Great review of Stephen Palmer’s Beautiful Intelligence over at the Guardian: “…a thrilling chase across a ravaged Europe, a burgeoning North Africa and balkanised US, interleaving excellent action set-pieces with fascinating philosophising on the nature of consciousness. A gripping read to the poignant last line.”
In July 2015 infinity plus and Storybundle offered a special deal for a set of nine literary fantasy books, including Robert Freeman Wexler’s In Springdale Town. The deal is no longer available but In Springdale Town can still be bought separately:
In Springdale Town
“…lovely Americana set-piece turned on its ear.”—Jay Lake
Springdale appears to be a quiet village, unblemished by shopping mall or mega-store. The town sits in a fertile valley, surrounded by countryside rich in natural wonder. Summers, tourists attend the area’s many arts and music festivals, and hikers crowd the trails. In the fall, reds and yellows of turning leaves decorate the landscape, and in winter, mountain resorts fill with avid skiers.
But some say Springdale exists only on the contoured highways of our collective imagination. Others point to references dating back to Colonial Boston, to multiple versions of a ballad telling a story of remorse and disgrace.
Here are three facts:
1. Maps cannot be trusted;
2. All History is awash with fraud and hoax;
3. Springdale is an absence of identity.
For two people, a lawyer named Patrick Travis and a television actor named Richard Shelling, Springdale is home and anti-home, a place of comfort and a distortion of everyday life. They are strangers to each other, yet connected. Their lives will intersect with a force that shatters both.
This edition includes a specially written afterword by the author.
“Springdale is told in a deceptively muted style and cunningly crafted so that the story appears to assemble itself around the reader like a trap he or she has sprung, yet remains innocent-looking until the end, when a spring-loaded hammer smashes down.” —Lucius Shepard,
“For some writers, prose is a means with which to construct an analogue of reality. For Robert Freeman Wexler, fiction is a means with which to de-construct reality. Yet his stories have such a strong sense of linguistic integrity, it’s hard to believe that he isn’t reporting his experiences from a parallel universe.” —Rick Kleffel
A personal note from bundle curator Keith Brooke
Some fantastical fiction is right there in your face: elves, unicorns, wizards, quests that will forever change the world. But that’s not always the case. Sometimes it sneaks up on you, drawing you in, painstakingly building up your understanding, playing to your assumptions and preconceptions. And then it blindsides you. We’re talking about fiction where the world is Not As It First Appears. Once it’s done that, you’re in the trap, and all you can do is dig ever deeper into the strangeness – you have no choice. In Springdale Town is such a book, a beautiful, disturbing and wonderfully undermining construction.
Swells of oceanographic angst buffeted Shelling. A profusion of discolored velvety fur–pelts of beaver or raccoon–lined the street, softened his fall. Shelling had a beaver dam on his property, and he liked to sit near it, under the trees, losing himself in the sounds of his land. He planned to move a picnic table out there, though he worried it might disturb the animals. But why was he lying in the grass outside the library? Shelling jumped to his feet, and hurried down Main Street.
Half a block from the library, he stopped, unable to recall the source of his agitation. That’s what happens when you miss your yoga class, he thought. He would have appreciated an explanation for the cancellation. With his unstructured life, disruptions like this left him dangling. If not for the discipline of yoga, his transition to life in this small town would have been difficult; the practice relaxed and invigorated him, opened him to new experiences. Living in the Los Angeles area for so long, he had grown contemptuous of other places in the country, of small towns, of any place lacking big-city sophistication.
As he walked, he glanced into the windows of several stores, seeing a clerk behind the counter in some, and in others, no one. Not just the yoga center then; the town appeared to be shorn of people, residents and visitors alike.
He entered Frisell’s Coffee Roasters, pausing in the doorway, as had become his habit, to allow the fertile aroma of the roast to permeate his lungs. Two young women sat on stools behind the counter. They were laughing; as he drew near, he heard the one at the cash register mention elephants, or maybe cellophane. The other laughed harder, gasping, sucking air through the laughs. She hunched forward, cupping her reddening face with both hands. Silver rings decorated most of her fingers. Shelling recognized one with a raised zigzag design on a dark background, from the jewelry store across the street. He had spent parts of two afternoons there, trying on rings, assisted once by a bland-faced woman and the other time by a well-manicured bald man, neither of whom gave any indication of interest in talking to Shelling beyond the requirements of their job.
“What’s so funny?” he asked. Neither woman responded. The young woman at the cash register asked the other to start a pot of decaf. Shelling ordered a cappuccino and waited while the ring woman prepared it. The cash register woman held out a hand for money. A tattoo of a dark bird, wings outstretched, decorated the underside of her wrist. Shelling wanted to join their discussion, but saw no way to breach the wall. He opened his mouth, preparing to tell the young woman that he admired her tattoo; instead, he carried his mug to a table and looked out the window at the empty sidewalk. The two women continued their conversation as though Shelling didn’t exist.
“There’s an archival method, Albania or someplace,” one of them said. “They use numbered index cards to keep track of the tides.”
“Are they suspended by fishing line, like in Greece?”
(end of extract)
In July 2015 infinity plus and Storybundle offered a special deal for a set of nine literary fantasy books, including John Grant’s The Far-Enough Window. The deal is no longer available but we have plenty more available from John Grant.
The Far-Enough Window
“A real treat … a first-rate novel.”—Karla Von Huben, Blue Ear
For as long as she can remember, Joanna has lived on a remote estate with only her dog and an old housekeeper for company. One day, when she goes to write up her diary she finds that she seems already to have done so—and this discovery leads her to a distant wing of the crumbling mansion … and to the Far-Enough Window. Under the guidance of Robin Goodfellow, who has been waiting for her beside it, she peers farther than the eye can see to transport herself to Fairyland.
But this is a Fairyland unlike any she has ever heard of! Here nothing is ever as it seems, as the fey creatures of mythology vie with the cozy little fairies she’s read about in children’s books. Joanna must tread a complex and hazardous path to find her way back to her own present. If she succeeds, perhaps the mysteries of her own strange life will be answered.
Filled with constant astonishments, The Far-Enough Window—a classic fantasy by Hugo- and World Fantasy Award-winning writer John Grant—is a work of great beauty that challenges the mind at every ingenious twist and turn. It is a novel for anyone who can remember burrowing under the bedclothes with a flashlight so their parents wouldn’t know they were still reading.
“[W]hat a colorful and dangerous world it is. The characters make the ride so enjoyable. Joanna is a curious and strong-willed young woman who goes though a lot physically and mentally. The friends she meets on the way are warm and likable; the banter between them is priceless. The Far-Enough Window is a light read with entertaining characters that take you though a redefined world of Fairyland. This is definitely the kind of book to read at least once again.”—Mike Purfield, B-Independent
“I predict that you will enjoy it immensely. I certainly did.”—Chuck Gregory, January Magazine
“[A] thoroughly original and adult work that nonetheless slots neatly into a tradition of children’s fantasy tales beginning with Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan and continuing through The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe all the way to Harry Potter and the Amber Spyglass. In this instance, however, rather than write a children’s fantasy that could be read enjoyably as an adult work, Grant has written an adult work draped in the traditional tropes of children’s fiction…. [A] wonderful book for those who want a literature on an adult level that nonetheless hearkens back to their childhood favourites…. Seeing ‘far-enough’ really is equivalent to being there.”—Lou Anders
“A very satisfying read. A fine and very unusual book.”—Joules Taylor, SF Crowsnest
The bundle is available for a very limited time only, via http://www.storybundle.com/fantasy
A personal note from bundle curator Keith Brooke
I love this story! I know I should attempt to be more objective here and tease out the many reasons why you should want to read it, but sometimes you just have to go with your first response. The Far-Enough Window is a delightfully playful updating of the fairytale form, retaining both the genre’s charm and its darker edge, but with a modern, knowing sensibility. This is its first ebook publication, exclusive to this bundle.
At first Joanna thought Mr Dogg was dead. He lay sprawled out on the dusty floor, his eyes closed and his toothy mouth open, his flanks motionless. But as she ran her fingers through the coarse hairs of his side she could feel that his flesh was warm.
‘He’s all right,’ said Robin Goodfellow, materializing beside her. ‘Haven’t you been noticing that the clouds are not moving, either?’ He pointed out through the murk of one of the turret chamber’s tall rectangular windows. ‘That tail of cloud that looks like a grandfather’s chin is still halfway across the disc of the sun, just as it was an hour ago when you first came up here.’
Joanna was unsurprised. Stopping time for a while was something she’d often dreamed of being able to do—and, even more so, speeding up time—so it seemed only natural that Robin Goodfellow should number it among his tricks.
‘How long can you do this for?’ she said.
‘Forever and a day,’ he said. ‘What else would you expect me to reply, gracious lady?’ He leaned towards her confidentially. ‘To tell you the truth, Joanna,’ he whispered, ‘that extra day’s a real killer in practice, but I add it on just so as not to disappoint folk, and hope I’ll never have to actually do it.’
Laughing, she aimed a mock blow at him, and he hopped nimbly away.
‘But I want Mr Dogg to be able to . . . to see far enough as well,’ she said.
Robin Goodfellow looked at her doubtfully. ‘Forgive my boyish impertinence,’ he said, ‘but I don’t think you yet quite understand what seeing far enough actually entails. It’ll be all right for you, for am I not your liege-servant, sworn to protect you from harm? But the hound already knows the nature of the Farness, so I cannot be liege to him. If he’s in the Farness with us, he is his own master, there of his own accord.’
‘You talk as if we were actually going there,’ said Joanna, ‘not just seeing it through the window.’
Robin Goodfellow looked puzzled for an instant; then his face cleared. ‘It’s as I thought,’ he muttered to himself. He gazed into her eyes and said: ‘That’s what I meant when I said you didn’t know what this entailed, Joanna.
‘Seeing? Going? What’s the difference?’
(end of extract)
In July 2015 infinity plus and Storybundle offered a special deal for a set of nine literary fantasy books, including Keith Brooke’s Lord of Stone. The deal is no longer available but Lord of Stone can still be bought separately:
Lord of Stone
“A progressive and skilful writer.”–Peter F Hamilton
Trace: a country where magic is dying out. A country at war with itself. A country where the prophecies of the Book of the World have started to come true.
Bligh: a young foreigner, drawn irresistibly to the war in Trace. A man who has rejected religion, yet appears to be possessed by one of the six Lords Elemental. Bligh thinks he’s going mad, but if he is then it’s a madness shared by others…
Gritty and passionate, Lord of Stone is a fantasy for the new millennium by the acclaimed author of The Accord and Genetopia.
“Keith Brooke’s prose achieves a rare honesty and clarity, his characters always real people, his situations intriguing and often moving.”–Jeff VanderMeer
“I am so here! Genetopia is a meditation on identity – what it means to be human and what it means to be you – and the necessity of change. It’s also one heck of an adventure story. Snatch it up!”–Michael Swanwick, on Genetopia
A personal note from author Keith Brooke
This is a personal favourite among my novels, a story set in the immediate aftermath of a terrible civil war in a fictitious country based on 1930s Spain. Lord of Stone tells the story of a man many believe to be a reincarnated god in a world where magic is losing its hold.
‘And out of the mayhem the Lords will arise…’
—The Book of the World, ch.18, v.29.
The ragged people were all around him, staring and shouting and waving their fists. Bligh looked down at the rounded stones lying scattered in the fire. Had he kicked them there? He did not know.
He remembered hiding in the ruins, looking down at all these people as they performed their calling to the Gods, the Prayer of the Body.
Yet now he was here in their midst and the people were enraged by his incursion.
“No!” he said, again. Nobody moved. The only other noise was the incessant clatter of a small radio, tuned in to a southern music station. “This is wrong,” he cried. “You can’t do this. It’s sick. Do you think that if the Lords were among you they would recognise – ” he gestured ” – this as anything but a cheap sham? Do you? There is nothing Holy about this charade. Nothing! It’s sick…” He was losing track. He did not know where he had found the words, or even what they meant.
He looked around at the people in their filthy tatters, gathered in the ruins where they were forced to make their home. These poor people were desperate, they needed something to believe, something to give their empty existences some kind of meaning.
As he studied their faces Bligh realised that the time for violence had passed and he was safe, for now. The mood of the gathering was returning to the passionate fervour of before, only now the atmosphere had been subtly transformed.
The people moved away, found their drinks and started to talk and laugh. Lila, kneeling at Bligh’s feet, hooked her hand into the waistband of his trousers and pulled him towards her. Her cheeks were smeared with tears and dirt from the ground. Her daughter was there too, pressing a jug of wine at him, small eyes pleading with him to accept it.
He did not understand these people’s response. He had wrecked their ceremony but they hardly seemed to care any more. He drank, long and deep, then passed the jug to Lila and watched as she pressed it to her lips.
She paused to touch the corner of her mouth. It was swollen, engorged with blood. He did not remember striking her – had it been him?
Someone turned the radio up louder, its music insistent, shrill. Bligh tried to come to terms with what was happening to him. The steady pressure in his head was frightening, a sure sign that he really was insane. He felt himself to be right on the edge of some mental precipice. It would not take much…
“I hear voices,” he said quietly. He had to explain, had to find the words from somewhere. “My head … I can’t keep track of it all. I see bodies, too. All day, all night. They talk to me.” He drank more wine and focused on its heat in his belly. “I’m mad,” he said. “Mad.”
He drank some more.
Later, the old man started his chant again. Nobody paid him any attention at first, but gradually the people stopped talking and silenced the radio. In their ones and twos they turned to watch, then started to clap out his complex rhythm. Bligh felt no anger now, only a mellow sense of well-being that centred in his gut and rippled outwards.
He did not object when Lila rose from where she had been sitting, head on his shoulder, hand on his thigh. He watched as she found the movements of her dance once again, her eyes locked unblinking on his. He drank some more from the jug of wine.
After a few minutes, she started to wail that twisting note that had reached right inside Bligh earlier in the evening. She wrapped her arms around her body, pulling at her clothes, teasing, and all the time her eyes were fixed on Bligh’s.
It crept up on him stealthily.
Sitting, watching, drinking … then suddenly he was out in the cleared dirt space with Lila, crying aloud, the old man’s chant pulling Bligh’s body about as if he was a marionette jerked by some mad puppeteer’s wires. He clutched at his head, trying to interrupt the pattern and stop, but still his body jerked and twisted and that awful chant pounded through his head. All he knew was the fire, the insane twitching of his body, the undying, timeless rhythm battering the inside of his skull.
At some point – he knew no sense of time – things started to change. A new rhythm, a new chant, supplanted the old. The voices of the people were all around, the people with whom he had shared this grim little shanty town. All chanting a single word, over and over again. “Who?” they cried. “Who? Who? Who?”
He did not understand, but he sensed that he did not have to understand.
“Who? Who? Who?”
Somewhere in his head: the pressure, transforming. Rising through the levels of his mind, bursting forth to take over his senses and submerge all that he was, all that he had ever been.
“Who? Who? Who?”
Expanding, a force that would destroy him and know no different. Rising up to take over.
“Who? Who? Who?”
He stood and spread his hands, and then there was sudden silence.
“Who?” said the old man, eventually, his chin glistening with saliva and sweat.
“I am…” said Bligh, who was no longer Bligh, in a voice no longer Bligh’s. “I am the second of the Lords Elemental: I am Lord of Stone.” Now, he smiled. “I am,” he said, “your Saviour.”
(end of extract)
In July 2015 infinity plus and Storybundle offered a special deal for a set of nine literary fantasy books, including Eric Brown’s A Writer’s Life. The deal is no longer available but A Writer’s Life can still be bought separately:
A Writer’s Life
“British writing with a deft, understated touch: wonderful”– New Scientist
Mid-list writer Daniel Ellis becomes obsessed with the life and work of novelist Vaughan Edwards, who disappeared in mysterious circumstances in 1996. Edwards’ novels, freighted with foreboding tragedy and a lyrical sense of loss, echo something in Ellis’s own life. His investigations lead Ellis ever deeper into the enigma that lies at the heart of Vaughan Edwards’ country house, Edgecoombe Hall, and the horror that dwells there.
In a departure from his science fiction roots, Eric Brown has written a haunting novella that explores the essence of creativity, the secret of love, and the tragedy that lies at the heart of human existence.
“Not only my favourite piece of writing by Eric Brown but also one of the most honest explorations of the writing mentality that I’ve ever read”– Neil Williamson
“Brown’s spectacular creativity creates a constantly compelling read”–Kirkus Book Reviews
A personal note from bundle curator Keith Brooke
Eric and I go back a long, long time. We started appearing alongside each other in magazines and anthologies in the late 1980s, first met at a signing in 1989, and quickly became firm friends. We’ve acted as beta-readers for each other for the past 25 years, and while I’m a big fan of Eric’s work a handful of stories have really stayed with me over that time. A Writer’s Life is one of these, the quietly haunting story of one writer’s obsession with the life and work of another, a moving and tragic story of art and love.
He paused, regarding me. “I was writing in my study at the time. It was late, midnight if I recall. The explosion shook the very foundations of the Hall. I made my way into the cellar, through the entrance in the scullery. I…” He paused, his vision misting over as he recalled the events of over one century ago. “I beheld a remarkable sight, Daniel.”
I heard myself whisper, “What?”
“It was the arrival here of something unique in the history of humankind,” he said, and continued down the steps.
My heart hammering, God help me, I followed.
We came to the foot of the steps. A naked bulb gave a feeble light, illuminating a short corridor, at the end of which was a door. Cunningham-Price paused before it, took a key from his pocket and turned it in the lock.
He looked at me over his shoulder. “I would advise you to shield your eyes,” he counselled.
Puzzled, and not a little apprehensive, I did so, peering out beneath my hand as he turned the handle and eased open the door.
An effulgent glow, like the most concentrated lapis lazuli, sprang through the widening gap and dazzled me. I think I cried out in sudden shock and made to cover my eyes more securely. When I peered again, Cunningham-Price was a pitch black silhouette against the pulsing illumination as he stepped into the chamber.
Trembling with fright, I followed. As I crossed the threshold I heard, for the first time, a constant dull hum, as of some kind of dynamo, so low as to be almost subliminal.
I stepped inside and, as my vision grew accustomed to the glare, removed my hand from my eyes and peered across the chamber.
How to describe what I saw, then?
(end of extract)
In July 2015 infinity plus and Storybundle offered a special deal for a set of nine literary fantasy books, including Anna Tambour’s Spotted Lily. The deal is no longer available but Spotted Lily can still be bought separately:
“a wicked, thoroughly unpredictable romp” –Locus
Angela Pendergast, escapee from the Australian bush, grew up with the smell of hot mutton fat in her hair, the thought of her teeth crunching a cold Tim Tam chocolate biscuit-the height of decadent frivolity.
Now, though her tastes have grown and she knows absolutely what she wants, her life is embarrassingly stuck. So when the Devil drops into her bedroom in her sharehouse in inner-city Sydney with a contract in hand, she signs. He’s got only a Hell’s week to fulfil his side, but in the meantime he must chaperone her … or is it the other way around?
Shortlisted for the William L. Crawford Award.
A Locus Recommended Reading List selection.
“I hate giving away the story, but allow me to say that this novel is not going where you think it is….teaming with genuine wit and humor… excellent writing…One thing I’m sure of is that it should be required reading for all those who go into writing fiction with dreams of great remuneration and fame. If it were, Tambour would already be both wealthy and famous.”
–Jeffrey Ford, 14theditch
“…a wicked, thoroughly unpredictable romp . . . Spotted Lily might just be a particularly inventive comic take on wish-fulfillment, but soon enough it strays far from the beaten path…a dizzying but delightful journey through old myths and modern chaos, turning Faust and Pygmalion on their ear as it cuts its own path toward something like self-knowledge.”
–Faren Miller, Locus
“The main thing is, the novel is real.”
“One of the things I liked most about this book was that it was so difficult to tell where it was going…the book is so well written that for a lot of the time you don’t actually notice that it has a supernatural element to it.”
–Cheryl Morgan, Emerald City
“Funny, believable, refreshingly different . . . Perhaps most of all it is a very funny book, without being what you would call a comedy. . . Anna Tambour, on the strength of Spotted Lily and her earlier story collection,Monterra’s Deliciosa & Other Tales &, is one of the most delightful, original, and varied new writers on hand. ”
–Rich Horton, SF Site
A personal note from bundle curator Keith Brooke
As soon as we settled on the theme of Literary Fantasy for this bundle, Anna Tambour’s wonderfully witty and sharp Spotted Lily was a must-have title. ‘Original’ is a terribly overused label, but rarely is it more appropriate than in the case of Anna Tambour: there simply is no other author like her.
‘How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?’ I asked.
‘Six, I think. But, really, dear, this is not my field.’
‘And I read somewhere that you turn us into sort of butterflies, and keep us in lacquered boxes with airholes, for transport.’
‘I couldn’t possibly comment on that.’
The Devil and I were sitting in my room, getting to know each other. He’d just been accepted in our sharehouse, ‘Kitty is thirty-five dollars a week, no coffee or coffee substitutes or power drinks included’ for the room next to mine, which was convenient for both of us.
It was Pledge Week, and we had to make the most of our time, but to do that, we had to get to know each other a little better.
I changed the subject.
‘Why do you have Pledge Week?’
He examined the pressed tin ceiling, seeming to be considering whether he should answer. When I had almost forgotten my question, he answered. ‘We have to. We lose too many to heaven these days.’
I knew I had to learn fast, but if he didn’t start to make sense, this was not going to work. ‘Come again?’
He cocked an eyebrow at me, then scratched himself behind somewhere and examined his nails. I tried not to look at his hands. As he wasn’t forthcoming, I tried again. ‘Isn’t forever forever?’
‘Ah … Yes, it is, in hell as it is on earth. But you make the rules, not we. And when you change your minds, you do manage to make an ado for us.’
‘Like what? Please don’t speak in riddles.’
‘A regular omnium-gatherum of disorder, don’t you know?’
I obviously didn’t.
‘A tumult, bother, hubbub, farrago of disorder. A regular huggermugger of change that we could well do without.’
I still didn’t understand his words in this context, and with some of them, in any context. What the hell sprang to mind, but the words that came out were, ‘Could you give me an example?’
‘And could you please try to speak in more accessible language. We are in twenty-first century Australia here. You do keep up, don’t you? You must have some Australians there.’
He bowed, a trifle condescendingly. ‘I will try. Eh, you know, don’t you read the papers? Don’t you see what you’re doing to us? It messes our morale something awful, you know.’
Although the ‘Eh’ was New Zealand, and he was trying a leeetle too hard, I couldn’t quibble with his delivery. However, I was no closer to understanding. I think he must have thought me frustratingly dense, because his brows beetled, and I felt a prickle of sweat chill my back. He waved his hand, and in it appeared an International Herald Tribune. ‘Look at this article,’ he commanded, and threw the paper into my lap. It was singed but readable, and two days old.
I had no idea which article, so began to read down the first page, with rising panic.
‘Oh dear. I do so apologize,’ he said, in either an apologetic or a patronizing tone. It was so hard to read him. He grabbed the paper and opened it up, folded it neatly, and handed it back. ‘Read that,’ he pointed, ‘and do try to think. Think about the after-effects.’
I hate it when someone talks to me like that. But I read.
ANGLONG VENG, Cambodia In a case of Disneyland meets the killing fields, Cambodia’s Ministry of Tourism is drawing up grandiose plans to upgrade the final stronghold of the Khmer Rouge into a million-dollar theme park.
I looked up, grinning. ‘This is a joke, isn’t it?’
He scowled, something I do not wish to see again. ‘Do I look like a jokester,’ he asked, rhetorically. ‘Read on.’
I did, all of it, including the part that said:
“Pol Pot was a kind man and the only people killed during the Khmer Rouge time were Vietnamese spies,” said Kim Syon, director of the Anglong Veng health center and son of a senior Khmer Rouge leader. “In the next 10 years people will begin to see the positive result of what Pol Pot did.”
I wanted to wash. ‘But this is gross.’
‘No, love, it is normal,’ the Devil said sadly. Do you know how many people we will lose, and do you know what our futures markets are saying about the new arrivals whom we had banked on for the next few years?’
Whomnow. Was he having me on? Was the ‘on’ itself, the dangling preposition—snide? And … and futures markets. Wait a bloody minute. I thought of something Dad said whenever he met someone he thought was serving him potato skin and calling it bangers and mash: ‘There’s something crook in Muswellbrook.’ I felt in this conversation with the Devil, like I was standing in Muswellbrook’s main street as the main attraction—the town fool. It was about time I assert myself.
‘You’re shitting me,’ I told him. ‘Why are you trying to take advantage of my gullibility?’
His eyelashes fluttered. ‘Oh dearie me. You asked, and I’m telling you how it is. I never lie.’
I shot him a look that would pierce most people of my acquaintance.
He looked blandly back. However, he seemed truthful.
But first, I had to take care of something that was making this getting-to-know all the harder. ‘Would it be possible if you don’t call me “dear” or “love”? In my culture, it is kind of a put-down.’
He might have been miffed, for he said, ‘Miss Pendergast—’
We could not go on like this. ‘Excuse me, but “Miss” isn’t something I’ve been called since I was fifteen, by anyone with whom I wish to associate.’
He looked uncomfortable, and his brows began to move.
‘My friends call me Angela,’ I added quickly, and then wondered if that would offend. ‘Would you mind calling me Angela?’ Or if you prefer, any other name would be fine. Like maybe Imelda. Someone you know.’
She was the only one who came to mind. Perhaps not dead yet.
I was wracking my brains when he coughed. I looked at his face and he smiled. ‘Angela has a certain ring to it. Look, Angela. Think of Jefferson. Do you know Thomas Jefferson?’
‘Yeah. Great American forefather. I don’t imagine you would know him.’
He scratched somewhere I don’t want to know again, this time with a smug grin. ‘You obviously don’t keep up. He’s in our place now. Something to do with his love life.’
‘You decide, we abide, my, er … Angela. And we must keep abiding, which means that our populations are forever moving back and forth … and even disappearing and appearing again.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Caligula? You do know of him?’
‘I saw the movie.’
‘Before the movie.’
I don’t like to be reminded of what I don’t know, but thought it best not to obfuscate. ‘No.’
‘You don’t have to feel defensive. Caligula was a wonderful … what would you say … resident, for centuries, and then faded away. He’s only recently come back to us. And with your attention span these days, it could be that we only have the pleasure of his company for one or two of your years.’
‘Unless “Caligula” is re-released,’ I mumbled, thinking.
‘Skip it,’ I said, still thinking.
Suddenly a sharp tang of stink stung my eyes and jammed its choking fumes down my windpipe.
‘I do demand respect,’ he said.
‘Sorry,’ I mouthed. And I was. It was impossible to breathe.
He waved his hand and the worst evaporated.
‘Sorry,’ I repeated, to clear the air completely. ‘I think I’m beginning to understand. ‘But don’t you gain from heaven, too?’
‘Yes. Like I said, we’ve got Jefferson now, and the markets say we’ll have Ghandi soon. You know Ghandi?’ he added somewhat condescendingly.
‘Yes,’ I said, somewhat hurt.
‘Well, it is hard to tell, you know.’
‘The markets?’ I had to ask.
I was secretly (though I couldn’t let it show) happy that he looked at last, confused. ‘Don’t you know markets?’ he asked. ‘Futures trading? I thought you were all obsessed with it nowadays.’
‘Not all of us,’ I had to remind him. And all of a sudden I realized that for all his ultra-cool appearance, he was remarkably ignorant. Very gently and respectfully I asked, ‘You don’t know much about us, do you?’
‘What do you mean?’ he answered, and I was happy to smell that he wasn’t offended.
‘Well, here we are in a share house, and maybe you need some background on your housemates. Kate, remember—the one who chaired the interview today. She teaches ethnic studies at Sydney Uni, but she also inherited this house which was an investment from her North Shore parents who didn’t think enough of her to leave it to her unmortgaged. So then there’s us tenants who are also her housemates. Jason, who is going to bug you to death on your implants. Did you see his bifurcated tongue? It’s very like yours.’
‘I didn’t notice. I was looking at his tattoos.’
‘They’re only part of his performance. He is a work in progress.’
The Devil yawned.
I tried not to gag. ‘Do you mind if I light a cone?’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Incense. I like to burn incense. Little cones of scented natural dried stuff.’
He waved his hand graciously. ‘Be my guest.’
I was crawling over to the little table with its celadon saucer and collection of Celestial Sky, thinking I should possibly change brand names tomorrow, when he grabbed my arm with a grip you might expect the Devil to have.
I thought I was about to die, or whatever.
‘It’s not garlic, is it?’
‘Never,’ I managed to smile.
‘I do apologize,’ he said after a final little squeeze. I felt like a fruit. ‘Did I hurt you?’ he asked solicitously.
‘Only a bit,’ I lied. ‘But what do you care?’
He shrugged, the same shrug as the bank manager gave me in some little French coastal town when he refused to cash my travellers cheque because my signature on it didn’t exactly match the one on my passport.
‘That reminds me,’ I said, (though it hadn’t—I just needed to change the subject), as the scent of, I think it was called ‘Bavaghindra’ filled the room. ‘Why do you have Pledge Week?’
‘You aren’t very perspicacious,’ he observed. ‘Pledge Week,’ he said slowly as if I were a child, ‘is necessary because, outside of our permanent population of futures markets operators, Pledge Week provides the only new source of once acquired, stable and permanent population that we have.’
The fingers of fate frolicked upon my back in a most disconcerting manner. I shrugged, which not only made me feel great and I hope, annoyed him in the same can’t-admit-it way as his shrug did to me, but I think established my position far closer to the peer level necessary to our smooth working relationship.
He must have thought I still did not understand. ‘When you come with me—’
‘My coming is forever.’
We looked into each other’s eyes for so long that I wondered whether it was a blink contest. Eventually I had to blink. ‘That is correct,’ he said. ‘When you come with me, your coming is forever.’ And his face changed from its solemnity, to one of Christmas cheer.
The actual elements of his smile, when I could steel myself to really look, were rather heart-flutteringly beautiful, and not at all like Jason’s barracuda-shaped mouth of crooked, filed teeth. The smile of the Devil was broad, and his teeth looked good enough to be capped.
(end of extract)
AI or BI? Artificial intelligence or beautiful intelligence?
The race to create a sentient machine is headed by two teams, led by former researchers at Ichikawa Laboratories, who escape the regime there – and each other – to pursue their own dreams in the world beyond Japan.
Leonora Klee is creating a single android with a quantum computer brain, whose processing power has never before been achieved.
Manfred Klee is creating a group of individuals, none of them self-aware, in the hope that they will raise themselves to consciousness.
But with a Japanese chase team close on their heels, will either be successful before they are trapped and caught?
Beautiful Intelligence is a fast-paced, philosophical thriller that confronts questions of how we will create artificial sentience, and whether it will be beautiful.
“A supremely odd yet deeply rewarding experience…” Jason Pettus, CCLAP
“Stephen Palmer is a find.” Time Out
“Stephen Palmer is a writer you should read. His work is unique, original, sometimes challenging, always fresh and sometimes barking…” Amazing Stories
Cover by Steve Jones
Published: 01 Jul 2015