After the Age of Giant Sundials | Teen Ink

After the Age of Giant Sundials MAG

October 8, 2009
By HarisD BRONZE, Westport, Connecticut
HarisD BRONZE, Westport, Connecticut
1 article 0 photos 0 comments

Favorite Quote:
You've managed to convince sixteen intelligent, talented writers that this story has something to it, despite the fact that it’s all pyrotechnics and no heart. You need to learn to sit down at the keyboard and open a vein. -- James Patrick Kelly

You don't piss off a guy like Adam Gregory, even when he's dead. I bet you he's turning in his grave. Turning. Because of the damn hack. It has to be a hack. Dead people don't write stories.

Gregory was a big sci-fi author who brought some neat ideas to the mix. He liked writing cyberpunk – you know, technology and computer type stuff. My kind of stuff. He's the best author there ever was, and my client too. I'm a big fan of his. He had a PhD in computer science from MIT. That's why his cyberpunk stories are so good. As an e.lit publisher, I'm into all that computer stuff, and I like it when people get it right.

Then Gregory had a heart attack and died. Tragic as hell.

Now there's this post on his e.lit site – it's the next chapter of his story. Except, today is the day after he died, so there's something really weird going on. I'm in Gregory's house this morning, and this is what I find the first time I check the Net. I'm supposed to work on uploading Gregory's unpublished stuff, and I do not expect or want to deal with a hacker.

Mainly e.publishers sit around, block spam, and make sure everything stays up and running on the e.lit servers so writers can go on writing and readers can go on reading. Standard maintenance. But there are interesting parts too. Right now, I'm doing the typical e.lit publisher thing when writers die. E.publishing is like delivering babies one day, building tombstones another. One moment you're starting up an amateur's e.lit site – his literary career – the next, you're collecting text files an author forgot to post before he died.

I like it in Gregory's office. I'm kind of a bookworm – if “book” is the right way to say it anymore – and sitting here, in the same seat as Gregory when he wrote his stories, is special for me. His office is big and almost empty except for the oversized desk beside the window. The walls are covered with print-outs of Gregory's awards and images of his own smug complexion: nose raised high, eyes hinting down. He was the best writer in history – to me, at least – but he wasn't exactly the most modest.

The floor is covered with an ornate rug, and the seat I'm on is comfortable, a swivel chair with padded arms. And his laptop – the birthing place of cyberpunk genius galore – is sitting on the desk. On the desk are cluttered papers, which I'll have to type up as soon as I upload the files from the laptop.

It's nice, though, these cleanups when a writer dies. It's really sad to see him go, but at least I can get away from all the damn crowds. There are protestors in the streets every day outside the e.lit server building where I work. References to Fahrenheit 451, “Literature is dead.” That type of trash. I guess people get confused when you don't give them a cover to judge the story by or a traditional style to rely on. It pisses me off. Literature isn't dead. It's evolved.

I return my attention to the screen, remembering that some idiot posted a fake chapter on Gregory's e.lit site. If he doesn't want to be a pain, he can write whatever he wants to in the fan fic column next to the author's original text. But, no. Hacks piss me off. And this one had to worm into Gregory's account.

Words pulsate at the bottom left of the screen: “AGregory.writer online.” I have to go through Gregory's files, the ones he checked off in his will, and there are a lot of them. So at the moment I don't really feel like dealing with the hack who stole Gregory's online ID. I type into the chat box,

That'll make him scram. Satisfied, I sip the coffee Gregory's widow brought me, trying to get some sort of energy burst, and then hunch over the computer. Gregory's computer. The coffee leaves a nice aftertaste, and I realize that Gregory must have used the same cup. So I take another sip.

I could bring Gregory's laptop with me to work, but e.publishers like to build their tombstones at a writer's house. And hey, how many people get to spend hours in some prolific writer's office? It's real special, this time in Gregory's house. He is the best writer, you know. I may be an e.publisher, but that doesn't mean I can't be a fan.

I glance at Gregory's e.lit site and the fan fic posted beside his work – alternate ideas, characters, and plots going places Gregory never went. I've read a bunch, and some are very good, actually. Some are very bad.

I look at Gregory's will – the part my boss e-mailed me – and find the first folder Gregory said we could publish posthumously. My thoughts wander back to his death, and my free hand tugs at my hair, pulls it out of place. Friends tell me it's kind of like a 'fro. My mom tells me it's like a Brillo pad. But I don't really care about stuff like that. I'm remembering a conversation I had with Gregory. He talked about a print agent who wanted parts of his first alternate story lines edited to a conventional plot and published on paper. Gregory told the agent, “You're selling giant sundials, for God's sake. They're dead, and the only time people buy them is if they want to decorate their front yard – and that's if they have enough money in the first place. Go write your own story.”

The computer beeps quietly. It's the hack. The guy thinks he's funny, sounding like an automated computer assistant. Another fake post, larger this time, pops onto the site. Then another. The hack is uploading his own damn stories. I pull the chat box to center screen.

Then I close the box, unwilling to engage in an online conversation with an idiot hack who thinks this is some sort of joke. I lean back and take off my glasses to massage the skin hanging loose around my eyelids. Your eyes are always hurting, when you're an e.lit publisher. It's the damn computer glare. It kills your retinas.

I open my eyes, put my glasses back on, and dim the screen, but it doesn't do much. So I just squint, staring at the date on the fake chapter post. It's chapter twenty or something, in his fifteenth alternate of his one and only novel. But it isn't really a novel. It's more of a story, like the other e.lit works – a story that goes in several directions from all perspectives. Not omniscient, but more like a bunch of separate writings that kind of come together when you read them all. Almost like a super-organism.

That's what I love about literature. That's how it's supposed to be. No limits. A nice, laidback style and a few good ideas. Keeps you reading. No grammar. No punctuation. None of that, if you don't want it. It's just a good story, and that's all that matters.

Another beep. The chat box is open again.

I grit my teeth, biting my tongue in the process.

I close the box again and start a tracking program with my publisher's clearance passcode. The police will take care of the hacker after that.

I hear another beep. The hack again, real sarcastic:

I roll my eyes, impatiently waiting for the scan to finish. I can't let a hack mess with Gregory's site.

Out of curiosity or anger or something, I recheck the page and actually find something new. The hacker is spamming Gregory's e.lit site with hundreds of fake posts. The page keeps flickering and jolting, elongating so quickly that I can't keep my eye on one point. I tug absently at my hair, furious and stunned. On screen, new alternate story links sprout up all over the page, gigabytes rising faster and faster.

Another beep.

I don't bother to respond. Barbara Gregory comes in, green eyes shaded, mouth straight. She's in a kind of daze, her tall figure stooped slightly. “How is it going?” she asks, in a flat tone, not bothering to adjust her tilted glasses.

I sigh, toy with the edge of my sleeve. “There's spam on your husband's site. I'm working on it, don't worry.”

“Okay,” she says, exiting. She sounds really out of it, and you can't blame her. Gregory was a great guy.

My eyes return to the e.lit site, and I click on a random post as it flies by on the page. I skim the chapters. As an avid fan, I have no doubt whatsoever that what I am reading is Gregory's own voice. His own style. It's not a repeat of old stuff, either. It's original. It has to be him writing – except he's dead, so it can't be. I take another sip of coffee but feel no invigorating boost.

A minute passes, and the tracking scan nears completion. I'm not sure what to expect. It's hard for a hacker to master the style of a literary genius like Gregory, let alone write so much of it. But then I reassure myself that it has to be a hack, somehow. I set the scan to shut down the hacker's computer once the tracker locates it.

There is a beep from the chat box, and the scan results pop into center screen. But I don't get a chance to look at either – the screen goes black. The damn computer is off. Off. I tug my hair harder.

I open my own laptop and locate Gregory's e.lit site. The page is still now, the flood of spam stopped. There is a message for me.

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This article has 26 comments.

jim73 said...
on Nov. 25 2009 at 9:16 am
the originality of this story plus the twists and turns were great. the inferences at the end were fantastic- an immortal writer who set up his afterlife with technology. Bravo-

evie428 BRONZE said...
on Nov. 17 2009 at 8:41 pm
evie428 BRONZE, Ontario, Other
4 articles 1 photo 88 comments

Favorite Quote:
"Writing a novel is not merely going on a shopping expedition across the border to an unreal land: it is hours and years spent in the factories, the streets, the cathedrals of the imagination."

Wow, congrats on making it in the mag! It deserved it! good job!

on Nov. 11 2009 at 1:28 pm
Alex Kannenberg BRONZE, Dell Rapids, South Dakota
4 articles 0 photos 5 comments
"Literature isn't dead. It's evovled." I like that. Some people put such a negative spin on technology, saying it's going to overrun all the traditional stuff, like plays, when it's not being pushed back, it's just changing.

Lostinbooks said...
on Nov. 1 2009 at 8:55 am
Lostinbooks, Arcadia, California
0 articles 0 photos 63 comments
I have to say this was really well written. I read it in the magazine (good job!) and was very impressed. The writing is very good, so it is easy and enjoyable to read, and the storyline was fascinating...Excellent!

on Oct. 21 2009 at 8:30 pm
billfranklin BRONZE, Edmond, Oklahoma
3 articles 0 photos 3 comments
Loved your story. Tight as a drum and really interesting. I like the bit about literature's evolution. The nature of the writer is definitely changing.

Anyway, this place is pretty averse to sharing personal information, so there's not much point in opening up a dialogue here. Just wanted to give credit where it's due. I look forward to reading more of your stuff. Keep it up.

Best wishes,

A fellow writer

on Oct. 12 2009 at 8:10 pm
WWDWD SILVER, Glenshaw, Pennsylvania
7 articles 0 photos 5 comments

Favorite Quote:
Dream like you'll live forever; live like you'll die today.

That was amazing! Write more! Good job!