(A&A Author Jamie Mason needed a signal boost of his apology to various governments. Posting it here was the least we could do. – Ed.)
“IT’S NOT MINE!” Reflections from the cultural echo chamber
by Jamie Mason
Like all catastrophes, it began subtly – wheat flaking at drought’s onset, the Titanic gliding smoothly to its doom, the first smoke tendrils rising from Vesuvius. It was a tweet, nothing more — one simple tweet on March 27th, 2014 that initiated a minor diplomatic ruction.
Like all writers, I’m fundamentally weird. Whereas my pals scour the Web for images of cutting-edge automobiles, hot babes and the latest jiu-jitsu gear, I tend to favor shots of blighted cityscapes, shipwrecks and abandoned hospitals — images of neglected, ruined things. So when I saw the single-occupant, Soviet-era lunar lander, I just couldn’t resist. Here was a piece of Cold War arcanalia to delight the heart of any post-cyberpunk weirdo. So I copied the photo and tweeted it, thus:
Single-occupant lunar lander designed for the
abandoned Soviet moon program. Never used.
For me, social media functions as more of a repository than a communications tool. I Facebook and tweet thoughts and images so I can return to them for later enjoyment. If someone else happens to like them too, great, but I mostly use social media as my own personal curio archive. A single Facebook “like” or retweet (or none) are par for me. So I sent the tweet then forgot about it. Three months passed.
I went to bed the evening of June 11th swaddled in my familiar solitude and awoke the morning of June 12th to a long series of chimes from my Blackberry. Thinking I had pissed off somebody on Facebook (again), I toggled to the home screen and noted 67 Twitter notifications. At some time during the night, my tweet of March 27th had gone viral, being propagated and shared across the servers of five continents.
At first I was vaguely bemused. Why couldn’t this happen to a tweet about one of my short stories? But I was pleased that a neglected piece of aerospace history was gaining exposure.
Then I went online and began reading some of the comments and replies. My stomach dropped when I got to this one:
@jamiescribbles How much you want for it?
In my day-job, I work as a private investigator so I’m paranoid even at the best of times. But those six words inspired a wave of dread. Did people think I was …?
I cleared the Twitter notifications and opened my e-mail. As I typed in my password, 25 more notifications chimed. I gritted my teeth and checked my IN-box. There were over 200 messages. Panic mounting, I scanned the text of each as my Blackberry continued its idiotic clamoring.
Offers on the lander ranged from the folksy (“$10 to you”, “I’ve got a truck and can haul it away”) to the frightening (wealthy collectors, museums and historical trusts plus carefully-worded offers from third-party intermediaries, including one lawyer from Cameroon whom I suspect was working for the South African government). I gasped and deleted the lot.
Checked my Twitter account.
The lander had now been retweeted 88 times and received 92 “favorites.” Perhaps more unsettling, I was gaining new followers from as far afield as Finland, the United Kingdom and Japan. When a member of the Moscow Academy of Sciences began following me, I started to worry. What if the Russians thought I was trying to broker a sale? I made a frantic Facebook post:
FOLKS, I DON’T OWN THIS OR ANY SPACECRAFT AND, ASIDE FROM A
BOTTLE OF VODKA AND A FEW BOOKS OF POETRY BY JOSEPH BRODSKY HAVE NO RUSSIAN SHIT IN MY HOUSE!
But it didn’t matter. Barn door, open, horse gone. The retweets and the favorites kept coming. And the e-mails. I collapsed at the kitchen table with my head in my hands, visions of KGB hit-squads dancing in my head. In the absence of my own personal State Department, I asked myself what C.J. Cregg from THE WEST WING would suggest. No doubt she’d advise me to “get out in front of the story.” I drafted a pre-emptive apology to the Russian government and posted it to my blog.
I’d like to take this opportunity … to formally apologize to the Russian government for any misunderstandings regarding this matter. I really had no intention to misrepresent the lander as being available for rent or sale … (But as a friend, I’ll add that I’m sure no one would blame you guys for selling the lander. After your annexation of Crimea and subsequent expulsion from the G8, I’m sure you could use the money.)
That was two days ago. I’m still here. And as of this writing, there have been over 158 retweets and 153 “favoritings” of my original tweet and the scandal has recently found its way onto Tumblr. There’s a lesson somewhere in all this …
But I’ll be damned if I know what it is.
Jamie Mason is a Canadian sci-fi/fantasy writer whose short fiction has appeared in Abyss & Apex, On Spec, the Canadian Science Fiction Review and been anthologized in DEAD NORTH and FRACTURED: TALES OF THE CANADIAN POST APOCALYPSE (Exile Editions, Nov 2014). His novel ECHO was published in June 2011 and his post-apocalyptic novel THE BOOK OF ASHES is forthcoming from Permuted Press. Website (www.jamiescribbles.com); Books at Exile Editions (http://exileeditions.com/) and Permuted Press (www.permutedpress.com)