The winter her grandfather died, Cari Silvestri swapped her home town for a new life. But the past is not so easily outrun. Almost ten years on, Grandfather returns, his stolen memories repackaged by technology giant Merrywhile Industries as a slick marketing promo for their latest project: digital immortality. But when no one believes her, Cari’s search for proof and answers gradually draws her into a lawless digital underworld.
Mel Faith is also haunted by the past. Her journalistic career circling the drain, she finds herself still obsessed with the one piece she never filed – the tragic history of Michael Sommeil, grandson of Merrywhile’s founder. It’s a story with few leads and fewer prospects, but at whose heart – she’s sure – a secret still sits untold.
As their paths intertwine, the two women enter a world of masks and aliases, of mercenary hackers and corporate spies, and where, underlying it all, is the hunt for the Singularity – the point, both feared and hoped for, where AI will finally surpass human understanding, and nothing will ever again be the same.
Chris Beckett is an Arthur C Clarke award winning science fiction author. He’s published six (soon to be seven) novels and dozens of short stories, often focusing on ‘inner’ as opposed to ‘outer’ space. I caught up with him to chat about isolation, metaphysics, and tribalism in modern society.
Hi Chris, welcome to Writers on Lockdown! So, how are you faring in these strange times? Is isolation a help or a hindrance to your writing process?
I’ve been having difficulty moving my writing forward this last couple of months, but this often happens – I simply dry up and can’t seem to write anything – and it may have nothing to do with the lockdown. However I do think my ability to concentrate (never brilliant to be honest) is worse than usual.
When the real world is stranger and more engrossing than usual – and I am finding it engrossing – it is perhaps harder to focus on imagined worlds?
In my life generally, I’d say I am finding the lockdown more interesting than distressing. I’m used to spending a lot of time by myself at home, and in some ways the lockdown is providing a stimulus for me to find ways of keeping more in touch with some people than I usually would, which is nice.
I have a little granddaughter – she is 13 months old – and I’m very sad not to be able to spend time with her, as the plan had been (until this happened) that I would be looking after her for one day a week.
I’ve heard from several writers that their creativity is at a low point. I wonder if being engrossed in new situations is all part of ‘refilling the well’ of inspiration. Do you think we’ll see a different kind of fiction emerge on the other side of this?
I think that’s exactly right about ‘refilling the well’. We have to stock up on life in order to have anything to write about. And none of us have had many experiences which are completely comparable to this one. (In fact a lot of writers have had pretty quiet lives generally, I suspect). I’m sure new kinds of fiction will come out of this, but I really don’t know what. This virus has changed life for everyone, but in so many different ways.
I wanted to talk in particular about your recent novel, Beneath the World, a Sea, which is full of strong, surreal imagery, questions of the unconscious and philosophy of mind. When so many science fiction writers are focused on future technology, what made you turn inwards and address the nature of consciousness?
Ellinor Kall is an explorer of the liminal, embodying the blend between fiction and non-fiction. The popularity of her short story The DreamCube Thread in our recent anthology sparked this conversation on isolation, automatic writing, and occult influences.
Hi Ellinor, welcome to Writers on Lockdown!
Thanks, it’s my pleasure!
So how are things over in Sweden, are you feeling as ‘locked down’ as us?
From what I gather you in the UK seem to have a stricter policy than us. There are restrictions on how many can gather in one place, on visiting the older and vulnerable groups and things like that. Many work from home if possible, but many people are still out and about.
Every spring Swedes go crazy when the sun returns after a long dark winter and people HAVE to gather at the temporary outdoor seatings that pop up outside the pubs – no virus can stop this annual sun-worshipping ritual. Maybe it’s a remnant of some stupid viking mentality: if we die in battle with the virus we’ll get to sit and drink beer in the sun on plastic chairs outside Valhalla.
Haha! Do you find isolation a help or a hindrance to your creative process?
I’m a rather introverted person, and before this I was already working from home at least one day a week. And when not working, well, I’m mostly staying at home, reading, writing, listening to music, watching films and playing games. So this “isolation” is normal for me.
When I’m working on something longer I need time, preferably over several days, to get into the right mindset, get into the world, arrange all the pieces before I continue writing. Any disturbance from the outside world and I have to start over again. My mind is kinda chaotic and wants to go off and do other things all the time. So I have to spend a lot of energy keeping focus until I get into flow. But once that happens it’s hyperfocus to the point I forget to eat.
Today sees the release of our very first anthology. It’s been a lot of work, but we are so proud of the final result. Vast: Stories of Mind, Soul and Consciousness in a Technological Age features exciting and thought-provoking contributions from ten fantastic authors.
Chimy and Chrisby Stephen Oram
Chris is a scientist. Chimy is a brain, artificially grown in a vat and developing quietly in the dark… ‘I feel the pipe against my surface and see her push it inside me. “Chimy, speak,” she says. I do not know how to speak. What does she mean? How do I speak?’
Little Thief by J.R. Staples-Ager
Thief has undergone surgery at the hands of Genesyx Corporation in order to become ‘ported’ and donate unused brain capacity to the country’s data processing power. What side effects could this possibly have?
Limited Infinity by Thomas Cline
Hess has lived in a reality simulation for many years by law, along with everyone else. But one day, suddenly, there is no one else. They just – vanish. Can he, and the voice in his head, find out what happened?
Dreamtime by Vaughan Stanger
Jerome is in pain. He can’t sleep and is in desperate need of palliative cancer treatment, but now that AI has supplanted every government, he must make a trade to get it. And there’s something he has that the Partners want more than anything else…
The Weight of your Mind by Sergio Palumbo
Brett is a scientist, working on a theory that thoughts produce gravity in minuscule amounts. The problem is, he only knows this at night when he sleeps. During the day he must live a different kind of nightmare…
The Video by Jonathan D. Clark
Everyone watches the video. You watch it. I watch it. We watch it from a distance with disgust, with tension, with the dark thrill of drama. What does the video say about us? What have we become?
The DreamCube Thread by Ellinor Kall
Everyone wants a DreamCube. Feed the ethically cultivated neural tissue, keep it by your bed, and watch it dream! But people are curious. People have questions. Why are the Makers so elusive? Join the discussion!
Luz Beyond the Glass by Ava Kelly
Huge glass spheres sit in gardens. Everyone knows they absorb pollution from the ground, water, and air, to cleanse the filth our ancestors left behind. What most don’t know is what resides in them…
Every Aspect of Every Recollection by Peter Burton
A wonderfully philosophical piece, taking a wander in a mind that has only itself left. Do our memories give us life? Our fantasies? Is it possible we are each more than a single timeline?
Ancestors by Juliane Graef
There is no way back from what humans have done to Earth. But there might just be a way forward… A touching story depicting the persistence of consciousness and three aeons of what happens after.
You can buy your copy now from any of the following:
I’m thrilled to tell you that the very first anthology from Orchid’s Lantern is due for publication on 28th February 2020! Vast: Stories of Mind, Soul and Consciousness in a Technological Age has been in the works for the last few months, and it’s looking better than we ever expected.
We asked authors to think about the relationship that current and imagined tech has with the human psyche. Does it change us, or do we change it? How might such a relationship develop in the future, and what could the unexpected consequences be?
The resulting submissions were fascinating, and we have pulled together the very best we could find to make this exciting, thought-provoking volume.
Some stories border on the fantastical in their scope, while others paint a picture of a world we recognise. We have pieces that explore the relationship between social media, marketing and consciousness. We have extrapolations of quantum physics and what we know about the dreaming mind. we have dramatic life extensions, 3D printed medical care, DNA splicing and artificial biology aiding environmental recovery. And, at the heart of all this, we have a careful appreciation that science remains humble in the face of our inner mysteries.
The contributors and their stories are:
Stephen Oram – Chimy and Chris
J.R. Staples-Ager – Little Thief
Thomas Cline – Limited Infinity
Vaughan Stanger – Dreamtime
Sergio ‘ente per ente’ Palumbo – The Weight of Your Mind
Jonathan D. Clark – The Video
Ellinor Kall – The DreamCube Thread
Ava Kelly – Luz Beyond the Glass
Peter Burton – Every Aspect of Every Recollection
Juliane Graef – Ancestors
Vast is available to pre-order right now from most bookstores, both online and on the high street. The Kindle edition can be found here, with versions for other e-readers being rolled out over the next few days. You can also get the paperback edition right here on Orchid’s Lantern.
He tries to carve out a space of his own in the landscape, but he only succeeds in stretching it. Five fingers pointing out into the air, pushing the very fabric of his surroundings into unnatural shapes, is not enough. He can enter the warped area without a problem, but every time he does, he is bounced swiftly back into reality. He lands hard on his backside for the fifteenth time that day. Perhaps the glove he is wearing isn’t configured correctly: Jamie could easily have made a mistake. He wipes the dew from his trousers and looks across at the van; the computer equipment and flashing LEDs blinking from within. Maybe just a little tweak wouldn’t do any harm?
The neon green tables and numbers separated by asterisks, dots and dashes were familiar to him from watching Jamie, although the programming was really her domain. He was responsible for designing and building the gloves themselves. Connecting the hardware up to the main system is the easy part; now comes the need for concentration. He finds the section of the table relating to environmental plasticity and rebound, makes a few mental calculations and overwrites six of the numerical entries.
Returning to the outdoors with his re-configured glove in position, he wonders where Jamie has got to. Ten minutes, they’d agreed. Of course, she deserves as much alone time as she wants, but this is all still very new. A single moment of concern washes over him; a tugging in his gut. But he pushes the thought away before it’s fully formed and stretches his arm out in front of him. The mountains begin to twist in his vision as he spreads his fingers. The grass at his feet is suddenly much further away, and the stream appears to flow upwards. This has all become a familiar sight over the last couple of hours, so he takes it as a sign that he hasn’t messed anything up too badly.
But then he sees something different. Something unprecedented. Instead of a mere change to the shape of reality, there is now a crack forming between his body and his surroundings. It’s completely black and without quality. Everything he knows – even the air – is on the other side, and he’s struggling to hold on to the breath in his lungs. He retracts the glove back to his side, but it changes nothing. The crack is growing wider.
Just a quick note to let you know that Mind in the Gap by C.R. Dudley is available at a special price of just £1.99/$1.99 on Kindle for the next 3 days only! We don’t do discounts very often, so grab your copy while you can via this Universal Amazon Link and explore this unique, multi-dimensional story collection.
“After reading the last piece, I started back at the beginning and experienced the closest thing to a psychedelic epiphany I can imagine without the help of a mind altering substance.” – Pablo Cuzco
“While this is an incredibly smart book worthy of deep dives and focused attention, it does not change the fact that this book is also pure FUN.” – Logan Ryan Smith
“Clear, elegant and gripping prose turns deep philosophical concepts about the nature of reality into a real page-turner.” – Pete
“Mind-bending, truly original science fiction.” – Kip Koelsch
“An engrossing exploration into consciousness, identity, and reality itself. A layered multiverse populated by surreal and sometimes outrageous characters, in a sweeping narrative that is skillfully woven throughout seemingly disconnected stories.” – Matthew Davis
Thinking about myself. Placing judgement thereon. Judgement that was meant for other people, but I can no longer tell the difference. They show me images on a cinema screen of a woman with my hair and my physique in all kinds of conflicting situations. She robs a bank. She climbs a mountain. She takes her six children to the park and smokes a joint. And when she looks to the camera, without a doubt she has my face.
Only I didn’t do any of those things. Not that I remember. And I can’t help but judge those who did.
Maybe that’s the point. Maybe these actions are approximations, or metaphors for things I have done, and they want to see how I react to more explicit versions of my petty crimes and achievements. They want me to judge myself because they can’t decide whether or not I deserve to go to jail. Maybe it’s to introduce empathy into the entertainment/justice system. Or maybe they’re merely giving me a taste of my own medicine.
I found you in a different place. You were all tendrils, mostly black with the occasional flash of colour. I focused on your heart, as I always used to, and it vibrated in perfect time with my watch. The ever-flowing water of the fountain beside you reminded me that time was passing. We didn’t have long.
I don’t think you realised you held the key. I don’t think you realised you were gone from my world, or that the only thing holding you together in that moment was the little piece of tech on my wrist. I don’t think you realised who I was.
I reached out with one tentative arm, though in that place it appeared only as a beam of light. It had to touch you gently enough that you wouldn’t disintegrate, but firmly enough to forge a tight connection. None of the information must be compromised during the transfer, or the key would be lost to the void.
I can’t tell you how excited I was to discover this book. Like many other reviewers, I was initially pulled in by the magnificent cover but stayed for the promise of unconscious mind exploration: exactly what I love to read.
A policeman is called to investigate a number of killings in the Submundo Delta: a highly unusual but naturally occurring basin in South America. To reach it he must travel by boat through the Zona del Olvido: a region people forget the instant they leave it, including everything they did there. (Just like sleep, I thought. A gateway to the unconscious.) But the creatures that are being killed aren’t people. Not exactly…