Monday, December 05, 2005


The following may not make sense yet. But it will.

Feverish was the feel of her mercury tears, and that's exactly the choke-'n'-sputter I confronted myself with this morning. Coughed away the dull shards of a sickness. Tried OXO soup for the first time in—effectively as long as I can remember—with noodles. Downed it, recalling OXO is also believed to be the first computer game.

In the contemporary times of the last few days, I've been seeing diagrams during my sleep, not unlike an expanding tic-tac-toe board with variations. A variant could include needing "four in a row" to win, which places it closer to an endgame of Connect Four. I'm all for connections.

One of the great tragedies of dreams is, to put it lightly, how lonely they are. You can dream about other people, but that won't actually aeffect them—well, unless they've dreamed of you too, reaching out there somewhere. And even when that happens, how readily available do strangers make their night visions accessible in a database, perhaps not locked under key (unless the privacy of intimates is greatly desired) but tagged, catalogued... or even the more mundane but nevertheless effectively valid, written about in a "dream diary"?

So perhaps there's some small chance you may find out, but for practical purposes, you don't.

A seminal work I'd initially heard of many years ago (it'd won a lot of awards and everything) but only just read yesterday, is Harlan Ellison's "I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream". You can click on that link to read it, it really works, this is hypertext. Younger audiences, upon completion of it, may say it's like The Matrix, the part where the robots go evil. Older readers, by way of the ex-zeitgeist, will draw straws pointing at Colossus: The Forbin Project mixed with some other unwary mecha-rabbits in the stew.

You know how it is with dinosaurs, how archaeologists—the general public, really—come up with all these nifty ideas of not only what dinosaurs looked like, but moved like, fed on, and many other things we consider mundane of the living but exotic of the extinct? That's what it's like for me and a collection of media. I may watch a movie trailer, and then let my imagination run wild, hinting at what this film I'll finally see in its (sadly not often as glorious as hoped for) entirety will be like several years later. Same goes for books: novels, novellas, novelettes, short stories. (They sound like a wry family of country bumpkins, don't they?)

This is what happened with "I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream".

Now, without spoiling the ending, or perhaps more importantly, the milieu of richness with all the literally meaty bits in between, I'll preface this by stating a couple things: 1) there is an abandonware computer game based on the short story, and 2) we are still at a stage where humans do awful things to one another with technology not doing awful things to us of its own accord.

Let's go back to OXO—noughts and crosses, not the soup—for a moment. Any respectable sci-fi buff recalls Star Trek's "A Taste of Armageddon", which actually aired at about the same time as the publication of "IHNM, aIMS" (1967). I reference it not just because of thematic content, but because of visual imagery like this matte painting composite.

There are several other visual points of light that quickly become suspect: the movie poster of Logan's Run (also taking place in the 23rd century, like Star Trek), the planar scaping of Silent Running, and in a nudge towards the cyberpunk aesthetic that would later blossom in my own heart, the designs of Sid Mead, who really doesn't get enough Google matches.

It's interesting to me how goal-oriented "dystopian" science fiction can be. Not out of pleasure, but quite frequently, the sheer necessity of survival.
And consider how much more engaging that becomes when placed in a vividly memorable environment, with the escape of the replicants in the film Blade Runner being a prime example. Goal-oriented, like a game (including that of life) would be played, whether it's a complex electronic simulation as in that Trek ep, or the venerable roots of tic-tac-toe, which has existed for hundreds of years on sand, paper, and wood before becoming digital.

Have you ever thought what it might be like if an X, or even an O wanted to stop "playing"? What if it—he, for the sake of personalization—wanted to end being confined to 1/9 spaces, and walk between them at will? To trot off into the distance and see the world, perhaps risk everything to fall in love, write an award-winning handbook teaching others to do the same, or even achieve peace with the enemy?

(A starfield of variable-flavored candy pieces fell out of the pinata we just wacked.)

One possible pathway leads me back to the dream I had—or, wish I still have.

Feverish was the feel of her mercury tears, and no song of the siren could quiet the amber awakening of this crystalline sea. A golden shiver gilded its way up the arc of the waves nearest to the star, appearing anemic but growing bolder. She sat.

It was Antioch climbing up the path next, scurrying with all sixfold legs, eyes ablink with the stubbornness (and some would say sagacity) of his patience. He could smell the fruit, dangling from the angled tree. A lure, not alluring enough, for he had recently eaten. Antioch scrunched up on his haunches and patted his tummy, looking at her. She didn't look back.

The sky to the east looked like an almost-broken stainglass window, dull shards nestled in gossamer clouds, an almost celestial avarice gobbling each oblique triangle of color up.

Time elapsed, and twilight had grown a maw.

Antioch leaned against the bench. The wood was old, but it never decayed. It became very cold; and yet, she was still so very warm.

I sometimes wake up, cry for a little while, and then login to the belly of the beast, the great supercomputer that is Second Life. It's not lonely.

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