Not everyone can say they've invented a new literary genre. In truth, it's probably nothing to brag about. I mean, does it really matter that you created a genre if the story that represents it isn't any good? Probably not.
Lucky for us citizens of planet earth, however, most literary genres that were created by one individual and actually took root are pretty good genres for storytelling. That's why they've become popular. For example, we need only look to the various "punk" genres:
About three years ago, I came upon this idea and wrote a story titled "Altland's Gambit." I had just started my online publishing project, Garden Gnome Publications, where I was going to focus on speculative fiction e-books that leaned toward the weird. I published a few titles then wrote "Altland's Gambit."
My intention was to publish the story as an e-book short on Amazon. I even went so far as to get a cover designed. Then I never published it. I don't remember why. I might have got too busy with other things and just didn't get around to it. That happens from time to time. Well, that means you all drew the winning lottery ticket. You'll be the first people to read this story, and if it ends up being a trendsetter, so much the better.
Farmpunk: The Definition
You might be wondering by now, what qualities make up a farmpunk story? To get to the heart of that issue, we'll need to take a look at the original punk genre, Cyberpunk, which is really a subgenre of speculative fiction.
Here's a distilled definition of cyberpunk, drawing from the various qualities and characteristics of the genre presented in Wikipedia and other sources:
- Features high technology juxtaposed with a breakdown in society or a radical change in social order
- Often dystopian
- Set in the near future
- Borrows heavily from film noir and hard-boiled detective fiction
- Uses postmodern prose (whatever that is)
I think we can use this as a basis for defining any of the punk movements in literature. Steampunk, for example, contains many of the same features except, instead of being set in the near future, it is set in the past during the era of steam engines and re-envisions that period in light of alternative technologies and histories.
One of the defining characteristics of Steampunk is a retro-futuristic atmosphere where future technologies are imagined existing in the steam-powered world of the 19th century. It, therefore, relies heavily on the use of anachronism.
So, what then is farmpunk? I offer the following characteristics as a defining basis of the subgenre, though other writers may add their own (after all, one can't own a literary genre):
- Juxtaposes the use of high technology with farm culture
- Borrows elements from film noir, hard-boiled detective stories, and other punk genres of literature
- Usually set in the near future, although it could incorporate anachronistic technologies from the future and place them in a farm culture of the past
- Can be retro-futuristic like steampunk or postmodern like cyberpunk (maybe both)
Perhaps that's a bit rough as a definition, but we'll call it a start. And now, without further ado, I present to you my short fiction story "Altland's Gambit."
His friends called him Dodge, an homage to Dodge City. He earned it honestly. His real name few people knew.
Dodge might have seemed out of place in a big city, but in Pennsylvania's most rural county, he fit right in. Folks came from all around to buy his guns, all of them printed on the spot. Custom order. From snub pistols to grenade launchers. Pick your poison, he had it.
"What'chu got in the way a robotics?"
Dodge kept his focus. He didn't look up. Keeping one eye locked on the cross hairs of his scope, he waited. Patiently. Keeping his trigger finger firmly planted where it belonged. And waited.
"Depends who's asken."
He chewed an unlit cigar, which had been lit but for the long stint of going unpuffed had simply transformed into a chewable tobacco stick. He ignored the sigh across the counter and kept to his mission.
"Can I help you?"
He recognized the voice of his wife. He didn't let her disrupt his focus either. Leaning over the window sill with his homemade rifle pointing across the open field, he watched the neighbor's cows graze their way closer to the fence dividing the property lines.
"I was asking Dodge iffen he had robotic-type firearms anymore. He seems preoccupied yet."
"Yeah, he'll be with ya in a minute. I'm sure he'll make whatever ya want."
Amy busied herself behind the counter as Dodge focused on the cows. She didn't want to keep the customer waiting, but she didn't want to break Dodge's concentration either. She let the silence go a couple of minutes then turned around and faced the customer again.
"Can I take your specs?"
The burly man stepped forward, tipped his hat. He smelled like butanol. That signaled to Amy that he was either a pipeline worker or a big city guy. She didn't care which. Dodge listened, keeping his eyes glued on the cows and his ears on Amy and the customer.
"I want something moves about. Goggle control, sight or sound. Should move point to point. Stop and shoot when I say. Auto fire, night vision, hurrieder controls, right like them remote control vehicles we had as kids. Whole works."
Amy finished writing as Dodge pulled the trigger. The cow dropped to the ground on top of Altland's electric fence, which it had knocked over to get to the greener grass on the gun shop property. The back of the building was the house where he and Amy lived. They had converted the living room to the gun shop with a lounge for customers. The cow fell on an even plane with his and Amy's bedroom, the head on the gun shop property and its hind parts on Altland's. Dodge turned to face the customer, who stretched his neck to see what Dodge had shot.
"Yep, I can do that," he said. He threw his rifle over his shoulder and stood with his legs apart, boots flat on the floor, grinning ear to ear, and chewing his stogie.
"What the --"
Net Altland leapt and ran to the plasma screen on the barn wall. The cow slumped to the ground. In the background was Dodge's old Chevy box van.
He grabbed his aviator's helmet. One thought ran through his mind as he exited the barn and jumped behind the wheel of his classic Ford pickup -- a 2021 F850.
"If that bastard hurt my cow, I'll sling him."
He drove with purpose across the pasture toward the fallen cow. When he got there, he slammed the truck into park and ran to the cow's side. Right away, he could see it was dead. He didn't know why until he got to its side and saw the bullet's entry point.
He was sure his heart would stop as he pictured Bob Luck in his head. His helmet buzzed and Bob's voice blasted his ear.
"Luck, Adams County, best police force in the world."
"Bob, Net! I's got a cow's dead."
It took Bob fifteen minutes to arrive on the scene.
"You don't have to be forensics to see what happened," the farmer said, shaking Bob's hand. "The entry point, the angle, it all says the gunner was perched in that window yon." He pointed at the gun shop.
Bob walked over to the gun shop and entered the front door. A few minutes later, he returned.
"He shotter a'right." Bob shook his head and stared at the ground before returning his eyes to meet the farmer's. "I can't do nothing, Net. It's not murder if it ain't a person. It's not a crime to shoot a cow."
"Not a crime? How can that be? It's my cow!"
"It's civil, Net. Not criminal. You need a lawyer."
"A lawyer. I'll show him a fucken lawyer."
Net set the drone atop a bale of hay. He reached for two small machine guns fastened to the barn wall and set them on the hay bale next to the drone. He opened a small tool box and retrieved a tiny screwdriver. With meticulous care, he affixed the guns on the drone's belly, rigging it like a dogfighter.
"I'll get his goat," Net laughed. "Lawyer indeed." He dropped his screwdriver on the barn floor and bent to pick it up. "Ah, Doplich!" He rose again and went back to work. When he'd finished, he spoke deliberately into his helmet's headset. "Falcon, fly."
The drone obeyed.
The unmanned aerial vehicle turned, headed for the Dodge property. Net spoke dutifully, guiding the drone to where he wanted it to go until he had it positioned just right, high in the sky above the Dodge property. At the right moment, he sent it flying toward the gun shop at full speed.
Amy paraded around the gun shop in short shorts and a tank top. No bra. Her breasts swung like two pendulums, bounding to the sound of the joy she inspired in her customers' hearts. Several men hung around with their newly purchased guns to watch.
"Won'tchu dance for us?" one of the men asked. Dan Eislenberger.
Dan had a big crush on Amy in high school, but she hardly noticed him. After school they'd become good friends. His crush hadn't subsided, but he considered it progress that it hadn't grown either. He respected that she was married.
He loved watching her dance at the bar, a place called Fishies. She performed two nights a week - Fridays and Totally Nude Tuesdays. She had the prettiest furburger he'd ever seen. The only one he'd seen until he started dating Amy's cousin three months earlier, but that was a small detail in his mind.
"How about I don't," Amy threw back over her shoulder. "You know I only do that at the bar." She giggled and punched a stitched image of a pistol above the left breast on her shirt, then added, "Quit looking at my tits, you perv."
Dodge punched a matching stitch on his own shirt and paused from his work long enough to say, "Doesn't he have some place to go?"
"He's waiting on an order, hun."
Dan mentally patted himself on the back with smug confidence. He had to give it one shot, he told himself. Another customer, a man who drove two hundred miles for a rocket launcher for his Nissan short bed, rubbed Dan's shoulder.
"Nice try, pup!"
Laughter rose up in the gun shop lobby, making a dozen beer bellies bounce like beach balls. Dodge busied himself with a customer's order. Fifteen long-barreled revolvers. Twelve-shooters. Whatever they want, that was Dodge's motto. Guns made for order. The printer jammed.
"Aw, fuck!" Dodge stomped. The heel of his leather biker boot scuffed the floor.
In through the window flew a plane the size of a chicken, blasting machine gun fire around the gun shop. Amy hit the floor and covered her head. Dodge ducked behind shelves where he kept his gun parts. Customers huddled in the lounge, using each other as shields.
The drone flew around the gun shop twice and exited the same way it entered, leaving nothing but horror. Customers screamed and ran from the building. Some of them hopped in their vehicles and left, most with weapons orders unfulfilled. Dan wanted to leave but not without his flamethrower. Beside him, on the floor, was the man who had rubbed his shoulder. Bleeding in his chest.
Dan's yell rang through the building. Amy jumped and ran to a cabinet on the wall, pulling out a first aid kit. Dodge grabbed a supersized AK-47 from the corner of the gun shop and hustled for the front door.
A holographic text message scrolled across Net's goggle lenses. He focused his eyes on the words two inches in front of him.
He paused, thought about it a second.
"Is it full equipped with food fer two?"
"As you wished. Here's the contract."
The contract scrolled from bottom to top on an invisible flat screen. Net read every word. He winced at the automatic refund clause, a wise move on Schellhamer's part. It said if any damage should come to any equipment or property before transfer then its value would be deducted from the final sale price.
"Deal," he said, mentally signing the contract and sending it back.
Falcon's camera panned the Dodge property. Net watched Dodge take aim with a rifle. He heard the shot.
The drone nosed toward the ground. Net yelled into his mic again, sending the drone toward the Dodge property. The drone scissored to avoid a barrage of lead and Net ordered it around the Dodge gun shop opposite to the other side of the building. When it returned to the east side of the building where Dodge stood, Net sent it overhead toward the tree line at the edge of the Dodge property.
He watched Dodge turn around through the video feed in his goggles. Dodge twisted in circles, trying to keep his eye on the drone until he stood facing it. Net hovered the plane over the trees with its nose pointed at Dodge.
"Find target," Net whispered. "Set. Go."
Machine gun rounds riddled the ground in front of Dodge and walked. Dodge dove behind a vehicle, taking cover.
The drone dropped and headed for the gun shop. Dodge recovered but almost not fast enough. He jumped to his feet, using the driver's mirror of his box van as an arm rest, and took aim at the drone, which had turned to engage him head on. He jerked the trigger, putting a bullet right into the drone's nose. Lucky shot, he thought. The drone's wings tilted and the plane flew out of control. Dodge ducked. The drone flew into the side of the gun shop and splattered parts all over the ground. Dodge tossed his weapon into the window of the van. Its hot barrel smacked the passenger door and the gun bounced to the floor board. Dodge opened the driver's door and hopped in, screaming like a redneck after a duck hunt.
He turned the key. The van choked and sputtered before kicking off. A cloud of smoke rose from the exhaust. Dodge pushed a button on the dashboard. A pair of grenade launchers slid out of the sides of the van and locked into place.
"You want a war, you dick? You got one."
He threw the van into drive. It rolled forward until cresting the ridge where Altland's dead cow lay. Dodge could see most of Altland's entire farm, except for the parts hidden by the barn and Altland's house. The farmer was nowhere to be seen.
Dodge turned both grenade launchers onto Altland's barn. He pushed a button on the dashboard. The armaments flew across the farmland in front of him. He grinned.
"Let's see you top that, ya bastard."
The grenades hit their target. Net Altland's barn exploded and went up in a fiery blaze.
The tractor shot forward fifty feet in a flash. Dodge stopped, losing focus. He had been trying to set his launchers on the tractor but lost his aim when the tractor shot forward. He pulled a lever on the floor and peered through the scope on his steering wheel, again trying to aim at the tractor. It shot forward again and Dodge lost it.
A 120-millimeter mortar round flew from a metal tube attached to the hood of the tractor toward Dodge and his van. Dodge kicked the driver's door open and ran for cover. He made it to a washer and dryer set at the back of the house just in time, crouched behind them, and watched his van explode.
A booming voice shouted from the clouds.
"Put down your weapons! I say again, this is the Adams County Police Department. Abandon your weapons now."
Net recognized the voice of Bob Luck. He looked up, searching for the police drone. Finally, he saw it hovering above the field that led up the hill to the gun shop. He tried to find Dodge but couldn't see him. He ran. Behind him, he heard the whistle of a missile as it glided through the air from above and destroyed his tractor.
He thought of the money he just lost, and no sooner had he lost it when a modified contract scrolled before his eyes. He slapped the side of his helmet, shutting it off.
Dodge slipped into the front door of the gun shop, jumping over the dead body on the lounge floor. Dan had disappeared. Everyone was gone, including Amy. He ran behind the counter and pulled out two elephant guns, one for him and one for Amy. Then he ran into the bedroom looking for her. He stuck his head in the bathroom. Not there either.
He ran to the back door, opened it, and saw Amy running down the hill toward the Altland farm.
"Amy," he yelled into his shirt. "Come back!"
Amy pulled her shirt off and tossed it aside, kept on running. Her breasts jostled from side to side, expressing her freedom in ways her dancing could never do. Dodge went back inside and fumbled through the dirty laundry basket in the bathroom. He pulled out a black thong and ran outside to the tool shed, removed the two-by-four that kept the door shut. He tossed Amy's thong on the ground as he threw the tool shed door open.
Out of the shed scurried hundreds of robotic spiders, crawling over each other and showing no direction, waiting for further orders. The lead robot positioned itself over the thong. It flashed lights, made beeping sounds as it analyzed the information it received.
The horde of robotic spiders sped down the hill after Amy, following her trail past the blazing barn. Dodge watched until she disappeared behind the fire. The spiders kept up the chase, gaining on her. He knew they'd catch her, and when they did she'd be as good as dead. If he couldn't have her, no one could.
Net entered the horse stable and went for the wooden door to a stairwell that led underground. The door was open. He entered and pulled the door behind him, pulling a parachute cord attached to it and tying it to a nail.
The tunnel was dark. His goggles adjusted, giving him vision in the dark. Rats and cockroaches gave off heat signatures on the floor and the walls. He ignored them, continued his race to the other end of the tunnel. When he reached it, he stopped and bent over at the waist, working to catch his breath. In the distance behind him he could hear voices. Bob's posse was on his trail. He had just a minute to get out. He pushed himself up the stairs and through the tunnel door, closing it behind him. He ran directly to the tin vessel perched on a platform on the foot of the mountain at his front.
Net burst through the capsule entrance and ripped off his shirt covered in hay and the smell of farming. His partner was suited up and waiting. She pushed a button and closed the door as Net suited up, donned his fire-resistant Kevlar suit. He took his seat and pulled his shoulder harness down, locking it into place.
Outside, they heard the commotion of shouting voices, gun shots, and spiderbots.
"Have a nice trip," a female voice blared into Net's space helmet. He turned his head as they lifted off the ground. His thumb rose into the air and he turned his head, smiled. Then he reached for the door a few inches from his seat, flipped up the window shield and looked out at Dodge, Bob Luck and his band of deputies, and a formation of robotic spiders firing small arms at the two-passenger rocket ship he had just purchased from its creator. He envisioned the final contract for the sale of his farm, signed it in his mind, and sent it with a mental flick of a mouse click.
"You're worth it, Amy," he said into the mic at the mouth of his helmet. "I hope I am too."
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