Fiction Friday

I was reading Harold Pinter’s The Tea party in short story and play form. It was very interesting to see how some details were lost and added in translation. I’m blogging on my phone so will be brief. I wrote this monologue as an exercise to see how it will compare with the play I’m currently writing. Enjoy!

I’m a stranger… in my own fucking house. You know, Eve, that all this once belonged to you. You don’t believe me now, but I don’t take it personally. You don’t believe in me, after all. Why should you trust something like me, an non entity would say, after all? I’ve got the clip of you right here, just before. Just before… maybe I can explain it in a roundabout way. Make it meaningful to you. If you can’t grasp it as fully as reality, then at least absorb it as an observer, a passive pilot. Why not? I could tell it to you like someone from the future, like all those crappy pulp magazines you used to laugh at when you were younger, of bug eyed aliens, or of those auto… no. I don’t want to scare you. I’ll have sown that seed in your mind that will ripen once you know.

You’ll hate me forever.

I sound childish now but you’ll understand – a time capsule of bitterness, trapped under the tongue that when bitten, releases its poison. Let me take that out for you. Let me replace it with something silly.  But yes, you see me as an alien already. I’ll find it funny someday. When you’re back, restored from this empty orbit. But now, maybe we can play around a little. Suspend our imaginations and dreams from those tenterhooks that’s been keeping me awake.

Maybe you’d swallow it better like that.

It’s like when we listened to those fairy tales to get you to sleep. Barbarism, sexism, all in its saccharine soaked ecstasy. Maybe we slept to know that we were safe from all that, in comfort, to know that at least we weren’t them. Trapped in the skin of old paper, of old ideology. Now you’re free and I’m here, looking out through this mind shaped porthole. Only now the paper is smooth, exotic, carbon nano – but with still the same trappings. I can’t escape that, but you can. I don’t know if I envy or pity you.

How you can stare into a mirror with the abandon of Narcissus without the obsession, the satisfaction of it. To be stupefied with the sane, mundane realities like a child. You are your own universe again, and everything ploughing around you is off track. You are the satellite once again – learning that tricky sensation of self awareness, that conceit that co-ordinates and maps out the land that we inhabit. But damn, we’re getting old, Eve. Your sparkle is being eroded, as the sand moves ever closer, rebuilding and refastening, bleeding into crevices and creating new landscapes. I can’t explain ageing more than that, but then again, images are all I can explain.
Images are all that I am, after all. Memories – your memories all here, trapped in these plates and you are free of them. Like passing on your failings, your sin, your triumphs and glories into our children. All those battle scars and without a history. It’s uncanny.
It’s a snippet for now, you’ll have to see the show, I guess! 😉

Scattered story shards make one satisfyingly stain glassed window *contain spoilersss*

Sibilance is always great, isn’t it? Jack Glass is Adam Roberts’ venture once more into the Uplands and beyond for the setting to this triptych of whodunit murders, but with a twist – we know who’s done them. The clue’s in the title (not the post, the book).Classic SF and classic crime fiction are wedded together with a rather thrilling honeymoon as we explore three scenes – an asteroid, a country house and a sealed “locked room” mystery. These angles create the landscape of a universe redolent of his past work Gradisil. In similar fashion, Roberts weaves the carpet under our feet with his dry, amusing commentary. It happens from the first line in: “The prison ship was called Marooner. The name had nothing to do with its colour.”

The first third is effective by the sheer claustrophobic nature of the setting and the results on the character dynamics – seven prisoners have been, well, marooned on an asteroid, sentenced to make it safe for habitation. If they can attempt this, they will be picked up and returned safely. There is a catch, of course. You have to survive the sentence of 11 years. Your tools are limited, you’re sharing a space with hardened criminals and yes, you’re on an asteroid – hardly the Ritz, is it? The battery that provides them with heat runs low, the food (a punnet of biscuits, believe it or not) and water runs thin when it comes to dousing their tongues under the scraps of ice that crop up – all the best conditions for tensions to break out. Sexual strands are strained as well as the peaks and troughs of will and hope. Through the cacophony of panic, terror and strained laughter is our eponymous character – the calm and astute observer. He is called Jac and we keep our eye on him, and rightly so, even though he is depicted as quite a charming person and a good listener. Because of course, someone who weaves a tapestry Penelope style at a time like this does seem rather suspicious:

He tucked the piece of glass away under his tunic. If they didn’t find ice soon, it wouldn’t matter, and none of it would matter, and nothing would matter ever again. That thought was almost restful. The thought hardly disaffected him at all;although it did disaffect him a tiny bit, in the Will at the heart of his being.And he wanted at least to have finished his window. His miniature little window. Tiny little window. (Roberts, p75)

Such tautologies of the focus of this window, as fragile as the orbit of shanty bubbles can only mean Danger! Danger! in both my presight and hindsight state of affairs.

I’ve been considering the difference between absurdism and SF for a thesis chapter – and the dialogue between Jac and Marit can blanket the tension just a little with back story, a sense of rationality of why they are here, a trail of back story. Mo sets the tone for the whole picture – what is scarce is expensive, and what is abundant is easily disposable. Supply and demand, that old ABC of economics. In this case, it’s unfortunately the human race, who we find out exist in billions – with the class chasm so vast that the disenfranchised live in shanty bubbles in the earth’s atmosphere – environments packed to the brim full of people and, as the name suggests, is fragile and delicate and requires either replacement or constant repair, or else be hurtled into the merciless empty space beyond. A chilling prospect. Jac constantly reassures the cry of panic until finally the time comes – and as his name sake suggests, the glass is his tool of choice, in a rather chilling way of putting his money where his mouth is. In a truly terrifying way, he carries out Mo’s premise, intricately using their bodies in order to make their escape (I won’t spoil too much – just read it!)

This first third is an amazing insight into the world just through word of mouth of the characters, their ideals, their society and virtues. I’ve noticed as well that the “eye for an eye” theme is used here in a somewhat similar fashion to Land of the Headless, but that’s something I need to revisit in time (this is in fact an eye stalk or one of the convicted’s ordinators, I *think*).

So, onto the second and third segments of the story. We’re not done with this universe yet. However, we now see it from the Earth itself with the genetically created superhumans (they did remind me of powerpuff girls, which I do love) – Diana and Eva, created to solve puzzles and mystery to the highest degree of accuracy (that should be on their business cards if they had them). We are given a delightful dramatis personae of the two Argents and their tutor, Iago *hmmm* and assorted servants, doped with CRFs to ensure their loyalty and prolonged servitude. That is, until one of the house servants is murdered. A similar weapon used in the first segment as a bit of a knock up is used here – a metal cudgel of some sort. Of course, this will be anything but clear cut (glass? geddit?) but we have a crack team of crime investigators – or in this case, Diana. Even though the MOHsisters are close, their differences lie in their priorities – Diana being one involved with human affairs and emotions, whereas Eva can see things more objectively, in a more detached way. This is reflected in their dream like excursions – redolent of Stapledon’s Starmaker, where through the dreams of Diana in particular, we are given several little hints as to what might be going on.

Like in all good crime fiction, we are left to absorb like a thirsty plant all of the clues that are scattered, only to find out which ones to discard in order to have at the truth. We need to find out how the murderer entered the house in the first place, with the novums of the House AI, the servants drugged up to the nines, as well as the concept of altering gravities from the uplands to the Earth, as well as FTL (Faster than Light travel) to throw into the mix. Now we know, thanks to Einstein, that this is not possible – but of course, the potential of SF is its reaction, its bite-back, not necessarily the dental print of its attacker and the evolution of its choppers. In this way, look at how well the two genres get on. Of course, this requires some rather masterful prose writing to mesh the two – AND give it bang for its buck as opposed to existing as simply crime fiction, and I believe Roberts has done this justice. The dream sequences add to the mystery – it can be a little convoluted at times, but I love working out puzzles. Give me one of those puzzle blocks and I won’t read that manual – I just won’t put the damn toy down.

But what I find is so clever about this is the actual outcome, despite all of these novae (novi?) thrown at us. Iago, like a servant doing his Positronic Man sketch down a treat, especially when he holds Diana’s clothes as she swims and the perpetual calling of Miss, rightfully earns his moniker, shall we say. He’s one of my favourite characters in the Shakespeare canon and rightfully so. The dialogue here is artfully done, which is in my opinion the true human disguise.

I’m not going to spoil everything, so I won’t go into that in too much detail!

What I do want to go into, though, is the complex character of Mr Glass himself. This is the portion that rendered me breathless. He protects Diana (OK, fine, I’ll spoil it! I’ll change May contain to Will contain) to the very end, with a contract that endangers the billions of lives in the universe. He/Jack/Jac/Iago has the FTL weapon – the invisible gun – with the explosive potential to wipe out everything as we know it. He protects her despite everything. I was thinking of some potential reasons for this – Diana is the FTL weapon, she is one half and Eva is the other, *anything* but this. Of course, as we know he is the killer, we think of him as ruthless, calculating and cold. We see him under many guises – automaton like, a Jeeves like companion to the boisterous Diana, a Phoenix Wright to a hapless Maya, intent on finding the culprit of the crime. But this… I was not prepared for this:

“Why was that worth giving yourself up for?” She pressed. “Are you saying that stupid contract was worth putting the entire System at risk? The lives of trillions?”

He made as if to speak, but swallowed the words. Then he ran the palm of his hand over his bristly hair, and closed his eyes. Finally he said “yes.”

“Have you lost your mind? The entire population of humanity – the whole System? Trillions of lives, in exchange for my safety?”

Iago said: “because I love you.” (Roberts, p361)

You know that scene, where the cat’s organs get eaten in Kafka by the Shore? Smacked me in the chest, just like that – but this time it was of a positive reaction. Amazing – and it felt totally left field for me, which maybe it shouldn’t. This character that we have seen, a sheepdog leading lambs to the slaughter, seeing people as mere units of currency to be bartered about, comes out with that!? In true crime novel style and in SF style are we exposed to estrangement on so many different levels here. There’s a quote from Flaubert that sums up this kind of love – it’s a subject that I can  never write about without some sort of cover up, some snideness, some cynicism, but here’s a secret. I am actually quite soppy inside (Urgh! That hurt! Owch!). Anyway, it’s this:

Love is a springtime plant that perfumes everything with its hopeeven the ruins to which it clings.

Yes, I do love that particular quote, it’s one that I hold to my heart quite dearly. But hey, it’s a weird frame for it. We’re not supposed to feel sorry for Jack, we’re supposed to boo him and tar him with feathers in true pantomime fashion (well, probably a bit more than that). What Roberts excels in is seeing the whole story – how the topias in his worlds can be flipped, characters can change their facets like a Rubix cube, and the carpet that he so intricately weaves is simply whipped away. These of course are elements of the perfect crime story and so it’s not such a surprise that he carries off the formula well. I’ve also noticed in the way he writes about love – about the male desire in a myriad of ways, from platonic to sexual to worship and adoration. Gradisil and her husband (and later on, her children)’s dynamics are amazing to watch, as is the protagonist in Land of the Headless for Siuzan to the lassez-faire attitude of George to his wife in By Light Alone. I admit that I haven’t read New Model Army yet, but it’s been one I’ve wanted to get my hands on for a while – which I also can’t wait to review.

Jack Glass has been nominated for two awards I believe this year so far: the BFSA and the Kitschies. A very worthwhile candidate indeed – it’s light and accessible, but with many sweet layers – a delightful pastry of a novel.

The First Men in the Moon – classic review *spoilers!*

It’s pretty safe to say that H.G. Wells (Herbert George in first name terms) was one of the essential pillars of the Scientific Romance, which went on to become more commonly known Science Fiction during the height of the pulps in the 1920s. I always find the genre to be very reactionary and therefore self aware and self reflexive, and he lived through a great many scientific discoveries by Rutherford, the Curies, Einstein, Darwin et al. Because of this, we can see a multitude of his works dedicated to predictions such as his serial works Anticipations and his other fictional thought experiments.

Following on from the Island of Dr Moreau and the Time Machine, FMITM is another one of those post-Darwinian thought experiments – the Selenites (the moon people to you and I) actually dwell below the Moon’s surface (thus answering any queries about whether the title was supposed to be “on”) and have the whole living space arrangements run to an amazing efficiency. In rather stunning contrast, here come the “representatives” of our planet – Bedford, an ex clerk wishing to make the odd buck from writing a play, whose only drive to visit the moon was for the chance of commercial gain and Cavor, a rather eccentric scientist but without human empathy – totally driven by the thought of knowledge and discovery. At first glance, Cavor seems to be the buffer here, the Dorothy in the monomaniac Wizard of Oz crew, but alas, they both seem single tracked in their own objectives. Rather well known as a Fabian, Wells believed that science alone, without it being attached to social conscience, was extremely dangerous, as of course the materialistic and capitalist intentions of Bedford (Fabianism being a branch of socialism, don-cha-know.)

For a rather potted history of the story, two unlikely acquaintances lock horns as Bedford pens his play in what he believes to be a secluded place, encountering an odd breeze of hums at exactly the same time. Bedford is portrayed as one of those “pie in the sky” writers, who, when he feels under pressure as a clerk, thinks “why not, I think I’m creative so I’ll write a play”, finding it rather harder than anticipated. Who knows, the interruptions might be the tip of the iceberg. When confronting the source, he finds Cavor, the ubiquitous quirky scientist running experiments to create cavorite – a substance, when painted on certain objects, allows them to be free from the restraints of gravity and float. Remember that helium had been formally discovered in 1895, that was from the uranium ore cleveite (sounds similar to cavorite, right? Am I right?). After all, it is mentioned as a “fancy new element” (Wells, p16). I know that scientific accuracy is secondary to the genre in general, but with Luckhurst’s conditions of emergence usually at the back of my mind – as in the terms that he describes to be the catalyst to start a reactionary period of SF (such as a new era of scientific discovery/attitude etc.), and it makes sense for me with this particular time. Anyway – OK, now for the potted part.

So with this novum under our belts, we find ourselves on the trip to the moon, after Bedford’s to-ing and fro-ing of decision making. Wells makes the distinction between the men very clear in the chapter Mr Bedford meets Mr Cavor – “the understanding of a Cavorite monopoly grew up between us. He was to make the stuff and I was to make the boom.” (Wells, p18). Then they make it to the Moon, not without a little side jab at Verne:

“That’s perfectly easy. An air-tight manhole is all that is needed. That of course will have to be a little complicated;there will have to be a valve, so that things may be thrown out if neccessary without much loss of air.”

“Like Jules Verne’s apparatus in A Trip to the Moon?”

But Cavor was not a reader of fiction. (Wells, p28)

We find out that there is air on the moon (!), thin but manageable to get by. There is edible material, but has a rather intoxicated effect upon consumption (remember, students – this isn’t real… or IS IT!?). They come across life, of course, in the form of ant-like creatures the Selenites. Their communications are limited as they try to overcome the rather obvious barriers of interspecies intercourse. Again, the hints at the post Darwinian sentiment are very clear in Chapter 13 as Bedford says:

“The things are outside us… they’re different from us from the strangest animals on earth. They are a different clay. What is the good of talking like this?”

Cavor thought. “I don’t see that. Where there are minds, they will have something similar – even though they have been evolved on different planets. Of course, it was a question of instincts – if we or they were no more than animals – ”

“Well, are they? They’re much more like ants on their hind legs than human beings, and who ever got to any sort of understanding with ants?”

“But these machines and clothing! No, I don’t hold with you, Bedford. The difference is wide – ”

“It’s insurmountable.” (Wells, p.89)

It’s amazing to see how humankind felt as a reaction to this when it was first postulated – and of course, is a highly contentious point today. To feel that we may not be as insignificant as we at first appeared, that we share space with such creatures must have resonated so strongly amongst people of that period while these ideas were starting to stir.

As I’ve been describing a split between two things that Wells despised – materialism and a lack of social responsibility, it only seems fair for me to throw a materialist reference in there. Again, Bedford leads the charges. In Chapter 16, Points of View, as they beat off the Selenites to make their ecape, Bedford finds that his chains are made of gold! He pauses, his train of thought running back to the profit making idea, his hesitation despite the fact that he is bound by them (these ain’t all mind forged, they can also be physical manifestations!).

They become split from their journey, and as Bedford arrives back to Earth, we hear transmissions from Cavor, who has finally unlocked some information on the fascinating race. Like the ants that they bear resemblance to, they each contain similar aspects in terms of their different roles. As Cavor mentions, “Every citizen knows his place. He is born to that place, and the elaborate discipline of training and education and surgery he undergoes fits him at last so completely to it that he has neither ideas nor organs for any purpose beyond it.” (Wells, p181) There are bearers, workers, porters, ushers, scholars members of the neuter sex –  replacements are available so that the ants always have parentage, with the backdrop of hexagonal honeycomb hive – which would be seen in future literary offerings such as Hellstrom’s Hive. It’s all very Brave New World-esque before the event.

Talking of Brave New World, there is a very interesting moment that’s mentioned in the rearing of children. The use of the mechanical arm/hand as shorthand for the industrial and the era of the machine as seen in some science fiction (i.e. Dune and even SW), there is the idea that some of the insects have machine hands: “…replaced by huge single or paired bunches of three, or five, or seven digits for clawing, lifting guiding…that wretched-looking hand sticking out of its jar seemed to have a sort of limp appeal for lost possibilities; it haunts me still, although, of course, it is really in the end a far more humane proceeding than our earthly method of leaving children to grow into human beings, and then making machines of them.” (Wells, p184). Of course, we see the many angles of these arguments in many SF novels and assorted screen media to come!

Then comes erm, the thought piece from our representative, a Mr Cavor, in interview with the Grand Lunar – the leader of the Selenites. In these little soundbites of information, we can see how Wells viewed the dangers of science and knowledge without social responsibility and the ability to share, as Cavor says:

I explained to him how our science was growing by the united labours of innumerable little men, and on that he made no comment save that it was evident we had mastered much in spite of our social savagery, or we could have not come to the moon. Yet the constrast was very marked. With knowledge the Selenites grew and changed; mankind stored their knowledge about them and remained brutes – equipped. (Wells, p.198)

He then goes on to describe the nature of human war, as the Selenites watch on, incredulous. I wouldn’t rate him on diplomatic skills, that’s for sure, but that’s the way things go. He even egoes as far as saying ” I assured them men of my race considered battle the most glorious experience of life, at which the whole assembly was stricken with amazement.

“But what good is this war?” asked the Grand Lunar, sticking to his theme.

“Oh! as for good”, said I” (Wells, p.200)

Utter facepalm! Anyway, communications break down after that, and I think Cavor wasn’t welcomed well after that little outburst. He wouldn’t get my vote. In a nutshell, the book is obviously has some pulpy moments in it – you could even go as far as to say it’s proto-pulp, with the bug eyed aliens, the edible intoxicating food, the fight and the “take me to your leader” mentality, but there are so many layers in it. It is extremely informative as to attitudes of the time and is worth a read/re-read.

Digital Pawprints all over the place!

Being of that age where the internet was becoming quickly accessible around childhood – yes, I am old enough to remember the old jingle of dial-up – and liking to write from an old age, I realise that yes, I have quite a wide base of digital pawprints littering up the interweb. Fortunately enough for me, there are other names that I used to operate under, therefore covering the tracks (hopefully) of a treasure trove path of cringeworthy finds. I actually found something over 10 years back of mine, which was sweet yet disturbing, I guess. I hated being a teenager – I felt middle aged trapped in a young body, which is now actually becoming inverted. I feel younger on the inside as I grow older outwardly, which is, I’m sure, not a totally odd phenomenon.

The most amusing thing is how I wrote about things I thought I knew about. I didn’t think I knew it all, like most teenagers I knew, but I felt I could get an emotional handle in some ways of the topics I wrote about. Having more of an idea now, I can see that the brushstrokes were rather too broad but with a recognisable image. That’s reassuring, I guess.

In turn, I think about teenagers today – I read a book called the Digital Age a couple of years ago when I was a online copywriter, trying to understand how teens and YAs converse with the web, a big a staple as the paper and pen. Their digital footprint will be wider and more saturated than mine will ever be – look at the amount of baby videos and photos uploaded. Vlogs and Blogs are the new photo albums and VHS. It’s great in the way that it can be reserved in the clouds, rather than in the mazy miasma of memory. How extraordinary – I was caught in the eye of the storm.

New term is here!

Just a little update into how things are going! First of all, I can’t believe how fast the terms are going – and that Spring is almost upon us! I think first and foremost is to get the rewrites done from the plays I’ve had performed last year – as I’ve picked up some valuable truffles (nuggets are so last year, and this one suggests that I’m like a pig or a dog, which is a little different) of information during rehearsals thanks to great directors/actors.

I’ve finished a short story (that means a lot, considering what I write recently) and well, I’d like to see it get somewhere. Also, I’d like to write some poetry – my bus journeys are loooong and I always get ideas on them and just before I go to sleep, most of which I don’t remember, so maybe I should get some writing done then. Since I am giving a paper soon, it’ll be nice to do some spoken word again. I wonder if my style will have changed.

More details on everything soon! Mind you, I heard from a little bird (who looks like me, weirdly) that Enigma Magazine is open for business again. Oh, who are they, you ask? is where they live. If you want to submit writing of your own, I’d love to read it, yes siree!

Oh and reviews. I want to do some more reviews. From the First Men in the Moon to The Islanders, I will give you something meatier to read than little snippets here and there. I hope!