TATB Guest Post: Driving Forward by Greg Hickey

Today we have one of November’s giveaway authors guest posting on the TATB blog. Please welcome dystopian author,

Greg Hickey

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The first time I got behind the wheel of a car, my father bravely sat in the passenger seat. I was fifteen with a learner’s permit, and I was nervous and hesitant. In one of our first lessons, my father directed me to Forestway Drive, a two-lane road with no traffic signals and no passing that wound through a forest preserve near our house. The speed limit was forty-five, but I barely approached thirty on my first attempt as I crept through the woods with a line of eager cars on my tail.

Over time, Forestway Drive became my personal measuring stick for my abilities as a driver. On each trip, I crept closer to the speed limit and was soon zig-zagging my way through the forest with ease. After I got my driver’s license, I began to take the longer Forestway route whenever I traveled in its direction. I especially liked to drive that road at night, simply for the thrill of hugging those wooded curves in the moonlit darkness, for the pleasure of succeeding at something that had once seemed so difficult.

When I was in high school in the early 2000s, driving remained an act of skill and power and an expression of personal freedom—even for minivans! Take this Chrysler advertisement from 2000, which features similar footage to what you might see in a commercial for a sports car. A fleet of vans cruises along a snaking tree-lined road, whipping around curves and accelerating in perfect unison. The voice-over describes the vans as “luxurious” and repeats the model name “Voyager” twice in succession. These minivans aren’t just for soccer moms; they’re meant for voyages, for taking adventures and doing so in style.

Four years later, Chrysler shifted its Pacifica model name from a minivan to a sportier crossover vehicle. Yet unlike those 2000 minivans, this more aesthetically appealing automobile was advertised for its comfort more than its performance. This 2007 Pacifica commercial opens up much like its 2000 predecessor, with taglines emphasizing “performance” and “style.” But it quickly shifts tone to focus on “security” and “safety” and then “technology,” which refers to a DVD player and satellite radio rather than improved driving performance. Images of the car’s extraneous features replace the fast, powerful, initial driving shot, and the final driving scene is far tamer, portraying the Pacifica traveling at a moderate speed along a quiet suburban street. The transition from driving a car to riding in one had begun.

This year, comedian Jim Gaffigan offered several tongue-in-cheek boasts about his “Dad brand” in a series of Pacifica commercials, such as this self-parking ad.

“I do things myself,” Gaffigan says, as his Pacifica parallel parks itself. “I don’t pass things off, I don’t let anyone or anything do something that I should do myself.”

The advertisement effectively uses Gaffigan’s humor to highlight the self-parking feature of the Pacifica. But who is the butt of Gaffigan’s irony? All of us who claim to be independent, skillful and proactive? In this commercial, Chrysler pinpoints the hypocrisy of modern car commercials that conflate human driving performance with the technological capabilities of contemporary automobiles. But in promoting the Pacifica’s self-parking feature, Chrysler’s apparent solution is that we should either embrace Gaffigan’s hypocrisy or fully adopt the hands-free, effort-free lifestyle.

Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, I rarely had the need to parallel park a car. It wasn’t until I got to college that I became woefully aware of this shortcoming, especially in comparison to my friend who was raised in the city. While a self-parking car could have saved me a lot of hassle, I always felt that parallel parking was a skill that wasn’t hard enough or dangerous enough to preclude the effort needed to learn it.

We are now faced with the next step of automobile technology, in which self-driving cars could fill American roads within a few years. Google unleashed its automated vehicles on the streets around its northern California headquarters last year, and Uber recently rolled out a fleet of self-driving cars in Pittsburgh with the hope of soon expanding to other markets. In late September, a group of tech industry veterans proposed banning human-driven automobiles on a 150-mile stretch of interstate between Seattle and Vancouver. The same article proposes that human drivers could be outlawed in London and other congested urban settings and on college campuses and airports within the next five years.

I am amazed by the rapid acceleration of automated automobile technology leading to the recent explosion of viable self-driving cars. And I have no doubt that a road without human drivers will be safer for all commuters. Distracted, drowsy and intoxicated drivers could soon become hazards of the past. Traffic might move more freely, and commuters could at least use their travel time productively. But there’s a part of me that will miss zipping through the quiet darkness of Forestway Drive in this new driverless world.

I do not consider myself a technophobe and do not want to come across as one, but the shift from the skill of driving toward automation underlines a concern common to any rapid advance in technology. It bears repeating that we are (at least for now) masters of our technologies. We can use them how and as much or little as we please. In that vein, we should ask ourselves whether we choose self-parking or self-driving cars for safety and convenience, or because we don’t want to bother cultivating the requisite skill to park or drive ourselves. Where driving was once considered an enjoyable pastime and a symbol of humankind’s ability to bend technology to its own devices, we now risk seeing this skill become an antiquated luxury in our continual pursuit of comfort, safety and efficiency.

Contrary to Gaffigan’s words, we no longer do many things ourselves. We do pass tasks off, we do let machines perform actions we should do ourselves. We ought to inquire whether we do so for the sake of public safety or to allow us to use our time more productively or better cultivate meaningful relationships, or simply because we have become too lazy, scared or enamored with personal comfort to act on our own. We should weigh technologies, not only on how they affect our lives in a purely utilitarian calculus but on whether or not they erode the very spirit of adventure, creativity and human agency that made them possible in the first place.

Greg Hickey is the author of Our Dried Voices, a dystopian fiction novel about what happens when humans no longer need to think and create in order to sustain their lives, and a Finalist for Foreword Reviews‘ 2014 INDIEFAB Science Fiction Book of the Year Award. You can read samples of Our Dried Voices and the rest of his written work on his website http://www.greghickeywrites.com/

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Now go check out Greg Hickey’s facebook page and/or stalk him on twitter and make sure you enter November’s Dystopian Giveaway, which includes a signed paperback copy of Our Dried Voices

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TATB Guest Post: But Our Vampires Are Different by Stephen Kozeniewski

Today we have one of October’s giveaway authors guest posting on the TATB blog. Please welcome horror and sci-fi author,

Stephen Kozeniewski

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“My vampires are different, though!”  It’s such an oft-repeated line, there’s an entire portal of pages for it on TV Tropes (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/OurVampiresAreDifferent).  It’s so common, that I consistently see reviewers say, “No vampires, and yes, I know yours are different.”

 

I guess the ubiquity of that phrase says one thing about vampire authors: at least we take our worldbuilding seriously.  It’s a common lament that fantasy authors will say, “You know, they’re Tolkien- style elves” or, “You know, it’s a Warcraft-type orc” and call it a day.  I guess because vampires are so common and come with so much baggage, vampire authors at least like to lay down the rules for their own work.

 

I find there are two basic methodologies for doing this.  Authors will either treat their vampires like strangely exotic animals whose idiosyncrasies all have a scientific explanation (“The Strain” is a good recent example, or “Underworld” is a slightly older one) or they’ll treat them like nonsense magical creatures who can do whatever the author’s imagination likes (such as in “Buffy” or “True Blood”). 

 

For myself, I mostly split the difference.  I don’t hate the idea of trying to make vampires scientifically plausible, but folks like Guillermo del Toro have already taken a crack at that and I don’t feel like I have a whole lot to add.  I do kind of dislike the whole “vampires can do whatever we say they can do because magic” method.  Because I mean, how, physically how, would a two hundred pound man turn into a six ounce bat?  Exactly how do fangs become hollow things you can suck blood through, and how do you retract them when you’re not aroused?  Where do they go?  Does anything in nature do these things?  Snakes have fangs but they always have fangs, and they’re hollow for injecting venom, not for sucking blood.  And tadpoles can gradually evolve into frogs, but they can’t turn back, and they certainly can’t go from tiny to giant and back again.

 

So I didn’t want to worry about every little aspect of my vampires having to jive with some kind of scientific principle, but I did want them to at least be reasonable physical beings.  Which meant a couple of rules:

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1.)  Creating vampires is more like giving birth.  You know the old math trick that if you take a penny and double it thirty times you’ll end up with ten million dollars?  This is my problem with easy peasy siring, or bringing across, or turning, or the blood kiss or whatever you want to call it.  In HUNTER OF THE DEAD only very powerful and ancient vampires can grant the Long Gift (hey, I had to come up with a new term, my vampires are different, after all) and they’re not always very good at it.  Sometimes people have miscarriages or their children are born with deformities.  It’s the same way with my vampires.  Sometimes when trying to turn someone they simply die, other times they become subhuman ghouls.  It’s not always just a bite and a turn.

 

2.)  Ditch the fangs.  As I said, fangs are cool, but they don’t make much sense and I feel like writers have come to rely on them as a crutch.  If someone can give me a working explanation for retractable fangs, I will gladly rescind this statement.  So my vampires have ordinary teeth, and when they need to drink blood, they use a razor blade.

 

3.)  No mesmerism.  Like fangs, I’ve come to think of mesmerism as a cheat.  It’s a way to have humans witness a vampire story, then be able to erase their memories later.  It’s a reset button, basically, and I think its crap.  So my vampires do have humans working for them, but it’s not because they’re hypnotized.  It’s because they’re convinced.

 

4.)  Shapechanging is right out.  I intend to at some point in the future tackle werewolves in a similarly reasonable-but-not-too-reasonable manner, and I will probably address the matter of a six-foot man bulking up into a nine-foot killing machine.  But a man turning into a tiny little bat just does not work for me.

 

5.)  Your humanity dies with you.  After a century and a half of literature trying to humanize vampires, we’ve reached a point where vampires are basically just angsty regular people with special powers.  I don’t like that and I’ve never liked that.  I think a vampire should never be mistaken for a human, and vampires struggling to regain their souls constitute a trope so common it’s lost all merit.  So my vampires lose their humanity and it stays lost.  You can appeal to the better angels of their nature…except they haven’t got any.

 

And that, my friends, is just a few examples of how my vampires are…uh…dissimilar.  🙂

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Now go check out Stephen Kozeniewski’s website and/or stalk him on twitter and make sure you enter October’s Vampire Novels Giveaway, which includes a signed paperback copy of Hunter of the Dead!

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