I enjoyed thinking along these lines for several years. God is as near at hand as the trash in the gutter — God is the trash in the gutter, to speak more precisely. But then one day a wicked thought entered my mind — wicked because it undermined my marvelous pantheistic monism of which I was so proud. What if — and here you will see how at least this particular SF writer gets his plots — what if there exists a plurality of universes arranged along a sort of lateral axis, which is to say at right angles to the flow of linear time? I must admit that upon thinking this I found I had conjured up a terrific absurdity: ten thousand bodies of God arranged like so many suits hanging in some enormous closet, with God either wearing them all at once or going selectively back and forth among them, saying to himself, “I think today I’ll wear the one in which Germany and Japan won World War II” and then adding, half to himself, “And tomorrow I’ll wear that nice one in which Napoleon defeated the British; that’s one of my best.”
In The Man in the High Castle I give no real explanation as to why or how Mr. Tagomi slid across into our universe; he simply sat in the park and scrutinized a piece of modern abstract handmade jewelry — sat and studied it on and on — and when he looked up, he was in another universe. I didn’t explain how or why this happened because I don’t know, and I would defy anyone, writer, reader, or critic, to give a so-called “explanation.” There cannot be one because, of course, as we all know, such a concept is merely a fictional premise; none of us, in our right minds, entertains for even an instant the notion that such alternate universes exist in any actual sense.
A few weeks ago, my online pal, Squub or i or etc., finished reading The Man in the High Castle by Philip K Dick, at my recommendation. Squub had some questions about it, which I attempted to answer, but when I stumbled across this essay, I thought I’d post it.
uninspired by events of late, or rather, maybe some deep hibernation or gestation that some others would like to see the end of… where’s the contrary nosedive, or fandango, not the greasy one, but the old fashioned, tarantella, or…
breaking out of some kind of feeble mindstate, where the old nefarious patterns start to reravel themsalves. backbiting innuendoes and shallow spiralling shapes reveal themselves again, cold hunches lurching out of the fog. lighthouse? nah, it’s burnt out in that blaze of glory, six wweeekk, erm, so, or maybe it’s some giant fish peninsula looming, don’t step on the slimy bag or who knows what all guts will ooze outta there. like all the world, the mind’s become an untied shoe, slooping around loose up there, hauling and loofing about. there’s that yearly (biyearly) feeling, the drowning in text, and electropixelation, the stabbing out, when the eyes feel testy and weak from tearing at the edges of things. all the details shunting forward and why’nt the peoples keep their edges to themselves? when the edges blur, it’s hard to stay… apart.
like like, then the cracks and details, and fibered hairy edges, and skin flaws and, just, what is this aesthetic madness? when every weakness and error(?) cries out, nails scratching on a chalkboard. the visions and sounds eating out precious brainspace, maybe, vultures hunched over with spoons. it’s all about too too much or… what’s the crankcase got wrong with it? why the irritation caused by any old thing, by every old thing? when even the textual errors(inside the normally soothing, straightmarching lines of prose)poke dirty fingers in the eyes. gasp for breath, and try to remember, deep deep breath, slow.
feel that brain fall into separate pieces. here there’s a thought, here there’s a headshake, barely controlled, and here there’s a handclutching the rail… or maybe it’s that things seem faded into an unreal haze. where’s the sense that things’re solid, not fluid, that everything mightn’t just swirl away down the drain, leaving… what? is that the dear dreariness? the fear that beneath it all? what? fumbling for that old certainty, maybe, that there lies some deep meaning beneath the clouded feet, that some hard stone lies next, and not some juddering, terminal edge at all. oh, and he can feel the brain inside his head, feel that fuzzing, the chords misfiring into strange strange moods.
to be sure, all the caffeination isn’t helping, but better the fizzing yesness of it, than some moribund alternative there waiting, cloaky, the dread stillness and what lies after. juice for the gander, or somewhat like. it’s a brain run by committee, or like, some squabbling racket. and not one in a dozen seems to have a sense of where they’re headed and first it’s one way, then another.
simple causes: maybe it’s just the monthy lack of sun keeping the brain from zooming along on its untethered trace. maybe there’s some mechanical function, some dietary piece that needs fitting, some mundane item that’s being overlooked. where’s the manual for this puzzling machinery? where’s the tape to patchwork the holes and soft places? to hold two things together until, well, the need is done. what kind of juryrigging will keep this sod afloat for along along? shoe rubber and ceiling twine, castor oil and glue. bone and gear and shank of hair.
I finished reading the short story collection Her Smoke Rose Up Forever by James Tiptree, Jr. sometime back in January.
James Tiptree, Jr. being the pseudonym for Alice Sheldon. She wrote short science fiction fairly regularly from the early 1970s to the early 1980s. A fascinating woman, her short stories are exquisitely crafted. She uses science fiction to say things about, for example, male-female relations that would probably not be permissible in more “literary” fictional settings.
You can read two her short stories online: “The Screwfly Solution” and “The Women Men Don’t See”, although these aren’t, by any means, the best of the bunch.
The best short stories in this collection, in my opinion, are:
“The Last Flight of Dr. Ain”
“And I Have Come Upon This Place by Lost Ways”
“With Delicate Mad Hands”
“Lirios: A Tale of the Quintana Roo”
Alice Sheldon, as James Tiptree, Jr., was enormously influential in the science fiction circles. So much so, that there is now an annual award in her name: the James Tiptree, Jr. Award. There’s even a (sort of local) science fiction-inspired heavy metal band, called Bloodhag, which has written a song about her.
I read it. It’s good. Read it.
awk awk,capariae, that southernmost nekromanter, washing out the cooler air and singing swoof songs to the recently enlisted dead… circling round about the crofts and loosewinds, sterring past the cradling and or rather crumbling mausoleum and crag. forget the hittites, they’ve been playing foolscap for a garber nigh on 12 cents from now. or pasternoster writing. scribbled out on foundenwork that floats about the guttersnipes and walows in the sewage. pullman, pullman, where have yor druppy crars gone? that burnished auburn lamplighters coursing out the tripsanddrams of shotten nuffaloes. harcass! boiling bubbies of bloody hornhanks and shipshaves, ya. and so hear the shuffling toetaps of clowns and vagabonds, those soothsayers and crabcakers (crak!crak!)…spooning out the soft unnerbelly, stringing out froom tooth to tooth. har’s that grin agin. that varnishing grin, that cat-eclipsing grin.
in olde spite of self,
that crattling nip or tuck that wanders out the door. yes, i’ve seen the old man of the sea, or maybe the old man in the mountain. there’s too too many old men, roundabout the hearth and home and lurking behind the eyebrows. just waiting, given time, give him time, to jump out, take the forefront, bow to the floor….
—or he would, youknow, only the arthriticals keep him solid, like a block of wood roasting on a furnace. mmm. feel that burning onceler. feed him mashed up taters and saucy sauce. (saucy sauce? sigh)
i’m remembering a certain logan and his certain run and the cranky old man daguerrotyping, i mean, lambobbling, i mean, um, roustabouting, no rather, fillibustering in that cracked, unhallowed hall. wobbly and false, he was, with his pasteon white beard and his faux theatrics and monologicals.
but that’s enough of the reminiscing. there’s nothing so sad as a mockelder. made my living, in younger years, playing mock old, fat men. with the pasteon wrinkles and the occasional pasteon beard. and the pasteonbelly. wheee! who’s the man in the fat suit dancing down the stairs? chances are, if it was THAT time, it was yours truly.
so, when i’m staring at the picture of my heart, going pa-TOOM pa-TOOM, right in fronna me, watching those flaps and valves and dowhats, dojiggers, or -hickeys or whathaveyou, watching it skip its beat (and were those red and blue pixelations the blood moving back and forth? don’t even know for sure…) but while watching, the faintest dizziness: this thing has been going going going for how long now? and for how long from now? that old mortal coil seemed loose, then, like some quick jerk could send it off, posthaste, for the fruit of heaven–ambrosia, i think it was. that was a weird feeling, that sense. like, what purpose is this serving, doc? except to highlight (in electronickal display in that darkened room) that very mechanickalness of everything. even those things we think of as fleshy, fleshpots, are only just scaffolding and repairwork, hastily painted over with whitewash and shored up here and there, against that inevitable crumbling…
my mind, for the nonce, keeps strolling back there, like a tongue-wag against some loose tooth. or that finger, with its torn cuticle, catching on this that and the other (lemon juice, ow!)
so, here’s the heart. the flexing, pumping muscle-thing: heard it all my life, going pa-TOOM pa-TOOM in those quiet moments. those still moments, when the night creeps around on little sock feet. (stealing a bit) and but then, here’s some unwieldy contraption with unguents and wants and whatnot, sending some crazed image of that gurgling thing. and, what’s this? whooshing, thumping noise? microscope, microscope, where do you rest your saucy gaze?
Hurrah for efficiency and thrift in these days of gigagluttony!
I finished this one back in December: The intro to this interview with Pratchett says it well:
“Terry Pratchett sells more books than… well… a lot of people. In the United Kingdom, where he was born and now lives and works, Pratchett sells — to put it bluntly — more books than God.”
What is the Discworld, you may ask, not having steeped yourself (overlong, like a bitter cup of tea?) in Pratchett’s prosody?
Most of Pratchett’s books are set in a fantastical world, which is flat, like a pancake, and which rests on the backs of some elephants, which in turn stroll around on the back of a giant turtle which swims through the universe… Things are quirky on the Discworld. Light gets puddled up in valleys and everyone gets a personal chat with Death when they kick it.
Now, I wouldn’t necessarily start out with reading Night Watch, if you’re interested in starting up in the Discworld thing. There are recurring characters and running gags and little bits of continuity which make more sense if you read them in some semblance of order.