Thursday, February 14, 2008


[In which paranoid fiction is written]

Martin and Scott lay on their backs on the floor, side by side, watching the high bare light bulbs amid the girders. Sometimes birds got in there, in the big box building. Today, there was nothing but the lights, too regular to be a constellation, and untwinkling.

On either side of them, conveyor belts turned slowly, carrying a flotsam of broken or jammed or bugged computer boxes: Apples, Tandys, IBMs, lots of those cheap new Commodores and the even newer Compaqs. They were supposed to fix these. But they were on break. They would have gone outside to get high, like they used to when they worked retail. But in the corporate park there was no place to fire up. So they stayed in and pretended they were high.

"Bullshit," Scott said. "You're 22, just like me. It's 1984, so you were NOT reading science fiction collections in the 1960s."

"I said it was written in the '60s, dummy. I didn't say I read it in the '60s."

"Michael Moorcock wrote it?"

"Maybe," Martin said. "It was him or it was nobody special. I think it was nobody special. But I remember it totally. Aliens come to earth; they just drop out of the sky one day, all over the place. Blobs of matter that jump up off the ground and latch on to people's genitals and quickly form themselves to our shape and start pumping orgasms. People stop breeding, stop eating, stop caring about anything but the intense rush of that perfect pleasure. In a few years, the earth is depopulated. It was nothing personal. They just wanted us out of the way. When the aliens really come, that's how it's going to be. It's not going to be on some big-assed Death Star, blowing up cities with laser beams. It's going to be like that story. A box of nookie you can't leave alone."

The belts kept moving. They moved all day and night. It was too much trouble to start them up again. The machines they missed now, they'd fetch to fix on the return trip.

* * *

Idiots! Just because this is 1984 on the calendar, they're yammering about George Orwell, as though he were some secular oracle, predicting that loss of freedom would happen in 1984 or by 1984. He held up a warning sign to us, and we got glamored by the painting and lettering on it and never read it.

But when calendar 1984 is over and you look around and see nothing that looks like "Big Brother," you'll congratulate yourselves on your good sense and promptly forget Orwell and his warning.

He saw it coming. But when it came to what form it would take, he could only guess. And he made a good enough guess based on the stuff of the world he lived in then. Gray totalitarianism. Perversion of language. Mind control by the media. But it won't be like that.

January 22, 1984, third quarter of Super Bowl XVIII. Apple Computer airs its "1984" commercial to promote the Macintosh personal computer. Ridley Scott directing -- directing a commercial. That girl in the red track shorts runs in and throws a sledgehammer at the TV while Big Brother is droning to his slaves. Then the voice-over says, "you'll see why 1984 won't be like 1984." Hell, you'd need that sledgehammer to smash the irony of it.

The Mac's got graphical user interface. Don't have to touch a keyboard to make it work. Lots of bugs, but they still sell 100,000 of them in the first six months. What's the fear in the ad? Who is "Big Brother?" IBM. Hardware, see? IBM's got a 26 percent market share and Commodore is going strong. Apple's on the ropes! But people don't want a monopoly. They want choices, freedom, all that stuff. So Apple's going to give it to them!

The sexy girl with the sledgehammer.

Missed the point. Everyone did.

Software is Big Brother. The same time -- same day -- Macintosh goes out to the stores, Microsoft ships BASIC and Multiplan. Word, Chart, and File are all on the way. Who's in the house at the official Macintosh launch on January 20? Bill Gates. He's in the original brochure, too, standing there next to Mitch Kapor of Lotus.

November 10, 1983, Microsoft unveils Microsoft Windows, an extension of the MS-DOS operating system that provides a graphical operating environment. Windows features a window management capability that allows a user to view unrelated application programs simultaneously. It also provides the capability to transfer data from one application program to another.

* * *

"So they get us with sex," Martin said. "I think that's right. You ever read Job, Scotty? Book of Job."

"Long time ago."

"They got Satan right in that one. He's God's game tester. Sent him down here to run through creation and find the glitches. Found one right away in that Garden of Eden instance. God didn't patch that till a good while later. The Jesus patch. Meanwhile Old Nick found another one; God had to erase nearly all the code and start over with just a boatload of critters from the old game."

"Where does sex come into that?"

"Well, maybe he just found another glitch in the game. If he's trying to break it, sex is an obvious weak spot, right? Old Nick's been trying and trying to break sex for 2,000 years, but he couldn't crack the firewall code around it. Till he gets him a strong machine."

"He's making a machine?"

"Nah, he'll get us to make it for him. One temptation at a time. He'll even get us to plug ourselves into it."