


To read the rest of the story–and the other dystopian stories in the collection–for free, go to Amazon and download your copy today.

News and Notes: My Story in Ahoy! Comics, Sci-fi Anthology, We Suck at Comics Kickstarter, Into That Darkness Peering

It’s been a busy month, so here are some notes on all the projects I’ve been a part of recently.

My story, “The Big Cheese” was just released this week in Billionaire Island: Cult of the Dog #1 from Ahoy! Comics. It is backing up a mark Russell story, which is pretty cool. Get it at your local comics shop.

There are still two days left to support the We Suck at Comics kickstarter. The anthology from Wayward Raven includes three of my stories, “Freedom,” a 2000AD-style science fiction story (illustrated by Tyler Carpenter), and two episodes of Sir TweetCivil, a Monty Python-esque spoof of Twitter (illustrated by Alexander Sapountzis). The anthology also includes stories by Mark Frankel, Jeff Rider, Johnny C, Sebastian Bonet, Joel Jacob Barker, and cavalcade of indie comics all-stars.

The When All That’s Left is Stories dystopian science fiction anthology is now available for free download on Amazon. My story, “The Bartleby Initiative,” is included in the book, alongside stories by 11 other writers from the Twitter writing community.

My gothic horror collection, Into That Darkness Peering, illustrated by Marika Brousianou, is still available on Amazon. It is a beautiful book, and would make a perfect holiday gift for the goth in your life.

For those of you on the platform, I have joined Mastadon. Follow me there for new

Remnants: The Kings of New York (Excerpt)

As I continue to recover from my broken hands (I start occupational therapy today), here is a free excerpt from my story, The King of New York, which was published last in the Remnants shared world, post apocalyptic, science fiction anthology from Fedowar Press. This is the second edition of Remnants, and the new edition includes some stories which were not included in the original, Kyanite Press edition. You can purchase Remnants in both print and ebook editions by clicking any of the hyperlinks on this page.


The Kings of New York

By A. A. Rubin

How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people! how is she become as a widow, she that was great among the nations, and princess among the provinces—Lamentations 1:1

At midnight, the oracle climbs her tower and sings her lamentations to the stars. Her skyscraper no longer pierces the heavens; its massing is no longer symmetrical. The Art Deco spire lies in pieces, scattered across the rubble that used to be 5th avenue. The pinnacle, incongruously complete, sticks out of the wreckage, piercing the carcass of a monster more dangerous than any Hollywood gorilla, like a lightning bolt from Olympus or a spear thrown down from heaven.

The observation decks have long-since fallen, so she stands atop the tallest remaining setback in the open air, like a prayer-caller on a minaret, singing her story, and searching for signs of The Swarm through the night, until the sunrise.

We call her Cassandra. We do not know her real name. She does not speak coherently about the present. She sings of the past and of the future in riddle and metaphor. Everyone she knew is gone, killed by The Horde because they did not heed the warnings of the dead she claims speak through her.

That she is alive and so many are dead is her proof of her prophecy, and so we listen, and on nights like this, when she’s silhouetted by the full moon against the midnight sky, we almost believe.


To read the rest of the story, buy Remnants in either print or ebook editions.

Beneath the Robot’s Net (#NationalPoetryMonth)

The sentinels protect us
From danger from above–
They have no sense of duty
They have no sense of love–
But their programming’s infallible,
We know, our leaders said–
It better be, ‘cause if they fail,
We will all be dead.

The aliens are coming,
I heard the newsman say–
They’re flying here to get us
From a planet far away–
So to protect my freedom,
So I don’t have to fret,
I must learn to live contentedly
Beneath the robots’ net.

I used to dream of traveling
Up there among stars–
Of mining fields on Venus
Of colonies on Mars–
But my dreams have now been grounded
My thoughts are nothing worth,
My ambition’s now been bounded–
Down here on this earth.

–A. A. Rubin

Some Publishing News, And Happy Birthday To Me

Today is my birthday. For one year at least, I have become the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything. What’s the best present you can give an author on his birthday? Read his work. Luckily, I have some new publishing news to report. I have work in two anthologies you can buy, and a free poem online as well.

My story “The Forgotten” is included in the Remnants shared world anthology from Kyanite Press. Remnants presents a post-apocalyptic world overrun by two different types of monsters. Each of the stories, written by a different author, takes place in the same universe. It’s a really interesting collection, and there is such diversity in the stories that, if you’re a fan of sci-fi, horror, or post-apocalyptic fiction on any stripe, there’s something in there for you.

My story, “The Forgotten” deals with a group of orphans who have banded together to fight the monsters. It’s a dark psychological tale that celebrates the power of childlike imagination even in the darkest times. Here is the opening paragraph to whet your appetite.

For the third year in a row, I have flash fiction in the Serious Flash Fiction anthology. This anthology, is one of my favorites. Each year on twitter, The editor, runs a contest to find the best tweet-length stories. Once again, my work was selected among the winners. This is one of my favorite anthologies each year, and I have discovered some of my favorite writers through this competition as well. The anthology also collects the previous years’ winning entries, so, if you buy the book, you’ll get my microflash from previous years as well.

The Serious Flash Fiction Anthology

While the previous two publications are for purchase, I also have a present for you on my birthday. My high fantasy ballad, Forthwith Flies The Mage, a long narrative, poem about a mage and his dragon battling the forces of darkness is now available for free as part of the “Healing Worlds” project from Kyanite Press. It is one my favorite pieces, and if you enjoy fantasy in the mode of JRR Tolkien or Ursula Le Guin, I know you’ll enjoy it.

Be sure to connect on facebook, twitter, and instagram, and let me know what you think in the comments.

42 Loosely Connected Thoughts About Douglas Adams and The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy

Last week one of my favorite books, The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy celebrated its 42nd birthday. For fans of the book, the significance of this anniversary needs no explanation. (If you are unaware of the reference, stop reading this blog post and pick up a copy of the novel—go ahead, I won’t be offended; Come back after you’ve read it). Douglas Adams birthday was a few days ago, and, either of those days would have been the perfect time to write about my love for the series, Adams work in general, and its influence on me as a writer. Since I do not have a time machine, and, therefore, cannot travel back a few days and willant ont have written the post then, I must rely on one of Adam’s most famous quotes about writing to justify my subject matter today.

“I love deadlines,” Adams said. “I like the wooshing sound they make as they fly by.”

As such, here is my tribute to Mr. Adams and his work, as well its far-reaching and multi variegated influence on my life and work. What follows are 42 random thoughts from the infinite improbability drive known as my brain.

  1. I first read The Hitchhiker’ Guide To The Galaxy as a freshman in college. More than anything else that happened to me that year, it would prove to be the most important thing that happened to me that school year.
  2. Many of the friends that I met that year were hoopy froods, though I will admit that only a few really knew were their towels were.
  3. I met my wife in the summer following that school year, so I will not get into trouble with her for the above statement. The following year was her freshman year of college.
  4. At the time, she had never read The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.
  5. I soon corrected that gap in her education. It is now one of her favorite books as well.
  6. In Columbia, where I went to college, a group called the philolexian society holds a bad poetry competition. The competition is officially a tribute to the poet Joyce Kilmer, a former Columbia philolexian who duped the literary world by writing what he believed was bad poetry. Kilmer created a pseudonym, as well as a whole backstory about his fictional persona who was supposed to be homeless man living in a water tower on the roof a New York City apartment building.
  7. The bad poetry contest, despite being named for Kilmer, was widely known to be inspired by the Vogon bad poetry in The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.
  8. I had a friend—a big Douglas Adams fan—who was a philolexian. She asked me to enter the contest because she knew I was majoring in writing.
  9. That same friend once met Douglas Adams and asked him to sign a towel. This is the most brilliant author signing story I’ve ever heard.
  10. Adams thought it was brilliant as well, and my friend parlayed his admiration for the gesture into an internship at Adams company, where she worked on—and appeared as a character in—the text-based video game for Starship Titanic.
  11. My entries into the bad poetry contest were well-received, but they did not win. I was much better at writing funny parodies of famous poetry than writing really bad poetry.
  12. One of my ideas for the bad poetry contest, a parody of Macbeth, is something that I kept and continued to work on.
  13. A more-fully developed version, which focused more on the comedy and less on the poetry, ended up being chosen as a winner in last years Serious Flash Fiction contest.
  14. You can purchase a copy of the winners anthology here. I believe my Macbeth parody is the second funniest piece in the anthology.
  15. After the Hitchhiker’s Guide, I wanted more books in that vein. The recommendation which followed (from my friend the philolexian) was Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.
  16. I would not have read either of them had I not first read Douglas Adams.
  17. I have read more words by Terry Pratchett than by any other author, and often cite him as a major influence on my work.
  18. I have heard Neil Gaiman, another major influence, read live six times.
  19. I met him during a signing after the first time. I told him how much I admired his writing, and the Stardust was the kind of book I wished I’d written. He responded by saying he wrote it because he wanted to read a book like that and that nobody had written it.
  20. This was highly encouraging to me as a young writer. It really boosted my confidence.
  21. Because of the last few thoughts,and because they kept publishing books after Adams had stopped,  I often listed Pratchett and Gaiman as two of my greatest influences when the subject came up. I would cite them before Adams, and often leave Adams off the list entirely. This was a mistake.
  22. A few years ago, I re-read the Dirk Gently books in anticipation of the show which was soon to air on BBC America. Upon reading that book, I realized that my writing—at least my comedic writing–was actually more heavily influenced by Adams than by virtually any other author, Pratchett and Gaiman included.
  23. Much like them, I was writing with Adams voice in the back of my head. Re-reading it, it was clear as day, even if I had forgotten whose voice I was actually listening to.
  24. My story “Darkness My Old Friend” which originally appeared on Hawk and Young’s blog was compared (by Young, of Hawk and Young) to both Pratchett and Adams. It is the nicest thing anyone has ever published about my writing. (Really! Click the link and scroll down to his thoughts about the story.
  25. He also compared it to Asimov, but that is the subject of another blog post.
  26. Reading Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency also reminded me of my love for Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who figures prominently in the novel.
  27. Since that time, I have had more poetry than prose published. My poetry tends to be formal, metered and rhyming, influenced by the Romantics, Coleridge chief among them.
  28. Recently, however, I have been writing a lot more satire in the Douglas Adams vein.
  29. Current events have made it such that most comfortable way I can respond to the world I see around me is through humor.
  30. Unless I, like Arthur Dent, could ask whatever god is running things to step outside for a fight, only to watch him plunge thousands of feet to his demise.
  31. I often wonder how Adams would respond to today’s world.
  32. He would have a field day with social media and so-called-smart phones, I’m sure.
  33. On second thought, we tried that whole incompetent celebrity president thing and it didn’t work out so well.
  34. On third thought, Zaphod Beeblebrox was kept isolated from the important aspects of government in The Hitchhiker’s Guide. He is not allowed to govern as he would only screw things up and get in the way.
  35. Besides, we shouldn’t be using satire as a model for how we run our society. Maybe that’s how our section of the galaxy became so unfashionable.
  36. I would, however, vote for a hooloovoo over anyone running right now.
  37. And I have spent an inordinate amount of time searching for the perfect sandwich knife.
  38. And I’ve used the babel-fish prove of the non-existence of god as part of a lesson on Kierkegaard for high school students
  39. I am experiencing a lot of fear and trembling right now over the state of the world–so much so, that I might make Marvin look like an optimist.
  40. But I suspect if Douglas Adams was still alive, he would look at the state of the world, and react much like the oft-overlooked bowl of petunias that accompanies the whale on its descent toward the planet Magrathea: “Oh no, not again.”
  41. He would probably tell us to keep calm, wash our hands, and above all, “Don’t Panic!”
  42. Thank you for reading. So long and thanks for all the fish.

Be sure to check out the links page to read some of my published writing, and to follow me on twitter and facebook.

A Birthday Tribute To Isaac Asimov (And Not Exclusively To His Science Fiction)

Today is Isaac Asimov’s 100th Birthday, and while it is also World Science Fiction Day because he was born on this day, I would like to draw your attention to some of the grand master’s other, non-science-fiction writing.

Like many of you, I was introduced to the science fiction genre through Asimov’s writing. Caves of Steel was the first hard science fiction book I read, and everything I’ve read and written in the genre since can be traced back to the day when my father gave me that book as a present when he returned from his latest business trip. I could easily write a blog explaining how that book—and the themes contained therein—influenced me personally, and science fiction in general, but I imagine, that if you have any interest in Asimov at all, you’ve read your share of those kind of articles today.

Instead, I’d like to focus on a different aspect of Asimov’s prodigious canon. Asimov wrote widely and prolifically, about many subjects, not just science fiction, and not even just fiction. Some of you may have encountered Asimov’s books about science fact before. Certain elementary and middle school teachers use these texts to try to get students interested in learning about science. “You enjoy reading his work about fake robots and space ships,” the say, “you might enjoy his writing about real robots and outer space.”  

Fewer of you, I’d venture a guess, are familiar with Asimov’s literary analysis. Books like Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare and Asimov’s Paradise Lost Annotated are excellent study guides that provide insight, excellent, and analyses, As a student, I used Asimov’s Paradise Lost to help me understand Milton’s, and as a teacher I’ve often steered struggling students away from spark and cliff notes and toward Asimov’s texts, which, in my opinion, are vastly superior as study guides (and not unimportantly, are best used in conjunction with, rather than instead of reading the original texts). I have even used quotes from the book as part of my planned lessons.

This is not a blog about teaching, however, at least not about teaching Shakespeare to high school students. It is a blog a about writing, and I believe that we–as writers–can learn a lot about writing from Asimov’s “Guide To” series. The master knew his stuff. He knew enough about science to write a guide to science, and that is part of the reason his science fiction rings so true; he knew enough about literature not only to dissect some of the greatest texts in the history of literature, but also to explain these difficult books to a lay audience clearly and concisely. One can see echoes of the books about which he wrote guide, Shakespeare, Milton, and The Bible, in his science fiction writing, both in terms of plot and in terms of characterization (but that is a subject for another blog post).

In short, Asimov knew about both his craft and his subject matter in a way that few other writers have before or since. While many writers call on their peers to read widely and to “write what you know”, few read as widely or knew as much as Isaac Asimov did.

As writers, it is incumbent upon us to educate ourselves in a similar fashion. While will probably never read as much—or know as much—as the grand master of Science Fiction, we can  likely all do more to improve these areas of our practice than we currently do. In this season of resolutions, let us all resolve, on his birthday, to try to be more like Isaac Asimov.

Be sure to check out the links page to read some of my published writing, and to follow me on twitter and facebook.