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Orphans

Ben Tanzer

Publication Year: 2013

With Orphans, Ben Tanzer continues his ongoing literary survey of the 21st Century male psyche, yet does so with a newfound twist, contemporary themes set in a world that is anything but. In this dystopian tale of a future Chicago, workers are sent off to sell property on Mars to those who can afford to leave, leaving what’s left to those who have little choice but to make do with what’s left behind: burnt out neighborhoods, black helicopters policing the streets, flash mobs, the unemployed in their scruffy suits, robots taking the few jobs that remain, and clones who replace those workers who do find work so that a modicum of family stability can be maintained. It is a story about the impact of work on family. How work warps our best intentions. And how everything we think we know about ourselves looks different during a recession. This idea is writ large in the world of Orphans, where recession is all we know, work is only available to the lucky few, and this lucky few not only need to fear being replaced on the job, but in their homes and beds. It is also a story about drugs, surfing, punk music, lost youth, parenting, sex, pop culture as vernacular, and a conscious intersection of Death of a Salesman or Glengarry Glen Ross with the Martian Chronicles. Looking to the genre of science fiction has allowed Tanzer to produce something new and fresh, expanding both his literary horizons, and the potential market for his work. Tanzer also looks to the story of Bartleby the Scrivener with Orphans, and the question of what are we allowed as workers, and expected to be, or do, when work is fraught with desperation. Ultimately, Orphans is intended to be a contemporary story about manhood and what it means in today’s world, told from the perspective of work and family, and how any of us manage the parameters that family and work produce; but it’s a story told in a futuristic world, where our greatest fears are in fact already realized, because there isn’t enough of anything, and we are all too easily replaced.

Published by: Northern Illinois University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 1-6

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1

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pp. 1-2

I am staring into the bathroom mirror and I am steadying myself. The fluorescent lights strung overhead are glaring and eerie: exposing every pit mark, chicken pox scar and bump on my cheeks, forehead and neck. Random cobwebs blow to and fro on the ceiling above, ...

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2

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pp. 3-9

As the sun slowly comes up over Kanas Lake, orange and runny, like a cosmic egg yolk spreading across the sky, I arrive back home. The automated 24-hour doorman meets me as I walk into my building. We live in a high-rise in what used to be known as the Gold Coast...

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3

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pp. 10-13

I walk out toward the lake, my board and kite tucked under my arm. No one comes out this way anymore. The spotless streets give way to rubble, empty buildings, dirt and decay, though let’s call it what it is, neglect. No one cares about the outer rings of Baidu, not beyond ensuring...

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4

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pp. 14-16

I shake the water out of my hair as I walk back into the apartment. My hope is to catch Shalla still in bed, wrapped-up in the sheets, warm and cozy, and dreaming happy dreams about a life she wants and a world she wants to live in. One that includes me, and our love, triumphant...

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5

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pp. 17-20

I roll off of the train at BeiShan, the stop once known as Belmont, where I need to make a quick detour before heading into the office. This was the block where Shalla and I first met—young punks full of rebellion and anger, fleeing a world that seemed broken and never likely to...

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6

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pp. 21-22

I slow to a walk and as I move along BeiShan toward my office. I pause to kick a bottle and as I watch it spin, it starts moving so fast I become dizzy just staring at it and have to stop for a moment to get my bearings. I place my hands on my knees and focus on my breathing, thinking about...

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7

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pp. 23-26

I walk up to the office door, nondescript and hidden in plain sight. I place my hand squarely against the scanner and feel the laser glide over and around the curlicues in my fingertips and the endlessly arching cracks and folds of my palms, matching the identifying curves to the...

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8

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pp. 27-28

John’s office is also nondescript. I don’t know what I expected, more computers maybe, blueprints, spacesuits and maps of the universe. But it’s like any other office: a desk, a computer, a pencil holder and a little sign on the front of the desk, “The buck stops here and I’m the buck.”...

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9

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pp. 29-30

I practically dance down BeiShan to the train station, images of the E.C.’s metallic ass and John’s words pinging around my brain. All that and possibility—because the world now feels full of possibility—wonder, adventure and security mashing together as I take care of unfinished...

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10

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pp. 31-34

“Daaaaaaaaady,” Joey screams when he sees me by the door.
I drop my bags, scoop him up in my arms and as he melts into my chest I think, bursts of joy, bursts of joy, bursts of joy, savor it, hug it, love it, all of it....

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11

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pp. 35-38

I’m falling through endless waves of red dust, never quite hitting the bottom of wherever it is I’m falling, and never quite finding balance… Suddenly there it is, the ground hurtling toward me at a speed that seems impossible to be real...

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12

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pp. 39-42

I walk Joey to school. He is not speaking, and I wonder if I should say something about what he may or may not have seen when he walked in on us. He is staring straight ahead—no eye contact, no small talk. It’s peaceful, pleasant, but I wouldn’t be a parent if I didn’t try to disrupt...

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13

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pp. 43-51

The trip out to Arthur Chin is uneventful. Bullet trains continuously run express between the airport and individual stops in the city. You step into a pod and wait for the train to approach. The train unlatches its pod filled with riders looking to exit, even as it latches onto your...

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14

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pp. 52-56

The Terrax lab is all white, spotless and glowing; a soft hum of purity and cleanliness washing over the room. There is a hospital bed off to one side of the room, an array of computers and padded walls. Lights blast forth from everywhere and every possible angle, exposing and...

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15

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pp. 57-58

I am wandering down the tunnel that leads me from the Terrax lab to the terminal where my shuttle awaits. Multicolored lights are firing at me from every direction, and I turn my head with each light, looking here, no here, there, and there, and here again, the sidewalk is moving...

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16

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pp. 59-60

“Just lie back, relax, we are preparing to leave,” a calming voice says—it’s not metallic or robotic, not scratchy or booming, it’s not meant to offend or dominate. It’s there to soothe, to remind you that there is goodness and comfort in this world, if not the next, and you need to believe...

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17

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pp. 61-63

I am running home from school, the leaves at my feet rustle and launch into the air before spinning back to the ground by the blades of the black helicopters flying overhead and circling the neighborhood like enormous metal vultures—watching, always watching, but not doing anything...

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18

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pp. 64-65

I jolt awake, puffy and weak, my eyes bulging from my head like an anime character in a book that Joey might read.
Where am I?
I am here, of course, somewhere, yes, here, somewhere. But where, is this BeiShan, Shalla’s arms, the kitchen...

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19

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pp. 66-68

I exit the shower station: clean, shaven, primped and suited-up. I walk down the hall as directed and as I turn into the cafeteria, I hear a familiar voice.
“Hello sir, welcome back to the world of living.”
I am facing an E.C., not mine, but one so similar to mine I feel a sudden and rippling attack of loss and isolation...

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20

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pp. 69-70

I climb back into my chair and recline, no need for the voice tonight. I am exhausted and crazy for more sleep.
Now.
There.
I am running home, the scent of vanilla filling my brain. I want my mother and that sense of safety, goodness and nurturing. I want it so much. I don’t want to be the man all the time. I want to be held and soothed...

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21

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pp. 71-75

Awake again.
But today I know who I am. The blood is flowing. The legs are strong. The brain is alert. I make my way to the cafeteria, where Ricky awaits me, coffee in hand, hair perfect, smile in place...

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22

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pp. 76-77

Ricky and I are receiving massages from a pair of female E.C.s. We are on our backs, undressed, sheets at our waists. It is the night before we arrive on Mars. We are supposed to be preparing for battle, but I am stuck on being so far from home and what it means to be okay...

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23

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pp. 78-79

There is no sleep after the massage. And there won’t be, so I head into the Simulator Room, put on a motion capture suit and goggles, and step in front of the green screen...

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24

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pp. 80-82

There is a push and a rush and a slight metallic crunch. We are landing. I reach for my bag and there is a box. The box is small, rectangular, slightly glowing with a nearly, but not completely, imperceptible hum. Where did it come from? Morg, of course. There are debts to be paid. How...

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25

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pp. 83-84

Ricky and I are standing in a demo house in Wealth Sector. The floor-to-ceiling windows are flush against the wall of the dome. An E.C. has prepared drinks and laid out crudités and little sandwiches. The couple sitting on the couch before us is young and refined, the wife sporting a still small...

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26

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pp. 85-90

It is the end of our day and the end of our trip. We have cajoled, manipulated, twisted the truth and created a morphed version of what may or may not be the future as we know it. We have been forceful, seductive, penetrating and dramatic. We have been selling, closing and spinning....

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27

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pp. 91-92

“Just lie back, relax, we are preparing to leave,” the calming voice says, still not metallic, or robotic, not scratchy, or booming, just soothing, like rain water, and there for me as I prepare to go home, sleeping, dreaming and spinning across the universe....

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28

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pp. 93-96

I am on BeiShan, and there is Al B and I smile, because Al B is there for me, always, the past is the past, this is now, this is new and fresh, and I am in need of something, and he will know what it is. There is history and brotherhood, and love and goodness. Al B waves, greeting me...

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29

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pp. 97-98

Thunk.
Huh?
There is grinding, metal on metal, and mashing, on my head and in the air, everywhere. It is familiar, mostly, confusing still, but I’ve been here, there, here. There is settling, lowering, movement, shaking and more grinding, scratching and pings. While I don’t know exactly what’s...

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30

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pp. 99-102

I emerge from the shower, balanced and clear, all synapses firing, muscles and organs in synch, energy coursing, and excitement about getting back and heading home. I will enjoy this time off, time well-earned, a successful trip behind me, and more to come, soon, maybe...

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31

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pp. 103-110

I step into my pod as I prepare to take the train to BeiShan. The pod is filled with ghosts, ethereal and momentary, all passing through this world and this time for the briefest of stops. The universe started here, or there, and continues on from there, or here, to there or here, always...

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32

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pp. 111-114

I drift off of the train, in and out of Bao and then into the neighborhood where the usual group of jobless, yet suited, ghosts wander by wide-eyed and dazed; random Terraxes run out of steam and stop dead in their tracks, only to be picked up for parts by the everpresent E.C.s;...

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33

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pp. 115-121

Dinner is eaten. The table is cleared. Dishes washed. And I am lying in bed with Joey reading Where The Wild Things are.
“How come there isn’t a dad?” Joey asks.
“I don’t know,” I say, “I never noticed that.”
“Do you think he is traveling for a work vacation?” Joey says...

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34

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pp. 116-124

As the moonlight slices through the window and across our bed, Shalla and her nakedness are wrapped in the sheets next to me, some parts illuminated, others shrouded in shadow. There is a sliver of shoulder, the outside curve of her breast, the bottom of her knee, a touch...

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35

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pp. 125-126

I am outside the building, the sun still rising, a splash of orange and red, with tendrils of purple creeping across the otherwise gray sky and stretching over the massiveness of Kanas Lake. I have my board on my shoulder and my bags are sitting in the lobby awaiting my return. I know E.C.

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36

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pp. 127-131

When nothing else makes sense there are the waves, and in the waves there is Zen—balance and understanding, recognition of problems and the untangling of confusions. There is also the sense that we are just small parts of a much bigger universe. Specks in time and space, insignificant...

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37

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pp. 132-134

I drift into my pod on the train, surrounded as always by ghosts, here today, gone tomorrow, but always going. After my moment in the pod I am exiting into Arthur Chin and drifting toward the main shuttle entrance, relaxed and cool, and ready for security—the full body scans washing...

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38

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pp. 135-136

“Just lie back, relax, we are preparing to leave,” the calming voice says, a voice I have come to love, a voice that will lead me to sleep, and dream as I’m slowly surfing across the universe...

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39

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pp. 137-141

There is noise and chaos, metal crunching, twisting and bending. People are screaming somewhere in the darkness and why is everything so dark and smoky? I hear rain, no spraying, something, more screaming, and heat, intense heat on my face, my scalp sizzling, cooking...

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40

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pp. 142-144

I wait outside the pod among the remaining cluster of people looking to exit Arthur Chin. While everyone looks rushed and harried, there is a sense of calm washing over the group as well. We are about to be free of Arthur Chin and whatever went down here. Plus, the train is still running...

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41

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pp. 145-147

This face is so familiar it’s blinding, like looking into the sun—the arc of his nose, the slope of his forehead, the shape of his ears and lips, the color of his eyes and the angle of his cheekbones. They are all features I know as well as I know my own, but then of course I do—they are my...

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42

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pp. 148-151

He starts to walk and so do I—same gait, same pace, and same arm swing, which is terribly freaky and terribly cool all at once. I follow him from a distance, scared he will notice me, or just know that something he is part of, or once part of, is near, soon to be reaching out and wanting...

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43

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pp. 152-154

Aaagh.
Why does my head ache so fucking much? I lift it up, keeping my eyes closed, and try to remember where I am and how I got here, but I don’t know where I am or how got here, much less where ‘here’ is...

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44

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pp. 155-156

I lift my head.
I am at the table.
Well, of course I am. I was at the table. I did not move. And yet something is different. There are no E.C.s, no Dr.Thanos, just Morg. He’s sitting across from me, and he’s smiling, just sitting there and waiting for me to say something...

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45

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pp. 157-158

There is this moment of quiet when I emerge from the office and back onto BeiShan that makes me think everything is okay or will be. I trot along BeiShan and let myself think that maybe something good happens now, that the worst of it has passed, that things are falling back into...

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46

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pp. 159-160

When I get to my building, I stand there in the shadows looking at my window, waiting for movement, something, anything that will allow me to get Shalla’s attention.
When she finally appears though, I know it is impossible. She is with my Terrax. She is with me. She is staring out of the window, his arms around her waist, a small tear...

Acknowledgments

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pp. 161-167


E-ISBN-13: 9781609090999
Print-ISBN-13: 9780875806952

Page Count: 170
Publication Year: 2013

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Subject Headings

  • Orphans -- Fiction.
  • Fantasy fiction.
  • Dystopian fiction. -- gsafd.
  • Bildungsromans. -- gsafd.
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