Friday, March 18, 2016

Tomb Taxonomy

From Into Everywhere:

Most of the tombs were small, and most had collapsed or been buried by wind-blown sand that over thousands of years had cemented into friable rock. In certain places, tombs had been built on older tombs, creating tells ten or twenty strata deep. Many were empty, but fragments of Elder Culture technology, usually sympathy stones or the mica chips that contained the entangled pairs of electrons that underpinned q-phone technology, could be found in some, and tesserae were embedded in the walls of others. No one knew if the tesserae had been created by the Ghostkeepers, or if the Ghostkeepers had excavated them from ruins left by other Elder Cultures and used them as decoration or markers for reproductive fitness. Almost all of them were inert and of only archaeological interest; those that still generated active eidolons were highly prized.

Like all tomb raiders, Lisa and Willie had eked out a living from sales of mundane finds while dreaming of discovering the kind of jackpot that would kickstart a new industry or technology and make them so rich that they would never have to work again. They sifted through the middens of abandoned hive-rat nests – the fierce little creatures dug deep and sometimes brought up artefacts. They found their way into intact chambers where eidolons might kindle from shadows and lamplight. When everything else failed, they sank shafts into the mounds of collapsed tombs. Willie disliked digging. Not just because it was hard work, although that was a consideration, but because it disturbed what he called ‘the flow’.

The City of the Dead was a sargasso of history, according to him, with strange tides and currents, backwaters and eddies. Everything flowing into everything else.

If they found no intact tombs or abandoned nests, Willie preferred to dowse rather than dig. He would wander over the parched landscape with two lengths of copper wire bent into a pair of L-rods, delicately pinching the short arms between thumbs and forefingers and narrowly watching the quiver and dip of the long arms. Circling a spot when the rods began to twitch, insisting that Lisa start digging if they violently see-sawed.

Willie’s dowsing had a surprisingly good hit rate – slightly better than chance, according to Lisa’s Chi-squared tests – but he preferred spelunking, and so did Lisa. Finding their way into spaces untouched for thousands of years, where the psychic traces of the creatures that had built them yet remained. She remembered spiral tombs augered into the earth. She remembered labyrinths of broken stone. She remembered one huge, cool, bottle- shaped chamber lit by a shaft of sunlight from a high crevice. As Willie had climbed down the swaying rope ladder, orange fronds clumped in the splash of sunlight on the floor had suddenly broken up and scurried off in every direction, seeking the safety of shadows. A kind of colonial beetle-thing, it turned out, with symbiotic plants growing on its shells. Lisa remembered another chamber, this one long and low, where eidolons had exploded around them like bats: after they’d sold the tesserae that generated them, she and Willie had lived high on the hog for two months.

She remembered the time the truck’s LEAF battery had run out of charge at the western edge of the City of the Dead, a long way from the nearest settlement, with the eroded range of mountains that marked the edge of the Badlands shimmering at the horizon. Willie had pulled his trail bike from the load bed and roared off with the battery strapped behind him. He’d said that he’d be directly back, but a day passed, and another, and there was no sign of him and Lisa couldn’t pick up a phone signal. She discovered that she didn’t mind being stranded. She had plenty of food, enough water to last a couple of weeks. She slept in the back of the truck’s crew cab during the day and watched the starry sky at night. Dissolved into the antique silence of the desert. Looking back, she’d never been happier.

On the fourth day a hot wind out the south blew white sand from the crests of sand dunes. The sky grew milky and the sun faded to a dull smear and the horizon closed in. The truck’s door seals couldn’t keep out the dust and Lisa had to tie a handkerchief over her nose and mouth. Everything was covered with a fine white bloom. Her eyes itched madly.

Willie drove out of the tail end of the storm towards sunset. He’d been caught up in a business deal, he said, but it hadn’t panned out. Lisa didn’t bother to ask. It might have been a lead on Elder Culture ruins or a poker game, a girl or a spell in jail. In the morning they mounted the recharged LEAF battery and drove to Joe’s Corner and bought water and food and went on.

Those were the days of their lives until they finally hit their jackpot. Until the Bad Trip.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Into The Wild

Into Everywhere now available as an ebook in the US. I think that it's the first time one of my titles has been available over there before being released over here. So make the most of it, US readers.

Publication date in the UK for the ebook, audiobook and dead tree version is April 21st

Tuesday, March 15, 2016


'I'm a fast learner,' Dr Robert Laing soothingly tells an obstreperous neighbour who accuses him of a minor breach of rubbish-chute etiquette. Laing (imbued by Tom Hiddleston with cool semi-detached superiority) has just moved into a flat on the 25th floor of a new high-rise, midway between the lower levels inhabited by ordinary middle-class families and the heaven of the penthouses of the rich, including Anthony Royal, the architect who designed the building. Soon, he will need to deploy all of his charm and adaptability to survive the apocalyptic transformations of this vertical microcosm of society.

J.G. Ballard's experimental collection of condensed novels, The Atrocity Exhibition (1970), was the template for a loose thematic trilogy of novels that explored the effects of technology and the urban environment on human sexuality and psychology. Rather than resisting change or attempting to impose order on chaos, Ballard's characters embrace the freedom to explore and act out new states of being, from fetishism of cars and car accidents in Crash (1973) to the ways in which the liminal urban space of Concrete Island (1974) and the brutalist architecture of the self-contained tower of High-Rise (1975) translate into psychological states and human narratives.

In High-Rise, petty resentments and suburban hedonism are amplified by the claustrophobic architecture; as the veneer of civilisation cracks open, the inhabitants revert to savage tribalism and are gripped by a mass psychosis that traps them inside the building that has been designed to satisfy their every need. Directed by Ben Wheatley from a screenplay by Amy Jump, the film follows the novel's narrative arc pretty faithfully, beginning with the infamous scene where Laing sits on the terrace of his flat, roasting the leg of an Alsatian, and then looping back to Laing's arrival, and his introduction to the hedonistic lifestyle of the high-rise's middle floors by his upstairs neighbour Charlotte Mieville (played by Sienna Miller with a nicely judged mix of boldness and vulnerability). Charlotte also introduces Laing to Royal (Jeremy Irons as a limping acidulous demigod dressed in Bond-villain white) and Richard Wilder (Luke Evans in thuggish proletarian denim), a TV documentary maker who lives on the ground floor with his children and heavily pregnant wife. As the building's lifts and utilities begin to break down and social divisions -- defined by money rather than class -- fuel violent strife between floors, Wilder's increasingly brutish resentment drives his obsessive attempts to ascend to the top floor and confront the building's creator, a counterpoint to the descent of the rest of the inhabitants into apocalyptic warfare.

While David Cronenberg's film of Crash (1996) displaced the novel's setting from the 1970s to contemporaneous Canada while accurately replicating Ballard's cool, martian gaze, High-Rise makes the 1970s London setting of the novel a central feature of its aesthetic. There are slow pans across supermarket shelves packed with color-coded blocks of packaging; ranks of immaculate period cars stretch away in a vast parking lot; the apartments are nicely detailed, from the brass-and-glass furniture and orange and brown wallpaper of the lower floors to the wall-to-wall shag-pile carpeting and modular sofas of Royal's penthouse. The opulent interiors contrast with the brutal concrete exterior, bracingly framed against the sky and increasingly, as anarchy grips and the inhabitants party until dawn, depicted in the magic hour when the nuclear fire of level sunlight burns through the windows of its apartments.

Rather than attempting to impose a conventional plot on Ballard's clinical anatomisation of collapse and transfiguration, Wheatley uses montage and images shattered by a child's kaleidoscope to fast-forward the disintegration and mounting insanity to its violent conclusion. A man leaps from a high balcony and smashes, in exquisite slow-motion, into the bonnet of a parked car; in the  supermarket, peaches grow coats of mould; barricades block corridors and staircases; black binbags stuffed with rubbish bulge from rubbish chutes and clutter even the penthouses. The violent excesses of this gorgeously shot period dystopia are guyed by the kind of absurdism Wheatley has deployed in earlier films, notably Kill List and Sightseers. It's mostly a good match for Ballard's deadpan parodic humour, but is sometimes a little too broad: Laing's obstreperous neighbour and a cantankerous caretaker are little more than grotesque caricatures; a scene in which Laing turns up in a suit to a penthouse costume party and is roundly mocked by Royal's neglected, imperious wife (Keeley Hawes) and her acolytes veers towards sitcom farce; a roving gang armed with a BAFTA trophy is perhaps an in-joke too far.

Ballard's novels are powerful and disturbing because they mirror our own lives with far more closely than we'd like to admit -- their portraits of collapse and wild abandon are only a few degrees from what we call normality -- but comedy redefines normality by violently distorting it. Fortunately, such lapses in tone are rare. High-Rise is a gloriously subversive slice of anarchy, a mix of arthouse and grindhouse that, like the novel, relishes its remorseless deconstruction of what we like to think of as immutable human behaviour.
Newer Posts Older Posts