Donald Trump has been a heavy burden on my psyche over the past couple of years – the fury, the vitriol, and most of all, the deceit. I try to laugh it off but then I think it’s better to drink and forget and do that instead. It was during one such purge that it occurred to me how Trump isn’t unique, that he is the same as so many nameless other millions, to say nothing of the named ones too – Sean Hannity, Larry Flynt, the Koch brothers et al. – and they’re what we’re stuck with if we’re to perpetrate this fantasy of free speech. And, while we should throw these idiots in jail for their hate speech, the reality is that most people suck, and another racist/misogynistic schmuck will just take his place. Which is another good reason to drink.
But the shyest and most self-effacing of the wall community were the most dangerous; you hardly ever saw one unless you looked for it, and yet there must have been several hundred living in the cracks of the wall. Slide a knife-blade carefully under a piece of the loose plaster and lever it gently away from the brick, and there, crouching beneath it, would be a little black scorpion an inch long, looking as though he were made of polished chocolate. They were weird looking things, with their flattened, oval bodies, their neat, crooked legs, the enormous crab-like claws, bulbous and jointed neatly as armor, and the tail like a string of brown beads ending in a sting like a rose thorn. The scorpion would lie quite quietly as you examined him, only raising his tail in an almost apologetic gesture of warning if you breathed too hard on him. If you kept him in the sun too long he would simply turn his back on you and walk away, and then slide slowly but firmly under another section of plaster. I grew very fond of these scorpions. I found them to be pleasant, unassuming creatures with, on the whole, the most charming habits. (153)
Tom Standage’s History of the World in Six Glasses details the discovery of humanity’s first spirits: The planters of Barbados gained more than just sugarcane and equipment from Brazil; they also learned how to ferment the by-products of the sugar-making process and the distill the result to make a powerful alcoholic drink. A traveler who visited Barbados in 1651 observed that the islanders’ preferred drink or “chief fudling” was “Rumbullion, alias Kill-Devil, and this is made of sugar-canes distilled, a hot, hellish and terrible liquor.” Rumbullion, a slang word from southern England that means “a brawl or violent commotion” may have been chosen as the drink’s nickname because that was frequently the outcome when people drank too much of it. Rumbillion, shortened to rum, spread throughout the Caribbean.
She wanted to leave the party for the tour of the Mali pavilion so that we could steal their catalogs. I was terrified because I had just seen a documentary about how they kept criminals confined with their heads strapped together. But she was insistent, leaning forward, tightening her pants.Traffic was bad, both getting there and then with all of the magazines falling over from their stacks, and there was a roadblock at the bottom of the hill.I cursed her for getting me into this, and I almost turned off into the bushes. She laughed at me. “They don’t care about us.” And she was right.
It was so dark that Karl could not tell at first whether the curtains were drawn or the room was perhaps windowless; finally he noticed a little attic window and pulled back the cloth, letting in some light. The room had two beds, though both were occupied. Karl saw two young people, who were fast asleep and seemed less than trustworthy, especially since for no apparent reason they slept fully dressed and one even had his boots on. (85) In the morning, the two men had no objections to Karl’s accompanying them. Karl had no sooner agreed than they gave him the friendly advice that he should take off his beautiful suit, for it would be a hindrance in finding jobs. Actually at this very inn there was a great opportunity for disposing of the suit since the chambermaid dealt in used clothing. They helped Karl, who had not yet reached a final decision about the suit, remove it and took it away. (91)
The crowd was larger, people up both walkways, chants and holograms everywhere. A bright orange drone floated above, slowly coming down.
“Hello, how are you doing?” It was the man from the Hive, now dressed and atop a glider, floating behind the drone.
“Want me to smash that thing?”
“We’re making a film,” he replied.
“Name’s Norich.” He raised his eyebrows at her as he glided down. “How would you feel about me filming you now?”
“For your personal pleasure?”
“Sort of Cinema Verite.” The camera-drone, an orange sloped contraption, floated down over his shoulder. “I’m examining the nature of The Hive for the Ark News. The impetus of that, right? I’m thinking individually, right? Why do we do the things we do?” He looked half drunk, the way he glanced back and forth between them. “Like, what is to experience it?”
Dee shrugged. “Go ahead and try it.”
He landed, leaning forward, wincing at the effort to think of an answer that could not be deflected. “Wisdom, knowledge, that is very human.”
Dee studied his long face, almost earnest, knowing he wanted to listen, his hands open in front of him, waiting for something. “Sex, that’s what I think you’re after, sex and more of it.” Norich nodded back at her. “You know how people say that men want to have sex with young women to avoid their fear of death? That gorgeous taut flesh, so primal and real, the dream of the boy through the old man, it’s got nothing to do with dying, my friend. It’s just being alive, that sexual drive, mindless and direct. But to avoid death? No, it’s not that. Everything is to avoid death. Eating, drinking, going to the bathroom—”
“What about good driving habits then?” Dee added.
“That’s sure as hell part of it, awareness of what you are – your limitations, that you have a perspective, that you’re aware that we tend to think that we know something—”
“Us people. That we know something that no one else can exactly understand. Even with as much as anyone might know, in their mind for a certainty, whatever is gathered through books and media, experience, relationships, there’s only that, only that perspective.”
“Humility then,” Dee ventured.
“Yes, that’s part of it.”
“I think what you really mean is sex,” Dee concluded. “And the answer is no.”
“It’s more our limitations.” Norich tried to pat her on the shoulder. “It’s all about being aware of that.”
“So we’re in agreement then.” Dee went past him into The Hive.
Emile Zola’s novel Nana is lengthy, but Foucarmont is entertaining:
“As far as I’m concerned,’ said Foucarmont, “I’ve drunk every imaginable sort of wine in all four quarters of the globe…Extraordinary liquids some of them were, strong enough to kill a man on the spot. Well, none of them had even the slightest effect on me. I can’t make myself drunk, and I can’t.” he was very pale and calm, lolling back in his chair and drinking without stopping. (118)
“Why, in Havana,” Foucarmont went on, “they make a brandy from a very certain wild berry which tastes as if you’re swallowing fire. Well, one evening I drank over a liter of it, and it didn’t affect me one bit. Better than that, another time when we were on the coast of Coromandel, some savages gave us heaven knows what sort of mixture of pepper and vitriol, and that didn’t affect me either. I can’t make myself drunk.” (119)
Foucarmont drained a glass of Chartreuse. Chartreuse didn’t have the slightest effect on him, not even that much, and he tapped his thumbnail against the edge of his teeth. But all of a sudden, just as he was advancing on Labordette, he turned white and fell like a log in front of the sideboard. He was dead drunk. (124)
They arrive at the cluster of planets. The first several are not promising. And then there is life. They land in search of intelligence…and find it. The first sense is that of agoraphobia – a genuine nausea at being outside – and they are unable to stand and are overpowered by an intense desire to stay by the ship, huddled together. They wonder if they are going to survive. And then Kim, empowered by a keg of Cyfy, leads them on. Wherever he stops, he spins the keg off his back and imbibes, looking out, his forearm taught, his young face already showing wear. He jet-bikes on, as one by one they are overcome with asphyxiation until it is only him and his sister, an attractive girl with blue eyes, but hard and angry, a survivor of pre-ordained disasters.
Alexander Weinstein’s moral is as clear as white light in his collection of short stories, Children of the New World, that technology is no replacement for the real world. The stories suffer from what Weinstein terms in Cartographers as “nothing but white light”, broad strokes, many of those poorly thought, and no effective detail.
Sentences such as “Can’t beat a cold beer,” I said, taking a swig (13), ‘(I) traveled endless hours, numbed by bad sleep and bland airplane food (67), surrounded by pressurized air and bland airplane food (80), ‘I stopped talking, hating the clunkiness of words (190) are the clunky norm. Worse is his adolescent portrayal of sex, the male character – let’s call him Misogy – obsessed with sleeping with porn stars (38), being fucked so good (112) and fully exposing the vulva (136), leaving the reader to wonder if technology might actually be better than having to read this.