Monday, June 13, 2011

The Intelligent TV Set - 30 years ago

I was on the phone with my friend John recently, whom I've known since 1979. I had just gotten out of the service and he was a friend of my girlfriend. I met her in college that first summer and she introduced me to her friends, including John whom she knew since they were much younger going through the Catholic private school system. I don't know her anymore, though we ended up living together and going through college for years. But I still know John.


The other day, John mentioned my first published short story, "In Memory, Yet Crystal Clear", an homage of sorts to one of my favorite Science Fiction writers at the time, Isaac Asimov and the first section of his autobiography, "In Memory, Yet Green".

John is an artist and should have had a job decades ago as a comic book artist. I had wanted him to do the art for my short story when it got published, but I was told the publisher had an artist on retainer. I hated the art when the story came out but now in looking at it, I don't think it was that bad after all. I'm including a scan of it on here.

I would sometimes jot down a story and show it to these friends. One day John read one of these clips and put it down, angrily saying, "Why in the hell don't you ever write endings to these things! I want closure, I want an ending." The others in the room agreed. "Look, we like your stuff, it just needs an ending." I told him that endings are hard to do, you have to make decisions, accept finality. I really couldn't do it. After getting into college, then I had to do it and I got quite good at it. It made them all very happy.

On another day, they complained that I wrote over their heads, they couldn't understand what I was saying half the time. So I promised, I would start to work on writing endings, and I would gauge my writing to be a bit more accessible. But I said, I would write one more story completely at my own comfort level. Then I would try to start to write from then on at a more comfortable, general level. If newspapers are written at a 9-12th grade level, then I should probably stay around 12th grade level or first year college.

Now I was just starting my first year of college at this time. It was 1980. We were sitting around enjoying the day and getting a slight inebriation on as was custom at those times. Somehow I started to say that I could write anything, that I enjoyed taking the unwritable and making something functional and enjoyable out of it. They didn't believe me.

So I said, "Okay, tell you what. You guys come up with an impossible to write idea and I'll make it work." They smiled, got together and came up with something.

"Okay," they said, "we have something."

"Shoot," I said.

"A guy turns himself into a computer chip."

"Not bad," I said. And over they next week or so, I worked on it.

Finally, I finished it, ending and all. I had them read it. Everyone agreed, it worked. But it was still written too high for them, but they got it. They were, by the way, younger than I was, by some years. They decided that I'd never sell it. I ran it through a word processor years later and it said it was written at a grade seventeen level, which is like a first year College Masters Degree level after a four year college degree.

So I started to send it out. Eventually, after rejections, a guy on the east coast, the publisher of Haunts Horror Quarterly magazine said he'd buy it if I cut 1500 words. I found a section, not really necessary to the plot, that was nearly exactly that size. I cut it, he bought it. My first fiction sale. I got $28 for it. I had wanted John to do the drawing for it, but they had a house artist so he didn't get to do it. And I hated the drawing in the magazine. However, in looking at it today, I think it wasn't so bad, really.


Back to today. John asked me, having read the first page today, if I actually wrote the part about the home device that long ago, predicting as he put it, the modern TV set. I said, "Let me check." I pulled out my copy of Haunts, and read it to him. We both were tickled by it for some reason.

And so, the real reason for this note. This story is also to be included in my new anthology currently at the publishers, a release date has not been set at this time. Here is that paragraph. No big deal, but what the heck, it's kind of fun.

This paragraph is explaining something one of the main characters invented:


"Our great Philip Carey. Designer of that ubiquitous dream machine, the Intel-Set. The offspring of what had once been acrimoniously called, "Idiot Box" and "Boob Tube"; and such it had been -- back then. Use of the acronym I.S. brings incorrectly to mind the old T.V. device, whose electronic hybrid-descendant today, now also includes within its eclectic system: the home-intelligence interface, the computer module, communications, and all such necessary items compulsory to your All-Modern, Extra-New, Communicative Homo Sapiens, or: "A.M.E.N.C.H." The "Yuppie" and "Dink" of the 1990s, has given way for the Master's coined phrase. A reference from Philip's forgotten, semi-Jewish background. God, Philip always did have a warped sense of humor."


The A Mench thing cracked me up at the time, and in the full context of the story, makes much more sense. It was an interesting story of "social horror" and got even more interesting reactions from people that read it. Especially at the ending where the main character has lost his way too and does not understand why those countries furthest from the US want in on all this, but those closest, Canada and Mexico, can't seem to back far enough away from us. Why, after all, when murder has been eliminated (by legalizing it) and all advertising is run by one person, regardless of their own mental instability that has oozed out into the public mind.

It's good to have old friends who, from time to time, bring up the past, and to revisit your roots.

Two books with my short stories: The Undead Nation Anthology and Rhonny Reaper's Creature Features, both with proceeds going to research for Cancer and Diabetes, respectively.

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