International Pixel-Stained Techno-Peasant Day
It all started when Dr. Howard V. Hendrix, current VP of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, delivered a rant about people giving away their works for free on the Internets,
I’m… opposed to the increasing presence in our organization of webscabs, who post their creations on the net for free. A scab is someone who works for less than union wages or on non-union terms; more broadly, a scab is someone who feathers his own nest and advances his own career by undercutting the efforts of his fellow workers to gain better pay and working conditions for all. Webscabs claim they’re just posting their books for free in an attempt to market and publicize them, but to my mind they’re undercutting those of us who aren’t giving it away for free and are trying to get publishers to pay a better wage for our hard work.
Since more and more of SFWA is built around such electronically mediated networking and connection based venues, and more and more of our membership at least tacitly blesses the webscabs (despite the fact that they are rotting our organization from within) — given my happily retrograde opinions, I felt I was not the president who would provide SFWAns the "net time" they seemed to want at this point in the organization’s development, or who would bless the contraction of our industry toward monopoly, or who would give imprimatur to the downward spiral that is converting the noble calling of Writer into the life of Pixel-stained Technopeasant Wretch.
First there was John Scalzi, who’s already stirring things up in SFWA with a write-in candidacy that could very well win, pointing out how well giving stuff away has worked for him. And Cory Doctorow. And Charlie Stross. And so on and so on. And adding that "It’s appalling that a standing Vice President of SFWA is calling a rather large chunk of his constituency backstabbing scum."
Then Jo Walton got into the act, declaring today to be International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day, "the day when pixel-stained technopeasants everywhere are stretching and smiling and putting down their technotools to celebrate their existence by releasing their works into the wild, or at least the web." Numerous authors have contributed, and Jo has been keeping a pretty complete list, along with a quick LiveJournal community that sprang up to document the phenomenon.
Of course, the webcomics folks have been doing this sort of thing for a long time now.
I’d like to do my part as well, but most of my work has been work-for-hire so the selection’s a bit limited. Nevertheless, here’s a story previously published in Urban Nightmares by Baen Books… a story that, irony of ironies, helped get me into SFWA in the first place.
DARK OF NIGHT
by Glenn Hauman
No, this is the real story. I got it from a friend of mine in college.
James VanDermeulyn (one word, capital D, l-y-n) was having a rough time of it. Arlene, his college sweetheart wife, had just left him for her high school sweetheart, some fancy pants guy who invented a new e-mail program and made a million dollars a year or something and came back to take her away. She volunteered to send him alimony.
This sort of thing put James on edge — so much so that when the cashier at the Burger Bomb drive-through window shortchanged him, he drove right back and demanded his proper change. Unfortunately, he used the plate glass window the second time. And no, he didn’t pay for the window — bad enough they wouldn’t sell him any bourbon, the glass from the window flattened two of his tires.
His superiors at the post office noticed his levels of stress, but didn’t really want to fire him, the general suspicion was that he might be one of those employees that you didn’t want to fire, because he might — well, best not to dwell on it. So they relocated him. It was beginning to become a common practice: send an employee to a small laid-back town where the pace was much slower and the people much friendlier, where it was hoped that he would calm down enough to become less borderline. And if he didn’t — well, at least he was away from major population centers, so the body count would be low. So James VanDermeulyn was quietly transferred to the postmaster job in this quiet trance-inducing little town in Georgia called, God help him, Hicksburg.
VanDermeulyn hated it.
He had no way to travel outside the city limits, since his driver’s license was suspended and the bus only came through town once a day, and not on weekends when he had a day off. The average IQ of the populace barely exceeded the alcohol percentage of the local export — literally, an ex-port mixed with wood alcohol and Coca-Cola.
His co-worker was the worst of the lot. All the deliveries were done by Luther Wilson, lovingly known as "Lumpy" by the townies because of the lump on his back from carrying the mailbag around since the dawn of time. He was getting on in years now, so he used a truck now — his own pickup truck with the gun-rack in the back and his faithful shotgun Betsy in the back, because the town wasn’t big enough to rank its own postal truck. Hell, the town wasn’t big enough to rate its own post office, they rented out space from the local grocery store (really no bigger than a delicatessen, but nobody in town could spell that.) Half the day was spent with Lumpy sorting and delivering (with Lumpy explaining how Stonewall Jackson’s little brother once slept in the Cooper house over there every day on the route) and the other half was spent with Lumpy playing checkers. VanDermeulyn tried to teach Lumpy chess, but Lumpy never quite got "the way the horsies moved".
Nightlife was even worse. The bar was smoky, the beer was watery, the music was country-western, and the women were unpalatable. While he had wowed one or two of them with stories of life outside of town, it was clear to him they wanted him to stay there and tell such grand stories all of his life. The rest of the female population was either devoutly religious or double coyote ugly.
VanDermeulyn knew if he didn’t get out of this one-horse town, he was going to go occupational.
He was contemplating this one day in the post office/deli (actually, he was contemplating wheter to get an Uzi or buy American and how many people he’d have to kill to beat the current record, to be specific) when he saw Sherwood Craig lope in. Everybody knew the boy, he was the closest thing Hicksburg had to a local celebrity, as he had been diagnosed with some rare brain tumor. His momma sent him down here to pick up the mail every day. Somehow, getting mail addressed to him made him feel all grown up, since only adults got mail, particularly since it was unlikely he was going to get any real grown up pleasures out of his life. VanDermeulyn always tossed a piece of "occupant" mail his way, getting the Wal-Mart circular was a joy that made his day.
Suddenly, the idea was upon him.
The letter he crafted was deceptively simple:
"Little Sherwood Craig is dying of a terminal brain tumor. His goal, before he passes into the Great Beyond, is to collect as many get well cards as he can, to make the Guiness Book of World Records. His project is being sponsored by the Wish-Upon-a-Star Foundation, which specializes in fulfilling the final wishes of such sick little boys.
Please copy this message and circulate it to your friends, neighbors, and co-workers. Only you can make a child’s wish reality! God bless you from the Wish-Upon-a-Star Foundation!"
Then he posted it to a few computer bulletin boards.
Within days, the envelopes started pouring in from all over the country. By the end of two weeks, Sherwood was getting twenty sacks of mail a day. At the close of the first month, it had tripled.
Sherwood was ecstatic. He started to store them in alphabetical order, but gave up shortly after the first week. He kept the letters from different countries and one from each state, but his family shoveled the rest of them directly into the fire to keep the house warm.
Due to the sudden increased load on the local mail, VanDermeulyn was able to requisition funds for additional employees and equipment. His excellent ability to handle the situation, to respond to the sudden change in mail service so quickly, was noted by the local supervisors. It was if he was able to predict the influx.
Alas, it took a while for the postal bureaucracy to swing into action for the extra manpower — so Lumpy was forced to lug all the mail out to the Craigs himself. Well, he did have the pickup truck, and they needed it to lug all the sacks of mail.
The regional supervisors noted how well VanDermeulyn responded to his duties, responding to the increased pressure with further managerial flair in the face of a rather ridiculous situation. He was shortly promoted out of Hicksburg and relocated to the county hub, at an increase of rank and salary. Before he left, he even told Sherwood and the kid practically smothered him, he was so happy to have gotten all these neat letters and stuff — and now Momma didn’t even have to buy firewood, piles of it were delivered every day.
VanDermeulyn was overjoyed — and wondered if he couldn’t do it again.
VanDermeulyn succeeded at doing it again far beyond his wildest dreams. His second scam involved a child at a fictional address (actually a local mailing list company) asking for business cards; he got a kickback for all the new leads. His third one was incredibly prolific, he asked for people to mail him spare disks that gave you ten hours free on computer networks, and then used all the new accounts to promote both the request for a) more disks and b) his fourth scam, a young nubile girl who was looking to go to college, and was asking all of America to send in all the loose change in their desk drawers to her P.O. box. That last one had netted him over eighty-five thousand dollars.
And more, he was going to be promoted to regional postmaster today. From local to county to district to regional in under four years. At the rate his star was rising, he would be Postmaster General in under a decade. Less if that commie pinko President was voted out of office.
It would have all been great, were it not for the fact that that very day Luther Wilson came to visit VanDermeulyn in the office.
Lumpy, who had carried every sack of mail to the Craigs.
Who had carried every truckload to their front door for the past three plus years, six days a week.
Who had gotten a hernia from the weight of thousands of get-well cards.
Who had carried a grudge for the last year and a half.
Who had found out last week from little Sherwood Craig how his buddy Postmaster VanDermeulyn had gotten all those nice people to send him get well cards.
Who had carried the shotgun from the back of his truck into the office of the district postmaster.
Who, it was later discovered by the reporters who covered the massacre, had been transferred to Hicksburg almost twelve years ago to put him in a lower-stress position.
And that’s the way it really happened. Honest.