The Last Science Fiction Writer: A Hallucination

Fábio Fernandes

Illustration by Dante Luiz

The following is a textual transcript from fragments of fungal media found in an old mycelial lab at Refuge Eleven (see OLD WORLDS OF THE FIRST DIASPORA). The archaeological team believes that the following hallucination was recorded and coded into fungal patches by volunteers of the same unit for use in ancient chemotelepathy systems. According to radiocarbon dating, the fragments are approximately five thousand years old. The decoders of the Maintenance managed to restore only the auditory hallucination track.

INTERVIEWER: When did you start writing science fiction?

RAYMOND: Because it was already there when I arrived.

INT: But when?

R: The when is the why.

INT: Why, then?

R: Indeed, why? Check.

(a click and a quiet whirring – checking notes on an ancient implant?)

INT: How old was science fiction when you arrived there?

R: Very.

INT: A number?

R: More than six hundred years, less than three thousand. And counting.

INT: Why your interest in it?

R: Because it was the fastest way to travel to other worlds. Before the invention of the manifold bubbles, of course.

INT: That’s precisely the point I want to get at – after the discovery of the Calabi-Yau Manifold principle to form bubbles in the space-time continuum and travel instantaneously across space, many people started to write about the death of the genre.

R: The incredibly long and mangled sentence you just uttered is in itself a whole science fiction narrative. And that also is one of the reasons for the death of the genre. But it’s like jazz: it died and was born again so many times.

INT: Jazz?

R: Think John Coltrane.

INT: Who?

R: ‘Who?’ is my motto.

INT: What?

R: ‘What?’ was David Bowie’s motto.

INT: Sorry, I don’t recognise any of those names.

R: Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair! O time thy pyramids. Shelley. Borges. Silverberg.

(two heartbeats of white noise; a harrumph.)

R: Also Kilgore Trout. Never mind.

INT: Such is the nature of time travel.

R: Indeed.

INT: Have you read anything written today that could qualify as science fiction?

R: Science fiction has been metastasizing into reality way too often. Superscience has rendered all fantastic narratives useless. Except for magical realism. You can’t beat that.

INT: And travelogues, as you were saying before we started to record…

R: Yes. The First Diaspora gave us lots of those, describing the first decades of life in the colonies. Take Jennifer’s Travels, for instance.

INT: It’s a classic.

R: It is. The author does an excellent analysis of the different cultures that were beginning to form on planets and inside the asteroids right before the first alien attacks.

INT: Her ironical approach of the utopias, bordering on the Swift-esque but at the same time never emulating him, was very refreshing.

R: And she was funny as hell too.

INT: We could also mention Malik’s The Orbits

R: The Orbits is a fascinating read. Almost incantatory poetic prose. Reminded me of Kahlil Gibran. And Alan Moore.

INT: Indeed.

R: You recognise those names? I am in awe.

INT: They are classics as well. Archaeoclassics, cultural artefacts of the distant past.

R: I can’t cease wondering how humankind fared until now having literally all the knowledge of recorded history on your fingertips and burying it in your mycelia.

(two heartbeats of bewilderment)

INT: Our history is well recorded and embedded in the programming of the fungal patches we use. What is your experience with them?

R: Am I experienced? Fuck yeah. I remember it all: sticky fingers. The sound of silence. And then: purple haze. The sky with diamonds. Shine on you crazy diamond. All that jazz.

INT: That word again. Care to elaborate?

(three seconds of a strange sound; something is then whispered, too low for the transcription to catch; possibly: ‘jazz hands’?)

INT: Are you using a patch as we speak?

R: I don’t need one. I’m from Earth.

INT: You mentioned the alien attacks. This was a dark period in human history.

R: This was almost our final moment.

INT: You emoted in your hallucination First Fungus that it was ‘the penultimate sentence in the longest manuscript ever written in recorded history of the collective consciousness of humankind.’

R: The last sentence is still to be written, or emoted for that matter, but at that time I wasn’t so sure.

INT: Despite all the horrors, that time also gave birth to a whole lot of narratives…

R: Saint-George’s opera Obliterati is the turning point of all of them.

INT: You are aware that still today there are some people who think that you hallucinated it.

R: And I still have fun every single time someone points it out to me.

INT: Why do you think it happens?

R: Maybe because my audience knows I’m not a reliable narrator.

INT: What is your narrative?

(five heartbeats of silence)

R: Born on Earth. Got off during the First Diaspora. There was life on Mars then. I lived there.

INT: Were you there when the Obliteration occurred?

R: No. I had just returned to bury my parents.

INT: Who died in a pandemic.

R: Yes.

INT: That must have been hard.

R: It was a long time ago.

INT: You were at their place when it happened, right? It was a good thing you lived in one of the cities with the experimental Pauli units.

R: Strange contraption, that. If I believed in something, I would call it a veritable infernal device. It folds space and time and all the savage capitalistic drive of Earth could think of was, hey, let’s use this to double the number of apartments in seedy condos. Filthy lucre. One good thing the Diaspora gave us is the absence of money. Too bad it also gave us the unbearable lightness of memory.

INT: Speaking of which: in your memories, you confess you never felt survivor’s guilt.

R: I am shocked. Shocked! That you even know what survivor’s guilt is.

INT: And yet.

R: Not quite true. I felt some of the effects related to survivor’s guilt. But it was probably much more due to the aftershock of the sudden time displacement than any other thing.

INT: In an earlier interview, you theorised that this guilt might be one of the reasons behind the hikikomori behaviour…

R: I only heard of the hikikomori much later. Until then, I never even heard that word before. So beautiful a word for such an unspeakable experience: being so terrified of getting outdoors that you shut yourself, not only inside your house or room, but, and in this particular respect it makes one’s head reel, inside your head, because how can you behave any different after watching your homeworld being obliterated?

INT: The fact was that everyone out of phase when Earth was obliterated suffered a temporal dislocation – but nobody had ever even known of such a weird notion. The concept that the bubbles attached to Earth’s surface could somehow survive to its destruction was never considered.

R: So we came here – into my future. Your present.

INT: It’s your present too.

R: And my past as well.

INT: How many of you?

R: The last count was of 17 million people on Earth, scattered among so many cities, almost all of them in Third World countries, which still existed long after the First Diaspora. Most of them probably died of starvation and lack of oxygen before being rescued. Some are still out there in the void.

INT: And how did you manage to get here?

R: Sheer luck, I suppose. But I almost didn’t make it.

INT: You describe this ordeal very graphically in your book Seven Days.

R: Which I wrote, not emoted.

INT: Right.

R: And I have nothing to add to that.

INT: Where did you end up?

R: In the Phalanstère Divisioniste Saint-Simon. Also known as Refuge Eleven for the uninitiated. I like the idea of different names for the same place. Very postcolonial. I say this unironically.

INT: You must have worked a lot there.

R: I did. It was one of the most exciting times of my life. To live in a post-utopia is better than to be dead. And the Phalanstères, with their organised labyrinths inside asteroids and very hard living rules but at the same time so human, so quaint, so antiquated, so old-fashioned. I couldn’t have loved humanity more.

INT: And you appeared right at the time of the Exile.

R: All is in the timing.

INT: You worked directly transporting refugees, but you don’t write much about it in your mémoire Os Últimos.

R: I was part of a collective. I didn’t do much, to be honest. Didn’t want to blow things out of proportion.

INT: Care to talk about it now?

R: Not really.

INT: Your use of wit is very dexterous. You manage to leave more things unsaid than actually telling important things about you in that mémoire.

INT: My next rock band will be called Your Use of Wit.

(one heartbeat of sadness)

INT: Please don’t run. I really want to know.

R: Why?

(two heartbeats of because)

INT: Raymond is not your birth name.

R: A birth name is a name others chose for you. Even if they meant well – and they usually did – there is no way they could possibly know who you would become in the greater scheme of things, or even in the smaller scheme, your own private scheme. The ancient traditions, lost forever in time now, as the American tribes, like the Oglala Sioux, the Navajos in the North, the Aztecs in Central America and the Yanomami in the South, always gave their children names before and after a rite of passage. Before, they were usually called ‘son-or-daughter-of’ an adult member of the tribe. After, either they chose their own names or they went into a journey of discovery, which might or might not involve xamanistic rituals, animals of power and other revealing symbols, who chose their names for them. Alas, our current society in flight doesn’t allow us that – names and their meanings escape between our fingers. Our language is getting mixed, which is a good thing, ne c’est pas? but is also getting reduced to its baser elements, which is terrible, and can expose us to utter domination by the enemy in the end. The more complex and adaptable languages always win the cultural wars.

I also had a rite of passage: it was those days in limbo. After that, I was not the same man. Nobody knew who I was anymore. That is, eventually they found the records in shreds of some data cloud record, but they didn’t mean a thing to them. So, I changed my name.

INT: Why Raymond?

R: Raymond Llull, mediaeval poet. Raymond Roussel, proto-surrealist writer of the twentieth century. Raymond Queneau, mathematician-poet of the same time period. These three are my holy trinity.

INT: Funny. Not Derek Raymond?

R: I’m disappointed but not surprised. Somehow I thought you’d come up with that. Did his Factory novels survive?

INT: All of them.

R: Not Llull? Not Roussel? Mais pas Queneau, putain de la merde?

INT: I’m afraid our audience wouldn’t recognize these names.

R: Locus solus. Solilóquios. Solis Loquius. Llull, lluvia, Thuvia Maid of Mars! Mas Marte não há mais. A Terra é apenas um retrato na parede, mas como dói.

(two heartbeats of anger and pain)

R: Why aren’t we speaking Français, by the way?

INT: Is Français your first language?

R: Nein. Bu. Ghobe!

INT: Then why?

R: Are you sure you want to go this way? Again?

(two heartbeats of hesitation)

INT: Well, speaking of Raymonds, off the top of my head I can also remember Alex Raymond.

R: This should be a capital offence in this society.

INT: What?

R: Stealing one’s thunder. Or should I say flash?

(whistling; tune unknown)

R: Bring on the Raymonds, baby.

INT: Why do I get the impression you are evading the subject?

R: It would help a lot if I knew the subject.

INT: But who are you?

(more whistling, this time syncopated; tune unknown)

INT: Who is this Raymond in front of me?

R: Once I was white in Brazil. Black in Germany. Latino in the US. Big in Japan. Not so much in England. Male to my girlfriends. Female to the one man I ever loved; I was native of Earth once, but after thirty years I became a Mars native. An unknown writer on both worlds, the last science fiction writer in human civilization now. Answers may vary. They usually do.

INT: Why is that, you think?

R: Who are you? And why you?

(a click and a whirring; a sigh; the delicate sound of tears in the background; fragment ends)

Fábio Fernandes has published several books, among which the novels Back in the USSR (in Portuguese), the collection Love, An Archaeologyand the steampunk novella Under Pressure (both in English). He translated into Brazilian Portuguese several sf novels, including Neuromancer and A Clockwork Orange and co-edited the anthology We See a Different Frontier (UK), and the anthology Solarpunk (Italy). Formerly reviewer for SF Signal and slush reader for Clarkesworld Magazine.

Dante Luiz is an illustrator, art director for Strange Horizons, and occasional writer from southern Brazil. He is the interior artist for Crema (comiXology/Dark Horse), and his work with comics has also appeared in anthologies, like Wayward Kindred, Mañana, and Shout Out, among others. Find him on Twitter or his website.

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