A Science Fiction Short Story: Space Launch

Space travel is incredible. Today, a spaceship left Earth for the purpose of throwing a urine-filled balloon into space. It’s obviously a complete waste of money and science, but that’s what happened.

I watched the shuttle launch at home. The astronauts were shaking hands with the president. The commander of Eagle Two gave a speech on how this is the greatest country in the world and the mission will be a historic achievement. A lady gave the astronaut a bouquet of roses at the end of his press deal. The audience applauded and people were even crying.

Crying for what—throwing a balloon of piss into space?

Most of the country tends to support the mission. You’re supposed to be patriotic and get all choked up. So everyone buys flags and hangs them on their houses as the launch date nears. The other day, I saw a guy dressed up in an astronaut suit at a used car lot. Everyone crowded around him waiting to take a picture. They probably sold a lot of jalopies that day.

A minority of vocal opponents claim these missions are driving us dangerously close to economic collapse and are the primary reason we’re invading Spain. The public and mainstream media ignores them as wing-nuts. Universities do protest, but nobody really cares besides the students. It’s their college so let them do whatever the hell they want. Kids need to rebel. Next week they’ll be crying over a new crusade.

The reality is public support is too strong for the missions to stop. It was on the news that an anti-launch protestor was shot in front of his house. That caused a big uproar for a minute and then quickly became old news. A million other things could be done with the taxpayer’s money than throwing a piss balloon into outer space. What does it even have to do with anything? The whole thing just gives me a headache.

I’ll admit it: I was interested in the launch. It was difficult not to be. Just walking through the grocery store, electricity was in the air. Customers treated each other as if they were on the winning team. As I walked away with my bags, the cashier shouted, “Hey buddy!” I turned around and he gave me thumbs up. I tried to smile, but it probably came off a little weird looking. On the drive home, motorists flashed me peace signs as they passed by. Goofy stuff like that happens every time there’s a launch.

The funny thing was that nobody mentioned the piss-balloon-throwing part. I mean, c’mon, it’s the main reason we ever gone. But that aspect remained entirely unaddressed. A group of big time American bozos debated launch statistics. They brought up astronauts by their first names as if they were personal friends. And the way they described the shuttle, you’d swear they built the damn thing. All the while, a swollen balloon of piss lingered over their heads. Nobody comments on the balloon. And this wasn’t the first time we’ve taken a crack. The previous launch, Eagle One, was a total failure. A malfunction occurred and we lost a whole team of astronauts. Now they’re considered national heroes. Folks get touchy on that subject.

The launch day was finally underway. I got off the couch and walked into the kitchen as the TV yammered on. I reached into the cupboard, got a bottle of whisky, and poured myself a drink—one to wish the astronauts good luck. The camera followed the astronauts to the shuttle, followed by close ups of American flags and hopeful faces. The astronauts waved at the crowd before they shut the hatch. A grainy voice from tower control came over the air.

“Eagle Two, this is Tower One. All systems are go for launch, Eagle Two.”

I listened anxiously with the rest of the country as the head astronaut responded back, “Tower One, we copy that. Eagle Two is all systems go. We are ready for launch.”

“We copy that, Eagle Two. Is that an affirmative for countdown?”

“Affirmative for countdown.”

“Countdown is to commence. God’s speed, Eagle Two.”

“Roger that.”

His voice was emotionless as he started from ten. We were all digging our fingers into cushions. I held my breath when the Eagle Two commander reached five. Then the rest came:

“4…

“3…

“2…

“1…

“Ignition.”

The thrusters flared up in a massive cloud of fire. The shuttle lagged then slowly lifted off the ground. The TV switched to a skyward shot of Eagle Two burning towards heaven. It rose until it looked like a shining star in the middle of the day. It was a beautiful sight. The launch was a success. I poured another drink.

Despite their absurd objective, I hope they make it. Throwing a piss balloon into outer space has to serve a purpose. If it’s for nothing, then the feat in itself must mean something. Just think about it—when they finally get up there, one of our guys is going to stare into the mysterious dark universe, cock back his arm, and throw a balloon filled with piss right into God’s face.

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Red Night Zone by James Newman

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A neon ballerina hits the stage in the savage world of Bangkok. She’s grinding her body on stripper poles and trying to take the right kind of men back into hotel rooms, because from the gutter, she can see her million dollar dream glinting in the tropical night sky. She seduces a man out of a briefcase he says is loaded with everything he’s worth. Later her body is found with the head cut off inside her ragged apartment. The briefcase is gone from the scene of the crime. Private investigator, Joe Dylan, is hired to retrieve the missing briefcase from Bangkok’s seedy criminal underbelly.

The city is a savage jungle of sex, black magic, and murder—the Nirvana of debauchery. The clues lead Joe Dylan into the dark and dangerous quagmire known as Demon Dreams, a shadowy S&M brothel for high profile clients with unusual needs. The madam, a gorgeous transsexual, and her brother, a mute kick-boxer who sees demons, hold a grim secret that connects a string of murdered women and the missing briefcase.

James Newman has commented, “The Red Night Zone is an acid trip, where the loose ends don’t tie up. Or if they do then not the way one expects.

Red Night Zone is a voyeuristic pulp fiction that’s always on the verge of dissolving into madness but keeps it together. Newman is a literary risk taker. He gambles hard with his storyline and subject matter like a strung out Vegas junkie betting his wedding ring and bus ticket back home. There’s a dread looming over him, but he manages to say something funny about the way people die. Newman’s style is morbidly funny with a clean prose that reminds me of Stephen King. His journalistic portrayal of Bangkok and his insider knowledge of everything weird is homage to Hunter Thompson’s gonzo journalism. Red Night Zone is the second book out of his Bangkok series. You don’t have to read the first book to enjoy this one, but they’re better together like a pair of stripper breasts.

In the 1950’s Raymond Chandler gave pulp readers Philip Marlowe. James Newman gives us a private investigator for our generation, Joe Dylan. His book is available on Amazon.

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The Rip-Off by Jim Thompson

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I was hesitant about reading The Rip Off because of everyone claiming how much it sucked. Well, after reading it I can definitely say it is only they who are doing the sucking. This book cracked me up! I had to do a fake cough several times to cover up my laughter. Thompson knows how to write dialogue. It’s witty, original, and occasionally outrageous. Likewise is the cast of desperate characters who are big enough to speak them.

The Rip Off is about a guy out in the country who is screwing around on his wife. He isn’t very bright, in fact he’s a moron. Well, sticking your thing into everything that walks is bound to get you in trouble and that’s exactly what happens. The dude get’s caught up with these crazy dames that don’t know if they want to screw him or kill him.
The biggest gripe against this book is that it’s lacking the blood and guts violence from his other novels. Ok, that I will give to you. There isn’t very much violence, it’s more of a flirtation with disaster. It’s refreshing to see Thompson write a hard-boiled comedy without dumping a bucket of blood on top.

The plot is a little so-so, but as Stephen King says about plot: “The good writer’s last resort and the dullard’s first choice.” What makes this book shine are the character interactions and risky situations.

Good pulp doesn’t have to be all gore.

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Nightmare Town by Dashiell Hammett

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Nightmare Town is a collection of short stories from the originator of the hard-boiled crime genre, Dashiell Hammett. As a private eye for the Pinkerton Detective Agency in San Francisco during the Prohibition Era, Hammett experienced shootouts, knifings, stakeouts, and cold-blooded murder for cash. These experiences convinced him of one thing: everyone is a suspect. He began writing short stories based on his detective work for pulp fiction magazines.

Nightmare Town is a book of high-quality stories punctuated by brilliant gems. This book shows Hammett as a versatile writer able to work in any area concerning crime. He can use the first or second person perspective and put readers in foggy city streets or little desert towns with a whole cast of psychologically-unique characters.

Several stories break away entirely from the detective backdrop. “The Man Who Killed Dan Odams” centers on an escaped convict hunted across a barren countryside. He’s wounded and desperate, and nobody is going to take him in alive. This story has the life-or-death feeling of John Steinbeck. “His Brother’s Keeper” is told in the first person perspective of a young boxer who just can’t figure out the deadly plot closing in on his brother. “Afraid of a Gun” lays out the naked fear of a gangster with a phobia of guns.

The stories range from crimes of passion to bone splintering violence. In every instance, there are tightly-drawn plots unfolding at an exciting pace. The dialogue is original and enjoyable. Hammett’s prose is economical, achieving the greatest impact and solidity with the least number of words possible. He tells complex mysteries in a barebones style.

Nightmare Town is a great book because it gives lowbrow subject matter a literary-grade treatment. For all the pulp, noir, and crime readers out there, get back to your roots with these hard-boiled masterpieces.

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Suttree by Cormac McCarthy

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Suttree is a dark book. At times it will make you outright smile. It was dragged out of the Knoxville swamps drenched with whisky, blood, spattered with semen. A catfish was said to have been dragged out with it. I followed the trail of broken tears, it lead me to this book. Shortly after we became drunk. A pool cue smashed my teeth. I woke up with a whore that was insane, and she gave me money. There was the smell of suicide on this scorching hot day. I will never eat that man’s watermelons again.

This book is largely devoid of plot. The long paragraphs of description may become a toil for some. At those times my eyes often ached with the long, beautiful labor. Yet, I kept taking and taking from this book and it was like the sea. I’m glad to have read it.

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Howard Zinn On War by Howard Zinn

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The collection of essays by WWII veteran turned peace activist and history professor, Howard Zinn, in Howard Zinn On War is indispensable to any person seeking to understand the vulgar reality of war. What makes his essays powerful is his reinterpretation of a history we’ve all been brought up to believe. The spirit of Zinn’s writing is urged on by the same moral conviction that reinterpreted Christopher Columbus from a noble explorer to the more accurate description of a genocidal expansionist. Zinn applies this sense of historical integrity to the subject of war. The disgracing of nationally admired myths to their truthful representation is always painful, enlightening, and fiercely resisted. Zinn takes the highly unpopular stance that there is no such thing as a just war.

Zinn attacks the justification of atrocities committed under the guise of patriotic duty and self-deception. “When you plant a bomb in a discotheque, the death of bystanders is deliberate; when you drop bombs on a city, it’s accidental. We can ease our conscience that way, but only by lying to ourselves. Because, when you bomb a city from the air, you know, absolutely know, that innocent people will die.” His investigations reveal a history of unnecessary atrocities done to make political statements. Millions of people killed in various instances for the sake of making points vain as crude machismo. This is the inevitable outcome in all wars.

I would like to go into every point discussed in this book. Each essay slays another little “Christopher Columbus” regarding precision bombing, defense of democracy, terrorism, and our government’s claim to fighting tyranny. These reflections would be too lengthy for simple review. Zinn maintained a 45 year friendship with Noam Chomsky who referred to him as one of the great historian and activists of a generation. Zinn has a lifetime career as a fighter for civil rights and anti-war through non-violent protest and civil disobedience. I highly recommend a documentary of his life entitled You Can’t Remain Neutral on Moving Train (it is available in its entirety on youtube). His life will serve as an example for people everywhere in the struggle for a more peaceful world.

 

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American Fascists: The Christian Right and The War on America by Chris Hedges

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American Fascists: The Christian Right and The War on America by Chris Hedges, graduate from seminary at Harvard Divinity School and two decade war correspondent, points out the elephant in the room. Much of the country is aware of the extreme Christian Right’s agenda for dominating our government, education, private life, and foreign policy. In short, their aim is to turn the US into a Christian theocracy and thereby enforce a Christian global rule. Their buffoonish rhetoric would be laughable if it wasn’t for the significant influence they’ve seized. Hedges gives an in depth look into the inner working of the Christian Right. He attends conversion seminars, conventions, and interviews current and past members. His main argument is that the figureheads of the Christian Right are purposely distorting Christianity to serve their grab for raw power and institutionalize a Christo-fascist state.

The acceptance of Islamophobia, creationism as a viable science, and blurring definition between church and state are real victories of the Christian Right’s attacks on rational argument and a free society. The real importance of this book is that Hedges addresses the idea of tolerance. How tolerant should a free society be towards intolerance? The question is paradoxical. On one hand if we fully tolerate groups with a fascist agenda we risk having them ending our open society. Yet if we are intolerant and oppress their freedom of speech, then we will have ultimately lost.

Voltaire is quoted saying “I don’t agree with a word you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”  Being that I have highly unpopular views, freedom of speech is a civil liberty I refuse to live without. For that reason I agree with Voltaire’s view of universal tolerance. But when a fascist group, be it the Christian Right or any leftist group, is actively trying to instill intolerance it will be our duty to never become passively tolerant. That is the reason I respect this book, it is a call for every anti-fascist person to realize there are fascist movements in this country and to stand up and denounce them for what they are, American Fascists.

“When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in an American flag and carrying a cross.”

- Sinclair Lewis

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Everything we had: An oral history of the vietnam war by Al Santoli

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A powerfully unapologetic book. It completely destroyed the Hollywood and Media fantasy notion of what war is. The stories by these Vietnam veterans are raw and make no attempt to come off as politically correct. They talk about their experiences in their own word without regard to being politically correct. The testimonies follow a chronological order that start from the beginning of the war, all the way to leaving Vietnam. What I like about this book is that you got to hear from a wide range of soldiers, everything from Marines, SEALS, medics, Navy, and POW’s. There’s even some photographs of the men and women in the book.

What I admired about this book was the brutal honesty. The soldiers speak about incompetent leaders, crazy soldiers, fear, courage, death, and a lot of other things that is usually overshadowed by an overtly patriotic message. This is one of those books people of this generation need so badly read. These voices from a not so distant past are trying to warn of us of the true nature of war. Some of the stories are enough to make you laugh out loud, such as the soldier who enlisted after a wild night of drinking then sobered up really fast. Other accounts by special forces who lived deep in enemy territory are grim and reveal the deep psychological scarring of what they did to survive and do their duty.

I’d like to close a review with a poem by Lee Byron “Lee Boy” Childress. He is a contributor in Everything We Had. Childress passed away on July 31, 1997 from lung cancer brought on by exposure to the chemical Agent Orange.

Alone

Old soldiers never die;
They just wish they could.

He’s your brother.
He’s your son.
He’s the one who humped your gun.
Now his mind has come undone
And you applaud it.

Through a ten-year war it seems
You were hatching all your dreams
So you couldn’t hear the screams
Your own son dying.

He’s back, put to bed,
Alone,
Sleeping with the dead,
Bloated on the lies you fed.

For he cannot stop the popping
Or the helicopter chopping down his brain.

He’s so hooked,
He’s so fried,
Blood
Screaming from his eyes.
Alone,
Psychomanglized.

More of this poetry is printed on http://www.ragbaby.com/magazine/19990321.htm

Al Stanoli

Al Stanoli

 

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Neuromancer by William Gibson

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How do I rate a book like Neuromancer? It reads like a freakish cross of Williams Burroughs’ Post Modernism, Walt Whitman’s metaphysical soul surfing, and Philip Dick’s future noir. Gibson was far ahead of his time, took an entire generation forward, blah blah blah, everything everyone else read on Wikipedia.

Ok, so what about the book itself? To be honest it was tough to get into (and I never fully did), but once I got into the groove it became a decent techno surrealist adventure. But then… the issues started popping up. The techno jargon, which was neat in the beginning, murdered the flow like speed bumps on a freeway. The unfolding plot was mega jerky. At times I just gave up trying to figure what the setting was, let alone the plot. I’m a huge noir fan, so I’m used to getting multiple plot twists, but this was a bit overkill.

The parts that were good, we’re awesome. I felt like I was exploring the matrix, seeing an incredible cyberspace landscape, and stretching the fabric of my imagination. This was definitely one of those books that has opened my third eye.

The story is a bit generic (gotta steal this to kill that). The characters were interesting, yet lacked in any real depth. There’s a bunch of Rastafarians for some reason (wft? ok cool whatever). The reality juggling between the real world, cyberspace, and other people’s eyes was prime sci-fi stuff.

The verdict.

The annoying confusion, jargon choppiness, and thin characters kept this book from being a 5 star read. There were some parts that were so convoluted that I literally fell asleep. Other parts were a straight up grind to get through. Still, this is one tripped out read. My brain is still sizzling from flying around in the matrix. I give this book 3 and half Keanu Reeves heads.

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100 years of solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

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I have discovered a writer who didn’t write a story with words, but wove a mysterious living thing from strands of his soul. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez is a book that hardly requires additional praise. It was awarded the Nobel Prize, has been translated in every major language, and is considered one of the first major works of magical realism. What can I add that hasn’t already been said? It’s a waste of time to write a review, and so I’ll try instead to write about the experience I had.

To give you a little background, the story is about the founding and collapse of an imaginary town named Macondo, whose existence is intertwined with the bloodline of the man that founded it. Immediately the storytelling quality mixed with real historical events reminded me of the way my grandparents told us stories. It starts off as a realistic account of something that happened a longtime ago which can be verified by relics and people who are very old now. Things were different back then. Incredible things were common occurrences in the past that were simply accepted into daily life. Restless ghosts wandered through the streets, people died and returned from death, and there were those who predicted the future in order to buy bread. In those days people suffered more, but they also loved harder in a way that was more painful. Those time are forever receding away from now.

One Hundred Years of Solitude is a living remnant of that time. It is a lucid dream existing in the wakened world. What is the use in trying to make sense of a dream? That is how this book tells the history of the Buendía family and Macondo. It is played out like a wonderful nightmare that is infused with a religious quality and is nostalgic for love and life. Do not expect a traditionally written book. Some will hate it because it does not follow the rules. García is a literary anarchist who is only concerned with driving his story like a healing weapon at our soul. I feel more human having read this novel.

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