Short-short story: Sister Watson challenges the Elusieve Decapede

I had trouble sleeping last night and wasn’t in the mood for any serious writing in my head so I came up with a few phrases that then turned into a short-short story on the bus this morning. Fittingly, the only paper I had on me was a rather large LDS Church magazine renewal envelope that had been inserted into our September edition of the Ensign and was in my bag to remind me to do the renewal online. So I tore open the envelope and wrote on the blank inside and, yes, this is a first draft with a couple of edits done just now in WordPress, but I don’t see myself taking it further. It’s not much of a story, but it’s a first attempt at exploring some issues that I find fascinating and a little scary (and that I’m actually not all that worried about, because we’re decades away from them). ~Wm

The way she pressed on through his miasma of reluctance amused him even as he was baffled by her insistence that he must incorporate himself without delay for some outmoded buried alive ritual involving water and that it couldn’t wait for the next time he condescended to take on flesh (which would probably be never — 11 being a nice number to stop at) and yet he let her go on even though she was so annoying that he wanted to flick her away streaming layers of avatar behind her — send her packing back to her plane full of meatspacers with low budget rendering and didn’t the Mormons have money for better gear or maybe they had been too slow converting their physical holdings to virtual ones but he was too lazy to look it up and perhaps it took more resources than he thought to make their massive temple virtually unhackable (and my but how he still enjoyed that worn out joke — the only nostalgia he allowed himself these days) and maybe it would be amusing to toss a leg or two at it for another attempt and now he was kind of bored with the earnest tone and yet there was a certain gleam in her voice as though she though she thought she was getting through to him or maybe even making fun of him for letting his guard down and allowing her cheap filter buster to bring her through to his magestic presence because he was in a weird mood to see what the code would drag in and he even batted away a particularly nasty amoeba that had trailed in behind her and was about to swallow her and maybe he should just swallow her and really did they think that he was going to hand over ten percent of his processing power and didn’t she know that he had started religions with more adherents than the entire LDS — meatspace included — and yet he would like a peek inside that temple although maybe they hadn’t changed the ceremonies much since the last leak and still she rambled on and he could tell she thought this latest tactic was her ace in the hole but really why would he want to die on the off chance that he could become a god in some other ‘verse when he pretty much already was one.

9 thoughts on “Short-short story: Sister Watson challenges the Elusieve Decapede”

  1. Great, Wm. Thanks for spreading your sleep problems around. 😉

    Not being familiar with this — cyberpunk I guess it is? — I had to read the story four or five times to work it out. Somehow, for me, your prelude remarks become part of the story — church mag renewal envelope, renewing it online, being in transit in your own kind of information highway (the bus, where you appear to do a lot of — shall we call it “processing”) while you wrote it, etc. So I ended up with this cyber entity, which is largely how I interact with you, with a story about a cyber entity lighting up part of his brain. If Katherine hadn’t brought those pictures of you to the AML meeting I’d really be wondering.

    I read the story to my husband, who’s better versed in sci-fi and its subgenres. We ended up discussing William Gibson and his eventual discarding of cyberpunk for speculative fiction, his reason being that cyberpunk was somehow too limiting. Apparently, Gibson decided that the human experience as it is can be far more “out there” than his cyber punk works could ever be. But I’m reporting this secondhand without actual experience with his writing.

    One element of your story, which always snags my attention in literature, is the persona’s hollow (but true-to-culture) ring of nihilism. I guess that when it comes to nihilism, there’s really nowhere to go. No matter what the genre. Reading your story, being in that persona’s, um, nerve center or CPU or however it works for these nowhere cyber entities, makes me restless. That is, I want out of this guy’s consciousness in a big way. I screaming want out.

    Now I don’t know if that’s one of the effects you expected, but supposing it is, where, in your story, am I to go? To the familiar Sister Watson? Or should I just breathe a sigh of relief that when I finish reading the story, POP! I’m out? Or ought I to to nowhere in particular? This question probably arises from my inexperience with this genre, yet it arises.

    Reading this story is an interesting, if aggravating experience. Aggravating because, for me, having to work my way into the main persona’s head provokes a raging case of claustrophobia which in turn engages my wonder. Loved this (so cool) line: “even though she was so annoying that he wanted to flick her away streaming layers of avatar behind her …” It lights up my imagination.

    Soo … thanks — I think — for putting this up. It was an odd place to end up in — hadn’t anticipated taking such a turn when I started the day — but it did engage me. If it also annoyed me. And if it keeps me from going to sleep tonight you’ll hear about it.

  2. Patricia: how do you know those pictures were actually of me? /cue spooky music/

    But yes, much of the writing and thinking I do is in transit. Although writing this wasn’t quite as weird as translating Kafka on the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system.


    Thanks, Kent. I’m not sure I’m cut out for cyberpunk, though. For those readers who are looking for full-length, non-dashed-out Mormon cyberpunk, I recommend Hunting Gideon. It’s a bit tame for the genre — and indeed it’s one of the tamest Zarahemla Books titles and would not have been out of place at Covenant — but it’s still interesting from a Mormon perspective (although it doesn’t push the Mormonism too far, in fact, I kind of wished that it had done more with how Mormon culture and doctrine would develop in a world of avatars and virtual reality).

    The reasons why I don’t think I’m quite cut out for cyberpunk are pretty well covered in Patricia’s comment, actually. The short work above is completely derivative on the conceptual/technological level. All I added as a weak Mormon element. I’m not sure that I can do more than plug Mormonism in to pre-conceptualized notions of virtual reality and networked intelligence and AI, etc. And that’s not all that useful or interesting. This little piece was a sort of experiment to try that out.

    But even more than that I’m not sure I want to go chase ghosts in the machine when there’s so much about modern Mormon experience that deserves to be explored.

    So yeah, this is all rather self-indulgent of me. But I’m still very much trying to figure out who I am as a fiction writer and so I tend to try on these guises and nothing quite fits. Which come to think of it may relate back to my fear of and fascination with cyberpunk.

  3. Reading my comment above, I realize I left a word out of an important sentence. It’s supposed to be “discarding cyberpunk for speculative historical fiction.”

    To make myself clearer, I thought this piece quite an engaging nugget to come across today and enjoyed sharing it with the husband and I enjoyed the conversation it sparked between us. Also, this story being my introduction to cyberpunk, it offered me a puzzle that I appreciated — even got a kick out of — working out.

    I have another question, Wm, which you can answer or not: As a writer, what did you get out of writing this disembodied, bored, skeptical character? I imagine you got some creative payoff.

    You can wait till you get some sleep to answer.

  4. The payoff wasn’t in writing the disembodied, bored, skeptical character but in tainting such a character with Mormonism and conversely in imagining what form Mormonism might take in a cyberpunk world.

  5. Awesome! I love the contrast between your tainted envelope–an artifact (of sorts) of Mormon culture–and the creepiness of you story, the one being so tangible, the other so elusive. Though it didn’t quite get in my head as much as it did for Patricia, I enjoyed the tension you create in such a short space by placing fragments of the familiar in such an unfamiliar and relatively unstable digital context. The effect makes me think of Freud’s exploration of “The Uncanny.”

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