Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Plagerist's Progress

The Following excerpt is from the The Plagerist's Progress by Ben Shakey. It will be published by Speculations Defunct Publishing in June 2009

Philip wrote a few science fiction novels but the handwritten manuscripts of unconfirmed length were not just unpublished by editors, but unacknowledged.

He took the night off from the donut shop and attended a workshop in the drafting room of a community college entitled HOW TO WRITE AND SELL SCIENCE FICTION. A charming man with a beard, a sweater, and a desire to look like Hemmingway taught it. He wrote a young adult novel about an alien roughly twenty years ago along with a novelization of a MAN FROM UNCLE episode and 16 westerns. He taught Philip about self- addressed stamped envelopes and typed double-spaced manuscripts but mostly he taught Philip the meaning behind science fiction.

"Sci Fi," said the writer "is not about the future. It is about the present! 1984 tells what it was like in 1948! Take something from your normal life and project it into the future. If you are worried about the environment, imagine what it will be like in 200 years. If you are worried about nanotechnology, imagine what it will be like when your grandchildren are alive."

"I'm worried about immigrants," said one woman.

The writer ignored her and said, "Anything can become science fiction if you imagine that thing in the future."

Philip left the class trying to imagine everything in the future. He was stirred to use science fiction to see the present but didn't fully understand what that meant.

He imagined the bus he was riding in the future. Maybe it would be better, maybe worse. He still couldn't see any story there. Previously, he thought the genre was about cool weapons and weird aliens. Now it was about slightly improved buses.

He sat on his sofa, ate pizza slices, watched a rerun of Sex in the City, and hoped there might be some nudity. Samatha used her vibrator too much and her friends staged an intervention. "What would this be like in the future?" thought Philip. He pressed record on his remote control.

He typed on his laptop and transcribed the episode one line of dialogue at a time. He changed Samatha to Sam and Carrie to Gary and the vibrator became a Sexbot. He didn't even have to change the description. Undulating and stimulating described a Sexbot as vividly as a vibrator.

The workshop was right. Switching stuff from the present in the future was easy.

Three months later Philip received his first letter of acceptance. He immediately set every T.V episode he could think of in space. He watched MASH and sold a story about a race of aliens that invaded earth. One of their soldiers got hurt and a group of military doctors still treated it despite the objections of an uptight nurse. He watched Frasier and sold a story about telepathic man that could solve the personal problems of most people in the Seattle area (but not in his own family!).

Transcribing each line of dialogue grew tiring so he found books online and with simple search and replace requests Pinocchio was a clone and Sherlock Holmes was a robot programmed for superior reasoning. Within six months, Philip landed an agent and worked at the donut shop two days a week.

"Write full novels," said the agent "Don't waste your time."

Philip submitted three novels. Tarzan became an orphan raised by aliens and unable to return to society. The Scarlet Pimpernel was the foppish owner of a luxury spacecraft liner when he wasn't secretly rescuing aliens from unlawful executions. The Lone Ranger transformed into the only survivor of a group of lawmen massacred on the dark side of the moon.

Philip's agent sold them all and wanted more.

Philip watched a PBS documentary on the Darfur crisis and moved everything 300 years ahead and one planet out from the sun. It sold too. They published it under a pseudonym so he wouldn't compete with himself.

His agent said, "Thick novels sell better. A trilogy of thick books sell even better."

Philip changed the names in Plutrach's Lives and sold it as a cycle on the Rise and Fall of the Planet Romtar. Histories of the Aztecs were appealing as their names favoured Z's and X's and sounded sufficiently alien. The three-volume restructuring of the Aztecs was followed by a three-volume recreation of the Incas.

Soon Philip used the morning paper and his library card to create two or three novels a month. Public domain stories with an edge of the fantastic worked best, as the magic from fairy tales and myths became future technology.

Naturally, since it was in the public domain and contained lots of the miracles, Philip rewrote the Bible next.

With the trade of a few consonants Jesus was Xenus. His energy was implanted in a young virgin that bore his human body. He grew up to spread advanced alien medical procedures and philosophies and was then martyred. He used the latent energy in his molecules to restore his body and then returned to the heavens in his spacecraft after promising to return.

The book sold modestly before a small group of believers formed. They weren't big enough to become a movement or even to get Philip's writing recognized as a tax exempt religion (he inquired) but they bought anything he published. They were the perfect audience.

Xenus was quickly followed by sequels based on the Koran, The Book of Mormon, Khalil Gibrant's The Prophet, and in a moment of desperation Yes, I Can: The Autobiography of Sammy Davis Jr.

Philip was now officially rich, which was why he was startled to walk into his kitchen and see that someone had bypassed the security alarms.

"Philip?" said the tall grey-haired man. His skin looked silver and wet, almost like fish scales.

"Yes." Philip said.

"I love you. You have shown the way. We have searched always, looking for why there is suffering among the good. We found the answer in the words of Xenus. He visited you at a time when your people are unable to follow him. We, however, can take you to his home world."

Philip thought he might urinate. "Uh, no. I made up that stuff. There is no Xenus."

"Blasphemer!" The silver skin took a more metallic rage filled tone. "You will come with us."

Philip felt his body atrophy and tighten. The silver-skinned man picked him up and moved him like a mannequin.

"This will be a long journey. You will be more comfortable this way." It was the last thing Philip heard before his eardrum became too stiff to carry any sound.

For the first time in his writing career, Philip wondered how the story was going to end.

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