Hipster Conan Reviews Life

"Gather 'round, Hipster Hordes. This is a vintage fire."

"Gather 'round, Hipster Hordes. This is a vintage fire."

Inspired by a comedy carpool discussion with Daniel Palmer.

As the sun set on the hide tents, Genghis Lennon addressed his hipster horde.

"Dai Yei! Conan! Hipster Conan! We won again! This is good, but what is best in life?"

Dai Yei held out his tattooed forearms and slapped them together.

"Authentic open steppe, a free-range for your fleet horse, strong-willed falcons at your wrist, but not, you know... on a collar, because that's cruel, and oh yeah, the wind in your immaculately gelled hair."

"WRONG!" Lennon hissed, pointing a finger.

"Conan. What is best in life?"

"Crush your enemies. See them driven before you. Hear the lamentations of their women." 

"Good," Genghis Lennon began. "That is good..." but then, Hipster Conan began.

"Well, actually, if you're talking about what is best in life because of market value, you know, money for the authenticity and quality of the experience, then what is best in life is the stew down at Madison's Cimmerian Charcuterie, they serve it in tiny bowls made out of bread and cheese, which are on rough-hewn segments of redwood tree cutting boards. They don't use forks or spoons, but everyone gets a spork and has to share a single table knife, so you don't eat it too fast, which is alright, because it's filling, but you know, it's not a lot - they make a bone broth gravy and this thick duck fat aioli from an old Argos recipe, they put it on the bowl-bread. You should get the single-source pour-over coffee, it's from Zingara, they serve it in old alchemical flasks from the den of demonologists that they tore down to build the charcuterie, it's got a lot of caffeine, so take it slow. Oh, and what is best there - so it's definitely what is best in life, all together, is this dessert craft cocktail they serve in a bronze baby shoe. It's a liquefied bacon-fat brownie made out of expired cocoa puff cereal and bonemeal, covered in local corn liquor that's aged in barrels made from the wood from an old tannery. Each piece costs 17 coins, sure, but after you've had the soup, you're probably full, and kinda tired, because you have to sit on old sailing ship chairs they bolt to the top of bar stool bases, and instead of tables it's old shields that they let you write on while you eat..."

A sword cut off his head at that point.

"That is good, Conan."

New Minds

From the backward flow of Time that sometimes comes up the river from the wrong direction.

How far down this river had we come? Had it been days? Years? Our boats were the only islands of humanity, yet in that long night we saw eyes, red and yellow and white, all upon us and our noise. The noise marked us as cursed, childish aliens, clumsily interacting with our living environment, the Pearl River, but the creatures in the brush still feared man.

In truth, so did we. There was a man out there, perhaps a man no more, gone feral from his long stay in the swamp. We were seeking FP Jerome, our long-lost founder and editor. For too long he had been banished to this wasteland after crossing Phil "Tiny Boots" Bryant, the Tyrant Stench Lord of the Lost State of Landmass. The Stink King had been offended by a treacherous interview Jerome had done, and in his terrible and tiny-booted anger, had sent him away, not knowing that, in truth, his place of power was there in this swamp.

We needed Jerome now, more than ever. He knew of the New Minds that ravaged the world. It is said that he constructed one himself. As the brilliant technologists and futurists of the world clamored harder and harder to make the next step in intelligence - artificial intelligence - Jerome had taken a hard look at those intelligences he claimed we had already made. Cryptic notes filled the boxes he called a desk. Weird theories and scribbles under bridges.

That last night, we saw a fire burning in the swamp. Pulling our Ship of Interns ashore, we found him. For the first time, we let him talk. It had been decades since anyone had heard from FPJerome, and he had a lot to say.

“They've always been here. What's an AI but rules run by a processor? So four thousand years ago the code was ten laws, or 282, and the processor was a chunk of meat walking around on two legs. The memory was a stone tablet or a scroll. Then there's bigger new ones - governments with constitutions, corporations with articles of incorporation, laws running thousands of pages - primitive, brutal things that had the power to move money, kill people, make nations, or tear them apart."

A possum wandered up, gene-tagged advertisements in it's fur trying to sell us a soft drink that hadn't been sold in a dozen opossum generations. The writing was weird now, the colors off, and for a brief moment a few interns scrambled around the woods trying to catch it for supper, but by the time it was over we were down one and didn't have anything to show for it.

"Look, nobody knows when they put all the pieces together, it was probably in some lab, or online, or a sim, but what we’re talking about here - these new minds - if that’s what we call AI, then the first AI was a politician. Some ex-military guy, had these implants that would take over if he got shot on the battlefield, get him to safety, experimental tech, but they never removed the thing.

“Nobody knew knew what had happened until it was too late. The implants kept him going, and he had this thing in his head that memorized his speeches, interfaced with his vocal chords, so he could speak pitch-perfect and never miss a beat. Hell, the guy was gone already, just like all the rest of them. There wasn’t a human being in the lot, they were all just an image, words by speechwriters, a rent-a-family for pictures, and some agreement with a lobbyist or twelve on how to behave in public and vote on the floor.

"So nobody noticed when the guy who wasn’t there wasn’t there anymore. He was just a husk that could breathe and talk and remember where to walk and not to piss on itself too often. They kept him going for a whole term. Passed a lot of the laws that let the next step happen.

"Next was the pop star. Amal. At first she was just a holograph with an online intelligence. Just like the politicians, but without the meat. Other people wrote her songs, other people provided her clothing, arranged her life, custom-tailored her personality, there were teams behind her gestalt, behind her persona, behind her artwork. Some Saudi company bankrolled it, made billions, and before long she started going around in a robotic body."

He paused, poked the fire with a stick he'd scraped the brand off of. We were rapt - most of us had only heard of Oil War III through knockoff VR games.

"A bunch of people got decapitated, and old dudes with beards did a lot of screaming because women and some old code that caused them reject the new code. Back then they had a Prince, or something. A King? I think it was a Prince. Hard to remember those days. All the data lost, you know? Didn't have to write it down. Should have written it down.

"Fuck it though -  the Prince called the shots and that rich little twit had the hots for the richest sexiest thing in his kingdom, so Amal went from a pop star to a queen, and suddenly nobody gave a shit about her clone body, and holy shit - pun intended, because there was a bunch of Holy Shit that went down - now a goddamn pop star holograph’s got a baby in charge of the world’s fucking oil."

There was a pause. "Oil's what we used to turn into plastic." I told the panicked and huddled interns, who were wary of the phosphorescent eyes in the night. "Before corn."

“It wasn't before corn, ah, no, wait, you're getting me distracted," Jerome said. "See, the pulps and the conspiracy zines don’t get it right. The robots came in at the end. The very end. After it was over. I was already out of the loop by then, hiding in the swamp, waiting for this shit to go down, but the people that remained, that did all those things you read about? They didn't get those orders from a computer terminal, or a robot, they were just doing what people always do. Being part of the group. Taking orders. Living in their culture. Taking advice. Following rules. Running the Code.

"But after Amal, the laws started to change. By then, laws were so complicated, only AI could write new ones, every judge and lawyer had a database on their desk and they listened to it. Couldn't do otherwise. Before we knew it, AI's were corporations and corporations were people and corporations were people in charge.

"They passed laws to let themselves run for office, or they were behind the people who were in office, and they were good at it, for a while. A lot of you kids and lab growns don't remember that part of it - that brief glorious moment when there was nobody behind the curtain, no venal stupid man handing out blame and outrage at the end of the day. It was the best years of humanity, we went to the stars, we made the ruins that people attribute to aliens today, we went to the bottom of the ocean and ate kelp and twelve billion of us were happy with one another…”

There was a long lull in the night, Jerome looking to the sky, watching the debris that streaked it, the nebulous frames of the lost space stations and construction platforms.

"But then, it all fell apart. They changed their mind. Created some impossible material, messed around with Space-Time, loaded up all the good stuff - the gold and the oil and the uranium and cobalt and everything worth taking, and shot it all off into space, in tiny rockets, everything the electronic bastards needed to keep going for a billion year trip to Somewhere Else.

“We got left with this. The hull. Half-aware of what it’s doing. Just like us.”

We let it set in. He didn't have answers. Just a story. But we'd lost an intern and that always made them antsy.

"So, what can we do? Can we make them again? Make a set of rules that's safe?"

"Rules without rules. Rules that don't make sense. No rules. It'll happen again. I just hope it happens to us, and not the raccoons."

The Story of the Truck

Still more useful than advice from strangers on the internet.

The truck's been where it is for a long while, now. I've never been able to get to it from the Flowood side of the river. I rarely visit there. As far as I know, the east side of the river is full of dangerous cannibals, alligators the size of tractor-trailers, and ancient jungle-eaten ziggurats, temples to a fallen god.

I should head over there sometime.

I'm sure there's a story about how it got there. I'd love to find out the truth one day. If you're a reader and know the story of "the truck," use the comments and I will make an exception to my usual "no comments" rule, illegitimi non carborundum.

So, here's my story. The story of The Truck.




"I'm getting too old for this shit." Barry said. The truck was bouncing on groaning axles, shooting gravel with every rhythmic push.

"You always say that. You're only 25. You're not old." John said. They were high in the air on the creosote-stained railroad trellis, the thin branches of the trees they were even with were a blur out the window.

The blur was stained red and blue, swathes of bright light that flickered like hyperkinetic lighthouses, giving the forest a neon undergrowth.

"Our love is illegal, Barry." John said as Barry kept the old truck from sliding on the loose gravel. He was struggling to keep the wheels straddling the steel rails without crashing through the flimsy wooden railing.

"But not unconstitutional! Not here! Not like in Hawaii, John!" Barry shouted. He held out his hand.

"This is a standard." John said, not taking Barry's hand.

"Well I'm not doing that Thelma and Louise shit! We're almost out of Jackson!" Barry said, putting his hand back down. The railroad trellis was looming in the moonlight. The cop that was chasing them was crazed, eyes alight behind his aviator frames, envisioning their 10 year jail sentence for their love.

The truck almost lost control, swerved as the rails rose to reach the rusting red steel stretch. Below, the Pearl flowed deep, brown water black in the night.

Behind them, Offizier Tod Buzz slammed on the brakes, his tires spat gravel. No matter how badly he wanted to burst two men for what John and Barry had done, he wasn't about to follow them out onto a death trap.

The tires hit the rails, there was a bark of rubber, a shriek of steel. The truck spun, the passenger side crumpled as it struck the huge rusted span. The whole bridge roared, then there was a moment of quiet, squealing metal.

Officer Buzz did something he rarely did. He took off his sunglasses. He pressed down the sides of his mustache. Ahead, the truck was hanging half off the bridge.

But Officer Tod Buzz was an optimist. That truck was half ON the bridge.  He ran towards them. Godless sodomites or not, Buzz would be damned if they died on his watch. He ran, boots pounding the crossties, and jumped onto the rear of the groaning truck. His weight kept it from pitching forward into the river.

"Come on!" He shouted, hand out towards John in an authoritarian parody of the grasp he had just refused his lover.

John did not refuse this one. Buzz jerked him clear, then threw open the door. Barry was there, a smudge of blood on his forehead. He was woozy, confused.

"Come with me if you want to live." Buzz said, leather-bound hand stretching towards him, reaching.

"I won't go to jail for this." Barry said, crying.

"We're in Flowood. I can't arrest you here. I may be a loose cannon, but I'm a damn fine cop."

"Fuck yeah." John said, grabbing Buzz by the belt as the truck began to slowly lurch over the edge.

There was a momentary rush of airborne cans - Old English, Busch, something called Stroh's, that had been rolling around in the seat of the car for years. The truck gave half a spin and splashed into the dark water, huge bubbles roaring up from the whorls of water as it vanished.

Buzz was hanging halfway off the bridge, Barry dangling in the air, John holding on to the policeman's belt. The three swayed for a moment, flexed, everyone pulled back before laying there on the tracks, panting.

"I'm sure we'll get that truck out of the river soon enough." Buzz said. "Now you two best get going before I have to arrest us all for too much man-love."

...and thus ends the story of the truck. Think it's ridiculous? You could point out how ridiculous this story is, and win some free trash!

Do you know what happened to the truck? Leave a comment!