Tag Archives: science fiction

a little bit of empty space

“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.

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u1604

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March 10, 2014 · 8:10 pm

sorry to have to say this again, but

Science fiction survives on its metaphors, catching an echo from the human context then rifling current science for an image or chain of images to act as a correlative. The rationales behind this project (including the rationale that it’s all rational, the claim that the project has, or should have, more in common with scientific discourse than poetic, philosophical or political discourse) are less important to the general reader than the excitement of the found image. Science fiction is not read as a form of peer-reviewed publication.

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chaos patterns

1597804614She stood companionably next to him for a moment, hands on hips, looking around the mostly empty space as if oil-stained floors and fluorescent warning stripes held an innate interest for her. Epstein didn’t like the way she relaxed. She was too hard to avoid. Her tailoring occupied the warehouse like another personality: everything interested it, from a momentary change in Epstein’s breathing to the sound of footsteps half a mile away. Every time its attention shifted, he caught the rank, exciting smell of hormonal gradients. She would smile at you behind that as if remembering something sexual you had enjoyed together, while pictographs ran chaos patterns down the inside of her forearm, from elbow to wrist like print from the historical times. She was some cheap cutter’s idea of the future.

From Empty Space (excerpt here), third volume of the trilogy that began with Light and Nova Swing (winner of the Arthur C Clarke Award 2007). All three here & at Amazon US.

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a new short story

FINAL Cave  Julia_Cover“That whole year, and to a lesser extent the year after, bodies were washed up all along that part of the coast, some whole, some in pieces … In the south of Autotelia, especially, it was a bad year for bodies; but the body of the vanished brother didn’t show up among them. Passive and silent, full of some incommunicable anger, the sister attempted suicide, spent time in institutions; then, her work suddenly becoming popular, left the country for a new life on our side of things.” When Cave meets Julia, he finds himself sucked into her strange alienated history of loss and sacrifice. “Cave & Julia” is a love story set between our world and Autotelia. Available from the Kindle Store today, 99p; or free to borrow from the Kindle Library. You can still find “In Autotelia”, the first Autotelia story, in Arc #1, here.

Just to round up what’s available, electronically and otherwise: you can buy Light, Nova Swing and Empty Space; The Centauri Device, cursed be its name, with its very fine paper-sculpture cover image; and Viriconium in the old paperback Fantasy Masterworks edition. The new edition of Climbers (coming in May) is ready for pre-order, both as paper and as ebook, with a fabulous new Sam Green cover and a very special introduction I’m not allowed to tell you about yet, although you probably already found out for yourself. The books you won’t find, except as pre-enjoyed or remaindered, are The Course of the Heart, Signs of Life and Things That Never Happen.

Since these three, along with Climbers and my new short stories, rather sum up the point of writing for me, I hope we can do something about that soon.

“Cave & Julia” being very much a product of the Ambiente Hotel, back-bar regulars will add value by tracing its beginnings in these entries over the last year or two. I’ve set up a “Cave & Julia” page: leave your criticisms, gasps of almost sexual delight & sighs of sarcastic disbelief etc there, where comments aren’t time-limited, rather than here, where they close after a few days.

Or, of course, leave a review at Amazon.

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the future

Work is a fairly problematic thing for me at the moment. If it was a mirror I wouldn’t know who was looking at who. Or, exactly, why. Burrowing about in your own head: is it even a job?

DSCF6735
The future will look like this, but only if you are really close to it.

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buried in exotic ground

Buggy tracks in snow. Spindrift blowing off the roofs. Silhouette of a labrador dog hauling the silhouette of a woman across Grove Road; detail from a Lowry of the West London suburbs. Meanwhile the van from Bathrooms At Source–a constant visitor to this pleasant street–ploughs its way responsibly towards the river, first-responder to the morning’s soft catastrophe. Everything is so hushed as he makes his way down! In Barnes, bathroom commerce, second only in religion to kitchen commerce, must go on. He’s closely followed by Bespoke Carpentry. Meanwhile, over in “Burma”, no crates of preserved Spitfires have come to light. Buried Spitfires! The very words are like a knell, awakening the British retroconscious to a deep sense of itself. The earth with which they turn out not to be compacted is the authentic dark chocolate of myth. We dream that Spitfires lie buried in exotic ground, the exact way they are embedded in our diffusing memories of empire. Meanwhile, perhaps the Spitfires dream themselves, in some half-world of suspended purpose, the trope of sci fi war machines made obsolete by time, waking too late. It’s the final reinscription. Ballard would have loved it.

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everything amazed them

Drawn by the radio and tv ads of the twentieth century, which had reached them as faltering wisps and cobwebs of communication (yet still full of a mysterious, alien vitality), the New Men had invaded Earth in the middle 2100s. They were bipedal, humanoid–if you stretched a point–and uniformly tall and white-skinned, each with a shock of flaming red hair. They were indistinguishable from some kinds of Irish junkies. It was difficult to tell the sexes apart. They had a kind of pliable, etiolated feel about their limbs. To start with they had great optimism and energy. Everything about Earth amazed them. They took over and, in an amiable, paternalisitic way, misunderstood and mis-managed everything. It appeared to be an attempt to understand the human race in terms of a 1982 Coke ad. They produced food no one could eat, outlawed politics in favour of the kind of burocracy you find in the subsidised arts, and buried enormous machinery in the subcrust which eventually killed millions. After that, they seemed to fade away in embarrassment, taking to drugs, pop music and the twink-tank which was then an exciting if less than reliable new entertainment technology. Thereafter, they spread with mankind, like a kind of wrenched commentary on all that expansion and free trade. You often found them at the lower levels of organised crime. Their project was to fit in, but they were fatally retrospective. They were always saying: “I really like this cornflakes thing you have, man. You know ?” [From Light, 2002.]

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taboo

One of the disadvantages of a paper book is that when the power goes down & the batteries run out, it can only be read during the hours of daylight; one of the advantages of a paper book is that when the power goes down & the batteries run out, it can be read during the hours of daylight.

I see your objection here, which is that because the fairies of modernity will always keep the electricity on now, mine is both a trivial & an old-fashioned argument (as well as being a cheap syllogism generated by someone who doesn’t really appreciate the full modernity of modernity). Because of those fairies, adverse change of any kind is a thing of the past or perhaps other less-fortunate countries. I’m sure you’re right & of course I bow to your superior understanding of history; although I wonder if, when you insist that it can never happen to us, you really mean that it must never happen to us–it’s a reversal so upsetting that it can’t even be contemplated.

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unhomely charm

Paulie deRaad had boltholes all over Saudade. This one was a bleak single room off Voigt Street in the noncorprorate hinterland, no different from the rest except Paulie kept a military cot there, which he always made up himself; along with a few things he valued from his vacuum commando days. He also ran some of his communications through it, via the various FTL uplinkers and orbital routers which made him nationwide. As soon as he opened the door, a foul smell came out. It was like shit, urine and standing water.

“Jesus, Paulie,” Vic said.

Paulie told him he didn’t know anything yet. Along with the smell, there was a kind of bubbling sound. Lying on Paulie’s cot, partly out of its clothes, was the entity that called itself “the Weather”. Last time Vic saw it, they were at Suicide Point together. Somehow it had choked on Vic’s artefact, and the two of them were glued together at some level no one but another Shadow Boy could understand. A wedding had taken place. Whatever tied the knot had also wed them to the Point kid. They were all three stuck with one another–although, to judge by the Point kid’s unfortunate condition, not for long. He looked frightened and ill. He had tried to undress himself and get under the blanket, for comfort as much as warmth. His shorts were half down, his skin a fishy white under the low wattage illumination. Every so often he convulsed, his mouth gaped open and he threw up what looked like cold tapioca.

“So what’s this, Vic ?” Paulie DeRaad wanted to know.

The kid heard Paulie’s voice. It sat up trembling and looked from one to the other of them. It caught Vic’s eye. It recognised him. He could see the operator far down inside, and the Point kid, and in there with them both the artefact, still white and unknown, some animal-like thing running towards Vic across the event site. There was no way to avoid the directness of this: something wrong was happening. Wherever Vic and Paulie situated themselves in the room they couldn’t hide from it. They still caught flashes of the Shadow Boy’s unhomely charm. For a moment the foul air would be full of rain falling through sunlight, the smell of the sea. Between moans from the kid and bursts of code like music, they heard its voice.

“Am I here ?” it appealed to Paulie. “I can’t seem to see myself.”

“This happened two or three days afterwards,” Paulie said to Vic. “I can’t pass this off on my buyer. I can’t use it for myself, even if I knew what it was. This ain’t good business, Vic.”

“I see that,” Vic said. “Can we get out of here ?”

The Point kid laughed. “No one gets out of here,” it whispered, in three separate voices at once.

[From Nova Swing, 2006.]

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