“If you love something, set it free. If it comes back to you, it’s uncanny how it will now get on your nerves.” –Sandra Newman.
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“Have you ever been inside a quarantine hulk ?”
This voice belonged to MP Renoko, a man you often met at The East Ural Nature Reserve, where he would begin a conversation by saying: “You agree there’s no neccessity to confuse a practical tool with a theory of the world ?” Renoko came and went, but always bought rounds of drinks.
“I’m relieved to see you,” Antoyne said. “Considering this.”
“Considering what ?”
“That,” Antoyne said, pointing above his head; but the baby was gone. He looked up, around, behind him: nothing.
Gravuley Street offered no aid. To the left lay darkness and the empty planet; to the right, the savagely lighted window of the Faint Dime. He could see every item of interior decoration, pressed-out and perfect in candy colours. Someone was drinking Ovaltine with rum. Someone else was getting a big-size ham on rye sandwich with fries. Antoyne wiped his mouth. The hair went up on his neck. One o’ clock in the morning, and a light wind blew dust in ribbons down the middle of the street.
“Something was here,” he asserted. “Why don’t we get a drink ?”
“I’m buying,” said MP Renoko. “It seems to me you’ve had some sort of shock.”
Renoko looked like a photograph of Anton Chekhov, if Chekhov had aged more and come to favour a little white chin-beard. Otherwise his look sucessfully teamed used raincoats with grey worsted trousers five inches too short. His hair–white, swept back to a grubby collar–always seemed full of light. He was smallboned, and intense in manner. His clothes came spattered with outmoded foods such as tapioca and “soup”. On his feet he wore cracked tan wingtips without socks, and it was a feature of this careful image that his ankles went unwashed. As soon as he and Fat Antoyne had settled themselves in the comparitive safety of The East Ural Nature Reserve, he returned to his original subject as if he had never left it:
“‘Everyone their own evolutionary project,’ we tell each other here in the Halo. Excuse me, this can only be an element of cultural self-dramatisation, even in times like ours.” His smile meant he was prepared to forgive that. “But if there is a new species,” he said, “perhaps it’s up there in those quarantine hulks.”
Fat Antoyne said he didn’t get it.
Renoko smiled. “You get it,” he said.
Leaked navigational nanoware or eleven-dimensional imaging code slips up someone’s anus at night and discovers it can run on a protein substrate. In a similar way, ads, memes, diseases and algorithms escape into the wild. They can run on your neurons, they can run inside your cells. They perform a default conversion. Suddenly the cops are out with the loudhailers, “Stay inside! Stay Indoors!” but it’s too late: on your street, in your house, everything collapses suddenly into an unplanned slurry of nanotech, half-tailored viruses and human fats–your husband, your two little girls in their identical dresses, you. “Entire planetary populations,” Renoko said, “are converting to this stuff. Is it an end-state ?” He threw up his little hands. “No one knows! Is it a new medium ? No one is willing to say! It’s as beautiful as water in strong sunlight, yet it stinks like rendered fat, and can absorb an adult human being in forty seconds. The hulks are full of it, the quarantine orbit is full of hulks. Men like you keep it safe.”
Obsolete pipeliners that worked the Carling Line, decommissioned Alcubiere warps the size of planetisimals, anything with a thick hull, especially if it’s easy to reinforce further: Fat Antoyne had a sudden clear image of those pocked relics in the interplanetary darkness–used-up ships mysterious with the dim crawling lights of beacons and particle dogs, pinwheeling around on near-chaotic operator-controlled trajectories.
He shook his drink and watched it settle.
“Not me,” he said. “I got a six month contract to move some of it around, that’s all.”
From Empty Space.
Oh no, the spectacle is missing! Where are the “replica fire pit” and the “smell of wood smoke”? Where is the almost meaningless speculation about who these people might have been? Where is the interpretation of their motives based on present-day cultural cliche and the not very interesting personal assumptions of the archeologists? The story is not being told! Only the bare evidence is present here! Will no one think of the children? Why you’d almost have to admit this was a museum rather than a richly-storied edutainment.
“Before she could speak he walked straight out through the window, vanishing the other side & leaving her with the impression that the view from her room was painted on the glass. As if the world fabric was a style of art to which only Gaines and people like him had the secret.”
One problem for the corporate fixers, failed entradistas and immersion junkies who populate Light, Nova Swing and Empty Space is that they see the universe as the backdrop for their own mystery play, “The Boys from Earth”. But they are not privileged in or by the universe. There is nothing special about their dilemmas.
On the other hand, at least they’re all together in a single volume in the German language. Who knows where they’ll turn up next.
Down to the Iron Bridge. Upstream along the abandoned railway to the power station. Three hundred feet up from there via the first set of wooden steps to the top of Benthall Edge. Over a fence and into Patten’s Rock quarry; out of the quarry and into the woods. Down steep slopes between fallen trees, abandoned lime pits and rotted-looking streams. The light on the moss here is beyond being described as “radioactive”, “fluorescent” or any of those kinds of words. It’s unpackable. You can’t think of a thing to say except that another world is inside things or implied by things; and you’ve said that before, so many times, and you can never take yourself at your word. One of the pits features a twenty or thirty foot waterfall, less picturesque than it sounds. A further steep diagonal descent across the scarp–black mud under dead leaves, sphagnum moss and hartstongue fern–leads back to the railway line; immediately climb the shorter set of wooden steps up to Workhouse Coppice. Emerge on Spout Lane. Back to the town via Quarry Road. In a garden on Bridge Road I saw a thrush with a beak full of nesting materials. My knee’s a bit sore and I think life owes me a sausage roll.