Friday, January 15, 2016

The Dead

Originally posted January 2nd 2011 as My Grandmother's Photograph Album.

One of the memes endlessly circulating the Sargasso of the internet is that the living now outnumber the dead. It seems to be based on the exponential mathematics of the population explosion: if two people have three children, and if those children each have three children, and so on, and so on, then in only a few generations it's a mathematical inevitability that there will be more living descendants than dead ancestors.
But like too many simple ideas it has a fatal flaw: we tend to underestimate the numbers of the dead. One calculation, quoted in a debunking article published in the Scientific American, suggests that around 106 billion people have been born; since only 6 billion are currently alive, 94% of all people ever born are dead. Or as Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick suggested in their foreword to the novelisation of 2001: A Space Odyssey, 'Behind every man now alive stand thirty ghosts, for that is the ratio by which the dead outnumber the living.'

An inspection of old photograph albums confirms this simple truth. Here are the dead, in their multitudes. They are dressed in antique costumes, stand in front of new cars, hold up babies. They are often on holiday.


We know so little about them. Many are nameless, now. Yet they wait patiently for us.  They have plenty of time, after all. The universe is still young: a little less than 14 billion years. Whether it expires in a Big Crunch or subsides in a long Heat Death, many more billions of years stretch ahead. We'll all be dead for far longer than our pre-birth non-existence.

 'Come on in. The water's fine.'

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Now In Paperback

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Alien Impulses And Strange Memes

From Something Coming Through, published in paperback Thursday January 14.

The schoolkids ran through a pretty good version of ‘Scarborough Fair’, bowed to the scattering of applause and were led off the stage by their conductor. Chloe could feel an energy gathering in the little crowd. An MC took to the stage, an amazingly confident young woman dressed in a metallic silver leotard and black tutu who hunched into the microphone and to a backing track of car-crash rhythms began a rap about the great change coming and hard times ending. When she was done and the whoops and applause had died down she asked everybody to raise their hands for the man with the plan, the man who knew.

‘Give it up for Mr Archer. Mr Archer going to speak the truth to you right now.’

There was an awkward pause, some kind of hitch. The MC stood at the edge of the stage, talking to people, shaking her head. The sound system started to reprise the clanging smash of her backing music, then cut off abruptly. Several people were helping someone climb onto the stage.

Mr Archer was a slight old man wearing what was probably the suit he planned to be buried in. His white beard was neatly trimmed; his pink scalp showed through his cap of fine white hair. The MC ushered him to the microphone stand and he clung to it and looked around like a grandfather dazed with pleasure at his own birthday party. A hush fell over the small gathering.

Chloe’s spex were capturing everything. Eddie’s little drone hung in the sunlit air. The moment of silence stretched.

‘Uth,’ Mr Archer said. ‘Uth!  Uth!’ And, ‘Penitent volume casualty force. Action relationship. Flow different.  Uth!  Uth!’

Most in the audience chanted Uth! Uth! too. Those who weren’t part of the cult, who hadn’t drunk the snake oil, looked at each other. A couple of kids in front of Chloe started to jeer.

Chloe felt a sinking sense of disappointment. She’d seen it all, in her time. Fiery-eyed preaching. A woman who spoke through a pink plush alligator. People standing face to face, staring into each other’s eyes, sharing significant gazes. Ritual bloodletting. A young girl walking among her followers with a silver wand, touching them at random, causing them to fall into faints and foaming fits. A hundred different attempts to express thoughts for which there were no human equivalents, no words in any known language. Speaking in tongues was commonplace. She’d seen it a dozen times.

Mr Archer spoke for some time, enthusiastically expounding his thesis in his private language, repeating his catchphrase at intervals, smiling as his followers chanted in response. The two kids who’d been jeering walked away; others followed. Chloe wondered how it would end, a procession or a mass hug or a conga line, but instead the old man simply stopped speaking, laboriously stepped down from the stage, and hobbled off at the centre of a cluster of acolytes. His audience gathered up their children and drifted towards the camp.

They looked pleased. They had spoken in public. They had marked their territory. They had let out the ideas jostling in their heads, like that ancient rock star who’d shaken out a box of butterflies at an open-air concert in Hyde Park.  Most of the butterflies had died, but it was the gesture that counted.

This was something that couldn’t be quantified by Disruption Theory’s surveys: the happiness of the people possessed by alien impulses and strange memes. The ecstasy of expression. The simple childlike joy of creating a channel or connection. Although the breakout was nothing special, Chloe was glad to be reminded of that.  She took a flyer from one of the kids who were handing them out to the few non-believers who remained, slipped it into her messenger bag and got out of there while Eddie Ackroyd was packing up his drone.

We Thought He Was Saying Hello But He Was Really Saying Goodbye

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