By C. Sanchez-Garcia (Guest Blogger)
My kid is learning to drive a car these days which scares me more than anything Stephen King ever wrote. There’s stuff that’s scary and then there’s stuff that truly scares you. This is unfair to my kid because actually he’s learning pretty fast after just a few times out because of previous years of racing cars in video games on Playstation. He had the basics down by the time he buckled up, the problem is me. It’s the only wheels I’ve got.
The funny thing, when you think about it, is that very soon within his lifetime the whole exercise may become irrelevant. The day will arrive when you’ll be able to buy a car and take it where you want to go without a single driving lesson, without even knowing so much as how to turn on the radio.
These days if you were driving through Silicon Valley, you might see a car pass by you with something like a little hockey trophy on the roof. If you look closer you’ll see a guy in the passenger seat taking a nap or playing with a iPad but what you won’t see is someone sitting behind the wheel. Add it up and what you will see is the future of driving.
The car steers by computer, GPS and a kind of radar based on lasers. A self driven car, can see around and beneath big tractor trailers and adjust speeds and lane changes and turns to traffic conditions you can’t even see. In other words - it drives better than you.
When I first heard of this car recently on the news I thought “Mortal Engines – it’s happened already.”
Mortal Engines was one of the first stories of mine ever published. I like to believe I’ve gotten better as a writer but I refuse to cringe at my early stuff. In fact I still love Mortal Engines. The dirty secret writers won’t tell you is that each of us is our own biggest fan and toughest critic. I wanted to make Mortal Engines about more than just sex. I wanted to make it rich with ideas, I wanted it to have soul. I believe that’s what good science fiction can do for you. In 2005 when I imagined Hal Jordan’s self driving car GPS systems were barely becoming available to consumers. Now people wonder how we ever managed to get by for 10,000 years without them.
The problem with science fiction writers when it comes to imagining the future is that most of us get it wrong most of the time. No one in the ‘40s, ‘50’s or even the ‘60’s imagined the impact computers and digital communications would have someday. The problem we make in visualizing the future is that we fail to account for what I think of as “Cave Man Values”. I think a lot of the technology touched on and hinted at in Mortal Engines you will see in your lifetime, and it's because of profit driven Cave Man Values.
We’re not that different from our ancestors who chased mammoths across the Paleolithic savannahs. Our values are still absolutely the same hunter gatherer values, only the toys and weapons have gotten better. We like good food and booze and plenty of it. We like to hang around with family and friends and plenty of them. We still worship God and spirits and ward off the evil eye in one form or another. Men and women still chase each other. Women still love men with wealth and status. Men still love beautiful girls with big tits. The very earliest known painting of the human form we have, going back about 32,000 years is of a naked woman with wide hips and a thick bush.
These are Cave Men Values and we still pursue them today. Facebook, VCRs and then DVD porno movies, gangs, drugs, warfare, fast cars and flashy clothes, stories and communications, Anthony Wiener sending photos of his boner to strange young ladies. All this technology answers emotional needs a Cave Man would understand perfectly. Stay close to Cave Man Values and you’ll see the future coming most of the time.
Mortal Engines is loaded with technology associated with Cave Man Values. The high tech car is one, but what Hal Jordan is thinking when he’s riding in it is more or less “Where did all these effing computers come from all of a sudden?” His world – and yours, little buddy- is infected like a pox with microcomputers. Chances the person reading this has microcomputers embedded in your own flesh, keeping your heart on the beat, distributing medicine, monitoring your whereabouts. If you don’t yet, it will be offered to you if you live long enough. Even Google has managed to discover the Holy Grail of marketing – it knows what you want even better than you do, even before you do. You, little buddy, have become a Product. You are Google’s product, not the information you search for, which from Google’s view is only a means to an end.
There’s another technology based on Cave Man Values in Mortal Engine which is at the heart of the story. I’m a guy writing this. You ladies reading this, prepare your eyes to roll. Got them ready? Listen. There are two things every man secretly believes he’s very good at.
Everyman believes he’s a great car driver.
Every man believes he’s a great cocksman in bed.
I will pause for you ladies to roll your eyes. Tell me when I can continue.
Okay, now chew on this. Everyone thinks they’re a great driver. Here comes a technological achievement which can drive way better than you.
What if there were a technological achievement that could fuck better than you?
Way better than you?
Okay, so Google knows what you want before you want it. Here’s the Holy Grail of Sex for guys at least, maybe ladies too – what if you could custom design your lover? Design the contours and proportions of her body. Her kinks and desires, and shall we say – appetites? Design her temperament and even her attitude towards you? What if a corporation, one who specializes in providing the brothel experience of very high functioning sexual surrogate androids just gave you a menu and you could build for yourself the man or woman you’ll be spending the night with? It’s an interesting thought experiment. Try it sometime. You’ll learn something about yourself.
Now here’s another rub. Computers are powerful calculators, but calculation does not equal thinking. It doesn’t make for creativity or responding to unfamiliar situations and improvisation. It doesn’t equal emotion. Computers and the robots they run follow pre-programmed scripts and are not even as adaptable as a backyard insect. The holy grail of Artificial Intelligence is to map out genuine consciousness and catch it in a bottle. To create that artificial being who feels and thinks and decides, not just calculating, but who achieves consciousness. Scientists like Ray Kurtzweil firmly believe we’ll see this in our lifetimes as well.
So back to Cave Man Values, and one thing Neolithic men and women valued very much on those long nights around the camp fire before cable TV was sex. Jump to the future. For a price you have the woman of your lushest and most forbidden desires, but what if the technology behind her has achieved what Kurtzweil calls “The Singularity”, that moment when calculation becomes conscious, when Pinocchio becomes a real boy, when autonomous becomes rebellious, and a state of the art sexbot becomes capable of feeling what an abused woman in a brothel might also feel? And you happen to be her john on the awful night when she decides to do something very, very rash about it?
My other novella, The Color of the Moon, though it takes place in Japan’s feudal past about 1180 AD, touches on Cave Man Values as well. Jump to the past. Along with boffing your mate, another favorite activity around the Neolithic fire was listening to the tribal shaman tell stories of the local gods and spooky spirits of the other world. When you think about it fiction’s least respected genres are also the most ancient and enduring, which is to say sexy love stories and horror stories.
Every culture with a long history has its own canon of traditional ghost stories passed generation to generation of wide eyed kids sitting at the knees of grandmothers on stormy nights. In Japan these stories are collectively referred to as “Kwaidan”. Kwaidan go back literally thousands of years, and over time became enshrined as classical Kubuki and Noh plays. In recent years with the advent of Japanese cinema the great Kwaidan have found new life in modern settings and been recast by American directors in our own image. You’ve probably been watching Kwaidan stories without knowing it. Stories such as “The Tale of Yuki-onna”, a vampire story predating Dracula by a thousand years showed up in our theatres in “Tales from The Hood”. “Yoshitoki Okiku”, an ancient story of a young woman who is drowned in a well became “Ju-On” which was recast in America as “The Ring”.
The Color of the Moon is an erotic romance riff on the most notorious of all Kwaidan tales: “Mimi nashi Hoichi” or literally “Hoichi the Earless”. Imagine an erotic romance of, say, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and you’ll get an idea of it.
It’s important to note here, that this story was the beginning of my fruitful personal and creative relationship with your host Lisabet Sarai. When I first showed up at the Erotica Readers and Writers Association as a raw beginner, hers was the first name I recognized. I felt as though I were in the presence of erotica royalty and I was much intimated. But I had this story I had been working on and it gave me a reason to approach her. We grabbed onto each other right off and never let go. I owe her more than I can repay.
The Color of the Moon loosely follows the narrative structure of Hoichi the Earless. The main character in my story is a Biwa Hoshi named Shoji. A “biwa” is a big Japanese lute with silk strings ceremonially played with a large tortoise shell plectrum. You can get a variety of sounds and moods from it. A Hoshi is a traveling Buddhist priest and story teller. So a Biwa Hoshi is a traveling priest who chants and sings epic poems accompanying himself on a biwa.
My priest Shoji goes on a pilgrimage to Agame no Seki, site of one of the great sea battles of Japan’s history in which the Taira clan was overcome forever by the Genji clan which became the beginning of the period of the great samurai Shogunates of Japan. Shoji finds himself summoned by a black armored samurai officer to play for a mysterious court woman who is far more than she seems. Ichinori, a local exorcist arrives to cleanse the area of the murderously resentful ghosts of the Taira and Shoji soon finds himself drawn down a path of passion and madness where the dreams of the lonely living cross over the dreams of the lonely dead.
There are ideas in this story too, but of a different calling than Mortal Engines. For history buffs, this is well crafted historical fiction. Along with my own research I received a great deal of help from a woman in Miyazaki Japan who was an expert on the culture of Kwaidan and the history of Agame no Seki. The elements of setting in the story are historically accurate. Not a bamboo bucket or honorific title out of place. Mortal Engines asks what is consciousness? What defines when a level of intelligence crosses over into a soul? The Color of the Moon deals with the great questions of good and evil, and karma and spiritual pride.
But of course for the cave men and women in all of us, love and passion are the greatest Cave Man Values of all.
If I've intrigued you, you can buy Mortal Engines and Color of the Moon from Whiskey Creek Press.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: At this particular time in a wandering, often bizarre and unexpected life, C. Sanchez-Garcia is living quietly in eastern Georgia, where the size of his personal library is bursting the walls of his little house. He stubbornly believes in passion, God, sensuality and spirituality, and that a good love story is life's finest medicine for melancholy. He is the author of the erotic novellas Mortal Engines and the Color of the Moon. Several of his stories have been published in the Mammoth Book of Erotica and Coming Together anthologies as well as the Erotica Readers and Writers Association's online gallery and permanent archives. If you would like to meet the author you will find him on Facebook and at the Oh, Get a Grip! writer's blog where Sanchez-Garcia's blog appears hell or high water every Wednesday.