The Truth About Bots

Amazing Stories Crazy EyeFor some time I have been wondering what the world is coming to. I wake up in the morning, stagger to the bathroom and peer at my raccoon-bagged eyes in the mirror and exclaim, “Kiddo, what is the world coming to?” The responses I’ve gotten so far I’m not allowed to reveal, but I am convinced that either I have a magic mirror, or something is wrong somewhere.

It came with the house, that is to say, it was installed with a bathroom remodel somewhere between Presidents Carter and Bush, Sr.. From what I gather, the elderly woman who lived in the house at the time expected an ordinary mirror. She was very surprised the first day she put on her makeup. The special effects alone would have caused a stir, certainly pre-Snapchat.

I only know about this because of the note, stuffed into the bathroom closet and the fact that there was a blanket covering the mirror when I moved in. I asked the previous owner’s relatives about it and they paled, even the burly lumberjack. A few seconds later he squeaked, “for God’s sake…leave the blanket up!”

Ghost stories don’t scare me, neither do spirits. My usual routine is to take a broom and a pan of burning cinnamon to them. So, when I pulled back the moth-eaten pink covering, I was unsurprised to see fathomless, glossy depths in the glass of the mysterious mirror.

I rubbed my chin and said, “My goodness, what is the world coming to? And what is online science fiction coming to?”

It is quite evident that current trends in science fiction are dystopian. The whole trouble, I feel, is that we have developed a remarkable desire for end-times thinking. (Did you think this ended with Y2K? I had hoped so, unfortunately, we’re still hard at it. Where was I?)

Science fiction fans today split their time between horror and science fiction. The former involves flesh-eating degenerates who have been infected with some kind of virus. The latter, a world of war-torn lack where cannibalism seems a good option. It’s a lot like being pinned between a rock and a hard place, actually. For the fans, I mean. Writers are always compressed into uncomfortable shapes, but not a thing can be done about that.

In a way, it’s all for the best. Technology is moving so fast that writers need to condense themselves so much they get paper cuts by rubbing their hands. Look at readers’ attention spans, for instance. Short and shorter. We now consider 2000 words a “long form” article. We’ve all had to adapt, just last year I won a few six-word-story contests. But I’m one of the lucky ones. Some writers can’t adapt and need binary code implants. Why look at poor, Hestania Rubel.

I visited Hestania just yesterday at the hospital. A gloomy place, I think they used the old mausoleum in a horror movie once. She sits on her hospital bed composing one-word poems with titles such as: Stash, Fit, and Charge. I blame her mono-syllabic status on nothing less than computer technology. For at one time Hestania was a hard-working magazine writer and burgeoning novelist. She was talented, earnest, and met regular deadlines with cheerful efficiency. She had the promise of becoming a first-class writer. “My job,” she told me once, “is to write what people want.”

“Give me that chocolate bar,” I said to her, “yeah, the organic 75% dark over there.”

But Hestania couldn’t be turned from her rash course. She began to write to popular cultural trends. “Should I write horror? Spy thrillers? Superheroes?” Already her troubles had begun.

From there it was a matter of logical progression to an ultimate end. Hestania got in the habit of writing one type of popular novel each quarter. She spun from romantic zombies, to amnesiac CIA agents, then morally-challenged mutants. She started to worry and developed an eye twitch. She stayed up nights writing blog posts. When Twitter expanded to 280 characters, Hestania promoted a new line of micro-micro-fiction. “Word counts are getting so short,” she confided in me once, “but my followers depend upon me! They’re the bellwether for the best markets today. They’re real and they love me.”

Of course, being a social media influencer brings trolls, we all know that. Hestania attempted to keep everyone happy. She developed a split on-line personality, praising each side equally. And they made her dance, let me tell you! The left side of her face developed a plasticine smile, while the right, a perpetual sneer. She worked on two keyboards simultaneously —a pink MacBook with My Little Pony stickers on the case, and a trim, black business model that converted into a tablet.

It was horrible but worse was yet to come.

One day, the inevitable happened, Hestania Rubel started thinking in internet slang acronyms. She made emoji signs, pasted them onto popsicle sticks, and held them up to her face. There was nothing to do but have her committed.

You can only imagine how I feel, what with the creepy mirror with floating phrases. Or, haven’t I mentioned the floating phrases? I mean the short ones, of course, the ones that look like tweets. They’re the worst of all. It isn’t so much what they say, as much as their tone of elevated righteousness. The other phrases, which live in my closet with the Geishas, aren’t so bad. Everything was copacetic until the tweets came in. Now they’ve started trolling each other, so there are blistering comments everywhere I look. As you can readily imagine, something has to be done before the written word collapses entirely and we start speaking in code.

The tweets are the real problem. The bitmojis are welcome to stay. I feel that they’re pretty harmless, all things considered. Their biggest concern is matching outfits to their emotions and I feel that all they need is a bit of encouragement to start speaking their minds. If they have minds…I’m still unsure about that.

Well, that’s it for the moment. I have to make sure the air is clear before company comes over for tea.

Contributions to a long-hand writing fund can be sent to me via this site. Do not delay as each moment brings us closer to a literary apocalypse when we start writing in binary code. Of course this will kill the publishing industry, and won’t do much for us writers, either.

– SLW