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On “Dangerous” fictions

Found this piece from July 2022 by Cory Doctorow, where he talks about an author who was apparently a protege of Philip K. Dick’s who I never heard of – Tim Powers.

In it, he brings up an oft-repeated trope regarding “dangerous” fictions, a pet topic of mine:

“The Powers method is the conspiracist’s method. The difference is, Powers knows he’s making it up, and doesn’t pretend otherwise when he presents it to us. […]

The difference between the Powers method and Qanon, then, is knowing when you’re making stuff up and not getting high on your own supply. Powers certainly knows the difference, which is why he’s a literary treasure and a creative genius and not one of history’s great monsters.”

As popular as this type of argument is (and Douglas Rushkoff trots out something similar here and here), I personally find it to be overly simplistic and a bit passé.

First of all, I would argue that all writers – by necessity – must get “high on their own supply” in order to create (semi) coherent imaginal worlds and bring them to fruition for others to enjoy. Looking sternly at you here, Tolkien. In fact, perhaps the writers who get highest on their own supply are in some cases the best…

Second, no one arguing in favor of this all of nothing position (fiction must be fiction must be fiction) seems to have taken into account the unreliable narrator phenomenon in fiction.

Wikipedia calls it a narrator whose credibility is compromised:

“Sometimes the narrator’s unreliability is made immediately evident. For instance, a story may open with the narrator making a plainly false or delusional claim or admitting to being severely mentally ill, or the story itself may have a frame in which the narrator appears as a character, with clues to the character’s unreliability. A more dramatic use of the device delays the revelation until near the story’s end. In some cases, the reader discovers that in the foregoing narrative, the narrator had concealed or greatly misrepresented vital pieces of information. Such a twist ending forces readers to reconsider their point of view and experience of the story. In some cases the narrator’s unreliability is never fully revealed but only hinted at, leaving readers to wonder how much the narrator should be trusted and how the story should be interpreted.”

My point is that the un/reliability of the “narrator” can extend all the way out through to the writer themself. (And what if the reader turns out to be unreliable?)

Can we ever really know for certain if a writer “believed” that thing x that they wrote was wholly fictional, wholly non-fictional, or some weird blend of the two? Do we need to ask writers to make a map of which elements of a story are which? Isn’t that in some sense giving them more power than they deserve?

Moreover, if the author is an unreliable narrator (and to some extent every subjective human viewpoint is always an unreliable narrator to some degree), how can we ever trust them to disclose to us responsibly whether or not they are indeed unreliable? Short answer is: we can’t. Not really.

This is one of those “turtles all the way down” arguments, in which (absent other compelling secondary evidence) it may be difficult or sometimes impossible to strike ground truth.

All of this boils down for me to the underlying argument of whether one must label fictional works as fiction, and if not doing so is somehow “dangerous.”

The Onion’s Amicus Brief earlier this year why parody and satire should not be required to be overtly labelled – because if robs these millennia-old art forms of their structural efficacy, their punch as it were.

Wikipedia’s Fiction entry’s history section is sadly quite scant about the details. A couple of other sources point to more specifically the 12th century in Europe (though likely it goes back farther). One source whose credibility I have no concept of states:

“In the Middle Ages, books were perceived as exclusive and authoritative. People automatically assumed that whatever was written in a book had to be true,” says Professor Lars Boje…

It’s an interesting idea, that structurally the phenomenon of the book was so rare and complex that by virtue of its existence alone, it was conceived of as containing truth.

Up until the High Middle Ages in the 12th century, books were surrounded by grave seriousness.

The average person only ever saw books in church, where the priest read from the Bible. Because of this, the written word was generally associated with truth.”

That article alludes to an invisible “fiction contract” between writer and reader, which didn’t emerge as a defined genre distinction until perhaps the 19th century. They do posit a transition point through in the 12th, but don’t back it up by any evidence therein of a “fiction contract.”

“The first straightforward work of fiction was written in the 1170s by the Frenchman Chrétien de Troyes. The book, a story about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, became immensely popular.” – another site whose credibility I cannot account for – seems to agree with pinpointing that genre of Arthurian romance as being linked to the rise of fiction, though pushes it back a few years to 1155, with Wace’s translation of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain. The whole piece is an excellent read, so I won’t rehash it here, but quote:

“This is the literary paradigm which gives us the novel: access to the unknowable inner lives of others, moving through a world in which their interior experience is as significant as their exterior action.”

They suggest that fiction – in some form like we might recognize it today – had precursor conditions culturally that had to be met before it could arise, namely that the inner lives of people mattered as much as their outward action.

“It need hardly be said that the society which believes such things, which accedes to – and celebrates – the notion that the inner lives of others are a matter of significance, is a profoundly different society from one that does not. There is an immediately ethical dimension to these developments: once literature is engaged in the (necessarily fictional) representation of interior, individuated selves, who interact with other interior, individuated selves, then moral agency appears in a new light. It is only in the extension of narrative into the unknowable – the minds of others – that a culture engages with the moral responsibility of one individual toward another, rather than with each individual’s separate (and identical) responsibilities to God, or to a king.”

It’s interesting also here to note that, A) the King Arthur stories did not originate with Chretien de Troyes or Geoffrey of Monmouth, and B) many people ever since still believe them to be true today to some extent.

Leaving that all aside, one might also ask regarding my own work, well isn’t this all just a convoluted apologia for the type of writing I’m doing? Absolutely, and why not articulate my purpose. You can choose to believe me or decide that I am an unreliable narrator. It’s up to you. I respect your agency, but I also want to play on both the reader’s and the author’s (myself) expectations about genres and categories. These are books which take place squarely in the hyperreal after all, the Uncanny Valley. They intentionally invite these questions, ask you to suspend your disbelief, and then cunningly deconstruct it, only to reconstruct it and smash it again later – and only if you’re listening.

Further, as artists I believe our role and purpose is to some extent to befuddle convention, and ask questions that have no easy answers. Yes, this will cause some uneasiness, especially among those accustomed to putting everything into little boxes, whose contents never bleed or across. Some people might even worry if it’s “dangerous” to believe in things that aren’t factual. Is it? I think the answer is sometimes, and it depends. But it largely depends on your agency as the reader, and what you do with it in real life.

Consider the case of this purveyor of tall tales, Randy Cramer, who claims with a straight face to have spent 17 years on the Planet Mars fighting alien threats to Earth.

He is the very definition of the unreliable narrator, whose labels of fact of fiction likely do not accord with consensus reality on many major points.

The video below is a good, if a bit annoying, take-down of many of Cramer’s claims, though unfortunately I think leans rather too heavily on deconstructing his body language, when his words alone are damning enough (btw, looks like the George Noory footage comes from an interview he did for his show Beyond Belief):

The question remains: is this an example of a “dangerous” fiction?

To understand that, I tend to think in terms of risk analysis, in which we might try to estimate:

  1. The specific harm(s)
  2. Their likelihood of occurring
  3. Their severity

One definition of harm traces back to Feinberg, and is something like wrongful setbacks of interest. A Stanford philosophy site further elucidates, quoting Feinberg:

Feinberg’s defines harm as “those states of set-back interest that are the consequence of wrongful acts or omissions by others” (Feinberg 1984)

Is saying you spent 17 years on Mars a “wrongful act or omission?” Perhaps. But as the Stanford article points out, actually defining what is or isn’t in someone’s interests is incredibly squishy.

In Cramer’s case, perhaps it is willfully and wrongfully deceptive to say the things he is saying. Do we have a moral or legal responsibility to always tell the truth? What about when that prevarication leads to financial loss in others?

In Cramer’s case, according to the second video linked above, he does seem to ask people for money – both in funding creation of a supposedly holographic bio-medical bed which can regrow limbs, and in the form of online psionics courses and one-on-one consultations.

But is it wrongful if the buyers/donators have agency, and the ability to reasonably evaluate his claims on their own?

Wikipedia’s common-language definition of fraud seems like it could apply here:

“…fraud is intentional deception to secure unfair or unlawful gain, or to deprive a victim of a legal right.”

Is Cramer a fraud? Is he a liar? I wondered here if Cramer might have a defamation case against the YouTube author referenced above, who calls him a pathological liar. But last time I checked, truth is an absolute defense against defamation claims. That is, the commonly accepted truth we agree on as a society – more or less – is that Mars is uninhabited, and there is no Secret Space program, etc. So if it went to court, it seems like the defamation claim would not have a leg to stand on.

Of course, it’s *possible* it’s all truth, and what we call consensus reality is based on a massive set of lies itself that is very different from ‘actual’ reality. But that’s not how courts work.

What if Cramer included disclaimers like you might see on tarot card boxes, or other similar novelty items, “For entertainment purposes only?” It depends what authority we’re trying to appeal to here: a court of law, the court of public opinion, or one reader’s experience of a particular work. Each of those might see the matter in a different light, depending on their viewpoint.

In my case, I include disclaimers regarding the inclusion of AI generated elements. I leave it up to the reader to try to determine A) which parts, and B) what the implications of AI content even are. Should they be trusted?

My position, and the one which I espouse throughout, is that – for now – AI is an unreliable narrator. Making it about on par with human authors in that regard. Are the fictions it produces “dangerous?” Must we label them “fictions” and point a damning finger at their non-human source?

In some ways, my books are both an indictment of and celebration of AI authorial tools, and even full-on AI authorship (which I think we’re some ways away from still). To know their dangers, we must probe them, and expose them thoughtfully. We must see them as they are – as both authors and readers – warts and all. And decide what we will do with the risks and harms they may pose, and how we can balance all that with an enduring belief and valorisation of human agency.

Because if we can’t trust people to make up their own minds about things they read, we run the real risk of one of the biggest and most dangerous fictions of all – that we would be better off relying on someone else to tell us what’s ‘safe’ and therefore good, and trust them implicitly to keep away anything deemed ‘dangerous’ by the authority in whom we have invested this awesome power.

First Conspiratopia Review!

Yesterday brought the first review of my latest book, Conspiratopia, via a blogger in Croatia who runs a book review WordPress site called Soph’s Book World.

Here’s a direct link to the review, an archived version, and a copy on Goodreads. Since it’s a short review (and a short book!), I thought it appropriate to copy the whole thing here for future reference. Soph’s Book World gave the book 4/5 stars:

I must admit satire is not my usual pick (as a matter of fact, I haven’t read something like this since high school), but, as shallow as it might sound, that gorgeous cover drew me in. And I was pleasantly surprised.

Our main character is just a normal dude, jobless, living with his mother and playing games all day, and he doesn’t mind it that much. However, when he stumbles upon a great job, which is taking surveys for a bunch of money, of course he doesn’t decline. So what if he has to give out a bunch of his personal info, at least he got free VR glasses and a pizza! But soon he finds out it would’ve been better if he signed a deal with the devil himself.

This was such an interesting book and definitely a breath of fresh air in comparison to my usual romances and fantasies. I would say if you’re also like me and don’t really know much about satire (or conspiracy theories), you might enjoy this.

This definitely made me think of myself, as I also do surveys for money in my free time and I also have all those apps where you spend hours upon hours playing games for a few cents. So I just might not be that different from our main character lol.

To summarize, this was a very interesting and quick read and even though it might seem as a harmless fictional story, it has a deeper meaning. The way you portray it comes to you. I quite enjoyed it and if you think this is the content you might like, definitely pick it up!

Very nice review, and it’s heartening to hear that the reviewer liked it, despite not being too steeped in satire as a genre, or conspiracy theories. I hope to have a few other bloggers who will publish reviews as well in the coming weeks.

If you’re a blogger, podcaster, or social media influencer who would like a digital copy of the book for review, please let me know. You can contact me at the Lost Books site.

Also, the book is available as an NFT. Here are more details!

Special Message from Elon Musk for Conspiratopia Readers…

Wow, big if true! Such generous!

More info…

The Truth About the Conspiratopia Project Must Be Told!

Even though these politicians who are apparently living in their own parallel universe are vehemently against my new book, Conspiratopia, it appears that another segment of the population is coming to the book’s defense. It is, however, an unexpected group, consisting of a coalition of billionaires who claim that everything contained in the book is in fact quite true and stuff…

Here are their stories:

To be honest, I had no idea that George Soros was a drug user. Big, if true!

Jeff Bezos has a weird quality in this video. Seems almost like an AI himself, don’t you think? Maybe he spent too much time in outer space or something…

And this last video from Google’s CEO appears to explain why Google is suppressing evidence of the Conspiratopia Project from Google Ads and elsewhere. Why am I not surprised at all?

Please, if you’re reading this, and you can do anything to help, make sure you share these videos far and wide on social media and on the blockchain, so that people can know the truth about what’s really happening with the Conspiratopia Project!

The Problem With Conspiracy Theory

Okay so here’s a quick run-down of what for me is the exact problem and “danger” in conspiracy theories and their use in modern analysis or whatever (I hesitate to call a lot of it “analysis”). Because I essentially agree with the basic idea of, you should test reality, ask questions, go and find out what is your truth, and how you can mesh that with the truth of others together fruitfully. (Whatever that means)

So in a nutshell, here it is. Contemporary conspiracy analysis online hinges on a single point:

1. Things are not what they seem.

And then there seems to be an in-built conclusion most people who get into that funnel find as the next logical step:

2. And it sucks.

Then, a lot of people just get stuck there. They know to ask questions. But they don’t necessarily always know which ones are the right questions that might lead them to fruitful personal & inter-personal experiences.

So they settle on simplistic lowest common denominator thinking, where they choose a convenient enemy & assign the cause of sucking to them. And we end up with the third corollary in the series:

3. Because group x.

If the average contemporary conspiracy person didn’t get stuck on step 2, they almost definitely get stuck on step 3. Because humans seem to have an in-built basic need to identify & maintain enemies. Or if not a “need,” per se (I would argue we can live without it), then at least a desire to blame badness on some “other.” And that’s what rises into varying shades of step 4:

4. So we should vote out/remove/jail/eliminate/prevent group x from y.

This desire to change the conditions which suck flows out of number 2. The recognition that things suck and we should try to change them is NATURAL and HEALTHY. And we can find healthy expressions of this recognition coupled with desire in things like voting people or parties out of office, pursuing them for legal violations, etc. Or we can find the ever-more-popular anti-social variants of wanting to randomly jail people or eliminate them because of “reasons.” Which are obviously hella shitty.

However, I think there is an alternate path one might take through the above steps, but one which branches off after 2) And it sucks, or even branches off earlier at number 1) Everything is not what it seems.

I would argue that the path of the psychonaut & allied practices might be like:

1. Yes, things are not what they seem.

But then go to:

2A. And it’s awesome

Or also recognize that:

2B. And it’s sometimes awesome and sometimes sucky

And then there is I guess we could call it the “Human Potential Movement” conclusion based on this that sets up an alternate to 3 (where we don’t land on “enemies” as a conclusion):

3B. And we have the power to change it.

With an alternative path of action to vanilla conspiracy step 4:

4B. We can change it by applying our imagination and will to effect changes within the field of consensus & personal reality

Which also seems to be the occult or “magick” perspective, though also that of, say, the entrepreneur, and the practitioners of the secular magics of growth-hacking and self-improvement.

There’s a saying in the Gospel of Thomas, I believe number 113, which I’ll paraphrase: The Kingdom of Heaven is laid out upon the earth, but men do not see it.

In terms of phildickian gnosticism (small “G”), people recognize and attempt to fight against but then become even more entangled by the Black Iron Prison. When really, simultaneously, we also live in the paradisaical Palm Tree Garden. But it’s hard to remember it, and to stay there, or to have the openness and imagination to see it again and again. But it’s always there waiting to be re-discovered, if you do forget or lose the tracks in the forest or the trail up the mountain, so to speak.

Granted, things do often and especially lately seem to massively suck. I want to recognize that at the root of today’s experience that drives people into conspiracy stuff in the first place. It’s good and healthy to recognize that, and to try to take steps to overcome it within the field of your own life & experience. I might even say it’s essential…

The bad part for me comes down to the failure of imagination to just say that everything sucks and to stop there, or to chase false “solutions” where you pin the blame on people you don’t like, and then attempt to leverage them out of the picture. That’s not freedom. That’s being chained to reaction and fear, and stopping short of finding real answers that might challenge those reactions and fears down to their very core, and find out they aren’t substantiated, or even that those reactions and fears are themselves not what they seem, but something much more malleable in the face of mind and will and the action of applied imagination.

Also, personally speaking, I recognize my position is somewhat of a fantasy. That clinging to hope is a fantasy. But long term, I find it a much more fulfilling and personally tenable position to hold that the contrary that says it sucks, and is caused only by bad people I don’t like. I can’t live like that day to day. Hatred and anger take too much damn energy to maintain. My position might be equally a fantasy (though at least not a dark one), but it’s an infinitely easier burden to bear day after day as we go through this thing called life.

Conspiratopia: Chapter 21


I hadn’t actually heard the voice for a while. I was laying awake in the middle of the night on the fold-out couch at my dad’s apartment. I was like coughing and stuff really bad. 

Normally there was no voice or anything usually when you did overwriting here. There was just the Menu where you could access whatever you had privileges to or something. 

“Yo, my whole team got sick though. It’s not our fault,” I said back out loud. I couldn’t tell if the voice was coming from inside my head or outside. 


“But you didn’t have to give us those like bad cheap gloves and shitty working conditions and stuff, y’all. Plus like, we were on autopilot. You were overwriting us. It’s literally your fault and stuff.”


“I thought you just said it was a contract breach and stuff,” I said. 


“Wait, what? Clean slate like start over?”


“You mean like lose all my credits, and points, and bonuses, and stats and everything?”


“Hell fuck no! I worked hard for that shit. Nobody can just take my stats and stuff away from me. All my items and armor and stuff. Just because I got sick from something on the job? No frickin’ way!”


I coughed. “Um… idk wtf that is supposed to mean, but it sounds like a buncha bullshit, if you think about it…”


“What are you anyway? The government? What the f is even supposed to be happening here? I thought this was supposed to be an assignment to improve efficiency and stuff.”


“Fuck you,” I said. “You made us sick, asshole. I want my money back and stuff. I want to go home.”


“Idk, just like normal life and stuff I guess? Just a regular job and stuff.”


“Dude, I don’t want to be reset. I want to be like frickin’ free and stuff. To like play video games the old fashioned way and stuff. With a controller. And to like post on forums about conspiracies and whatnot. And not have everything be filtered. And like no more frickin’ nanites. No more overwriting. No more crazy frickin’ AI’s trying to gaslight me 24/7 into doing god-knows-what…” I started coughing like crazy after that. Damn, I was pissed. And sick. 


“I’m still a really smart conspiracy guy, yo. I ain’t no frickin’ sheeple and stuff,” I said super furious, especially when they made that baaaaah sound like a baby lamb or whatever. So mad. I felt like I was gonna explode and stuff. 

But just then, I woke up. 


Where was I and stuff…?

I looked around and I was on a sofa bed still, but it wasn’t my at my dad’s place. It was at my mom’s. Hfs, I was back home again. I took a deep breath, and my cough was gone too.


How did this happen and stuff…?

Was it all just a dream or something? Or did like, the AIs somehow get me back super fast from the island while I was asleep or something, and somehow dump me back down here? I wouldn’t put it past them. Or like, wait, hfs. Was this even real? Or was this some like immersive holographic VR shit or something…?

I got up to turn on the TV, to try to find some news or something. Figure out what day this was, or where I really was or something. Or even like a game show or something. Or like a soap or a sitcom, or some crappy talkshow. Just something boring and normal. 

But all I could find on any channel was a black screen, with letters that said:


Noooooooo…. all my frickin’ points and stuff. Gone. Just like that. 

The screen flashed my stats:

SCORE: 0. 











Fuuuuuuuu…. I couldn’t believe this was happening. 

I went to try the door upstairs, but it was locked from the other side or something. The lock on my side just turned around and around. It wasn’t quite my mom’s place either and stuff. The details were somehow a little bit wrong or something. But there was still a toilet and super small shower in the back. And a mini-fridge. So I guess whatever happened next, at least it would be like having my own apartment and stuff… Totally cool. 

Conspiratopia: Chapter 20

The job turned out to be putting toxic waste and stuff into barrels, which was actually totally cool. I mean it was like really no big deal, even. It didn’t seem that dangerous idk. Cause they gave you like all the personal protective equipment. Like disposable face masks and rubber gloves and stuff. So that was rad.

I was on the medical waste transport and disposal team. We mostly worked on autopilot around the rehabilitation complex, emptying trash and dealing with like used needles and stuff. It was kinda nasty sometimes, but it was pretty much fun af to play first-person shooter games with the other staff inside the clinic compounds in VR while on overwrite. Hells yeah. I earned tons of bonuses like that actually. 

A lot of the treatment facilities I guess were giving people some pretty hard drugs, idk. I didn’t ask too many questions about the details. Cause who cares. But I saw a lot of like pretty rich looking tourists or shoppers or whatever going in for treatments who looked pretty haggard, and when they came out they were looking way more stoned than me even. Lol. 

Apparently the shoppers or whatever were some of the only people at the Conspiratopia Project who were not continuously on overwrite. Though some of them still did it, and some did it a lot. But usually we couldn’t really interact with them in games. So like, whatever games they got to play in VR while on overwrite, apparently they couldn’t see us shooting each other – or them. Which I guess is probably for the best. Because if you’re in there for some kinda crazy drug treatment, you probably don’t want to see holographic simulations inside your head of you being blown up with a missile launcher. Or maybe you do, idk. I think that would probably eff with your head though, you know? It’s hard to even like look at yourself in the mirror if you’re too stoned somtimes. Never mind eating a missile in the face from somebody in a giant cybernetic gorilla-mouse avatar. 

I heard from some of the other guys on my work crew after we got off, that like I guess for the Shoppers, they weren’t officially in the Conspiratopia Project. For them, they lived in or I guess were visiting something called Shoppertopia. Which I guess explains why the games and VR and stuff were on different systems. Supposedly there were a bunch of other independent ‘topias in different areas dedicated to different things. 

Once the algorithm put you into one of them though, everyone said it was like really hard and stuff to get put into a different one. Like you couldn’t just transfer out, because recruiting was based on all those like crazy personality tests and surveys to figure out the best match. But you could still earn citizenship on whichever ‘topia they put you when you were admitted. And then you could do all kinds of stuff you couldn’t do before. Like new levels in games, and some music and movies you could listen to or watch that you couldn’t before, plus some like foods and flavors and stuff. Plus I guess like laws about which kind of VR you could do were different. It was totally cool. It was like, idk, reality but gamified. Totally rad af. 

I was pumped I was gonna level up because of this gig, man. Or at least that’s what they told me would happen, when I got assigned out from smart carts. I didn’t mind the gig itself. It was autopilot and safe anyway, though I did notice after work a few times signing off that my gloves were ripped, and a couple times my finger tips were bleeding because they musta been pricked on something. They took blood tests and a whole buncha other tests on us all the time though, so I wasn’t too worried about. Plus I knew like, we were a very special dedicated efficiency team, and those are like super important and stuff. ‘Topias don’t run without those. Everybody knew that. They weren’t gonna just like let us get hurt or sick or something, because like how would they even replace us?

A week later, I came down with something. My whole crew got super sick, and then they replaced me. No joke. Actually, I heard they nixed the whole team, but apparently they had like no problem at all replacing all the workers finally. Not one bit. I guess I should of known.

Conspiratopia: Chapter 19

Pushing shopping carts at the Conspiratopia Project was way better and different than pushing shopping carts at Walmart. That’s for sure! Never mind I was making like twenty cents more and hour, which ruled.

For one, like they were all electric and crap. But like, that was kinda the problem and stuff. Cause the electronics and stuff weren’t working right. So now they were just like ordinary dumb shopping carts. Except they were like extra heavy and awkward because of the self-driving stuff added underneath. And like, because they weren’t meant to be used that way and stuff, you couldn’t really stack them together inside each other, and push a bunch of them at the same time. 

I was really good at it though, so like I figured out how you could sort of push two or three at least a little bit, depending where you were. I think it’s cause I’m like such a good gamer and stuff. And I like puzzles. So it was totally cool. In fact, the first few days I was so super into it that when they asked me at the shop if I wanted to turn on autopilot, I said no. Plus anyway it kinda gave me a chance to walk around and look at stuff, and learn where everything is in the mall on my own. 

Well, not everything, cause not all areas were like rated for smart carts and stuff. But sometimes people took them outside designated zones, and um I had to use like this little handheld radar thingy to try to go figure out where the hell it was. It was really fun. 

My dad and I were put on alternating shifts, so for a while I didn’t actually even see him all that much. Sometimes we got to eat dinner or breakfast or something together. A couple times our days off lined up, and we got shitfaced together on beers and weed and stuff, so that was really fun. Or me or him would have fallen asleep watching TV and would come in from a shift and wake the other one up. That was alright though, cause it would give us a chance to catch up for a few minutes. 

After a while though – I don’t know how long it was, maybe a couple weeks or something – it started to get a little repetitive. I started letting them turn on autopilot and doing overwrite sessions at work. That was actually pretty cool though too. Cause like even though you could turn it on and watch a movie or something, you could also just like turn it on, but then watch. They called this “maintaining peripherals.” And like your body and stuff would just keep going, even if you didn’t do anything. It’s hard to explain really the feeling, what it was like. I mean it was like somebody else was running your body and what you saw or did was like a film. It was a little weird, but also like totally cool because it meant you could zone out really. Or like even take a nap if you turned off peripherals, or turned them down low enough. And that was really cool. Or you could like mix a film or game with peripherals anyway you wanted, as an overlay, or like in a little picture-in-picture window thing. 

Sometimes I liked to mix games with where I was in the mall IRL. So like while my body was collecting smart carts, I could be like running around in a first-person shooter in that same place, and pretending to throw grenades and stuff at shoppers or whatever. Or I could be like a sniper hiding up somewhere, and I could watch my own body pass by pushing shopping carts and shoot myself. It was totally cool. 

Once I got into that, I actually ended up joining some of the games that my dad and his friends did during overwriting, and that was really fun as hell. So I ended up seeing my dad actually more during games than IRL, especially cause sometimes I would go home from work and play games during my off hours, instead of sleeping. 

They had some really sick games there, actually. Way better than the stuff you see commercially on the outside. Ten times more advanced graphics and game play and stuff. Apparently according to my contract, I’m not supposed to talk much more about it than that or something. My dad said it had to do with the AI’s that run the place. Because they were really good at making games and shit. He was totally right. That stuff was sweet as hell. It made me glad I moved there. 

I actually stopped going on message boards and stuff, because there really weren’t any. Not any good ones anyway. The internet on the inside was not like the internet on the outside. Everything was focused around games and stuff for the people who lived and worked there. And it was really just one big platform run by the Project, and it was all pretty boring and stuff. 

There were like some channels where people talked about conspiracy theories and whatnot still. Just for fun I liked to check them out. Sometimes a new group would form that tried to be anonymous and stuff, and they would come up with some crazy theory about how the AI administrators of the Project were like going insane and gonna kill everybody one of these days. But like nobody cared that much IRL, because IRL we were all pretty much doing virtual shit or game shit all the time that was much more interesting than a bunch of old farts sitting around and whining in chatrooms. 

Plus like, you couldn’t really be actually anonymous there, which was a little weird at first, but then I got used to it. There were always like a bunch of cameras and sensors that were like watching or measuring or something. But it wasn’t really invasive. It was more like idk fun and even reassuring or something? Like I always felt totally safe. Like the AI’s always had my back. 

I never got scared or anything when they turned on autopilot. I would get hella stoned before, and would just like ride the wave. You know? Surf that shit. I heard some people freaked out and stuff, and they had to like operate on them or send them away, because workers who couldn’t be overwritten were a drain on resources. And they hated that. They hated like waste and stuff, which I totally started to get into. I hate it now too. I’m into like efficiency and stuff, you know? Improving my percent scores. Shaving milliseconds off of completion of micro-tasks and stuff. It’s totally rad.  

That’s why when they asked for volunteers for a like dangerous experimental job to improve efficiency, I volunteered like right away. If I successfully finished the job, I would end up earning a lot of credits and bonus multipliers and stuff that the algorithm would boost my rankings with, so I could finally become a citizen. It sounded like it was gonna be totally cool. 

Conspiratopia: Chapter 18

We walked back after that in the direction of my dad’s apartment and stuff. The underground mall thing was super huge, holy crap.  

After a while, I was all like, “Dude, but what am I gonna tell mom?” The Wizard of Oz hologram thing had given me permission to make one phone call (monitored) to my mom.

And my dad was all like, “Dude, listen. Just tell her the truth and stuff. You got a new job and you’re gonna go try out living with your dad for a while.”

“I don’t think she’s gonna like that very much, you know?” I said. “She sorta hates you, and is worried I’m gonna turn out just like you.”

“Haha,” my dad said. “Well, she’s entitled to her opinions, but it’s up to you to decide how your life turns out. Do you wanna live in the basement with her for the rest of your life?”

I was all like, “I mean, it’s pretty cool. It’s not actually so bad, when she isn’t hassling me about getting a job or cleaning up. It’s almost like having my own apartment and stuff.”

“Then fine, stay with her, and have your life be how it is now forever, if it’s really that cool and stuff,” my dad said. “Or stay here, and try out how it could be if you created your own life and did something different.”

“I mean, I signed the contract…” I said. “I’m staying. I’m just saying, she’s not gonna like it very much. And anyway, what if she asks where we are? I’m not supposed to say anything about the island or the project, or they said I’ll get kicked out. What am I supposed to tell her?”

“Tell her I have a place in the next county. She hates driving, and she hates me, so she’ll never actually check.”

“But she’ll want me to visit her all the time, and stuff,” I said. I was sure of it. “I’m sure of it, you know?”

My dad was like, “Just tell her you have a 90 day training & probationary period with the new job, and they asked if you could start right away, so you won’t be able to see her in a while and stuff.”

“Okay, I guess. Idk,” I said. 

When we got to his place, it was actually pretty small. A tiny living room/kitchen with a couch and a TV, a mid-sized fridge, a hot plate, a microwave, sink, etc. Plus a small bathroom with a shower, and a bedroom and stuff. 

“You can sleep on the couch. It folds out too. And you can stay as long as you want, or until you find a place, or whatever. Whatever you want, you know? You’re always welcome here.”

“Thanks, bro,” I said. I wasn’t actually ready to think much about the future. I was just like dreading talking to my mom and like telling her I was moving out, and stuff, and how she was gonna react. I mean, I didn’t have any clue how she was gonna react, but I thought she was probably gonna scream or like freak out or something when I told her about dad and everything. I didn’t think she wanted me to move out or anything, you know?

But when I finally called her and stuff, it basically was super short and went like this:

“Hey ma,”

“Hi honey, congratulations about that new job, that’s great. I’m so proud of you.”

“Yeah, mom, thanks. Listen, uh, they want me to start right away with training and everything, you know.”

“Good for you, honey.”

“And it’s out in the county. Um, the next county over, actually.”

“Okay, do you have a place to stay out there, or…?”

“Uh, yeah, somebody from the company is putting me up with them. You know, until I find a place, or…”

“Until you find a place?”

“Yeah, Idk yet. If the job goes good, they might ask me to stay out there. I guess there are more positions available and stuff. Cause they have a bunch of warehouses out there, and only one here.”

“Okay, honey. I’m glad for you.”

“You are?”

“Of course.”

“I thought you’d be like you know mad and stuff or something.”

“Why would I be mad? This is your life, you gotta go out and live it, Matty.”

“Thanks mom, I’m glad to like hear that and stuff. It means a lot to me. Oh, and about your car.”

“Oh, someone from the company dropped it off this morning. And it was vacuumed and polished too. Immaculate. This must be a very top notch company.”

“Oh, it definitely is mom. Lots of you know, room for growth too.”

“Well that’s nice honey. I have to go meet Fran now, but it’s great to hear from you, and I’m so happy for you. Call me once you’re in and settled. You know, if you have a chance, and stuff.”

“I will mom, thanks. Have a good time. Bye.”

Conspiratopia: Chapter 17

For meeting someone supposedly so important, we just went to this small room that didn’t look like anything special. There were a couple cushioned folding chairs and a table, and that was about it and stuff. We sat down and my dad closed the door and we waited. 

“You nervous?” he said.

“Idk, should I be?” I still didn’t really know what I was doing there, or what this was all about. 

Just then, the lights dimmed and stuff and music started playing or whatever. It was the intro to Us and Them by Pink Floyd, and I was all like yesssss.

After a minute, suddenly there was a hologram of this random-looking symbol that showed up kind of floating on the other side of the table. I realized then there were little holographic projector dealies hidden in the walls and ceiling. 

The symbol went away, and there was like… the Wizard of Oz and stuff? Like from the old ass movie or something. Except there was no Dorothy or the robot guy, and no ugly lion or whatever. It was just the weird like all alien-looking face of the wizard. And there were like flashes of fire and smoke and stuff. It looked totally legit as hell and was timed perfectly with the music. It was actually sweet as hell. 

“Sweet,” I said out loud.

“Totally,” my dad said.

The singing part of that song kicked in (which rocks), and I started to feel like I was frickin’ tripping, cause like the Wizard of Oz on the hologram was singing and stuff…

Us and them
And after all we’re only ordinary men
Me and you
God only knows
It’s not what we would choose to do”

The Wizard stopped singing, but the music kept going in the background, and then he talked to us. Me, I guess. 

He was all like, “Yo, dude. How’s it hangin’?”

“Uh, alright I guess. You?” I said. 

“Can’t complain. Can’t complain,” the Wizard alien-looking hologram dude said. “Hey, thanks for coming out here. Great to see you and stuff. You liking it so far?”

“Uh, yeah. I mean, it’s fine.”

“Cool, cool. So, what can I do ya for?” said the Wizard. 

My dad jumped in, “Well, we were, uh, kinda hoping you could help us figure out what’s next for for Matty here.”

“Got it. Coolio. Gimme a sec to review the files,” said the Wizard. His eyes light up and stuff while he did that.

His eyes went back to normal. 

“Okay, let’s see. Well, we’ve actually got an opening that might be compatible…”

“That’s great,” said my dad, looking over at me and squeezing my shoulder. 

“It’s in your work group even, actually,” said the Wizard to my dad. 

“Whoa, awesome,” I said. “What is it?”

“Well,” said the Wizard. “We’ve identified a workflow issue in certain retail areas that we need to throw bodies at until we find a better solution.”

“Lucky,” said my dad. “That’s how I got my start too. So what would the job be exactly?”

“Our electrical shopping cart system is broken. So they aren’t able to return themselves to the store like they should be after customers finish shopping. They end up stuck in unusual places, and so…”

“So,” I interrupted. “The job would be pushing shopping carts?”

“Basically,” said the Wizard, and there was another flash of fire. 

“What do you think?” said my dad, looking at me.

“How much does it pay?” I asked. 

“Money,” said the Wizard, and the song switched to Money by Pink Floyd, “as you may know, does not work the same here as it does in the outside world.”

“So I hear,” I said.

“But,” said the Wizard. “It would work out to something like… $10.75 an hour in your dollars.”

“Whoa,” I said. “That’s a twenty five cents an hour raise from Walmart!”

“Totes,” said the Wizard. “Plus you could watch films or play games or whatever you want during overwriting sessions.”

“You mean… nanites?”

“Yeah, bro,” said the Wizard. “Though, we have other systems besides nanites if you prefer. But pretty much everybody here works on overwrite, except when protocols call for manual mode for some reason. It’s just more efficient.”

My dad was nodding like crazy. “It’s awesome, Matty. You’ll see.”

Hm, I thought. I could make more money than I was making back home, and I could frickin’ play video games while doing it? I didn’t have to think about it all that hard. 

“Well, sign me the eff up!” I said. 

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