Author Archives: Steven Wyble

God walks into a bar …

I wrote a joke. A joke about God.

And, despite the bad joke opening that is the title of this post, it does not involve God walking into a bar.

The idea for this joke literally just popped into my head. You’ll find that it (obviously) isn’t an accurate account of humanity’s creation, but I think God has a pretty good sense of humor and will allow some creative license.

Without further ado, here’s the joke:

God set up an assembly line to create humankind. As human torsos ran down the line, angels attached legs, feet, arms and hands before attaching blank heads that were then outfitted with ears, eyes, lips, eyebrows, and so on.

Just before the now very human-like assemblages neared the section of the factory where they were to receive their noses, God suddenly had a change of heart. He had chosen everything about everyone; their hair and eye color, the shape of their bodies, the length of their legs. Wasn’t it fair to let people choose one small aspect of their physical appearance?

He pulled everyone off the assembly line and had them gather outside the factory to wait for his announcement. As he looked at the crowd, he noticed the no-nosed individuals murmuring among themselves and gathering into little groups. People put their hands up to their friends’ faces, seemingly trying to determine what kind of nose would look good on their new friend’s face. Best to address that kind of behavior too, God decided.

God let out a loud, sharp whistle and the murmurs stopped. Everyone turned their nose-less faces to God and awaited his word.

“Listen up, everyone,” God said. “I know you’re all eager to get noses on your faces, but I need to lay out some ground rules first: You can pick your friends, and you can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your friend’s nose.”

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book thumbMy book, Metacognition and other stories and poems of science, faith and the supernatural, is FREE for a limited time on the Amazon Kindle store.

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The greatest short story ever written

I just stumbled upon the radio-broadcast version of  the greatest short story ever written: “The Last Question” by Isaac Asimov. Indeed, it was Asimov’s favorite of all his stories, according to Wikipedia.

Throughout the story, different people pose the same question to a supercomputer called Multivac: How can you reverse entropy?

I’d never heard of entropy the first time I read this story as a middle-schooler, but the concept stuck in my mind ever since and helped inspire the title of the novel I’m currently writing: “Entropy’s Fury.”

My novel is more directly inspired by another Asimov story closely related to “The Last Question” called “The Last Answer.” That story is about a recently deceased, atheistic professor grappling with the existence of his eternal soul.

As intriguing as that is, “The Last Question” reigns supreme, in my mind, above all other short stories, science fiction or not. Check it out on YouTube:

10 movies that will make you question everything you know

People enjoy ruminating over the nature of reality. Philosophical, religious and scientific ideas about the universe make us question what our purpose is in the universe — if we indeed have one.

Cinema seems to be an ideal medium for exploring the intersection of reality and unreality and over the years I’ve found that many of these ambitious films have become my favorites. Many have influenced my own writing (such as the short story “Real Life,” which is included in the previous post and appears in my book Metacognition).

Here are 10 movies that will make you question the role of humanity in the universe, the nature of the universe, the nature of reality, or all of the above.

10. The Matrix

The Wachowski Brothers’ movie The Matrix is the quintessential reality-bending movie. It made an entire generation wonder if they were in “The Matrix” and sparked discussions about reality and human consciousness.

9. Inception

Christopher Nolan’s Inception was described by some as a mix between The Matrix and Ocean’s 11. Besides the movie’s stylistic similarity to The Matrix, Nolan manages to infuse the same doubts in viewer’s minds: Is everything we know just a dream?

8. The Fountain

Darren Aronofsky’s film The Fountain explores three storylines — one in the past, one in the present, and one in the future — that all somehow manage to tell the same story. The movie pushes the boundaries of both space and time.

7. Donnie Darko

Donnie Darko, director Richard Kelly’s debut film, explores the life of a hero trapped in a tangent universe as he tries to restore the balance of nature. It’s hands-down the most fascinating exploration of destiny and fate sporting a catchy ’80s soundtrack.

6. Southland Tales

Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales never achieved the cult status of Donnie Darko, but it’s much more ambitious. The constantly shifting plot explores time travel, doppelgangers, and the end of the world, raising plenty of questions and delivering few answers.

5. Vanilla Sky

Cameron Crowe’s Vanilla Sky cuts to the core of the nature of reality. The source material, the Spanish film Abre los ojos, came out a full two years before The Matrix.

4. eXistenZ

If The Matrix took viewers “down the rabbit hole,” then David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ takes viewers down a helluva lot of rabbit holes. The film uses the backdrop of an intense, futuristic video game to ask if we can ever be sure what we’re experiencing is real.

3. Synecdoche, New York

Synecdoche, New York, Charlie Kaufman’s directorial debut, tells the story of an unbelievably ambitious play. If all the world’s a stage, how big does that stage need to be? And do all the actors know they’re acting?

2. The Prestige

Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige seems like a straightforward magician’s tale at first, but the film manages to make viewers wonder: just how extensive are the illusions that permeate every aspect of our existence?

1. The Thirteenth Floor

Josef Rusnak’s The Thirteenth Floor, loosely based on the novel Simulacron-3 by Daniel F. Galouy, explores the nature of simulated reality and asks the question, how human is human?

Real Life

The following short story is titled, “Real Life” and appears in my collection of short fiction and poetry, Metacognition:

“Are you nervous?”

I look at Henry. He certainly doesn’t look nervous. He doesn’t sound nervous either, so I try to sound as calm as possible when I reply, “Not really.”

But I am nervous. And excited. My blood feels like it’s buzzing, like a billion bees are buzzing around in my veins, ready to burst through my skin at any second. Surely Henry knows that I’m nervous as hell, never mind what I say.

Dear lord, have I ever been this nervous in my entire life?

Henry takes my hand in his and pecks me on the cheek.

“It doesn’t matter what happens.”

I kiss him back.

“I know it doesn’t.”

But it does matter, I think to myself. I want this more than anything. I’ve worked so hard and all that effort has led to this day, to this hour, and to the next few minutes—minutes that will decide my fate, and the fate of my country.

We’ve had our first Black President. Our first Indian President. Isn’t it about time for the first female President of the United States of America?

Not that gender should have anything to do with it. I’m clearly the most qualified candidate for the job, regardless of my sex. But still, it would be exciting to be the first Madame President . . .

My thoughts are interrupted when Henry points excitedly to the screen.

“We’re calling the race,” the newscaster says, “for Holly Reece, the first woman President of the United States of America.”

Suddenly the room is filled with shouting and cheering and clapping, and I’m just staring at the television with my jaw halfway to the floor, unable to believe that it’s really happening. I am the President-elect of the United States of America.

Henry embraces me, pressing his lips to mine in an excited, passionate
(and somewhat sloppy) embrace.

“Well,” he says as our lips part, “I hope you have a victory speech prepared.”

43 years later

“Come to bed, dear,” Henry says. “You have a big day ahead of you.”

“Just a minute,” I say, and I begin to slowly make my way to the bed. I never imagined that it would be this difficult getting around in old age. Every inch of my body aches. It’s good to still be alive, but it’s tiring, too. With all the stress of running the free world for eight years, I expected to be dead a long time ago.

I crawl into bed beside Henry and when I’m all settled, I pick up the remote control and turn on the television.

I turn on the news and sure enough, there I am up on the screen, forty years younger, shaking hands with the Prime Minister of England.

“President Reece enjoyed one of the highest popularity ratings ever,” the newscaster says. “That popularity continued after she left office. She has continued a life of public service to this day and the hard work she put into bringing peace to the Middle East was recently recognized when she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Reece will be making her first public appearance since receiving the award tomorrow afternoon.”

Henry’s hand reaches for mine, and as we hold hands he looks into my eyes. A devilish grin creeps across his face and he says, “I’ve never slept with a Nobel laureate before.”

I kiss him. “And I doubt you ever will,” I say. “At least, not in the way you mean. We’re getting too old for all that.”

He kisses me.

“I’m not in the mood either,” he says. “Maybe tomorrow though,” he says with a chuckle.

“If you play your cards right, maybe,” I say. We kiss again, say good night to each other, and prepare for sleep.

But as I’m right on the cusp of sleep, in that delirious little wonderland where wakefulness and slumber mingle, I feel with absolute certainty that I will not wake up again. What a pity, I think. I was going to make my last speech ever tomorrow! But, oh well. I worked well, I loved well, I lived well. I’m grateful that I’m leaving in my sleep, having done all the things I’ve ever wanted to do and then some. Too many people don’t get to live life as long or as well as I have.

“Goodbye Henry,” I whisper and then my thoughts cease.

***

My eyes open.

My eyes open.

Holy shit!

My eyes are open!

I’m alive!

And—and there’s a woman standing in front of me, dressed all in white. And as I look beyond her, I still see nothing but white. Everywhere I look there’s white, except for this woman’s beautiful black skin and rich, brown eyes.

“So there is a heaven,” I say weakly.

The woman laughs.

“You say that every time, Michael.”

Michael? Oh no, I think. There’s been some kind of mix-up. I was supposed to be sent to hell, but they thought I was Michael, and now I’ve taken his place in heaven and he’s probably being tortured down below . . .

Maybe if I come clean right away, they’ll let me stay, I think. So I part my lips and say timidly, “I’m not Michael. I’m Holly Reece.”

The woman laughs.

“Gather your thoughts, Michael. Let it come back to you.”

“I’m not Michael. I’m sorry, but—” and then it starts coming back to me.

I’m not Holly Reece, first woman President. I’m Perry Lamont, the billionaire playboy that owns half the real estate on Mars.

Wait, no . . . no, I’m Harriet Tubman, organizer of the underground railroad, helping usher slaves to freedom.

That’s not right either. I’m Abraham Lincoln. I freed the slaves.

No, wait. I’m Michael Lincoln.

And I have been Holly Reece, Perry Lamont, Harriet Tubman, and Abraham Lincoln at various times. But only temporarily. And not . . . actually.

In reality I’m Michael Lincoln. I sell shoes for a living. I live in a studio apartment by myself and spend most of my days filling out crossword puzzles while watching TV and eating ice cream straight from the carton.

But every once in awhile I come here to feel what it’s like to be someone special, to live a life of glamour, admiration, respect.

As the attendant pulls the cord from the back of my head, she asks how it was.

“It was . . . it was a pretty interesting one,” I say. “A real historic life, to be sure.” I stop and think for a moment. “I didn’t realize Reece was a republican, though. If I’d known that I don’t think I would have chosen her.”

The attendant laughs. “I didn’t realize you were such a staunch democrat.”

“I’m not a real staunch democrat,” I say, “but I’m certainly not a republican.”

“I am,” she says.

“Oh yeah?” I say with a smile. “Well, opposites attract.”

“No,” she says, “they don’t,” and my smile fades.

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