58 Comments and the Blessed Feels

JaquesStation

Writing from the fringes of both genre and mainstream literature, I’m always surprised when someone says that they’ve read one of my stories (no, really).  Two weeks week ago I found out that a high school in Las Vegas, Nevada used “Blessed Are The Hungry” (Apex #62) as a study text for literature class. After reading it,  58 students left comments for me at Apex’s website. Most were very positive, a few critical, some were even quite effusive — but wow, 58 comments! That’s definitely a new record for me.

Here are some of my favorites:

From Kirsten Tan – “I thought that this story was engaging, and it was an interesting take on what can happen when you don’t fight back and how something horrible can continue to be perpetuated. I enjoyed reading about how the father and his sons chose to fight back instead of “suffer in silence,” and how this chain of events led to everyone finding out what was actually happening. I also felt concern when the mother told Elsa that she couldn’t go with her father simply because she’d be a great “breeder.” she’d It sort of reminded me of A Handmaid’s Tale, because women’s fertility were considered highly important.”

From Jordan – “Your story was very well written. It was very descriptive because of all the details, figurative language pieces, similes, etc. you added to your story. I found the part where Elsa was talking about all of these gruesome words to her younger sibling very disturbing and I can’t believe she was teaching those kinds of words to him but wow, this story gave such a different vibe than all the rest (which I really enjoyed). The dystopian, space feel was super cool to read in a book because I have never read anything like this before!

From Ariel Bloch – “This story is gruesome yet beautiful. A dying ship travelling through never ending darkness, with a spark of warmth and hope igniting in the dark. This terrifying yet realistic interpretation of the future keeps your eyes glued to the screen, and makes you fear, perhaps, your own dark thoughts and selfishness. The figurative language used in this short story sharpened my vision as I read, and encouraged me to dive further into this cold world. The moment you begin reading you get a sense of the foul society that Elsa lives in, and the hopelessness that has devoured generations as they were born and buried in the dark vacuum of space.”

From Anna Wood – “From the beginning, I was immediately intrigued by the execution scene. It was shocking how children were there to witness it. As the story progressed, it only became more and more fascinating. I like how you included a bit of mystery with the missing page and unknown levels of the spaceship. It left me questioning. At the end, I was still left with many questions. It was a very well written short story that I would definitely read as a book.

Although I did not write this story with secondary school readers in mind, I am very pleased that it was selected for them. Moreover, I am ecstatic that most of these kids seemed to enjoyed it (despite the scary parts). This is really a wonderful gift that they have given me. Without knowing it, these kids from Las Vegas and their wonderful, albeit anonymous, teacher have provided me with the encouragement I really needed to complete this story arc as a novel. Thank you so much!

Ten Speculative Technologies in Philippine Science Fiction

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Basil Davenport, an author and literary critic for the New York Times, once said that “Science Fiction is fiction based upon some imagined development of science, or upon the extrapolation of a tendency in society.”[1]  Indeed the technologies presented in many science fiction stories examine the possibilities and implications of new devices, machinery and other practical  applications developed from scientific knowledge. Unique to the genre is the possibility that some of these speculative products of the imagination may become realities. Examples include now commonplace things such as space stations, mobile tablets, video-calling and moisture farming, all of which were once just fictional concepts. Occasionally,  the real-world technology gets invented first, and science fiction authors ponder and elaborate on how these developments may be used. More importantly, they speculate on how technology could affect the human condition, both for good and for ill.

Filipinos have been writing Science Fiction for 70+ years. Here are 10 interesting speculative technologies that are worth contemplating — especially since they were used in the context of a Philippine setting.

Note that this list is not comprehensive and selects only those technologies that are realistic (based on existing or near-future technologies), or based on far-out concepts that do not violate generally-accepted scientific laws. Excluded are technologies used purely for plot-device purposes or have no actual scientific basis (e.g. the gravity disruptors from Pocholo Goitia’s An Introduction to the Luminescent [2] and the undescribed time travel method used in Michael A.R. Co’s Waiting for Victory [3]). Wherever possible I have included links to the stories or to discussions about them.

  • The SentryServ Identity Database from Project 17 by Eliza Victoria [4].  In Victoria’s biometricsarresting 2013 near-future novel, a shadowy corporation called Sentry keeps track of all humans (and androids), collecting movement, personal records and other important, supposedly private information. This potentially sinister application of technology is probably very close to becoming reality (a few would argue that its already here with Facebook, Google, Tencent and WeChat). Here’s an article on Business Insider on 12 ways that companies spy on you.
  • Bio-Plasticine Millet and other artificial food from Milagroso by Isabel Yap
    download (2015) [5].  A balikbayan returns to his childhood home in Lucban Quezon and discovers that artificial, plastic-derived food was somehow being turned into the real thing. This concept of non-nature created food first appeared in an earlier story by the same author, called A List of Things We Know (2013) [6].  Edible plastic as a source of nutrition is also used in my story Blessed Are The Hungry (2014) [7]. The technology of artificial food is a growing new industry. Here are 19 food items that are actually not made from food.
  • The Heliodisc VTOL Aircraft from The Apollo Centennial by Gregorio Brilliantes [8]. In this image-640978-galleryV9-osph-640978.jpgdystophian short story from 1980, the Marcos dictatorship never fell, and Luzon (now a protectorate of the United States) is patrolled by these unusual VTOL aircraft: “Now the sky is clear but for the remote clouds and a couple of helidiscs humming in a wide arc over the fields. For a moment the fighter-bombers hang gleaming, in silhouette against the mountains, their two-man crews visible in the bubble canopies, before rising vertically, abruptly, cut off from view by the roof of the bus.” It’s interesting how Brilliantes’ fictional aircraft seems to describe the Avro Canada VZ-9 Avrocar, a proposed “UFO” fighter which was still classified when the story was written. A similar egg-shaped VTOL vehicle called an “Aerocopter” also figures in Crystal Gail Koo’s The Rooftops of Manila (2009), this time as a civilian transport to a new underground city.[9]
  • The Solar sails used by Skyharvester spaceships from Sky Gypsies by Timothy James 906339M. Dimacali (2007).  This story is about a space-faring Sama-Laut father and his son who gather rare minerals from asteroids using their solar-sailed ship the Karumarga.[10]  Solar sails, also called “light sails” or “photon sails”, are a type of spacecraft propulsion using radiation pressure exerted by sunlight on large mirrors. As the author correctly posited, in the near future, these may be the best way for humanity to traverse the solar system. NASA recently announced the first such deployment of a solar sail,  the Near-Earth Asteroid Scout probe, which will be launched in 2018.
  • Diseases as a Service – In A Retrospective of Diseases for Sale by Charles Tan download (2)(2009) [11], the author goes one step beyond disease mongering with a corporation that sold ailments online (instead of the pharmaceuticals to treat them). The most interesting — and original — part of this concept was how the disease was alleged to be delivered: the vector was the email confirming purchase which contained an encrypted  psychosomatic code which could “mentally activate various proteins in the human body that replicated the effects of the disease you ordered.” While no government would allow such a service to operate, it is not impossible to speculate that deadly diseases are already being bought and sold by criminals and terrorists on the Dark Web today.
  • Xenotransplantation – In 1959’s The Heart of Mathilda (Ang Puso ni Matilde) by xenotransplantation-resizedNemesio E. Caravana [12], a brilliant young surgeon saves the life of his beloved by performing a dangerous and unethical cross-species heart transplant. Xenotransplantation is the transplantation of living cells, tissues or organs from one species to another. Although it is a promising avenue for treating final-stage organ failure, the technology is fraught with ethical issues — not the least of which is the creation of hybrid monsters (which was the subject of this very early Filipino Science Fiction serialized novel).  Here’s a brief history of this controversial technique.
  • Experimental Gerontology – Life extension and human augmentation seems to be a forever-young-727666favorite topic of many Filipino Science Fiction authors. Practically every available SF book in the Philippine oeuvre has at least one story that uses it as a trope. In fact, the earliest known Filipino Science Fiction story,  1945’s Doktor Satan by Mateo Cruz Cornelio [13] involves the development of a serum that could restore the freshly dead back to life.  A similar formula called Bio Regain was the subject of Vince Torres’ 2013 short story, The Cost of Living [14] which gave those who drank it a lust for life-extending blood. Interestingly, there is  a controversial medical technique called Parabiosis which temporarily connects the circulatory system of an old and a young subject to rejuvenate an old person’s body with youthful blood. The Starvation Enzyme in F.H. Batacan’s brilliant Keeping Time (a short story and later a novel)[15], originally from 2007,  also falls under this category. The enzyme was originally developed as a means to control obesity and diabetes.  It was added to the world’s public water systems to disastrous consequences.  Similarly, in  Sharmaine Galve’s The Paranoid Style (2009), the public water supply is tainted with a drug cocktail like to those used to treat ADHD patients. This converts the unsuspecting populace into literally a “polite” society [16].
  • Cybernetic Augmentation –  The other way to extend life is to go the Transhumanist 122on45route of using Bionics. In Fortitude (again by Eliza Victoria, 2016) [17], many characters live with cybernetic transplants including arms and lungs. In Dancing in the Shadow of the Once (2013) by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz [18], a woman uses media-based augmentations to recount the stories of a world that was now lost.  Dominique Gerald Cimafranca’s 2007 story Facester, revolves around a procedure called “Cara Nuevo” that used an artificial enzyme, laser sculpting and radiation treatments to let people physically change their faces [19]. Naturally, identity theft was one of the inevitable unfortunate applications.  Here’s an article about a few individuals who have gone beyond wearable technology towards a post-human future. For those not inclined to replacing body parts with electronics, there is the somewhat less radical practice of bio-hacking.
  • Robot Companions – Robots are no longer Science Fiction and scientists are looking tumblr_inline_npu9tbWBYJ1r9js4k_500at augmenting them using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to provide empathy and  assistance to people in a socially acceptable manner. The question that both Science Fiction and Technology writers have asked is: how human do these machines need to be? Also, how far can or should people take relationships once the so-called Uncanny Valley is crossed? In Haya Makes a HUG by Erica Gonzales (2009), a sentient program tries to find out what a human hug means by building a humanoid from spare parts. [20] In Raymond P. Reyes’ The Romeo Robot (2016), a spoiled but lonely young man begs his father for a robot boyfriend only to abandon his faithful companion once his social anxiety is overcome. [21] Likewise, in Surrogate (2016) by  Daniel Carlos Tan, a young woman from a future Davao cannot handle the fact that her recently deceased mother had programmed herself into a Personal Surrogate Droid.[22] Here’s an article exploring the future of relationships, love and sex in the time of robots.
  • Digital Torture – As a predominately Catholic country, the subjects of Heaven and olklutunw0lkk6nvwglwHell are never far from the minds of most Filipinos. In my story Panopticon (2014) I explored the possibility of being trapped in a digital afterlife, tortured endlessly by a vengeful former lover.[23].  The Technological Singularity may still be faraway but using neural interfaces for recreating the proverbial tortures of hell  is rapidly becoming a reality.  “Remote Neural Monitoring, Control and Manipulation” (RNMCM) refers to the usage of specific technologies to record and/or alter the electrical activity of neurons in the human body. In Prisoner 2501 by John Philip Corpuz (2011), the Olympus MetroComm of an unnamed dystophian future city use RNMCM, gaslighting and isolation to torture prisoners into admitting terrorist affiliations. Elon Musk, a major proponent of neural interfaces,  has spoken against  the abuse of this technology for this type of interrogation.

One of the troubling aspects about chronicling the ten technologies above (and reading the twenty-three stories where they were used) is that these were all presented in a more or less negative context.  There is little of the positive world view in which scientific progress has made the world a better place. Whether this is due to: an innate fear of technology, a reflection of the zeitgeist, or simply that there are not enough Filipino Science Fiction stories yet — or, perhaps all three — is up for debate.

There is also that unique fear that plagues Science Fiction writers.  Namely, that their stories will be judged on whether what they wrote comes to pass or not, with no thought to literary merit.  This is a mistaken notion.  The task of Science Fiction is not to predict the future. Rather, it is to contemplate all possible futures. Simply put, Filipino Science Fiction Writers are meant to dream of every future for Filipinos.

For now, it’s a dark future that many of us are dreaming.

 

Notes:

[1]  Davenport, Basil (1955). Inquiry Into Science Fiction; New York: Longmans, Green and Co. p. 15.

[2] Goitia, Pocholo (2005) “An Introduction to the Luminescent”. Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 1, ed. Alfar, Dean Francis; Manila: Kestrel DDM

[3] Co, Michael A.R.  (2006) “Waiting for Victory”. Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 2, ed. Alfar, Dean Francis;  Manila: Kestrel DDM

[4] Victoria, Eliza (2013) Project 17; Manila; Visprint Inc.

[5] Yap, Isabel (2015) “Milagroso“; Tor.com published by Tor Books

[6] Yap, Isabel (2013) “A List of Things We Know”, Diaspora Ad Astra: An Anthology of Science Fiction from the Philippines eds. Flores, Emil M. & Nacino, Joseph Frederic F. ; Manila, The University of the Philippines Press

[7] Ocampo, Victor Fernando R. (2014) “Blessed Are The Hungry“, Apex Magazine vol. 62, ed. Sigrid Ellis; Lexington; Apex Book Company

[8] Brilliantes, Gregorio C. (1980), “The Apollo Centennial”, The Apollo Centennial: Nostalgias, Predicaments & Celebrations; Manila, National Bookstore

[9] Koo, Krystal Gail “The Rooftops of Manila”(2009), Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 4, eds. Alfar Dean Francis & Alfar, Nikki; Manila, Kestrel DDM

[10] Dimacali, Timothy James M.  (2007) “Sky Gypsies“; Manila, Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 3 eds. Alfar Dean Francis & Alfar, Nikki, Kestrel DDM

[11] Tan, Charles (2009), “A Retrospective of Diseases for Sale“; The Virtuous Medlar Circle presented by Anna Tambour. Also appears on  Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 4, eds. Alfar Dean Francis & Alfar, Nikki; Manila, Kestrel DDM

[12] Caravana, Nemesio E. (1959), The Heart of Mathilda (Ang Puso ni Matilde); Manila, Aliwan Magazine

[13] Cornelio, Mateo Cruz (1945) Doktor Satan; Manila, Palimbagang Tagumpay

[14] Torres, Vince (2013), “The Cost of Living”;  Diaspora Ad Astra: An Anthology of Science Fiction from the Philippines eds. Flores, Emil M. & Nacino, Joseph F. ; Manila, The University of the Philippines Press

[15] Batacan, F.H. (2007) “Keeping Time“, Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 3, eds. Alfar, Dean Francis & Alfar, Nikki; Manila, Kestrel DDM

[16] Galve, Sharmaine “The Paranoid Style”(2009) Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 4, eds. Alfar Dean Francis & Alfar, Nikki; Manila, Kestrel DDM

[17] Victoria, Eliza “Fortitude” (2016) Science Fiction: Filipino Fiction for Young Adults eds. Alfar, Dean Francis & Yu, Kenneth; Manila, University of the Philippines Press

[18] Loenen-Ruiz, Rochita, “Dancing in the Shadow of the Once” (2013) Bloodchildren: Stories by the Octavia Butler scholars, ed. Nisi Shawl; Seattle,  Book View Cafe

[19] Cimafranca, Dominique Gerald, “Facester” (2007) Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 3, eds. Alfar Dean Francis & Alfar, Nikki; Manila, Kestrel DDM

[20] Gonzales, Erica, “Haya Makes a HUG” (2009) Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 4, eds. Alfar Dean Francis & Alfar, Nikki; Manila, Kestrel DDM

[21] Reyes, Raymond P. ,”The Romeo Robot” (2016) Science Fiction: Filipino Fiction for Young Adults  eds. Alfar, Dean Francis & Yu, Kenneth; Manila, University of the Philippines Press

[22] Tan, Daniel Carlos ,”Surrogate” (2016) Science Fiction: Filipino Fiction for Young Adults  eds. Alfar, Dean Francis & Yu, Kenneth; Manila, University of the Philippines Press

[23] Ocampo, Victor Fernando, “Panopticon” (2009) Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 9, eds. Drillon, Andrew & Tan, Charles; Manila, Kestrel DDM

[24] Corpuz, John Philip,  “Prisoner 2501” (2011) Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 6, eds. Alfar, Nikki & Osias, Kate; Manila, Kestrel DDM

 

Top image reworked slightly from original digital art by BP Sola. All other pictures taken from the Internet and belong to their respective copyright owners.

“Infinite Degrees of Freedom” now in Science Fiction World

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My YA story about shape-changing robots modeled after the Sigben (Sigbin) of Philippine myth has been translated into Chinese. The original appeared in the book Science Fiction: Filipino Fiction for Young Adults (2016, eds.  Dean Francis Alfar & Kenneth Yu) from the University of the Philippines Press.

The translation appeared last month in China’s Science Fiction World. With a circulation of +300,000 and 3 to 5 readers per copy, Wikipedia estimates that SF World has a total readership of about one million people — making it the world’s most popular Science Fiction periodical.

“Infinite Degrees of Freedom” is my second story in this venue, after 2015’s “Blessed Are The Hungry” (which originally appeared in Apex 62).

Infinite SFW March 2017 (1)

Sadly, the artist for my story did not use the Sigben visual references I provided. The monster illustrated above looks more like a mutant snubbull from Pokemon Go.

Panopticon Review by Star Malaysia

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Joel Wijesuria of Star Malaysia recently reviewed the Buku Fixi Anthology Trash . he had a lot of kind words for my story “Panopticon”:

Panopticon, a sci-fi tale of rebirth and punishment by Victor Fernando R. Ocampo weaves an intricate narrative of a man who dies, only to find himself born again, disposed of by a vengeful ex-love, and doomed to repeat over and over. Ocampo’s world is vivid and technicoloured and terrifying. A brilliant read.”

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Trash (2016), Eds Dean Francis Alfar & Marc de Faoite; Kuala Lumpur, Fixi Novo

Review of Lontar Volume 6

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Eric Norris, an American author from Portlandia, recently reviewed Lontar Issue 6  for Singapore Poetry. He had these kind words to say about my story “Brother to Space, Sister to Time” :

“Picking a favorite here is impossible for me. But the last story in the collection, “Brother to Space, Sister to Time” by Filipino author Victor Fernando R. Ocampo, sticks in my mind. It is the most hard-science science fiction story in the collection, taking place, as it does, on the fringes of a black hole; and involving, as it does: time travel, tachyon particles, neural computer interfaces, hyperspace, rickety spaceships, and the whole range of fan-servicing verbal engineering one expects and enjoys. More than anything, “Brother to Space, Sister to Time,” tells the story of three Filipino siblings under stress, with an interstellar backdrop. In the exploration of alternative realities, Ocampo never loses touch with the idea of family and roots, literary and national:

The thumping sound in the HVAC vents had become unbearable. All over the Quijano De Manila, every metal object vibrated as if it were singing the most dissonant of songs.

“Idiots!” younger sister yelled, as her levels of cortisol and norepinephrine overwhelmed her digital dream-catcher. “Why do I have brothers and not sisters? Boys are never on the ball. We’re at the wormhole already and you’re still arguing about what to do! There is a fucking library we need to go to, an infinite library at the heart of a pocket universe.”

“Bullshit!” elder brother screamed. “There’s nothing there! We’ll just die! Are you all deaf? Don’t you hear the singing? It’s a dirge, a death-korido.”

The thumping sound in the vents was keeping time to a strange melody streaming in from outside the ship. Each note seemed to escalate the tension between us, plucking the strings of every hurt and all the secret resentments we had locked away in our hearts.

“Stop this! Stop this!” I cried. “We’re a family!”

“An infinite library at the heart of a pocket universe”. I would be hard pressed to find a finer or more succinct metaphor to describe Lontar. Or for what it means to be human, I think.

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Lontar: The Journal of Southeast Asia Speculative Fiction, Issue #6, is edited by Jason Erik Lundberg, Kristine Ong Muslim, and Adan Jimenez (Singapore: Epigram Books, 2016)

My Writing Year – 2015

Posted on January 1, 2016

This year went as well as it could for me, writing-wise, as I didn’t really expect to publish much. Last year’s novel is unfortunately still stuck at chapter 4 (I’ve decided to shelve it for a while). The short film based on “Big Enough for the Entire Universe” is still stuck in post-production, with the release date moved to mid-2016. Lastly, the publication dates of six new short stories were also moved from the end of 2015 to 2016.

Despite all of these setbacks there have been couple of highlights:

  • My poem “Objets trouvés de Singapour” appeared in Vol. 14 No. 2 of the Quarterly Literature Review of Singapore last April 2015. This was a post-internet experimental poem where the text was mined from Singapore government slogans and local commercial advertising from the last 50 years. It’s also my first published poem.
  • “An Excerpt from the Philippine Journal of Archaeology (04 October, 1916)” (which first appeared in Likhaan Journal 8 by the U.P. Institute of Creative Writing in December 2014) is now being used as recommended reading material by the University of the Philippine’s Literature program.
  • Blessed are the Hungry” (a Filipino space opera which first appeared in Apex Magazine issue 62, July 2014), was translated into Mandarin Chinese by Hu Shao Yan and was published in the March 2015 volume of Science Fiction World. I have been told that this magazine has close to a million readers, so this story is now probably my most read story ever.
  • I m d 1 in 10”  (my experimental story inspired by Boethius’ De Consolatione Philosophiae which first appeared in the July 2014 issue of The Future Fire) was anthologized in the Best New Singaporean Short Stories: Volume Two by Epigram Books. Plus, I got to talk about my work at a panel in this year’s Singapore Writer’s Festival.

VRO Poster

Best of all, my first children’s book, the Romeo Forbes Award-winning “Here be Dragons” was finally released in 24 August, 2015.  Thank you to Gigo and Canvas, Jon, Rhandee, Danny and everyone who was involved in it’s almost 3-year long production.

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As usual there was not enough time to do all my writing projects. As a result, I have more work-in-progress stuff right now that I have ever had before — including three short stories, two flash pieces, a Line novelette, a Filipino translation and my second children’s book.

I mentioned earlier that the publication dates of six new short stories were delayed to this year. This means that I already have a substantial line-up coming for 2016 without having to do much.

Happy New Year to all my readers and thank you for all your support!

 

My Reading at the Singapore Writer’s Festival 2015

I will be reading a short excerpt from my story “I m d 1 in 10” at Epigram’s book launch of the Best New Singapore Stories Volume 2 (edited by Jason Erik Lundberg) at the Singapore Writer’s Festival on Sunday, 1st Nov, 7-8 pm, in the Gallery at The Arts House (1 Old Parliament Lane, Singapore 179429).

Other authors reading include Joshua Ip, Gemma Periera, Jeremy and Tania de Rozario. Please come!

“I m d 1 in 10” is my experimental, epistolary story which I can only term as “Immigrant Speculative Fiction” It’s about what you have to sacrifice to move to “a better country”, it’s about fitting in with the crowd — sometimes at the cost of your soul, and the consequences of living with extreme cognitive dissonance.

It was written with Latin (representing the order of an officially-controlled public language) and an vernacular based on L337, IM and SMS speak, emoticons and a Filipino argot called Jejemon (which is what everyone actually speaks and writes with in private).

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Here’s a short excerpt:

They r coming 4 me, my Dev/Null executioners, I got no more tym left so u, dear reader, have 2 fill in d gaps in my story. I don’t know who u r, but if u value ur life, LISTEN 2 me.  I’m a dead man talking.

Listen n listen closely.

Life Hack # X: Speak their Latin or die.

I signed up because I want only d best 4 my family” — d@’s d only safe answer if any1 asks u why u’re here. B very careful wot u say n remMbR, always remMbR:  “Optimum est pati quod emendare non possis”. Its best 2 endure w@ u can’t change. Ur f*cking life depends on it. N don’t ever speak ur mind. If u’re a resident of d New Cities, ur mind’s not urs, not anymore. So speak their Latin n b safe.

If they pursue conversation, stick 2 trivial topics. Rhetorical questions can n will give u away. U never know who u’ll be talking 2. Let suspicion breed ur confidence.  In d New Cities, d walls have eyes n every word is twittered by d wind. Speak only every1’s truth. Think b4 u speak, n never ever post what u really feel. HIDE URSELF FIERCE, HIDE URSELF DEEP.

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