Looking Ahead to “Hindsight”

IT’S TRADITION here at Below the Fold to share an early excerpt from the next book project. Okay not tradition in like the traditional sense, more in the “well I’ve done it before and I haven’t died from embarrassment yet so what the hell why not” sense.

Plus there’s the added benefit of looking back years later and realizing how awful it was. Good masochism takes time, people. Take it from me, a triple black belt in poor decision making.

“Mercy” is still in the editing phase; it’s been pored over more times by more people than an election ballot in Arizona. So while that especially excruciating exercise takes the few remaining years off of my life, I’m exploring the world of “Hindsight,” where a perfect virtual experience becomes a real nightmare. It’s a story for the whole family — if an entire family disappearing is your idea of wholesome entertainment. If so shame on you (but also buy this book.)

I’m also working on a Below the Fold anthology, complete with some new essays and updates/commentary on the classics. But that’s for another post. In the meantime, and while we wait for “Mercy” to see the light of day, Here’s a brief peek at “Hindsight”:

The technician gives me a thumbs up as she removes the haptic harness, carefully unfastening the magnetic straps while I regain my balance and natural senses. The world – the real one – slowly comes back into focus, as if adjusting a camera lens. And once again, reality is just another disappointment.

I wonder what would happen if I didn’t regain full consciousness, whether they would give me more time to recover or if they would just cart me off to long-term rehab – affectionately known around Hindsight as the Omelet House, because, you know, that’s where they send all the broken eggs. But not me, I’m too hard-boiled for that (see what I did there? Dad jokes, I’ve got a million of ‘em.)

Still, I understand why some people become omelets, why it can be almost impossible to separate fact from fiction. Because Hindsight isn’t virtual reality.

Virtual reality is a toy.

This is a time machine.

And more than anything, I want to go back.

I Can’t Fight This Feeling Anymore

I’m surrounded by driverless cars and mindless people.

This is the future my past never predicted – where thinking for yourself has become, if not obsolete, then essentially unnecessary. And why not? Computers are fast, precise, and obedient. The most advanced A.I. and quantum technology can even anticipate our needs and sense our emotions. We don’t need to ask Alexa or say “hey” to Siri, because they already know what we want and by the way the drone just dropped your package on the porch.

In many ways this is the world we always wanted, the one romanticized by futurists and promised by tech heads and Comic-Con attendees alike. And there are lots of benefits too, don’t get me wrong.

Want to hear a song from 30 years ago? Ask and ye shall receive “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” thank you very much. Can’t remember how Battlestar Galactica ended (not the original one-and-done version from the ‘70s but the 21st century reboot where you couldn’t tell a Cylon from a Caprican)? Just pick from one of any number of streaming services sending instant geekification to the screen of your choice. Life today isn’t a restricted menu, it’s a 24-hour buffet and vomitorium so there’s always room for the next meal.

Yes, we advanced. Not because we needed to, but because we could.

Early humans invented the wheel out of necessity (it being the mother of invention and all.) We created tools to survive, and medicines to cure disease and extend lifespans. But once our needs were covered, once our comfort exceeded our expectations, we advanced for mere challenge and thrill. We did more because we could do more, and more was the preferred state over less. “Anything worth doing is overdoing” the old saying went, and boy did we ever.

Before I go on, I should make one thing clear: I’m not a Luddite. I have the latest iPhone and couldn’t live without the Internet (can anyone?) Autonomous vehicles made our streets safer. And oh, by the way, did I mention that I just returned from a trip into a virtual world and am counting the days until I can do it again? I’m not looking for a cure to our modern complacency, I’m a proud and willing symptom. I’m a damaged blood cell grateful for the disease.

But some things are worth preserving – a sticky movie theater floor, the sound a needle makes when it drops onto a vinyl record. The future shouldn’t cancel the past, no matter how painful it might be. And it can be excruciatingly painful.

You see, the past for me isn’t nostalgia. It’s not history.

It’s regret.

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