A Plea for High-Quality “Clickbait”

I have recently watched a TED talk concerning the phenomenon of “clickbait.” Clickbait, for those who have been hiding in a cave for the past few years, are links crafted to lure and often trick people into clicking on them, thus the name. They are notoriously sensational, often titillating, always intriguing, rarely honest titles to articles full of useless trivia or shameless shills. If the title contain the words like “The Shocking Truth About…”, “The Top [a number between 4 and 12] Most Extreme…” or a thumbnail of a woman in a provocative pose, it is most likely clickbait.

The speaker in the talk argues how we should avoid clickbait, because it propagates low-quality content on the Internet. In general I agree, because the quality of thought on the Internet is generally so poor that it does a disservice to society to use various tricks to draw people to poorly cobbled lists of random facts or salacious details of certain groups of people or celebrity. But I see problems in this approach.

The main problem is that it is very difficult to get people to stop an activity they find fun. To be honest, even I find myself being seduced by clickbait from time to time and find it difficult to stop chasing down article after article because I was intrigued by the clickbait-y titles. More than that, I often find myself trying to employ some of the techniques of clickbait while creating the title of my articles. Therefore even though I think it’s a problem, I am also hedging my bets by bargaining with the devil.

Even though it has often been presented as an Internet phenomenon, the techniques used to create clickbait has been around for as long as newspapers and magazines. Newspapers and magazines often created headlines that sensationalize and exaggerate their stories decades before the existence of the Internet. Yet many of these old-media practices are not criticized nowadays because they are old and therefore command more respect than the Internet which is still going through its childhood.

Perhaps the answer to clickbait is not to avoid it altogether, but to create high-quality clickbait. Does the Internet really need that many galleries of fat people at Walmart or things that look like Hitler? Instead of using our talent to construct alluring titles to articles that contain nothing but drivel, we should do it to attract attention to ideas and information that can expand people’s minds. If you can lure people into a higher consciousness by appealing to their lower nature, you can turn a vice into a virtue. After all, there are enough wondrous things in the world that would captivate people’s imaginations and improve them in a fundamental way.

Am I Wasting My Life?

When I’m not busy working I feel like I’m wasting my life away. I program for a living, it’s a relatively well-paying job but from time to time I lose enthusiasm for what I do and procrastinate on my projects. During those times when I should be working but wasn’t I become anxious, feeling like I’m wasting away my life doing nothing.

I enjoy writing fiction, but sometimes I would sit down in front of the computer and I could think of nothing to write. (More often I have great ideas, but I had a hard time putting them into words.) During those times I feel like I’m wasting my life on a hobby, that instead I should be busy with work than this dream of becoming a writer.

Perhaps it’s an attitude that had been inculcated into me by my parents who were happy with me only when I was studying. We all have been told throughout our youths by our elders to dedicate as much time towards achieving something, and usually it means building a career. But is it really true that we are wasting our lives when we’re not working? Isn’t it usually the case that our lives really happen when we take a break from work?

Building relationships with the ones we love, spending time relaxing with friends, enjoying a good meal, lounging around in the living room, or simply enjoying the warmth of a bed on a cold night, those are not only moments that make life worth living, but those are the moments we consider our real life. Unless you have an awesome job or a very generous boss, you are unlikely to live just for the sake of having a job.

Perhaps I shouldn’t feel so terrible when I goof off at work, or couldn’t think of anything to write for the next chapter of my novel. Maybe it is time to get rid of the feelings of guilt when I do not achieve the goals I set for myself. Throughout my life my mentors have always told me that it’s important to set goals for my life. Why? Life is not a game where you play to earn the most number of points; life is a game where you can literally choose to do whatever you want.

What Happens When an Author You Like Turns out to be a Jerk

Recently I have been thinking about writing my political opinions on the Internet. The reason mainly is that I have been on Twitter and it seemed my political posts were getting a lot more attention than my other posts. Unfortunately I am leery about commenting on politics on the Internet for two reasons. The first is that I am not a political wonk, I can probably easily be out-argued by someone who knows much more on the subject than I do. The second is that since not everyone will agree with my politics, I will inevitably alienate a portion of my readers. I have personal experience on this since I became extraordinarily disillusioned when I started reading Scott Adams’ blog.

Scott Adams is the creator of the “Dilbert” comic strip, which I enjoyed and found hilarious. I knew he had a reputation of being a conservative, but I just didn’t know how much conservative Kool-Aid he drank until I started reading his blog. He conveniently linked his blog with the site that hosts his comic strip, so when I started reading his comic strip on line I had the misfortune of reading his blog as well. I couldn’t remember the exact content of the first post I read, but it was a vaguely sexist portrayal of women, complaining about how he was forced to obey them throughout his life. I thought his complaints were ridiculous because none of the women I knew behave the way he described in his post.

But then came his “Trump Persuasion Series.” To be honest I never read through an entire post of his series, but I skimmed it. Basically he believed Trump uses “linguistic kill shots” to take down the opponent, and how ingeniously he plans his statements on Twitter to mastermind his political rise. I couldn’t believe what I was reading because Scott Adams was praising a bombastic blowhard who uses the crassest rhetorical strategies to appeal to the worst instincts of human nature.

I was as much shocked by Trump’s political positions as much as his public persona. Even if Trump were a liberal I would not vote for him because he has such a vile personality. He is a loose cannon firing his mouth wily-nilly without regard to who he harms, even members of his own party. He insulted John McCain for having been captured in Vietnam, got involved in a senseless fight with Megyn Kelly, acted like a bully to the other Republican candidates, threw a hissy-fit on Twitter when he didn’t win the Iowa Caucuses, and performed other public antics that showed how much of a man-child he is.

After skimming through some of Scott Adams’ “Trump Persuasion Series” I was no longer able to view “Dilbert” the same way. At first I enjoyed the humor of the comic strip, but it lost its innocence after a while. My mind became bifurcated between the part of me that loves “Dilbert” and the part of me that hates Scott Adams.

Then I did some further research and discovered that Scott Adams is a much more disgusting person than I originally thought. I decided to look up on the Internet to see if Scott Adams is truly sexist or whether it’s all an act. I found he once wrote a blog post sexist beyond what I thought could exist in the civilized Western world.

The reality is that women are treated differently by society for exactly the same reason that children and the mentally handicapped are treated differently. It’s just easier this way for everyone. You don’t argue with a four-year old about why he shouldn’t eat candy for dinner. You don’t punch a mentally handicapped guy even if he punches you first. And you don’t argue when a women tells you she’s only making 80 cents to your dollar. It’s the path of least resistance. You save your energy for more important battles.Scott Adams

Wow. If believing that women should be treated like children isn’t the definition of sexism, I don’t know what is. Learning this makes the experience of reading “Dilbert” not as enjoyable as it used to be, it made me want to stop reading it altogether. (The above statement attributed to Scott Adams seems so extreme that it might not be genuine. Supposedly Scott Adams’ original blog post was so incendiary he had to take it down, so I can’t check his site to make sure the quote is authentic. If anyone can find evidence the quote is not genuine, please leave a comment and I’ll remove it.) The thing that bothers me most is that Scott Adams is so intelligent on so many other issues, but he has such a capacity to buy into such bullshit. The best parallel I can think of is Martin Heidegger, who was remembered as the man who changed 20th century philosophy and an enthusiastic Nazi. I’m not saying that Scott Adams is a Nazi, to do that would soil the good name of Nazis.

I would like to straighten out Scott Adams on his views of women, but the reality is that you should treat Scott Adams the same way you treat children and the mentally handicapped. It’s just easier this way for everyone. You don’t argue with a four-year old about why he shouldn’t eat candy for dinner. You don’t punch a mentally handicapped guy even if he punches you first. And you don’t argue when Scott Adams makes asinine comparisons of women with children and the mentally handicapped. It’s the path of least resistance. You save your energy for more important battles.

Part 4: First Conversation with Caroline

Continued from: Part 3: Meeting Caroline

Later that day at dinner none of us, except for mom, ate much. I found it was hard to put food in my stomach when such a tragedy had befallen on our family. Also, my mother made artichokes for dinner, which not only had those annoying spines, but they also resembled human heads too much and after that comment about my uncle’s brains being tenderly delicious neither Emily and I were willing to touch our artichokes. All my sister had was a soda; I ate even less, but my mother was eating everything in sight especially the baked potatoes with rosemary, which were so aromatic that I couldn’t resist having a bite myself, but my mother ate five and still her appetite was not satiated. I noticed that she often went for the starchy foods; by the end of the meal there were no garlic bread and couscous left. She ate twice as much and after she had finished she had to let out a groan before she was able to stand up. Then, lugging herself to the living room, she sat on the sofa and unbuckled her pants. It was only through experiences like these that I learned what proper behavior for men should be.

After dinner, still with a mostly empty stomach, I tried returning to my room only to find it still locked. This time I pounded my door, so much that it rattled the house. Mom should have been yelling at me and telling me that they could hear my pounding on Rigel 7, but because all those baked potatoes and starchy foods was sitting in her stomach and pinning her to the couch like a stone she couldn’t do anything except to turn on the television with the remote and drown out the sound of my pounding with the sound of The Price is Right.

Using all my strength I pounded at the door and yelled, “Come on, this is my room too, I’m sorry that I touched you earlier, I promise that I will behave more like a gentleman next time. Why won’t you open the door? Are you mad at me? Have you suddenly gone deaf? Did a burglar come in, bound you up with duct tape and gagged you and after clearing my foreign coin collection, which is only worth $1.29, realized that I don’t have much crap which is expensive enough to be worth swiping and left? Come on! Don’t be mean, open the door!”

I pounded the door with so much strength that I bruised a knuckle, at which point my hand became so raw that I couldn’t continue anymore and had to head towards the kitchen to get some ice to nurse my hand. Emily was in the kitchen, oddly enough she was reading a book, something I don’t see her doing often, and I asked her as I was wrapping a dozen ice cubes inside a towel, “What is it that you’re reading, Emily?”

She looked up, the light was at her back and illuminating her face in a strange and eerie fashion, “It’s a book called Invisible Man, I thought it’s a science fiction novel about a man who has discovered a potion that makes him invisible, but instead it turns out to be a novel about a black man who keeps getting screwed over, and not in the good way.”

“Let me take a look at it,” I said, so Emily gave me the book.

I turned over to the first page and discovered words that I didn’t know existed outside of dictionaries, in addition to that the book was impossibly dense; you could shoot a copy of Invisible Man at a tank and by its density and kinetic energy alone could pierce and destroy its sophisticated armor. After three minutes of trying to penetrate the impenetrable verbal armor of the book I gave up, and returned the book to Emily.

“This is stuff that I have to read for summer school, I should have done better in my English class last year so I don’t have to deal with this crap in the summer.”

“Hey, we all have crap to deal with.”

Emily snickered and said, “Like an annoying little brother who bangs the door so loudly that even NASA is getting radio signals from Mars telling Earth to stop that god-dang racket?”

“I had a reason to keep banging on that door; I was locked out of the room by Caroline, that piece of shit, doesn’t she have the manners to open up the door when someone asks her to do so or has she lost so many brain cells during chemotherapy that she’s too retarded to follow simple commands?”

“Did you know that that piece of shit is standing behind you?” Emily asked rhetorically.

I turned around and saw cold piercing eyes staring at me, and attached to those eyeballs was a head, then a slim and short body which I immediately recognized as Caroline. “Don’t worry ’bout me, I’m that piece of shit with so few brain cells that I can’t follow simple commands,” she immediately quipped.

(“Oh my god,” I thought to myself, “she actually can speak and have a sense of humor, so much for my theory that she’s actually a mute robot.”) The kitchen fell silent as Caroline entered, as Emily returned to reading her book and I continued nursing my hand on ice, she walked slowly to the refrigerator and took out a Coca Cola. After closing the refrigerator door she paused, as if reading something attached on the fridge door. But because we only moved in today nothing was attached to the fridge door; she was reading a white, blank door. Either she is a Zen Buddhist or she is insane. Slowly she lifted her right hand in a mechanical fashion, lowered it on top of the coke can she was holding in her right hand, then pulled the tab.

I noticed that all her motions were very synthetic, it seemed that such routine task as getting a soda out of a refrigerator was unnatural to her, and that she had problems sensing where particular parts of her body were. Having opened the can of soda she started opening the drawers, presumably trying to find a glass. “Mom keeps the glasses in the overhead cabinets,” I said, “Emily will get them for you.” Neither Caroline nor I were at that time tall enough to reach the overhead cabinets; having gone through a few growth spurts and puberty Emily was tall enough to play one-on-one with Shaquille O’Neal, (when she’s wearing high heels anyway). Emily has a very tall, slender and graceful figure; she didn’t even have to raise her arms above her head in order to reach the highest sections of the overhead cabinets.

As she handed the glass over to Caroline, Caroline did something unexpected, she turned her head to look at me with a neutral look and said an uninflected voice, “Thank you.” Even though it was Emily who helped her get the glass she recognized me as the person to show gratitude, and her “thank you” was unexpected also considering that I just insulted her thirty-seconds ago. “You’re welcome,” I responded instinctively in a somewhat lackluster tone. That was the first conversation between Caroline and I. It was a modest beginning but so was Microsoft and look where it got them, a heap of trouble, which was eventually how the relationship between Caroline and I ended. But that part of our relationship I’ll reveal in greater detail later.

Caroline was a strange girl but then again she had a strange upbringing. Mostly raised in a hospital and by doctors and nurses instead of her parents, spent her childhood in constant pain and suffering, then all of a sudden had her parents killed in a tragic accident in which she witnessed and survived. Perhaps I should have been more understanding of her condition, perhaps I should have left her alone to mourn for her loss instead of pounding on the door like a maniac, perhaps I should have been more sensitive to her feelings by not referring to her as a “piece of shit.”

But bygones are bygones, I can’t hop into a time machine to change what I have done in the past, all I can do is to take responsibility for what I have done, unlike our president. I admit that our relationship did not start off on the right note, indeed I don’t believe I made a good impression when I planted my drenching wet body beside hers at the back seat of a car. Even though it wasn’t my fault, I didn’t know that later that day I would be riding in the backseat of the car with Caroline or that she has recently lost both her parents, but my failure to make a good first impression on her left an indelible stain that would affect our relationship for years to come.

Continue to next chapter.

Critiquing Critique: My Postmodern Foray into Metaliterature

I often go to groups of writers to ask for feedback on my work, and while I am grateful for their comments sometimes I am also frustrated by the way they approach critiquing. I decided that perhaps having gone through so many critique meetings I may have enough material to write a novel about it. I finished the first chapter and even submitted it to other writers for critique so  they can critique my critique of their critique of my writings. (It’s probably the most postmodern thing I have ever done, although I’ve realized this only in retrospect.) So far I haven’t continued writing this novel, but eventually I may if I find enough time in my schedule.

Note: I should really write an introductory chapter explaining the setting of the novel, unfortunately I’m not sure how to do it without making it boring. Just so you know, the entire novel takes place in a café where half a dozen or so writers are gathering to critique each other’s writings.

Robot-Lincoln’s eyes glowered with a demonic red light when he saw an approaching army of space-zombies against the background of the Milky Way as he perched on the rings of Saturn.1 The Pandamonium amalgam in his robot veins boiled with rage as he sensed the telepathic messages commanding the space-zombie army from the Zombie John Wilkes Booth who is trapped inside the core of the planet XMF694.B by the curse of a cabal of Voodoo priests.2 Forever banished from the face of the blue planet by this curse, Zombie-Booth summon swarm after swarm of space-zombies to destroy earth. Only Robot-Lincoln, constructed by the best scientists of Northrop-Grumman from indestructible Pandamonium, is capable of saving earth.3

Robot-Lincoln leapt off the rings of Saturn at superluminal speed towards the advancing space-zombie army, tightly gripping his axe Hroðgar in his right hand. He smiled maniacally as he stared into the demonic eye of one space-zombie with a glance so powerful as to cause instant insanity to any living or undead being, then swung Hroðgar into the abdomen of the wretched zombie causing it to instantly explode with the force of a million supernovae, an explosion that continues to echo through the universe today in the phenomenon of gamma ray bursts. As each zombie leapt towards Robot-Lincoln it was annihilated by the blessed Hroðgar, a steely wonder forged from the stolen hammer of Thor, reinforced with the degenerate hearts of a hundred neutron stars, honed by Hephaestus to cleave hadrons into quarks.4

As the surviving zombies were retreating from the carnage, Robot-Lincoln grabbed a super-duper-nova and tossed it at the defeated zombie army, then flew into intergalactic space to escape the explosion, which was of such intensity that it wiped the zombie army from history so it never existed in the first place.5

Robot-Lincoln then scanned the galaxy for other space-zombie forces commanded by Zombie-Booth when he spotted a turban poking through the Eagle Nebula. Switching his vision to infrared he saw Robot-bin Laden hiding inside the dust clouds, and swooped down to karate-kick him back into the oblivion from whence he came. But Robot-bin Laden quickly spotted Robot Lincoln, then pointed his arms which were made of flamethrowers and directed the demonic blue flame of a quintillion jinns at Robot-Lincoln.6 The flames easily deflected off of Robot-Lincoln’s Pandamonium armor, but in rage Robot-Lincoln threw Hroðgar at Robot-bin Laden.

Quickly Robot-bin Laden pulled out his hellsword, a weapon still burning of the hellfire from when it was forged in the bowels of Satan’s lair, and knocked Hroðgar back towards Robot-Lincoln. Robot-Lincoln quickly donned on shades to protect himself from the evil light emanating from the hellsword, a light that causes mass extinctions.7 Catching Hroðgar in his right hand he raised his left arm which is not an arm but a pistol that shoots planets, and fired six planets traveling at a million times the speed of light at Robot-bin Laden.8 Robot-bin Laden dodged the planets Matrix-style, leaving them to fly to the edge of the universe where they tore six wormholes in the fabric of spacetime.

Robot-Lincoln advanced towards Robot-bin Laden to tear through his armor made of an inferior grade of Pandamonium with Hroðgar, but as Robot-Lincoln swung his sacred axe at the evil robot it was blocked by Robot-bin Laden’s hellsword. The force of the clashing blades caused gravitational waves so intense that they rippled backwards in time and changed history so now Robot-Lincoln’s legs have turned into alligators and Robot-bin Laden’s flamethrower arms turned into octopus tentacles.9 Robot-Lincoln swung his alligator legs at Robot-bin Laden, gnashing through and severing the tentacles gripping onto the hellsword. Robot-Lincoln took the hellsword and cut a gash into the fabric of spacetime, and kicked Robot-bin Laden as he yelled “THIS IS SPARTA!!!”10 Robot-bin Laden fell backwards into the gash, after which Robot-Lincoln sealed the rip in spacetime with his bare hand so that Robot-bin Laden fell into hyperspace where he was tortured for all eternity.
Karl Williamson

What the hell did I just read? What the fucking hell? On a scale of 1 to 10 I rate this story as a -19, but in truth mathematicians haven’t invented a number to appropriately rate this story. The overly florid prose, the bizarre “plot” if I may call it that, and the overall ridiculousness of the premise of the story result in a clusterfuck of demonic swords from hell that emanate light that cause mass extinctions clashing with axes forged from the stolen hammer of Thor. At the same time I applaud anyone who has the creativity and imagination to come up with this bullshit. Anyone can write a mediocre story, but only a true genius can write something this awful.

I looked around the table, awed not by the ridiculousness of what I just read, but by the seriousness of the people reading this story. My eyes grew large as I saw Abbie, Taylor, Rachael and Miles studying the manuscript as though it were a technical document, without any emotions. Once in a while a person nodded and made a note on the paper, then took a sip of coffee, but that’s all the reaction there was from this group. How can anyone read this with a straight face?

When Miles saw everyone had finished reading he smiled and said, “Does anyone want to go first?” Rachael glanced at me with a nervous look as though she wanted to speak, but Taylor said, “I’ll go first.”

With a completely indifferent look on her face, she said without looking directly at Karl, “I’ve detected some confusing tense changes as well as a few run-on sentences. In fact the entire story seems to be made of run-on sentences, you must watch out for that. There are some grammatical errors I have fixed for you. That’s all I have to say. You have good…diction, I guess.” Taylor handed her notes to Karl, looking down at the desk the whole time.

What?! You just read a story about ROBOT-LINCOLN FIGHTING ROBOT-BIN LADEN IN OUTER SPACE and the only things that bothered you were the run-on sentences?! Jesus Christ.

Rachael turned towards Karl, stared into his face and said, “You described Robot-Lincoln’s eyes as ‘demonic’, but he’s the hero of the story, isn’t he?”

“Of course,” Karl responded.

“So use a word that’s less demonic to describe him.”

Karl thought for a moment, then said, “I’ll change it to ‘infernal’, because the word ‘infernal’ is less demonic than the word ‘demonic’.”

This has got to be the least insightful comment made about the story so far. Nobody cares whether or not Robot-Lincoln is a hero or villain. What matters most is that Robot-Lincoln is the most badass motherfucker in the entire galaxy, if not the universe. He radiates awesomeness from every square inch of his Pandamonium armor, and you are made more awesome by being in the same galaxy as him. Literature is full of outlaws who are ‘heroes’, some even do evil deeds. Audiences still cheer for them because they exude awesomeness from every pore of their skin. There are more important questions to ask about the story such as what the fuck is Pandamonium and where can I get it so I can inject it into my veins and fly off the rings of Saturn at superluminal speed to FIGHT ROBOT-BIN LADEN IN OUTER SPACE?

“I also noticed that you used the word ‘demonic’ quite a lot, I think it’s too repetitive.”

Karl listened intently to Rachael’s comment, writing notes on his paper and saying, “Used too much ‘demonic’, got it.”

“And also, you spelled ‘ax’ with an ‘e’, which is…”

“The non-American spelling, I know,” Karl smiled, “I used it because I thought it looked cool, the same reason I used ‘supernovae’ instead of ‘supernovas’ and spelled ‘Hroðgar’ with an ‘ð’.”

Rachael looked surprised, as though Karl was more intelligent than she thought. She continued, “There’s one more thing that bothered me, you wrote about ‘a pistol that shoots planets,’ at first I thought it was a pistol that shoots bullets at planets, but then I read more and realized it was a pistol that shoots planets as bullets. That was confusing, that’s all.”

Karl nodded, then said graciously, “Thanks for catching that, I appreciate it.”

This is amazing, based on the feedback so far you couldn’t tell that the story is about ROBOT-FUCKIN’-LINCOLN FIGHTING ROBOT-FUCKIN’-BIN LADEN IN OUTER SPACE. (Sigh.) Let’s see if we can do better than this.

It was Abbie’s turn to give feedback. She glanced over at Karl, then looked back at her notes and said, “I agree with everything Rachael said…” She paused for a moment to gather her thoughts, then continued, “…I think there were too many descriptions in the story. They are all well-written, but providing so much detail is very confusing, especially for an action scene like this. I would say that less is more in your case.” She then handed her notes to Karl.

Finally, someone who gives reasonable comments, instead of obsessing over details of grammar, orthography and semantics. In a sense, yes, lines like “a steely wonder forged from the stolen hammer of Thor, reinforced with the degenerate hearts of a hundred neutron stars, honed by Hephaestus to cleave hadrons into quarks” are unnecessarily overwrought and distract from the action of the story. But they are so cool! It’s a kind of poetry that transcend the quotidian and leap into infinity. It’s like how the ancient Homeric poets use stock-phrases like “gray-eyed Athena” over and over. Nobody fucking cares about what the color of Athena’s eyes are, but I bet it sounds really cool in ancient Greek. Take away elements like these and the story would be more readable, but would be 99% less awesome. I would say it’s a tough call. For me, I would leave in them in because it’s hard to improve on a literary mess like this.

I realized my turn had come. I was suddenly stricken with nervousness as I stuttered to provide feedback. Looking into Karl’s attentive eyes I said, “Your story is…good. You have a very good…imagination. I hope you keep trying to…improve your writing skills.” A chilling silence fell over the room as I nervously looked at the eyes of the others staring at me.

Miles looked at me and said, “Are you finished?”

I paused for a second, then said, “Yes.”

I handed the manuscript back to Karl as I realized I didn’t write any notes on it. “Did you really write this or did Michael Bay have a yard sale and you found a box of his rejected manuscripts?” I asked.

The tension in the room was broken and the entire table burst into laughter, Karl smiled and said, “No comments.”

It was Mile’s turn to critique Karl. With the usual wry smile on his face he said in a charming Southern accent, “You have quite an imagination, and the ability to write well. But sometimes an active imagination can go too far, and leave the audience feeling alienated. Just for my knowledge, which audience are you writing this for? And excuse me for my slip-up as I usually don’t end sentences with a preposition.”

Karl shrugged and said, “I don’t write for any audience, I write for myself.”

“Now who gave you that advice?”

“In your book ‘A Guide for Aspiring Novelists’ you said, ‘writing should be the expression of the soul of an individual.’”

Miles chuckled, then said, “Of course, of course, but these are not the only concerns. What I’m trying to say is do write for yourself, but you should always keep in mind your audience. Thank you for sharing your short story with us, it was immensely entertaining for all involved.”

“Oh, this isn’t a short story,” Karl said, “This is Chapter 1 from a book I wrote called ‘Battle Royale Apocalypse’, a novel in which Robot-Lincoln battles a succession of galactic overlords until he fights the Dictator Maaxwwkddd in an apocalyptic battle in 11th dimension hyperspace for the fate of the multiverse.”

Holy crap! He wrote more of this bullshit?! I already feel my sanity slipping away after reading Chapter 1, I would probably end up in an asylum in a straitjacket if I read the rest of his…I would like to say book, but no book can contain the insanity of his mind. Either the book instantaneously self-destructs after it is printed since no known material in the universe can contain the awesomeness of his words, or the universe will collapse on itself from the existence of such an insane object.

When Miles wrote in his book ‘writing should be the expression of the soul of an individual’ his imagination was not fertile enough to consider people like Karl. Despite being a published author, he is much less creative than a kid who played too many video games and listened to too much heavy metal music.

As we were about to leave I asked Karl, “I have a question, if Robot-bin Laden has flamethrowers for arms, how can he hold onto a hellsword?”

Karl’s eyes lighted up and said, “You’re right, I should say that he has flamethrowers mounted on top of his arms.”

Suddenly I realized how stupid the question was. If Robot-Lincoln can chop a space-zombie and make it explode with the force of a million supernovae, surely I can accept the fact that Robot-bin Laden can grip a sword with arms made of flamethrowers. What the hell am I even saying? I’m turning into a science fiction geek! (Sigh.)

1. Wha…how…I mean…there are so many things wrong with this sentence that I have no idea where to even start. Why is there a Robot-Lincoln? What the hell are space-zombies doing in this story? Why is Robot-Lincoln in outer space in the first place? Oh dear god, I have to read through the entire story and this is just the first sentence.

2. Okay, by the second sentence all story-telling logic has been tossed out the window. I’m not even going to try to comment on how none of this makes sense. Instead I’m going to make sarcastic comments as I read this.

3. Yes, because if you want to build Robot-Lincoln you would contract the task to Northrop-Grumman. If this were a movie I’d bet the Northrop-Grumman logo would be emblazoned on his chest.

4. Yeah, forget the Large Hadron Collider, let’s build a giant axe.

5. Remember, when wiping out an army of space-zombies, use a super-duper-nova. Accept no substitutes.

6. Just in case you don’t know, jinns are the same things as genies. So spraying a quintillion Robbin Williams clones set on fire at Robot-Lincoln is not enough to even slow him down.

7. “Donned on shades.” Because the phrase “put on sunglasses” does not sound cool enough.

8. Yeah, fuck you, Einstein!

9. Believe it or not, this is one of the least ludicrous sentences in this work.

10. Apparently cutting a gash in the fabric of spacetime is child’s play, if you’re Robot-Lincoln. You can also send the fabric of spacetime to the dry cleaner’s nowadays. You will get a heart attack when you see the bill, though. Also, using catch phrases from population action movies is really original.

Am I a Tough Critic?

Before I answer the question, let me confess something surprising. I don’t like to read novels or works of fiction in general. It might be surprising that I, a writer who has written a few novels already, do not like to read them myself. What kind of strange being am I to have two contradictory natures within the same mind, like a monstrous creature made by sewing together two different animals that are enemies by nature? (Oddly enough, this is very similar to the plot of the novel I am working on.)

Despite not being a fan of fiction I nonetheless enjoy writing it, it gives me a thrill of having achieved something grand. At first when I started writing I did it purely to get the recognition from other people, but I came to love the craft itself. Nonetheless I remain lukewarm to most works of fiction, picking up a novel only rarely, and when I do I usually feel it is more of a chore than a natural pleasure. Continue reading

Part 3: Meeting Caroline

Continued from: Part 2: The Phone Call

Still dripping with chlorine-saturated pool water, I followed my mother and sister out to the parking lot to the beat-up clunker that we call a car. When I saw my mother sticking keys into a car I thought she had mistaken a stranger’s car for ours because a small brunette girl I did not recognize was sitting at the backseat. Suddenly I realized that it has to be our car, since no other car used a metal coat-hanger as an FM antenna. Because my mother and Emily both chose to sit in the front I was forced to sit in the backseat with an apparent stranger. I wanted to make a good first impression, hard to do while drenching wet and reeking of the smell of chlorine and kiddie pee. I tried wringing out as much water from my hair and clothes as the limits of human strength permits. Nonetheless I was still dripping, and repulsed by my appearance and smell the strange little girl scooted away from me as I entered the car and sat next to her. Continue reading

Football and Taxes

I am not a football fan. In fact I am not a fan of any sports, a result of having come from a country that does not value athleticism very much. (That’s why China is only proficient in gymnastics and ping-pong.) In fact after spending so many years in the United States I still find the worship of athletes in America odd and incomprehensible. What is even more incomprehensible is that the most popular sport in our country is “football”.

The reason is that American football is a Byzantine maze of rules that make little sense. While I seldom watched football, I picked up from television here and there the basic mechanics of the game, such as the ideas of “downs”, “touchdown”, and “field goal”. But it wasn’t until high school when my P.E. teacher explained to me the intricate details of the game that my head began to spin. Continue reading

Verizon’s Mandatory NFL App

I have an android phone I had a good experience with it for the past year. Personally I didn’t see the point of smartphones, but neither did I want to be left behind the times so I got one. It allows me to check email without a computer, which has been its most useful function.

Unfortunately Verizon (and the manufacturer as well) has a habit of loading its phones with apps few people ever need. Most of these apps are relatively benign, other than taking up space on the phone, and others such as email and PDF reader I have found quite useful. But there’s one preloaded app that I found totally infuriating, and if you have read the title of this article you can guess what it is. Continue reading

Part 2: The Phone Call

Continued from Part 1: BC, or Before Caroline

Not too late after that particularly embarrassing incident came perhaps the most important event in my life. As a former computer scientist I dubbed it “Event 0,” also occasionally calling it “the Hegira.” Perhaps I’m being overly emphatic about the importance of this event, but then again, if it hadn’t occurred I wouldn’t be here today. One of our great uncles died and left my mother a small fortune (he belonged to a branch of our family who are rich East Coast bankers). It was enough to buy a new car or for a down payment for a new house, and in all her wisdom she spent it buying a new house. In retrospect it was a great decision, not only because it got us out of the violent, gangster-ridden Oakland neighborhood in which we lived, but the equity of the house helped finance the college education of my sister, me, and later on my cousin.

Continue reading