Tag Archives: SF

Writing Cities: Oath of Fealty and right-wing utopian enclaves

oath-of-fealty-niven-pournelleOath of Fealty is one of the more vile and viciously right wing novels I’ve read, though to be fair I haven’t read many of them at all. But this is something like Ayn Rand – wig askew and on her 13th pink gin fizz – going off on a paranoid scree about the muggers and rapists who are all out to kill her. Because she’s so rich and talented and beautiful and they just can’t handle that so she’s bought 10 attack dogs and built a concrete bunker.

It’s all about taking the gated community to the next level, making it a maze of about a cubic square mile with about a quarter of a million people. It towers like a monstrous black cube in an area essentially burned down by its own residents – I would guess Watts or Compton. It’s powered by hydrogen, fed through pipes from ‘a complex of nuclear breeder plants in Mexico’.

Ah, the outsourcing of risk and contaminants.

It calls itself Todos Santos – All Saints – why do white people in the Southwest always call their high-end real estate developments nice things in Spanish? A patronising nod to the people they stole the land from? Easier to pronounce than indigenous phrases for ‘Pretty View’ and ‘Mountain Hills’? But the authors aren’t being entirely metaphorical in calling the residents saints. Apparently you can pick them out of a crowd of poor old Angelinos, they are the shiny beautiful people who move in a certain way, speak in a certain way. They are a new kind of person.

THINK OF IT AS EVOLUTION IN ACTION.

I thought at first this rather chilling slightly fascist slogan must be ironic or a nod to the dangers this kind of project could raise. But no. These really are a ‘better kind’ of people, helped by those who commit suicide or get themselves killed. They like this slogan, paint it on walls, put it on stickers and huge banners like a big F-you to L.A.

The utopia?

We’re running a civilization, something new in this world, and don’t bother to tell me how small it is. It’s a civilization. The first one in a long time where people can feel safe’ (18).

Constantly watched, constantly surveilled and monitored. But the many guards are their friends. They don’t arrest people for being too drunk the way the terrible LAPD does, they walk you home. What is better than being safe after all? We know that the real danger is from criminal poor people who are all on the outside, hopped up to their eyeballs on drugs and trying to shoot down helicopters.

Todos Santos is of course trying to be completely separate from Los Angeles – the crime, the pollution, the drugs, the poor people. There’s a lot of anger in this book about how the government forces all of us to become accountants to pay our taxes, and the pain of collecting receipts and things. A whole lot of anger. Familiar tea party sort of anger. Trump kind of anger. Taxes in Todos Santos don’t go to welfare and they are part of your mortgage payment to the company – kindly saving you from wasting any thought on them at all. It’s a bit feudal, yeah, but they had some good ideas back then. Oath of Fealty rendered, everything else taken care of. Awesome. Of course, I can’t quite understand how this fits with America, Land of the Free in their heads, or their hatred of big government…I mean, my opinion is that these fit together because the residents of Todos Santos don’t see poor people, particularly poor Black and Brown people, as real Americans or as any kind of people they can cooperate in a democracy or a community with, sad facts that have forced them to secede and build something new. Something they may one day conquer and colonise outer space with. But I don’t think they think that, or at least, openly admit that.

Instead the book tries to show it’s not racist by trying to admit that some discrimination exists but it’s less than you think, and making one of the high executives Black. Well. Teak colored in the book’s own words. He’s a bit estranged from other African-Americans and admits there are only maybe a hundred among a quarter million, but his homies break him out of the L.A. prison he gets sent to after he kills a couple of kids pretending to be terrorists and becomes a hero to the population. That’s a long story I won’t go into, who’d want to give away such a sparkling plot?

The kids are sent in by activists to test the defences, because that’s what environmental activists do, right? Use kids without remorse. Make unreasonable demands. The civil rights movement made some unreasonable demands too, which is how they lost the support of the white community

We did care once. A lot of us did. But something happened. Maybe it was the sheer size of the problem. Or watching while everybody who could afford it ran to the suburbs and left the cities to drift, and complained about taxes going to the cities, and—Or maybe it was having to listen to my police explain why they’ll only go into Watts in pairs with cocked shotguns and if the Mayor doesn’t like it he can damn well police that precinct himself.

People think they’ve done enough. (126)

Note the use of the words ‘us’ and ‘people’ to mean white by default. Thinking you’ve done enough when you’ve done worse than nothing is an interesting contradiction noted by many. But let’s get back to the activists. They call people pigs even when they’re not cops – which is silly, cops have really earned that name. Activists are also almost always rapists apparently. Unless they’re women, in which case they are just sadistic and probably Lesbians. ‘She’s probably a Lesbian’ is a direct quote actually, as the ‘heroine’ imagines shutting her in a room full of rats to mentally survive the indignities of being kidnapped. The men probably couldn’t help raping her of course, they’re brutes and she is a stunning model-turned-business-woman who is powerful and talented and successful and rich and they obviously can’t handle all of that.

Anyway, I haven’t even cracked the surface, just released some of my bile. This is a story where you are supposed to cheer on the beleaguered community of alcoholic rich people who can only drink coffee if it’s Irish, creating their Utopia safely insulated from the nuclear power plants and the poor people who pick their lettuces and sweatshop workers who make their clothes and carrying out their own vigilante justice – which is ok, because they don’t kill people unless it’s absolutely necessary, they just paint them and tattoo them. There’s nothing about how the place stays clean or who makes the food etc, and it’s not the kind of fantasy story where house elves are a possibility though it is one in which things science fiction writers dream up are considered really cool and often become true.

The happy ending is the Black dude gets sent to Zimbabwe.

Save

Return from the Stars: The City of the Future

2bb02455f5bb878e1ca2ccb4faad2e2eReturn From the Stars — Hal Bregg has just returned to Earth after 127 years in space. Everything has changed. Bewildering public transportation systems moving impossibly fast, information points that take so much understanding for granted, they cease to be information points. Everyone is sedated through a process called betrization reducing all aggressive impulses — no one else will be going to the stars the way Bregg has. They use spray cans to put their clothing on. They love bright colours. They all seem a little bored. Their vocabulary has changed quite completely. It is utopia and also dystopia, a future of incredible technological advance, but something has been lost, has it not? So Bregg feels, so he is mistrusted by the bright, beautiful, youthful people around him.

The descriptions of this city of the future are pretty awesome, Bregg stares at the Terminal he has been fighting for hours to leave:

Was this still architecture, or mountain-building? They must have understood that in going beyond certain limits they had to abandon symmetry and regularity of form, and learn from what was largest–intelligent students of the planet!

I went around the lake. The colossus seemed to lead me with its motionless, luminous ascent. Yes, it took courage to design such a shape, to give it the cruelty of the precipice, the stubbornness and harshness of crags, peaks, but without falling into mechanical imitation, without losing anything, without falsifying. (45)

That’s the terminal from a park — these natural spaces are hardly used but found throughout, with ‘natural skies’ televised above them. This is the city:

Only now did I see–from the boulevard, down the center of which ran a double line of huge palms with leaves as pink as tongues–a panorama of the city. The buildings stood like islands, set apart, and here and there a spire soared to the heavens, a frozen jet of some liquid material, its height incredible. They were no doubt measured in whole kilometers. I knew — someone had told me back on Luna — that no one built them any more and that the rush to construct tall buildings had died a natural death soon after these had been put up. They were monuments to a particular architectural epoch, since, apart from their immensity, offset only by their slimness of form, there was nothing in them to appeal to the eye. They looked like pipes, brown and gold, black and white, transversely striped, or silver, serving to support or trap the clouds, and the landing pads that jutted out from them against the sky, hanging in the air on tubular supports, were reminiscent of bookshelves.

Much more attractive were the new buildings, without windows, so that all their walls could be decorated. The entire city took on the appearance of a gigantic art exhibit, a showcase for masters of color and form. I cannot say that I liked everything that adorned those twenty- and thirty-floor heights, but for a hundred-and-fifty-year-old character I was not, I dare say, overly stuffy. To my mind the most attractive were the buildings divided in half by gardens. Maybe they were not houses — the fact that the structures were cut in the middle and seemed to rest on cushions of air (the walls of those high-level gardens being of glass) gave an impression of lightness; at the same time pleasantly irregular belts of ruffled green cut across the edifices.

On the boulevards, along those lines of fleshlike palms, which I definitely did not like, flowed two rivers of black automobiles. I knew now that they were called gleeders. Above the buildings flew other machines, though not helicopters or planes; they looked like pencils sharpened at both ends. (54-55)

They still have cars, despite the flashing complexities of public transportation. The cars aren’t petrol based though. Nothing remains of what was, and Bregg is happy about that — no room for nostalgia here:

That nothing remained of the city that I had left behind me, not one stone upon another, was a good thing. As if I had been living, then, on a different Earth, among different men; that had begun and ended once and for all, and this was new. No relics, no ruins to cast doubt on my biological age… (88)

Funny, though, there is still immense wealth and it still lives in the suburbs:

We traveled a long time, in silence. The buildings of the city center gave way to bizarre forms of suburban architecture — under small artificial suns, immersed in vegetation, lay structures with flowing lines, or inflated into odd pillows, or winged, so that the division between the interior of a home and its surroundings was lost; these were products of a phantasmagoria, of tireless attempts to create without repeating old forms. The gleeder left the wide runway, shot through a darkened park, and came to rest by stairs folded like a cascade of glass; walking up them, I saw an orangery spread out beneath my feet.

The heavy gate opened soundlessly. A huge hall enclosed by a high gallery, pale pink shields of lamps neither supported nor suspended; in the sloping walls, windows that seemed to look out into a different space, (103)

Old racial constructs continue as well — this is a white world, and the only people of colour in it merit mention as in service to adventure fantasy — a kind of theme park where danger can be enjoyed through realistic holograms of an African river safari:

Although I had been prepared for a surprise, my jaw dropped. We were standing on the broad, sandy bank of a big river, under the burning rays of a tropical sun. The far bank of the river was overgrown with jungle. In the still backwaters were moored boats, or, rather, dugouts; against the background of the brownish-green river that flowed lazily behind them, immensely tall blacks stood frozen in hieratic poses, naked, gleaming with oil, covered with chalk-white tattoos; each leaned with his spatulate oar against the side of the boat.

One of the boats was just leaving, full; its black crew, with blows from the paddles and terrifying yells, was dispersing crocodiles that lay in the mud, half immersed, like logs; these turned over and weakly snapped their tooth-lined jaws as they slid into deeper water. The seven of us descended along the steep bank; the first four took places in the next boat. With visible effort the blacks set the oars against the shore and pushed the unsteady boat away, so that it turned around… (90)

Women, too, have forgotten how much they love raw emotion, desire, power plays, rape. Some, but not all of this confusion is evoked by this rather hilarious cover:

Return from the Stars

I confess, while Return From the Stars is one of the books that works best of Lem’s in terms of narrative and arc, it is one of the ones I have liked least apart from the imagined built environment of the future. The unnamed city is also in evidence in other versions of the cover, but I couldn’t find any other illustrations sadly…

c0c25f17287809.562b808c96753

Return from the Stars

[Lem, Stanislaw. 1990 [1961]. Return From the Stars. London: Mandarin Paperbacks.] It doesn’t credit the translator! Bastards.

For more science fiction…

Save

Save

Save

Earth’s a Roadside Picnic. Still, we live here

Roadside Picnic - The StrugatskysThe central idea of the Strugatsky’s Roadside Picnic grows on me the more I sit with it, and it will forever undercut the more familiar heroic tales of encounter and discovery.

Aliens came, they stayed a while without saying hello and left without saying goodbye, having both transformed and trashed the places they inhabited around the world. Humans are left to shift through their incomprehensible and often deadly garbage. Ursula le Guin writes in the preface to this wonderful new translation:

Here, the visitors from space, if they noticed our existence at all, were evidently uninterested in communication; perhaps to them we were savages, or perhaps pack rats. There was no communication; there can be no understanding. (Le Guin – vii)

And there never is understanding, just a mix up of hope and fear. There is one scientist, Kirill, who sees in it the potential of knowledge and utopia and inspires Red, who works with him, just a little:

‘Mr Aloysius Macnaught!’ I say. ‘You are absolutely right. Our little town is a hole. Always was and always will be. Except right now,’ I say, ‘it’s a hole into the future. And the stuff we fish out of this hole will change the whole stinking world. Life will be different, the way it should be, and no one will want for anything. That’s our hole for you. There’s knowledge pouring through this hole. And when you figure it out, we’ll make everyone rich, and we’ll fly to the stars, and we’ll go wherever we want. That’s the kind of hole we have here…’

At this point I trail off, because I notice that Ernie is looking at me in astonishment, and I feel embarrassed. (42)

Because while this is Red drunkenly speaking, these are Kirill’s words, Kirill’s utopia. It’s possibly what the zone could have meant, or could always partially mean and what remains part of its lure. It is always the promise held out by science, the bright and shining dream of it. It’s not completely disproven here, but questioned.

I love that these new translations have afterwords from Boris. He describes the process, and shares the Strugatskys’ notes for the story written in February of 1970. This after wandering ‘the deserted, snow-covered streets’ of Komarovo on the Gulf of Finland, with all its resonance as a retreat for poets and scientists and writers of what was then Leningrad…I so want to go.

The growth of superstition, a department attempting to assume power through owning the junk, an organization seeking to destroy it (Knowledge fallen from the sky is useless and pernicious; any discovery could only lead to evil applications). Prospectors revered as wizards. A decline in the stature of science. (195-196)

Prospectors! It was only later they came up with stalkers, used the English word thus bringing it into the Russian language (very cool).

I do like the term prospectors though, this drunken dangerous lifestyle seeking fortune and escape is so reminiscent of prospecting. Even without understanding anything, some of the new technology can be put to work, money can be made. So corruption and dealing abound. Seemingly harmless things like batteries on the one hand, but so much of the detritus deals in death and disfigurement, and there has always been big money in those.

And there is poverty in this town. So you have the stalkers, men like Red who cross government lines to enter, to pick up what they can and sell it on the black market. The danger and skill and knowledge of the work has its on pull, but you can never forget the factors prodding men into it, particularly those who do not wish to spend their whole lives in jobs they hate to get nowhere:

Now I get really depressed. I’ll have to count every cent again: this I can afford, this I can’t. I’ll have to pinch pennies…No more bars, only cheap movies…And everything’s gray, all gray. Gray every day, and every evening, and every night. (47)

This is my own fear, that I will tumble into this. It fills book after worthy book, which is why I quite love sf that brings colour to the gray without denying its existence, that tells of wonder and danger and the exploration of the meanings of our lives in new ways. This is so much about how we are transformed by things beyond our understanding, whether it is technology or other human beings:

All these conversations had left a certain sediment in his soul, and he didn’t know what it was. it wasn’t dissolving with time, but instead kept accumulating and accumulating. And though he couldn’t identify it, it got in the way, as if he’d caught something from the Vulture… (162)

I love how this resonates with some discussions of cities, of formations of inequality in ghettos as sedimentation. But the alien artifacts have much deeper transformative effects — the children of the stalkers are not fully human and love for them and their loss is also central to this.

With the spread of the artifacts through channels legal and illegal, the rest of the world is slowly changing to. This shit can’t be contained.

I love how Roadside Picnic makes humanity the sideline, incidental to the big picture. I hate to drop that conceit even for a short time. But in many ways, of course, this could be read with ourselves as the aliens, forever transforming areas of the planet and sowing it with destruction for the species that live there. I see rivers flowing polluted with oil in my mind, like the recent spills into the Amazon. Chernobyl. Abandoned landscapes, extinctions. Scenes you stumble over everywhere humans have been, here in Bristol as eerily as almost anywhere.

Perhaps because humans are the sideline, they are allowed to just be with everything good and bad about them. But then, this is one of the things I particularly love about the Strugatskys. So does le Guin:

Humanity is not flattered, but it’s not cheapened. The authors’ touch is tender, aware of vulnerability. (vii)

And the ending, oh, I did love the ending. The awareness of just how little choice there ever was, just how little understanding. But the idea that that does not define your life, and it is something to be human.

Look into my soul, I know–everything you need is in there. It has to be. Because I’ve never sold my soul to anyone! It’s mine, it’s human! Figure out yourself what I want–because I know it can’t be bad!

And who doesn’t want this in the end? What better thing to wish for on a great golden ball that supposedly grants wishes, though someone must die springing the trap first, and so it is surrounded by splodges of soot.

‘HAPPINESS, FREE, FOR EVERYONE, AND LET NO ONE BE FORGOTTEN’ (193)

Satyajit Ray: The Wonderful Professor Shonku

Satyavit RayI am only just now discovering for myself the wonderful literary creations of Satyajit Ray — young adult literature that is pure enjoyment for all ages. I finished The Diary of a Space Traveller, and am on weekends working through the large collection of detective stories, Feluda. The first of the stories of Professor Shonku opens with the discovery of his diary in a meteor crater, and this is one of the first lines:

Oh God, was he going to tell me another story about a tiger? Tarak Babu had this most annoying habit of dragging a tiger into whatever anecdote he happened to relate. (2)

Who can resist this? There is no tiger, but an irascible and brilliant old man who ceaselessly invents the most wonderful things. The first entry in Professor Shonku’s diary sets the stage, when he is startled by an intruder — a weird looking man — but finds it is simply his own reflection that has startled him, as his faithful servant has removed an old calendar from the mirror. So he shoots his servant with a snuff gun, ensuring he will be sneezing for next 33 hours. I am not generally in favour of shooting servants ever, but I am indeed in favour of the existence of a snuff gun. I also enjoyed his desire to invent various pills for making annoying people uncomfortable enough to leave him alone.

His is not precise science you understand, more that marvelous old-fashioned alchemical science that relied on bunson burners and vials, glasses full of strangely coloured liquids bubbling over flames and jars full of rare and magical things (like the whiskers of lobsters). And this is not a world empty of what appears to be magic, but one where science acknowledges there is much that it does not yet know.

It is a world of intelligent cats and crows and nosy neighbours and rockets and all things nice.

It has titles like ‘Professor Shonku and the Egyptian Terror’, and another reason to love the professor:

I decided to visit this strange tomb, if I could find the time and opportunity. I love cats. I had to leave my own Newton at home. I feel homesick whenever I think of him. (161)

These particularly reminded me of Verne or Conan Doyle — Professor Shonku is described by  Satyajit Ray as a mixture of Doyle’s Professor Challenger and his own father Sukomar’s creation Hesoram Hushiar. They are told resolutely from a Bengali perspective. A scientist with many friends in European and American circles, who travels widely and is as widely respected, but still within a post-colonial reality where he occupies a certain space. He is told by a sinister Egyptian:

‘You appear to be an Indian. So why are you getting mixed up with these white brutes? Why are you so concerned about the ancient and holy objects of our past?’

Despite this space, he shares some shortcomings that usually I only associate with Americans and Europeans —

But that was really not so amazing, was it? Bengalis might be a most diverse race–two unrelated men rarely look similar. But the Egyptians are different. On Egyptian frequently looks like another. (174)

Oh dear…he says something very similar about the Chinese. But still. His love of ancient and holy objects and knowing the past is actually combined with a strong respect and ethics in dealing with such things found rarely if ever in fiction by white authors. I loved ‘Professor Shonku and the Box from Baghdad’, where they come across both mystery and treasure and this happens:

Al-Hubbbal smiled a little dryly. ‘I don’t mean you, Professor Shonku, but–‘ he paused and glanced at Goldstein, ‘–many of our valuable possessions have made their way to museums in the West. So even if you didn’t want anything for your own use, I fear you might tell some museum or other about things you’ve seen.’

Goldstein looked embarrassed… (211)

Spoiler alert — Goldstein does in fact try to take the marvelous Box, and he is struck down with a fitting punishment.

Finally. Everyone gives a cheer.

This little book ends most delightfully with more information about both Satyajit Ray as author (and, of course, famous director) and Professor Shonku. There are two fact files and these brilliant lists as little games that younger readers can play guessing their meanings. The first list is of some of Shonku’s inventions:

Camerapid
Luminimax
Annihilin
Remembrain
Cerebrilliant

Pretty awesome. And then there are all these wonderful compounds:

Paradoxite powder
Bicornite Acid
Paranoium Potentate
Ferro-satanic Acid
Tantrum Boropaxinate

Immensely enjoyable, the only thing I am saddened by is the lack of presence his hometown of Giridi bears in the stories, or any of the cities he visits. But you can’t have everything.

Save

The end of my holiday in the Peak District

Day 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 (morning) | 4 (afternoon) | 4 (night) | 7 | 11 | the end

I am so finished with those men and their delusions. When M. starting singing Kate Bush I knew we were done, I don’t know what Sprake did to those poor trees or what M. was seeing up there, or why he thought we were trapped and couldn’t get out because I got out easy enough, or just where Charteris and everyone else went or when the police cordon went up that I had to cross or if it’s rehab M. needs or if the old ones really have returned but honestly, life is too short to stay in a damp mouldy house with no food and someone channeling Maurice Denham. That’s just not okay in real life.

The real M. would never have done that to me…would he?

But I’m pretty sure it will all be just fine once Jeremy Corbyn is elected. Then M. will return safe and sound, happily babbling the old nonsense of before and not the new post-Charteris nonsense.

I’m not even scared of the old ones now…

My Holiday in the Peak District, day 11

Day 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 (morning) | 4 (afternoon) | 4 (night) | 7 | 11

My god we are still here, and this mist has come down and M. insists we can’t get out and Sprake has come back and he’s being disgusting — I mean properly disgusting. Did I ever at any point evince any kind of desire to see his penis? No. No woman (or man) wants to see that. He’s been wandering around in nothing but some kind of stupid cape and I just…I am so done. It’s over. Sprake has clearly escaped from the hospital and Dyson says he can’t find the farm and there is nothing to eat here and Dinah quit days ago because her food kept going rotten and because the men are all being weird assholes.

If only I’d come to the end of my tether a day or two earlier.

Let the mist rise and I will be out of here, I can feel the hysteria rising in the air, the strange mix of testosterone and fear and over-intellectualization of everydamnthing, and I don’t like it. I am going to hit M. over the head with the proverbial frying pan and drag him home if he gives me any fuss. With love of course.

If only I could un-see Sprake. If only I didn’t have the feeling I am living through a Lovecraft story without all of the repressed bits — and really wishing them repressed. If only I didn’t have the feeling that something is actually terribly wrong.

Not tentacles-out-of-the-mist wrong. But very wrong indeed.

Until the mist goes, I’m off to play with the cat.

The last day…

My Holiday in the Peak District, day 7

Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 (morning) | Day 4 (afternoon) | Day 4 (night) | Day 7

I couldn’t convince M. to go.

Almost I left without him, but to abandon him here? It seemed an impossible decision.

Especially because after that terrible night where I began to feel all that he was experiencing creep over me, things have seemed to get better. I have tried to return to my walks in this beautiful country, my books.

The best thing is that the white cat followed me home from the ruins. I found it on the doorstep the morning after that terrible night spent huddled and starting at shadows. I gave it some milk and it twined around my ankles. It curls up purring on my lap now, purring. But only when M. — and all of the men for that matter — are away. It hates them, slinks into hidden corners before I even know they are approaching.

It is how I know they are approaching.

M. has stopped overthinking his translations of that old manuscript, seems much more cheerful and has stopped muttering to himself. He’s stopped scribbling in his journal as well — until today. I shall have to try and get him to share it with me, but he refused to say anything when I first asked him. Normally I would respect his need to keep some privacy in our relationship, I told him, of course I would.

But not when I fear something is terribly terribly wrong.

And it still is, I can feel it creeping up on us again.

He is spending his time in that cave, trying to translate the inscriptions on the steles though he has also brought scans of them home. He took me once when Charteris and the others were away, the one time they were all busy with some other task… sometimes I feel they watch him. M showed me the bare place in the rock where the face had been.

I don’t know what I think about that place, don’t like it, don’t like M. there. Or us continuing here. M. refuses to join me in my walking, even after I described the miraculous pies of Bakewell.

He has no time for pie? Impossible. Steak and Stilton, I said. Lamb and Leek. Real Bakewell tarts. He has refused to join me. And something new has happened this morning, but he just shakes his head when I ask him and says everything is fine.

I can see it is not. I found him shaking, muttering about squirrels again, and I am afraid.

Day 11

My Holiday in the Peak District, day 4 (night)

Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 (morning) | Day 4 (afternoon)

I can’t sleep, can’t sleep at all. My mind beset with worries, all kinds of worries, but most of all that I too am infected. Poisoned. Hallucinating like the rest.

I too have started seeing things.

Flurried movements at the edge of my vision.

M. has been tossing and turning beside me, I know his sleep is restless as well.

I am determined tomorrow that we shall just go home.

Day 7

My Holiday in the Peak District, day 4 (afternoon)

Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 (morning) | Day 4 (afternoon)

So it turns out there used to be a secret military establishment up in the ruined upper village. WWII shenanigans, all hush hush and top secret and so, Bob’s your uncle, whisperings of plot, murder, conspiracy and other dark imaginings.

I think Charteris just sits in this cottage and spins out conspiracies by the yard — he’d do better to take a turn down in the cotton mills just a little further along the lane.

M. finally opened up a little to me after we got home, after I’d taken my tea upstairs in disgust to read a bit more of Bateman’s fascinating Victorian studies of the local Iron-Age tumuli scattered about that have filled my heart with delight.

M. read me his latest journal entry in whispers — the bright white light that had engulfed the ruins, the cordoning off by the authorities — now that was interesting. I know the hills around here are full of lead, I wonder that there is not uranium as well? Or phosphorous perhaps? I wonder what they had stored up there, and just what they were doing in such a remote location during the war…

It is mysterious, I confess. Rather thrilling in fact. But far more wonderful was M.’s revelation that underneath the village there are a series of tunnels dug by the miners, connecting one public house with another, one church with another (connecting churches is more puzzling, I confess). He and Charteris actually went in one of them without me, and I tell you, I have never been so hurt and angry in my life.

M. knows how much I love tunnels and caves. He still has not forgiven me for the time I dragged him to Nottingham, ‘city of caves’, and a succession of tours led by characters in costume, a sublime sandstone made sadly shmaltz. It crossed my mind that perhaps this was all just one long, drawn-out attempt at revenge.

But he was shaken, I knew this wasn’t about me at all and tried to let go of my anger as he hoarsely whispered of the cold damp tunnels and the scabrous stones and the growing feeling of evil and then…he could barely speak as he told me of the throbbing. Of the face.

The face.

I can only think that Charteris has somehow been feeding him shrooms. ‘Mycological abominations’. ‘Vile mycelium’. Call them what you will.

At least, I hope he has. M., I fear, is beginning to believe in its reality though at least he is now becoming doubtful of Charteris’s intentions. I need to get into the tunnels and see what Charteris is really up to, and how he is drugging my dear M. It might just be the mouldy miasma that Charteris carries with him like a cloud, poisoning his blood and his brain.

Mothers, don’t let your sons grow up to be dirty bastards who don’t know how to wash their clothes.

So tunnels… I’d make every effort to get into those tunnels regardless. But Charteris and those two lackeys of his are certainly up to no good there…

Day 4 (night)

My Holiday in the Peak District, day 4 (morning)

Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4

The men have continued to act as though we do not exist, and indeed, today it was as though I myself were alone with them as Dinah busied herself in the kitchen and left early. I see how she is invisible to them, though she is the only thing that prevents their collective descent into absolute filth and squalor.

They are increasingly strange but no longer all strangers, as I have finally learned the names of the other two — MacReady and Dyson.

Over breakfast M. kept staring into the orchard — a wonderfully ancient place full of twisted and wizened apple trees. He was seeing things, I know he was, but I saw nothing. I am more and more worried about him. About us. That might even extend as far as all of us. In fact, a man came to take Sprake away. A grumpy and jaundiced-looking ‘transcendentalist doctor’ — whatever the hell that means.

Alas poor Sprake, but that I hate thee deadly I would lament thy miserable state.

I have finally manged to catch a glimpse of M.’s journal, and at first it made me laugh — there is a whole section on his equable temperament, how his Protestant upbringing contributed to his work ethic, thrift and abstemiousness…worthy of a chuckle I thought. But a fond one. It felt like catching someone preening themselves in front of a mirror, I felt a twinge of guilt. Almost put the thing down. I’m glad I didn’t.

The rest is the stuff of nightmare.

Particularly the bit about Charteris interrupting him while he was in some kind of fit working over his translations, claiming he had been sputtering on in some strange language, insensible to the world… M. thinks it is a joke but I have seen him do something like it before. I don’t know what to do, don’t know where to turn. I feel as though Charteris is somehow encouraging it.

Then I heard M. returning and hurriedly hid all evidence of my spying, well-intentioned as it was.

Almost I turned down the offer of a walk around the ruined upper half of the village, but could not bear the thought of my poor M. alone with Charteris. I also love ruins. Love. Them. So we walked up the steep hill and boredom overcame my good intentions (and Charteris has shown no sign of strange behaviour) so I soon left them to explore for myself. They stopped in the first room we came to and stayed muttering to themselves. Even when I crept alongside of them on the other side of the wall I could not hear them or get a sense of the mystery they were concocting between themselves, so I had to put a stop to it.

Still, in those stolen moments of a holiday I could actually enjoy I found a cat! A white one. I resolved to ask Dinah why the upper village had been abandoned as it had, the beauty of the ruins only made me more sad.

When I finally and somewhat unwillingly returned to the two men, M. was white and shaking. I don’t know what that damn Charteris told him. M. won’t say anything. I’m going to have to get my hands on that journal again…

Day 4 (afternoon)