Friday, August 13, 2021

"For Such a Clever Boy, He Sure Makes a Dumb Corpse"

By William J. Shefski (?).
Illustration by Charles Lang (HERE).
First appearance: Aboriginal Science Fiction, Fall 1993.
Short short story (6 pages).
Online at (HERE).
(Parental caution: Strong language.)

     "I wondered if Edison ever had any of his inventions come back to haunt him."

When does a dream turn into a nightmare? Lack is about to find out . . . .

Principal characters:
~ Little Bob:
  ". . . had a genius for these thinking machines that control our lives."
~ Lack:
  "The point is, I've never laid my own hands on a computer chip in anger."
~ Police officer:
  "As the coat swung out, I saw her hit a button on a controller at her hip."
~ Second police officer:
  "I caught a glimpse of her partner again, stirring up papers just outside the door."

A deduction that a 21st century Sherlock might make (except for those "cathode rays"):
  "The young man that stood before me showed the pallid skin and thin, under-developed musculature that comes from spending a life in front of computer screens, bathing in cathode rays."

References and resource:
- "Edison": Known in his day as the Wizard of Menlo Park:
  "Thomas Alva Edison (1847–1931) was an American inventor and businessman who has been described as America's greatest inventor. He developed many devices in fields such as electric power generation, mass communication, sound recording, and motion pictures. These inventions, which include the phonograph, the motion picture camera, and early versions of the electric light bulb, have had a widespread impact on the modern industrialized world" (Wikipedia HERE).
- "the Stanley Steamer": Yes, there once was an automobile powered by steam, but it was rendered obsolete by technical innovations:
  "During the mid to late 1910s, the fuel efficiency and power delivery of internal combustion engines improved dramatically and using an electric starter instead of the crank, which had been notorious for injuring its operators, led to the rise of the gasoline-powered automobile, which also was much cheaper" (Wikipedia HERE).
- "a born hacker": A term that, since our story was published, has acquired ominous overtones:
  "A computer hacker is a computer expert who uses their technical knowledge to achieve a goal or overcome an obstacle, within a computerized system by non-standard means. Though the term hacker has become associated in popular culture with a security hacker – someone who utilizes their technical know-how of bugs or exploits to break into computer systems and access data which would otherwise be unavailable to them – hacking can also be utilized by legitimate figures in legal situations. Originally, hacker simply meant advanced computer technology enthusiast (both hardware and software) and adherent of programming subculture" (Wikipedia HERE).
- "the virtual reality gizmos": Even unreality can be useful in reality:
  "Virtual reality applications are applications that make use of virtual reality (VR), an immersive sensory experience that digitally simulates a virtual environment. Applications have been developed in a variety of domains, such as education, architectural and urban design, digital marketing and activism, engineering and robotics, entertainment, virtual communities, fine arts, healthcare and clinical therapies, heritage and archaeology, occupational safety, social science and psychology" (Wikipedia HERE).
- "brain chemistry": The human brain has been called "the three-pound universe":
  "While neurochemistry as a recognized science is relatively new, the idea behind neurochemistry has been around since the 18th century. Originally, the brain had been thought to be a separate entity apart from the peripheral nervous system. Beginning in 1856, there was a string of research that refuted that idea. The chemical makeup of the brain was nearly identical to the makeup of the peripheral nervous system" (Wikipedia HERE).
- "a poison pill virus": Don't talk to me about viruses:
  "The first known description of a self-reproducing program in fiction is in the 1970 short story 'The Scarred Man' by Gregory Benford which describes a computer program called VIRUS which, when installed on a computer with telephone modem dialing capability, randomly dials phone numbers until it hits a modem that is answered by another computer, and then attempts to program the answering computer with its own program, so that the second computer will also begin dialing random numbers, in search of yet another computer to program. The program rapidly spreads exponentially through susceptible computers and can only be countered by a second program called VACCINE" (Wikipedia HERE).
- "Messianic then": A desire to help taken too far:
  "A messiah complex (Christ complex or savior complex) is a state of mind in which an individual holds a belief that they are destined to become a savior today or in the near future. The term can also refer to a state of mind in which an individual believes that they are responsible for saving or assisting others" (Wikipedia HERE).
- "It's been 2050 years": That would put our story in the neighborhood of 2080 A.D.
- "worse than mad scientist": A universal fictional stereotype which isn't always fiction:
  "Mad scientist (also mad doctor or mad professor) is a stock character of a scientist who is described as 'mad' or 'insane' owing to a combination of unusual or unsettling personality traits and the unabashedly ambitious, taboo or hubristic nature of their experiments. As a motif in fiction, the mad scientist may be villainous (evil genius) or antagonistic, benign or neutral; may be insane, eccentric, or clumsy; and often works with fictional technology or fails to recognize or value common human objections to attempting to play God. Some may have benevolent intentions, even if their actions are dangerous or questionable, which can make them accidental antagonists" (Wikipedia HERE).
- According to the authoritative Internet Speculative Fiction Database (ISFDb HERE) this is the only SFFnal story attributed to William J. Shefski.


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