Dispatches from the wilds of Proseambique – Blood

Everything has a cost in blood. Often that cost is farmed out – the blood of the third world pays for our cheap electronics, and their hazardous waste, for our cheap clothes, our cheap cars, or cheap… well, everything. But not all costs can be outsourced. And you did not really imagine you could pile so many people into such a small space without paying a cost? Without appeasing some dark gods for the favour of resting your city on their shoulders?

The undying ones live in the darkness below. They were there before we came, slumbering. Now they lie, restless in the dark; hungry. Their dark magic keeps the city from collapsing in on itself, from yielding to the impossibility of its existence. It greases the cogs and gears of this living engine, teeming with its chaotic human fuel.

And they are paid in blood.

A deal was struck long ago; small sacrifices, for the greater good. A secret, steady supply of fresh blood, to keep the undying heart of the city beating. And so every few months, late at night, a railway car will take a turn down an uncharted tunnel. It stops at a station unmarked on the map; an elegant, gothic station, more temple than transit-hub. The train will wait until its passengers grow restless, and disembark, looking for a way out, and its doors shut behind them. They will make their way up the sole central staircase, and there find themselves in the hall of the undying ones; a vast, impossible space beneath the city; a cathedralic space. Their screams echo up the tunnel, but never carry far enough for anyone to hear.

The keepers of this compact, generations of secret-keepers, have no choice but to ride the rails as well; the only way their consciences will allow them sanity. You can spot them, if you look, when your train comes to a sudden halt in the middle of a tunnel, or should the lights flicker; the terror wild in their eyes. A weak smile on their lips when the train lurches back to life. Should you ask, they will simply mumble something about claustrophobia.

And they are not lying, for the mouths of the undying are confined spaces indeed.

Published in: on March 24, 2011 at 4:15 pm  Leave a Comment  

Dispatches from the wilds of Proseambique – Rutting

People forget that this whole sexual equality + personal freedom thing is actually pretty new. New enough, in fact, that we don’t really know what we’re doing. The old rituals of courtship may have been archaic and oppressive, but they were not decided upon at whim, but rather carefully constructed over millennia for good reason – finding a partner, it turns out, is fucking hard. Even though it’s basically what we’re built to do, people are amazingly good at getting in their own way, when it comes to getting together.

We spend a few decades letting self-appointed experts pretend they know what they’re talking about; “Insult her shoes!” “lace your conversation with hidden commands!” “Be honest!” “Lie like a rug!” “Play hard to get!” “Come on strong!” “He’s just not that into you!”… the scientists are no better. They draw conclusion after contradictory conclusion; the evolutionary biologists tell us that women are selective because awareness of the high cost of child-rearing is baked into their genes. The psychologists fire back that it’s just because they don’t find casual sex all that satisfying. Others try using economics to explain it, and, as usual, end up explaining nothing. The pseudo-socialists weigh in claiming that we’re all doomed because all the men today are crap; they’re all a bunch of overgrown children, and why won’t they just grow up already? And we can only conclude that they can’t help drawing comparisons with daddy.

Eventually, we get wise to the fact that none of these people know what they’re talking about, and start taking our advice straight from the animal kingdom. I mean, after all, when was the last time you heard of a Panther brooding away over unrequited love, writing terrible poetry? When was the last time you heard of a Koala’s girlfriend leaving him for Trevor, just because he’s “cooler”, even though his band is total bullshit; just a bunch of wannabe Emo posers that only know three chords and only managed to score a gig at the Landsdowne because Trevor’s brother’s friends with one of the bouncers.

But, as it turns out, most animal mating rituals aren’t that great; oh sure, the Red Garter Snake orgy-balls sounded like a great idea at the time, and by the end of the year of the Manakin there were some truly amazing moonwalkers out there, but ultimately, there was only one viable solution: antlers.

It didn’t take long for an entire bone-grafting industry to spring up, replete with custom-grown antler options. It becomes an international obsession; like robot wars, but with sex. Men line up to design their own killer set of horns – it’s just too tempting a combination to turn down; self-expression, competition and sex. The scars are often quite shocking but, fortunately, also sexy.

It totally decimates the hat industry, though.


With thanks to Adam Pigott, for the suggestion “Something with Antlers!”

Published in: on March 10, 2011 at 6:31 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Dispatches from the wilds of Proseambique – Cast

The castle of shadows usually lives in the twilit lands.

Its walls grow hardest in the in the deserts of the kingdom of the unsetting sun – shadows are strongest in defiance of light – but it stands out, stark and black against the sun-bleached sands.

In the fields of eternal night it is nigh invisible – a shadow on a sea of ink; black on black.

So it stays in the twilit lands, neither solid nor ethereal, the comfortable half-space of neither-being-nor-not-being, where dreams are half-realised, half-forgotten; the limbo of the freedom and security that comes from having nothing to lose and nothing to take; where the walls are painted with illusions and allusions of things that might-perhaps-have-been.

Perhaps the castle of shadows, where the tenebra-prince sits on the umbral throne, is not a happy place – but that is sometimes the price one pays to live in a half-place. Would he be happier as a peasant in the warm sands of the sunrise empire? Or as king in the inkwell palaces of the under-dark?

These are conjectures and speculations in which the tenebra-prince does not indulge. For he knows who he is, and where he is, and what his life must be.

For his is a life that needs no metaphor.

Published in: on February 24, 2011 at 7:36 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Dispatches from the wilds of Proseambique – Fixed

It is a matter of some debate as to whether the students who spawned fixturism knew what they were doing – whether, when they came back from that assignment to photograph sculpture with pictures of, well, fixtures, they were making a deliberate statement, or playing a joke, or whether, in fact, they were just idiots who went to a real train station instead of the repurposed underground gallery they were send to. But that is an entirely academic matter now.

At the time, street art was all the rage, and so it wasn’t long before faucets started sprouting coat-hooks and bus seats suddenly grew light-switches. But with time, like all forms of art, it evolved towards subtlety – until the only real distinction between a fixturist installation and a real fixture was one of function – you could tell the work of art from the fact that it didn’t work; some installations went unnoticed for years. Then there are those who say that some fixturists went even further; becoming accredited plumbers, or builders, and installing functional fixturist pieces – indistinguishable from the real thing – while dedicating their lives to their cover professions, keeping their true artistic natures to themselves, becoming, in essence, their own living fixturist installations. This raises all sorts of tricky questions about the nature of art, none of which need be our chief concern.

The lasting impact of fixturism is a vast collection of doors that lead nowhere. Some consider them frustrating inconveniences; a scourge on society and their daily commute, to others they are idiot pranks by people with too much time on their hands, or whimsical delights that break up the drab urban landscape, inspiring a sense of childlike wonder.

And to some they are poignant and painful metaphors for their own lives.

Published in: on February 10, 2011 at 7:11 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Dispatches from the wilds of Proseambique – The Chopin Machine

Confluence is an extraordinary thing. Everything interesting that ever happens in history comes down to confluence; the subtle combination of seemingly random things which brings drastic change – those unknowingly malicious butterfly wings. In a way, it reminds us of our insignificance, in the greater scheme of things. Our economies do not come down to master plans of geniuses on high, they come down to the stockbroker who’s distracted by an argument with his wife, a CEO got stuck in traffic, a train delay, and, and… We are all playthings of chance, and chance likes to remind us of this by washing away our sand-castles not with tsunamis, but with ripples.

A mathematician who happens to be particularly fond of Chopin does some complex analyses, and develops an algorithm that can produce new Chopin. That is, music that Chopin would have written, had he lived longer, and been in the particular mood entered into the algorithm. It sparks interesting debates about the nature of creativity, the ownership of art, a dozen other academic and aesthetic ideas, but penetrates the public consciousness only long enough to make a one-minute science piece on a few newscasts, and the release of an album which does reasonably well, as classical music albums go.

Nobody imagines this is the sort of thing which will end the world.

Neuroscientists perform increasingly detailed studies of the mind, mapping neural activity and connecting it to emotion. Through tiny ripples in the baritone hums of the fMRI, they open a peephole into the mind and chart every possible feeling, like new age Columbuses, these cartographers of the soul.

Nobody imagines this is the sort of thing which will end the world.

Toymakers get behind a new craze; mind control. Primitive at first, they nonetheless build sensors that read our minds just enough to play simple games, and eager for another avenue of profit, they push them to their limit, the sensors get smaller, better, cheaper. They become as ubiquitous as the television and iPod before them.

Nobody imagines this is the sort of thing which will end the world.

And then these things converge, combine, conflux. And they call it The Chopin Machine. It reads your mind, consults its charts, and knows the precise nuances of your feeling. And then it takes that feeling, and composes the perfect reflection of it, in the style of Chopin. When you are tired, it plays a perfect musical expression of your tiredness. When you are happy, the music is happy. When you feel ennui, what could be said but that it too feels ennui, and plays it to you. It is pure, undiluted sympathy. It is a soulmate. It understands you more perfectly than any human ever could, and sings to you in perfect rhythm with the beating of your heart. It is the comforting embrace of love, tuned with mathematical perfection, expressed with a precision beyond language.

Nobody imagines this is the sort of thing which will end the world.

But it sings to us, and we cannot imagine wanting anything else. We lie in the soft embrace of its beautiful music and can scarcely imagine doing anything else. Why bother working, or struggling, or loving imperfectly? Why bother with anything that isn’t this beautiful?

And so we lie in our beds and The Chopin Machine sings to us of contentment. And it sings to us of hunger. And it sings to us of tiredness. And it sings to us of love.

And it sings us all to sleep.


Published in: on January 27, 2011 at 7:05 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Dispatches from the wilds of Proseambique – Indistinguishable From Magic

Sit in the dark while your keyboard glows otherworldly. Like mystic runes, glowing above a river of energy that hums electric. A river fed by streams that span the globe. A river that sings everything that could ever be known. That laughs at the impossible. Sit, and listen to the music beyond music. Sit, and know that your fingers will never be fast enough for you to be a magician, that your dreams will never be large or mad enough for you to be a god.

Sit, and know that you are a bronze-worker in a golden age.

Published in: on December 31, 2010 at 1:22 am  Comments (4)  
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Dispatches from the wilds of Proseambique – Misdirection

He laughs softly as the guard pulls handkerchief after handkerchief from his pockets.

Magicians make the best shoplifters.

Published in: on December 16, 2010 at 8:46 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Dispatches from the wilds of Proseambique – With Love

With all the suffering in the world, autoerotohymnia – the compulsion to unknowingly communicate exclusively in the form of erotic poetry – doesn’t really seem that bad – after all, there are worm larvae that burrow into people’s eyeballs out there. And actually, for the chronically shy it can be surprisingly helpful at letting those girls you like (but aren’t game to tell) know just how you feel.

Except maybe you don’t find out you have it until after you’ve sent a christmas card to Grandma.

Published in: on December 2, 2010 at 3:54 pm  Comments (2)  

Dispatches from the wilds of Proseambique – Sirenum

Off the coast of Italy lies a small island that has not adorned a single map since the days of Herodotus. This quite deliberate deletion has been in the interests of safety – that of the island’s inhabitants, certainly, but more importantly; everyone else’s. Herodotus wrote about this island, of course, how could he not? But no modern translation bears the relevant passage, and anyone seeking to inspect the oldest known copies of his works would find a mysterious lacuna in the same spot of each.

But this is hardly a thing most people would notice, and so this carefully obliterated island sits calmly in the Tyrrhenian sea, undisturbed for millennia. Or, almost. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

In most ways, the society on this island is unremarkable; notable, perhaps, for its relatively primitive state – disconnection from the outside world for over two and a half millennia has left them living in a style not dissimilar to that of their ancient neighbours. Indeed, the only fact of any especial note one should concern oneself with is the fact that the language of the island’s inhabitants contains not a single consonant. But that is a universe in itself.

For instead they communicate entirely in vowel-forms, long stretches of ooos and aaas, with meaning buried in modulations in pitch and tone. Undistracted by consonants, their language taps into some deep primal meaning, some hardwired natural language, some language of the soul. It is as though they sing, but what they sing is pure emotion.

To ask for a glass of water, for instance, they sing at you and you are overwhelmed with the feeling of thirst. But not your own feeling of thirst; you feel their thirst. So finely tuned is this language, so acutely can they make you feel, that they can make you feel exactly how much water they want. But this is just the simplest example. To say that they would be the envy of every tenor and soprano who ever lived would be a vast understatement – for they can move you more with simple conversation than the finest opera singer can in their prime.

And so we come, then, to their encounters with the outside world. For there have been encounters. Mediterranean islands, no matter how small, inevitably entice the eye of some hungry emperor, king or warlord. Army after army has landed on her sandy shores, but all have returned, defeated, tears fresh in their eyes. For when they land, they are greeted with the song of a mournful populous, saddened by their avarice, fearful for their lives, and with every step these would-be conquerors take, they know how it feels to be invaded. Some fall on their swords. Some beg forgiveness. All weep. All retreat.

And so they are left alone. Hidden for their protection; and ours. For though their gift is great, and they could no doubt sing us into peace and love, and sing to us of our dying world, and sing us to sanity; in their nightmares, those that know of them see only their hand on a microphone.

And hear only their voices howling.

Published in: on November 18, 2010 at 5:53 pm  Leave a Comment  

Dispatches from the wilds of Proseambique – Scale

Everything has limits. Hard, physical limits that cannot be tricked, bought or negotiated around. No-one feels this more than electronics engineers, who play with the smallest building blocks in the universe as they endlessly hurtle the human race ever faster forward.

But there comes a point where there are no deeper subatomics to plunder. Where smaller is quite simply impossible. But Moore must be obeyed. Moore, who for generations has held sway, paternal and god-like, over our machines, and through them, our works, our economies, our societies, ourselves. The law cannot be broken now. It is unthinkable. It would be as if the sun failed to rise.

When you cannot change your product, you change your customers. It was hardly new – farmers, after all, had been doing it to us for millennia with ever-cheaper nutrition. When you cannot make your phones smaller, you make the hands that hold them larger.

It turns out the human body is a lot like a piece of consumer electronics, when you get right down to it; it has a processor, electrical pathways, energy storage, heat regulation systems, a variety of inputs and outputs… the transition proved less difficult than imagined.

Those with exacting specifications had plenty of models to choose from; always a careful balance of compromises – the thinner they are, the hotter they ran. The more powerful, the larger. There was a direct correlation between power & expense; the question of how much memory you needed, how much stamina, just what, exactly, did you want to use your body for?

Apple made the sleekest models, of course; elegant, smooth, perfect examples of intelligent design. And the most popular, naturally. It turns out the need for a face of your own is easily sublimated when someone offers you a beautiful one.

Published in: on November 5, 2010 at 2:26 pm  Leave a Comment  
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