The Vinestead Anthology

One universe. Five books. Zero sequels.

Book One

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Book Two

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Book Three

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Book Four

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Book Five

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Sugar in the Morning

Alcohol and caffeine in the evening. I sacrifice my teeth, liver, heart, and general physical health for you, dear reader.

What Came After PHP?

Seriously. Not asking for a friend.

At my day job, I continue to take a lot of flak from the dev team for building web apps with PHP and MySQL. They don’t consider PHP a real programming language, and anyone who uses it is stuck in the past with Britney Spears and Austin Powers. Myself? I still like it, specifically because I can deploy a web app very quickly.

I wasn’t hired to build web apps, but when you’re trying to manage complex processes and large amounts of disparate information, you start looking for solutions that are efficient, accessible, and easy to build a process around.

For example, we get a lot of requests from customers about whether or not our product is affected by the latest CVE (Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures). When those requests come in, we usually have to forward them to our dev team for investigation. If they’ve answered the question before, they have to go through old emails to find their previous responses.

This is not a good process; it interrupts important dev work (those witty Reddit comments aren’t going to write themselves).

So what we needed was a way for the Technical team to proxy those inquiries, log the responses, and hopefully, prevent requests from getting to the dev team. This would require two separate pieces:

  • An internal app to add/edit/delete CVEs from the database
  • An external app to display the database

Although I often try to defend my apps as more than glorified interfaces for a simple spreadsheet, these two are pretty much that. The only interesting thing I got to do was URL rewriting, so that we could link to individual issues as It just looks nicer.

Having these apps allows me to create a dead-simple CVE request process for my Support Techs to follow:

  1. Check CVE against database
  2. If found, send response to customer
  3. If not found, send request to development
  4. Add CVE and development response to database
  5. Send response to customer.

Ideally, once dev answers a question about a particular CVE, they’ll never have to be bothered about it again… unless I somehow overwrite the PHP files that power the app. Not that I’ve ever done that.

Here’s some .htaccess magic to make URL rewriting work:

RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond /var/www/docs/%{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-f
RewriteCond /var/www/docs/%{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-d
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_URI} !^/docs/cve/sitemap\.xml$
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_URI} !^/docs/cve/pdf/.*$
RewriteRule (.*) index.php

Don’t ask me what any of these things do. Like I said, it’s magic.

And here’s how you get the relevant info out:

$path = ltrim($_SERVER['REQUEST_URI'], "/"); # trim leading slash(es)

# trim everything after ?
if(strpos($path,"?") !== FALSE)
     $path = substr($path, 0, strpos($path,"?"));

$elements = explode('/',$path);
$cve = cve_scrub($elements[2]); # first 2 elements are part of url path

The cve_scrub function contains a whole host of filtering commands because hackers.

I love how fast apps can be put together with PHP/MySQL, but for the last several years, I’ve had this nagging feeling that there’s something better out there. If anyone wants to point me in the right direction, let me know in the comments.

I Should Be Writing

For some reason, I’m under the impression that if I’ve written and sent out a chapter in the last day or two, then I’m under no obligation to use my free time to write. Instead, I purchased a new domain and set up a new blog here at I’m not sure why I set up a new blog–none of them have ever panned out in the past–but it’s here now and I’m going to talk about writing and publishing and how much my son poops. He is almost three months old. You will know him as El Matador.

I should explain (about the chapters, not El Matador). As with my previous novel, Por Vida, I’m using TinyLetter to send out chapters of my new book as I write them. It was a lot of fun the first time around. There’s nothing quite like getting instant feedback when you introduce a twist in the story. I’ve got less of an idea of where the story is going this time, but the feeling of it is there.

Reality. Hyperreality. Simulations. The Multiverse.

Lots of interesting ideas that evoke a feeling inside me. If I can take that feeling and wrap it up in a hardcore romance/cyberpunk blend, then we’ll have a new book to pimp on Facebook.

Until then, I’ll be here, avoiding the next deadline in a life-long, self-imposed series of deadlines.


Probability Lines

There are a lot of crazy powers being used left and right in Sergei Lukyanenko’s Watch books, but the one that intrigues me most is when characters “check the probability lines.” The stronger the Other, the further they can look along the lines, and thus reasonably predict how the future is going to play out. Lukyanenko fleshes out the idea in Last Watch, book #4 in the Watch series:

It’s not possible to see the future in the way that charlatans and fortune-tellers talk about it. Not even if you’re a Great Other. But it is possible to calculate the probability of one event or another: Will you get stuck in a traffic jam on this road or not, will your plane explode in midair, will you survive or be killed in the next battle? …To put it simply, the more precise the question is, the more precise the answer will be. You can’t just ask, “What’s in store for me tomorrow?”

The reason I’ve been thinking about “probability lines” so much these days is because I think the term (and ability) also apply to writing. When I finish a novel and want to get started on something new, I review all of the old threads that are still hanging out there.

Some of them include:

  • Where did Natalie and G disappear to after Xronixle?
  • What’s been happening in Perion City?
  • Where is Kaili Zabora?
  • Where did the Net get started?
  • How did Jape get his start?
  • How does this all end?

And on and on. The problem with all of these ideas is not that there isn’t anything to write about, it’s that if I look into the future, the probability of any of those ideas containing something truly interesting is quite low. I just don’t see an endgame, something to rival the twist of Por Vida or the Vinestead-universe-shifting progress of Perion Synthetics.

I want to write something interesting, but how do you get from here to there?

It’s a blessing and a curse to have a feel for whether a story will be interesting or not. I can build the world and the characters and give them some initial conflicts, but what’s the bigger picture? Why is this story worth a reader’s time overall? Sometimes looking ahead can stop a story dead in its tracks, and I’ll never know whether or not it would have turned into anything worthwhile.

On the other hand, it’s probably good not to spin your wheels on stories that go nowhere. So a guy does something and it’s challenging and just when you think he won’t accomplish his goal he does and then he gets the girl and lives happily ever after.

There has to be more than that. Right? A mystery. Some thrills. A twist no one sees coming.

In the Watch series, Lukyanenko tackles the idea of preserving good while doing evil. Or maybe preserving one’s humanity when given limitless power. Either way, it follows the main character Anton as he becomes a more powerful other. Throughout the books, he continually struggles with his place as an Other, going from a reluctant initiate in book 1 to a magician beyond classification in book 4. 

The stories are interesting because the entire world hangs in the balance, and yet we see it all through Anton’s eyes. His personal struggles have a context that means life or death for every human on the planet. The stakes don’t really get higher than that. Add to that the intrigue and mystery and double-dealings and schemings and everything… it’s just a good story. Every time.

I’d like to write a story about that. Probably not about magicians and witches and vampires, but something that’s close to our world but not as boring, and something bigger than just a single character.

Unfortunately, looking at the probability lines, nothing like that has occurred to me yet. Not that I’m complaining; it takes time to look at all the lines. I sit down with a small idea and try to follow each line, each branch, to a larger meaning. There are a lot of dead ends that look like expressways, and sometimes that means thousands of words get written and abandoned, but that’s writing for you.


  • I’m having trouble finding a good story to write.
  • Sergei Lukyanenko’s Watch books are excellent, and also great to listen to on Audible.

  • The Night Watch and Day Watch movies are also excellent. I wish they would make more.

Building Pumpkin’s Nursery – Part 2

With the bigger painting job out of the way, it was time to concentrate on the deco wall. The first order of business was to build the shelf at the top.

I used some of the same MDF board (though with less width) and placed it on top of the main crossbeam. That created a little nook, so I filled it with some cove molding. The lip of the shelf and the cove molding aren’t flush, but I like it. Probably would have looked weird your way, you perfectionist.

In the shot above, you can see I went ahead and primed the slats as well as the cove molding. The finishing paint is pure white, so I wanted to make sure none of the yellow showed through.

There was still some weird, dark splotches on the wall between the slats, so I went ahead and added another layer of smoothing compound. Then it was time to paint with a tiny little roller, which was ridiculous.

It should be noted that everything hurt to do it. Holding up the boards, applying joint compound, painting with a brush… everything!

After two coats of paint, it was time to work on the caulking, which again A) hurt and B) took forever. Isn’t that stuff toxic? And there I was just dragging my finger through it over and over again. Still, it wasn’t until the caulk went on that this started looking like something real. Before it kind of had a detached quality. Now it looks like part of the wall, which is nice.

It looks really yellow in my pictures. It’s not yellow. Calm down.

I started running out of steam on this project towards the end, which caused me to not be as meticulous as I should have been. Had Dom not been busy growing our baby, it would have helped to have her directing me. She’s so much better at the finer details.

Also, the wall is still white. Not yellow. Seriously, cool your yellow jets.

All in all, I give this project a solid C. It just needed something more. The walls could have been a little grayer, and the white could have popped more. Also, I totally wasn’t sure what to do at the bottom. With the Drop Zone, we pulled off the baseboards and replaced them with MDF. Probably should have done that again. Next baby.

I was excited to move some of the furniture in as quickly as possible, just to see how it will look. Again, this caused me great disappointment in my craftsmanship. Hopefully, baby won’t mind.

So this is it. Baby Verastiqui’s nursery. That crib is where our baby will sleep.

How fucking awesome is that? Truly fucking awesome, if you ask me.

Building Pumpkin’s Nursery – Part 1

When Dom and I bought our house two years ago, we made sure to include a couple of extra rooms to grow our family. Fast-forward to today, and we’re less than two months from the arrival of our first child, which we have nicknamed Pumpkin since we don’t know the gender.  Ever since we found out we were pregnant, my to-do list has contained the line item: build a nursery. I’m happy to report that after seven months of procrastination, I’m finally on the job!

Sane parents-to-be would have simply emptied out a room and put some pictures on the wall to make it a nursery. Luckily, we are not sane parents-to-be. 

Here’s what we set out to do:

  • Paint the walls a nice gender-neutral color
  • Smooth out the accent wall (Dom hates texture, and I’m not a fan either)
  • Add board and batten to the accent wall’s lower half
  • Add wallpaper, mural, or stickers to the accent wall’s top half
  • Add SnapPower guide lights to all outlets
  • Replace light switch with rocker and add SnapPower guide light
  • Pretend we’re going to replace the carpet but then not actually do it

I decided to tackle the smoothing first, since I’d be painting over it later. I used some simple painters tape and picked up some joint compound from Home Depot.

Look at that tiny putty knife. I did the entire wall in a few hours while listening to the audiobook of 1984, which was possibly the most depressing Saturday I’ve ever had. I thought the wall looked okay with only one coat, but after the initial painting, I realized I was wrong.

If you’re smoothing out textured walls with joint compound, use at least two coats.

We used the same MDF from our Drop Zone project to start the board and batten. The wall is twelve feet long, but not exactly due to builder quality. And, as I expected, the adjoining walls aren’t exactly plum either. Oh well.

We chose a light color called Ash Blue despite it being generally considered a boy’s color. We started to get a bad feeling as I was roughing it in, and upon seeing the final product, we decided to cover it up with a light gray called Silver Drop.

Now came the fun part. We got some wood slats (about half the thickness of the cross beam) and started positioning them. We bought twelve, but didn’t use that many. Of the four outlets on the wall, we only ran into one, which was really lucky. I’m sure there are a lot of options for getting around that outlet (we considered covering it up, which evidently is bad), but I went with just putting in a break in the slat. It’s not pretty, but if it bothers us enough, we’ll just put a table in front of it.

So, after a couple of weekends, we’ve got the walls painted a nice light gray, the board and batten on a smooth wall, and guide lights on most of the outlets. The remainder of the work is on the board and batten: getting it caulked and smooth, primed, and painted, which shouldn’t be too much of a challenge. Once that’s done, we can move in the furniture!

Some things I learned:

  • See that pic above with the blue tape? Says 6ft on it? That’s how I measure, which I think is superior to actual measurement techniques when you’re trying to find center. Measure a distance from one wall (in this case, 6 ft), then the same distance from the other. You can then use a ruler to measure the distance between and half the difference. Works every time except for the times it doesn’t.
  • I had a moment of panic removing the tape from the cross bar when I saw blue paint on it. But then I remember that this is actually going to support a tiny ledge, so it won’t be visible.
  • Nail guns are pretty awesome.
  • I hate joint compound.
  • If you’re scared of electrocuting yourself, have a “spare” outlet cover and leave it in place. I used this method while applying joint compound and it worked quite well. Helps if you’re replacing the outlet covers with guide lights.
  • There is no good way of cleaning up after you spill half a paint can onto your tarp, but at least you remember to put down a tarp. I can’t believe that thin plastic kept the paint from getting into the carpet.

Astroneer Adventures

Jenna and I climbed a mountain this morning. We watched the sunrise together. On this planet, the sun rises every 88 minutes.

Moments pass quickly.

Before we knew it, the moon had come out again. One of the moons. Jenna said she wanted to go there, but the capsule was in no state to launch.

“We’ll do the next best thing,” I told her. “See that peak over there? I’ll get you as close to that moon as possible.”

We could have walked down our mountain and up the other, but with the MatterMate 9000, it was easier just to build a bridge.

God only knows how high we were.

We worked through the “night,” finishing the bridge just as the sun was rising again.

We looked back on where we had come from. And then there was a twist to the story: there never was any Jenna. Or she had died when he landed. Or you’re Jenna. Take your pic.

I like this game and I don’t know why.

Not From Here

I’m not from here.

You couldn’t tell by looking at me, but I’m just a visitor here. And I don’t mean Austin, or Texas, or the United States. I don’t even mean Earth or the Sol system. I mean your entire goddamn universe. Your reality. Isn’t it amusing that it’s simultaneously difficult to imagine the full scale of the universe and that it is, in reality, finite? Well, that’s not true, using our definition of the word finite. 

Sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you. Your universe is infinite and God exists and we’re all going to Heaven someday.

If that’s good enough for you, put the book down and go find something else to do. For the rest of you, my story begins where most stories begin: in virtual reality.

The first public demonstration of the HTC Vive virtual reality headset was in 2014. A year later, a game-distribution platform called Steam threw its considerable weight behind the Vive (which at the time was competing with the Oculus Rift, itself backed by a large social media enterprise), leading to its mass-adoption, even though the price was nearly $1,000 American for a new system. Pre-orders started in 2016, but I didn’t get mine until much later in the year when “ships in 3-4 weeks” finally turned to “ships immediately.”

I have a thing about instant gratification. You’ll learn this.

Maisie (m’wife), had no interest in VR, so I spent my first weekend with the system alone in my home office, just exploring a handful of VR games. I traveled to mountain tops. I shot explosive balls at stacks of boxes. I even fought off wave after wave of alien invaders with every firearm known to man.

The games were impressive, but the porn was insane.

Okay, that might have made some of you uneasy. I imagine there are a few of you out there who don’t like to admit that masturbation is common and awesome. Add in virtual reality and you’ve got a whole new level of single player activity. 

I should mention that VR in my universe was nothing but a headset and a pair of headphones. We put tiny low-resolution screens up close next to our eyeballs and ogled grainy images of Eastern European women performing in front of what I can only imagine was the weirdest anthropomorph ever. It’s light years behind what you’re accustomed to, but it’s what we had so it’s what we used.

The point about the VR is that it highlights the kind of dynamic Maisie and I had. Make no mistake; she and I were in love. We met later in our lives, were set in our ways, but for each other, we broke out of our molds and became better people for each other. She was, is, and will always be the turning point in my life, the one person most responsible for the man I am today. 

That said, there were some interests we just didn’t share. I was more into technology; she loved photography. I liked Heavy Metal and Insane Clown Posse. That you don’t have ICP here is, by the way, one of the greatest shortcomings of your universe. So the VR didn’t really blow Maisie’s skirt up, which was fine. There were other people I could share that interest with.

One of those people was Elena. She and Maisie had been friends since high school, and both moved from Houston to Austin to attend UT in the late nineties. And while Elena and her husband Angel had spent their post-college years in Houston, they’d recently moved back to the Austin area after Angel took a new job at some social media startup that I forget the name of. Angel was a good guy. Sales guy, though. You know the type.

Elena and her husband came over for dinner one night and Maisie made a big deal about me dropping a grand on a VR system. I came to the defense of the greatest technological wonder since cell phones and eventually convinced Elena to try it. To no one’s surprise, she loved it, and I was happy to see someone besides myself enjoy my new toy. I didn’t know Elena well enough at the time to show her the porn. Probably better I didn’t.

A little about Elena. She’s tallish, about five-nine, I would guess. Thin, with breasts that look good with the right push-up bra and a tight shirt. She has an intoxicating smile (much like Maisie) and a joyful, bubbly laugh. She oozes positivity from every pore, and yet under the surface, she’s as pragmatic a person as I’ve ever met. Down to earth, I guess, is a good way to put it. Her interests run the gamut from arts and crafts to poetry. She likes vacations in the wilderness as much as nights as the club.

From the first moment I met her, I was smitten with Elena. As I got to know her better, I realized she wouldn’t be a good match for me. We shared the same anxieties about the world, viewpoints that Maisie had helped me overcome. All things considered, there was no such thing as a competition between the two of them. And it didn’t have anything to do with Maisie and I being married or that we were trying to have a child.

I loved Maisie, and she was my girl, and I was her man. Nothing in the world was ever going to change that. Not money, not fame… not the surprise arrival of a naked Natalie Portman knocking at my door on a rainy Saturday night. 

Elena was a nice fantasy, something to occupy my mind while we sat around the dinner table talking about how horrible that last episode of The Walking Dead was. That you don’t have TWD here is, by the way, one of the greatest shortcomings of your universe. And I’ll stop saying that when it stops being true.

A little bit about Maisie, since you’re probably starting to think I only have eyes for other women. Maisie is gorgeous, both inside and out. She has her own set of issues, but at the core of who she is, there is love and empathy. Long dark hair; eyes like chocolate diamonds; full lips and bright teeth. And while she and I have both let our diet and exercise fall by the wayside in our years together, I’ve encountered no sensation in this world like having her body pressed against mine. When she stares into my eyes, I see her soul and she sees mine.

I love her, I guess, is what I’m trying to express to you.

Over the years, I’d fantasized about Elena whenever she and Angel came to visit, or when we visited them in Houston. It was never anything more than mild infatuation brought on by years of being with just Maisie. And it wasn’t that I necessarily thought Elena would be any better in the short or long term.

Elena was just different. New.

It worried me when she moved back to Austin because it meant we would see more of her. More dinners. More double-dates. Just more. And though I’m not a trained psychologist, I had a fair idea of how the world worked. Elena at the house more often meant familiarity. Familiarity would engender intimacy. Intimacy would be misinterpreted, and then two marriages would be in jeopardy. 

That line of thinking consumed me for months, and I kept going back and forth between fantasy and knowing I was committed to Maisie. The one thing I’d been hoping to avoid started happening: I began to resent my marriage.

It took me a long time to understand what was happening in my head and in my heart, and eventually I came to the conclusion that it was unreasonable to resent Maisie. It wasn’t as if she were the one keeping me from being with Elena. A lot of things were keeping me from being with Elena, so let’s extend this to all women. Maisie wasn’t holding me back from finding another woman. It’s not like she had some supernatural hold on me.

I loved her, yes, but at the most basic level, staying with her was a choice. That choice meant I couldn’t openly flirt with Elena, invite her to lunch in the middle of the week, and then sneak into the bathroom with her at Maudie’s. 

Everything in life became binary for me. One or zero. This or that. Maisie or Elena. It couldn’t be both.

At least, that’s what I believed then.

A little about me. I’m thirty-six years old. Six feet tall (there are no five eleven men in the world). Not overly handsome, but nothing you would run in fear from. Athletic in spirit but Hagen Daas in body. A generally nice guy, but sarcastic in nature and somewhat of a poor storyteller. I work (or worked, I guess now) at Applied Harmonics in Northwest Austin doing theoretical research on string theory and trans-dimensional reverberation.

That sounds like a real thing, right?

Honestly, I don’t have much to do with the research part of it. My buddy Monroe and I were just developers; we translated crazy brainiac ideas into code. We worked closely with mechanical engineers who build the systems on which our code runs. We were like a triumvirate of cutting-edge technological innovation, which is exactly the same phrasing I used on my LinkedIn profile.

Applied Harmonics was founded on the idea that every atom in our universe has a resonance, a vibration that not only can be measured but altered. The how of it is much too big a topic to cover here, but suffice to say it’s not just a theory, or else I wouldn’t be writing this and you wouldn’t be reading it.

In some distant universe, that’s exactly the case. Actually, there are infinite universes in which none of this is taking place. 

If you accept that as truth (and honestly, why wouldn’t you, unless you hate science), then the inverse has to be true as well.

There are infinite universes in which everything that is happening here is happening there. There are even universes that seem nearly identical with just a few minor changes.

In one universe, I look away when Elena bends forward to put her drink on the coffee table. I don’t see the black lace of her bra or the milky skin of her breasts. I don’t fantasize about reaching out a hand and slipping it into her shirt.

But in another universe, I do.

This is how it all started, with a committed husband having an idle thought about ravaging his wife’s best friend. In his universe, the very idea strikes him with glee and disgust. It’s not possible. It’s wrong. And more than anything, he chooses not to do anything.

How it ended… how we got from there to here, is a story that spans lifetimes and universes. It reaches into the furthest depths of love and depravity. Worlds will be destroyed. Lives forever altered.

I’m not a bad person. Everything I did, I did to protect Maisie, our marriage, and our future family. 

Your skepticism doesn’t change the veracity of my story, nor does it have any bearing on my motives. You may think the idea of universal infinity to be nonsense. And I get that. It’s hard to imagine other yous. Out there living their lives. Making better choices. Making worse choices. There’s a universe where you got the girl, got that promotion, and made millions of dollars. There’s another where you lost it all, ended up on the streets, and died cold and alone.

If you don’t like to imagine the latter scenario, then go ahead and keep thinking you’re the only you. There is only one finite universe, destiny is a sham, and you’ve been in control your entire life.

If that’s good enough for you, put the book down and go find something else to do. For the rest of you, my name is Luis Rogelio Bernandino Ortega, and I’m not from here.


Did you know that the Guardian Angels short story is a “bridge story” between Xronixle and Perion Synthetics? It stars Rick Diaz, but is ultimately a story about Kaili Zabora, who has become the common thread in the Vinestead Universe besides Vinestead itself. I really like the idea of a short 20,000 word story bridging the gap between the larger novels.

That got me thinking: why not write bridge stories for all the gaps?

So I’m doing that. That’s the big news. You’re the first to know, mom.

I Hate Waiting

Anticipation kills me. And by that I mean, I don’t like to plan too far ahead. If I plan too far ahead, I start anticipating and it kills my day, week, etc. For example, if you tell me I have to go to Houston on Monday for business, I’m going to spend the weekend thinking about it and not enjoy a damn thing.

You see, the thing is, we have a baby on the way. Due May 13, 2017, if you must know. And with that on the horizon (coupled with the million things we have to do to prepare), I just can’t sit down and write something new. So I’m working on rewriting, editing, and revising something I’ve already written, which is this:

Aftermath Astoria.

Yeah, I know, but the cheesiness matches the stories. I actually wrote this first draft soon after Perion Synthetics, as a kind of extended epilogue for Kaili Zabora. It sustained itself for a while, but fell apart after about 20,000 words.

Fell apart because it ran smack into the middle of a different, unwritten novel, one involving Cyn from Perion Synthetics, G from Xronixle, as well as Danny Guns Montreal and Johnny San Vito.

Wouldn’t it be cool to read that and have a clear picture of what happened between Perion Synthetics and Novel 5? It’s an extended epilogue and extended prologue.

Anyway, this is about all the work I can do, besides making shitty covers on Canva. To truly make this into a series, I’d have to redo the title and cover for Guardian Angels, into something like this maybe:

And then this new bridge story would be:

And if there ends up being a bridge story after Por Vida, it could look like this:

Of course, a professional would end up doing the actual covers, but I think the concept would work. 

I’d like to get Aftermath Astoria on the shelves before our little bundle of joy gets here, but who knows? It’s hard to concentrate these days. Between prepping for the baby and begging for reviews, who has that kind of time to polish a short story?

Me. That’s who.

I’ll let you know when the story is available to read on your Kindle, but if you’d like to read it early, send me a link to the review you wrote for Por Vida, and I’ll shoot you over the latest draft in reply. nudge nudge wink wink

An Allegory for Anxiety

In the opening chapter of Por Vidaa survivor of the MX Invasion blows the head off a synthetic killing machine with a high-powered rifle. Later, a character uses virtual reality to plan an incursion into a heavily fortified office building. Technological wonders pervade the novel, but they are merely a smokescreen for the real issues hiding underneath.

I developed social anxiety in high school. As a military brat, we moved often, so I was constantly exposed to new faces and environments. Fortunately, most military bases abroad are small, and the population of dependent children even smaller. My anxiety manifested as antisocial behavior and stayed that way until college.

At the University of Texas, everything changed. My anxiety graduated to physical symptoms. When you grow up in a high school of 400 people and are suddenly thrust onto a campus with 50,000, any anxiety you might have felt can be similarly multiplied. Throughout college and for many years following, I did nothing about it. No doctors. No pills. To me, it was just who I was.

Then I met Dom. She simply refused to see the world the way I saw it: dangerous, judgmental, to be avoided. She encouraged me to seek counseling. She dismissed the stigma of medication. 

Everything changed after that.

 Austin City Limits Music Festival

Austin City Limits Music Festival

 Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

Social anxiety is an interesting condition, especially when it manifests itself physically. Just like being afraid of heights, new situations and new people can make me physically ill. My stomach tightens, I sweat, I stammer… it spirals pretty quickly.

Once I started treating my anxiety with medication, all of those physical symptoms went away (or were greatly diminished), and I was amazed to discover how much they were feeding into the anxiety attack cycle. It prompted the question: is social anxiety purely biological?

Only one main character from my previous novel Perion Synthetics was able to transfer into a synthetic body, and because it was towards the end of the story, I didn’t get to explore what it meant to go from an organic body to a synthetic one. Since then, and coupled with my own transformation, I’ve been considering new questions about the nature of certain abstracts: 

  • anxiety, depression, mania, etc.
  • sexual orientation
  • love, hate, anger

Are these purely biological impulses? Would transferring to a synthetic body suppress them the way medication does (anxiety/depression/etc, not sexual orientation or love, unless there’s a love drug I don’t know about)?

To answer these questions, I began Por Vida with a character (Sepideh Ahmadi) who is socially anxious and sexually attracted to her own gender. Neither of these qualities are extraordinary on their own, but once Sepideh transfers into a synthetic body, there’s debate as to whether her anxiety and orientation transfer over.

For that particular answer, you’ll have to read the book, but generally speaking, suppose they didn’t transfer overwhat would that mean for her relationship?

Without Dom, I never would have broken free from the shackles of social anxiety. With her, I’ve finally taken vacations, gone to concerts, and more or less reinserted myself into the world. I still struggle with social anxiety; the meds only do so much and I don’t want to be on them forever. It’s something I want to overcome, but to do that, I rely heavily on her.

Similarly, Sepideh relies on her girlfriend Natasha. It’s one of the many ways they need each other. Tragically for them, it might be the main reason they need each other: Sepideh needs someone to help her cope, Natasha needs someone to take care of. So if Sepideh’s anxiety is cured by transferring to a synthetic body, will she still need Natasha?

Luckily, my relationship with Dom is richer than the oversimplified relationship between Sepideh and Natasha, but the emotional content is the same. If you’ve ever asked yourself, however flippantly, will I still need her if I get better or will she still need me if I get better, then you know what I’m talking about.

If you’ve never felt that, then I encourage you to read Por Vida. I’ve written a story to share the emotions I’ve felt dealing with social anxiety and all of the fallout that comes with it. Judging by the posts I see on Facebook, I know some of you struggle with it as well, even if you don’t realize or want to admit it.

And if you are, please seek out a counselor. Try some meds. Read books about people with similar experiences. Or write your own book, like I did.

There are so many things in the world that can go wrong: an international conglomerate destroying the Internet, synthetic soldiers invading the US, peer-to-peer mesh networks infecting our brains with malware. Don’t let your body imprison you. Break free. Like Sepideh and Natasha.

I hope this insight gives you a little appreciation for what appears, superficially, to be just another Science Fiction Cyberpunk-wannabe story about robots and explosions.

Just like the blank looks and fake smiles you see out there in the scary, scary world, there’s always more below the surface.