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.
Philbrick’s In the Heart of the Sea details the tragedy of the Whaleship Essex in 1819, a journey that ended in cannibalism. And he describes the procedure fully:
He, like most sailors forced to resort to cannibalism, began by removing the most obvious signs of the corpse’s humanity – the head, the feet, feet, skin – and cosigned them to the sea. They next had to remove the heart, liver, and kidneys from the bloody basket of the ribs. Then they began to hack the meat from the backbone, ribs and pelvis. After the lighting the fire at the bottom of the boat, they roasted the organs and meat and began to eat. (166)
I know my blog has been lacking as of late – and will be again – but in the meantime, I will get at it as I am writing as I should, attempting to complete a third draft of Aqaara, the second part of my speculative trilogy. Anyway, here is an expunged scene:
“You ever been on the subway in New York, Faith?”
“Yes, of course I have.”
“Ever take your son there?”
She looked scared, like she might leave. “Yes.”
“I was on the subway a few years ago, and there were two men arguing, two guys yelling at each other. Everybody backed away from them. It was the commuter rush. Nobody wanted to get near. And then one of them punched the other guy, hard, knocking him backwards into a wooden bench.”
“Bam! Bam!” The boy jumped up and down.
“The guy yelled, ‘And stay down!’ And walked right onto the train with us. No one spoke. He was standing right beside me. I knew I should have said something. ‘You assaulted that man! That is a crime! You can’t do that.’ But I didn’t. I said nothing. I did nothing, like everyone else. I was afraid he might have a gun or a knife. That’s what I told myself. The subway doors closed. He looked around at all of us, defiant. Nobody would meet his eyes. And we stayed like that, us commuters just going home like it was a normal day, a criminal with us now, and then it pulls into the next stop, 59th Street, and he gets off. I looked at the woman next to me. We were both so relieved to have him gone. The doors closed, and we continued on our way.”
Davis scratched at his belly as he slept, absently thinking that gum was stuck there, but it was a clump of clotted blood, a spider bite. The bite became red, spreading across his abdomen. It hurt to scratch. And he was hungry, terribly so, constant and painful, a need he could not satisfy.He put ointment on it, and then the scab was impossible to get off. Davis finally dug it out, and hundreds of things fell out, tiny black dots that grew legs, and scampered away, baby spiders.
He woke up at that, terrified that his stomach was full of baby spiders and then relieved. He picked at the edges of the scab until it finally came off. Nothing fell out, but there was an inside bit that came out and that looked like a dead spider. He looked at it, waiting to wake up again, but he didn’t.