Friday 15 March 2024

View from the Edge Bulletin 2: Margate Grains of Sand

First published at Anna's new website: ANNA CHEN

Previously in View from the Edge … When David Bowie died in 2016 he took all the cosmic glue with him. Some suspect that we’ve all been trapped in a science fiction writer’s coma dream ever since. Or was there an earlier rip in the multiverse?

EDGE BULLETIN 1: Dateline 20 February 2024

By Anna Chen

Margate Grains of Sand

I nearly died in Margate when I was six. It was my own fault. I’d hitched a ride on another girl’s inflatable oval ring which she was paddling into the deep end of the holiday resort’s ancient open-air bathing pool. Set deep into the beach, the rectangle of seaweed-covered rocks filled with grey seawater with each high tide. It felt like it had been there forever: a seaside Stonehenge harnessing the elements.

Somewhere around the middle of the pool, I lost my balance and fell in. A non-swimmer who could barely doggy-paddle, I slipped into the murky water with hardly a splash. Each of the three times I surfaced to gulp air, all I glimpsed were a few shuttered snapshots. Strands of white cloud against the watery sky, the pool’s green-black walls, the girl’s rictus of laughter.

I know how many times it was because I counted. Even at that young age I knew you only had three goes and then you were gone.

Each time I rose, I threw my spindly arm over the ring long enough to take a quick, shallow breath. And each time I slipped from the wet plastic, my own meagre body weight dragging me down.

The fourth time I was desperate. It was, after all, my first-ever race against death. Eye-level with the horizontal seam running along the outside of the inflatable, I noticed the half inch of material sticking out all round. Too small for a fist to grab (and I tried), it was, however, with lightning-fast fine-tuning of motor skills, wide enough for a child’s nimble little fingers to pinch and provide enough buoyancy for a proper breath, if not for a scream.

I managed short, slippery grips while the girl paddled her inflatable into the deep end towards some mysterious purpose from which nothing could distract her. My own objective was to reach the wall and safety before my fingers weakened.

Finally, a few feet away, I let go and lurched towards it, abandoning the sanctuary of the half-inch seam. I grabbed at it only to find a fistful of seaweed slipping through my fingers. Finding no purchase, I slid down a sheer wall of slime, enveloped in weedy fronds. Exhaustion eventually overcame buoyancy. I finally gave up the struggle and accepted my fate.

As I hung suspended in time, in a distantly familiar environment only six years passing, I watched the light playing through the water. I felt completely calm, even peaceful, my only anxiety being that my mother was going to be very angry when she found out. Especially as she’d told me explicitly not to go near the pool which she’d correctly numbered as an unguarded death-trap. I started to breathe in water. It didn’t hurt. I felt no fear. It was almost beautiful. I’d surrendered completely.

It seemed an age but must have only been a few moments before a hand roughly grasped the back of my neck and hauled me out.

I gagged and spluttered to my feet, head pounding, surrounded by a small crowd on Margate sands. Bedraggled and quite embarrassed, I was suddenly overcome by a wave of dread of my mum’s fury, a dread amplified by an outraged chorus of “where’s the mother?” If the pool hadn’t killed me, my mother might well finish the job. What a choice — my own Scylla and Charybdis.

I sometimes wonder if I did die that day and everything since then in this world has been the imaginings of a six-year-old in her last moments. An eternity in the grains of sand on which I stumbled back to our basement holiday rooms in the down-at-heel Royal Crescent.

Because what I’m watching in this “Now” is what a child might construct had she missed her expected life trajectory. If she’d found herself banished to an unrealised, other-worldly plane in which she was left extrapolating a path for humanity from the little experience she’d picked up in her short life, this might very well be it.

She might well be regaining consciousness in a shrieking nosedive into a multiverse gone wrong as capitalism crashes to its flaming end, her widening eyes pulling focus all the way.

Plunging into the snarling instant gratification of immediate primal needs in the most advanced system on the planet, explained by a figure she’d invented called Karl Marx, in a cycle of events to which only someone severely damaged would willingly submit, she might well ask what the hell happened and how do I get out of this.

Did everything change at the Mother Portal? Did I, grasping at seaweed and straws, rename it the Ma Gate in my final moments? Does it really have a revivification chamber called Dreamland?

To be continued ….

Edge Bulletin 2 – Logged 20 February 2024 by Anna Chen

View from the Edge Bulletin 1: The science fiction writer's coma dream

Friday 23 February 2024

View from the Edge Bulletin 1: Coma Dream

First published at Anna's new website: ANNA CHEN

EDGE BULLETIN 1: Dateline 18 June 2023

By Anna Chen

The science fiction writer’s coma dream

For the longest time it felt like we were trapped in a science fiction writer’s coma dream and nobody could wake him up. We sensed something shifting underfoot, tiny spider-web cracks at first, then the juddering tectonic shift and the beginnings of a rip in the universe. Or was it just the post-war liberal order coming to an end as the capitalist cycle neared completion with all the goodness finally sucked out and nothing more left to give?

David Bowie left us in January 2016, taking all the cosmic glue with him. He’d given us five years. That would take us to 2021. How much worse could it get?

First the empathy went. Then the critical thinking. A cloud of amnesia floated like swarming locusts over the field of human view, before settling invisibly.

We were the last remnants of a better time, a higher collective consciousness when, despite the flaws and age-old crimes, mostly everything was on an upward trajectory. Humankind flowing towards the Great Attractor; full potential, us at our best.

Never before had the mass of any population enjoyed the advantages of princes. Time to spend toiling less in fields and factories and more on the things of wonder and beauty. We enjoyed poetry, philosophy, science, music. We even made it ourselves, no longer solely passive consumers of the crumbs thrown our way, but building things and thinking new possibilities into existence.

Then the storm began to gather.

Someone wanted it all back. A slow, incessant, silent assassin killing off what generations had built up in 400 years of Enlightenment.

They didn’t have to burn books. They just made sure fewer and fewer of us read them.

Giant conglomerates undercut the bookstores while we were busy amusing ourselves to death. You saw them die off in the towns, those peculiar little caches of humanity’s knowledge. It was the burning of the Great Library of Alexandria, this time in slomo. A process of attrition rather than all-out war, it crept up on us. We were the frogs being boiled slowly and served up with garlic sauce.

This one was digging out the roots of our perception. We’d have stuck our fists in the dyke to plug the outpouring, but where was the wall? Where were the cracks? What was the flow and how could we physically stop it?

Thinking it wasn’t enough. The resistance stayed in the heads of the few who saw it but we couldn’t yank it out into the concrete world where the damage was being done, foundations ripped up.

All the small, delicate dendritic connections began to wither and erode as our neurotransmitters dried up. The finest filaments, the sprigs and twiglets at the furthest ends, turned brittle and crumbled, blowing away like ash.

Then the larger twigs. Then along the stems, working its way down the branches until the bough broke and all we had left was brainstem. The world perceived without nuance; crude clashing opposites, grunts and cliches, pleasure and pain without the pleasure, ones and zeros.

It wore down to basic sex drives and fury: fight, flee or fuck. Then even that failed as our libido was throttled.

The television screen that had once been a window into the wider world, seducing us by showing us experiences we were unlikely to have ourselves, that had laid out vicarious pleasures like lacy underwear and chocolates on silk pillows, was now our jailor.

Dramas that drew you into the complex curlicues of thought, that surprised and shed light, now reduced humans to hysterics, never alive unless confronted by death.

The Case for the Prosecution that had once been balanced by a robust Case for the Defence in a society where fair play was the purported pinnacle of civilised existence now stood thuggish and triumphant like a roaring champ over the lifeless body of its opponent. No longer thesis-antithesis-synthesis, but one big tough-guy imposition of narrative smashing your head like a sledgehammer crushes a nut.

With nothing feeding us and no other coordinates directing us to a distanced perspective, everything collapsed into a single plane of grey mush.

Might was right.

Some had done hallucinogenic altered states drugs in their youth and knew the enhanced colours, the deep focus untangling. Others had loved beyond themselves and accessed the divine that way.

This was the opposite. A smashing together of plane after plane after plane, like the pancaking floors of the Twin Towers, into a single dimensional watery-grey contrast-free haze, like the morning after the death of the universe.

Where was up? Which way was down? We only moved when prodded with a big stick stimulus, tasered by horror. We weren’t even lab rats in a maze any more. We were amoeba cells on the petri dish of some mad scientist who thought there were too many of us anyway.

In the time we had left, we noticed few written items online carried dates any more, collapsing chronology and making orientation near impossible. It was hard to tell when something was written, when that idea was born, or what its genesis might have been. How did it slot into the timeline? Meta led the metaverse attempt to yank us out of reality and into their Matrix knock-off. An anaesthetising, soporific tranquiliser in a little headset.

When that failed, they gave us Artificial Intelligence that wasn’t very intelligent after all. More a big fancy word-processor relieving us of the need to experience and have the thoughts ourselves in the way your subconscious once processed all your experiences, gave them shape and made sense of them. Or not.

It was a good party trick, but the magicians never truly produced the rabbit, only a simulacrum of one.

That’s what we were to them, ones and zeros being programmed, our information stripped from us to create the world for the next pliant generation. They wanted newborns no longer sucking at the teat of the TV screen, or the iPad or the mobile phone but shrouded, cocooned, all stimulus inserted via goggles.

So what was to be done?

It was simple, really. All I had to do was complete three missions in the 21st century.

1) Make sure the left didn’t bury the anti-Iraq War campaign, one of the first countries in the long line of boxes being ticked off, the way they’d done with all the others. As long as it didn’t end up as another forgotten walk in the park, we might stand a chance. Check.

2) Make visible the invisible and humanise the Chinese in the culture, on the BBC and in the rest of the media. Usher them out of the ghetto, where they were sitting ducks, before the war started in earnest. Nice try.

3) Stop World War 3. Still working on it.

Edge Bulletin 1 – Logged 18 June 2023

More at Anna Chen's website