Book Review: The Martian

Martianby Michael D. Pederson

 

The Martian
by Andy Weir
Crown, 369 pp.

I don’t think the words “labor of love” have ever been a more apt description of a book than with Andy Weir’s The Martian. The author’s belief in the story and fondness for the main character are absolutely vibrant.

The Martian was originally self-published by Weir in 2012. Since then, Crown has bought up the rights to the book and re-issued it. Ridley Scott currently has plans to film the book with Matt Damon in the lead.

The basic plot is simple: Astronaut Mark Watney is part of an expedition to Mars that has to abort their mission when a massive dust storm threatens to disable their ascent vehicle. As the crew beats a hasty retreat, Watney is struck down by a piece of debris and blown off into the storm, apparently dead. When he regains consciousness he finds himself completely alone on the red planet with no way of communicating with Earth and no hope of a timely rescue.

So, how does one survive on Mars? It’s a great story that draws easy comparison to Robinson Crusoe and Apollo 13 but, to my mind, bears an even stronger resemblance to the classic pre-New Wave science fiction stories of engineers doing what they do best. How do you make water out of rocket fuel? How do you make Martian soil fertile enough to sustain crops? How do you communicate with Earth? Watney overcomes problem after problem and maintains a smartass sense of humor throughout.

It’s impossible to read this without appreciating just how much research went into writing it. This is one of those books that puts the “science” back into science fiction.

If you take my advice and read The Martian, be sure to set aside a weekend for it because you will not be able to put it down once you start.

 

Comic Review: Shadoboxxer #2

Shadoboxxer2by KT Pinto

 

Shadoboxxer: The One Man Riot #2
Victor James Toro
Toro Comics

 

Everyone’s favorite damn sexy ninja is back in the latest installment of The One Man Riot. This is not only a continuation of the vampire story from Issue #1, but also gives the backstory of Shado and his best friend Kim, a techie-genius.

The artwork was once again incredible, with images that jump off of the page. The storyline is simple, but engaging, and I was sorry when I came to the end so quickly.

Two things I liked about this issue: first, the fan art in the back. I think it’s great that Toro shows support for his fellow artists. Second, the image of Kim and Shado, showing how much taller she is than he. It’s a startling contrast, but relays how well her femininity is portrayed throughout the rest of the story.

Great issue!

 

Movie Review: Edge of Tomorrow

EdgeOfTomorrowby Michael D. Pederson

 

Edge of Tomorrow
Director: Doug Liman
Warner Bros. Pictures

There were a lot of reasons for me not to enjoy Edge of Tomorrow. I find Tom Cruise to be overrated, the movie underwent several script changes and didn’t have a finished script when they started shooting, and the director required several reshoots. Any one of these things could ruin a movie and all of them together sounded like a recipe for disaster. And yet…

Sometimes high concept pays off big.

If you haven’t seen the movie already, you’ve at least heard the pitch description: Groundhog Day meets Starship Troopers. An intriguing concept with an untold number of ways to go wrong.

However, EoT proved to be the action movie of the summer (well, pre-summer; release dates have gotten weird). Turns out, the final script revision was done by Christopher McQuarrie who contributed his usual trademark blend of suspense, action, and humor that made The Usual Suspects an instant classic.

In a nutshell… Cruise plays William Cage, a military PR expert; he’s a former ad executive that volunteered his services to avoid fighting in a war against invading aliens, known as Mimics—a coward. When he refuses to cover an invasion from the front lines he’s branded a deserter and sent into combat against aliens that have proven nearly unstoppable where he dies on his first day and (through some complicated plot trickery) gains the ability to restart the day every time he dies. On one of his early loops, he saves the life of Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), a celebrated soldier who also had the looping ability until she lost it after receiving a blood transfusion. She tells Cage to find her when he wakes up. He does and they begin training, turning him into the ultimate weapon.

After the screenplay, the second thing the studio did right was casting. Cruise gives a self-aware performance that comes close to parodying his image but works brilliantly; Cruise is always at his best when he’s playing against type (see: Tropic Thunder). Blunt is hard-edged, smart, and fierce and turns an under-developed character into a memorable heroine. Bill Paxton plays the Master Sergeant for the platoon that Cage is assigned to and gives a performance that is somehow emotionally believable and over-the-top scene stealing at the same time. And Brendan Gleeson gives a very grounded performance as the General in charge of the war effort, the man who sends Cage to certain death.

The Mimic’s relentless spread across Europe, the line being held at England, and a science fiction invasion of Normandy draw clear but not invasive parallels to the Second World War, a move that further helps to ground a fairly crazy concept in an added layer of believability.

That’s not to say that the movie isn’t without it’s flaws and most of those flaws come right at the end. The movie desperately rewrites the rules on time travel that they had so carefully established early on in the film for no other reason than to give us a happy ending. That’s weak and, frankly, it compromised the sacrifices that several of the characters had made. There’s also an uncomfortable attempt at adding a romance angle at the end as well. Since Cage is the only character that has been reliving the same day, he may know Rita inside and out, but she’s only known him for a day. It’s just uncomfortable.

Edge of Tomorrow is definitely worth buying when it becomes available. More importantly, it’s a movie that makes me want to go out and read the book it was based on—All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka.

 

Television Review: The Flash

Flashby Michael D. Pederson

 

The Flash
The CW

Yes, be jealous. We did indeed get a very early preview of The Flash, (we saw it in May, almost five months before the debut) and it looks extremely good. But, to be honest, between scenes on Arrow and the extended trailer that was released in May, we had already seen a pretty good chunk of what’s to come.

In the first episode we get full-on backstory: Young Barry Allen witnesses his mother’s murder but in a red and gold flash, suddenly finds himself miles from the scene. His father is blamed for the murder and Barry spends his life trying to prove his father’s innocence and discover what really happened that night. This leads him to a career as a forensic investigator for the Central City Police Department. We then get the full story on the particle accelerator explosion which we had seen previously on Arrow that left Barry in a coma. Barry wakens from the coma, months later, with super speed. Using his newfound powers, Barry starts investigating a series of unusual bank robberies. It’s pretty standard origin story stuff and stays close to the comic book source material.

Now, what’s good? Lots. Grant Gustin is clearly having a blast in the part and his enjoyment is contagious, making him an absolute joy to watch. What else is good? Super powers. Arrow has played it safe so far, keeping superhuman abilities to a minimum. Flash, however, is doubling down on meta abilities. This first episode tells us that there are potentially dozens, if not hundreds, of supers on the loose now. As long as they can steer clear of the “freak of the week” theme that bogged down the early seasons of Smallville, I look forward to seeing how they handle this. More good stuff? The cast is nearly perfect. Veteran actors Jesse L. Martin (Law & Order) and Tom Cavanagh (Ed) lend credibility and serious acting chops to the show. They elevate every scene they’re in. Martin plays Detective Joe West—father of Iris West—and Cavanagh plays Dr. Harrison Wells—the man responsible for the accident with the particle accelerator. Fans of DC Comics will recognize several other names as well: Eddie Thawne, Caitlin Snow, and Cisco Ramon all play major roles in the comic so I’m looking forward to seeing where the show takes them. Oh yeah, and John Wesley Shipp (star of the 1990 Flash series on CBS) has a brilliant cameo. My only disappointment was with the actress playing Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker). Snow and Ramon both work at STAR Labs and will be the show’s tech facilitators (every show seems to have one these days: Felicity, Chloe, Claudia, Abby, etc.). Panabaker does a fine job with her dramatic scenes but seems uncomfortable when she has to spout technobabble; I’m sure she’ll grow into that though.

Best part? There’s a scene that seems to indicate that The Flash is heading into Infinite Crisis territory. Which, if done right, could mean a crossover with the DC movieverse. I can’t wait. The Flash debuts on Tuesday, October 7.

 

Fancestral Recall: ConFederation

ConFederationby Ron Zukowski & Warren Buff

 

Warren Buff recently sat down with Ron Zukowski to discuss ConFederation, the 1986 Worldcon. ConFederation is a major landmark in the history of Southern Fandom, it also paved the way for another little convention in Atlanta called DragonCon. Ron (with Penny Frierson) was the Con Chair. Here’s how Ron remembers it…

I didn’t get into fandom until 1975 at RiverCon—but one of the things that happened as I looked around at what the Francises [Steve and Sue] had done in Louisville I said, “You know we’ve got hotels that big or bigger in Atlanta.” And they went to 1979 and had a real big NASFiC in Louisville, Kentucky, which I said, “We can at least do that and we actually can do a Worldcon.” In the meantime, other people had been moving on this. Notable examples: Database maven Joe Sokol lived in Atlanta for a long time, he was one of the people on that. The author, David Weber has a brother named Mike. He’d been around a lot of fandom, he was in on that. His then wife Sue Phillips, who still does the literary thing, she was in on that. And a guy who runs a comic book shop in Atlanta was a leading light there, Cliff Biggers and his wife Susan, she was very active then and they all were part of the Atlanta Science Fiction Club—ASFiC.

I was all in favor of this but I was nobody in particular. But then something happened. I got hired by a guy who ran two organizations, the Georgia Optometric Association and the Southern Regional Council of Optometry. He was part of that, and they had a big convention, twenty-five hundred optometrists and another thousand service personnel, and that would alternate between Atlanta and New Orleans, just like science fiction conventions did, because those are the two biggest cities. So I just learned what was necessary. I didn’t know I was preparing for anything big. And everybody who was in ASFiC also had a lot of friends in the other two cities in the ABC thing [Atlanta-Birmingham-Chattanooga]. Birmingham had a much more vibrant fandom then. Now most Alabama fandom that I’m aware of is in Huntsville but then Birmingham had just as big a contingent and Chattanooga had a big contingent already.

And since neither of those places were quite big enough and had quite the airline connections, [fans said,] “Ok, we’ll hold our nose, Atlanta can do it and we’ll help.” And boy did they ever help. I got a co-chairwoman out of that. The wife of then-prominent attorney Meade Frierson, Penny Miller [Frierson] was my co-chair. And basically we split that thing up; Penny was the meet-and-greet and quietly “You are going to do this, aren’t you?” lady of the thing, and I was the guy who wandered around with the lists and tried to organize things. So when I walked into the hotel, at least the Hilton, they knew who I was. I was the guy who was with the eye doctors. And as far as the city of Atlanta, it really was amazing to me how well it “just came together” even though we had some fractures and frictions. It did seem now after all these years to be an “it just happened” kind of thing but it wasn’t, there were a lot of people that were analyzing this and working at it, trying to make it work. The biggest situation that I think we actually faced is that the fans, had a tendency to be centered in the publishing area which tended to be the Boston, New York, Washington corridor and of the groups we were bidding against, both of them were in that corridor. New York had a bid using the Marriott Marquis and I don’t remember which hotel Philly was using. That was our opposition and [the] real serious situation was that we had two strong fan groups in those cities.

Atlanta had two virtues. First off, it was brand new. Second off, people were already starting to have to change planes in Atlanta. And I said, “You know, I could just fly there and I could stop,” and we had a number of good contacts that were willing to talk us up among people. We seemed to get out ahead mostly because: a) it hadn’t been there, and b) people had finally gotten over the idea of thinking of the entire south as though it were Dogpatch from Lil’ Abner. And then into this—although he never attended the convention, I’m not sure he ever realized it was there—John Portman, the architectural and developmental overlord of Atlanta, he decides that having designed two big hotels wasn’t enough, he wanted to design a third one, and it was also going to be run by the Marriott and it was called the Marquis and they were going to be opening in 1986. So when we walked in there to talk to those fellows we not only had the hotel across the street, the Hilton—which was in competition with them—already interested… they had nobody booked because they didn’t even have a building. So we’re sitting there and talking about 4,500–5,000 people, actually it may have been more than that, we may have gotten close to 6,000. [Attendance was 5,811.]

Here’s the other thing about it… Since we had that [projected attendance] those hotels were not worried about weirdness, or whether a brand new ad hoc 501(c)(3) organization could do anything. The Marriott was desperate enough (and the Hilton didn’t want to give any ground to the Marriott) that the idea of working this thing out if it was really that big [was favorable to them] so they were very helpful. We were going be voted on in L.A. in 1984 and L.A.’s 1984 Worldcon was held on a Hilton property. That was very useful.

My biggest thing was I didn’t have that many enemies in fandom, nobody had heard of me. I actually knew what a hotel was and how to talk to it. Some fans may be wonderfully accomplished in whatever they do in their mundane life but when they get involved in fandom they want to forget that and be something else. So you have to kind of keep one foot in both worlds. Mike was real good at that and several of our other people were real good at that. Meade was an actual attorney of note in Birmingham, Alabama. He also had kind of Old South mannerisms and some connections with that world.

And then came the matter of the guests, which you are not supposed to talk about before you are selected at all. I think the Philadelphia people may have gotten the idea first. They looked around and they said, “Ray Bradbury has never been,” and a little bit of skulduggery and digging and asking people questions we found out that he was going to be invited by two previous conventions, but they lost [their] bids. So we did something, we not only talked about guests [with our competitors] we actually made an agreement. I don’t know that that would’ve been considered the right thing to do, but we all said, “If we win it’s going to be Ray Bradbury.” New York… Philadelphia… [we all said,] “If we win it’s going to be Ray Bradbury.” So all three of us could walk in as a group and talk to Bradbury’s people and say, “It doesn’t matter who’s won, Ray is going to get it—will Ray come?” And the only problem was that Ray Bradbury had a real problem with flying. Here’s a guy talking about us going to Mars and I found out after he died that he didn’t even drive a car, and he lived in Los Angeles… most of his life. I don’t know how he managed that trick. But we got him there.

I think the biggest thing as far as the regional and southern fandom [that] was really amazing is that all the city envy, kind of got settled early on. Birmingham and Chattanooga threw in pretty much with us. Nashville under Ken Moore’s leadership. Dan Caldwell did our art show, he was from Nashville in those days. There were folks in New Orleans who were cooperative. So we had a lot of people from all around who were very cooperative and buried some very interesting hatchets. The Friersons knew where a lot of bodies were buried. But I didn’t know anything except the local Atlanta scene and I didn’t know much about that. I think that the region actually came together to put this in place. The Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau was very fond of us. DragonCon was founded the same year. [The first DragonCon was actually held in 1987; their first fliers debuted at ConFederation in 1986.]

No one was on the scene, and nobody had ever done anything like this in the area so it was a perfect storm. You could not duplicate that again.

And then there’s the story of how we budgeted very tightly because we had been under the impression that being a nonprofit organization almost mandated [us] to lose money. Some previous conventions had lost money, sometimes rather large amounts I understood, but we budgeted very, very tightly. And then our final at-the-door price was something absolutely horrendous. I’m going to use the even number of a hundred bucks for 1986, which was tremendous. It was just saying, “Okay, we have plotted out for this many [people], that’s how many supplies we have.” Joe Selko doing the con suite had this many things lined up. It didn’t bleeping matter. They showed up anyway. They paid that seventy-five or one hundred bucks and we wound up with revenue over expenses of a tremendous amount. I’m going to say more than 50 grand and that created the pleasant problem of what went on afterwards with anything we wanted to do last minute, there was no question. I had no trouble authorizing last minute stuff once we had an inkling that that was happening. [There are legends of sushi in the con suite.] Joe may have done that. I didn’t get up to the Con Suite that often.

Penny’s husband was squiring around Ray Bradbury. And Penny was going around doing all the mom things except on this gigantic scale… working her own sons to death. And I was there being the guy that the hotel guys walk up to and say, “Is this gonna happen now and is that gonna happen then?” and I could tell them whether it was or wasn’t. And they were happy as long as somebody knew. It also enabled us to kick a couple of other things off. For instance, I believe there was some money spent to help one of those previously erring cons out that hadn’t made enough money. [Probably the 1983 Baltimore Worldcon.]

And another thing is, I know, the Atlanta Radio Theater, I’m still involved with that. They were just spinning off as a (c)(3) organization to be a more educational thing. We were able to get them a grant. But all that really was was tight budgeting. It was Irvin Koch. And also people actually cooperating among those three cities, the three closest cities, and others like Nashville, Louisville, and others. You couldn’t duplicate that, plus there was more a sense of Southern pride. That was the image we wanted to convey of Southerness.

A couple of things we did that were different… we had an actual public speaker give our keynote address; my Congressman at the time, a guy named Newt Gingrich, he gave the keynote address. It was very much almost cribbed from two personal friends of his. They wrote Future Shock and Newt knew those people and basically it was very much a future shock thing. No political notes, no partisan content.

We had an opening ceremony thing because the same guy who was involved with Atlanta Radio Theater, Thomas E. Fuller the long-time creative director of ART, he wrote a little play in one short act called Creation is a Circle and we did that as our opening thing. I just didn’t walk up there and say, “Hey, y’all welcome to Atlanta. The 1986 World Science Fiction Convention, the 44th Worldcon is in session.” We didn’t say that. We added this thing, Creation is a Circle, and I was told a hundred times nobody’s ever done that before.

We also seemed to have a level of cooperation between those hotels that didn’t start until later bigger stuff started happening. They are fiercely competitive usually, but for that they worked it out. It’s the way things are supposed to work in this business; sometimes they don’t, they did for us.

We only had one untoward incident with the Hugos and it wasn’t an untoward incident—somebody refused a Hugo. But I won’t go into that unless it’s necessary.

I don’t recall actually doing anything which means I must have done a lot, but nevertheless if I can’t recall it it must have been all detail shit that’s now passed away.

I don’t think we had very much local publicity but we had a little tiny bit. A couple of mentions in articles in newspapers and everybody talked it up in fandom. And this was the first time that people in the region had been able to go to something that they could get to that they didn’t have to drive for four hours and that contributed to a number of people showing up who had never shown before.

So that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. And that’s off the cuff. I’m sure I’ve forgotten a lot of people I didn’t mean to. I tried to mention all the folks that I remember were there. Of course there were leading lights of fandom around: Jerry Page, Hank Reinhardt, and [others] and they were helpful. But as far as the committee goes it was either people from out of ASFiC like myself, from Atlanta, the Birmingham club, Charlotte Proctor, and Jerry Proctor [who] was a newspaper editor in those days.

We had a number of people from the Huntsville area. Some of them genuine rocket scientists at the time. They were all helpful. The Chattanooga fans were absolutely marvelous and Mike was living in Atlanta in those days. There was one person who was on our committee but never got to show up, he did a lion’s share of work: Joe Siclari. And here’s two little personal notes, tragedies for both Joe and myself, my mother passed Memorial Day of 1986 or actually the Sunday before it and Joe’s father was diagnosed with, I believe, cancer and passed away in the fall, but he still had to be taken care of. And Joe was the one so Joe could not get to Worldcon. I wish that Joe Siclari had been able to be there. He would’ve got all the accolades that he deserved. He did a lot of work. Avery Davis did a lot of work on the operations part of things. There was a lot of things that just came together in a way that is really difficult to describe. It was not a complete accident, but it seemed a lot more accidental then it was.

Unfortunately though, it was wearing to do that. I basically took every year, beginning 199- off from fandom. I did find myself going, “Can I live my life now?” and I went off and sorta did that. I’m only now getting back in when I’m retired and useless.

There could be a thousand stories, but fortunately I don’t remember most of them and basically what I remember is people being amazingly cooperative even if they didn’t like each other. Things worked out and we did a couple of things that were new and worked and the whole idea of lining those hotels up and even using a couple of rooms in the Regency Hyatt House so we had two of Portman’s three massive buildings working for us, even that worked. So I have to say it was a great success and I can remember it fondly now.

And we may not have been the very first one but I think we’re one of the first ones to have somebody that actually looked after folks who had problems moving around. There’s a lady named Samanda Jeude, she herself was a victim of polio, and she was interested in being able to move her wheelchair around so we actually had a serious effort to try to work it out and the Americans with Disabilities Act I think was brand new at the time. [The ADA was passed four years later, in 1990.] But where the hotels were already starting to think about it, Samanda made sure that they thought about it harder. And we probably were as accessible as it was possible to be in that time and that was largely her and her husband Don Cook’s effort on that part. That kind of thing happened, and it came together because we had the right people and they thought this was cool and wanted to work on it and also I got to admit there was a strong desire among a lot of people to say the South is really as good as the rest of the country, we can hold these things too. I think we proved it, but who knows?

 

You can download the full transcript of Warren’s interview with Ron, at http://www.nthzine.com/FR.ConFederation.pdf and you can listen to the entire interview on Fancyclopedia. We also recommend reading “Wake Up and Smell the Coffin!” a reminiscence of ConFederation and the bid for Nolacon II, 1986 in Guy Lillian’s Challenger.

 

Faces of Fandom: Craig McPherson

CraigMcPherson

Photo by Craig McPherson

by KT Pinto

 

EL-who?

I have been able to witness firsthand the evolution of ELPunk from basically a one-man show with TRON-like gear to a rather large, organized costuming movement along the east coast. Which is why I was very excited to be able to score an interview with the somewhat elusive founder of ELPunk, Craig McPherson. That’s Craig in the photo above, modelling an ELPunk helmet of his own design.

KT Pinto: Please tell us in layman’s terms what Electroluminescent (EL, pronounced ee-ell) Punk is.

Craig McPherson: Electroluminescent Punk, ELPunk as it is more widely known, is a term coined by NYC costumer and event promoter Craig McPherson—me—to describe any costume, artwork, prop, or device which incorporates the use of electrically powered lighting. This lighting effect is often seen as a highlight or accent system to add color to these common items.

KTP: How did you get started in this hobby?

CM: During my stint in the nightclub scene of NYC (circa 1994–2014) I often received requests for presentations or commissions for science-fiction costumes and props. Be they movie replicas or unique devices, I took an interest in lighting systems for these items as it would always grab the attention and wonder of viewers. From the very first build I knew there was a great potential to show off one’s creativity with the careful application of light to mundane things.

KTP: Is it an expensive activity, or are there different levels of monetary participation?

CM: As with most things dealing with costumes, art, or props, cost can vary in the extreme. From simple ELWire outlines on a picture frame to add a glow effect to the picture (a few dollars in price) all the way up to ELLED and ELPlasma systems wired throughout 12-foot tall robotic suits (cost can range into the thousands)… Cost tends to increase with complexity.

KTP: How is this different from what cosplayers and ravers do in their costuming?

CM: With cosplayers you tend to find people building costumes with a focus on screen-accurate replication or personal builder creativity. EL effects can be added to those costumes in accordance with set style requirements or personal taste, but these effects will almost always be electrically powered in some way.

Ravers will normally incorporate glowing effects into their costuming using electrical, chemical (glow sticks), or phosphorescent (reflective or light-reactive paint) sources.

KTP: Do you think the geek/fan world is ready for another “punk”? Steampunk is still going strong; cyberpunk is hanging on by a thread; slashpunk is almost non-existent… Where would ELPunk fit in?

CM: A “punk” in the geek universe tends to refer to a genre or style which adheres to certain limitations and points of interest. Cyberpunk refers to the use or incorporation of cybernetic and computerized enhancements into the human body, clothing, or cyberspace as a reality. This also happens to touch on the idea of ELPunk as it refers to the use of real/fantasy lighting effects to enhance and highlight certain aspects of the subject. While ELPunk may reach into other genres and concepts, it is itself a powerful term used to easily describe a very commonly seen effect in science fiction and fantasy settings.

KTP: Are there certain sites/artists that you like working with to get EL parts? And why these over others?

CM: When purchasing large volumes of ELWire, ELLEDs and other lighting parts I will often do business with companies online, such as ELWirePros and CoolNeon. These companies will sell ELWire, ELLEDs and the systems for powering them at bulk pricing, with prices dropping drastically for large volume orders.

KTP: Are there any movies or TV shows that you recommend to get inspiration for ELPunk costuming?

CM: ELPunk examples can readily be found in many common science fiction and fantasy films or TV series. TRON, Star Wars, Star Trek are just a few very well-known examples which show costumes, weapons, and even individuals enhanced or covered with ELPunk devices.

KTP: What suggestion would you give for a basic, inexpensive ELPunk costume?

CM: Some creative people, who are easy to find online, in video or “how-to” formats, have created internet and world-wide sensations with builds such as Baby Stick Figure (a very cost-effective costume using a simple ELWire strand) or the dance troupe iLuminate currently slated for a run in NYC (off Broadway).

KTP: Does ELPunk have a following yet?

CM: ELPunk has thousands of fans, many from the east coast of the USA, who have seen EL costumes built by me. Some have been lucky enough to catch a New York Comic Con appearance, complete with Daft Punk musical soundtrack and sound-reactive EL lighting system incorporated into his costumes, or seen work-in-progress videos on his and other builder’s YouTube pages. There is also a growing FaceBook group, by the name Electroluminescent (EL) Punk, which boasts hundreds of members. There they post images, videos, suggestions, construction methods, and discuss the history and validity for various ELPunk costumes and devices.

KTP: Are there any upcoming events where people would be able to find you or your group?

CM: Currently, in the NYC area, ELPunk.com is slated to attend the Staten Island annual Art & Light Festival, LUMEN 2014 and the annual New York Comic Con 2014 shows.

KTP: E-mail/website/social media?

CM: To contact us at ELPunk, please feel free to email us at: avatar@ELPunk.com or find our group on FaceBook at: Electroluminescent (EL) Punk.

KTP: Anything else you’d like to add?

CM: ELPunk is a very wide-open term when it comes to your imagination. The options, styles, variations, and choices are nearly endless. From simple toy lightsabers, as seen in Star Wars, to the complex suits worn by characters in the TRON movie and TV series, ELPunk lighting is a great way to express individual creativity and catch the notice of fans, passers-by, the media, and other costumers. ELPunk is about personal style. Make it yours.

ELbasket

Watermelon-shaped picnic basket enhanced with LED wire for an ELPunk effect. Photo by Craig McPherson.

 

The Worthless Man

The Worthless Man

Illustration by J. Andrew World

by Leonard Schlenz

 

Spilled neon wallows as usual around the watery blackness of Kuala Lumpur’s bustling night markets; it’s a special night for those who are Chinese, when firecrackers follow dancing dragons into Buddhist temples, and the well-to-do sit unafraid in good restaurants that rotate on top of tall buildings, all the better to see the New Year bursting over the night sky of Chinatown. And in the sky above the Malay district the spotlights of FDS search the muggy streets with the wide white beams of their silent helicopters, hunting for three old men on the run.

* * * * *

I’m told this is the seedy side of town. For our purposes, that is both good and bad. I’m afraid of the place and I’m afraid of FDS, Fujimoto Digital Shadow. My thinking for now is it’s better to die on the run than to die their way. My newfound friends are Shandar and Dutczak. I wear stolen dark glasses on top of my head. My skin is pale and noticeable. Shandar is darker and can probably avoid detection for a longer time. Dutczak is paler than I am, with a thick face and he’s too tall to be hiding alongside of us. Luckily for now we have dark alleys and crowded places to hide, places where the authorities prefer not to go. Besides, they don’t like FDS any more than we do.

Shandar seems to have surfaced as our temporary leader. I don’t mind, as he speaks some Malay and can pass for a local. They had not yet processed us when we made our escape. Between us we have some yen and some dollars and the clothes we wear. As a further disguise, we each bought a batik shirt on the corner, Shandar saying something in Malay to the effect, “Give us three shirts, a small a medium and a large.” Mine makes me look like a turtle.

I was kidnapped in Singapore not two days ago and auctioned off on Saturday. I’ve not been here in KL for forty hours. Shandar was taken near the Thai border and was brought by bus. Dutczak, our Ukrainian, was in a German nursing facility writing his memoirs when they snatched him. I know them hardly at all, except we happened to be using the restroom at the same time when the supplier opened the outer door, and so here we are, out of breath, confused and scared to death.

Predatory taxis glide through the aftermath of heavy rain looking for fares. Their tires calmly unzip the watery ways as they slow, and we wave them by. Firecrackers pop nonstop in the distance, and the streets are filled with the smell of cooking and burnt pyrotechnics. There’s no sign yet of FDS foot patrols.

“Shouldn’t we find a bar or something,” I say, “hide somewhere inside?”

Shandar agrees and Dutczak agrees too, saying, “I’m six foot six. Maybe you’d be better off without me.”

Shandar says, “That goes without saying; two old ferengi with pale faces… but, no, no one should bother us inside. They’re afraid in this part of town. We’re safe here for now. Look, I see a place on the corner.”

Indeed, I see it too, where he’s pointing, lettered in Chinese, red on yellow, and in English as well, China Doll; there’s a silhouette of a cocktail and a girl. Tattooed teenagers hang outside with big teeth grinning and nodding, slouching against graffiti in at least three languages. They look as if they would kill you for a few yen, or just for a good time, but they only smile with vacant eyes when we pass through them; and so we three, an American, a Gypsy, and a Ukrainian walk into a bar in Kuala Lumpur, the China Doll—but it’s no joke and we’re wet with sweat and rain, and are more scared probably than at any time in our lives. Our most common thread is that we’re old, in the winter of our lives, where comfort should be primary on our minds. We’re very old and useful for only one thing. It’s the footprint of our souls that they paid for, the shadowy distillate of our DNA, the who-we-were that they want… That much we know and very little else. Once past ninety there are few legal rights—if not in law, then in fact—since the monster octopus that is New Japan has the long reach of its yen.

A Chinese girl smiles, understanding we’ve not come for massages or companionship, and she seats us in the back where Shandar orders us three coffees in English. We say nothing until the coffee comes.

We’re tired, possibly in shock, and finally I say as the pretty girl serves us our coffee, heavy with sugar and lightened with milk, “What now? Do you really think their patrols will stay away from here?”

“Their scanners will find us. Eventually. Whether they’ll attempt to take us here in such a heavily Malay district so soon is another thing. We might as well get to know each other, for better or worse.”

This I already know: Shandar and Dutczak in their past lives have been in some way notable. Or illustrious. Their lives have been somehow exceptional. Or else they would not be here now.

So, as to who we are… “Let’s keep it short,” Shandar says, scanning the room of dancing chaos, smothered in the din of laughter and western music. It seems to be true that we’re safe for now. The club has welcomed us into its loud belly and remains oblivious to our presence, and so I take my turn. “My name is Paul. I’m American. I was chief global attorney for North American Affairs when I was younger but turned to writing later in life. No family to speak of. Never married. I have bank accounts in three countries and could maybe get some of it, but I don’t know if FDS controls the money supply here…”

“I don’t know either,” Shandar interjects. “We’ll plan that next. So what is your special talent, that which they want from you? Surely, attorneys are common enough.”

“Well… probably my creativity… my faculty for persuasion, my gift for gab. You might say I can build castles with words. I’m a poet and that makes me, as you say, special. My poetry has been called… uhm… unique… There were awards… I was very well received in certain circles…”

“Whatever. Never heard of you,” Shandar says.

“But you don’t even know…”

“Never heard of you,” he repeats, “And what about you, Mister Dutczak? What talent is it that they seem to want from you?”

I shrug and sip the sweet brown coffee as Dutczak speaks, in perfect English with a Slavic voice that chews his words, “I’m in mathematics,” he says. “I taught Theoretical Mathematics and Computation at the University of Berlin. I’ve contributed to journals; of course, some of it was groundbreaking. I’m an avid chess player. My wife has been dead many years now, but I have a son living in Massachusetts.”

Shandar has chosen the seat with his back to the wall; he looks around the room, his eyes unblinking, “I can understand why they would want you. But I am next. The name Shandar is a Gypsy name of Hindi origin—and I am nobody. I do not have any of these talents of which you speak. I am Romani, perhaps a bit of a magician as are many of my people. I’m an insurgent, a dissenter… and, naturally, I sing. But I’m in no way extraordinary. They have no reason to have use for my common talents. Perhaps their files have become crossed with some Interpol file. Anything is possible.”

“What is it you’re fighting?” I ask.

“Are you joking? I fight this new world, this complacency, this ugliness. Open your eyes, man. I fight this modernity that has made us all part of some mass brain…” He begins to sputter, as if the day is not long enough to explain his quest. “It’s a long story. Still, I’ve accomplished nothing in my life. Certainly my magic is commonplace. I’ve spent the better part of my life in a special prison where the guards are also trained in the magical arts, making it nearly impossible to escape.”

“But you did escape,” I say.

“Perhaps they were not paying attention. In any case, I have no intention of behaving well. Anyway, gentlemen, I suggest we leave the city as soon as possible. I know this part of the world quite well, and it’s a matter of time before they offer a reward. These scoundrels here will happily accommodate them if only for a chance to participate in some new drug study.”

Dutczak says, “I’m not well. I won’t be able to keep up if our journey is too strenuous.”

“At least,” adds Shandar, “they didn’t send us to one of their experimental moon colonies, where there’d be no hope of escape.”

I shudder at the thought and I notice his words slowing as his eyes look in the distance to the entryway, and I begin to see why… “I thought you said we were safe in this part of town,” I say. A uniformed man is inquiring at the entrance and scanning the cavernous room with a small instrument.

“He doesn’t look Japanese,” Shandar says. “A contractor perhaps, a collaborator, but not Japanese. When he approaches, do not move or speak.”

The uniformed man has replaced his scanner with his weapon, and approaches our table. “He’s possibly Malay, perhaps Baba,” Shandar says, almost whispering to himself, as if estimating the man’s abilities.

The man wears the FDS patch on his chest. “Stand up you three,” he says in a strong voice, and chairs fall and the docile drugged faces of the partiers flutter away softly like bats readjusting in a cave. “You three, stand,” he says again. He points the short weapon midway between us and Shandar simply looks him in the eye, reaches out slowly, and holds the barrel as if it were a jewel to be inspected, and with his other hand he makes shapes that seem to dazzle the poor man, whereupon the man’s eyes seem to shut down, peeping through the tiny confused slits of his eyelids—petrified in some way. And Shandar says, “Let’s go; my little trick is fleeting.”

* * * * *

“I told you I was a magician,” he says later. It’s a simple thing, to seemingly freeze time while I adjust my props. It’s common among my people, a primordial talent, I suppose.” We sit in a taxi, Shandar sitting in front telling the driver, “Take us out of here, out of the city. Go east. We can pay.” And the driver pulls away from the curb adjusting his mirror, not to the view behind us, but to Dutczak and me, squeamish and huddled in the back seat.

He drives away from the big city towards and into the heart of the peninsula, where it is said tigers still roam… “Where modernity is hardly fed,” says Shandar, “and, god willing, may die in its present form before it is too late for us all.”

There’s little conversation. We’re exhausted. The night is moonless and quiet, more so in contrast to the din of the celebrating city, and at last Shandar says, “This will do fine,” as he collects our money and pays the driver what he asks, plus extra for his silence.

The little kampong has no more than thirty huts, almost all on stilts to keep them dry in the monsoon rains, and I smell spices cooking. As it is late, jungle noises surround the kampong. They are disquieting to me, their shrillness stopping and starting in unison like some ancient squeaky machine. “Can we hide here forever?” I say.

“No, of course not,” Shandar says. Dutczak only looks at us both, knowing he has no choice but to follow—or kill himself to avoid the end provided by FDS. “We will move further into the interior soon enough. We’re bound for a place more primitive still.”

Tea all round. Chicken curry and rice, a squishy vegetable of some sort in a simmering liquid. Thankfully, the village welcomes us. In the distant past it had endured the Japanese, it had hid itself from the communists, and now it hides from the world at large. Pointing to an elderly woman in a sarong, Shandar says, “I’ve spoken to machi over there. She knows of places where the scanners are not likely to probe, where people live simpler lives.”

“My god,” I say. “Simpler than this?” There are late-night village noises, most are asleep. As we sit, our creaky legs bent on the floor, we exchange helloes.

“We’re honored that the imam would sit at our table,” Shandar says. He’s an old man, possibly as old as us. “It’s especially kind that you prepare food so late at night.”

The imam has heard my mocking words about the simple life, and says, “Our ways may seem old to you but we are happy.” And then, “Why are you running from the law? Or if you are not running, tell me why are you here?”

Dutczak and I defer to Shandar, “It’s not the law that pursues us,” he says, “but FDS.”

“FDS?”

It’s my turn to speak, “Fujimoto Digital Shadow. They make educational tools, teaching machines for one thing, for those in advanced learning. It’s a Japanese company, but there are others, mostly Japanese; there is also a big one in Brazil, I believe. Simply put, they want to steal our souls… I don’t know how else to say it.”

The imam shakes his wide palms in front of us as if not to allow such demon ideas into his head, “I do not understand. You cannot steal one’s soul. My people go back very far, we are Orang Asli, People of the Soil, and even in the old times we understood a soul cannot be stolen, only one can give it freely to good or evil.”

I say, “You see, imam, out there in the world there are few rights given to those older than ninety. We are dispensable…”

“Dispensable?”

“We do not own our own lives, and especially so if there is something we can give back to the world. It’s not really our souls they want, but… well, I’m not a scientist, but it’s the memory of our lives, our natural… I suppose talents that they want.”

“Well,” says Dutczak, “I am involved in the sciences, and it’s a difficult concept to describe. I know they have isolated the aura surrounding our DNA, the imagination, the memory that has built up over a lifetime… that which makes us who we are.”

“I do not understand what you say. How could it be of use to these people, these FDS people?”

“They’ve learned to re-engineer the product, or rather the byproduct of our DNA. To make it useful. At first they used it to create interactive studies by which the best and brightest minds are used as sort-of devils’ advocates in the teaching process. You know, us more gifted ones, our canned experiences against the students, the young learners in the thought process…”

Alah-mah! I don’t understand, but it seems frightening what you say. Are you to say they capture your being and put it into a machine that is used to teach?”

“Basically, yes,” I say. “And we’re free to hand over our bodies for the good of mankind if we so chose. Most do not choose that path and so they hunt us down and sell us in their so-called marketplace. We’re old, as you can see. There are laws, but our leaders often look the other way. Those of us who have special talents are most valuable, of course, to graft onto their equipment.”

“And they kill you when they do this… this transfer?”

“No. Well, actually we don’t know,” I say.

“And that’s the worst of it,” Dutczak adds, “Whether there is some sort of lingering consciousness, we just don’t know.”

“This is a terrible thing. It is evil. It is worse than I thought. Is it truly a help to those who wish to learn? I mean is it truly an aid to those who wish to learn from your experience?”

“Ah. If it were so,” Dutczak says, “then I may even make the sacrifice. You see, sir, they also make video games, games of reality no longer virtual, but real, to give the bright children only the best against whom to compete.”

“Surely, this cannot be so,” the imam says. But when there is no response from us, he says, “Yes, we will help you. But where I will take you there are not many… how you say… enjoyments.”

* * * * *

Kidnapped and now free. For the time being. Freedom without comfort or familiarity. As the vehicle grunts through the mud we sit under cover of a tarp, not talking but for the silent conversations in our wandering thoughts. I’m thinking how better we could have explained this new technology to the un-schooled imam. None of us really can, for even we three know only what we’ve read in the cursory, often forbidden, explanations given in the underground periodicals: round the double helix there being this halo of our thoughts, a lifetime of conversations and those accruals of imagined debates that go on inside the brain, each a fiction played out with a different outcome; there are footprints in our brains, even unconnected thoughts yet to find creative meaning.

Or simply, for us, call it experience of the gifted. Or call it the nuts and bolts of the soul. Though Shandar claims to have never heard of me—which I doubt—I sadly take secret pride that I am among the chosen of FDS—as they too must feel a certain pride. All I know is that as for me they have chosen well. I assume Dutczak has heard of my work. He has not said so. Surely he must have some knowledge of the arts. “Say what you want,” I mutter as the ancient vehicle grinds into another gear, “but I’m good as gold. And the Japanese want me. They want me . . . They want me.”

* * * * *

Bukit Piatu is small even for a village, but is surrounded by like-size kampongs and, in all, they form a larger community of farmers and hunters. Our new-found home is welcoming and the imam has come along to introduce us. We will have to earn a living even though we are old. I suggest we could teach, but the imam tells us before he departs that he thinks that is not such a good idea, that perhaps we might think of something more useful to provide.

I’m wondering if I can survive the heat here for the remainder of my life. It is a wet heat. I can see Dutczak is breathing heavily. Shandar seems to be adapting just fine though he is old as well. English is rarely spoken. We’re told what we hear is an ancient dialect of Malay, and Shandar seems to get by adequately with it. We have sat for two days telling tales, Dutczak and I—perhaps competing in a friendly way—but mostly just bragging of the fact that we were after all chosen by the FDS for our special talents, and as I put it, being a few diamonds in a bed of broken rock. I’m an artist first and foremost. Although I accept that my talent is god-given I fantasize how FDS would use my gift. It is my guilty pleasure for surely one cannot teach the kind of splendor that lies within me, that breathes in my work. We’re old enough to brag and not feel uneasy by it. At least I am open as to who I am.

We three have come to know each other well, but are perhaps too old and too familiar with the loss of those we’ve known and loved to admit to liking one another.

“There’s an old woman in the far hut who will act as our advisor,” Shandar says. “She’s quite old. She says she even remembers as a child the Australian camp in Malacca. She grew up there and speaks English quite well.”

* * * * *

Introductions all round. Tea of course, and rice cakes. We squat on bamboo mats. Dutczak and I have already learned the Malay art of eating without utensils.

Latifah’s hair is long and gray and loose. She breathes slowly and deeply, making her wide nose flare rhythmically as she speaks. The drooping eyelids show wisdom. She smiles with large white teeth and shiny gums that show health. She believes we should all be able to work out quite well in the kitchens, which we snicker at, but then see we really have no choice if we are to contribute. After all, it’s not likely that we will hunt monkeys with blow darts or trap armadillos. She’s a kindly old woman and on this my third evening in my new home I say, “Ma’am, what is it you do for entertainment here? Don’t the children become bored?”

“Our amusement? Oh, there is wonderful entertainment,” she smiles. “Not of your world, but much better. I have seen your toys and it makes me want to… spit. Excuse me. That was not a kind thing to say.”

“Then show us. Show us what your people do in their leisure time.”

“Oh I shall. Tomorrow night is our gathering night. You will see the beauty of it, the simplicity. You shall see that which we call the wayang kulit.”

I look at Dutczak and he shrugs. I look at Shandar and see he’s smiling at the old woman and nodding his head in knowing appreciation.

I’m concerned about Dutczak’s health. He’s coughing more now. I think his run is nearly over. I see his lips moving in prayer when he doesn’t think we’re watching.

But he’s fit enough the following evening as the surrounding jungle comes to life. Torches are lit and the surrounding villages comprising maybe a few hundred people gather round. They give us three front row seats of straw mat. There is a screen backlit by a dozen torches. It’s a puppet show we are about to see, and Shandar smiles when he sees my look of recognition, and says, “They are the shadow puppets, the wayang kulit. It has been their way for centuries.”

Drums silence the jungle long enough for the introduction, in Malay of course, and then the shadows that are cast onto the white cloth act out their parts, easy enough to understand. There is drama, and there is humor which I don’t understand, but I laugh just the same because it is contagious. The play goes on for a very long time and I’m aware there’s no reason to care about the time or how many hours have passed. It’s a feeling of freedom as I sit, thinking, only momentarily, that somehow I possibly have led a poor life. I see Dutczak spellbound in delight, his blink-less eyes flickering in the night, but upon further observation, I realize he’s dead.

We bury him around noon on the following day. He was in his nineties after all. This big adventure I think added to a worthwhile life. Latifah knows prayers and we allow her the honors. I don’t understand the words but she clearly sets him adrift in a different world, perhaps with a letter of reference; to which I conclude, “He seemed like a nice fellow.”

* * * * *

Some weeks pass before the boredom sets in. Shandar keeps to himself and disappears for long periods of time. I have taken a liking to Latifah and we spend more and more time together. I think she enjoys my company. If her memories are true, then she is older than anyone I have ever met. And I sense her stories are true. Not all years ripen into wisdom, but I sense in Latifah wisdom and kindness. I think she finds me vain, and refuses to admit that I am a somebody in this life. At first I was offended but have come to appreciate her honesty. At one sitting we eat rambutans fresh from the tree behind her hut, and she smiles with those large protruding teeth, and she says, “I should think a poet such as you would know his inner self.”

“Clearly, one cannot be a true poet without such an ability,” I say. “I would agree, if I don’t know myself then I am not the artist I am said to be. But the world knows differently. And wouldn’t it seem to you that FDS wanting me should be proof of something?”

“Then you believe what the world says and not what your heart says. That would make you a false philosopher. Oh, it is sad, my friend, that you take pride in such things, that you only look to the tip of your nose to see the meaning of life. And immortality.”

“Ouch,” I say, oddly finding myself at a loss for words.

And I admit: This common life does not fit me well. Some are born to greatness; some are not. I seem not fit to peel potatoes or mince garlic; curry does not suit my palette or my stomach. I miss the new world from which I came, and by god I miss the accolades. I freely admit it; at home I was a king; here I’m but the village idiot. In time I may become accustomed to hiding from the helicopters that occasionally pass overhead like giant quiet pterodactyls. But I doubt it. When they come at night the beams of light are blinding. I continue to wonder why their sophisticated sensors don’t find me.

* * * * *

But in the fourth week they move in quietly like the fog, and not from the air as I’d learned to expect. It is one evening after dinner and my hands are blistered and perhaps infected from the primitive knife I’ve used to peel the tapioca. “Run! Run! They are here!” It’s the voice of a child whose name I don’t know, and there are other villagers running too, and screaming to each other. Five men in green uniforms fire as they go. Each wears a sensor on his helmet. It’s as if the scene is in slow motion as they round up whomever they can catch. Not a few are faces and bodies I recognize, some lying on the ground either motionless or groaning.

But it’s not FDS who searches, but government authorities. I’m among those they herd like cattle up onto the puppet stage. One by one, a soldier scans us with a wand. When they come to me, the man says, “You are not Malay.”

They have found me. “I’m not Malay. I‘m American,” I say proudly, and he scans the area around my chest and head, and pushes buttons on his little apparatus. “Where is Shandar the Magician?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t seen him.”

“You stupid old man,” he says, and pushes me hard enough that I fall backwards onto the ground.

And then he moves on, leaving me to wiggle back to a standing position unharmed.

They’ve posted a guard on the road. I sit and talk with Latifah. Her face is bruised from the slapping they gave her. I’m clumsy but try to dab at the cut above her eye without causing too much pain. She flinches and being so far from modern medicine I fear the worst. It would be my fault for bringing them here, but she seems resolved, and utters some such-is-life triteness in one of the many Malay proverbs she uses when she is frustrated with me.

A woman takes the damp cloth from me, which relieves me a great deal, and Latifah says, “It’s not you they come for. It’s obvious. They’re looking for Shandar our humble magician.”

“They have come for us three. I have put you in danger.”

“I don’t believe so, even if you wish it were true. Shandar is a leader in the movement,” she says.

“I wish I could talk to him. Is he okay?”

“I’m here, my friend. Behind you.”

Shandar’s voice sends a chill up my spine, but when I turn to see, there is nothing. “Here, here I am,” the voice laughs; and his image slowly materializes from the bamboo walls of Latifah’s hut.

“You crazy magician,” I say, rising. “It’s good to see you.”

“I will be moving on, of course. I’m dealing with fools out there, the ones keeping watch, but it’s only a matter of time before they send reinforcements with Gypsy talents. What is it you wish to ask before I go?”

“There’s so much. Everything! I want to know everything!”

“Well, firstly, I lied. I escaped from a prison in Bangkok and was able to evade Interpol by reassigning myself to the FDS facility in KL. It was my trickery that got us out of there, not luck as you and Mr. Dutczak were led to believe. But I’m never far from capture. I’ll be moving on later tonight. There’s still work to be done.”

“But what work? What are you fighting against?”

“I have told you, a return to a simpler life.”

“That’s it? But that’s impossible, Shandar. You can’t go back.”

“I can try, and I will try.”

Even I can be noble. “Do you want my help?”

“It would be difficult for you to contribute, my friend. Perhaps you should return with the authorities. FDS will make you comfortable. I fear you are not meant for this simple village life.”

“Let us drink tea,” Latifah says, dismissing the woman who tends to her. “And then we shall send Shandar on his way. As to whether you should return to this FDS, it is your decision. Apparently they have not detected you, even with their scanners… Ssshh.”

“What is it?” I say. But my question answers itself as they burst in, kicking and shouting and once again knocking me to the ground.

“Where is he? Where’s the Magician?”

“I don’t know,” I say. And it’s true. He’s gone as sure as the shadow of a puppet when the light dies. “I… I need to ask you something,” I say.

“What is it, old man?”

“I’m wanted by FDS. I’ve escaped and wish to return to Kuala Lumpur.”

The soldier pulls his scanner from his chest plate and scans my eyes. “I see,” he says. “There was a reward for your capture, but it has been withdrawn. You are free to go about your business.”

“Withdrawn?”

“They no longer need you, old man. They don’t want you.”

He starts to leave the hut, but I find the news suddenly intolerable, “How dare you say that! Are you saying that I’m worthless?”

“Get out of my face, old man,” he says, and he shoves me yet again. And for the third time I fall back on brittle bones, hitting my head on a table.

Latifah sits, taking it all in, shaking her head, and I’m suddenly ashamed, seeing behind those wrinkled folds a hundred years of wisdom that has somehow eluded me. And sadly eludes me still.

When the village is quiet again I sit with Latifah on the stoop of her stilted hut. I think she will be okay. She has lived through worse. I will be returning home, I suppose, to live out my days. Outside the hut, children play with little monkeys and kick at a wicker ball; there are signs of rain to the west Latifah tells me.

 

Tow

by Denny E. Marshall

 

Swear you hear a sucking sound
Cannot put your finger on it
Feel like being pulled somewhere
Other than where you’re headed
In this experience you cannot place
Assume you are not alone
Believe others along for the ride
Each share a choice not made
Pins of light are all that is visible
When you peer into the darkness
Do not see anything else
When you look out from the window
Too late, you realize a truth
A black hole is hard to see