Cruise Control

My short story Cruise Control is free to read online today, as part of the July 2021 issue of Fireside Magazine!

If your son won’t visit you in the nursing home, it’s his own damn fault. He’s the coward who won’t give you an honest reaction unless you needle him. And he’s the one who keeps bringing pamphlets about sticking your brain in a self-driving car.

“Pop, please. This’ll add years to your life.” He kept his voice gentle. “They rejuvenate your brain. It’s the only way to make a driver; need to learn radar and wheels, like a kid learning their hands. There’s no damage. Only change.”

I tried to wave him away. “You don’t want me alive. Don’t tell me you’re grateful, what a good father I was. Pack of lies, right there.”

Why not support the magazine and buy an ebook of the whole issue? You’ll get your own copy of Cruise Control alongside three more stories edited by Lilian Boyd (seven more if you get June 2021 too), every one of them full of delicious embodied cyberpunk grit.

Keep reading for a few author notes, about the story’s creation and neuroscience. May contain spoilers, so why not read the story first?

I almost never write toward a specific submission call, but I knew Lilian Boyd’s guest editorship at Firesidec was right up my alley. Embodied cyberpunk, body-machine fusions. I’m a neuroscientist, I know all about how the body and mind warp each other. Hell, I used to work in the field of brain-machine interfaces!

Less than a week before the deadline, I found the right idea. Somehow I managed to pound out the story, revise, get feedback (thanks again to Kurt Pankau & David von Allmen for their swift insights), and send it in to victory!

There’s real neuroscience in here. Our brains are constrained and defined by our bodies. The brain is flexible and adaptable, but within the limits of our evolution and development. The human brain is a machine for movement – which means a machine for moving with our hands and arms and legs, for perceiving with our eyes and ears. Logic is clearer when you can embody, in the gestures of speech or drawing on a whiteboard. Perception and attention are literally defined by the limits of our reach: our brains give objects special treartment when they’re in front of us, within an arm’s length.

All of which means: if you want a radically different body, you’ll need a different brain. Which sounds like a price to pay, but it might also offer a shot at freedom. We’ve all had moments where we resent our brain, in all its uncontrollable demands and reactions.

Truly self-driving cars may never become reality under our current approaches. But if you could loop in a system that already has decades of experience with vision and space and object qualities? That might be a different story.

Of course, there may be some… economic inequalities here. There always are when you use human bodyparts – human bodies – for someone else’s profit.1 The first draft of this story involved an inheritance rather than a paycheck, but that didn’t feel right. The economics aren’t this story’s focus, and the deal may have its advantages, but note how the paychecks only start after you’re five years in. And imagine all the better ways you could use this technology to renew a tired and guilty brain.

  1. Wait, doesn’t everything the economy involve using human bodies for profit, one way or another? Yes. Yes, it does.

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