Triangle To Doom

The is the second of ‘Sjef’s Super Stories’, written aged 11 in my last year of primary school; 1992. Unfortunately I have no recollection of why Australia required the SEGA games, but I’m sure they were absolutely necessary at the time.

“Dad’s home!” Jack yelled, hearing the motorbike roaring up the drive. “Yay!” Denny and Ann yelled. “I wanna ride!” said Denny. “O.K. but I get to do the scratchie,” Ann said. When Dad finally came in and handed the scratchie to Ann everyone crowded around. “What kind is it?” Asked Jack. “ doomsday,” Ann replied. “All right!” said Jack as he had already won the whole set of gross ghouls and a back-pack with these cards. As Ann scratched, everyone held their breath. Quietly Jack read, “win, win,” then “WIN!” “WHAT DID WE GET?” Denny yelled. Quickly Ann scratched away the remaining box. “A cruise smack-bang through the middle of the Bermuda triangle!” exclaimed Dad. “AAAAAGH!!!!,” Denny yelled, “We’ll all fall into a big warp-zone and get zapped by monsters and eaten by triangles and, and, and, an….” “Oh shut up,” said Jack (who thought there was a reasonable explanation for everything.) “Boats and planes go through there all the time nothings happened for fifteen years!” “Then our boat will be overdue,” said Denny, who had all of a sudden become an expert on the Bermuda Triangle and was the ultimate pessimist. “Well we’ll just have to take our chances with the holes and monsters won’t we?” said Mum who thought that a cruise would be just the thing for a good break. “O.K,” said Dad, “we’ll go!”

***

“Hurry up you dope, our boat leaves in ten minutes!” yelled Jack at Ann, who was convinced they were going to be shipped away to Australia with a whole lot of SEGA games. “Look,” said dad. “Our boat is called the Bermuda Bounty and THAT’S it THERE!” “ALRIGHT!” What are you waiting for then?” Two days later and the cruise wasn’t much fun anymore. Denny was grounded to the cabin for the rest of the day for stealing Mum’s money to go to the spacies on Deck 4, while Ann had to stay inside because she had sunburn and dad was sick in the toilet, drunk as a skunk from the free beer at the bar below. Jack had won a jackpot on the fruit machine and he had spent all of it on the food dispenser and the spacies. Mum had been sea-sick all the way and the weather was about to pack-up. “MuuuuuuuuuuuM, why can’t I be let off? The weather’s too bad for me to go outside anyway.” “Oh all right. but if I ever catch you doing anything like that again, CHOP,” Mum said, drawing her finger across her throat. Then a voice came over the intercom. “This is your captain speaking. It appears that we are experiencing some weather typical in this region of the triangle, but out helmsman has it all under control.” When Jack heard this message he quickly killed off his game and went over to the custom designed “shipscreen” and punched in “bridge view.” [Taping requires another $3.00]. Annoyed Jack stuffed in another 2 coins and intently watched the screen. What he saw, then absolutely horrified him. He saw three purplish- yellow blobs fall from the sky and disappear into the water. Then a whirl-pool formed in each spot where a blob had landed. The ship was about to enter one when the screen went dead and the message flashed up, [End of taping, for computer copy insert $2.00]. Jack annoyedly stuffed in the coin, grabbed the disk and ran off to show the others on his father’s laptop. Ten minutes later everyone was lining up in the dining room where the captain told them their places in the lifeboats. Then, all of a sudden there was a spinning sensation which got faster and faster with every passing second. Suddenly there was a great CRASH which broke the bones of many people. Then about ten blue triangles burst through the wall carrying laser gatling guns and scanning equipment. They herded everyone into a corner before another black triangle came through the hole on the wall, stood up and said, “Greetings surfacelings! I am the great Bermuda! Long ago your people were friends with ours. We lived in peace and harmony until your kind grew greedy and chased us away. Now you put our world at risk, making nuclear weapons that could destroy the earth, so our people have planned a great invasion.” “So what do you want us for!?” someone in the back yelled. “It is not you we want, but your ship,” said the great Bermuda, “Now we have enough transport we will be able to start our offensive. But do not worry, there will be no unnecessary killing. We will simply take over. It is the better way.” “So what will happen to us? someone yelled. “You will be warped back through time and will not remember anything….anything….anyth…

“Dad’s home!” Jack yelled, hearing the motorbike roaring up the drive…

Sjef van Gaalen, 1992.

Escape Through Thought

The is the first of ‘Sjef’s Super Stories’, written aged 11 in my last year of primary school; 1992. For this story I would like to apologize to Mexicans. I now believe you can shoot just as straight as everyone else, no demonstrations will be required.

He was standing on the bridge, gallows above him and a stump below him. The soldiers behind him were laughing, gambling over who was going to kick the stump and send him to oblivion. His life had just flashed before his eyes and now he was only thinking of ways to escape. He had already tried yelling “The British, I’m saved!”, but he only received a crack on the head with the butt of a rifle. One of the soldiers was just drawing back his foot to kick the stump when a jeep drove up.

“They have come to watch me die”, he thought miserably, but when the soldiers all sprang to attention he knew differently. “Let him go,” the colonel said, “he has military secrets!”. As the soldiers untied him he saw his chance. When they were halfway across the bridge he suddenly karate-kicked his guard in the face and took a death-defying leap into the raging waters. As he dived he heard the ominous clicking of German assault rifles being cocked amongst a cry of, “Fire at will!” given by the colonel.

He stayed underwater for about two minutes before his lungs forced him up again. As he went back under he felt a white-hot pain in his arm and when he surfaced again he saw a red stain on his shirt where a bullet had ripped through. He knew he was not quite out of range but he risked a look back at the bridge. He saw two things he didn’t like; missile launcher being loaded on the bridge and a jeep coming towards him with five men and two dogs on back. Then he saw a great splash as the rocket launcher was fired, sending its shell which missed him by a few meters. He knew he would be out of range by now, so he clambered out of the river and into the trees. He heard the shouts of the men and barks as the two rotweillers were let off. He ran, stumbling along in a blind panic. The rotweillers were only a few meters away from him now so he leapt for the nearest tree, scrambling up, thinking, “NOT gonna die, NOT gonna die!”. Then he hit his head on a branch and fell.

When he awoke he found his shot arm bandaged and a German looming over him with a syringe. “Truth drug!” he thought and tried to punch the German in the face but he was tied down. The German laughed, saying something about not learning, and stuck the needle in his arm. When he came around he found himself leaning against a tree with another German pointing a rifle in his face. He braced himself for death but when the German pulled the trigger there was nothing but a click. He started to run, joyfully yelling “Auf wiedersehen!” over his shoulder at the swearing German behind him. He heard many shots but none hit him. “They must all be Mexican!” he thought laughingly. He looked around himself later, and saw a row of trees up on a ridge. Then, all of a sudden he knew where he was. He ran to the top of the ridge and below him was the farm he knew so well, his house and his family. His wife had seen him and was running up the hill towards him but just as she was a few meters away from him he felt a sudden pain and knew no more.

He had hung, dreaming.

Sjef van Gaalen, 1992

Sjef’s Super Stories

I recently rediscovered a manuscript documenting what has long been my most prolific year as a writer, 1992. Sjef’s Super Stories are what remains of my output during writing time in that last year of my primary school education. Each story was written out longhand in a long lost exercise book, spell-checked by a classmate, typed up during computer time on the Apple IIe clone in class and then glued into the cardboard storybook we were required to fabricate, finally reaching ‘published’ status.

Re-reading this collection a few weeks ago for the first time since then I laughed. I laughed hard. If these are half as funny to anyone else as they are to me they are worth sharing. My goal as far as writing is concerned is now clear, I must beat my eleven year old self. Hopefully one day I will be as awesome as I was back then.

Over the next month or so I’ll be authoring a story for the final assignment of the ‘Introduction to Cyberpunk‘ course, which will be the first fiction longer than 140 characters I’ve composed in the 18 years since that work in primary school. For entertainment while you wait and to set a benchmark against which to measure my progress (or lack thereof), I will post one of those old tales every so often till I’m done. You can expect the first installment to appear later this week.

Atemporaneous Continuality

This is the fourth assignment for ‘Introduction to Cyberpunk Literature’ at P2PU.org. This penultimate assignment asks where we are going, and whether or not we have a choice. We will look at the developments since the days of Cyberpunk and some of the trends currently emerging from, in and around Science Fiction.

“Cyberpunk is just science fiction by another name. It’s just another attempt, another wave of technical development, and another wave of literateurs trying to jump the gap between the two cultures.” – Bruce Sterling

The heyday of Cyberpunk was almost 30 years ago now, so before we attempt to look forward to where we’re going we should first look back at where we’ve been and what mutant offspring the genre has spawned since then. The first freak appeared in the early 90’s when Bill & Bruce put away their mirrorshades for a while and donned their monocles instead, bringing us widespread acceptance of the first Cyberpunk derivative; Steampunk, and a naming conventional meme that has also assisted the bastard births of Biopunk, Atompunk, Clockpunk, Dieselpunk, Stitchpunk, Salvagepunk, Mythpunk, Elfpunk, Splatterpunk, Nanopunk, Greenpunk, Stonepunk, Sandalpunk, Cattlepunk, Vegapunk, and for fuck’s sake can somebody just do Derivativepunk and get this shit over with.

The progeny with the purest genes and Cyberpunks’ primary heir is the imaginatively named Postcyberpunk. In the 90’s the original movement authors were no longer running around doing coke off laser beams or whatever they did in the 80’s but buying houses and raising children, so Science Fiction lightened up a little. The chrome lost its shine, dire dystopic settings gave way to not-half-bad places to live, characters attempted interaction with society instead of just being loner assholes and the general hard edged doom and gloom gave way to a more optimistic near-future view. This all makes perfect sense as you wouldn’t want to spend your days projecting the future as a dog-eat-dog shithole while you watch your kids grow up in it. Besides this a new generation of authors were being published who had matured under the influence of cyberpunk. They didn’t write their first novels on typewriters, the computer and a networked world were a given for them, not groundbreaking ideas, and as all good Science Fiction writers do they concentrated on the exploration of issues reflecting their own present perceptions and concerns.

Of course Cyberpunk never really died, it just went to Switzerland for a cryo-treatment and a blood change (as you do) and was recently reported to be seen trading biocores in Sub-Saharan Africa. Our man on the ground is Jonathan Dotse, current owner of the portmanteau afrocyberpunk. He’s working on his first novel and judging by the first few entries on his blog, he is the guy to watch if you prefer your cyberpunk served raw.

“You don’t have to predict the future when you live in it.” Bruce Sterling

Where then, as this assignments asks, are we now going? The wave of Post-modernism is over and we have moved into a new age of our cultural development. In this place the waves of technical development, social development and artistic response have reached incredibly high frequencies and emanate from multiple locations in space and time, creating crazy interference patterns, standing waves and eerie deadzones. Call it network culture, remix culture, transcontemporaneity, atemporality or nowdernity, whatever it is by the time we settle on a name it will just about be through. One response to this has been to drop the idea of the future as a place we have yet to reach altogether in what Cory Doctorow has called ‘Radical Presentism’. A prominent example being the recent work of William Gibson, as Cory commented; “a science fiction novel so futuristic that Gibson set it a year before it was published.”

Another response can be found in new narrative formats that have emerged with our new media, allowing Science Fiction to extend itself past the scope of its traditional story conventions. On one end of the scale there are vast collaborative world building exercises such as Orion’s Arm and The Mongoliad, on the other the micro-shrapnel fiction of works like Windsor Executive Solutions and everything ever published on Thaumatrope.

“The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” Alan Kay

Most interesting is the increasingly common occurrence and consequent recognition of Design Fiction, which mixes fact, design and fiction in new ways allowing the narrative techniques of literature to be applied to the creation of objects and worlds both virtual and material. The ubiquitous availability of digital design tools now allow all who wish to do so not only to envision the future, but also immediately instantiate a prototype of it to play with. Sandboxing the future is no longer the domain of a select group of authors or highly funded labs but anyone who cares to learn a simple set of tools. Of course having some talent helps too. The democratization of design has been decried by some, but the cost of failure has been reduced to the point that if someone has an idea, it’s almost more expensive not to try it out.

“Fiction is evolutionarily valuable because it allows low-cost experimentation compared to trying things for real.” Dennis Dutton

So do we have a choice? We have more choices than we can possibly make, people are having to hack their actual lives just to get enough time in to deal with them. Even in the cases where we don’t have a choice there are increasingly more ways for us to track down who does and hassle them to get our way. The future as far as any of our experiences is concerned consists only of the time we have left to live, so choosing how we spend our precious time and what consumes our space should bear some serious consideration. You can instantiate a personalized future that would make the previous century’s hardest-edged surrealists look about as exciting as registered accountants, or stand around and stare in abject horror as the world around you completely removes itself from any conservative baseline of normality. You can have all the choice you want, unless you choose for nothing to change. Then it sucks to be you.

“I would sum up my fear about the future in one word: boring.” J.G Ballard

Recommended Reading

Notes Toward a Postcyberpunk Manifesto – Lawrence Person, 1999 Design Fiction: A Short Essay on Design, Science, Fact and Fiction – Julian Bleecker, 2009 Design Fiction – Bruce Sterling, 2009 Radical Presentism – Cory Doctorow, 2009 Book Expo America Luncheon Talk – William Gibson, 2010

Recommended Viewing

[fractal’09] Cyberpunk & Post-Cyberpunk The editors of the Rewired anthology discuss Cyberpunk & Post-Cyberpunk at Fractal’09, an conference about the future held in Colombia. – James Patrick Kelly & John Kessel, 2009

Atemporality & The Passage of Time Using a different approach to a human standpoint of time, Bruce Sterling attempts to examine futurity, history and the present from the standpoint of contemporary temporalism. Aka wtf is happening to us. – Bruce Sterling, 2009

Design fiction [Lift Asia09 EN] Imagining the near future through “design fictions” and prototypes of networked artifacts. This presentation is about the relationship between design and science fiction, and the new narrative forms they have enabled. – Julian Bleecker, 2009