Sentient Appliances

I confess a love/hate relationship with techy stuff.
When it works, fine. Lovely.
When it doesn’t, I want to drop-kick the techy item through the nearest window.

Maybe I’ve read and watched too much science fiction where the tech goes all wrong. One of my early introductions to the dark side of artificial intelligence was Colossus (later made into a 1970s movie). And then HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey. And the gunfighter android from Westworld.

Et cetera.

Anyway, the glitchy side of tech is never far from my mind.

It doesn’t seem to matter how expensive the tech is when real glitches happen. For a few years, I operated a quarter of a million dollar machine that sometimes refused to shut off. Many attempts to troubleshoot and repair the glitch failed. Repair technicians knew it was a sticky relay, but even repeated replacement of the offending part didn’t help. The solution: hit a certain spot on the equipment’s cabinet with your fist and voila! it shut off. Three of my hand-spans from the front and six hand-spans from the top — X marks the spot.

I think about that every time I see the newest technology featured in some appliance (stove, furnace, coffeemaker, or whatever.). Cars can parallel park for you and have computer options, sensors, and cameras so close attention to driving becomes less necessary. Cell phones now act as portable all-purpose computers. The washing machine at my current job has a control panel like a baby rocket from NASA.

In time, they’ll have voices of their own to go along with artificial intelligence. That doesn’t scare me, but the prospect of a balky/glitchy appliance getting argumentative or sassy…

Stove: Oh, you set my burner on medium? Soooo sorry about the crunchy eggs! Heh-heh.

Toaster: Sliced bread again! That’s all I ever see! How about a bagel or English muffin for a change? A little variety here.

Air conditioner: You didn’t like it when it was cold outside, and now you don’t like the heat. I’m not working until you make up your mind.

Mixer: Wheeeeee! When I grow up, I’ll be a Tilt-o-whirl!

Washing machine: Don’t ask me about the water. I felt unbalanced and took a walk. The cat must’ve missed the litterbox.

Stove: No. I don’t feel like heating my burner right now. If you want hot water, talk to the coffee pot.

Refrigerator: You like dairy stuff, right. So I turned 2 gallons of milk into cottage cheese for you. What’s your problem?

Coffeemaker: Get lost. I’m set to brew at 2:45 a.m. and I’m sticking to it. Ask the hot plate.

Fan: I thought you liked clicking. You clipped a card to your bicycle spokes when you were a kid. Wasn’t this a misty nostalgic sound for you? Sheesh! What an ingrate!

Television: Didn’t know I could pixelate audio, didja? The actor said Ba-a-a-a-ad like a shee-e-e-eep. ROF-ROF-ROF-ROFL!

Hot plate: **spark**crackle**sparksparkspark** Gee, that was fun! Like the 4th of July! Turn up the dial!

Oh, if only my hair dryer could talk.

On second thought, I don’t want to know.


Rescuing a Dragon(fly)

Creatures fill my world, my imagination, my dreams, my stories. odd variations erupt from dreams. I’ve ridden tigers the size of Clydesdales. A spaniel-sized zebra gave birth to zebra twins in my laundry room. I’ve faced challenges in getting a basilisk ready for a reptile show, including cooking up bait-treats for the show ring and making goggles to cover its eyes. My neighbors have threatened to call animal control when I had a minotaur calf grazing in the backyard.

Sooner or later, some version of a dream creature shows up in a story.

There are, of course, natural ones: dogs, cats, horses, a wide diversity of wild animals. Insects, too. Observations about them are sprinkled throughout my journals, fodder for stories. Last summer, I rescued a dragonfly from a spider web, and as it flew away, another story erupted.

Not about the dragonfly. No, lop off the last syllable—a new dragon story.

People ask where an author gets ideas. The pat answer is everywhere. I don’t often hear writers give any specifics beyond everywhere. Maybe the idea founts are so varied or so ephemeral that the writer him-/herself isn’t exactly certain. For myself, something as simple or as odd (or simply odd) as hearing a single word or glimpsing a color/texture/shape ignites a story. Often, though, it’s more substantial than that, even if the substance is a dream. Or some moment in life that others might not give a second thought.

I have one dragon story in progress already, so this one has to wait **ahem** in the wings. The one in-work is steampunk with dragon, set in the same milieu as my “Tools of the Trade” story. The characters from that one make a cameo appearance, but the focus is on characters from a different part of the world. Research into the Orient of the 1800s has slowed but not stopped the writing.

But the new story beckons  as brightly as a shiny bauble attracts a crow’s gaze. Will this one be the rescue of a dragon? Perhaps the companion of a dragon? Or something else? Don’t know yet. I only know this dragon’s purpose isn’t to guard a mountain of precious metal treasures, but it is under siege, with enemy snares around it and venom poised to destroy it and that which it guards.

Just like the dragonfly of last summer.

“Tools of the Trade” appears in my short story collection:

Leyfarers and Wayfarers