the m john harrison blog

Tag: nova swing

the kidlington visitors

This was my favourite mystery–apart, perhaps, from amputated feet in running shoes washed up on some beach in the Americas–until solutions clustered round like flies and obscured the mystery itself. That people should arrive constantly out of nowhere to take selfies in a pleasant but unexceptional little suburban street. That they should be well-dressed & clearly enjoying their exotic visit. That no one should be able to identify their language, or speak it well enough to ask them why they came. That reports should differ, rumours compound. That it should be a slow, long-running thing. That initially no one seemed puzzled enough, & nothing about it seemed urgent enough to attract media. The moment we try to interact with an event like this by making sense of it, it’s gone. Vanished. Why don’t we see? The moment you explain a situation it’s something else. The actual thing, the thing that happened, retreats shyly and vanishes, decohering into the classical discourse that now stands in for it, and for every other object or event farmed & corralled into reliable useful behaviour by human anxiety. We have our explanation but we spoiled our mystery. It’s just not worth it to know.


From “On Singularities, mathematical and metaphorical” at Soft Machines, the blog of Richard Jones, Professor of Physics and the Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation at the University of Sheffield:

The biggest singularity in physics of all is the singularity where we think it all began – the Big Bang, a singularity in time which it is unimaginable to see through, just as the end of the universe in a big crunch provides a singularity in time which we can’t conceive of seeing beyond. Now we enter the territory of thinking about the creation of the universe and the ultimate end of the world, which of course have long been rich themes for religious speculation. This connects us back to the conception of a technologically driven singularity in human history, as a discontinuity in the quality of human experience and the character of human nature. I’ve already argued at length that this conception of the technological singularity is a metaphor that owes a great deal to these religious forbears.

He goes on to talk about the singularity central to the KT trilogy–also the book’s centralising of human rather than post- or transhuman problems.

jack & elizabeth in the site

“It was a hypermarket of the meaningless, in which the only mistake–as far as Jack could discern–was to have shopping goals. The idea that you might map things in there in terms of your needs was what had so entrapped and confused Emil Bonaventure’s generation. It was safer to learn how things worked, then assemble the portfolio of habits, behavioural tics just this side of the psychotic regime, that stood in for having a clear frame of reference and kept the travel agent from harm. “Everything smells of sulphur,” Elizabeth said. “Does it smell of sulphur to you?” She said, “Do you ever go into a building while you’re here? Jack, let’s go in one of these buildings! We could fuck in a building, wouldn’t that be nice? Wouldn’t you be excited by that?” Eventually they were driven off the streets by the rain and the approaching dark. Jack wasn’t keen to enter any unfamiliar space–they could so quickly become the arena of your worst expectations. But it was night as Saudade knew it, and Elizabeth was cold. She looked up into the rain, which seemed to fall towards her through layers of unsourced light, then down at her clothes. “I’m shivering, Jack,” she said in a surprised voice. Everywhere they tried was full of cats, facing into the corners, lined up along the walls, balancing on the arms of chairs, pressed together too tightly to move. Jack was relieved to find them at such densities. “It means we aren’t too far in yet.” The ground floor of the building he chose had no internal walls, although you could see the stub brickwork where they had been.” —Nova Swing, 2006.