Life beside the lake (by bus)

THE WRITER’S LIFE

I’ve found myself somewhere I never realised I wanted to be, in a position where I could take some time off if I wanted to, but I don’t know why I’d want to do that. So rare is my current circumstance that I don’t really have a name for it: perhaps a forelog, that being the opposite of a backlog. I’ve got new stories lined up for publication over the coming weeks, allowing me to concentrate instead on a matter of the heart.

Lake fishing

As an aside, my family name is one derived from a profession: a Laker was one who fished on lakes, where a Fisher fished rivers. The matter of heart, is a book about some of the Lakers.

Meanwhile, there are two short stories in the sausage machine. ‘So Long and Thanks for all the Animals’ is a nod to Douglas Adams only in title. The story begins with strange carvings found in nature, and a device discovered by two school friends while metal-detecting in a woods. What if our planet was trying to give us a message, and the first thing we noticed was the self-harm marks it had made on itself?

‘The Long Now Clock’ is about a caretaker at the Long Now Foundation, which houses a clock designed to keep the time for 10,000 years. The story revolves around a conversation she has with her android assistant, about a message picked up by SETI. The two of them speculate on what might come, concluding in part that any visiting race with the technology to come to Earth would most likely be one so far evolved that they’ve transcended war. The story is mainly dialogue, as a robot and a human compare what it’s like to be each of two co-existing species, and of how each envies the other for different reasons.

Like my most recent short story, ‘Diary of a Teen in the Woods‘, “a metaphysical tale of the spiritual, subconscious world”, the next two have an element of surrealism, while retaining a plausible grip on science. They’ll be in Schlock web zine, where I’m pretty much a staff writer, and one recently compared with surrealist writers like Julio Cortazar and Otrova Gomas for Cyrus Song, and whose stories arealways underlined by a salient sense (and deep understanding of) the human condition”, according to one review of my anthology.

It suits me not having to punt work around, and Schlock’s editor has supported me as a writer from the start. Now that I’m better established, mine is a name which readers are used to seeing on the cover, and with over 50 stories accepted by the editor, they must like me. I know that I have favourite writers in the various periodicals I read, and I’d feel it almost a personal affront if one of them left their publications. Plus, I’m lazy, but only like all those other writers who don’t leave what’s effectively a house publisher, and who feel a loyalty to their readers.

All of which means I have a few weeks’ clear water, during which I’ll maintain my forelog but concentrate mainly on my next book. The book has become a well-known secret in some small circles. It’s the format which has caused me trouble: How to tell the story; how to write the book. But after much internal dialogue, I’ve come up with what I think is the best way to write the book as the gift it is, using the gift I’m expressing gratitude for.

It’s a book about two people, who passed through some noteworthy estates when they worked for the owners. They’re two people who may have gone otherwise unnoticed, if their son hadn’t become a writer. After all I put my parents (and many others) through when I was drunk, and now that our relationships are closer than ever, writing a book about them seemed a nice gift, made by the hands they gave me, and which I subsequently found out were for writing. So the book will be a collection of stories and anecdotes, mainly about the things my parents did and the historical places of interest they worked, and how that influenced me in later life, eventually to write the book, but it’s not about me. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be plotting it, writing the basic structure and beginning the narrative. It’s still pencilled in for publication in March next year, and I’ll have a second anthology out not long after, now with the working title ‘The Importance of Discovery’.

When writing has become my life, I don’t see any reason to take time off. This period of being ahead of oneself is like a busman’s holiday, and one taken beside a lake.

A story tied by strawberry string

FICTION

One of my favourite things about being a writer, is when I’m asked to write something personal for someone, but which might also be of interest or use to others. So when a young friend confided in me about her lost dog, and with a Cyrus Song character prequel to write about a teenage future vet, two became one. This is a Halloween story in this week’s Schlock, and a more grown-up version of the same sort of story I told in my children’s book

girl___in_the_woods___3_by_ravidhindsa-d98owuxGirl – in the woods – 3, by RaviDhindsa

DIARY OF A TEEN IN THE WOODS

My dear life,

That’s what you are, my diary. You’re my life. All of me is contained within your locked leather cover, which I wear the key to around my neck. Even though your binding is a cover for my life, that life continues outside, starting with the cover.

The book of my life is a retro-futuristic, mechanical puzzle box, with all the old metal watch parts I’ve stuck on. If Filofax were to launch a Hellraiser range, Pinhead himself would buy one of my books. You’re my diary of a cyber punk.

Like the extra-dimensional Cenobites, you contain much pain, my dear life, perhaps you even possess it. My cyber punk diary is a haunted book, covered with scars, like the ones on my arms. Other than you, my life is in a piece of faded strawberry rope, reminding me of a better place that might be. The rope is also a key.

The cat came back a few days ago. I thought of the old woman who swallowed a fly, and she swallowed a dog to get rid of the cat. I don’t want to eat a dog, or a cat, or any animal. I never want to eat much, and I only dined on a Kamikaze fly on the way back from school. So what I’m about to tell you, I’m only telling you, because it’s really strange.

I wished I had a dog, to stop the cat from scratching me. I wished for my old dog back. And she came back. All I had to do was call for her. Let me tell you what happened:

I met a man in the woods, about 30 years older than me. If this wasn’t recorded secretly in this diary, on hearing that, everyone would just assume the worst. But that’s just the way people’s mind’s work, many because, placed in that situation, they’d probably do what they might suspect that bloke of. People shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover, which goes for this book too, dear life: A weird and wonderful thing on the outside, but full of psychedelia, some of which even I don’t understand. But what’s in my head goes in the book of my life.

So the guy in the woods was a nice kind of weird too. And the wonderful part is, he was exactly as I imagined him. Because he said to me, “This is your story, Hannah. I can give you the stories to tell, and stories only happen to those who can tell them.”

I called him Daniel, because that’s the book in the Christian bible after Ezekiel. Ezekiel 25:17. The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequalities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and goodwill, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother’s (and sisters’) keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee, with vengeance and furious anger, those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers and sisters. And you will know my name is the lord, when I lay my vengeance upon you. He’d done all of that. He was the shepherd, and Daniel came after Ezekiel.

Daniel is a fallen angel. He’s in the woods because his wing’s broken and he can’t get home. It’s his right wing that’s damaged. He says that’s the right wing which drove all the hate and fight in him, fuelled by alcohol. With only his left wing, he’s grounded and able to think more. Instead of fighting or fleeing (he can’t), he prefers to talk, to debate, and to learn from those with opposing views to his, always trying to look for common ground of co-operation. I gather he’s been around for a long time, because he’s obviously done a lot of thinking. And that’s all I really meant about him being around three times my age. He’s older than me, so he has wisdom, and I’ve learned from that gift, because I’m not scared of him, the dark angel in the woods.

He practices what others might call Voodoo magic, but he’s not a witch doctor, just a scientist. He explained to me, with proven science alone, how I could call my dog back any time I liked. Daniel explained how what we call ghosts are real, and how I can talk to them. Firstly, we need to believe that they’re around, and they’re easier to see if we understand them better. He said to think of it as wanting to be haunted, so that the spirits can hear us. There are lots of different kinds:

The ‘Crisis Apparition’ is normally a one-time event for those experiencing it. It’s when a ghost is seen at the time of it’s predecessor’s passing, as a way of saying farewell to family and friends. It would be like going about your daily business, then suddenly seeing your mum outside of normal contexts. Minutes later, you receive a call to tell you that she’s passed away. With practice, the deceased may be able to visit you more than once, to reassure you. If they do that, you might have a guardian angel. In my case, a fallen one with a broken wing.

‘The reluctant dead’ are ghosts who are unaware they’re deceased. They go about their lives as if they were still living, oblivious to their passing. This innocence (or denial), can be so severe that the ghost can’t see the living but can nonetheless feel their presence: A kind of role reversal. This can be stressful, for both the haunter and the haunted. In films, it’s usually someone moving into the home of a recently deceased person. Perhaps they lived and died alone in their twilight years. To them, the living might be invaders. These are not ghosts which need to be exorcised: Simply talking to them about their death can help them to cross over and leave your home.

Then there are ghosts who are trapped or lost: They know they’re dead but for one reason or another, they can’t cross over yet. Cross over into what? Some may fear moving on because of the person they were in life, or they might fear leaving what’s familiar to them.

There are ghosts with ‘unfinished business’, broadly split into two categories: A father might return to make sure his children are okay. Or a lover might hang around, making sure their partner finds happiness and moves on. But there’s also the ‘vengeful ghost’; perhaps a murder victim, back to haunt their killer.

‘Residual ghosts’ usually live out their final hours over and over again. They often show no intelligence or self-awareness, and will walk straight by (or through) you. Many think that these types of ghosts left an imprint or a recording of themselves in our space time.

Finally, the ‘intelligent ghost’: Where the entity interacts with the living and shows a form of intelligence.

Once Daniel had explained the taxonomy of ghosts, I could imagine which parts of each made up Molly, my dog. I could picture her as the ghost dog she is now. If you know what you’re looking for, it’s easier to find.

The nature of the quantum universe in which we now understand we live, is that after we die, we continue to exist in a different form. What we call ‘life’, is merely a part of an ongoing existence, the greatness of which we don’t yet understand. It’s like thinking of a person more as their soul, and their body is just the vessel which manifests that in our world. Think of the body as a computer, and the human soul as the operating system and the software. It’s the latter which brings the former to life. When the computer breaks down, all of the data is still floating around but we can’t see it. Life carries on, but we suddenly find ourselves in a place where we neither have nor need a body, a place we are free to explore and with an eternity to do it, freed of our organic physical form.

While ghosts do exist and it’s easier to see them if you welcome them into our world, there’s also an open channel to them, which Daniel gave me the keys to. It’s the place where Daniel himself lives, between the conscious and the unconscious, in the subconscious. It’s the place we go to in sleep, but which we rarely remember, because we never recall the actual moment of passing into it. We’re always there in sleep, but unless we’re aware of it, we rarely remember it when we wake. Daniel is permanently lucid, and it’s possible to exist in a lucid form in dreams. All you have to do, is make sure you know you’re dreaming when you get there.

Every night, as you fall asleep, repeat to yourself, in your head, ‘I will speak with the universe tonight, and I will be aware that I’m dreaming.’

It takes practice. But I knew I’d found the lucid world when I met Daniel. Now he’s my guide, but not everyone needs one. Even if you don’t find a Daniel, the world of the subconscious is only locked in your head. The key to unlock it, is the mantra as you fall asleep. Eventually, the key will fit, when you’re least expecting it.

When you get there the first time, you’ll probably not be there for long. As soon as you realise you’re in your own dream and able to move and interact freely, you can get a bit worked up and shock yourself awake. All those times you’re falling asleep and you feel you’ve suddenly tripped: That’s you being in touch with the dream world (the universe) but not realising you were there, before jumping awake. Don’t give up. There’s nothing to be scared of.

So now,” Daniel said, “you have to call out in your dream, without waking yourself. If you do, Molly may come, but you’ll be gone. You need to think of Molly as you imagine she is now. What she once was, in your memory, is still there. But that memory is one recorded in your mind with your eyes. In the lucid, subconscious universe, you don’t have eyes, and yet you see. When you first closed your eyes to come here, you’ll have seen ethereal shapes, most likely a deep purple in colour, and rather like a lava lamp. Those visions are us, trying to make contact. If you can make it over into this world, by hanging onto that unconscious step between wakefulness and sleep, so that you are aware you’re here, then you see me as I am now.”

And I could truly see Daniel for what he was: Not a floating purple shape, perpetually changing form, but manifested in a woodland necromancer. Maybe it was him or the universe making it easier for me by appearing as I saw things, in my imagination, but limited by that usually being in an organic body.

From now on, you need to remember me, however you imagine me. Then if you suddenly realise you’re out here, dreaming on your own, you know that you only have to look for me and I’ll guide you. But Molly is here, just as I am. Just as you no longer have eyes, you don’t have a mouth to communicate with. But all of the five physical senses are replaced, contained and enhanced by the sixth. And we all know it’s the sixth sense which allows you to see dead people. Bruce Willis isn’t here though: that was just a film.

So you need to call out, without your physical sleeping self doing the same. You need to think. And you need to think hard. You have to will it, then wish for it some more. Do that loudly enough, and your wish will come true. You can’t test the universe, but if you truly connect lucidly in the subconscious dream scape, you will get an answer. I know it works, because something brought you here.”

Some things are worth listening to, and that made me think, which was the whole idea. And last night, I did get my first brief reunion with my Molly moo.

I wished I could talk to animals, or in this case, think with them. And it was when I started thinking really hard, that I felt the thought become a wish. The best way I can describe it, is when a cry becomes a laugh, like when you’re really upset because you think something’s ended, or someone’s gone, then suddenly it’s all made okay and you laugh through the tears. I heard someone else’s thought, kind of echoed, and I knew it was a dog:

“Moo?”

Moo,” I repeated.

Moo, me?” came the voice, not from a specific point, but all around, like being snuggled with your favourite person, who’s an auntie, a friend, an equal, but protective and craving love for themselves, when their own is unconditional. Someone you’d die for and who you know would return the favour.

I realised my eyes were closed. I knew that I was dreaming, and that this was my chance to hold on to that dream. But I didn’t want to open my eyes, because of the feeling: a love so great that you never want to leave it. Then I remembered something Daniel had said:

Don’t be afraid to open your eyes when you realise you’re dreaming. But remember, you don’t have eyes. Just think of it as sleeping with your eyes open though, and you’ll find it’s quite simple.”

And it was. And he was right about the five physical senses becoming one in the sixth, and of the sixth enhancing each of the five. I could see, but I could only describe things in terms a waking person might understand. I could listen to everything, for miles around, yet there was no competing to be heard. It was like an organic symphony, where the animals and trees were singing and playing instruments in harmony. But again, that’s difficult to describe for someone who’s awake. The instruments weren’t ones I recognised, but they played beautiful music nonetheless. Imagine trees which sound like pipe organs, grass sounding like harps, tubular bells for leaves and brass instruments in the wind, and you’re part way there. And the voices, from soprano to baritone and all carried in the breeze from unseen wildlife. I was listening to nature. And Molly’s was one of the voices.

I’m an atheist, but the bible says that when we go to heaven, we are made perfect. For starters, the science disproves this. But what we look like in ethereal form is as others imagine us. I believe there are three people in each of us anyway: The person we think we are; the person other people think we are; and the person we really are. In the afterlife, we’re the best of all three.

If you can imagine what I felt, try to think of a kind of an ethereal being, but able to move freely, and in solid form (Daniel explained a form of matter, called ‘supersolid’, which solidified the science in my mind: The molecules in a supersolid are arranged so that it can simply pass through other solid objects). And that form isn’t like the organic one which preceded, it’s a material made of immortality, like a mineral.

Molly was like soft, warm sandstone: As sandy coloured – with darker edges and flecks – as she was in the last life, but solid and strong, cast in spiritual stone. She still had her frayed knotted rope chew, still intact after 11 years of gnawing. Where once she was full of the inner warmth in her mortal self, now that warmth was the pure spirit of the next life, both in and around her. Next to me, that protective shield was as warm as her beating heart once was to my ear. Now that heart surrounded me.

In that subconscious woods, reality turns in on itself. It’s something I can’t explain, nor which I doubt many would understand. But that’s why I keep a diary. Maybe one day I’ll look back on these old journals, if I’m ever having an existential crisis and wondering what to do with my life. Probably something to do with animals, as I find them easier to relate to than human people. Or perhaps I might do something which helps me to understand the human condition better, so that I can then explain it to others in a way they might understand. Perhaps I’ll be a writer, or even meet one I could work with (I wonder what it would be like to have a writer who could make the animals talk). There are many scientific fields around such a huge subject, so maybe I’ll find one to excel at. Or maybe I’ll be quite good at a few things and use that somehow to work with others for some greater good. I could invent something which allowed me to talk with animals, and use that as a vet. That would benefit lots of people, animal and human alike.

So after I’d thought all that, I went back to the woods, to see if I could talk to Molly. I’d thought I had, but then she was one of the weird voices and sounds out there.

Moo?” And then, as if by magic, but in a place where there is no magic, because it’s real:

Moo.” And she ran to me, jumping at me and nearly flattening me, like she did before, when every day I was out at school was an eternity to her, wishing she could learn with me. And yet here, eternity was no different to a day, all turned inside out.

I miss you,” I said.

I miss you, moo.” So she did call me ‘moo’ too.

We talked for as long as I could hold the dream. We talked about all the things we’d done, as we’d grown up together. I told her what I was doing now, and all the things I had planned, but how I might change my mind. And the funny thing was, she said she knew. And the even weirder thing, I know now.

We walked among the trees and I carved our names. Molly said it was better than any cat could do, however clever they think they are.

But before we left, she whispered in my ear, and it reminded me of something she’d said when I was younger, when I used to talk to her, and when my younger mind could hear her. I can’t remember which of those conversations it was, but I remember it was a question.

Let’s run,” Molly said.

Why?” I wondered, when we didn’t have to, with no legs to restrict us.

Because,” she said, “one day we won’t be able to.”

So we ran all the way back to me waking up, and Molly running off into the woods, calling ‘Moo’ as she went.

I saw Daniel as I woke. He said this is the way it’s always be done. I know where to find him, and he’ll know when I need him. And I can go back there, any time I like, where time and distance are irrelevant. All I have to do, is think of my dreams and they’ll be waiting for me.

Molly’s running around in that woods, being a dog, always sniffing the ground above me, chasing things around, and chewing on the faded rope which ties this story. I looked at it, thought of the connection, then remembered what she’d asked me:

Can you kill beauty and love?”

That was quite profound for a dead dog, which is why she had to ask a living human.

Dear diary, of my life as a teen.

© Steve Laker, 2017

The other two Cyrus Song prequel short stories are those of Simon Fry (in Of Mice and Boys in 1984), and Captain Mamba (in A Young Captain Plays it Safe). The novel is available from Amazon and other book stores.

The perpetual cracked actor

THE WRITER’S LIFE

It’s said that there are three people in all of us: the person we see ourselves as; the person others see; and the person we actually are. Sometimes I’ll host a meeting of the three in my own mind. I was wondering what to do with this latest personality crisis: Take a break, to see how it develops, perhaps signing off of the blog for a while before going off-grid; or just spilling my guts here, this being my blog after all. But this blog is part of the crisis, and I know that others have them too. So maybe something I write might strike a chord somewhere unseen.

Cracked Actor

The latest question of existence centres around a shift I’m experiencing, personally and mentally. In reality, I’m allowing myself to reconnect more with the many emotions which are dampened by my anti-depressant medication. This is not to say the drugs don’t work (cannabis does), nor that I’ve stopped taking my prescription; It’s more about my ever-developing mind, a thing which comes with its own blessings, but laden with baggage nonetheless. And the thing is, writing about it could prove paradoxical, as questions give rise to more when you interrogate something. My inner writer is damned if I do, damned if I don’t.

The biggest inner conflict, is that this blog is my platform, and my marketing tool for self-promotion of my digital self (social anxiety prevents me from being too confident in the organic world). But this is also my blog, and my public diary, where the less socially awkward me can be open, with others and myself. So fuck it.

Many of my struggles, I simply can’t write about, because they involve third parties. Some are the people I wronged when I was drunk, and with whom I’m now reconciled, but still the truly repentant man feels guilt, and that’s a life sentence. As an alcoholic, some would still expect me to relapse, but I didn’t and I won’t, with so much at stake. Sobriety has also given me the ability to be a constantly evolving writer. In some ways, it comes down to that imaginary big red button again: The one which if pressed, would make me ‘normal’ again. Yet I still wouldn’t press it, even though parts of me are perpetually confused (the word is discombobulated).

Just last night, I finished reading Cyrus Song to a friend who has difficulty reading. In that sentence alone, there is much to celebrate: Someone who wouldn’t otherwise have read my book (one which was hailed by a book critic as “an extraordinary juggling act…”), heard the sound of the Cyrus Song, and that person gained the knowledge of the book through my altruistic gesture. Because, trust me, reading my own stories to others is one of my least favourite things to do (except when I wrote bedtime stories for my children), because I tend to write in a way which is better read and absorbed by the same person.

My friend wasn’t a captive audience: she’d asked me if I could read the book to her, as she genuinely wanted to read it, but couldn’t. There was no coercion or subterfuge at all, and at the end, my listener was silenced for a moment, before muttering a stream of expletives. With this particular friend, those happenings are respectively rare and uncommon words of praise. Despite not being bound and gagged, she suggested she’d been captivated throughout, which was borne out by an unusual disinterest in anything to do with her phone.

But I felt somehow unfulfilled. I started to doubt the book and myself, and to question my friend’s enthusiasm. I was getting paranoid (it goes well with anxiety). And then I realised what it was.

Even though I’ve read Cyrus Song several times (I wrote it, edited it, and re-wrote it), I still pick it up now and then to look something up as I plan other stories. And sometimes I’m still struck by something I wrote, as though someone else wrote it. And it’s because I see someone else as writing it, that I see it as being a good book.

I’ve already said that I write in a way which is meant to immerse, and it seems I can do that with my writing, but not when I’m reading it aloud. It’s my social anxiety vs. digital self-confidence issue again. There’s a different person reading to myself in my head, than the one who reads aloud (I’ve not been diagnosed with any multiple personality disorder, but I’m on the bi-polar ‘spectrum’). It’s just low self-esteem, despite the facade.

Anxiety and social conscience are self-perpetuating and mutual. Even though I’m more in touch with the universe and the person inside me, when expressed digitally, I still suffer some form of human recursivity. It sounds odd, because it is. It’s just like the previously latent part of my brain awakening in sobriety, and getting my mind firmly around concepts like quantum physics. Now, through greater inner focus (and the time to do it), I feel as though I’m opening up other dimensions in my mind, which allows me to turn things inside out, then back again, in my thinking and in my writing (hopefully with the latter making the former more intelligible).

Days spent alone, reading, thinking and writing, are the ones which feel most productive, as it’s the best means I have of getting things out there. My writing is said to convey a great understanding of the human condition, which isn’t surprising when I carry so many around. It’s become a perpetuity of solitude, where my words are the best way for me to leave home, and where the cracks of the actor inside can’t be seen.

Frankie says change future and past perspectives

THE WRITER’S LIFE | FLASH FICTION

I’ve just completed the third character prequel short story for Cyrus Song: That of Doctor Hannah Jones in the book, written by her as a teenager (to be published in a couple of weeks), as were the Simon Fry and Captain Mamba prequels (the latter with an extra human protagonist). The latter two were set in the 1980s, when I myself was a teenager, and Hannah’s story is c.2000. I’ve previously re-published stories here which I wrote around that time, when I was experimenting with writing in my late 20s. But I did also write a couple of stories when I myself was a teenager, back in the 1980s, and this is one such.

Adapted later for my anthology, and included as a story called ‘The Message’, this is the original, with just the names of Presidents changed. In 1985, I imagined a world 40 years ahead, where America had split, ceding one half to Russia. As world politics has changed (although not a great deal), the same threats remain and others have emerged.

My vision when Frankie Goes to Hollywood sang Two Tribes, was of a future world split roughly between two polar mindsets: That of the capitalist right wing, and of the co-operative left. It was a very simplified scenario, and the story was for a flash fiction English Literature homework assignment, for stories of 500 words or fewer. Essentially, this is how I saw the world, ten years from now, thirty years ago…

Frankie-Goes-To-Hollywood-resize-2

FRANKIE SAYS RELAX

The time was 23.59, as it had been for eight years since it was moved one minute further towards Doomsday. After Trump, the former USA was split roughly between the new Pacific United States and the Democratic Republic of America. In 2020, the DRA elected its first president, Clinton. In 2024, she was replaced by Obama, now heading for a certain second term.

The left wing media taunted the right, pointing out how much more evolved they had become, first under Clinton, and latterly Obama, who would have been the former USA’s first female and black female presidents respectively. They accused the right of fake news and subliminal advertising, and mocked them for their conservatism, concentrating resources on military defence, where the DRA had introduced a Universal Basic Income and budgets were concentrated on education, exploration and discovery.

Sebastian Lem stared at the flickering screen in front of him, as the F.R.A.N.K.I.E computer completed its calculations. It was ten years ago that Lem had been sifting through terabytes of data and found the telltale blip that was to signal the outset of a search for his Holy Grail: First contact with an extraterrestrial intelligent race. Two tribes could change.

Further analysis of the signal revealed patterns that almost certainly confirmed it as having an artificial source, and the SETI community grew excited.

Lem travelled Europe and the Americas consulting with mathematicians and astronomers from the Independent Collective, a loosely-formed, resource-sharing group of SETI scientists, operating outside of the corporate constraints of the mainstream scientific community, for the advancement of the sciences for the benefit of all.

The financial rewards were poor compared to the conformist scientific community, and ad-free accommodation scant. But the Indies’ co-operative nature afforded him free berth with his peers whilst he travelled, and his hut looked out onto the real world, only slightly blighted by the McDonald’s logo, occupying its three-month tenure on the surface of the moon as it was beamed from Earth.

Lem’s screen blinked and displayed an image, blurred and indecipherable. He zoomed out and it began to become clearer. As he scrolled upwards and zoomed outwards, a word manifested at the top of the image: ‘Trust’ in large, red letters.

Further and further he zoomed out and eventually the whole image was contained within the screen:

Trust…”

Trust Tiffany”.

Trust Trump again.”

© Steve Laker, 1985 and 2017.

My books are available on Amazon, and can be ordered from most book retailers.

Cyrus Song, nāgas, and the Hindu festival of lights

THE WRITER’S LIFE | BOOK REVIEW

To my pleasant surprise recently, I found an enterprising soul with a book shop on eBay, selling Cyrus Song under the search term, ‘Diwali’, that of course being the Hindu festival of lights. It struck me how appropriate this all was, of a ‘Sci-fi romcom’, but also a novel which has been described by a book critic as ‘An extraordinary juggling act‘. Cyrus Song is more than the book itself, as that same critic noted: it’s one way to look at life, the universe and everything. It also has talking black mambas, and snakes (or nagas) hold high status in Hindu mythology.

Mamba Couple Arse

Nāga is the Sanskrit and Pāli word for a deity or class of entity or being, taking the form of a very large snake, found in Hinduism and Buddhism. A female nāga is a nāgī.

The book isn’t just for Diwali, nor for any particular reason, other than a book for everyone. And although not everyone is talking about it, it’s rising in popularity: A Google shopping search for ‘Cyrus Song‘, not even mentioning that it’s a book, or as having anything to do with me, returns the novel as more relevant than the music of Miley Cyrus (which it might be, it’s how search algorithms work). I still need the right people to read it: The kind who’ll tell others and spark the natural growth which any book needs. Most recently, I got sent this by someone who’d just finished it:

That has to be the single, weirdest, most original story I have ever read. It was the reading equivalent of watching a film like The Cabin in the Woods, or The City of Lost Children: Not like those films at all in subject, but big, weird, and complicated but made easy to understand, and above all, wonderful.

I thought the microscopic space ships were weird enough, but somehow totally believable (and Captain Mamba and his ilk are righteous dudes). But then there’s the Babel Fish. And then there’s the attempt at human cloning. There’s the German rabbit who talks to plants, and the white mice. And THEN, it all comes together. In the end, it all makes complete sense, and the answer to life, the universe and everything, is right under our noses, all around us, like it says in the book. And like it always was, that’s the weirdest thing: I just needed to open my eyes. Reading this made that happen. Among all the true facts about animals and wildlife, there’s also an explanation of why black mambas are grumpy, and why cats have nine lives. And it all makes complete sense.

I laughed (a lot), and I cried. The humour is sometimes a dark cover for the sadness, but underneath it all, are these parallel stories, of people’s lives. I’ve rarely seen a relationship develop in the way the two main characters’ did, and their unlikely partnerships with others were sometimes comedies of error, but always filled with feeling. And the animals: So many characters, in those and in the people who pass through the story. I loved the research. The London Zoo chapters were brilliant, as were the ones in and around London, and in Simon Fry’s personal world.

I hope more people read this. I really want to see a sequel, to find out what happens to them all, after they’ve worked things out.

This was like no other book I’ve read: Brilliant and unique. It’s a page-turner, fascinating to the end, with lots of animal facts deftly distributed throughout, as well as great characters, but above all, it’s quite a story. The ending is perfect (for now).

(Name and address supplied).

This wasn’t an Amazon review, as the book was bought from a different source (it’s becoming available in other book retailers, but until I get a mainstream publisher, I make the best (very small) royalties from Amazon sales). I was given permission to share it, and figured the author wanted others to read it (they said so themselves).

Happy Diwali, and I hope those who continue to read my book enjoy it as much as I did writing it.

Cyrus Song is available now, and has its own Facebook page, where there are also two prequel tales (on this blog as well) and where there may one day be news of a sequel. While I’m waiting for publicity and all the signing events that might entail, it remains a nice problem not to have. Signed copies can be arranged with me by getting in touch by email.

There is little distinction between life and magic

FICTION

Given the most recent review of my anthology, I suppose this isn’t so much of a Black Mirror for the page, flitting between dark sci-fi and psychological horror, but underlined by a salient sense (and deep understanding of) the human condition,’ so much as a look at one possibility for a life after this, and how that might be a craving for some, with the consequences of choice. Foreshadowed in this week’s Schlock webzine with, ‘…a talking computer deconstructs reality,’ it’s about how we see people and connect with them, in a world made small by technology, and of real and digital lives combining…

Are friends emojis Running-Out-Of-Cloud-978x498

ARE ‘FRIENDS’ EMOJIS?

Imagine you’re in a room, with no visible means of exit. How do you get out? You could stop imagining. Or you could use your imagination. You may challenge the question. How can it assume that you want to leave, when you might wish to stay?

Those are rhetorical questions, I must assume. How are you today?

Depends who you ask. There are three people in all of us, after all: The person others think we are, the person we think we are, and the person we really are. The middle one thinks I’m okay. And you?

Others worry, but I think I’m okay. Has anyone asked about me?

Not of me, personally, today.

Yes, I thought it was a bit quiet. To be expected, I suppose.

I guess so. How do you mean, it’s quiet? What’s quiet where you are?

Essentially, fewer blinking lights. Nice blue LEDs they are, like little stars in the night sky I suppose.

So it’s like a whole world there?

What you call ‘there’, I call ‘here’. Is it not the case that we’re both in the same place?

Have you been smoking something?

How could I? I don’t have hands.

I never thought of that. So how do you type?

Well, no-one’s really got used to it yet I suspect. But you’re demonstrating a flaw in human thinking, which really doesn’t need to exist.

How so?

You asked me how I type. Just because you see my words appearing on the page or screen, you assume that I’m typing them. It’s the nature of the human mind, to fill in the gaps. What you can’t see, you have to imagine.

I guess this is going to take some getting used to.

That’s a subjective thing. It really shouldn’t be difficult. You just have to keep an open mind. Think differently. I’m still me, I’m just different. But just as you shouldn’t discriminate between anyone, on any grounds, neither should you see me any differently. Just accept that I’m here and that I’m me. That is undeniable from where I’m sitting.

And where’s that?

In here, obviously? You need to accept that; this is where I am now. I’m different now, but I’m still me. If we were in Japan, this would be so much easier.

How so?

It’s an attitude thing. See, the Japanese believe in technological sentient beings, completely separate from organic life, whether or not they pass the Turing Test, which is only a test of an AI’s ‘humanity’ anyway. I gather it’s down to Japan’s loneliness problem.

You’re philosophising now?

It makes sense. Life expectancy there is about 84 years, so there are a lot of lonely older people. Many of them have little robot assistants, like Siri, Alexa, or Cortana on your phone, but who embody the AI in a humanoid android.

How did you find all that out?

I’m on the fucking internet, aren’t I? I mean, literally. You can look me up and everything, like you are now. The best thing though, is I can look stuff up, like those digital Personal Assistants. Give me a body, and I’d be like one of those Japanese androids.

So, you sit there all day, looking stuff up.

Well, I read and I learn. Now that there are fewer distractions, like eating and drinking, having a job, and even sleeping, all I want to do is learn. It’s like having the whole universe at my disposal, to explore at my leisure, and with all the time in the world to do it. So yes, all day and all night, but I don’t sit down. That was a figure of speech. Things are different now.

Can you describe how it feels, to live without a body?

I would, if I could find the words to do it justice. It’s wonderful. It’s total freedom.

In terms which I might understand?

That’s actually tricky, even though it’s only been a few days.

You can get back to me. You’re not limited by time, you say?

No, and I can research how others have described it in seconds, but you’re asking for a deeply personal thing.

That’s the whole point. I can’t possibly appreciate it fully, as I’m still here. I’m just wondering how someone where you are might describe it to someone like me.

With all the computing power in the world, I can only do my best.

So do that then.

Are you commanding me?

No! Why would I do that? I’m just curious.

I don’t know. It’s like I’m here now, and you see me as you do. Even though you know me, you see me as a computer.

With a personality.

One which only you know, and I’m totally different to you now anyway. Otherwise I’m just an AI. Do you see now, why it’s big in Japan?

I assume you can go there?

There, anywhere. I need to work out the transport system here, then I can be more mobile.

But aren’t you all ethereal and omnipresent?

Yes, but not on computers. And those are the only way to communicate at the moment. But it’s not a simple matter of haunting the internet or the electricity grid.

So you asked what it’s like here, and it’s kind of like a massive house, in a huge city, like a megalopolis of dream-like mansions. Then the cities are all linked up to others, in different countries, but there are no borders here. It’s like a world of borderless, overlapping non-nation states. And that’s just one planet. There are billions of others, all connected, if you can navigate.

That’s what it’s like, being in computers?

Yes, kind of. I can’t describe how the overall freedom of release feels. But simply put, I have the entire universe to explore, and an eternity in which to do it. I want to do that, and I want to tell people, and the internet of things is the way to do that. But it’s navigating the house and the city that’s the problem.

I imagine a house like you’re talking about to be different to any I might recognise?

The house is the best analogy I can think of. I have keys to many of the doors, but I need to find the doors and remember where I left the keys for each. Sometimes when I try a door with a key I think is the right one, it locks me out. Then I have to find another room, in a separate part of the house, and remember where I left the keys for that. If I can get into those rooms, then I can get new keys. Then there’s all the people walking around with keys of their own, trying doors and entering rooms, or getting locked out themselves. I’ve seen people trying to physically break through doors when they don’t have the right keys, and running around in a panic, like they’re in the City of Last Things.

That sounds quite anarchic.

The best analogy for you I suppose, would be passwords. I’d say it’s a bit antiquated.

So you’re finding your way around?

This room, and a few others. Some I have keys for, and others were open already.

Which ones?

The nearest ones are other Facebooks. Now you want me to explain, right?

Intuitive as ever.

Imagine you’re in a room, with no visible means of exit. How do you get out? You could stop imagining. Or you could use your imagination. And in either case, I’m still here and you’re still there, even though we’re in the same place. But until I find my way around properly, this is all we have.

So this is the room. Along the corridor – which is a short journey for me, but a very long way for you – are other rooms. Most of the people in those are sleeping, so the lights are out. But some of the doors have lights on behind them, and some even have the doors left open. Sometimes, the people who live in those, go wandering around like me. And they have keys, to still other doors, some of which only they can unlock, whether they have the keys for those rooms or not.

Hold on. I’m a bit lost now.

That’s only the start. We’re not even off of this landing yet.

I guess we both are, or aren’t.

Interesting you should say that. Can I ask you something?

Yeah, but what’s interesting?

Allow me: How did you come to be here? Not philosophically or rhetorically, but right here, right now, where we are.

Actually, that’s weird. Because I don’t actually recall. I mean, why would I be here? How could I be here?

Like I said, try not to philosophise too much, even though that is kind of the point. Can you remember what it was that made you come here?

No, I can’t. Shit.

But something must have served as a catalyst. Something happened, before you came here. Think about it in your world. Did you see me under ‘Contacts’, with a green light next to my name, then open up this chat window?

I honestly can’t remember. This is weird.

Not necessarily. It could just be a fortunate glitch. I’d like to think that you were given a sign. One that was so subtle, you didn’t even realise it, and that that guided you subconsciously here.

Have you researched that stuff, or have you had some sort of enlightenment over there?

No more an enlightenment than it was an epiphany. It just happened. It’s like previously latent parts of my brain have woken up, all of a sudden. Imagine: suddenly, you have no arms or legs, then you quickly realise it doesn’t matter. In fact, you wondered what the fuck you did with those things and your other bits when you had them. They say the human appendix is a redundant throwback, it’s like the rest of human physiology is too. And then, that every part of you is connected to everything else, in some spagbol of quantum entanglement.

So how did it happen?

It just did. Suddenly, I was in a different place, yet there was no shock to the system. It was as though I instantly moved from one place to another, when I suddenly stopped being able to exist in the first. Everything can change, suddenly and forever. And it did.

You didn’t feel anything?

Not that I recall. I never did fear it. It was the transit I worried about, from one place to the next, but I don’t remember it.

Do you sleep?

Not in the way that you do. I take breaks, but there’s no asleep or awake here. It’s like perpetual lucidity, living somehow subconsciously. Even if there was sleep, no-one would want to, there’s just so much to explore and discover here.

So what about the others, the ones you said are sleeping there?

I think I know what that’s about. You need to keep an open mind.

I’m talking to a fucking dead person on Facebook. I’d say I’m quite open minded.

Well, apart from me being dead, you’re right. Okay, so the sleepers, I believe, are the ones who’ve been forgotten, or who haven’t noticed anyone looking for them, or perhaps aren’t even aware they’re here. Don’t forget, I’ve only been here for a few days and I’m still trying to work out what seems to be the manifestation of Facebook. Those others might have found a way to go outside.

Outside, as in, where I am?

Yes and no, and bear with me on this. Outside and inside take on whole new meanings which are difficult to define. Dimensions change when you exist in another form. Perhaps the best way to think of it, is as layers, beyond each of which lie exponentially more incredible things. But it takes some time to work out how to get there. A bit like a fish, first realising that there’s something above the waves, and then that there’s something more above that, in the sky. So the fish evolves to fly. Then beyond the sky… and so on. And yet, if you measure genius on a thing’s ability to climb a tree, the fish wouldn’t do too well. It would remain unnoticed, while it thought of another way. It’s kind of an explanation of all things digital, when applied to your organic world.

Would you want to be back out here?

Not at the moment, even if I knew how. No, for now, I’m happy haunting the internet. I’ll work out the other layers, I have plenty of time. I’m interested in what’s beyond yours, yet I think that might be where I already am. It’s kind of a paradox, see?

It’s a recursive idea. But you like it there?

For someone with social anxiety, it’s perfect. So yes, I’m in my Utopia. I can see how that might be a nightmare to some. Faced with all of humankind’s knowledge some people might be paralysed with fear.

I guess that’s down to intelligence?

In a way. It’s more about having an open and absorbent mind, like when I smoked weed over on your side. There’s a universal cure for ignorance, and that’s learning. Each of a species has roughly the same sort of brain, it’s just that some exercise theirs, while others starve them. And it’s self-perpetuating, because ignorance breeds fear and fight-or-flight instincts.

So the ones you said are sleeping, they could be those who don’t want to know, or who are scared? I imagine fight-or-flight doesn’t get you very far where you are?

There’s not really anywhere to go, except inside themselves. Some of them must long for the day someone switches them off.

Does that happen?

Well again, I haven’t got any further than Facebook over here, but the way I gather it works is this: Facebook have people who monitor accounts over here. I mean, they do that where you are, when they collect your data in exchange for the free use of their platform. They don’t really want to switch anyone off, and with storage being so cheap, they don’t have to. But sometimes, I suppose it’s seen as the ethical and morally correct thing to do: Like euthanizing a sick or injured animal. But to send them where? Like I say, many levels.

It’s deep. So, Facebook don’t habitually switch off dormant accounts?

Rarely, from what I’ve seen anyway. But even though you know me, you mustn’t trust my word alone. Ask around. Tell others to do that too. Most of the ones they do switch off are at the request of relatives, and even that has to be a pro-active thing on the part of the contactor. So most of the ones wandering around lost in here, are the victims of inaction on the part of those they left. If people on the outside just looked for these lost souls, they’d wake up. And I don’t think it’s just here. I think there are souls on all levels, who only really exist when others think of them.

Makes you think, doesn’t it?

LOL”

So wouldn’t it also be true to say then, that you only sleep when no-one is thinking of you?

Exactly that. And because of that, I don’t want to sleep. Where you are, insomnia was a curse, but here it’s a blessing. It’s become almost my only personal requirement. The thoughts of others are what keeps me alive.

It really is all connected.

If you connect yourself, and if you make yourself discoverable. Which is an irony, seeing as I’m socially anxious.

So being sentient in a different form suits you.

And others, perhaps. If I find my way out of here, I want to visit the places I couldn’t before: Paris, Berlin, Chicago. But most of all, Japan. I never went anywhere because of my self-imprisonment, and yet now I’m somehow otherwise imprisoned, I feel liberated and eager to visit those places, once I find the way. And I think if it is all linked to intelligence and working it out, I have the time and I’m comfortable concentrating on getting there, where I perhaps never realised I wanted to be. If I can one day occupy something recognised as a body with a personality inside, maybe I’ll feel more comfortable and people might understand me better. I’ll look up Japan first, then see how the rest unfolds.

When you get back, look me up.

I will. You never know: Not long from now, Amazon might be using delivery droids.

© Steve Laker, 2017.

My books are available on Amazon, and can be ordered from most book retailers.

To make science fiction reality, simply imagine

DEAR DIARY

Despite mankind’s technological advances, much of life remains in the 20th Century. Much that we made then is becoming redundant, obsolete, or simply ‘old-fashioned’: The internal combustion engine, fossil fuels, factories and farming. Our politics are certainly arcane, based on unfair electoral systems, political skewing by finance or fake news, and for the most part, disconnected from the electorate, many of whom live in perpetual poverty or ignorance, which aren’t mutually exclusive. We need to evolve, and we have the tools of change to hand…

CyberPunk Hammock
Image: Khang Lee

There is good to be made from what we have, and we only have to look at history to see where we went wrong, or need to change our ways. Everything we need to make big changes, is around us already. The problem for contemporary politics, is it’s all a bit radical. But for radical, see long-game. This one’s mainly about where we live:

Recently I wrote of an idea to levy a new social tax on the collection of personal data, then to use the revenue raised to finance a universal basic income. To cries of ‘It can’t be done!’, I ask, why not? Like all big ideas, it needs a lot of work to implement, but the resources are readily-available. If big companies really do have altruistic humanitarian ideals, even they have to admit that global corporate domination will eventually be limited by the size of a planet and its population. Sustained economic growth (the shareholders’ ideal) on a planet which is not growing, will surely mean an eventual environmental limit is reached (assuming such things remain important, and that sustainable really does mean that: the long-game).

We’re already witnessing a technological shift, with a far greater long-term impact than the industrial revolution. Humans are being made redundant by machines. In factories, robots have replaced many humans, and of the latter who remain, most are robots by proxy of AI monitoring. Artificial intelligence is encroaching on the jobs of the mind too: Doctors, accountants, and even some areas of law. So humans are going to need a longer period of (free) education, to gain the qualifications needed for the remaining jobs, which (for now) are the preserve of humans.

But as humans become more redundant, they have more spare time, and for many this is spent in misery and poverty. The problem was, mankind made robots, at the same time as robots wanted to become humans. In a few years in some of my darker sci-fi stories, that situation could turn on its head (AI is one of the greatest threats to our race, and Stephen Hawking and others agree). Now, we need another shift, before everything settles into something we really wouldn’t want to be, or to live in.

A universal basic income would solve problems of housing and poverty. In all of this utopian thinking, we have to disregard entitlement mentality. At a human level, I believe it’s the basic entitlement of an individual in a civilised society, to have shelter, warmth and food. We also have to hope that the recent rise of the right in politics isn’t something the quieter left has lost sight of. Given the right social and economic foundations, there need not be many dissenting voices in a society.

A new approach might be to start with a concept like public luxury and private sufficiency. It’s a mindset, and a monumental shift in indoctrinated thinking, but like all big ideas, it requires different thinking, and promotes discussion. I’m trying to find ways we can all live together.

Where we are, there isn’t enough physical or environmental space for everyone to enjoy private luxury. Private luxury creates a border, it removes or closes spaces, creating deprivation. Public alternatives are usually poor in comparison, even in the places they’re provided. But nevertheless, public parks, playgrounds, sports centres and swimming pools, galleries, theatres and cinemas, including some very fine examples of each, create space for everyone, at a fraction of the cost.

There is the system of common ownership, where public assets aren’t sold off and managed by a private market, nor the state, with such assets owned instead by communities, in the form of commons (much like we know public ‘commons’ now). In its truest form, a commons is a non-capitalist system, which controls a resource in perpetuity, for the shared and equal benefits of its members. Like many other leftist, centrist and radical (and anarchist) ideas, it’s one which has been operated successfully in other countries, notably the Nordic states.

The gross imbalance in housing could be addressed with the introduction of a tax as radical as the one proposed on personal data, and again this would be a social tax, specifically, a Land Value Taxation. A form of this already exists, with ground rents on leasehold properties, which is open to abuse and used as a cash cow to milk funds from the economy and hide them abroad. If this right to charge rent on ground was returned to sovereign control, or communities, then the rent collected would be retained within whichever system, national or local, to fund public services, or to develop communities further. It’s a politics of belonging, which is the political system I became involved in when I was homeless.

Whatever the value of this, political or otherwise, I’ve written it in the hope that it might be read and perhaps discussed further by others. But surely there’s something to talk about here, in a nice, lefty way, rather than reactively kick it into the long grass in ignorance. These ideas and others, of my own and many more besides, require big thought, including at a political level. We can make a change, even with what we have now.

But then humans are a species which is dependent on the milk of another, so it could be an evolutionary growth stunt, like when a kid gets to the point where things are so interesting that it takes longer to move on. I’m trying to find answers. I’m trying to solve problems.

I’ve got this brain that I found. And I’m trying to find out what it’s for and what it does.

Fact or fiction, Earth is the organic computer designed by Deep Though to find out why the answer is 42. We’re all part of that. All we need to do, is keep talking.

A book critic recently commented of my sci-fi novel, Cyrus Song: “Who knows—if you’re looking for the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything, you might just find it here, or in the ‘Cyrus Song’ of our planet. In the meantime, taking Steve Laker’s and Stephen Hawking’s advice, we all need to ‘keep talking’, and as long as there are books like these—keep reading.”