The Founder Effect – no. 9

9.

I am about to leave.

And then, I am not.

I am not ready to leave. I should but I won’t.

The Frenchman is back behind the saloon doors and has taken a phone call, cackling obnoxiously like an invasive species, stupid and hidden and preying upon something I cannot see but know is rightfully mine.

She is no longer down the aisle. But she has left a wake. Invisible to all but me, I feel. A wake, a trail, a residue, an illusion, floating in the air like functions and formulas dissipating in the mind of a hapless genius.

I get to the end of the aisle and she is still gone. I look left, right, turn and walk to see the other aisles.

She is not by the cat food. She is not by the choke collars. She is not by the medicines.

But I feel she is near. Halfway across the store I hear the Frenchman again in his musty office, his heels on his desk, ensconced in his dimwitted pigpen of obsolete appliances and stacks of forms attempting fraud, outyelling the criminal at the other end of his call.

I wonder if she ever goes in there. My body is going numb. I have sprung a leak, my body’s walls sagging into me. I am collapsing into myself. I am running out.

She is not by the kennels. She is not by the register. She is not by the entrance.

I remember the groceries in my knapsack. I need to get home to feed Eve.

 

Eyes glistening, my head hits the pillow, nudging a sigh through my smile. In her cage out in the living room, Electra gracefully meanders through an adagio solo flirting with middle C. Eve stands in the hallway quietly licking her bowl clean of the tartare – steak, fish sauce, ear, Époisses – that I prepared with love.

Love. What a word, what a word.

Philia, storge, eros, agape. The book on my chest is The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis. The hand I hold it with has each finger tucked between a different pair of pages.

The girl. She is a vision, has become a vision.

This was the last thing I expected. It occurs to me that this must be a little bit like what it must have felt to be Saint Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin. I can think of nothing else. I have a new purpose.

But how did this happen? This is all too soon.

This is not right.

These words are unfolding in a wrong way. Just like the bit about the philosophers of language, or that smug punning of manage, ménage, and menagerie. They didn’t come out right. They can’t be part of my terrain, my element. Trees have knots and knobs. But language, too?

She wore jeans and a t-shirt, ordinary hair, small as a child. Hardly the stuff of a vision.

This is not coming together the way it’s supposed to.

Is this how feeling happens? An urge bubbles up out of nowhere?

I’d call it intuition but there are other signs. Electra has grown silent, and there’s now a Bonsai on the ledge in the window alcove that wasn’t there before. Neither the tree nor the alcove.

She was dressed in white and blue. Her hair, black as velvet, black as a panther, a gilded aura on the edges like a panther, straight as a feather.

I have to go back.

There was nothing there. The first time I saw her, there was nothing. I was there for the Frenchman, for Eve.

At one of my fingertips sits the passage, “The especial glory of Affection is that it can unite those who most emphatically, even comically, are not; people who, if they had not found themselves put down by fate in the same household or community, would have had nothing to do with each other. If Affection grows out of this of course it often does not their eyes begin to open.”

But I hardly noticed her the first time. Is that Lewis’s point? Were she and I emphatically disunited? Comically disunited?

There is an invisible hand here in play.

I know it and I can feel it. There is a stack of mail on the side table now that wasn’t there before. It was on the table in the dining room before and I know I didn’t bring it in here with me.

Pure and regal, and delicate, a shock darker than country night.

I would say I’m strongly against this but somewhere inside me I’m not so sure. I’m not so sure that I’ve been against this very much at all. Or even a little, a portion.

After all, I paid the Frenchman to provide me with a creature, “shall we say, supremely challenging to obtain?”

After all, I told him, “Surprise me. Impress me.”

Could it be that when I said this, I meant something else? Something unsaid?

Could it be – what a frightening thought! – but could it be that I have thus far conjured enough of myself in these words to assert that I in fact have a subconscious? That my mind has a motivation beyond the periphery of reason? That inside of me there is a creature of its own being?

Or is it the invisible hand?

Beneath the covers, I am all words, tattered phrases, sentences waiting to be finished. But the part of me that shows is real, in the flesh, done. There is no going back.

Philia? Storge? Or perhaps the Chinese ai? In the Buddhist sense?

Of the book on my chest, I have already memorized one passage, one alone, learned completely on first sight as if I had written it myself: “Now Eros makes a man really want, not a woman, but one particular woman. In some mysterious but quite indisputable fashion the lover desires the Beloved herself, not the pleasure she can give.”

I could not stand if I tried. I have been smitten.

 

The Founder Effect – no. 8

8.

In three hundred forty five words I will be hated. In one hundred nine sentences I will become a criminal. In fifty five paragraphs I will fall in love.

Minutes, hours, days. I have run out of food and tobacco.

The moment I close the door to my flat, my next-door neighbor appears, as if she had been waiting. She is ruddy and blonde and hefty and wears a ponytail and an apron with a frilly trim and I dislike her.

Wat het jy gedoen? she calls to me, holding a rolling pin, a fatfold in her wrist, all of her but one of her feet visible in the threshold of no. 8.

Pardon?

Wat het jy gedoen? she barks again. Wat is al wat skree? Is daar iemand wat bly met jou?

I turn the key in the lock and respond, Ah, the noise. Yes indeed I do have someone staying with me.

Wie?

Half facing away, I answer, Her name is Electra.

She pats the rolling pin like a billy club. ‘N vriendin?

Girlfriend? Of a kind, I suppose.

She points the rolling pin at my chest. Is sy nou hier woon? Is dit hoekom jy die hondjie?

Shenanigans.

I reply, Yes, she does live here now, but the puppy came first. She did not make me get a puppy; she does not make me do anything. What she does do is make a lot of noise. A fact, really. I hope it’s not something you can’t live with.

She punches the rolling pin above her head like the hammer of Thor. Sy is te hard! Sê vir haar om stil te bly! Ek kan nie slaap nie! Ons kan nie dink! Jy vertel haar dat!

At this, I take my hand from my pocket and hold it out to her, twisting my wrist, fanning open my fingers, telling her, Electra can be as loud as she wants, and if you want to keep that stick of yours you’ll go back inside and mind your own business, Mrs. Boerenpummel.

(Boerenpummel, n., yokel. Afrikaans, from Dutch, boer ‘farmer’ and pummel ‘boor.’)

Her eyes nearly cross. Whoa! she whispers before slamming shut the door.

I leave. I travel, and considering this exchange, I wonder if I just did right by the rules of the Enchiridion.

I place peaches, bread, and milk into my basket to make pudding for dinner. Pistachios for Electra.

Está a xogar? the butcher asks.

No I’m not kidding.

Moe-lo? O bisté?

Yes, just put it through the grinder.

Cinco quilos de file mignon?

Yes. Has no one ever asked you to make dog food before?

As far as days go, even those of these bones, this one is trying. I fit my groceries in my knapsack with just enough room for a carton of cigarettes, and while I am eager to get back to avoiding people by returning home to keep company with Eve and Electra, I get a second thought.

I leave the grocery and turn, not the way I came.

I slip my cigarette butt into the receptacle before the glass doors open.

There’s something different about the pet shop. Changes have been made, little ones, touches. It seems a bit darker. A bit more crowded.

Then I notice a new banner hanging from the rafters. There’s a new standing display, too. ‘Free Neuterings.’

The Frenchman launches himself from an opening with saloon doors. He makes a grandiose gesture, as if releasing a dove into the air. Bonjour, bonjour, bonjour! Il est là! Ah, il est si bon de vous revoir, monsieur.

Oh. Yes, and you as well.

He practically reaches into my pocket to shake hands. Vous êtes de retour si tôt. Vous devez vraiment aimer ici, hein…?

I wouldn’t say I love it here, but I’m very happy with the puppy and the parrot.

L’oiseau? C’est bon?

Fantastic. Her name is Electra now.

Incroyable. The Frenchman drops his hands and poses like the Virgin Mary. Mais nous ne visons à satisfaire.

The girl enters from a side aisle. Buenos días señor.

The Frenchman flicks the air. Zou! Pas maintenant.

She shrinks away. My eyes follow.

The Frenchman puts his arm in mine, turns me, walks me, takes a secretive tone. His cheek is close to mine, as if his whispers issue from his ear. En tant que client particulier, vous devriez savoir que mes services peuvent être très vaste.

‘Extensive services.’ I grow nervous.

The Frenchman reaches his free hand in front of us and pans it patiently, dreamily, as one would if unveiling the horizon. Il ya des animaux de tous les coins du monde, belles, exotiques, et je peux vous les fournir si vous voulez. Tout animal à tous.

Looking down, I notice the limp, vague spirit of a goose step in his gait. He is talking business and it possesses his body, crown to toe.

I look up and see the girl down a different aisle. She is lingering, eavesdropping, doing a poor job of seeming busy. The Frenchman does not notice her. She twists some cans to make the labels face out.

I ask, Any animal at all?

He grins like a toad. Mais bien sûr.

I let myself fall into his trap. I ask, Even ones, shall we say, supremely challenging to obtain?

His head almost slides off his neck. Monsieur, le plus difficile la tâche, plus je suis ici pour vous servir.

The more I speak, the more I understand him. I grasp where this is going.

I slide my hand inside his vest, tuck a wad of bills into his pocket, and pat him on the chest.

I say, Surprise me. Impress me.

He lets go, faces me like a soldier at attention. Ce sera mon devoir.

I glance at the girl. She walks away, dragging her fingertips along the shelf, fighting the need to look me in the eyes, I am certain of it.

I say, Thank you. I’m sure that it will.

 

The Founder Effect – no. 7

7.

In the morning I awaken, face down, bent kneed, open mouthed, fully clothed, with each of my fingers wedged stuck in the neck of an empty bottle of beer. Electra insisted on celebrating and coaxed me into the lion’s share. I do not remember how it ended.

I kick off my boots one after the other and try to rub my face but the bottles tinkle and clack and alarm me.

Raat! “…Warriorrrrrs! Come out to pla-ayyyy!”

Eve slinks over to inspect the scent of my boots. Her balance has improved, grown into positive gracefulness.

I have to squeeze like vices both armpits to pluck the spent twelve-pack off my hands. Electra mimics each windy pop.

The desk in my bedroom is that of an architect, wide, minimal, clean lines, of manmade material. The shelves in the wall are wood painted white. Books have spilled off of them onto the desk, a single thought having yanked each volume from its perch into a pile or a space of its own, and the books have papers tucked into them, some messily so, signs of having been used. Books scattered, referenced, some even on the floor. There are pens and pencils dropped on the desk mid-idea and ashtrays full with crushed filters and soot. Continue reading “The Founder Effect – no. 7”

The Founder Effect – no. 6

6.

I need to clear my mind. The Amazon is exhausting. It’s like talking with a computer. It perceives my every utterance as a thrust it needs to parry.

But more and more I get a feel for it. The glances of my blows give it shape, relief. I can feel its force there behind the words, the direction it’s coming from. The angles of deflection are telling. Like chipping away at a block of marble.

But who am I to judge? After all, isn’t that the extent language affords? Are any of us more than merely the words issued forth on our behalf? Is there really a there there? Beyond words? Is not being conjured through words? And is not every word of our being an approximation, an approach to the limit, of who we are and not the exact definition, floating and bobbing, never quite one with the current? Perhaps this is the quantum physics of language. That all we are are the traces we leave.

And if genius is measured by the width of our analogies, the Amazon certainly qualifies. It rants constantly, pausing only to eat and drink, a living almanac of irony. Continue reading “The Founder Effect – no. 6”

Collection of SF stories addresses issues especially relevant in a time of dubious politicians

Science Fact joins Science Fiction in Don’t Look Back, the definitive collection from pre-eminent writer and broadcaster, John Gribbin

DARTFORD, KENT – 10 March 2017 – Elsewhen Press, an independent UK publisher specialising in Speculative Fiction, is delighted to announce the forthcoming publication of Don’t Look Back, the definitive collection of science fiction short stories by science writer and broadcaster, John Gribbin.

Artwork: David A. Hardy
Artwork: David A. Hardy

John Gribbin, widely regarded as one of the best science writers of the 20th century, has also, unsurprisingly, been writing science fiction for many years. While his novels are well-known, his short stories are perhaps less so. He has also written under pseudonyms. Here, for the first time, is the definitive collection of John’s short stories. Many were originally published in Analog and other magazines. Some were the seeds of subsequent novels. As well as 23 Science Fiction short stories, three of which John wrote with his son Ben, this collection includes two Science Fact essays on subjects beloved of science fiction authors and readers. In one essay, John provides scientifically accurate DIY instructions for creating a time machine; and in the other, he argues that the Moon is, in fact, a Babel Fish!

The stories, many written at a time when issues such as climate change were taken less seriously, now seem very relevant again in an age of dubious politicians. What underpins all of them, of course, is a grounding in solid science. But they are also laced with a dry and subtle wit, which will not come as a surprise to anyone who has ever met John at a science fiction convention or elsewhere. He is, however, not averse to a good pun, as evidenced by a song he co-wrote for the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band: The Holey Cheeses of Nazareth.

Peter Buck, editorial director of Elsewhen Press said “we were honoured when John approached us with the idea of putting together a collection of his short stories. For anyone familiar with John’s scientific writing, they will be a fascinating insight into his interests, while existing fans of his novels will find superb stories here, including some which ultimately led to his best known novels. Anyone unfamiliar with John’s writing is in for a real treat. Despite the exhortation of this collection’s title, this IS a perfect opportunity to look back at John’s short stories. If you’ve never read any of his fiction before, now you have the chance to acquaint yourself with a body of work that, while being very much of its time, is certainly not in any way out of date.”

Elsewhen Press are also very proud that legendary space artist David A. Hardy agreed to produce the cover art for the book, much to John’s delight.

Don’t Look Back will be published in digital formats in May 2017 and in paperback in August 2017.

Notes for Editors

About John Gribbin

John GribbinJohn Gribbin was born in 1946 in Maidstone, Kent. He studied physics at the University of Sussex and went on to complete an MSc in astronomy at the same University before moving to the Institute of Astronomy in Cambridge, to work for his PhD.

After working for the journal Nature and New Scientist, and three years with the Science Policy Research Unit at Sussex University, he has concentrated chiefly on writing books. These include In Search of Schrödinger’s Cat, In Search of the Big Bang, and In Search of the Multiverse.

He has also written and presented several series of critically acclaimed radio programmes on scientific topics for the BBC (including QUANTUM, for Radio Four), and has acted as consultant on several TV documentaries, as well as contributing to TV programmes for the Open University and the Discovery channel.

But he really wanted to be a successful science fiction writer, and has achieved that with books such as Timeswitch and The Alice Encounter, and stories in publications such as Interzone and Analog. But as John Lennon’s Aunt Mimi so nearly said “Sf is all very well, John, but it won’t pay the rent”. Another thing that doesn’t pay the rent is his songwriting, mostly for various spinoffs of the Bonzo Dog Band.

John is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, as well as being a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical and Royal Meteorological Societies.
visit http://bit.ly/DontLookBackJohnGribbin

About David A. Hardy

David A. HardyDavid A. Hardy, FBIS, FIAAA was born in Bournville in the UK. In 1950, at the age of 14, he had already started painting space art. He has illustrated many books, including more than one with astronomer-author Patrick Moore, and has been the recipient of multiple awards. His artwork has also graced the covers of classic SF magazines and books. In 2003, asteroid 1998 SB32 was christened Davidhardy. Find out more about Dave’s work at http://www.astroart.org

 

Gelecek Bir Seçimdir – The Future is Choice

 

Turkish | English

Gelecek Bir Seçimdir

Bir dörtyol ağzındasın. Dört seçenek var önünde.
 
İlki seni buraya getiren yol.
 
O yolu seçip geldiğin yere dönmeye çalışabilirsin.
Bu kavşakta kural yok. Ne işaret ne de kılavuz bulabilirsin bu kavşakta.
Sana ne yapmanı, hangi yolu seçmeni söyleyecek kimse yok burada…
 
Seni buraya getiren yolu düşün. Sola döndüğün zaman o yolu hatırla.
Burada her şey farklıdır. Belki yolun kıyısı ağaçlarla süslüdür, geldiğin yolun çıplaklığına kıyasla…
Belki sadece sen biliyorsun bu yolun neye benzediğini.
Belki biri – arkadaşın, sevgilin olabilir – bu yolda senden önce yürüdü.
Belki şimdi orada. Bu yolu onun yolu olarak tanıyorsun.
Senin de yolun olacak mı? Belki. Sade sen biliyorsun.
 
Arkandaki ve solundaki yolları hatırla önündeki yeni yola bakarken.
İleriye bakarken hatırla. Şeffaf bir pencere camından bakar gibi.
Arkanda ne varsa, önündeki yolda da hemen hemen aynılarını görebiliyorsun.
Ama sen bu yoldaki çukurları ve tümsekleri biliyorsun. Değil mi?
Yolun sonunu görüyor musun? Ne kadar uzağı görebildiğini sade sen biliyorsun…
Şimdi dön ve sağına bak…
Göremiyor musun? Doğru, çünkü bu yol ilerideki yol gibi şeffaf değil.
Donuk bir pencere camından bakar gibi… Gözlerini kapat.
Yolunu bulmakta yardımcı olamaz zaten gözlerin.
Ama bu yolun haritası var sende. Hayır, cebinde değil. Oraya bakma. Hiç bakma.
Şimdi görebiliyor musun? Düşündüğünden daha parlak, değil mi?
Bir taslak gibi, ama buna rağmen sağlam ve dayanıklıdır.
Evet, öbür yolların hatıralarını bulabilirsin bu haritada.
Arkandaki, önündeki ve solundaki yolların hepsinin anıları burada.
Ama ne arkan ne önün ne de solundur bu güzergâh.
 
Korkuyor musun?
 
Eğer yardımcı olacaksa, şunu bil ki başkaları da bu yolda yürüdü. Şimdi oradalar.
İnanır mısın, onların haritaları seninkine çok benziyor…
Güneşin, gözle görünmeyen bir yere dövmelenmiş gölgesi gibi.
Onlar da senin gibi gözleri kapalı yürüyorlar bu yolda ara sıra sendeleyerek…
 
Sana bağlı. Bu kavşakta kural yok. Kılavuz da yok.
Gitmen gereken yolu gösterecek kimse yok…
 
Git.


 

Turkish | English

The Future is Choice

You are at a crossroads. There are four paths before you.
The first is the one that brought you here.
You may try to go back if you wish.
There are no rules at this crossroads. There are no signs, no guideposts.
There is no one here to tell you where you should go, what you should do…
 
Think about the road behind you. Remember it as you turn to your left.
Whatever the road behind you is like, this one is different.
Perhaps it is lined with trees, while the other lay bare upon a flat landscape.
Perhaps. Only you know.
Someone – perhaps a friend, a lover – has already taken the road to the left.
Perhaps he or she is there now.
You think of the road to your left as their road. Will it be your road?
Perhaps. Only you know.
 
Remember the road behind you and the road to your left as you look ahead.
It is like looking through a pane of clear glass.
Whatever lay behind you, you can see that it lies ahead, too.
But you know the potholes and the crags in the road that lies before you. Don’t you?
Can you see the end of the road?
Only you know how far you can see…
Now, turn to your right.
You cannot see? No, that is true, for this road is not clear like the road ahead.
Close your eyes.
Your eyes cannot help you find your way on this road.
But you have a map of this road. No, it is not in your pocket. Do not look there.
Do not look.
Can you see it now?
It is brighter than you thought, isn’t it? It is an outline, but solid for all that.
Yes, you can find reminders of all the other roads on this map.
But this road is not the road behind you, the one to your left, or the one dead ahead.
 
Are you afraid?
 
If it’s any help, I can tell you that others have taken this road. They are there now.
Would you believe it, their maps look a lot like yours… tattooed somewhere the eye cannot see,
like the burning shadow of the Sun.
They, too, travel with their eyes closed – at times stumbling…
 
It is up to you.
There are no rules at this crossroads. There are no signs, no guideposts.
There is no one here to tell you where you should go…
 
Go.

Sanem Özdural

An Android Wakes Part 8 : To Kill a Mockingbird

I got the letter this morning from one of the big five. This is the ms they accepted.

To Kill a Mockingbird
Machine wash at 40 degrees on a fast spin.  Wash separately. Iron.

It’s going to be published as a children’s book next year.  They want me to pad it out a bit but essentially they are raving about the idea. This they love – my two fingered salute to them I sent out believing I was about to be turned off for being a crashing failure.  My stories of The Amazing Arctic Sinking Man, OAP Extraction, Finn with a fish swimming in his eye, locusts and rusting submarines, paper bullion – all rejected for this. Continue reading “An Android Wakes Part 8 : To Kill a Mockingbird”

Postcard From The Future #10

Our final postcard from the future comes from Professor Saul Deveraux himself, inventor of the Retro-Temporal acceleration technology being deployed at Geneva’s ‘Even Larger Hadron Collider’ to send messages back in time…

*

I hope you’ve enjoyed the previous nine messages over the last nine months. The same time as the gestation of a human child, perhaps not coincidentally. You see, the Retro-Temporal Postcard Program is very much my baby, my lifetime’s work, albeit so well assisted by thousands of other dedicated scientists, the world over. I thank them all.

Will you people of the early twenty-first century believe that these messages are real? –That we in the 23rd century, really have mastered such incredible technology as to be able to send information back in time to you? As I write, there is no evidence in any of our libraries or history annals that these attempts were successful. But I confidently expect to go to the same data sources tomorrow and find that history has updated itself. Of course it will. But will I know? This paper I write on would have to disappear into thin air, in order for me not to know, and that seems unlikely. So history is going to change and we’re going to see it change, almost instantly before our eyes. How extraordinary. That has never happened before in the history of our planet. Or has it? You see the irony? Continue reading “Postcard From The Future #10”

An Android Wakes Part 7 : OAP Extraction

Mr Cricklewood ran his fingers over the paper. Raising the letter to his nose he breathed in and let the smell transport him to bluebells, birdsong, young love.
      Sighing he replaced the letter in the envelope, slipped it back with the others. Around him: panelled walls, a stained glass window showing a picture of a mockingbird, oak spindles of a staircase that once led him to her embrace. It was time, he thought.
      He walked over to the writing desk.
      His old fingers creaked and clicked as he sealed each letter with wax, the smell filling his nostrils. When each was dry he lifted it to his lips, kissed it, said goodbye. Continue reading “An Android Wakes Part 7 : OAP Extraction”

Postcard From The Future #9

This month’s postcard from the future comes from an information technology technician…

*

Everybody in the past thought we’d be building robots here in the future, didn’t they? Well, you got that kind of half right and half wrong I guess, all at once. Let me explain. There’s tons of robots alright, except that none of them look human. Dust-vacuuming robots for the home, grass-mowing and weeding robots for the garden, garbage robots for the street sweep-up. These guys are all just a foot and a half high by two feet long at most. They don’t have silly faces on them and they don’t talk back. Mostly they don’t talk at all, just get on with it. Continue reading “Postcard From The Future #9”