Read Chapter One is a special feature at LA Books Examiner where authors, from emerging to bestsellers, share an excerpt of their newest books. It's a great way to discover new voices and, perhaps, your next great read.
Last week, Jojo Moyes gave us a taste of her hot new release Me Before You, already a bestseller in Britain. This week, let's meet Michael Stutz, author of Circuits of the Wind: A Legend of the Net Age, a three-volume coming-of-age tale of the early internet and its impact on an unsuspecting world.
Michael Stutz actually coined the phrase "net generation" while working as a reporter for Wired News -- and, in the early 1990s, kicked off the Wikipedia era by being the first to take open source beyond software. He lives in Space Age Central, the former home of the NASA rocket scientist who planned the Apollo Project.
Take a few minutes to read this exclusive excerpt of Circuits of the Wind which Michael Stutz has generously shared with the LA Books Examiner.
*Reprinted by special arrangement with Michael Stutz and Confiteor Media. Copyright Michael Stutz.
He knew the telephone early. Where there once had been indifference, when first he'd only noted just an olive-colored blemish on the wall, soon came recognition and finally even curiosity. In time the thing took on a great significance.
It would sometimes shake the room in a flaring jingle, causing everything to freeze, and the lady would rush over to attend to it. It went like this no matter what--the lady would stop everything and run. She'd quiet it, speak importantly around it--perhaps even direct it--and he wondered if she'd set a timer to make it ring, for she seemed to control it sometimes by lifting up the handset while a finger carefully revolved the dial front. She'd stand there for great lengths of time, gesticulating wildly--dictating to, conversing with, nodding toward, or otherwise influencing it, all the while with the handset propped up to the side of her head in what at first appeared to be comedy, but sometimes became a long and tedious routine.
It was some while and not without false trails before he discovered that voices fell from it: there were times when she held the handset to his head, and he was prodded, coaxed, urged to speak, and she'd tell him that these other people could hear him, she'd perform a litany of names; after confused deflections where he convulsively pushed back for fear that it might injure him, the magic was revealed one day when he finally acquiesced and felt the soft pitches of sound tickling the inside of his ear--and to her happy praise he quickly gurgled an acknowledgement.
Once he understood something of its workings, when he knew how it would pitch and jingle and then bring up the soft voices, he thought that it was a connection to the other side of the kitchen wall--he thought that there were adult neighbors sitting back in there, beyond the green and silver stripes of wallpaper, and that they were talking to them through it, summoning them at all hours.
Eventually he came to know that it actually reached out well beyond all that, through long wires, and soon enough he learned that the whole entire world was connected to it, was accessible from there and waiting for him at the end of a phone line. The lady told him this, he saw no reason to disbelieve her, and yet he harbored doubts--for it scarcely seemed possible. He'd stare at this fantastic gateway to the world and soon decided that it'd somehow bring him to his future, this great connecting force that wrapped around the whole entire planet and brought everything imaginable to the striped wall of their kitchen.
They were in the city of Clifton, one of the three-dozen great cities that had been built and blossomed there in the land of America, a sprawling metropolis along the upper edge of that crossroads state they call Sohola, which had the whole of America inside it--the nation ended abruptly at its northern shoreline, where beyond the soft ripples of the inland sea there was nothing but the vague promises of Canada, while if you drifted far down toward its southern border you'd notice that everyone had a different accent, and it never snowed so much in winter, and grits were on all the breakfast menus; it was also the state where New England undeniably saw its final end in those forested hills that tapered off along its eastern sections, where they'd come tumbling down from Ithaca in New York state, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and other points in that Appalachian highland that cupped the whole East Coast--and everybody knew that it was the place where the Midwest decidedly began, with all that farmland across the loamy plains that stretched all through the bedded night so long into the west.
Clifton pressed up tightly against the cold gritty shores of Lake Catawba, one of the vast and endless Great Lakes, those cool and glimmering inland seas of old America. In its downtown city core it was much smaller than Chicago, but the suburban mass of greater Clifton, radiating out in all directions south along the shore, held a sprawling land mass just about the size of the entire state of Rhode Island.
Its downtown skyline--a dense sprouting of gray office towers, brick warehouses, factories, department stores and big old buildings--was dominated by the solitary Clifton Beacon, stacked up upon the throne of Center Square; it was illuminated at night in a pale yellow light upon the sable harbor, a glow that could be seen for miles out on the sleepy waters to remind you that the city was still there, looking like a miniature night-light of the Empire State Building--and actually in a sense it was, having secretly been a prototype of it, and for a splendid while back in '30 bore the distinction of second-tallest building in the world.
In its basement cavern was the city's great terminal, where trains slowed down in their smooth liquidic way and soon left again to disappear into the far horizon, and during business hours the rapid streetcars spat from their gates in six directions only to pause along the curbs for a dozen miles out, penetrating far into the suburbs and sliding brusquely over their placid empty streets.
The house was in the inner city about a hundred blocks west of Center Square, not half a mile from the lapping edge of Catawba's periwinkle bowl, on a street of two-families that'd been huddling tight together there since at least the century's two World Wars. Most of them were steep-roofed and boxy, with covered porches sweeping shadily all the way across the front of them--stationary giants looking down upon the sidewalks, while a garage that often matched in color and design was like its baby sitting on the ground out back behind. Telephone poles--tall as the homes and smooth, as if they'd been rubbed for years--were staggered along each side of the street with their black wires roped up high. There was one next door. Their house was on the north side of the street, toward the western end, and its exterior wood was painted a cheerful apple yellow. They lived on the second floor. It's there, inside the lockings of those rooms, in the first years of the decade of the 1970s, where he spent bright, whirlwind days of learning through the steady observation of the lady. She attended to all his needs and was the one who fed him, and he was there with her, constantly around her, this long-haired lady who only later did he learn also had a name--now, to him, she was only "Momma."
His waking hours were spent on cushions and soft beds below steep cliffs of avocado green and goldenrod, where he kept himself patiently amused by examining the frills and nubs and edges and tracing all the patterns. He was a big-eyed baby who'd somehow assumed that he was king, and the adults of his kingdom were extravagant aristocrats, all of them wearing brightly colored, complex robes of clothing, heavy polyesters that his fingers pulled at so he could examine. Dadda would sometimes peek down smiling at him with a head of shiny black hair and giant sideburns that were somehow like handles to reach for, but when the head bobbed back it was mysteriously gone for all the sunny, happy hours of the day, which was when he spent all of his time alone with Momma.
In time he came to know the various relations between his mother, father, and the greater family--and it didn't take him long to discover a special phone at his grandparents' house, which was somehow nearby. This one was within reach. It sat ready on a giant snowflake of a doily, atop a streamlined end-table of sunny wood; after some experiment and mimicry he saw that the handset made a noise when lifted. The noise stopped when he carefully moved the dial with hard turnings in the right direction, and if done properly he knew that he'd hear the voices in the handset.
His mother didn't want him touching it, but his grandmother seemed to think that it was clever, and allowed it up to a point. He pushed that point continually, until even she asserted an adult authority and kept him away with a firm unbreakable grip. He wondered with some jealousy how these adults could know all of the white symbols beneath the circle of the dial, how they knew to combine and select them with their fingers to all means of successful ends--he yearned to do the same. He persisted, began to furtively experiment, and then commanded it openly when his turnings were met with good success.
"Don't do that!" his mother scolded roughly, reaching over to take the handset away from him. "You're going to get the operator on the line!"
But that was the very point--and as the handset was pried away he could finally hear the fair voice calling out, in confirmation of his theories: "<i>Op</i>erator! <i>Op</i>erator, may I <i>help</i> you!"
He'd found something that was real and far away from this torpid room in Clifton with its doilies and heavy curtains, and everything around him took on the foggy underwater cast of a confusing, languid dream.
He'd found a voice, it was calling out to him, a connection had been made, he yearned to take it further--and when it went away he cried and stomped and turned red-faced with tears and anger.
The wonder of the telephone, so complex and technological and suggestive of another world, had completely enraptured him already at this early age--and he saw this wonder everywhere around him, in a parade of many things that came bursting forth in a steady procession through those years following his naked infancy: he saw it in the Sunbeam electric blender, with a good long panel of buttons, a heavy glass pitcher with complex notchings, and a black lid to seal it like a top hat; he saw it in the big mixer parked up upon the counter, sleek and white as a moon rocket, with a wide turning knob at the end labeled with serious instructions and the beaters that whirred throatily when it was on--their curved steel fins were shaped to him like rocket ships, one slender and the other slightly pudgy for good variation, a fact he'd idly contemplate when he got to lick them after his mother's baking; he saw it in a plastic measuring cup whose rows of numberings and complex red arcs and lines along the side were of some scientific import, possibly for use during the exploration of space and sea; and he saw it in all the other objects kept in deep cupboard tunnels of the kitchen, and even in the smaller cupboard tunnels of the bathroom, which had their own style and flavor and were vaguely dangerous, similar to what was found in the doctor's offices where it always smelled sharply of rubbing alcohol and there was the constant fear of pain and needles.
Then there was the console television on the living room floor, a giant toy whose glowing, moving screen could be controlled with a panel of buttons on the side, including a big round one that would click in friendly advocations as you'd turn it; there was the console record player with its moving robotic arm and spinning platter; there were countless radios with serrated dials that were good to turn, and some had nice buttons with stars crowned in the center, or a mysterious red indicator wand that moved, backlit by a pale evening sun that glowed sadly like the final hopeless moments in the dying world of dinosaurs.
He saw this wonder in all the hidden pockets of their house, and in the house of his grandparents, which he'd freely roam, exploring and taking inventory; he did this everywhere that he was brought, and in strange buildings he often saw the wonder and the way--it was inside all the stores and their complex paths and mazes, it was marked on all the doors and handles, and was reachable somehow by all the buttons and the machinery that moved; the entire world he lived in was a single vast and complex city, connected with these buttons and latches and switches, like the command post of a giant ship that was ready to take off somewhere into space, and he spent so much time examining its wondrous aspects--crawling under tables, pulling open drawers, looking at the lights, pressing buttons, tracing paths,touching and experimenting and seeking more of this great wonder that was out there and everywhere around him.
And then in the bright warmth of a summer's day, when he was almost three, the family moved. This happened quickly and without warning. He was taken to the suburban outskirts, to a freshly built development in a town called Roman Valley that was somewhere south of the old and bustling crowded city, tucked off safely near a highway ramp. It wasn't so worn and rusty and so grim and heavy-shadowed here--the new house was a giant box of white aluminum, trimmed on the sides and bottom edge in smoky orange brick, a brand-new colonial full of black-shuttered windows, with a long recessed porch and a dark black eagle of molded plastic mounted regally above the center of the attached garage. The house kept guard on a corner lot at the foot of a new development that'd been built out of a quiet forest near a farm house. It'd been the "model" home, he later had been told, one of the prototypes for all that was going up behind it and available for free inspection by all potential buyers--but now it was theirs, sparkling heartily, fresh and ready for all their days of living.
Happily, there were many more great, compelling wonders here--they were in the orange- glowing cyclops eye on the new automatic coffee pot that would stare down at him in bold authority and even seemed to blink of its own volition, in the roly-poly face he saw on all the electric sockets with its open mouth agape and sadly drooping mime-eyes, and in the color television that he now had full access to, a complex robotic box whose outer limits were unknown. It was wheeled readily before him on a metal cart with plastic casters, and he sat before it for many hours of the sunlit day, and it became an early friend. He drank in its soothing endless views into some futuristic Elsewhere, far away from Roman Valley: of calm, pastoral places that were shown with the sporadic punctuations of pleasant music, of mad scientists whose lives of deep experimentation seemed to be a good and valid option, and of a talking horse named Mr. Ed.
He believed in this distant world, longed to be a part of it, and came to love the big electric box that provided him the windowed view. He constantly experimented, and with the television knobs he soon discovered ways to change all the tints and colors, raise the volume, make dark shadows and sharp silver fuzz upon the picture, and even summon a horizontal stripe--black like licorice and banded with lines and colored dots--that poured and fell fast down the front of the screen and whose true importance was unknown, but that always darkened the mood of his parents whenever it came racing into view.
And there was much exultant wonder in the greater world where he was being taken now: he saw it in the three rectangular windows on the front doors of homes they drove past in the car, staggered like the slits in paper punch-cards, and in all the pleasant stampings that were on good garage doors; he saw it in the tube-test stand at the dime store, with rows of special complex outlets, deep black wells that formed snug connections to the right glass vacuum tubes and made a light glow warmly in affirmation, as he witnessed when adult men carefully approached it; he saw it in that cold metal plate they had at every shoe store, lying on the carpet tucked beneath a chair--he sometimes got to step his stockinged foot in it while the salesman carefully touched his heel and adjusted levers along the side and read the numbered markings; there was the elaborate message system at the department store downtown involving pneumatic suction, where workers placed their paper messages into a cylinder, and by opening a gate into this great tubed network where the air would howl with heavy suction it'd get eaten by the pipes, and he'd carefully watch as it shot quickly to the ornate and crusty moulded ceiling, went fast around a bend and then shuttled far back into the inner depths beyond a wall, where according to his parents another worker would receive the message and know just what to do--and he decided then that one day he would build a house with such a system in it; and he always happily anticipated the cashier's change machine at the Pick-N-Pay grocery store, knowing of its wonder: with the pressing of a button on the register, the proper change would be spooled out from their receptacles and spill down noisily into a metal bowl for your convenient taking, a bowl like the ones for holy water inside the doors of all the churches--his mother sometimes let him scoop the change, and this meant so much to the young child, knowing that he had a valid role in keeping everything running smoothly.
He figured that all adult living, in fact, was a duteous taking-part in the complex operations that kept this entire system going all around him, a vast unending game played ultimately for the benefit of the common good. This was his earliest conception of Civilization.
And that's how the life of Raymond Valentine begins: a boy's enchanted with the wonders that are everywhere around him, and somewhere else a wind is whispering far among the willows. He was enthralled by all the happy joys and mysteries of these wonders that hinted at a greater life, and all through childhood he saw them everywhere he went. They called out to him, mesmerized him, and these fascinating wonders--with all their possibility of a vast and unseen reach, of a power and effect, of work and operation--began to haunt him. He knew that there was somewhere to go with them, somewhere far beyond us here--that there was something real and living to be had among the brilliant magic. He had to find it.
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*Reprinted by special arrangement with Michael Stutz and Confiteor Media. Copyright Michael Stutz. Additional information about Michael and his work is available at circuitsofthewind.com.
Frank Mundo is the author of The Brubury Tales (foreword by Carolyn See) and Gary, the Four-Eyed Fairy and Other Stories. Don't forget to subscribe to my emails and follow me on Twitter @LABooksExaminer for the latest updates to LA Books Examiner.