Hello all and welcome to our continuing series of author interviews. Today’s guest knows about guns from a scientific point-of-view, about sports from an international point-of-view, about endurance from a training point-of-view and some how manages to merge all these into “roll you own” dystopian novels.
I’d like everyone to stand up and give Greg Hickey a big round of applause for taking part in our exciting adventure.
Greg Hickey’s Bio
Greg Hickey is a former international professional baseball player and current forensic scientist, endurance athlete, and award-winning screenwriter and author. His debut dystopian fiction novel Our Dried Voices was a finalist for Foreword Reviews’ INDIES Science Fiction Book of the Year Award. His second novel, a literary choose-your-own-adventure called The Friar’s Lantern was published in October. Interested readers can start reading both novels for free on his website. Greg lives in Chicago with his wife, Lindsay.
Greg and I talked about baseball in the future, superstitions, foul lines, quantum reality, forensic science, the Chicago landscape, planets lightyears away from earth, philosophy in and out of the courtroom and his books, choose-your-own adventure books, job security, free will versus predestination (Calvin and Luther were looking over our shoulders as we talked), writing his first novel on an old MacIntosh in his family’s basement, champagne, birthday parties and booksignings,
You can find links to Greg’s books on the right or at the bottom of this post (depending on your device). You’ll also find links to Greg’s sites underneath the video.
An excerpt from Greg Hickey’s Parabellum
“Did you ever play Oregon Trail growing up?” he asked.
“Of course. Ever since they put a computer in my first-grade classroom.” His partner that day was a couple years younger than him he guessed. Early thirties.
“Apple LC II,” he said. “That’s what we had.”
“I don’t remember ours.”
“A little gray box. It was longer front to back than it was wide.”
“And those floppy disks. The big ones.”
“That were actually floppy. They flopped. If you held them by the corner. They were too big and too thin to support their own weight.”
“Yeah. Back before the so-called floppy disks everyone remembers. The square black ones.”
“With the triangle chunk missing from one corner.” It helped to talk. He had learned that his first day on the job. He hadn’t seen the other loader before. Must have been one of his first scenes. He couldn’t quite tell how the other was handling it.
“Yeah,” said the other. “When my parents bought us a computer I played that game for hours.”
“I’m guessing you didn’t have Nintendo.”
“No. Computers were educational.”
“But do you know what I did? On Oregon Trail, I mean.”
The heat of the day lingered into evening, encapsulating the odors of human death. The absence of left the lake a sheet of dark gray glass gently nudging the shoreline in slow rhythmic pulses, and the stench was allowed to remain, a dry, stale, earthy, pungent, rusty, ammoniac cacophony of blood and sweat and piss and shit.
“Of course,” he said. He grunted as they shifted the body just enough to slide the bag under it. “Hunt. Everyone did.”
The other wiped sweat from his face with his forearm and looked out at the lake. “Over and over and over again. I mean sometimes I’d play the game out for real, try to make it to the end with everyone alive. But I always really wanted to hunt.”
“And every time it would warn you. ‘You shot 947 pounds of meat but could only carry 200 pounds back to the wagon. If you continue to hunt in this area, game will become scarce.’” He zipped the bag and they hefted it on the count of three and hauled it to the van.
The city mandated only one body per van. Two at the most. Which he never understood, because it seemed like a violation of basic arithmetic. Today it was two bodies, which still wasn’t enough, and the pair of company vans had shuttled back and forth to the ME’s office for hours through the snarl of downtown Saturday afternoon traffic.
“I felt bad for about two seconds. Then I’d go hunt squirrels because all the buffalo were dead.”
“It was better than Duck Hunt,” he said. “I never played Duck Hunt much.”
The sun hid behind the lakeshore high rises as they returned to the beach, casting thick bars of light and shadow across the sand, intersected by the spotlights of news crews and the flashing blues and reds from squad cars perched on Lake Shore Drive or nestled in the grass of the park above the beach.
Down below, liver mortis had set in, blood had pooled, eyes had gone white or crimson. Amidst the light and shadow and color, the beach had become an after-hours haunted house of frozen mannequins with purple, red- and blue-tinged skin, ebony blooms of blood and grotesquely distorted features fixed in shock and agony.
“Were you any good at the game otherwise?” he asked.
“I don’t know. I remember it was a lot easier if you were a doctor. And fording the rivers never went well.”
“Yeah.” He unfolded a fresh bag.
“But I don’t remember how many times I actually survived the journey.”
“Me neither. Isn’t that weird, though?”
Inside the wide police cordon, the scene was empty and silent. Police boats had cleared the nearby waters of the usual weekend party boats. Squad cars blockaded Lake Shore Drive. Crime scene tape framed the beach and park, and most officers had now retreated behind the plastic yellow cordon, leaving behind a ransacked Egyptian tomb of corpses surrounded by a clutter of worldly possessions: towels, umbrellas, tote bags, Frisbees, footballs, big floppy hats, sunglasses and unpaired flip flops.
“A video game where winning or losing, dying really, was secondary,” he said, as they spread the bag on the ground. The bodies had settled into the soft sand and they had to work harder than normal to shift them up and out of their shallow resting places.
“Right, computer game.” He lifted and grunted: “Educational.”
“Yeah. I mean I could tell you how good I was at other games.”
“Me too. But I can’t think of one where such a small part of the game was way more entertaining than the whole thing.”
The automatic lights came on as they passed the little café tucked against the concrete barrier that separated the beach from the park, a bulwark of steady illumination amidst the interplay of light and shadow. He was struck by the precise and incongruous juxtaposition of the scene inside the restaurant: a handful of tables suspended in time with half-consumed plates of food and melted cocktails amidst the chaos of broken glass, upturned chairs and scattered meals abandoned mid-bite.
“You know, they used to shoot buffalo from the trains.”
“Who did?” he asked, as they settled the bag into the van and slammed the door closed. “People. Traveling across the frontier. In real life.”
“No. Like in the game. The trains kept going. The buffalo just lay there dead.”
He walked to the side of the van, caught the eye of the driver in the rearview mirror, and slapped the side twice. The van pulled away, and they returned to the beach.
Beyond the crime scene tape, he stood with the officers who had arrived far too late to do anything of consequence and were now relegated to keeping intrepid reporters and morbidly curious onlookers from disturbing whatever remained of the scene.
“Fuck, man,” another cop said, not looking at him, just talking to see who was listening. “I mean, what the fuck?”
He had spent several minutes with the bodies on the beach in the quiet aftermath of it all. He hadn’t tried to avoid it. The strange thing was that it didn’t turn his stomach in real life. He could look at the carnage and not care. It just was. It was a fact, a truth with no more power than a heap of rocks or copse of trees. It was only later that it would have power over him. Only when he was alone in a movie theater or working the Fourth at Navy Pier. And it didn’t matter now if he looked or not. He had seen too much already.
“I don’t get it,” the other cop continued. He had blond hair in a military crew cut and a thick build that was just beginning the inevitable transition from the hard rigor of service life to forty-hour weeks strolling the streets or sitting in a squad car. “I mean, I understand war, I understand these South Side punks shooting each other over drugs or turf or whatever. I think I can even comprehend some sick-fuck serial killer with mommy issues who gets off on stalking and stabbing his victims. Some sick fucking thrill-of-the-hunt thing. They’re all shitty, but I can at least begin to put a finger on what’s going on in those peoples’ heads. But this… “ . “It’s beyond you,” he said.
“It exceeds the limits of your comprehension.”
“It exceeds everybody’s fucking comprehension. Except for this psycho.”
His back ached like it always did when he stood in one position for too long. He shifted his weight to his right leg and cocked his hip to the side to get a tiny stretch across the top of his glute and into his lower back. “But it’s happened before,” he said. “Schools, movie theaters, clubs.”
“So what? You think this is the new norm?”
He didn’t answer. He ran his hand over his close-cropped and receding black and gray hair. He thought about what he had seen, the stories he’d heard.
“I don’t know,” he finally said. “You served too. You’ve seen some shit. Just like I have.”
“People have always been capable of this. Ever since the dawn of time. We just have better tools today for them to carry out their plans.”
“This is different. This isn’t a turf battle. This isn’t a real war. It’s something else.”
In his mind’s eye, he saw the bodies scattered on the streets of Fallujah, women and children and men indistinguishable beneath black blood and charred flesh. He saw the orange and white flames licking over the nighttime silhouettes of buildings and heard the crash of breaking glass and the shouts of looters.
“Maybe it is,” he said. “And maybe it’s not.”