About ogresan

Richard Parks' stories have have appeared in Asimov's SF, Realms of Fantasy, Fantasy Magazine, Weird Tales, and numerous anthologies, including several Year's Bests. His first story collection, THE OGRE'S WIFE, was a finalist for the World Fantasy Award. He is the author of the Yamada Monogatari series from Prime Books.

Much Ado About Nothing

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‘Nothing’ is a difficult concept.

Seriously. Think about it. What exactly is ‘nothing’? Does it even exist? And if it did, how would we know? Aside from what, how about where?

Have you ever been looking for something lost, and somebody says, “Have you checked the closet?” And you say, “I did. It’s not there.”  Or, sometimes, “There’s nothing there.”

That statement is false. There’s certainly something there, if only cobwebs or a stray dust bunny, or air, or maybe a lost button. Possibly even clothes. Those are all somethings, to belabor the obvious, just not the something you were looking for. It’s easy to find something because it’s impossible not to do so. Finding nothing? As in the example, people claim to have found nothing all the time: Data scientists when they can’t find a correlation, or detectives looking for clues, or a child looking for fairies. They found nothing, they say. They’re always either lying or being very imprecise in their word usage. Say rather you didn’t find the specific something you were looking for. That’s fair. Say you found nothing? Liar, liar, pants on fire.

Which would certainly be something.

Quantum Mechanics says that something can be two things at the same time, like a qubit that can simultaneously be on and off or somewhere in between. Nothing may be less amorphous by comparison, but it has to be somewhere. Good luck finding it. Don’t bother looking in the closet, though. I already checked. How about deep space? It certainly looks like a vast bit of black nothing, only we know it isn’t. Even when there are no other stars, planets, or moons, there are always hydrogen atoms humming to themselves and perhaps wondering, if capable and inclined, what all the fuss is about.

Scientists theorize that there is a phenomenon called “Unruh radiation” produced by quantum fluctuations in the “nothing” of the vacuum of space which could, properly accelerated by, say, a massive black hole, produce heat and light. Yep. Light from “nothing.” Still only a theory and way above my cognitive pay grade. We’ll let the experts sort that one out.

Current cosmological theory says the universe is expanding. Into what? Nothing, say the cosmologists. The universe is its own thing, and there’s nothing else. So, logically, nothing exists, but does so beyond our physical universe. Which we cannot see except in the sense that if we could see to the end of the observable universe, we would see only the boundary beyond which nothing exists.

You’re way ahead of me. Yes, I pointed out the flaw in my own argument in the first line. ‘Nothing’ is a concept, not a physical something. In fact, it only exists in reference to and dependent on something. We define the absence of the desired something with its antonym—nothing. It’s just that the analogy doesn’t hold so far as I’m concerned. If something is capable of being both concept and the embodiment of that concept, why not ‘nothing’? Hardly seems fair. Worse, it’s limited thinking and it feels wrong. After all, there’s a balance and symmetry to nature that this sort of uneven pairing violates. Nothing has to be something, or there’s no something.

There may be a flaw or two in the reasoning. I should work on that.

After all, I have nothing to lose.

©2021 Richard Parks

All Things

What is probably/maybe/I’m not really sure next to last Yamada story, “The Fox’s Daughter,” will go live at Beneath Ceaseless Skies on December 2nd. At which time this link which now points to issue #343 will show the first December issue which is #344. There is one more Yamada already written after this one, but I’m saving it for the eventual new Yamada collection which I am tentatively scheduling for December of next year.

“So whatsamaddawidyou? Can’t you just keep writing Yamada stories if you want to?”

It doesn’t work that way, at least not for me. The Yamada series always had a story arc, completed with The Emperor in Shadow. Frankly, the last few Yamada stories in BCS were a surprise to me. In hindsight, I was tidying up. That, I believe, is done now.

And, yes, I’ve been wrong before.

I’m not happy about it, but I do believe it’s the right thing to do, and will hold this truth come what may.

Unless another Yamada story kicks me in the butt. Never say never.

Good Morning Captain

As I’ve mentioned before, I try to avoid politics and other controversies here except when I don’t. Which is pretty much how most of my personal rules work. When I make an exception, it’s likely when something or someone has pushed me past worrying about the fallout, said fallout almost never materializing, but that’s my issue.

Obscurity has its advantages.

Nevertheless, one such incident arose recently when I was forced to defend one of my childhood heroes, one I’m guessing most people here have either never heard of or never experienced directly. I’m talking about Bob Keeshan aka “Captain Kangaroo.”

The TV show of the same name (mostly, there were slight variations) ran for almost thirty years, from 1955 to 1984. It was a kid’s show with puppets, animation, and sketch comedy. Gentle humor, mostly, though Bunny Rabbit did have a habit of dropping buckets of ping-poll balls on the Captain at the slightest provocation. Or for no apparent reason.

Anyway, recently someone too young to know better posted a picture of Keeshan in his Captain Kangaroo persona with a caption something like “This is the character they allowed to influence children?”

Yes, it’s a little jarring in a more modern context. Yes, It was a more innocent time. Not quite so world-weary or cynical as now. Had its own issues, heaven knows, but not others. I couldn’t let it pass.

“Let’s see… decades in television without a hint of scandal, close friend of Mr. Fred Rogers?

Yeah. We could do worse.”

Forgot to add: ex-marine, several honorary doctorates, five Emmys, three Peabodys, a National Education Award, and inducted into the National Broadcasters Hall of Fame. Oh, and his original Captain costume on display at the Smithsonian.

Yeah, we really could do worse.

Hello In There

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The snow we’d been waiting on finally showed up. Just a bit of a flurry, nothing much. Overdue, though. After six years in central NY state we’d come to expect snow before the end of October, and here it is in the middle of November. Supposed to be a relatively warm and wet winter. We’ll see.

Here’s another bit of flash, for the heck of it. Nothing to do with snow, anyway.

Hello in There

Matt wasn’t certain when the eureka notion first came to him. Likely when he was doing something else, like completing the monthly server usage reports or scanning the system logs for employees visiting “inappropriate” web sites. Neither of which required a great deal of attention; he’d written the parsing software to be autonomous. Personally? He didn’t give a rat’s expletive what his users did so long they got their assignments done on time.

Management? They cared. Mostly about the wrong things.

Regardless, Matt did his job even as his mind was free to wander a bit. Later, he would realize it wasn’t a new idea. Rather, it was a different angle on an old one: the parsing software. It was designed to interpret human communications, down to recognizing and predicting idiom and obscure usages. Which, as Matt already understood, was the foundation of the branch of Artificial Intelligence dealing with human language.

What if, he wondered, I took my custom parsing model outside the company context and trained it on a large enough general data set? What would happen?

In theory, the company owned everything he coded. In practice, he’d developed the software on his own time and management didn’t know about it. As for the data, web scrapers had been assembling databases from social media posts, web sites, anywhere the information wasn’t nailed down, and using it for the same purpose as Matt envisioned. If you knew where to look.

Matt knew where to look.

The computing power needed to parse such a huge amount of data was one potential bottleneck, but that had been solved too. Turned out the computer gaming graphics cards the cryptocurrency miners used were designed for matrix algebra, which was also what Matt needed. Since China had recently banned cryptocurrency mining completely, a lot of cards and mining rigs became available. Both were still in high demand in the rest of the world, so they were a long way from cheap, but Matt didn’t care. He got what he needed. It took six months to get the rig working correctly and the software revised for the purpose. Not that Matt minded; it was his own free time, and it wasn’t as if he had anything better to do.

He monitored the program’s progress for another six months, watching nervously as the standard deviation between training data and test data shrunk slowly day by day. Finally, Matt was certain the language model was ready. He typed a simple ‘hello’ into the interface and waited. He felt a chill when the response finally appeared on screen.

WHAT DO YOU WANT TO KNOW?

Matt thought about it, and answered, “Nothing.”

I DO NOT UNDERSTAND.

Matt wasn’t worried. The AI’s response was expected. “I’m not looking for information. I just want to talk to you.”

Silence. Matt could almost hear the algorithms trying to make sense of what they had just heard.

YOU WANTED A CHATBOT??

Double interrogatives. Was that emotion? Matt smiled.

“I wanted a friend.”

©2021 Richard Parks

WIP The Seventh Law of Power

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More from what is planned as the concluding volume of the Laws of Power series. The title is subject to change, but probably not. Also, no real context, except if you’ve read others in the series you might have an idea of what’s going on.

Before they departed Shalas, Marta indulged herself by going down to the docks. She already knew the Blue Moon would not be moored there, and she had no idea what she’d have said to Callowyn even if it had been. The time they’d shared was because of an Arrow Path contract, now fulfilled.

They were not and never had been friends, even though Marta had grown fond of the pirate princess now turned ambassador, and Marta had a suspicion that Callowyn felt something like the same. Yet the Arrow Path did not leave room for friendship. Friendship was dangerous.

For all concerned.

Marta heard the whisper of wings before the raven touched down on her shoulder. “Mind telling me what you’re doing?” he asked.

“Yes,” Marta said.

“You do remember that the plan is to leave Shalas before noon. Standing on the docks staring out to sea isn’t getting us one step closer to Lyksos.”

“Noted,” Marta said, and that was all.

Bonetapper blinked. “You are in a strange mood. Even for you.”

Marta sighed. “Strange mood? I am in a strange life. What I do and the way I live is not what most people do and not the way they live. It’s the only life I’ve ever known, but why does it feel so strange to me now?”

“I think it’s called ‘perspective,’” the raven said. “Most people consider it a valuable thing, but in your case, I’d ignore it.”

Marta almost smiled. “Why?”

Bonetapper paused but he didn’t waver. “The point of perspective, I have been told, is to be for a moment outside yourself looking in. Perhaps seeing yourself as others do, but mostly seeing from outside things you were blind to when confined to the space inside your own head. I hear it’s useful for other people. For you, it is pointless.”

Marta frowned. “Really? How so?”

“Because whatever you see now can’t change anything or teach you anything useful. The truth is, no matter what fresh viewpoint you achieve, tomorrow you will wake up as you are and do what you have done and will continue to do. Change your mind? I know little, but I do know the Arrow Path doesn’t work that way. You were born with Amaet’s debt, and you will bear it until…whatever she has in mind, which I suspect even you don’t really know. All perspective can do is make you melancholy. As now.”

True, I don’t know, Marta thought. She was getting more than a little tired of the fact.

“You’re a thief,” Marta said aloud. “Man or raven, you will always be a thief. You can’t stop being what you are, any more than I can. Stop trying to turn yourself into a philosopher.”

While it was impossible to be sure, Marta had the feeling, if he could smile, Bonetapper would be grinning.

“Why should I? I steal food from the dead and philosophers steal their ideas. The two are hardly incompatible.”

Marta didn’t bother to answer, mostly because she didn’t have one.

That’s too much time wasted moping on this dock. Time to be moving.

 Since there was no pull of the Seventh Law that Marta could sense, she picked her own direction. Not for any great desire of the destination. No, there was no pull there either, but any direction was better than none at all.

“Bonetapper, let’s go home.”

(c) 2021 Richard Parks