Friday, April 21, 2017

"Cold as a polar bear's arse."

The World Below
THERE WAS A FACTION in the unruly parliaments of Jack Delfan’s head which hoped to be the one to make the discovery, but nine years would pass before such a wish had chance of fulfillment and it was Hob who was digging in the depths with only the hiss of the Colman paraffin pressure lamp for company when the break through occurred. Hard years under his belt and a wisp of beard about his chin as he turned with loaded shovel in hand and felt the rock give way beneath his right foot so that he fell forward onto his face. And cursed. He lay there for a moment. Rose gingerly onto hands and knees and turned to see what had occurred. There was a hole in the floor of the shaft.
            Hob stood gingerly and he went to the rope pull and tugged five times for emergency. He looked about and then he went to the chest of tools and opened it and took out a ball of twine. He lifted the pressure lamp from the iron peg where it hung on the wall and he placed it on the ground. He tied the end of the twine to its handle and freed a length as long as himself and left that coiled on the ground and he tied off the twine to the peg. He slithered forward on his belly with the lamp in one hand. He reached forward and lowered the light into the void. He did not hear his father descending. Far below him a pebble dropped into water and the ripples spread and the sound of it sang as if in a cathedral designed to take a singer’s voice and amplify it and its accompanying harmonies in praise of god or whatever means the good.
            Holy shit, whispered Hob.
            There was a scrabbling above and then the patriarch’s head came down to join him.
            My cock’s a Scottish kipper, said Jack Delfan. Pickled in brine.
            Yes, father.
            Tie the bucket off on a length of rope and bring it to me, boy.
            To do what with?
            I’m going to bring up some water, Hobby. I want to taste it.
            This rock be brittle, father.
            You will fall down there.
            Delfan grabbing the twine that holds the lamp. Roaring like a wounded beast.
            Bucket and rope, boy.
            Hob nodded slowly three times and then he was gone. Delfan could hear, he could feel, the vast spaces of the cavern. He inhaled the clean holy scent of water on rock. Jack Delfan murmuring in awe.
            This would make Abraham himself quake at the knees.
            Delfan flinging out an arm as a layer of shale gives way beneath his chest, three feet of twine going through his fingers before he arrests the fall of the lamp.
            Where the hell is the bucket?
            Why don’t you say please?
            Jack Delfan braced and disbelieving where he hangs over the abyss. A shower of rock and sand dropping to splash and ripple and echo in the world below.
            How thy mighty scrawn are fleshed. How are thy hormones riz. Get your prime beef hence and bring me the bucket. With a rope on it. We’ve found water, boy!
            You will fall in, father.
            Delfan listening unbelieving to the mutinous voice from above.
            Bring me the bucket!
            Rock giving way beneath Jack Delfan’s chest. The lamp dropping to the end of its line. Its light reaching out towards new mysteries. And Delfan falling past it to plunge into waters he so desired to taste. He comes to the surface with much thrashing of limbs. His voice biblical in the resonant arena.
            Cold as a polar bear’s arse! Hob? Hobby?
            He sees, peering into the light of the lamp, his son’s face appear above.
            Don’t stare at me as if I was a monster in a zoo. Drop me a rope. Drop the bucket down and I’ll put a foot in it, and you can winch me up.
            Why can’t you say please?
            Jack Delfan an astonished traveller upon dark and uncharted waters.
            Hob? Hobby, me boy? You’ll lose me of the drowning!
            Why can’t you say please?
            This is not a time for philosophical discussion!
            Why don’t you say please?
            I could truly kill you for this!
            For what have I dug for sixteen years?
            I said, not now.
            Drown then.
            I will kill you!
            Delfan treading water a little. Strategizing. Speaking in a tone of gentleness and reason.
            Hobblet, fruit of my loins. Speak true what troubles you now.
Hob’s eyes careful as he stares down. The wielding of power a strange sensation to the boy. The father’s voice coming plaintive from the chilly dark.
Speak true and I will do what I can to answer it.
You promise?
            I promise.
            Hob considering his options, searching for some kind of leverage on this situation.
            You be my father.
            In the book. When they go to Bethlehem.
            And the child is born in the stables.
            Mary be his mother.
            Yes, Hob, that is what the book says. Mary be his mother.
            Who be my mother?
            Jack Delfan emitting the wail of a saint betrayed.
            You hooking swine!
            What is her name? I want to know her name. You said I must speak true what troubles me.
            Delfan's legs pumping furiously. As if the liquid was a ladder he could climb to throttle his offspring.
            Hob, bring me rope or I will curse you and haunt your life in all the corners of the tired world. I will walk with you in foul spirit and turn your every waking minute into nightmare I swear on the book I will.
            Hob’s face hanging far above, sliding out of sight. Delfan shivering and circling by means of an energetic doggy paddle.
            Hob? He calls. Hobby, me boy? Hobblet?

Monday, April 17, 2017

#literary #dystopian

The Economist
Writing the end of the world
Charting trends in apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction
How geopolitical fears have changed over the past 70 years ...

AP Top News
Dystopian fiction is selling like there's no tomorrow.

New York Times
Boom Times for the New Dystopians

It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Excavations, Chapter 3 - Rules

THE EARTH PASSED seven times in its ellipse about the sun and Hob grew taller than the spades his father taught him to dig with. A day that started much like any other found the boy at midday ten meters down the shaft and shovelling. He was as lean and brown as beef jerky and he scraped at the earth and rock until he formed a pile and then he forced the iron blade beneath it and lifted it up and deposited it in the bucket next to him and the receptacle was nearly full. He shovelled in a last pile, to save him from parental quibble, and he reached for the rope–pull that hung down the side of the shaft and tugged upon it three times.
            Up above the slave bell tolled on the poles and piping of Delfan’s mineshaft headgear and the prophet came hurrying across the sand. He placed his feet for purchase and grasped at the handle of the winch and grumbled as the bell tolled again.
            Impatient little tadpole.
            Delfan sweating and winding and cursing until the bucket comes up into the mouth of the shaft. He takes the rope and swings the vessel out across the sand and tips it onto the pile of rubble. He turns back to the shaft and sees his son emerging up the rope ladder and scrambling out and scraping his knee.
            Shit, says Hob.
            He sits on the sand and he bends forward to suck on the wound.
            Watch your breadhole, says the father.
            Hob lifting an aggrieved head.
            I talk as I’ve been taught.
            Jack Delfan staring at his son.
            We be gone down another two feet, says the child.
            Delfan frowning and peering into the bucket. Reaching in to scrape at the soil adhering there, bringing a finger out sniff at it. To work the earth between thumb and forefinger, testing, whispering.
            There’s a hint of dampness here …
            Jack Delfan giggling and chortling now.
            A hint of wetness.
            He runs across to the pile of rubble and kneels and leans in close and sniffs at the last deposits.
            I swear on the book I can smell it. I can smell it, Hobblet.
            Jack Delfan capering in the shade of the rapture tree. Reaching up to take down the Qhilika. And drink deep before plugging the bag again. Bellowing at the horizon.
            You bastards. You doomed bastards.
            May I drink father?
            Jack Delfan staring startled at the boy. Then pointing to the rusted water drum next to the tree trunk.
            Help yourself.
            I mean, may I have some Qhilika. For celebration.
            A boy does not drink fermented beverage, says the father, until he has become a man.
            How do I do that?
            Until when?
            Until you come of age.
            When will that be?
            Eighteen years. Not seven. Not eight. Eighteen.
            Why eighteen?
            I thought you cared nothing, says the boy, for their rules.
            Whose rules?
          Them. People.
            Delfan advancing towards the child. Speaking low and quiet and clear.
            Get your spindly arse down that hole and caress the shovel with your pink little fingers.
            Hob lifting a hand to examine his grimed and callused palm.
            Or I shall remunerate your hide with the lash, says Jack Delfan, and by the holes in the sky you will turn into a man one fine ultraviolet day. Until then, you dig.
            A confrontation there in the desert. Parent and child with eyes locked together and then Hob turns to go back to the mouth of the shaft.
            The boy halting to listen.
            I'll go down. It's your shift above.

Literary, dystopian on Kindle

Sunday, April 9, 2017

The Excavations, Chapter 2 - The Mother of Discord

IN THE FIRST weeks the patriarch carried the child about with him in little hessian hammock that he rigged to a length of piping and he would hang the contraption from a convenient davit when he worked on the maintenance of the solar panels that lit the few dim bulbs below and fed the batteries for the lumbering solenoid that powered the lift. When the boy woke, Delfan would sit him down in a patch of shade and continue his labour and he came to know the small grunts and the frowns of interested concentration which signalled the child’s evacuations.
            He would exclaim then and lay down his tools and take the boy up one-handed by the ankles so that their heads were level with each other and the inverted Hob would gurgle and chuckle and clench his little fists and wave his arms about. Delfan carried a bucket with him and when the diaper was removed he would wash the arse of the child most thoroughly with crude soap and cold and precious water from the dew traps. At these times Hob would bellow in a fashion that gave clear evidence his provenance. Delfan, as he stashed the diaper for later incineration, would hold the offending garment distant from his nose and holler curses of his own so that the whole vessel rang with the noise of the little family.
            Sometimes in the evenings when the sun was low on the horizon Jack Delfan would walk about the deck with the child and on such an evening he discovered that the tyke had an impulse to straighten its legs. He set Hob’s feet in his rough right palm which he held before him at chest level and he supported the boy’s back with his left hand and Hob straightened his legs. Delfan removed the supporting hand and the boy was much astonished to find himself standing, and so high above the world. He opened his eyes wide and bent his knees and dropped and his father caught him as he passed his groin on his journey deck-wards.
Hob came to enjoy the sensation however, and often enough at sunset Delfan would be found marching about with the child balanced like a juggler's pole on his palm. Delfan would shout out the poems he had learnt by heart in his youth and Hob would ride before, bobbing and swaying like a figurehead on the prow of a clipper.
            She was boarded she was looted, chanted Jack Delfan, she was scuttled till she sank, and the pale survivors left us by the medium of the plank.
             The infant stood with his little knees locked straight and he waved his fists about and he caught this father' rhythms and he shouted, da-da, da-da, da-da, da-da.
            Not long after Hob's delivery, Delfan moved his belongings from the iron dungeons below and into the captain's quarters below the bridge, and there he slung hammocks and placed the primus stove that warmed their tins of beans and corn. It was Delfan’s habit to read before sleeping and he found that sometimes the child complained for lack of attention but he complained less when Delfan read aloud. And so Hob, before he could understand the words, became intimate with the rhythms of the book.
            Now King David was old and stricken in years, read Jack Delfan. And they covered him with clothes, but he gat not heat.
            Da, said Hob. Da.
            Wherefore his servants said unto him, let there be sought for my lord the king a young virgin.
            And let her stand before the king, and let her cherish him, and let her lie in thy bosom, that my lord the king may get heat.
            Da, said Hob. And then he seemed to ponder a little. Ma?
            Jack Delfan’s eyes were drawn away from the text by this new sound in the infant’s mouth.
            Not ma. I am your father. Dada.
            Ma? Said Hob.
            No, said Jack Delfan. Da.
            Ma? Said Hob.
            Dada, bellowed Jack Delfan.
            And he turned out the light and when Hob howled the patriarch took precious wax from his stock of candles and he blocked his ears with it so that he might not hear the child’s cries.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Dystopian fiction in the age of Trump, Brexit and Zuma.

When the going gets weird, said Hunter Thompson, the weird get going. Well, the going  has never been weirder. America is ruled by a dangerous buffoon, aided by a family of cyborgs. South Africa's situation is not dissimilar, although, thankfully, we lack the power to launch missile attacks.  Liberal democracy has failed so badly that citizens  are voting out of desperation for whatever looks most different from said liberal democracy. Which perhaps explains the growth surge of Dystopian fiction. Wikipedia lists one example in the 18th Century - Gulliver's Travels, by Johnathan Swift. There are eleven examples for the 19th century. By the 20th, the list is growing exponentially, decade by decade.

On the 29 January, 2017, the BBC posted brief list of The Trump Era's top selling Dystopian Novels, featuring George Orwell, Aldous Huxley and Sinclair Lewis. Writers imagining the worst, hoping that if they portray it artfully, humans will read, understand and avoid.

Literary, dystopian, end of the world

Friday, March 31, 2017

The Excavations, Chapter 1 - The Creed

DOWN IN THE corrugated bulkheads, down among bulwark stays and bilge strakes, derrick post and screw shaft, down in the iron darkness, the vessel moans in the breeze, sings to its single crew member. He sleeps in a seaman's birth towards the stern. He turns and mutters. He sweats. He grinds his teeth and dreams the apocalypse, the dimness and the low bruised clouds and shafts of sunlight white on the pan and the four riders coming and the hooves of their horses as they beat on the earth speak like thunder.

Jack Delfan sits up naked and wide-eyed in his bunk. He reaches for the rope-pull that works the bulb above. Its light comes slow and blue and his eyes narrow beneath the crags of his brow. Eyebrows pulling together as his head inclines to aid his hearing. Of that distant and urgent… drumming? That ... approachingvehicle?
            He climbs a long clanging journey up emergency ladders on hold pillars and transverse girders. He arrives at deck level through a hatchway of his own devising, the round and bolted lid lifting on its hinge and the prophet's head emerging. Accompanied by the venerable barrel of a .577 Westley Richards Nitro Express hunting rifle. He stares out at the metal plain, the red dunes beyond. A zephyr whispering in the wires of the lift rig. A cable clanking. His head turning to port and then to starboard and he clambers naked yet onto the deck and canters to the starboard rail. He looks down. Just sand. And then the pan and beyond that sand again. He frowns. He lifts his heavy head, nostrils funnelling in molecules alien to his chosen purlieus. Analysing them in the mucus of his cranial cavities. A smell of the world he came from. He lifts the rifle and checks the massive round in its chamber. He strides across the deck to the lift rig and leans over the port rail. It's there, blades retracted. Some fifty yards beyond the rapture tree and the little circle of rocks where three lengths of ironwood smoulder in the ashes. A gleaming black ovoid. Like the tanker has turned goose and started laying.
            Jack Delfan climbs the wooded stile and steps onto the crude railed platform of the lift. He releases the brake and drops with chains roaring in their pulleys, resonating in glooming holds within. He bends his knees for the impact of the earth and takes it and he opens the gate in the rail and steps onto the sand with weapon held ready. His eyes catching a movement at the trunk of the rapture tree and the stock coming up to his shoulder and Jack Delfan sees the Partner step out with hands held carefully aloft. A lean and whimsical figure all garbed in solartect.
            Hello, Jack, he says.
            The patriarch’s knees are slightly bent, his weight balanced and like his breathing functioning in service of the sights which remain fixed on a point between the Partner’s eyes.
            What want you?
            Offer a friend a drink?
            Delfan gestures with his head towards the egg.
            You don’t carry refreshment in that abomination?
            I was hoping you’d have something artisanal.
            Jack Delfan lifting the barrel to indicate a leather bag that hangs from a branch above the Partner’s head.
            Try that.
            What is it?
            I’m sorry?
            The Partner smiling at this eccentricity. Reaching up to take the bag from its rope cradle and bring it down and remove the cork. Lifting the mouth piece to take in aromas and smile again. And drink.
            He wipes his lips with the back of this hand and feels about his mouth with his tongue.
            The chewy bits?
            Bee grubs.
            The Partner leaning to spit a fragment upon the sand. He straightens to look, regretful, at his friend.
            It’s hard to talk when you standing there naked with a gun on me, Jack.
            I wasn’t expecting visitors.
            Would it have made a difference?
            How much tax does the secretariat compute me to owe?
            The Partner shaking a rueful head.
            It’s not about the tax, Jack. Not directly.
            So why are you here?
            I’ve brought something for you. But we can’t do this while you’ve got that blunderbuss pointing at me. It’s dangerous. And you really should have some trousers on.
            Jack Delfan lowering the .577. The Partner turning towards the egg. A hum coming from the thing as a hatch slides open. And the midwife steps out in her solartect gear and Jack Delfan sees that she carries an infant in her arms who waves his arms and stares about and smiles.
            Da, he says. Da.
            Delfan’s eyes like those of a man hallucinating. All the universe reduced in his mind to the small focus of horror which is the babe in its swaddling.
            What the hell is that, he says.
            He’s yours, Jack. Attested by your genes.
            Delfan looking from the Partner to the midwife. Whose eyes are directed in turn at Delfan’s groin. Where his parts hang large and soft and strangely innocent in a jungle of curls.
Dear god, she says.
She walks across the sand with the boy waving his arms, saying da, da, da.
The orphanage won’t take him, says the Partner. Administratively, you seem to have disappeared. But they know you're out here. And they say they lack revenue for orphans.
            Delfan standing outraged with the rifle forgotten in his hand.
            And Eileen?
            She’s an elusive lady.
            Delfan’s head twisting on his neck in the grip of the rage and he turns and lifts the .577 to align the bore with the midwife’s skull.
            I thought you said we could do this, she says to the Partner, without force.
            The partner smiling, mild and regretful.
            He’s your boy, Jack. I checked the tests myself. Put the gun down.
            Jack Delfan feels the earth's plates shifting on their tides of ore and he knows that there is no gun that can stop what’s coming.
            The midwife bending to seat the boy in the sand. Where he sways a little before finding his balance.
            Da, he says.
            Yes, says the midwife.
            That is your father. Dada.
            She opens a zip on her thigh pad and brings out a tablet of clear and finely bevelled silcoplast, offers it to the Partner.
            You better handle the admin.
            The Partner takes the tablet and it activates at his touch so that its interface glows and blinks within, seeking contact with the biochips of those about. The Partner walks across to Jack Delfan who is staring down at the boy.
            Jack, if you can just put your right thumb on the flashing square.
            Delfan looks up at him.
            By way of receipt.
            Delfan lifts his thumb to show a lurid scar.
            I cut it out.
            The Partner, reassuring, offers the tablet.
It doesn’t matter about the chip. Your prints will be on the system. Just give us your left thumb.
I sign nothing.
             A bellow of such proportions that it elicits a resonating groan from the hulk.
            I sign nothing.
            He lifts the rifle and releases the safety catch and a fires a round that makes the great ship ring like a struck gong. The infant staring up at his father with mouth agape. The silence, when it returns, is prodigious.
            I’ll sort it out on the frame, says the Partner. Speaking to the midwife.
            It’s a sin, she says. It’s a sin that we have to hand this child over to a naked lunatic.
            You’ve broken the world, roars Jack Delfan. You’ve shattered it.
            The Partner nods.
            Goodbye, Jack.
            He turns and walks towards the egg and the midwife follows him and gets in and throws out cartons onto the sand.
            BiodDeg diapers, she shouts. Sun screens. Basic infant nutrition. MediGear.
            The cartons coming tumbling to rest, displaying the logo of the secretariat and a thoughtful message: A gift from the affiliated peoples. Taxes save lives.
             Jack Delfan watches the hatch hum shut and the blades unfurl and start to spin.
            How go your wars, he shouts. And your religions. Have you reintroduced torture again? Are you using the rack and the screw?
            The midwife’s voice coming strange and amplified over the beat of the rotors. Keep the child out of the sun. The craft lurching up with sand and leaves and ash billowing in the bloodshot morning and then it rises above the deck and banks and skims off across the dunes.
            Jack Delfan wipes sweat from his brow and stares down at the infant. Who gravely asks his question.
            Da, he says. Da?
             Delfan leans the rifle against the rail of the lift-platform and he strides to the rapture tree and grasps a large and well-used spade. The infant watching with wide eyes as his father comes to stand before him. He looms over the boy, blocking the sun, edged by its radiance, a primitive intent on slaughter. His shadow stretching across the earth and up the side of the hull and the shovel hanging like a guillotine
            I name thee Hob, he says.
            Da, says the infant. Da?
            Delfan brings the spade down, impales it in the sand. It stands there, humming.
            Da, says the child, the son. Da?
            Dig, roars Jack Delfan. Dig … be my creed.  

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Excavations, Chapter 0 - For those in the past in the world above.

IT SEEMS UNLIKELY that you are reading this. It is written after you are gone. And yet the singularity herself, from which all sprang, demonstrates that nothing is impossible. Keep that thought in mind. Nothing is impossible. It is an axiom and a pun and an article of faith. If you cannot accept it then you must block your ears now. Get out now, while you can, gentle reader, because this chronicle contains events so capriciously violent, so violently capricious, that they become their opposite, not chance but destiny.
            Are you with me still? Then we are entangled, you and I. We are particularly entangled, and though entire universes interpose between us we will spin in tune and as your tune changes then so will mine and so the story may be heard. It is the story of the digging as told to me by those survivors who knew both your world and ours. It is informed and illuminated by the books which Jack Delfan treasured and those texts which the Partner carried in the memory banks of his ATV and copied to the motherdrive in the chamber of the book. I tell it, with what art I can muster, for your people and for mine. I tell it that we might have faith in the grace of the all, the nothing, that we might have faith that a world can be again.
            Know that the earth changed in the years before the flood. The very seas dried up and great ships lay in the sand. Jack Delfan was among the last to tend the animals on the continent that was called Africa. And then he washed his hands of saving the wild and commenced to dig. He chose a spot in the lee of a monstrous tanker because of the shelter and stores the anachronism offered, and because it was a place where compasses went haywire. He calculated it would be hard to find. There, the patriarch bent his back to the spade for some years.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

An Experiment in Publishing

"The singularity herself, from which all sprang, demonstrates that nothing is impossible."
The Excavations

Sometime in the 1980s, my friend and cousin, Ian Roberts (actor and front man of the Radio Kalahari Orkes) visited my half-brother, Lochart Whyle,in Botswana. Ian borrowed a  4×4 from Lochart and traveled into the desert. He met a group of San bushmen and shared some adventures with them. On his return to Johannesburg, Ian wrote for seven days and seven nights and then he brought me what he had written. It was called Dig and was aimed at the screen, but it looked to me like a book. Dig was the story of the end of the world, a tale so strange and shocking that it has been whispering to me, as it has to Ian, ever since. Over the years we have written it, separately and together, in various forms. In 2013, with Ian's permission, I wrote it as a novel, The Excavations.

  In 2014 Jacana, who published The Book of War and Walk, agreed to publish The  Excavations. Then Maggie Davey "left the building for a time" and I became despondent and a little arrogant. With the contract ready to be signed, I took the novel to Umuzi where Fourie Botha was interested but unable to fly its outrages past his committee. Jacana were, justifiably, not happy with me. The project was dead, and I shifted gear from arrogance to despond. At the end of 2015 I bumped into Maggie Davey at an art exhibition. She was back at Jacana. I told her I had not found a publisher. For a time the "wonderfully strong and completely captivating" book was under consideration again. But fate was only flirting. Jacana's second answer, couched in the kindest terms, was no.

This is the age of Trump, however. The climate is changing, nothing is impossible, and there's a whiff of extinction in the air. The Excavations  will be available, on Kindle only, at a bargain basement price, from Tuesday the 21st of March.