There's a moment midway through The Peripheral where Flynne Fisher, the book's young female near future protagonist, returns from visiting the far future and has to remind herself that she's physically in the present, not situated in the past. Which accurately describes the sensation the reader has of putting the book down at that point too. William Gibson has crafted a step ladder to look over the horizon of present, past an economic and social collapse to glimpse what lies beyond a technological singularity. The science-fictional world we inhabit today quickly becomes mundane, and artful writer that he is, you find yourself not just accidentally thinking of today as the past, but thinking of the now in terms of the language of two separate fictional futures.
In The Peripheral we have Gibson first conjuring the USA in the endgame of the economic collapse to come, according to many a futurist; pitched as kind of a Justified of the Future. The big-box franchises of WalMart and its like, mixed with a society seemingly only kept afloat by the narcoeconomy to one side and the security state from the other. Everybody is hustling, which is how Flynne finds herself subbing for her brother who's himself moonlighting for some corporation, remote-operating as security for... exactly what they're not quite sure, but they presume to be a new game engine.
She witnesses what appears to be an overly graphically rendered death, and events are set in motion. It turns out that Flynne was acting as security for something occurring in a different realm. And by witnessing the event her, her family, friends, town, country and the entire planet's fate are successively entangled with those of its almost god-like residents, and forever changed as a result. Giving the plot an aspect of “as above, so below.”
The novel's plot is simply a matter of having Flynne identify someone from the crime scene. But manoeuvring her into a position to do so takes her and her friends on a compelling and transformational journey.
This is on one level a straight murder mystery. A basic whodunnit. A witness to be protected from unknown, powerful forces. A crime to be solved, wrongs to be righted, notions of order maintained and two different worlds elaborated in the process of the telling. It's the mechanics of this - the how and the why and the frankly amazing setting - that make this a mind-blowing read.
All the signature elements of a Gibson story are here – the attention to detail about fashion that exists on a natural continuum from haute couture to milspec, the Russian gangsters, the tight knit group of former military operators, the spy with spooky powers and deep state access, and the wealthy patron exploiting novelty to find the next angle and increase their capital.
The setting of the crime and home of The Peripheral's second, alternate protagonist, Wilf Netherton, is another Gibson favourite, London. A place that is very much the City, but in a world unrecognisable in many aspects of its every day life – both to us and Flynne. All pretence of a separation between capitalism, democracy and multinational crime has been abandoned and a posthuman kleptocracy is the dominant order. The NeoReactionary Future many of us fear has to come pass.
The circle of wealth and privilege Wilf exists in adds to the contrast of Flynne's everyday struggle just to keep her mother in life-giving medication. As their paths converge their different backgrounds and attitudes are emphasised with Netherton's casual declaration that “it's only money”.
This London is in the far future Vernor Vinge warned us about in his classic “The Coming Technological Singularity: How to Survive in the Post-Human Era”. Their powers are immense – nanotechnological assemblers make them near omnipotent - but the world has been vastly depopulated in the transition. They have seemingly everything, but are also not without their own problems. As fellow cyberpunk writer Bruce Sterling has described this likely scenario:
“The posthuman condition is banal. It is crypto — theological, and astounding, and apocalyptic, and eschatological, and ontological, but only by human standards. Oh sure, we become as gods (or something does), but the thrill fades fast, because that thrill is merely human and parochial. By the new, post Singularity standards, posthumans are just as bored and frustrated as humans ever were. They are not magic, they are still quotidian entities in a gritty, rules — based physical universe. They will find themselves swiftly and bruisingly brought up against the limits of their own conditions, whatever those limits and conditions may be.”
The bridge between these two worlds is a piece of magical technology of unknown workings and providence. Exactly the kind of thing to occupy the attention of a posthuman kleptocrat who has seemingly everything we could ever imagine.
Treating the past like a toy pocket dimension. One that is accessed via something like a game server, its residents treated like game pieces and then used as a board to compete against others as if it was all just a Real-Time Strategy.
The act of reaching back changes the present, for reasons also not understood, while the future goes on. This is a comfortable scenario to those familiar with the Many World's theory. A different timeline, or continuum, branches off but the connection between the two is magically maintained by whatever it is that initiated it in the first place.
The human citizens of Flynne's present, and the neoprimitives of the post-Singular world – populations that have survived the singularity with their baseline humanity intact – these are both valuable sources of novelty to the posthuman klepts, something that with all their power (and possibly a consequence of it), they seem unable to generate themselves, but are desperate for, if only to relieve their boredom.
To those conversant with early cyberpunk fiction, the mining of the past to enrich the future is a familiar scenario, as explored in the Mozart in Mirrorshades short-story, from the Mirrorshades anthology. To others, the short-lived tv series Terra Nova may serve as a reference point.
Flynne is transported into this future world by the same game server device connection. Just as Neo breaks out of and then jacks back into The Matrix across realities, and Jake Sully pilots his Avatar across space, Flynne, and the others who come to join her, operate remote bodies; varying from bioengineering humanoid drones, to exoskeletons, to almost indescribable physical objects.
To say any more now would really ruin the enjoyment of reading such a masterful tale. The vocabulary of these futures is slowly built up such that by the end of the story you're reading a sentence with a completely different meaning ascribed to it than before you'd started this book.
Speculative fiction serves to pose not just well constructed thought experiments of what might become, but to also cast a new light on the present in doing so. Just as the klepts come to use their far future knowledge to grind the lives of Flynne & co. like it was just another MMO, so we can inform our own actions today by reading this tale about two tomorrows.
Most notable to me, apart from the foreground of economical collapse and subsequent radical transformation, is the thread of extinction woven into the world view. One of the characters is in permanent mourning for the species being killed by the ecological collapse under way right now. Another keeps simulacra of animals long vanished from our world as household pets, resurrected to act as perhaps no more than a status object. As Gibson is wont to do, this is an emergent part of the zeitgeist that is being tapped into. The question it leaves me with most of all is, as consciousness of this is raised, what is to be done?
All of which makes The Peripheral more than just a tightly constructed, fascinating piece of story-telling. It makes it an important element in a cultural conversation that desperately needs to be more visibly taking place.
***** HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Today sees the release of Lev Grossman's The Magician's Land (Amazon US/Amazon UK), the concluding chapter of his excellent Magicians series. Over at the A.V. Club, Grossman discusses 5 favorite magic portals in fantasy fiction, with some interesting insights into our fascination with doorways to other magical places or dimensions:
There’s an appeal to those portals, and it’s always been extremely primal to me. Even when I was 8 and read The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe for the first time, it hit me like a truck. Of course this can’t possibly be all there is. There has to be some alternative to this world that’s all around me. If I could just look in the right direction, I could see it. There’s something so seductive about that idea, and I knew I had to write about it at some point. I remember reading [the first book in] A Song Of Ice And Fire in the ’90s and thinking, Martin has remade epic fantasy completely. He’s taken the Tolkien tradition and transformed it. Nobody had done that for the C.S. Lewis tradition, which has always had more of an air of middle-grade fiction about it. Could you take that idea of the portal fantasy and drag it into adulthood? What would it look like? That’s where The Magicians came from, trying to reengineer that subgenre for adults.
Grossman mentions just a few of the famous magical portals from history, but when I began to think about it, the idea of magical portals is amazingly prevalent, from fantasy right through to science fiction (hence the Stargate image at the top of this post).
It's a genre that has always appealed to me, so if you've got some favourite 'portal fiction' to share, please do so in the comments!
Are you a connoisseur of science fiction films? Check out Time Out's list of the "100 Best Sci-Fi Movies" and see how many you've fed to your eyeballs. Let me know in the comments how many you can tick off, and any notable absences or problems with the order that you can see.
Apart from catering to some of the 'blockbuster' movies that are more sci-fi in setting than theme, I think it's a great list...the fact that I thought The Matrix should be a bit higher, but couldn't figure out which movie to tip out to make way for it, suggests that they've done an excellent job. No doubt helped by the fact that the list was voted on by "leading sci-fi experts, filmmakers, science fiction writers, film critics and scientists", such as Guillermo del Toro and George R.R. Martin.
The world needs more Robert Anton Wilson. At a time when so many people take themselves and their views far too seriously, RAW's "agnostic mysticism" provides a different way forward, one in which we all understand the 'reality tunnels' we live within - and as a consequence, help us to take everything *we* say with a grain of salt.
So I was excited to see the newly-created crowd-funding drive to support a stage play (and accompanying festival) based around RAW's Cosmic Trigger, which will be directed by Daisy Campbell (daughter of British theatre maven Ken Campbell, who in 1976 staged a now-legendary play based on another RAW classic, Illuminatus!):
[I]t’s time to tackle another one of Wilson’s works: Cosmic Trigger, the philosophical tract which has influenced figures as diverse as X-Files creator Chris Carter, SF author and futurist David Brin, film-makers and South Park Creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker, and author Tom Robbins. Philip K Dick said Wilson had “reversed every mental polarity in me, as if I had been pulled through infinity”. Jesse Walker called Wilson “the elephant in our cultural living room”.
Daisy’s adaptation recounts the period of Bob’s life around the inspiration for, writing of and theatrical culmination of Illuminatus!, a period where he also met iconic countercultural figures like Timothy Leary, Alan Watts and William Burroughs, all of whom feature in the play. The narrative slips in and out of Illuminatus! itself and the production employs song, music, projections and stagecraft to evoke the real-life hallucinogenic trip through conspiracy, paranoia and enlightenment that transformed Bob from a simple Playboy editor into the influential countercultural figure he is today.
Robert Anton Wilson sought to induce in his readers agnosticism; not just about God, but about everything; and all his work blurs the lines between truth and fiction. This will be reflected in a staging style that often breaks down theatrical conventions, with actors amidst the audience, tiny stage-sets that can pop up anywhere and cutting-edge projection trickery, allowing the very walls of the theatre to drop away at one climatic moment. Alan Moore (Watchmen, V For Vendetta) will voice The World's Most Intelligent Computer, and Jamie Reid (Sex Pistols album artist) will lend his occult artworks to the production.
The three hour play will be the centerpiece to a three day festival of Bob, celebrating the author, his work, his influence and his legacy. A range of influential contemporary speakers will attend and give addresses, people like Robin Ince, John Higgs and members of the Maybe Logic Academy. This will be a forum to listen to contemporary countercultural figures, network with like-minded individuals and pick up rare books and goods in the marketplace. So you’re not just funding a play, you’re funding a circus that we want to bring to your town.
Bob’s ideas are profound, optimistic and funny. His legacy will one day be remembered alongside such literary philosophers as Aldous Huxley and James Joyce – if those of us whose lives he’s enriched pull together now and make this event a reality.
Here's Daisy Campbell talking about the project:
To get a feel for the fun and madness that is sure to accompany a production of RAW's work - not least via a woman whose middle name is Eris! - have a read of Cat Vincent's Daily Grail review of the Pulling the Cosmic Trigger event held earlier this year in Liverpool, and also check out the story I wrote last year documenting some of the insane synchronicities and links that emerged out of Ken Campbell's 1976 production of Illuminatus!.
And if in any doubt about the importance of Robert Anton Wilson's work, listen to Alan Moore, who definitely knows the score when it comes to RAW (note that one of the pledge rewards for the crowd-funding drive is a DVD of the complete interview with Alan which the excerpt below is taken from):
Come on Grailers, let's get behind a worthy cause - head on over to IndieGoGo and drop some coins in the can (mmm, gotta get me one of those awesome t-shirts!), and help pull the Cosmic Trigger!
Why did I not branch off into this multiverse?
In 1981 George Lucas approached David Lynch to direct the final installment of the STAR WARS trilogy. For years fans of Lynch and Lucas have wondered what that surreal vision would look like. Now we finally know.... in David Lynch's RETURN OF THE JEDI.
Meanwhile, there's a fun discussion of possible movie titles for a David Lynch Star Wars movie over at the Boing Boing BBS: "Mulholland Hyperdrive", "Tatooine Peaks", "Pod-racer-head" and "Wild AT-AT Heart". Any more folks?
Many readers will know Michael Prescott as a blogger who posts intelligent analyses of various paranormal-themed topics, from historical cases through to cutting edge parapsychological theories (we occasionally link to Michael's blog in our news briefs, and have featured some of his essays in our Fortean anthology series Darklore). But Michael's writing talents aren't confined to non-fiction - he's also a very successful novelist who has released a number of novels, the most recent of which is Chasing Omega, a story about "a psychic medium on the run from a secret conspiracy that may hold the key to the truth about life, death...and what comes after".
After twenty years in traditional publishing, novelist Michael Prescott found himself out of work in 2007, his career apparently over. On a whim, he began releasing his older titles and some new novels in ebook form. Much to his amazement, sales took off, and by 2011 he was one of the bestselling ebook writers in the United States, profiled in USA Today and sought after for interviews. To date he has sold nearly 1.5 million ebooks.
His latest ebook releases are three backlist titles, COMES THE DARK, SHUDDER, and SHATTER, the crime thriller COLD AROUND THE HEART, the anthology STEEL TRAP AND OTHER STORIES, and the paranormal novella CHASING OMEGA
Funnily enough, given his knowledge in paranormal topics, Chasing Omega is the first of Michael's novels to really delve into this area - it's only $2.99 on Kindle, so grab a copy if you're on the lookout for something to read! (You can also view Michael's other books on his Amazon author page)
Link: Michael Prescott's Blog
Buy: Chasing Omega
Our good friend John Higgs, who has written articles for two Grail-related publications (Sub Rosa and Darklore), has just released his latest novel The First Church on the Moon (as J.M.R. Higgs) - and for the next day or so, you can grab it as a Kindle eBook ABSOLUTELY FREE from Amazon US or Amazon UK! It's a wonderful humorous exploration of everything from religion to free will and why you really shouldn't drink alcohol on the Moon, very much in the style of Douglas Adams or Terry Pratchett. It won't be free for much longer, so get in!
And if you haven't already read John's first novel, The Brandy of the Damned, then I highly recommend you grab a copy - it blew me away, and is one of the best books I've read in a long, long while.
War God, a fiction novel by our good friend, alternative history author Graham Hancock, is now available in the U.S. as a Kindle eBook - and you can pick it up for just $2.99!
This is the epic story of the clash of two empires, two armies and two gods of war. Five hundred desperate adventurers are about to pit themselves against the most brutal armies of the ancient Americas, armies hundreds of thousands strong.
Dark powers that work behind the scenes of history show their hand as the prophecy of the return of Quetzalcoatl is fulfilled with the arrival of Cortés. The Aztec ruler Moctezuma fights to maintain the demands of the war god Huitzilopochtli for human sacrifice. The Spanish Inquisition is planning an even greater blood-letting.
Yet, in the midst of the brutal and bloody battles, deep friendship and love survive through the massacres. Tozi, a young girl, who has seen many deaths inflicted in many ingenious and horrible ways, uses her magical gifts to save those she loves. Pepillo, a Spanish orphan who serves a sadistic Dominican friar, is taken under the wing of Cortés, and begins to learn what it takes to be a conquistador.
They are caught up in the headlong collision between two gods of war, along with Malinal, a beautiful sex slave, whose hatred of Moctezuma runs so deep she will sell out her own land and people to destroy him.
Our good friend Mark Foster has just released the second novel in his "Messages From The Unseen World" sci-fi/fantasy series, titled The Story and the Teller. The first novel, Everywhere But No Place, was a cracker of a read, and I can't wait to bury my head in the sequel. Part cyber-techno thriller, part mythic and part magic, the series is a great tale well told.
And if you haven't yet read Everywhere But No Place, listen up: to celebrate the release of the new book The Story and the Teller, Mark has made the first book in the series A FREE DOWNLOAD for Kindle readers! Get in now folks, before he realises this madness and changes his mind. And while you're there, why not actually pay for a copy of the second novel, because (a) it's just a few bucks for two fantastic novels and (b) he fully deserves some money in his pocket for these wonderful books.
Note too, if you like to dip your toe in the water before submerging fully, the first few chapters of each book are also available as samples on the Messages From The Unseen World website.
This article is excerpted from Darklore Volume 7, which is now available for sale from Amazon US and Amazon UK (collectors/investors: a Limited Edition hardcover is also available). The Darklore anthology series features the best writing and research on paranormal, Fortean and hidden history topics, by the most respected names in the field: Robert Schoch, Nick Redfern, Loren Coleman, Robert Bauval and Daniel Pinchbeck, to name just a few. Darklore's aim is to support quality researchers, so it makes sense to support Darklore. For more information on the series (including more free sample articles), visit the Darklore website.
From Operation Mindf**k to The White Room
The Strange Discordian Journey of the KLF
by J.M.R. Higgs
In the 1980s, pop stars made movies. Prince, Madonna and the Pet Shop Boys all went in front of the cameras. The KLF made a film as well, but they went about it in a very different manner. Theirs was never released, or even properly finished, and they made it before they had a string of hit singles rather than afterwards. It was called The White Room.
The White Room is a very different beast to Purple Rain or Desperately Seeking Susan. It’s a dialogue-free ambient road movie just under an hour in length, for a start. The band had experimented with ambient film before, shooting an experimental movie called Waiting on VHS on the Isle of Jura the previous year. The White Room, however, had been shot with a professional crew and cost around £250,000, money they had earned from a Doctor Who-themed novelty record they had released under the name The Timelords.
The film starts at a rave in the basement of a South London squat known as Transcentral. Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty, the duo behind The KLF, leave the party and get into a 1968 Ford Galaxie American police car. In the back sits a solicitor, played by their own solicitor David Franks. He hands them a contract, which the pair sign without reading. Franks exits and Drummond and Cauty drive off.
Pretty much most of the rest of the film is them driving.
First, they drive around London at night. Then, they drive around the Sierra Nevada region of Spain. This goes on for some time. Not much happens, although they do find a dead eagle, and at one point they stop for petrol.
Eventually the pair stop and build a camp fire, an event which occurs twice in the film. At each point, the solicitor is seen in the smoke from the fire, studying the contract – a distinctly Faustian image. The solicitor discovers something in one of the contract’s clauses, and writes ‘Liberation Loophole!’ on the contract.
Events in the film now gain more momentum. Drummond is seen throwing the contract into the air, obviously delighted. He has, by this point, changed into a pair of plus-fours and is dressed not unlike an Edwardian mountaineer. Cauty then paints the car white and they drive, past a burning bush, up into the snow-peaked mountains. When the car gets stuck in the snow they abandon it and continue up on foot. Cauty has not joined Drummond in sporting the Edwardian mountaineer look, instead wearing a more sensible white parka. Eventually they reach the summit, where they find a large white building with a radio telescope. They go in.
They find themselves in a white, smoke-filled void – the White Room. They find a pair of fake moustaches on a pedestal, and put them on. Then they find the solicitor, sitting at a white table. He shows them the clause he has found in the contract. They nod. The pair then walk away, dissolving into the smoke and vanishing into the void. The End.
It was, all in all, an odd way to spend £250,000. The story of why it was made, however, is far stranger.
The Most Influential Photocopier in History?
In the mid-1960s a photocopier was state of the art technology, and having access to one was something of a privilege. The act of using an office photocopier after hours for personal projects, without the boss knowing, was therefore a far riskier and more rebellious act than it is today. This was certainly the case for Lane Caplinger, a secretary for New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison.
In 1991 Garrison was portrayed by Kevin Costner in Oliver Stone’s movie JFK, a film based on Garrison’s book On The Trail Of The Assassins. But this was 1965, a year before he became involved in Kennedy conspiracies and two years before the Summer of Love thrust hippies, psychedelic drugs and alternative lifestyles in front of an unprepared public. Things had not yet begun to ‘get weird’, in other words, and for a respected public figure like Garrison, there was little to indicate what surprises the future had in store. He would have been quite unprepared, then, for ... Read More »