A ghost in the cardboard sky

FICTION

It’s true that there’s a part of me in all my stories, whether that be a mannerism in a character, or something from the fringe of my memory. A review of my anthology says it’s “Like a Black Mirror for the page, these stories flit between dark sci-fi and psychological horror but are always underlined by a salient sense (and deep understanding of) the human condition.” I believe that’s true, because of the experience and insight which life has given me.

I’m re-posting this story, because I set myself a challenge recently on Facebook, to test my plaudit. I feel confident enough (and not shy to be a little proud), that if any of my friends asked me to, I could point them to one of my stories, wherein they would see themselves.

Some of my friends have appeared in stories as themselves. The test is more of me as a writer who can see into personality types, and convey more about that character than is in the words. If people can see themselves, that’s proof for anyone who’s curious if I can actually write, and affect them.

There are parts of me in this story, mixed in with many other types of people. It’s an evolutionary fairy tale and a ghost story. It has many levels…

Cardboard scifi bed

CARDBOARD SKY

The story of how I became a ghost is surprisingly ordinary: I died. My actual passing was like that moment when you fall asleep every night: You don’t remember it. The next day, you’ll remember being awake before you slept; you know you’ve been sleeping and you may recall dreams. But you won’t remember the transit from wakefulness to slumber. So dying was just like that, for me at least.

It didn’t take long to realise I was dead because people just stopped talking to me. I could still walk around but no-one could see or hear me. A couple of times, people just walked straight through me, as though I wasn’t there. I wasn’t but I was.

When someone walks through you when you’re a ghost, you get to know a lot more about them on the inside. I don’t mean how their internal organs look (just like in a hospital documentary or horror film) but a feeling of their inner self. It’s surprising how many people you thought you knew turn out to be complete twunts.

Even though I was invisible and inaudible, I felt vulnerable in this brave new world. I’m used to being looked at. I like it. I dress provocatively. But here, no-one was looking at me, which made me anxious. I felt invisible. I was invisible. That’s how I ended up sleeping under George’s bed.

So kids: It’s not a monster under the bed, it’s a ghost.

It was while I was under there that I decided to write this story.

I’d suddenly found myself homeless. I had no personal belongings, nowhere to go and nothing to do. But like any child’s bed, George’s had cardboard boxes underneath it. I wouldn’t pry into something which might be private, but like most children’s beds, George’s sat above a wasteland of discarded ephemera: a little-used word but for the purposes of this story, it was the right one. It’s a collective noun, for things that exist or are used or enjoyed for only a short time. Or collectable items that were originally expected to have only short-term usefulness or popularity. Ephemera also has a certain supernatural aura about it (Ephemeral, an adjective meaning lasting for a very short time), so to a ghost and a writer, it suits the story very well.

As a ghostwriter, I could be anyone I wanted. I could do that in cardboard city but I had less to worry about under the bed.

It wasn’t me writing the story; I was employing someone else. When a man writes something, he is judged on his words. When a woman writes, it is she who is judged. Being a ghost was perfect. Because if a ghost writes the story, then they control it. If a ghost tells this story, it doesn’t hurt as much.

Among the discarded stationery, I found a note: ”If you don’t finish that story, I will personally punch you in the face. Cool?” I had no idea who’d written it, nor the circumstances surrounding it. I assumed it was a note given to George. Or it might have been one he’d planned to give to someone else and thought better of it. It could just as easily have been addressed to me. Whatever, and if nothing else, it was a kick start. Sometimes that’s what we need.

It wasn’t a physical kick (There was no room under the bed) but it was a mental jolt, like the friend who places an arm around your shoulder and tells you they believe in you. That’s a very brave thing for them to do, because the kind of person who says that kind of thing is going to end up stuck with you.

I needed something to sustain me while I wrote, but I was under George’s bed. I had no idea how the rest of the house was laid out, so I wouldn’t know where to find the food. It occurred to me that even if I found any food, I was ill-equipped to cook it. One revelation leads to another: Ghosts don’t eat. Do they?

Eventually, I’d gathered enough odd paper to make a useful pad. All I could find to write with was a crayon. A fucking green crayon. So then I began to write, in green crayon.

Should I really have been denied drugs, when it was that which drove me, once I learned to control it? Should those who thought they knew better have removed my lifeline? If I’d allowed them to do so, I’d surely have died from the withdrawal. At least that’s what I was afraid of. So I kept going. I kept shooting up. Then I ran away. I was 16.

Once you’re 18, the law says you can leave home without your parents’ or guardians’ permission. Strictly speaking, if you’re 16 or 17 and you want to leave home, you need your parents’ consent. But if you leave home without it, you’re unlikely to be made to go back unless you’re in danger. You are extremely unlikely to be obliged to return home if that’s where the danger lies.

It didn’t matter to me that I had nothing. Just as long as I could get a fix, I had all I needed. Even personal safety and well being become passengers when the heroin is driving.

There’s a dark magic within you. A frightful thing I cling to.

But as a ghost I couldn’t score, just as I couldn’t eat.

So I had nothing to do but write. It would be romantic to write that the flow of ink from my pen replaced the alchemy running through my veins, but I was writing with a green crayon.

The writing was a distraction, but it couldn’t mask the withdrawal symptoms. It turns out that even being dead can’t do that. So I was faced with the prospect of cold turkey, a cruel joke as I was hungry and couldn’t eat.

How could I write but not be able to eat? Actually I couldn’t. I wasn’t sure if it was delirium tremens brought on by my withdrawal, or the limitations of my new body, but I had no fine motor skills. I could rummage through things and pick them up, but I couldn’t do something like thread a needle if anyone had asked. I probably wouldn’t have been able to put a needle in a vein if I was alive, and I certainly couldn’t make my hands write. My fine motor skills were like those of a toddler. So I simply did what many authors do: They have an idea, some thoughts, a plot, and they’ll employ someone else to write their story for them: A ghostwriter. I was both a writer and a ghost. So I just thought my story; I willed it, in the hope that someone else might write it one day, now that I couldn’t.

I needed to haunt George.

I’ve read a lot and learned through self-teaching. I could have been so many things if it wasn’t for chasing the dragon. But that dragon must be chased, just as a puppy must be played with. So I’d read up on ghosts and the various types of haunting.

The “Crisis Apparition” is normally a one-time event for those experiencing it. It’s when a ghost is seen at the time of it’s predecessor’s passing, as a way of saying farewell to family and friends. It would be like going about your daily business, then suddenly seeing your mum outside of normal contexts. Minutes later, you receive a call to tell you that she’s passed away. With practice, the deceased may be able to visit you more than once, to reassure you. If they do that, you might have a guardian angel. In my case, a fallen one with broken wings.

“The reluctant dead” are ghosts who are unaware they’re deceased. They go about their lives as if they were still living, oblivious to their passing. This innocence (or denial), can be so severe that the ghost can’t see the living, but can nonetheless feel their presence: A kind of role reversal. This can be stressful, for both the haunter and the haunted. In films, it’s usually someone moving into the home of a recently deceased person. Perhaps they lived and died alone in their twilight years. To them, the living might be invaders. These are not ghosts which need to be exorcised: Simply talking to them about their death can help them to cross over and leave your home.

Then there are ghosts who are trapped or lost: They know they’re dead but for one reason or another, they can’t cross over yet. Cross over into what? Some may fear moving on because of the person they were in life, or they might fear leaving what’s familiar to them.

There are ghosts with “unfinished business” broadly split into two categories: A father might return to make sure his children are okay. Or a lover might hang around, making sure their partner finds happiness and moves on. But there’s also the “vengeful ghost”; perhaps a murder victim, back to haunt their killer.

“Residual ghosts” usually live out their final hours over and over again. They often show no intelligence or self-awareness, and will walk straight by (or through) you. Many think that these types of ghosts left an imprint or a recording of themselves in our space time.

Finally, the “intelligent ghost”: Where the entity interacts with the living and shows a form of intelligence. I certainly wanted to communicate with George. In fact, to lesser and greater extents, I fitted parts of the descriptions of all types of ghosts. I’d not long been dead and already I had a multiple personality disorder.

All I could see of George when he first came into the room was his feet: Black elasticated plimsolls and white socks, like I used to wear for PE. I couldn’t say what size his feet were but I imagined them having a boy of about ten years old attached to them. I guessed George was quite a hefty lad by the way the sky fell slightly as he climbed onto the bed above me.

I laid still, because even though I myself was inaudible, my developing motor skills would betray me if I dropped the crayon or kicked anything. I could hear pages being turned and I was aware of movement above me. It could be that George was writing; doing homework perhaps. I didn’t want to entertain an alternative. I hoped he was writing.

No matter what we do in this life, we may eventually be forgotten. It’s a comfort I gain from writing, knowing that whatever’s published is recorded, and will be out there long after I’ve gone. The democratisation of publishing and reporting has meant many good and bad things, but for as long as the conversation is global, we need to keep it going. There may be voices with whom we disagree, but through writing, we can posit an alternative opinion and seed a debate. Beyond all that is happening in our constantly evolving universe is a simple fact: What is right will win. What is right can emerge from the anarchic democracy which is the internet, but only if there are enough voices. There will always be sides and factions but with everyone involved, those who engage the most because they are passionate enough will prevail. We don’t need to shout louder than the other side; we simply need to educate the ignorant. Evolution will tell the story of whether we became a liberal race and prospered, or if we destroyed ourselves because we were unable to evolve. Either way, history will record it. If we destroy ourselves, eventually our history will be lost in the vastness of space and time, and it may be as though we never existed. From the quiet above, I gathered George was quite a deep thinker.

There’s only one race on this planet and that’s the one we all belong to: The human race. Where death may scare most people, it doesn’t trouble me. I’m seeing evidence that the human consciousness exists independently from the body and continues to live after our bodies give up or we destroy them. What does scare me is even more existential: Being forgotten, as though I never existed. The human race faces an existential threat: That of ignorance. Simply by talking, we can make a difference. Listen to the previous generations, for they are our history. Talk to the next generation and don’t patronise them: They’re intelligent beings. They are the human race and the future. Maybe George would be heard one day.

After a while, the sky fell further and the lights went out. George had retired for the night.

Ghosts can see in the dark. As soon as George had been quiet long enough for me to be sure he was asleep, I was getting restless. I moved around and stretched a bit. I’d managed to keep the shakes under control, but now George was asleep, the withdrawal was becoming quite uncomfortable. Despite my anxiety and a developing agoraphobia, I was tempted to just get out and run around; to do something to distract myself. I decided against it. I’d be like a child who’d just learned to walk. I would bump into things and knock things over. I didn’t want George to have a poltergeist: They’re bad. I’m not bad and I didn’t want to be the victim of an exorcism, made homeless all over again.

I thought I’d try my night vision out and have another go at writing. I managed to draw a crude stick man, a house with a smoking chimney and a space rocket with flames coming out of the bottom. He was a green man, who lived in a green house (so shouldn’t throw stones) and he had a green rocket which burned copper sulphate fuel (copper sulphate produces a green flame). I wasn’t evolved enough to write.

I fought an internal flame: One which was a danger I wanted to flee but at the same time, a beckoning warmth. I didn’t know what time of day it was, and I had no idea how long George slept for. He might be one of those kids who was in and out of the bathroom all night, or he might be near enough to adolescence that he hibernated. Either way, or anywhere in between, I couldn’t keep still for even a minute.

The shakes were more like tremors now: Delirium tremens: a psychotic condition typical of withdrawal in chronic alcoholics, involving tremors, hallucinations, anxiety, and disorientation. Heroin withdrawal on its own does not produce seizures, heart attacks, strokes, or delirium tremens. The DTs were the manifestation of my other addiction, which I’d used heroin to cover up. It was somehow less shameful to be an addict of an illegal substance and hence a victim, than it was a legal drug which most people can consume with no ill effects. As an alcoholic, I was less of a victim. I was a sadomasochist.

As soon as you tell people you’re an alcoholic, if they don’t recoil, they just assume you’re always drunk. Or they presume that you must never touch a drop. Both are true in some alcoholics but there’s the “functioning alcoholic”, who still drinks far more than anyone should but who doesn’t get drunk. They can get drunk, but most functioning alcoholics simply drink throughout the day (a kind of grazing), to keep the delirium tremens and other dangerous side effects of alcohol cessation at bay. It’s called Alcohol Dependence Syndrome but most people saw it as a cop out. I couldn’t educate the ignorant, or get them to listen long enough for me to explain. So I started taking drugs. I got so tired of trying to explain alcoholism to people, educating their ignorance, that I gave up. You get much more sympathy as a drug addict. Yeah, right!

So as in life, this once functioning alcoholic is now a ghost.

For the brief period that I was on the road in the last life, one saying; one sentiment, was always to be heard in the homeless community: “Be safe”. Those two words convey much more than their brevity would suggest. But when you’re homeless, relationships and lives are fragile. It’s quicker and less sentimental to say “Be safe” to someone you may never see again than “I love you”.

Even if I was restless, I felt safe under George’s bed. To keep busy, I broke a promise and looked in the cardboard boxes. I placed the green crayon in my mouth, like a green cigarette. I sucked on it like a joint and the taste of wax was actually quite pleasant. It helped just a little as a distraction from the shakes.

The first box was a complete mixture: Sheets of paper, smaller boxes and random other stuff; like a model car, some Lego and, well, just all sorts. I gathered the papers first.

Some of George’s notes were apparently to himself: They were in a handwriting different to the first note I saw, so I couldn’t be entirely sure, but one such note read, “You came close a few times but you backed off. You didn’t want to be one of those boys who made her cry. That’s the only reason you did it.” If they were intended for someone else, he’d not delivered them.

There were unopened presents, and gifts addressed to others, but George hadn’t delivered them. Some things were wrapped, while others weren’t, but they were clearly intended for someone else as they had notes attached. A packet of 20 Marlborough Lights: “Should really have got two tens, then I could have given mum and dad one each. Like that’s going to stop them.”

I’d not seen or heard the parents. Without knowing even what day of the week it was, there could be many scenarios. In one, George’s parents argued a lot but they were very much in love. Perhaps they were frustrated and united against a common foe. With my parents, that was me. Whatever it was, I imagined something bonding them and keeping them together. That could have been George I suppose.

I wondered at what point in human evolution it might have been, that we started analysing things and where we started to over-analyse. Marriage guidance, or relationship management; fucking counselling, from professionals and the plastic police alike: We all have someone. We all love someone. They care about us and vice versa. But over time, something’s not right, so we take the lid off and start poking around in that jar. We keep chipping away, feeling more free to say things in an environment, which we might not in another. And eventually we say something irreversible. Something that’s niggling us deep inside and which doesn’t affect us until it’s dug up. And from there, the relationship breaks down further and ever more of the undead join the feast.

Rather than encourage engagement, that kind of situation can invoke the fight or flight reflex in the previous life; the past. And whether fleed or not, the past is history.

So we arrive in the next life with so much unsaid. We want to say it but we have to learn all over again, how to speak. And I suppose that’s why we want to haunt people.

George woke up. A light was switched on and the sky above me moved. I waited for the feet from above but there were none. There was movement like before, and the sound of paper. George must have been writing. Or drawing. After what I guessed to be around 20 minutes, he stopped, the light went out and the sky moved again. I was trembling quite violently by then, so I bit down on the crayon between my teeth and returned my attention to the boxes.

I don’t know what’s worse: to not know what you are and be happy, or to become what you’ve always wanted to be, and feel alone.

Do the first one: Get to know yourself and be happy with what you are. Then do the second: Those who loved you first time around will be the ones who are still there. So you’re not lonely.

Life, packaged.

The human body is merely a temporary host.

Put like that, we simply inhabit a body for a period of time, like a possession; In “life” we are already ghosts possessing bodies which give us physical form. That organic structure will age and eventually die, but our consciousness is separate from what we look at as a living body and it goes on living, long after the host gives up. Life, as we know it, is merely one part of an ongoing existence, the greatness of which we don’t yet understand. Knowledge comes with death’s release. You may well have lived in another body in a previous life: Deja vu tells us that; that feeling that you’ve been somewhere before. George had deep dreams.

The trembling had reached my head. There was more than one person in there, and the dialogue was two-way. I wasn’t talking to myself; I was talking to another person.

I began to realise that perhaps George and I were somehow connected. I always subscribed to pre-determinism in principle. A part of me knew that the Big Bang carried an imprint equal to its original noise; that everything was mapped out in that pre-spacetime manifestation of knowledge and understanding. I was drawn to believe that our futures were mapped out long ago, but that they were as inaccessible as our pasts: We had no control over either. Great swathes of George were alien to me. But why wouldn’t I explore, if George was my destiny? Or it could be the withdrawal, and I may have been withdrawing to a comfort zone. I couldn’t do that to George. What had this kid done to deserve me, inside him?

Life had been very much a game of give and take: If George had taken something, then he was indebted to someone else. If he received something and it wasn’t in recognition of anything he’d done, he was in someone else’s debt. When he gave something, he expected nothing back. It was simply an accepted fact that life gave back far less than was put in. No-one understood him, least of all himself. Did I? Could I?

His life revolved around visits to toy fairs with his father. They couldn’t afford the mint-and-boxed or the ready-made, so dad would just look around and George would use pocket money to buy spacecraft parts.

Broken and incomplete model kits were fuel for George’s shipyard in a cardboard box under the bed. When weekends were over, the shipyard had to remain where it was. When George was at his dad’s to build his craft, he didn’t. Because time was too valuable. So we were at George’s father’s house and it was the weekend.

When he wasn’t constructing, he was thinking. And he made more notes. He made the normal in my life fantastical, by explaining how science fiction writers were just one small step ahead of the real world. George knew I was there, or at least that it was possible for me to physically be there.

There were clippings from newspapers and magazines in the next box, including an obituary: Jemma Redmond was a biotechnologist who died aged 38 in 2016, like so many others in that awful year. The passing of her life was overshadowed by many more well-known figures in the public eye. But like George, she worked quietly, tirelessly and passionately. And she achieved some incredible things. She developed a means of using human tissue cells as “ink” in a 3D printer. She also helped in the design of 3D printers which reduced the cost of their manufacture. Jemma Redmond made it possible to “print” human organs for transplant into patients, and she reduced the cost so that the technique could be applied in the developing world. This is not science fiction. This is science fact, just a few years from now. Most people wouldn’t have known, unless it was brought to their attention and they then had the attention span to listen. But if anyone were to Google her name, her work is recorded in modern history.

There was a printout of a scientific paper about NASA’s EMdrive. The Electro Magnetic drive is a fuel-free means of propulsion, which could replace rocket fuel and all its limitations of bulk and speed. The EMdrive could take a spacecraft to Mars in 70 days. At present, it’s a two year trip, with a lot of psychological and physiological risks to any humans making the journey. Many of those problems would be overcome with the EMdrive. It’s due for testing soon and with development and improvement, could make other stars in the galaxy viable destinations for exploration and research. This is not science fiction. He had articles about solar sail arrays, the size of Colorado, taking tiny scout ships out to explore the cosmos ahead of humans. All of this could be possible within George’s lifetime.

But very few people know about these things because all of the bad news in the world shouts louder. If more people knew about the technological and scientific thresholds we’re at, they might talk about them. Others would then learn and eventually there might be a chorus of voices so loud that mankind has to listen and consider another way forward for the species.

George thought what a wonderful world ours could be if we concentrated on this stuff, rather than religion, conflict and capitalism. Of course, George was young and naïve in the eyes of most. He’d never be taken seriously if he proposed an alternative plan for humankind. So he kept and curated records, and he wrote about them. Like so many other people, he was recording his thoughts in the hope that someone might discover them later, or when he was older and might be taken more seriously. He was aware that he was documenting the present and the contemporary, and that it could become either history or the future.

My trembling had almost taken control of my limbs by now. Where it was first shaky fingers, then hands, now my arms and legs ached as though they needed to spasm.

The light went on again and the sky moved. There was more rustling of papers and scribbling with a pen or pencil. I started singing a song in my head, as I wondered something: I knew I didn’t need to eat, but would I need to get my hair cut out here? It was a song by the Crash Test Dummies: God shuffled his feet. If crash test dummies were to have nervous systems, I knew how one might feel by now. The light went off and the little big man upstairs settled back down. I needed coffee: lots of cream, lots of sugar.

My coffee used to come from a jug on a hotplate. George was planning a replicator. He explained in his notes how a replicator was just one step further on from a 3D printer. Scientists could already print human body parts after all. To print a cup, then some coffee to fill it, was actually quite simple. George was keen to point out in his notes that one should always print the cup before the coffee.

Like the quiet voices of mankind, George could only imagine. He could only wonder at the sky, or lie in bed and dream of what was beyond the ceiling. Humans travelling to other stars was one lifetime away. It was only a matter of generations before the dream could be anyone’s reality. George wanted to be anyone.

George escaped in his sleep. And he explained in his notes how it was possible to travel all over the universe. Not only was it possible, but everyone does it, every night. Everyone has dreams and George wrote his down. The spacecraft and all of its missions were in the same cardboard box; a microcosm universe beneath George’s bed. He explained how time travel could be possible:

It’s a simple matter of thinking of space and time as the same thing: Spacetime. Once you do that, it’s easier to visualise the fourth dimension: I am lying beneath a bed and I’m occupying a space in three dimensions (X,Y and Z); my height (or length), width and depth. Trembling limbs aside, I will occupy the same space five minutes from now. So the first three dimensions have remained constant, but the fourth (time) has changed. But also, I did occupy that same space five minutes previously. That, and every moment in between is recorded in the fabric of space time: I am still there, five minutes ago. I know the past. I don’t know if I’ll still be here five minutes hence: I can’t predict the future, even though it may be pre-planned from the start of all time as we understand it.

Of course, there is what’s known as The Grandfather Paradox: This states that if I were to travel back in time and kill my granddad, I would cease to exist. But if we assume that in George’s new world order, various ethics committees exist in the future, then time travel to the past could be undertaken in a governed, regulated and ethical manor. It might be a little like the First Directive imagined in many science fiction works, where it’s forbidden to interfere in any way in a species’ development, even if that means remaining invisible whilst watching them destroy themselves. This in itself is a paradox because no-one is qualified to say that it hasn’t already happened, conspiracy theorists aside.

When you’re despairing late at night and you just wish someone was there, but you don’t really want anyone around. When you’re confused, perhaps by internal conflict. That’s when you need a guardian angel. If someone would just phone you at that time, that would be perfect, because you’re not bothering them. You’ve not caused them any trouble. Guardian angels need a sixth sense and the ability to travel back in time.

George estimated his brave new world to be around 200-250 years from now; perhaps ten generations. There was a long way to go and a lot to do, and George would most likely not see any of it. Or so he thought. He was young and he had much to learn, then he needed to learn how to deal with it. The things which George wanted to do were the things I regretted not doing.

All things considered, I thought it might be better to not let George know that one of his prophesies does come true. It was too soon. He wasn’t ready. I couldn’t let him know that it was possible to send letters from the future, or that people from the past could be visited. It was a one-way street, a bit like going to see grandma because she can’t get to you. The departed are still around, we just can’t normally see them. Often they’re just watching over us. Sometimes they might want to speak to us but we need to be receptive.

By now, my arms and legs were in full spasm and I could feel my torso waiting to convulse. I cleared everything from around me as quietly as I could, so as not to interrupt whatever dream was unfolding above me.

The human body has an internal mechanism which shuts it down when stimuli get too much. An inconsolable baby will cry itself to sleep, and if a pain becomes truly unbearable at any age, we will pass out. I hadn’t tried to sleep since I’d been dead, but it looked like I was about to be shown how to.

I don’t know how far I travelled in the fourth dimension but I was woken by a voice:

“Georgie?” It was a man’s voice. Dad was home.

“In here dad.” George calling to his dad was the first time I’d heard him speak.

“I got you your magazines.” Dad was now in the room, quieter but closer. He had big feet.

“Thanks dad.” George’s voice had changed. Now that he was speaking at a lower volume, his voice was deeper: Young George’s voice was breaking.

“Writing, the science one, and paper craft. Is that right?”

“That’s the ones. Thanks.”

“What’s all this?”

“Notes. I’m writing a story. Here.”

There was a long period of quiet. George was shifting about on the bed and his dad was pacing around the room. There was that same distinct sound of pages being turned that I’d grown used to.

“Jemma Redmond. I read about her. Amazing woman. Deserves a posthumous Nobel.

“The EMdrive, eh? That’s exciting. I think we’ll use that for the interstellar stuff, and the solar sail ships for the wider galactic vanguard missions.”

“There’s some pretty deep stuff in here Georgie. Did you do this all yourself?”

“Well, I kind of had some help.”

“From whom? I’d like to meet them.”

“You can’t dad.”

“Why not?”

“Promise you won’t laugh?”

“Can I smile?”

“You may smile”. There was a pause. “So, I had a dream.”

“We all have those. What about?”

“Nothing specific. Just a load of dreams mixed into one I suppose.”

“So you wrote about it. It’s good to write down your dreams.”

“But not all of that writing is mine. See, there was this girl.”

“A girl? In your dream?”

“Yes. A small girl, with blonde fizzy hair. And green teeth.”

“Green teeth? Was she a witch? Is she under the bed?”

Shit!

“No. Well, she was kind of a witch. A dark witch but a good one. She was just wandering around, like she was showing me things. She might have been lost. I want to see her again.”

“I imagine you do. At least your witch has somewhere to live now.”

***

George left at the end of that weekend but it wasn’t the end of the story. He visits every weekend and he continues to record things for historians of the future. Eventually, he may realise that he was part of the machinery which kept the conversation going. He didn’t know this yet but he was encouraged in his chosen vocations.

I was there, under the bed. If I’d been able to write, I’d have just added a note for George:

Do what you enjoy. If you enjoy it, you’ll be good at it and people might notice you. If not now, then in the future. Don’t put off till tomorrow that which you can do today. Because if you do it today and you like it, you can do it again tomorrow.

Your life is not empty and meaningless, regardless of who is in it or absent from it. Your life is what you make it, for yourself and for future generations. Don’t give up.

Hopefully George will continue this story, now history, but in the hope that it might be read in the future.

Dust to Funky. Be safe George.

To this day, Dad has never gone through George’s things under the bed. I’d have noticed.

© Steve Laker, 2016.

The Perpetuity of Memory is available now.

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On quantum entanglement and meditative states

SCIENCE | THE WRITER’S LIFE, THE UNIVERSE AND EVERYTHING (PART 2)

I wondered at first if I should include this in my recent essay, ‘Lucid dreaming and the quantum human soul’, my attempt to explain life, the universe and everything, in accessible writing, and backed up by science. In that article, I explained in my own words, how I understand quantum physics to mean that the human soul is immortal. And I tried to explain how being able to lucid dream can take the explorer into the quantum universe. Quantum entanglement is just one logical step beyond, so I’ve written a post script to that blog entry.

QuantumEntanglement

Einstein theorised quantum entanglement, and it’s later been proven by science. It’s actually quite easy to explain, now that I’ve thought about it.

We know the old traditional science: Once, the holy grail was splitting the atom. We’ve done that, and in doing so, we have unleashed the power of the nucleus. At the moment, that can be used to build nuclear weapons of mass destruction, or to fuel exploration craft to the stars, surely the destiny of any technological race. We’ve made it that far, and now we find ourselves and our planet on a pivot, between destroying ourselves, or co-operating to populate other planets and expand our race. It’s in the nuclei of atoms that the chemical reactions of fusion and fission happen, to produce the power we now have.

The universe began with the Big Bang. Even if it didn’t, there are nuclear reactions taking place, all over, all the time, and the universe has been doing that since it began, however that was. Our earth wasn’t always here, and neither therefore, were we. Ancient aliens theories which posit that we were left here by supreme beings aside (or not), we were all created somewhere, and from something. It is a fact, that all of the matter in the universe was created at the start. Ergo, we are all made of stars. Inside every one of us, are sub-atomic particles which existed and which were split by nuclear reaction at the beginning of time.

Just as things exist in parallel states in quantum physics, quantum entanglement suggests that when a sub-atomic particle is split, it retains a link (a communication channel) with its counterpart, regardless of their distance apart. This has been proven by scientists on Earth, where a reaction in one sub-atomic particle was observed to be reacted to by another.

So if we accept that the universe is roughly 14 billion years old, and that everything in it came from the same place, it gets a bit brain fart. Because every single one of us is made of cells, which are made of atoms, all of which have nuclei, containing sub-atomic particles. Those particles fused together at some point, after they were all blown apart by the nuclear genesis of the universe. Therefore, every one of the trillions of sub-atomic particles in your body, has counterparts, somewhere in the universe, to which they are still attached, in a quantum telepathic way. We are all part of the living universe.

Given the almost infinite possibilities out there, as a science fiction writer, this throws up many thoughts. It is now scientifically proven, that every particle in my body is connected to another, somewhere in the universe. So I might have connections with ancient extraterrestrials, who have the other half of those particles. Some of me may be in some vast ocean, on a planet in a galaxy billions of light years distant. The possibilities are only limited by imagination. And just as science fiction often becomes fact, those possibilities are most likely probabilities. I know for a fact that I’m connected to trillions of things in the universe, I just don’t know what or where they all are.

Even as a science fiction writer, I keep my scenarios and ideas at least plausible, because a lot of them have their basis in contemporary science. I read a lot of scientific texts, and I make sure I understand them, by doing extra research if necessary. This is why many of my sci-fi stories carry so much weight: because they have firm foundations in science, and like other sci-fi authors, my imagination can see futures, and expand on accepted wisdom.

So in my previous essay, I attempted to explain how the quantum universe works. Then I described how I’d achieved lucidity through dreaming, and how I’m able to use that to explore the universe in my sleep. What I’d missed out, is how we’re all connected, and a part of it. Counterparts of trillions of parts of the universe are within each of our bodies, and if we can meditate, we can connect them.

This may sound new age, spiritual, or insane. But it’s the basis of many religions, and proven scientific fact. This is the piece of the jigsaw which allows me to reconcile science and religion, fact and fiction.

If you can achieve lucidity through dreams, or some other meditative state, you can start to join the trillions of dots and see the bigger picture. Open your mind and you will see.

My books are available on Amazon.

On lucid dreaming and the quantum human soul

What life after this is like and how to get there

ESSAY | SCIENCE | THE WRITER’S LIFE, THE UNIVERSE AND EVERYTHING

There’s a very simple answer to life, the universe and everything. In a funny way, it is 42 for me. Because just as Deep Thought took 7.5 million years to work it out in The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, it took me 42 years. And I’m part of the computer which Deep Thought designed: Earth 2.0. But this isn’t science fiction. This is scientific fact. This is how I can quite reasonably explain what this life is all about, what comes after it, and how to get there. This is not a religious text. I’ve been asked to clarify my politics, religion, and my overall outlook on life in the past. This is an anarchist atheist blog entry.

Universe background

I did not have an epiphany. This is not a sudden realisation. It’s something I’ve formulated over the last 3-4 years. If anything, being homeless for three years was what convinced me there was no God. Not because I felt somehow deserving and forsaken. What happened to me couldn’t be the work of any god: I did it myself. No, it was because I had time to think, to question, read and learn. I did this by spending many long days in Tonbridge Library. I’d spend my allotted hour of computer time typing up this blog, then I’d retire to the reference section and I’d borrow books from the lending section. Regarding what follows, further reading shouldn’t be necessary but I’d certainly recommend learning more. Firstly, let’s get my atheism and anarchism into some context:

I’m an atheist, in that I deny ‘God’ in man’s image. I don’t deny that the earth may have been visited by a greater intelligence, many thousands of years ago. I would be a fool – given all that I believe – to assume that there was no other life in the universe. I certainly believe (hope) that there are many, far superior races out there. The sheer size of space makes it a paradox, and upon that is built both scientific research and blind faith. The curious explorers who want to learn more, and those who prefer to accept what’s fed to them. I’ll come back to personal utopian and dystopian worlds later, as well as how to get there. For now, my atheism is rooted in a desire to question and discover, not to accept as fact, that which is unproven. I don’t consider my scientific views to be in any way blind faith.

Anarchism next though: In the 80s, I was a punk. It was more than the music: It was a movement and a way of life, just as Bowie became my life guide throughout, and my musical roots go back to Kingston and the birth of Ska, and all that true Two Tone represents. But when I was a punk, I wore white laces in my D.Ms. At the time, that stood for Anarchy, Peace and Freedom, where red laces were Anarchy and Chaos. But far from the stereotypes of either portrayed in the media, there is a deeper humanitarian nature to true anarchy, as defined by Noam Chomsky and Ross Ulbricht. A self-governing society can work, provided a balance is collectively maintained. True and pure anarchy is a redistribution of power, where power is returned to the people.

Add the atheism, the anarchism and some weed together, and you have a mind which can question the greater things. Being pretty extreme left wing (in the relatively simplistic sphere of geopolitics when compared to the universe), I seek to reconcile what I say with all who might object, if they’re prepared to have a debate and not to fight. We may agree to differ, but by having that conversation, at least the two parties are better able to understand one another. Only by continuing to talk do we increase our understanding.

So what of life, the universe and everything? I’m limited by words, just as ancient scribes were when they recorded the events of whatever it was which happened 2000 years ago. Religion packaged it and monetised it, but the ancient scrolls and scripts are so open to interpretation that it requires a leap of faith to accept any theory. All religion did was package one version and sell it. I don’t believe we know who or what any creator might have been, how we got here, or where we came from. It is perhaps for comfort that I choose to believe there are other races out there in the virtual infinity of space. Consider the size, and consider the Drake equation, and you get an idea of how it’s a paradox requiring some faith, but no more than religion, and not packaged, other than by those who label us conspiracy theorists. As such, we explore and we question. We can be wrong. We desire debate from a wider conversation, but while that label is applied, we’re the freaky geeks, the nerds, the computer programmers and hackers. In any case, most of us wear white hats, which means the same as those boot laces in the 80s. But at the end of any debate, I would seek to reconcile religion with science, in the exact way Carl Sagan did in Contact. That book and film left both sides open, for further debate, none with a definitive answer. Contact contains one of my favourite quotes, about humanity:

You’re an interesting species. An interesting mix. You’re capable of such beautiful dreams, and such horrible nightmares. You feel so lost, so cut off, so alone, only you’re not. See, in all our searching, the only thing we’ve found that makes the emptiness bearable, is each other.”

And that fits in with my greater outlook on life, the universe, and everything. And of course, Stephen Hawking:

For millions of years, mankind lived just like the animals. Then something happened which unleashed the power of our imagination. We learned to talk and we learned to listen. Speech has allowed the communication of ideas, enabling human beings to work together to build the impossible. Mankind’s greatest achievements have come about by talking, and its greatest failures by not talking. It doesn’t have to be like this. Our greatest hopes could become reality in the future. With the technology at our disposal, the possibilities are unbounded. All we need to do is make sure we keep talking.”

Arthur C. Clarke:

Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.”

And finally, David Bowie:

Knowledge comes with death’s release.”

Four great minds. Four thinkers. Four visionaries. Together, those words and the other works of those individuals and others, are the background for the formulation of what I like to think is a unifying theory. I have my own philosophy:

Imagine you are in an empty room, with no visible means of exit. How do you get out? You could stop imagining. Or you could use your imagination.”

Clearly, I chose the latter path. I think a lot, and I try to make sense of those thoughts in my writing. I do believe knowledge comes with death’s release, I share Clarke’s fear, and I believe in communication, at all levels. That only breaks down if I’m dealing with someone who lacks basic human instincts through pure ignorance of their own making and perpetuating. Well, in my theory (And backed up by scientific thought), those people are destined to an eternal hell of their own making (see below).

A quick digression: one of the causes I follow closely is that of nonhuman rights. Just like (most of) us, animals are sentient beings: They know they’re alive. They sleep, and they know that there was something before and after that; a yesterday and tomorrow, past and future. Like humans, animals are self-determining creatures: They are aware of actions and reactions. They have a conscience. It’s that conscience – in both humans and nonhumans – which I believe can exist separately from the physical body. It is the soul. I believe that the human body is just a physical vessel for that soul during this life. I believe that life as we understand it, is merely one part of an ongoing existence, the greatness of which we can’t yet comprehend. And I believe that once our physical bodies age and die, our souls continue to live (and I just said ‘arseholes’).

A good analogy is a TV: when it’s switched off, it’s just a physical box which does nothing, unless it’s switched on. Switch a TV on, and it will show various broadcasts from the many available TV channels: Pictures, sounds; an intangible thing. It’s no longer just a physical box; it has a life of sorts. And the human body can be thought of in exactly the same way: a device for giving the broadcast the means of expression, except the intangible thing in this case is the human consciousness. Just because you switch a TV off, doesn’t mean those broadcasts stop; they’re still there, but the TV needs to be on to see them. And so, when the physical human body dies, the consciousness – the soul – continues to live, albeit in a different physical form. Some say that’s what ghosts are, and based on the evidence supporting the eternal human soul model, it’s a perfectly reasonable assumption. So ghosts do exist. The dead really are able to visit us, because they’re still around. Some people find that comforting.

And of course, there are always caveats and paradoxes. Because ‘ghosts’ or whatever we want to call the form we take in the afterlife, exist in a form which is generally invisible and undetectable to us. It’s a simple scientific fact that there are forces of nature and physics which challenge even the finest minds (supersolids being one example). But for me, it’s an easy and comfortable thing to accept as fact: That when I die, my consciousness will continue to live. In an attempt to explain how that might manifest itself to us when we actually experience it (come the time), I need to briefly cover quantum mechanics. For that, we need to return to the choosing of paths from above.

Imagine you’re on a path and the path splits in two. You now have two options: the right or left path. As I’m left-handed and left-wing, let’s say I choose the path on the left. Assume that the paths are enclosed, by walls, trees, or whatever. So I’m walking along the left path and I can’t see outside it. Does the other path still exist? Like the tree which falls silently in the woods and makes no sound, this is a paradox. But it’s one designed to make one think. If we think logically, of course that other path is still there: we saw it. But was the act of seeing it, the very thing which brought it into existence? This is what quantum theory is all about: Everything exists in many parallel states, only taking final form with some sort of catalyst. Erwin Schrödinger demonstrated this with his thought experiment, Schrödinger’s cat: Essentially, a box contains a cat, which may be either dead or alive. Until the box is opened, the cat exists in both states (alive and dead). The opening of the box is the catalyst: It makes one think.

A real-life example of the quantum world is the 512-Qubit D-Wave II quantum computer, currently running in British Columbia, Canada. A traditional computer, however complex and whatever device hosts it, is a binary machine: Boil a computer down to its raw operating code and it’s all ones and zeros: either one or the other; binary. A binary bit is always either a 1 or a 0. A quantum bit exists in both states simultaneously, until it is called into operation by a computational command. The potential power of a quantum computer is truly mind-boggling. In the quantum universe, everything exists in parallel states, until it’s called into existence by a catalyst. At that point, all of the alternate states – which weren’t brought into existence – continue to exist. Got that? Because that’s the biggest mind hurdle, accepting such a weird fact.

There are quantum mechanics at work in our daily lives. Every time we make a decision – consciously or unconsciously – we call a scenario (a universe) into existence. In the quantum world, all of the potential universes which would have been called into existence if there was a different catalyst, still exist. When we die, a universe is created in which our dead physical body exists, and where some may mourn and others celebrate. But at the same time, alternatives exist. At the point of death, unable to continue the path of the physical body, our consciousness will find itself in a different universe: One which existed at the moment of death, but which couldn’t be occupied by the physical body we just lost. It’s a simple matter of (and as easy to imagine as) one set of options being switched off. Scientific fact: Life doesn’t just end. This is not just a comforting thought to combat that of eternal nothingness; it’s science. We only know all this now, because we’re able to observe things at a sub-atomic level (and it wasn’t long ago that the holy grail was splitting the atom).

So when we die, we take on a different physical form: Think of it as some sort of ethereal, spiritual thing, because that’s the easiest way. In that non-physical form, we are free to move around, without limits or borders. And free of our frail human bodies, we are also free from the ravages of time, and what that can do to age a physical thing. We (our consciousness, or our soul), are effectively immortal. And this is where I’m able to posit a unifying theory on heaven and hell, because quantum theory proves that consciousness moves to another universe after death (other links, here).

I write not of the biblical heaven and hell, but of personal ones. We can now appreciate, that after death, we continue to exist. In that form, we have freedom of movement and time. Roughly translated, there is an entire universe to explore, and an eternity in which to do it. Faced with that, how might some of us react? I’d suggest that the open-minded and curious would find themselves in a personal utopia (I know I would). But to anyone conditioned, blinkered, limited by belief, or just dumb and ignorant, faced with all that potential knowledge, it could be overwhelming: A personal hell; fear of the unknown for eternity. You only have to think of the people you know, to be fairly sure of who’s going where. It’s not wholly down to them being a good or bad person; it’s down to how their mind deals with such a huge thing. It takes a level of intelligence and an open mind to accept these things, but not much.

Ancient aliens from distant galaxies aside, there’s no white haired, bearded old man; there’s just all of knowledge. Personally, although I fear the process of death itself, I don’t fear what comes after.

So now we have multiple quantum universes, hanging in limbo, all around, just waiting to be called into existence. All that aren’t, still exist, in the past and present. We just can’t see them. We’re not aware of many of them in our current physical form. So how do we go exploring? We now move onto lucid dreaming. A lucid dream is a dream during which the dreamer is aware of dreaming. During lucid dreaming, the dreamer may be able to exert some degree of control over the dream characters, narrative, and environment.

At some point before reading this, you’ll have woken from sleep today. You remember being awake yesterday, because you’re a sentient, self-determining being. You remember that you’ve slept and what you remember of that, is down to your ability to dream and recall those dreams. And every day, we remember waking from sleep, and being awake before that. The part we never remember, is that actual moment of transit: Passing from wakefulness into sleep. As soon as you wake, you know you’ve been asleep, and you remember being awake before you slept. But you cannot remember falling asleep. That’s where we go to catch dreams, and there’s a way to do it, but it takes a lot of practice.

Lucidity is a sort of semi-conscious state, somewhere between conscious and unconscious, but where the subject is aware of their surroundings. Lucid dreaming is simply taking control of one’s dreams. It involves being able to recognise, in sleep, when one is actually asleep. It’s quite literally, being in a dream and being able to say to oneself, ‘I am dreaming’. The trick is not waking yourself up.

There are many books on the subject, and most teach the methods (mind control) which help to achieve lucidity. There are many suggested ways, and the one which eventually worked for me was this (and Exploring the World of Lucid Dreams, by Stephen LaBerge Ph.D and Howard Rheingold):

As you lay in bed at night, become aware of your surroundings. Concentrate on your thoughts, and keep telling yourself that you’re falling asleep. Eventually and naturally, you will. And like most people, most of the time, you’ll miss that moment when you pass over and actually fall asleep. The next thing you may be aware of, is that you’re dreaming. It’s a fact, that the last thing on your mind as you fall asleep will remain there. With a lot of practice (it took me about six months), you’ll eventually have a eureka moment: A moment when you realise – in your sleep – that you are dreaming. You are now lucid. As such, you are free to move around as you please, as you are no longer constrained by your body (it’s asleep, like the TV set). The first time it happened to me, I looked from the bed where I lay, at the sofa in my living room, which was up a short flight of steps. I don’t know if steps are called a ‘flight’ and the bit at the top, the ‘landing’ for this reason, but taking it literally, I decided to fly up the steps to my sofa. And so, in my dream, I stood, Superman-like, and thrust my fist out ahead of me. And I flew. And I got so excited that I woke up. This went on for several weeks.

Eventually, after almost a year in total, I was generally able to lucid dream at will. For a while, I resisted the urge to fly, as I didn’t want the euphoria to wake me. A bit of a warning here: You may find yourself (as I did), living a life which seems like a long day which never ends. Because being awake and asleep become so alike (apart from being able to do anything and everything in the latter state), it can sometimes feel like you’re never sleeping. It doesn’t get physically exhausting, because you are sleeping, or at least your physical body is. But it can get disconcerting. It is a completely new way of living, after all.

Once you’re in control of your dreams, the limit is quite literally your imagination. And that dreamscape you’re exploring can be the universe. So, every night, you’re experiencing a little of what it’ll be like when you’re finally freed of your physical body. For now, you can only do it when you’re asleep. In that place, time and space act differently. There are other dimensions. It’s a lot to take on board and you can see why it would take an eternity to discover it all. But even if you can’t visit through lucidity in your dreams, it’s lucidity which awaits. And that’s a comforting thought, based on science but which doesn’t exclude religion.

Knowledge comes with death’s release.

So that’s how I live my life. People asked, so I told: I’m a writer. That’s me, and that’s the way I am.

My first novel, The Paradoxicon, was a semi-autobiographical story of a man seeking answers through lucid dreaming, while battling his own demons in the space between wakefulness and sleep. My latest novel, Cyrus Song, gives a more humorous skew on things (with talking animals), but nevertheless answers the ultimate question: That of life, the universe and everything. There really is an even simpler answer.

All we need to do is keep talking

THE WRITER’S LIFE

Rabbit
All rabbits, always look like they want to say something

It started with a song: Keep Talking by Pink Floyd. And Stephen Hawking, sampled on that track: “For millions of years, mankind lived just like the animals. Then something happened which unleashed the power of our imagination: We learned to talk.” And a book was born.

Of course, talking animals have been done before. Pretty much everything has. There are a finite number of plots in fiction but the imagination of a writer can turn them into original and wonderful things. And so it is with Cyrus Song, my next book.

From that simple idea has sprung what will eventually be a deep, insightful, philosophical look at life and love, but above all else, it’s funny. As someone has already commented:

This is a book for when you want to look at life, the universe and everything: To question it, have a conversation with it, and end up having a fucking good laugh with it. There are deep and heartfelt messages in here but there are genuine “LOLs” too and I doubt I’ll be able to read this quietly on my morning commute to London.”

If just one person is kind enough to say that of the book when it’s published (end of this year / beginning of next), then hopefully someone will be listening. Eventually, people might buy my book.

It’s a book which is proving very easy to write, simply because it’s so much fun. It does have a lot of deep meaning and thought provoking stuff in the overall story, but along the way, there is much comedy, mainly through error.

The story follows Mr Fry, a man who wants to be either a leading scientist or writer. Instead, he’s a science fiction writer. As such, and given the levels of research I myself conduct as a writer, it proposes plausible science. I posted a brief synopsis previously, but I’m limited with what I can fit on the back cover. So the story basically goes like this:

It starts with a full stop: Two in fact, when Simon Fry notices two tiny dots moving across the paper in his typewriter. Unsure of what they are or what to do with them, he takes them to a vet. Doctor Hannah Jones, a veterinary surgeon, has an electron microscope. She’s also invented a quantum computer program called The Babel Fish, which can translate animal sounds into human language (This book is part Douglas Adams tribute). In Doctor Jones’ lab, she and Mr Fry discover that the dots are actually microscopic spacecraft, one of which is full of animals: Not just an ark, but crewed and commanded by a menagerie.

Mr Fry is an intelligent and well-read man, who takes great pride in the research he undertakes to make his writing real. Like all humans, he is not without fault (many, in fact), and sometimes he overlooks the obvious. He is convinced that the answer to life, the universe and everything, is in the earth itself. Specifically, he believes that if he could talk with the animals, he’d find the answers. Or at least, the questions which need to be asked for the answer to make any kind of sense. Unfortunately, Doctor Jones is reluctant to use her own invention, for fear of becoming emotionally involved with her patients. But she allows Mr Fry to operate quietly in a corner of her lab, while she attends to the animals which are brought to her. This provides the setting for many insights into the thoughts of various animals. Most of these, and their humans, have at least some basis in people whom I admire. In writing this book, I’m permitting myself to meet some of my heroes. Some encounters are tragic, while others are amusing: There’s a girl called Amy and her terrier, Frank; There’s Derek and his cat, Clive; and many more. In various attempts to make more use of the Babel Fish, Mr Fry acquires two white mice: Douglas said they were the most intelligent beings on earth; and a rabbit: Because all rabbits, always look like they want to say something.

Elsewhere, Mr Fry considers what might be possible if historical scientists were able to make use of all that would be new to them in the 21st century. Having watched Jurassic Park, he’s pretty sure he knows how this works. He makes contact with Gilbert Giles, a Norwegian scientist earning a living as a tour guide around Norway’s coast (which of course, makes him a fjord escort). Gilbert’s main research though, is extinct fossilised invertebrates beneath the Norwegian ice: His aim is to resurrect them, to provide food for animals further up the food chain, and all as part of a project to reverse some of the damage done by mankind to the planet. Mr Fry sees a potential in this for saving the human race, if ever it were faced with extinction: He volunteers his own DNA for cloning. Overcoming some moral, ethical and practical issues (all explained with science fact), there is a scenario where just one clone embryo might survive the cloning process. If that was because it contained some sort of “Life key”, then that might be used to clone others, thereby ensuring the survival of humanity. As is often the case, Mr Fry has overlooked the obvious: A human embryo has a severely limited life outside of the parent. He needs a human host.

Mr Fry is a reluctant housekeeper: Following his discovery of the microscopic spacecraft in household dust, he fears that cleaning might spell existential disaster for many species. With a cloned embryo of himself sitting in a test tube in his studio, and his studio potentially full of microscopic extraterrestrial life, what could possibly go wrong? A man as intelligent as Mr Fry would never do something as irresponsible as leaving the lid off of the embryo, would he?

So begins one man’s quest to find answers to questions he doesn’t know yet. Cyrus song is the story of Mr Fry’s voyage to find answers and love in the world, in a slightly idiosyncratic way.

I’ve written five chapters so far (40-odd pages and just over 20,000 words). I have a full plot, a chapter plan and I already have a very powerful and pleasing ending written. Now it’s just a case of writing the remaining 250 or so pages.

It’s a science fiction story with its feet in science fact. There’s been a tentative offer of publishing but I’m reluctant to get into anything restrictive, dictated by someone else. I found out long ago that the only person I can work with is myself. There are benefits to having a publisher, of course. As an “emerging talent” though, there’s little to no chance of an advance; I don’t do this for the money anyway, even though that would be nice. No, it remains a fact that a large percentage of successful published authors started out self-publishing: It’s relatively easy and although still associated by some with “vanity publishing”, like others, I prefer to see it as confidence in one’s own work. If a mainstream publisher picks it up later, so much the better. If not, word of mouth is the best sales tool and even a cult following would be gratifying. So in the six months or so it’s going to take me to finish the book, I might punt it around some more. But if nothing to my liking is forthcoming, I already have the tools and a track record.

It will get noticed. It will be talked about. If people buy it. It will be talked about leading up to publication through any pre-publication marketing I do. Hopefully word will spread and there’ll be people wanting to buy this book as soon as it’s printed.

Because as Stephen Hawking said in that same quote in Pink Floyd’s song, “All we need to do is keep talking.”

Follow the book’s Facebook page, and my Book shelf for updates.

Not small and not far away

THE WRITER’S LIFE

far-away-cow
A cow, quite far away

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away (January, on this blog), I posted some insights into a possible future, 100 years from now. It was based on predictions made by the American civil engineer, John Elfreth Watkins in 1900, with others submitted to a BBC poll which asked what the world might be like 100 years from now and judged by an expert panel to be likely.

As a science fiction writer, I read a lot of science fact, theories and research. As such, like most sci-fi writers, I have ideas about what could happen in the future worlds I write about. Anyone with the time and resources to do their own research would conclude that sci-fi writers are pretty good at predicting the future.

It was about ten years ago (before I was a writer) that I predicted that some gadgets would most likely be consolidated to some extent: Mobile phones, computers, music listening devices, TV, the internet… And of course, we not only have smart TVs but all kinds of other smart devices as well. As a sci-fi horror writer, I see the many potential dangers of the latter: devices which are connected to the internet but not secure in the same way that our computers and smart phones are; Smart devices which are prone to hacking attacks, which the owner may be oblivious to. Because these attacks won’t be against an individual device, but rather, using it and millions of others as slaves for many dark cyber scenarios.

As I write stories for my second collection (I may have mentioned that the first is available from all good book stores), I’m looking more at the very near future, especially as the world is changing so rapidly at present. We may well be witnessing the beginning of World War 3, a conflict which would always be fought differently to our conventional understanding of such things. It doesn’t take a sci-fi writer to see that: Anyone even vaguely aware of the stories behind the headlines, and with an interest in geopolitics, can see that the current uneasy state of the world could collapse towards an extinction event alarmingly quickly. But before that happens (or while it’s going on), there are positive things within our grasp.

I and many others have said before that if as much had been spent on science and exploration, as has on religion and war, the human race could be an exciting one to be a member of. Unless something changes, we could all be fucked. There is already a growing groundswell of previously silent voices. The current state of the world has at least made us think: We let this happen. We can change it, if we think differently. (Incidentally, it’s a fact that every article on Wikipedia eventually links back to philosophy, if one clicks on the first hyperlink in any Wiki entry. It’s a degrees of separation thing, a little like Kevin Bacon. The article with the most clicks required to eventually get to that philosophy segment, is 42 clicks away. I don’t need to explain the significance of 42).

These little (very) near future predictions came about during a conversation with some friends and some good weed:

Living where I do, some of my friends have to undertake a two- or three-legged journey to visit and return home. Wouldn’t it be cool if all they had to do was use an app on their smart phone to have an electric, driver-less cab pick them up on-demand? I predict that this will be the norm in 5-10 years from now.

To qualify this, I’d refer to recent advances in both electric and driver-less vehicles. Through my research, I know that Uber are investing millions in research into exactly this. Of course, humans will become redundant, which is exactly what Uber and other technology companies want. Gradually, humans are being made redundant by technology, just as the industrial age replaced many humans with machines. Eventually, we will need to look at quite radical new ways of running economies, as there are gradually becoming fewer jobs which only a human possesses the ability to be more efficient in than an AI. When we reach a point where a government benefit like JSA becomes redundant, because there are no jobs for job seekers to seek, we will have to look at models like a Universal, or Basic Income scheme, and all the advantages it could represent, if properly managed: With everyone paid a living wage, they will be free of the main challenge in life: Food and shelter. Thereafter, they can better concentrate on improvement, with a view to employment in the remaining professions, or simply to be creative; to be thinkers. The argument for legalising cannabis for recreational use then slots into this beautifully.

In the same time frame, we will be able to order pretty much any goods, on-demand. Most online orders are already delivered on the same or next day, and drone deliveries are being tested. If we look at the air transport industry and familiarise ourselves with current airship technology, we can see that it’s not too much stretching of the imagination to see that we’ll have floating warehouses in strategic locations (something Amazon has already patented). From these, drones would collect goods and deliver them to us within minutes.

Around 20 years from now, we’ll quite probably have built a space elevator, providing a cheap, sustainable means of staging space exploration projects. In space itself, the ongoing development of the RF resonant cavity thruster (EMDrive) will vastly reduce transit times in outer space. Mars would be a mere 60-70 days away, and our nearest stellar neighbour, just a generation.

So, in a few years, based on progress in existing technologies, we will live in a largely driver-less society, and “Car bots” will ferry us around. Transport, leisure and shopping will evolve, saving us time, making us more efficient and allowing us to have more quality time as humans with our fellow human folk. We will have evolved, become more intelligent, and better off. Mark my words, for I am a sci-fi writer and I have seen this future world.

I’m not a conservative, in politics, nor in a wish to conserve things, as some thought Brexit would return the “United Kingdom” to some glorious bygone age. So the thing to consider is, all this technology is available but at a hidden cost. It’s going to rely on smart people and the erosion of ignorance.

Prologue to an epitaph

THE WRITER’S LIFE

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Even if my passing were to be imminent (there’s nothing planned or threatened), I’ve achieved one of the things I always wanted to do: I’ve written and published a book which is being acclaimed on some popular media channels. The few who follow this blog will know that things were very different, just three years ago. Like Douglas Adams, I seem to have found myself in a place where I never knew I wanted to be.

I spoke to my dad today, as it’s his 75th birthday. We spoke about all that’s happened, in our family recently, and in the world during his lifetime. We spoke briefly about the current geopolitical state of the world, and of his upcoming (routine) surgery to drain liquid from the base of his brain. At the end of the conversation, I wished him many happy returns and congratulated him on reaching such a grand age. His response surprised me: Whereas the dad I’ve always known might be expected to respond with an observation on his good innings and not knowing how many more years he might have, he said something quite profound: “You never know, I might yet get a telegram from King William IV.” My dad has become more progressive and positive in his thinking than what I’ve always been used to. I commended him on having a mind receptive to such a concept, and explained how it might be quite possible for him to live to 100, given the medical advances we are making.

Because I write mainly science fiction, I obviously do a lot of reading and research of science fact and speculation. This often forms part of any conversation with visitors to my little studio, as most find the subjects fascinating. While it’s unfortunate that more people don’t seek out this information, it’s encouraging that someone of my dad’s generation listens to what I’m saying, thinks about it, and perhaps does some further research. The conversation came to a natural conclusion when I told my dad that I love him. Those words would not have been spoken three years ago, and my family have never been sentimental, but my dad then said, “Yes, and when I think of all that you’ve achieved over the last three years, I’m bloody proud.”

My dad will probably never read my books: He’s not a great consumer of fiction, and sci-fi isn’t really his genre, but he’s read some of my published short stories and he listens to his son. That’s what I set out to do in this life: To have an authorial voice which people listen to, to engage people through writing, and to make my parents proud. It’s why The Perpetuity of Memory is dedicated to them.

My greatest wish would be for everyone to hear all that I have to say. But while that’s not going to happen, I’ve written it all down in three published books. One day, more people may read them. Others might learn of all I do to help troubled teens and other causes. Until everyone knows, I’ll just keep doing it.

At the other end of my family’s generational span, I spoke to my son today as well. He’s twelve and decided a while ago that he’d like to write science fiction. I’ve cautioned him to not expect any riches or immediate recognition but he countered with something which could have come from my own mouth, and just as poignant as my dad’s earlier comment: “I know no-one will read my stuff but if I’ve written it, then it’s out there if people want to find it and I know I’ve done it.” When I take my kids for lunch every month, the conversation is very often science-based, because my children have active and receptive minds. They know that they could be a part of the first generation of humans to become immortal. They know that they will most likely see the birth of the first human Martian in their lifetimes. They listen. They listen to their father, the writer. And that’s why I do it.

So I’ve said all that I have to say for now. Most of it is in The Paradoxicon, my semi-autobiographical novel (it was easier to write about that period of my life in fiction). The rest is in The Perpetuity of Memory and there’s a lot of comforting thoughts in A Girl, Frank Burnside and Haile Selassie, my award-winning children’s story, illustrated by my daughter. That’s why I do it.

There’s plenty more to write, because there’s so much going on and which needs to be spoken about. There’ll be more short stories, because there are so many subjects to address. There’ll be a second anthology. And my long-term background science fiction epic, Infana Kolonia, will see the light of day in the next year or so. Given the interest from certain quarters, the latter could even become a series of shorter books.

For now, I’ve done all that I set out to do in making myself better after my drunken breakdown three years ago. It’s all written, in my books and on this blog. The story is there and it’s one which has helped others. They just need to find it.

But I’m done, for now.

AD 2117: A possible future

SCIENCE | THE WRITER’S LIFE

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How the world will look in 100 years, from an article on Learning Mind

In 1900, the American civil engineer John Elfreth Watkins made predictions about the future, just 100 years ahead of his time. Many of the (at the time) seemingly strange and almost impossible of his predictions came true.

“Man will see around the world. Persons and things of all kinds will be brought within focus of cameras connected electrically with screens at opposite ends of circuits, thousands of miles at a span.”

And of course, television happened.

“Wireless telephone and telegraph circuits will span the world. A husband in the middle of the Atlantic will be able to converse with his wife sitting in her boudoir in Chicago. We will be able to telephone to China quite as readily as we now talk from New York to Brooklyn.”

Mobile phones happened. Other things which were just about imaginable 100 years ago have also happened. So what of 100 years from now? What might life be like in 2117?

I’m writing the first story for my second volume of shorts and this is some of the research for it. The first story has the working title of Genesis and it imagines a near-future world where we’ve sorted out some of the mess we’ve made as a species. The second volume is provisionally called The Future Remembered . My debut anthology, The Perpetuity of Memory, is in the final editing stages and now pencilled in for publication in February or March.

So, what might I be writing about? Well, I’m a sci-fi writer first and foremost, so my stories have a grounding in science. Like my existing bibliography, I’m sure the stories will jump around in some idiosyncratic way and will range from comedy to psychological horror. I’m particularly interested in near-future scenarios now because of what I’ve said in recent blog posts: There is much to discuss in the world around us but most people lack the patience span to read and learn. So by making the subjects interesting and wrapping them up in near-future science fiction, hopefully people will read and learn.

So, these are some of the areas I’m looking at; All predictions submitted to a BBC poll which asked what the world might be like 100 years from now and judged by an expert panel to be likely. The first is one I added myself:

The first human Martian will be born.

NASA will be testing the EMDrive this year. If the tests are successful, the drive represents a clean, free and more efficient means of propulsion than rocket fuel. Even at the early stages of development, the EMDrive is predicted to reduce the transit time from Earth to Mars from two years to 70 days. This will counter many of the psychological and physiological effects of space travel for astronauts, cosmonauts, taikonauts and any others making the journey. A human Mars outpost for space exploration is already planned for C.2030 and while at first, humans will stay for months at a time, like they do on the International Space Station, eventually the base will be home to a permanent staff. Of course, there will be extensive psychological studies and screening but eventually, two humans could well be selected to conceive and gestate a human baby on the “Second planet”. I rather hope it might be named Ziggy.

The remainder were submitted by respondents to the poll, with futurologists Ian Pearson (IP) and Patrick Tucker (PT) rating their probability.

1. Oceans will be extensively farmed and not just for fish (Jim 300)

IP: Likelihood 10/10. We will need to feed 10 billion people and nature can’t keep up with demand, so we will need much more ocean farming for fish. But algae farming is also on the way for renewable energy, and maybe even for growth of feedstock (raw materials) or resource extraction via GM seaweed or algae.

PT: Good chance. According to Dennis Bushnell, chief scientist at the Nasa Langley Research Center, saltwater algae that’s been genetically modified to absorb more nitrogen from the air than conventional algae could free up to 68% of the fresh water that is now tied up in conventional agriculture. This water could go to thirsty populations.

2. We will have the ability to communicate through thought transmission (Dev 2)

IP: Likelihood 10/10. Transmission will be just as easy as other forms of brain augmentation. Picking up thoughts and relaying them to another brain will not be much harder than storing them on the net.

PT: Good chance. Synthetic telepathy sounds like something out of Hollywood but it is absolutely possible, so long as “communication” is understood to be electrical signals rather than words.

3. Thanks to DNA and robotic engineering, we will have created incredibly intelligent humans who are immortal (game_over)

IP: Likelihood 9/10. It is more likely that direct brain links using electronics will achieve this, but GM will help a lot by increasing longevity – keeping people alive until electronic immortality technology is freely available at reasonable cost.

PT: Good chance. The idea that breakthroughs in the field of genetics, biotechnology and artificial intelligence will expand human intelligence and allow our species to essentially defeat death is sometimes called the Singularity.

4. We will be able to control the weather (mariebee_)

IP: Likelihood 8/10. There is already some weather control technology for mediating tornadoes, making it rain and so on, and thanks to climate change concerns, a huge amount of knowledge is being gleaned on how weather works. We will probably have technology to be able to control weather when we need to. It won’t necessarily be cheap enough to use routinely and is more likely to be used to avoid severe damage in key areas.

PT: Good chance. We will certainly attempt to. A majority of scientists in the US support a federal programme to explore methods for engineering the Earth’s climate (otherwise known as geoengineering). These technologies aim to protect against the worst effects of manmade climate change.

5. Antarctica will be “open for business” (Dev 2)

IP: Likelihood 8/10. The area seems worth keeping as a natural wilderness so I am hesitant here, but I do expect that pressure will eventually mean that some large areas will be used commercially for resources. It should be possible to do so without damaging nature there if the technology is good enough, and this will probably be a condition of exploration rights.

PT: Pretty close. Before there is a rush to develop Antarctica we will most likely see a full-scale rush to develop the Arctic. Whether the Arctic states tighten control over the region’s resources, or find equitable and sustainable ways to share them will be a major political challenge in the decades ahead. Successful (if not necessarily sustainable) development of the Arctic portends well for the development of Antarctica.

6. One single worldwide currency (from Kennys_Heroes)

IP: Likelihood 8/10. This is very plausible. We are already seeing electronic currency that can be used anywhere, and this trend will continue. It is quite likely that there will be only a few regional currencies by the middle of the century and worldwide acceptance of a global electronic currency. This will gradually mean the others fall out of use and only one will left by the end of the century.

PT: Great try! The trend on this is actually more in the opposite direction. The internet is enabling new forms of bartering and value exchange. Local currencies are also now used by several hundred communities across the US and Europe. In other words, look for many more types of currency and exchange not fewer, in the coming decades.

7. We will all be wired to computers to make our brains work faster (Dev 2)

IP: Likelihood 10/10. We can expect this as soon as 2050 for many people. By 2075 most people in the developed world will use machine augmentation of some sort for their brains and, by the end of the century, pretty much everyone will. If someone else does this you will have to compete.

8. Nanorobots will flow around our body fixing cells, and will be able to record our memories (Alister Brown)

PT: Good chance. Right now, medical nanorobots exist only in theory and nanotechnology is mostly a materials science. But it’s a rapidly growing field. Nanorobots exist within the realm of possibility, but the question of when they will arrive is another matter

IP: Likelihood: 7/10.

9. We will have sussed nuclear fusion (Kennys_Heroes)

IP: Likelihood 10/10. This is likely by 2045-2050 and almost certain by 2100. It’s widely predicted that we will achieve this. What difference it makes will depend on what other energy technologies we have. We might also see a growth in shale gas or massive solar energy facilities. I don’t think that wind power will be around.

10. There will only be three languages in the world – English, Spanish and Mandarin (Bill Walker)

IP: Likelihood 8/10. This does look like a powerful trend, other languages don’t stand a lot of chance. Minor languages are dying at a huge rate already and the other major ones are mostly in areas where everyone educated speaks at least one of the other three. Time frame could be this century.

Image caption Space elevators ‘will certainly be around’

11. Eighty per cent of the world will have gay marriage (Paul)

IP: Likelihood 8/10. This seems inevitable to those of us in the West and is likely to mean different kinds of marriages being available to everyone. Gay people might pick different options from heterosexual people, but everyone will be allowed any option. Some regions will be highly resistant though because of strong religious influences, so it isn’t certain.

12. California will lead the break-up of the US (Dev 2)

IP: Likelihood 8/10. There are some indications already that California wants to split off and such pressures tend to build over time. It is hard to see this waiting until the end of the century. Maybe an East Coast cluster will want to break off too. Pressures come from the enormous differences in wealth generation capability, and people not wanting to fund others if they can avoid it.

13. Space elevators will make space travel cheap and easy (Ahdok)

IP: Likelihood 8/10. First space elevators will certainly be around, and although “cheap” is a relative term, it will certainly be a lot cheaper than conventional space development. It will create a strong acceleration in space development and tourism will be one important area, but I doubt the costs will be low enough for most people to try.

14. Women will be routinely impregnated by artificial insemination rather than by a man (krozier 93)

PT: Pretty close. At the very least, more couples are choosing advanced fertility techniques over old-fashioned conception. Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, in which an artificially inseminated embryo is carefully selected among other inseminated embryos for desirability, is becoming increasingly common in fertility clinics. Using this technique, it’s now possible to screen an embryo for about half of all congenital illnesses. Within the next decade, researchers will be able to screen for almost all congenital illnesses prior to embryo implantation.

IP: Likelihood 5/10.

15. There will be museums for almost every aspect of nature, as so much of the world’s natural habitat will have been destroyed (LowMaintenanceLifestyles)

PT: Pretty close. I cannot comment on the museums but the Earth is on the verge of a significant species extinction event. Protecting biodiversity in a time of increased resource consumption, overpopulation, and environmental degradation will require continued sacrifice on the part of local, often impoverished communities. Experts contend that incorporating local communities’ economic interests into conservation plans will be essential to species protection in the next century.

IP: Likelihood 2/10.

16. Deserts will become tropical forests (jim300)

IP: Likelihood 7/10. Desert greening is progressing so this is just about possible.

17. Marriage will be replaced by an annual contract (holierthanthou)

IP: Likelihood 6/10. I think we will certainly see some weaker forms of marriage that are designed to last a decade or two rather than a whole lifetime, but traditional marriage will still be an option. Increasing longevity is the key – if you marry at 20 and live to well over 100, that is far too long a commitment. People will want marriages that aren’t necessarily forever, but don’t bankrupt them when they end.

18. Sovereign nation states will cease to exist and there will be one world government (krozier93)

PT: Great try! However, I think that the trend is in the direction of more sovereign nations rather than fewer. In the coming years, corporations or wealthy private citizens will attempt to use earth-moving technologies to build their own semi-sovereign entities in international waters.

IP: Likelihood 2/10.

19. War by the West will be fought totally by remote control (LowMaintenanceLifestyles)

IP: Likelihood 5/10.

20. Britain will have had a revolution (holierthanthou)

IP: Likelihood 7/10. Well, possible, but not as likely as some other trends.

There are some exciting possibilities ahead, if we don’t continue to fuck our planet. We need to embrace the fact that these things are not impossible and imagine how great the changes could be, which we could make. We need to talk about these things, so that they’re not lost in the smoke of daily bad news. We need to question, read, learn and share.

To keep things interesting, I will be writing extensively about these and other subjects in my next collection of short stories, just as I have in some of those in the forthcoming debut volume.

Science fiction will continue to become fact. We can evolve still further, then start to question what we do next. These could be exciting and not depressing times. We are lonely, yet all we need is each other: One race.

Revolution? Hopefully, just organic growth.

Sources:
Twenty top predictions for life 100 years from now (Full BBC article).
Ten of John Elfreth Watkins’ predictions which came true (and four which didn’t).