Sample Chapters 2 and 4
If you didn’t catch it before, take a look at chapter 1 of my book ‘The Loser, the Robot, and the Antichrist’ here: elbrooks.substack.com/p/the-loser-the-robot-and-the-antichrist
This is a scifi novel mixing a variety of prose and verse styles, exciting adventures and romance, with reflections on the interplay of freedom, technology, and belief in the modern age.
I’m adding chapters 2 and 4 here because they give the first glimpses of Quixotia and introduce several important characters. Once I get a cover design finalized, I will start taking pre-orders.
As always, please share with your friends if you enjoy this, and let me know what you think!
Ch. 2 Gone Native
I always wanted to be alone. “You’re a strange boy, Tom,” so my mother said from time to time. I left before things were complete, but I could tell where they were going. Back then we still heated our own meals–pre-packaged of course– scrubbed up before bed, and had to force ourselves to wake up on time for work. We had to work, in some capacity. No direct neural stimulation at the moment you would most like to awaken. No machines that fuel and repair themselves. No prediction of desires without conscious input. We chose more often, but we had fewer choices.
“You’re a strange man, Tom. What do you want that isn’t here?” so Hubert would say to me. He wanted it. Total freedom. I never could want it. I didn’t see how anyone could.
I wanted limitation. I wanted to be alone. “You’ll have it,” Hubert told me, “you’ll have anything you want.” “Exactly,” I said. “I’ll have anything desirable, and so I won’t be able to have the one thing I really want.”
He understood. We were friends because he understood. He knew there was a difference between choosing limitation when all other possibilities were just a thought away from fulfillment and truly being limited. The Architects understood it, too. They weren’t foolish or dismissive of such complaints. They built the City on a simple principle: in the past freedom had led to wars over scarce resources. The first automated cities tried to solve this by programming the populace, but this had led to revolutions. A more complete automation, effectively eliminating scarcity, combined with maximum freedom seemed the answer. All moral problems seemed to disappear. If you thought androids were human, you would encounter them and never know the difference. If that made you uncomfortable, you changed your preferences to have them identified or to avoid them altogether. All the great conflicts that worried us before the City were solved by expanded menus of options. But I never wanted so many options, and setting my experience on autopilot seemed somehow revolting.
When I say Hubert understood, I mean he seemed moderately interested in the question. He thought it presented a real puzzle, that it wasn’t just whining about words. The Architects understood, but they were not interested. They simply said that, on the whole, more people would have more of what they wanted in a system that satisfied desire than in one that stunted it, even if the desire to be stunted was itself a natural impulse that could not be fully satisfied in the City. The kind of answer that is hard to refute, yet somehow impossible to find satisfying once the question has presented itself as serious. But they weren’t coercive. There was nothing forceful. It was “Do you consent?” every step of the way. Not an ounce of tyranny. I almost wish they had been tyrannical. I wish they’d tried to crush us, like all the doomsayers predicted. Then I could hate them. But I am denied this pleasure.
Many felt like I did at the time. And so we left. Quite a few at first, then, after things were all set up, once the whole thing was in motion, a slow trickle. No more than five a year out of a population of five million. Never a revolution. No mass unease. We just walked away. I was not surprised Hubert left eventually, but I don’t exactly understand how he left, except that it was not by walking.
I was an outsider in the City and an outsider among the emigrants. Most went to a sort of suburb. A thing built by the City at no cost. Houses sprung from the ground like wildflowers. Each unique and vibrant. The machine provided an escape from the machine. Clean streets. Nice small shops. Walkable downtowns. A different dream from a different architect.
“Come over and stay awhile.” My cousin Hank heard I was leaving. We’d been close as kids. Maybe the only one I was ever normal with. I liked watching westerns when I was with him. I liked hockey with him. I liked those perfect wildflower houses when I was with him. “New place popping up across the street, Tom. We could be neighbors. Need some help in my new business, if you’re wanting to work.” I really thought I might do it. I stayed in his guest room about a month to think it through. Maybe this was how I escaped myself. Maybe “away from myself” was the Alone I craved, and finding a place to be normal with normal people was the way to do it. I was so close to saying Yes.
Every night Hank talked about how great it would be. “You can answer the phones. People around here like to know it’s a person answering the phone. It’s a cozy little life.” But I was lying to myself. I knew I couldn’t do it. If I could have, I would have. I wanted an escape. I wish I could have made an escape. But I would have spent my whole life trying to relive the handful of times I felt ordinary as a kid. And I never would’ve felt quite at ease. Hank was not surprised when I finally said no, but he was sad. Real sad. He wanted to help.
“Come down to the Wildlands.” An open invitation from an old girlfriend. She didn’t want me back. I didn’t want her back. But the invitation was sincere. I suspected it might be from pity, but it was sincere. I’m sure that’s where everyone expected me to go. Lots of people wanted to be alone at that time. Tired of the constant stream of information, the constant updates from friends. The hermit life returned. If I wanted to become a hermit, I could have apprenticed under an established master of the life. Learned to endure the long silence, the cold nights. Learned how to eat from the ground. But I wanted to be Alone, not to be by myself. I could be by myself anywhere, as far as I was concerned. I didn’t need a desert to be by myself. I could never be alone by myself. My heart was too broken for that.
The institution of the hermitage didn’t draw me. The thought of being with my old girl, even as friends, disgusted me. She was having fun in those Wildland communities. She was always having fun, a pleasure I found unbearable. But the life itself had some appeal. It had hardship. It had duties imposed for the sake of survival. No technology at all, except whatever simple innovations were needed to make the farms efficient enough to sustain life without excessive risk from bad weather. A modern primitivism, unlike any life recorded in history. No marriage. No recorded music. No law but to avoid violence, except as punishment for violence. Constant farming. Stoned every night. A medicated peasantry who stole the promethean fire of modern agriculture. Play acting an age that never was. What could be worse than such a life of enjoyment? What ideology could be more defined by automation than a self-conscious primitivism? Where could I be less alone than amongst a band of individualists determined to leave me alone?
There was nowhere for me. I should have known all along there was nowhere. I’d traveled only such a tiny part of the globe. Barely left my own quaint corner of my own quaint continent. But I knew if I flew to far off Cathay or Samarkand it would be the same. Or what was different wouldn’t really be different. There would still be cities like the City, and a variety of escapes. I just took what I could carry and started walking.
I wasn’t afraid, exactly. The wilderness had long ago ceased to be wild. There were still animals that could eat you, but not so many. Not near the roads. There were noises I could not identify. There were shadows. All the normal spooks. But mostly I walked at peace with my surroundings. For 30 days through woods, over hill and valley. Feeling at peace with empty space, but not with myself. My own mind still connected to where I’d been. I could never unlive my life. I hadn’t done anything wrong. At least nothing so wrong to be worth talking about. I’d been given everything, but couldn’t be happy. I’d been loved by everyone, but couldn’t be happy. I’d left them and I couldn’t explain why. And I couldn’t even stay with the other leavers, which would have been a perfectly respectable choice. I just kept walking.
And that’s how I found Quixotia. Beyond the three rivers. Not on any map I could recall. I know now it was on every map, as the whole world was without exception. But not any map I could recall. Not a place anyone would have noticed. As full of screens and wires as anywhere; ten story office buildings with thatched roofs; peasants listening to audiobooks as they dug the earth with ox and plow; factory owners paraded through the street with pomp and noble heraldry. Not a self-conscious “balance” of the use of technology. Not self-consciousness at all, though a visitor would be forgiven for mistaking it for one of those “recreation” societies that zested the cosmopolitan globe. They had nothing to recreate, they said, only to hand down, to retain, and to grow. The only place I’d found that people loved for its faults, and not because it was a partially realized utopia in need of a bit more fine-tuning.
“Phinees our founder, he fought ‘gainst false freedom. Fought for the faith that our fathers had known,” so I was told when I first arrived. An odd sort of speech, irritating at first, but feeling more natural the more I realized it wasn’t play-acting. They could not pretend at queer habits, because everyone they grew up with had spoken the same way. They could not reject technology because they barely knew they had it. They insisted, “We live as Men, with dominion over the earth.” To send a communication around the earth in less than a second seemed no different to them than to use a hoe to break earth. I knew I could never be one of them. I could never be one of anything. I could not escape the “question of the meaning of our age,” as journalists liked to call it. But in Quixotia I finally felt alone at times. Alone because their time was a circle. A time for singing together; a time for eating together; a time to work; a time to think; a time to be alone. Really alone. Alone as part of the rhythm of a community. Alone without self-imposed solitude. Not seeking perfection. Not believing “The Social Question” was about to be solved. Just men and women seeking to overcome their own faults and asking forgiveness of their neighbors.
I was happy there for all those years, as much as I could be happy anywhere. Then I read the news. Something had happened in the City. They called it a terrorist attack. Right outside my old building. Deaths only in the hundreds, but completely unexplained. No record of an intruder entering the City. No record of an attack from a citizen. Some drones destroyed. Minor damage to several buildings. No explanation. No relevant data. Then I received a message from Hubert’s mom.
Had I heard from him? Did I know where he was? The attack was on his birthday.
Embarrassed, I pretended I had noticed. Yes, yes, I had been planning to call, but we’re always so busy here.
No, I hadn’t heard anything.
Didn’t you try calling when you heard about the attack? I thought you two kept in touch? Where are you again? I thought you lived nearby with your relatives. That far away? But you’ve kept in touch, right? Please let me know if you hear anything.
Of course I’d let her know. But we’d barely kept in touch. Maybe a few times a year. But now I wanted to find him. The attack on his birthday. Outside our old building. No one had seen him since. Not a suspect. No suspicious activity. Not counted among the dead. I determined to leave. There was no reason to suppose I could figure out what the greatest in A.I. detectives could not. But how could I help myself?
I felt both alive and dead. My life had just begun. The world outside our small Quixotia had begun to seem like a dream. Leaving seemed like a death. But also new life. The life I was supposed to have but had fled from.
As you know, that’s when everything started changing. Before then only the City and its endless growth loomed in our conscience, in hope and fear. After Hubert disappeared, our hopes and fears began to multiply. Then there was the rise of Great Men who hated us. Then there was the Loser. Something closer to History. A world in which things still happened.
Ch. 4 An Age of Longing
“The more impossible the past becomes, the more we find that’s where we stay.” So Rose said in their first conversation. Hekelbert objected. Nothing was the same. The past had become as incomprehensible to us as we would be to a man of the twentieth century, he argued. “No,” Rose objected, “that’s not right at all. It’s only because you don’t step out of simulation often enough. Life is the same today as it was in the time of Abel. Farming and murder. There’s never been anything else.”
“You don’t understand. I can’t step outside.”
“I’m sorry, am I speaking to an A.I?”
Not a machine, but a man, a Man
Raised inside a tube.
I’ve walked the four corners of the earth
Yet never left this metallic cube.
I am but a simple Quixotian maid,
Who walks by the light of day.
I work in field and online sales,
Then fall asleep on a pile of hay.
Our life seems silly and over simple,
And attracts not the wandering eye.
Long have you followed my video stream,
And long have I wondered why.
I stumbled on your profile pic
While looking for a laugh–
Something to mock ancient drudgery
And cut my dull anguish in half.
But I could not laugh or look away,
My mind and eyes were trapped:
Like a shephearde in some old nonsense book
By a visiting goddess enrapt.
You must never look at me like that,
as a beauty to own with your eyes,
to possess by thought or simulation,
by mental or digital lies.
I have not uncovered even my head,
and you should not uncover ought else,
lest I call my brothers to bind your loins
with cruel and heavy belts.
Never have I conjured you
though I’ve been trained in these fantasies
to make my perpetual infancy
curdle with pleasure’s fine cheese.
Ever moving in my mind,
ever contained in my box,
I know not movement nor true rest,
neither the hunt nor the den of the fox.
You were to me a vision true
that I could love without desire,
where my mind could rest without turning off,
be soothed without dousing the fire.
My first chaste thought, my first moment of ease,
not pulled between Desire and Death.
I wanted only that you bring the keys,
to unlock me by your breath.
You have but copied lines from a book
as dazzled youth are wont.
In field or machine, romantic folly
our minds shall ever haunt.
Not so, not so, my fairest one,
you know not our deadly sloth.
Children only four years grown
make fun of the bride’s white cloth.
You can’t imagine our sarcastic depths,
how they differ from men’s dirty jokes.
I’ve had every old Romance read to my brain
but till now thought all loving a hoax.
If this is true then we may meet,
let me give reason to your first steps.
Set your cell to grow your bones,
and add mass to your quadriceps.
But must I really come to you,
could we embrace in the electric air?
Come and meet me in my dream
that my steps may be light and fair.
Marriage always requires a dance
and a dream needs sturdy legs.
Better to stumble at your own feast
and of your missteps to brag.
Are you then a primitivist
who looks on my city with rage?
I thought you were modern in your own queer way.
Will you pull me to a long dead age?
I am but a simple Quixotian maid
and I love my man in the pod.
To make ideology of wires and screens
is to me impossibly odd.
But there are things that must be done,
I know it but cannot ask why:
a wedding without a proper dance
is a vow to tell truth by a lie.