Wednesday, March 9, 2011

reading while sick (1)

there are worse times to be sick than when one is on vacation, I suppose. the house is warm and from my bed I can see a light snow falling. I've had my coffee and throat lozenge and the dogs are piled on my feet and sides and the cats are settling into the drawers my wife leaves open after getting dressed and hurrying to work.

I've been ill since saturday. it showed up as a sore throat and has progressed steadily until I fell asleep on the couch last night with a cold. this morning I'm in that hazy state where reality is a blurry thing with occasional sharp edges.

I like to read odd things when I'm sick. the weirdness accentuates my feelings of being out-of-control. I'm a person who likes being drunk, who likes vertigo, who likes the sensation of endlessly falling (which is probably why I often dream that). when I have a fever I like to pore over the sorts of science fiction and horror and fantasy that expand that fuzziness with which I see the world.

on saturday I chose an old--well, not so old to me, but published over a decade ago, and because of its subject matter, hopelessly retro now--an old novel about artificial reality by pat cadigan called tea from an empty cup. it takes place in a future easily imaginable to anyone familiar with the look of liquid television and ghost in the shell (the concept of the ghost in the machine is actually referenced by one of the minor characters) or, from my own time, starstruck. there are 2 passages I want to share, one today and one tomorrow. this one is from early in the novel, when the investigator into a real-time murder witnesses the murder in artificial reality from the perspective of the victim.

"shantih love abruptly looked back in such a way that s/he seemed to be looking directly out of the screen into konstantin's eyes. the expression on the unique face seemed somehow both questioning and confident. konstantin steered the detached perspective from behind shantih love around his/her right side, passing in front of the androgyne and moving to the left side, tracking him/her as s/he walked toward the multitude on the shore.

"a figure suddenly popped up from behind the low concrete barrier running between the street and the river. shantih love stopped for a few moments, uncertainty troubling her/his smooth forehead. konstantin tried adjusting the screen controls to see the figure better in the gathering darkness but, maddeningly, she couldn't seem to get anything more definite than a fuzzy, blurry silhouette, definitely humanlike but otherwise unidentifiable as young or old, male, female, both or neither, friendly or hostile.

"the shape climbed over the barrier to the street side just as shantih love slipped over it to the shore. the ground here was soft and shantih love had trouble walking in it. the fuzzy shape paced her/him on the other side of the wall and konstantin got the idea that it was saying something, but nothing came up on audio. shantih love didn't answer, didn't even look in its direction again as s/he moved in long strides toward the crowd...

"the perspective had slipped back behind shantih love. konstantin tapped the forward button rapidly; now she seemed to be perched on shantih love's right shoulder...shantih love whirled suddenly; after a second's delay, the perspective followed. konstantin felt a wave of dizziness and the images on the screen went out of focus. when the focus cleared, konstantin saw that the figure was standing on top of the barrier, poised to jump. shantih love backed away, turned, and began stumbling through the party crowd, bumping into various people, some less distinct than others. konstantin didn't have to shift the perspective around to know that the creature was chasing the androgyne. now the pov seemed to be only inches in front of the creature's face; she had a fast glimpse of bandage-wrapped arms and hand with an indeterminate number of fingers...

"the pov began to shake and streak. as if it were embedded in the pursuer's body. frustrated, konstantin pounded on the forward key, but the pov didn't budge. they called this custom editing? she fumed. even worse, now that she was among the party crowd, almost every attendee was either so vague as to be maddeningly unidentifiable or so broad a stereotype--barbarian, vampire, wild-child, homunculus--that anonymity was equally assured.

"shantih love broke through the other side of the crowd two seconds before she did and ran heavily toward a stone rise leading to the sidewalk. s/he scrambled up on all fours, a heartbeat ahead of the pursuer.

"love vaulted the low barrier and ran along the middle of the street, looking eagerly at each wreck...something moved inside each one, even those that were burning. konstantin realized she was probably alone in finding that noticeable, much less remarkable--living in a bonfire was probably the height of ar chic. this week.

"she tried pushing the pov ahead again and this time gained several feet. shantih love looked over his/her shoulder, seemingly right at the pov. the androgyne's expression was panic and dismay; in the next moment, s/he fell.

"the pov somersaulted. there was a flash of broken pavement, followed by a brief panorama of sky, a flip and a close-up of the angrogyne's profile just as the pursuer pushed his/her chin up with one rag-wrapped hand. perfect skin stretched taut; the blade flashed and disappeared as it turned sideways to slash through flesh, tendon, blood vessels, cartilage, bone.

"blood flew against the pov and dripped down, like gory rain on a window. wincing, konstantin tried to erase the blood trails; nothing happened.

"shantih love coughed and gargled at the sky, not trying to twist away from the bandaged hand that still held his/her chin. blood pushed upward from the artery in an exaggerated display. the creature pushed love's face to one side so s/he stared dully past the pov and then bent its head to drink."

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