Birds and the Vagaries of Reality; It’s All Just Too Complicated.

An Out-take from Sounds out of Time

Martin Davis, defrocked rock star, sat clutching his coffee cup. The warm porcelain soothed his perpetually cold fingertips, a curse on these frigid Nordic countries. Out the window, jagged peaks were hard etched into a blazing blue sky. The sanitarium’s garden was far too green. The lake’s indigo was far too indigo. Nature screeched with too much colour and harsh line, far too much for his shattered nerves. How he suffered.

He sipped the coffee. Caffeine might take the edge off his black mood and the relentless cravings, but wouldn’t it be better if he could transform caffeine into cocaine molecule by molecule? Shouldn’t be too much to ask. After all, Pam had come by bird attracting superpowers out of the blue and for absolutely no reason. Somebody of his stature, or former stature, deserved one small chemical superpower.

Somebody plopped down on the lounge chair opposite. So rude. The facility had several small lounge areas. Why must this toadstool intrude? The bloke crossed one institutional powder-blue jumpsuit-clad leg over the other. According to the clinic director, Dr Bauthman, the unisex outfits equalised all inmates. But as far as he was concerned, the jumpsuits only made everybody look like extras in a sci-fi film. And this bloke in front of him belonged in sick-bay or the brig.

Yes, with one eye squinted, the other eye open wide as if terrified, but terrified only on one side of his body, this bloke was undoubtedly one of the mental cases.
Even the jumpsuits couldn’t disguise the fact that two classes of inmate occupied this sanatorium: addicts and mental cases. The addicts were his set: higher class, more interesting, and suffering agonies he could relate to. Whereas the mental cases were…strange, talking nonsense, moving oddly, or staring off into space. But the unrealistic director felt both populations should mix and mingle. His eyes began to roll as he considered the doctor’s do-goodism. But bloody hell! Half way through the roll, he’d made the worst mistake one could make. He’d made eye contact with a madman.

The nutter shook his close-cropped head and wagged a finger. “Listen, man. Birds aren’t real.”

They weren’t? No, wait. Of course birds weren’t…were real. This statement confirmed his impression that the man was a mental case. As extra proof, he sounded American. Most Americans, even the sane ones, were completely crazy. Diets, religions, and conspiracy theories abounded across the pond; he knew. He’d just spent a year living in California, an epicentre of crazy. Of course, the English were mad as well, but British insanity was more genteel, often involving offbeat and obsessive hobbies such as niche gardening, bug collecting, or train spotting.

Just then, a plump grey bird fluttered by the window, alighted on a branch, and surveyed them with a beady eye, a dove of some kind, appearing gentle and possibly tame.

“See! Watching us. Just like I said,” Martin’s unwanted companion whispered. Then he covered his face with his hand and scurried off, darting looks behind himself, and ducking from doorway to chair to doorway as if pretending to be James Bond under fire.

***

A few days later, he was hard at work at his new job: folding. Doctor Bauhaus had stationed him in the laundry, thinking that the relative isolation would shield incredibly famous, handsome, and glamorous Martin Davis from unwanted attention. Although Martin almost always simultaneously wanted and didn’t want attention, he agreed with the doctor’s decision. His nerves were shattered, no, bullet riddled, no, eviscerated, and he needed peace and quiet. Besides, right now, he couldn’t trust himself around others. He’d already been snappish and otherwise not very rock-and-roll to a few fellow inmates.

The crisp hand towel held the scent of tumbled dry cleanliness, a sunshiny, bleachy smell that suggested all was right with the world. And he was an excellent folder; his creases always sharp, his folds uniform, and his stacks even. Maybe he wasn’t as quick as the others, but the task wasn’t about quantity, was it? No. The task was about perfection and soothing his nerves. And yes, sometimes he considered snorting the towels’ fine white cotton loops, but only on a bad day.

“Like I was telling you, it’s not birds. It’s B.I.R.D. Bio-electronic individual reconnaissance device.”

What? Oh. God. The bird-fixated nutter was here, in his laundry, folding at the table near the door! As expected, he was a poor folder. Uneven layers, bent corners, branched folds abounded in his done pile. Disastrous. Martin stepped over to serve as an example and provide some aid.

“I considered your hypothesis.” Years tuned to Open University were still paying off with words like “hypothesis.” “But what about the poops? Must be real to poop, mustn’t one.”

The bloke glanced around the room, as if expecting eavesdroppers, and whispered, “Tracking devices.”

Martin flapped open a towel for refolding. “Tracking devices?”

“Shh! Keep your voice down. Microelectronic radio-emitters embedded in a gel-like substrate. Why do you think eighty-five per cent of bird poop falls on cars and other vehicles? Think about it, man. They want to know where we go.”

“Perhaps, but how would you explain the mulberry tree?” He demonstrated his signature move, a crisp half-fold, then a tri-fold flip with the thumbs. Press the lower half to his belly then fold down, and voilà.

“What’cha mean?”

“The tree isn’t even on my Mum’s property. It leans over from Mrs Fitzhugh’s next door. Mrs Fitzhugh, by the way, sells shoes in town, hence she’s a person of no interest to the government and doesn’t even own a car. But flocks of birds land and eat those berries, squawking and flapping like real birds. Then they perch on the wire that runs to our house and shit purple all over Mum’s car.” Well, when he’d been living at home and had forgotten to pull the car into the garage, which was often because of the spider… “A real junker that car, and believe me, Mum is also of no interest to the government. Why track a suburban library assistant, I ask you? Consider with a clear head; most people aren’t that interesting. Are they? Most people’s worst crime is pinching the odd secretarial supply from the office. Following everybody via bird poop to track a few boxes of paperclips could never be worth the expense.”

Martin looked up, expecting a rebuttal, but the man had disappeared.

***

During his afternoon session with Dr Bathhouse, Martin stated his case in support of “real birds”. The doctor stroked his moustache, possibly covering up a smile. Not that Martin blamed the stout little subcontinental. The situation was entirely ridiculous.

“You were generous to carefully consider Mr Peterson’s theories.”

Still clinging to the idea Martin Davis was a good person, was he? Truth be told, Martin Davis was a gullible, thick witted rotter, a fact that’d been proved time and again.

“Well, Peterson was somewhat convincing, given his grasp of advanced technology. You don’t suppose he’s from another time?”

The doctor chuckled. “No, Mr Peterson is from this time, an era in which many struggle with critical thinking and rational thought. But Mr Peterson’s delusions have been especially persistent. I don’t recommend trying to argue him out of his theories.”

***

The next morning, Martin strolled the sanitarium’s extensive grounds hoping to clear his head of last night’s Technicolor monstrosity of a dream. Dr Baumner promised the dreams would pass, once he’d thoroughly detoxed. “Soon.” When exactly was soon? Not bloody soon enough.

He paused under a tree which was shedding little white things, petals or seeds. He bent and scooped up a handful. Oh, God. Suddenly, a heap of cocaine lay before him, and he was carefully carving it into lines with his monogrammed silver razor blade, the subtle scritch of razor across mirror. Gradually, he tamed the powder into perfectly straight parallel lines of ecstasy. Then the rolling of a C-note, a delicate snort, a numbing tang on his palate. He could almost feel the rush.

But, no. He was on his knees in a carpet of plant bits outside a dry-out clinic. Reality could be so cruel.

Peterson stepped from behind the tree. “Conspiracy goes back to J. Edgar himself. He commissioned NASA to design the bioelectrics and radio-frequency eye transmitters. He authorized the mass avicide. Without real birds, entire ecosystems are collapsing, thanks to the CIA. Happy to spell out the tie-in to Watergate, if you need me to.”

Martin ran his hand over the false-coke and silently grieved at the turn his life had taken. Sure, Doc Balustrade recommended against arguing with this lunatic. But damn it, if these tree-droppings couldn’t be cocaine, then bird-droppings couldn’t be radio-transmitters either. Fair was fair.

“Listen. It’s just not true. I know birds. My wife sings to birds, and they like her. They even protect her. So, I’ve seen birds up close. And very recently, a bird died from a gunshot, BAM, right in front of my face. Blood splattered everywhere—real blood, no wires, no gubbins, no knobs. And if the birds were real, the whale must’ve been real too. And it was! I felt the whale’s skin under my fingers. Trust me; it was real. So were the barnacles. Listen, NASA can put a man on the moon, but they can’t make a bioelectric whale with real-feeling skin. No way.”

Silence hung in the air like a group of friends ignoring a fart, the usual reaction to Martin Davis babbling nonsense. He sighed. It was all so exhausting.

Hands in pockets, head hanging, Peterson used the toe of his shoe to scrape a semicircle in the plant snow. “Sorry man. Sounds like you have serious problems. Better talk to the doc about the…um…whale.”

Then a plop sounded close to his left ear. He turned his head seeing a gooey bird dropping sliding down the shoulder of his powder-blue jumpsuit. Above, a big black crow loosed a raucous caw and winged away.

Peterson eyed the whitish goo and shot him a meaningful look. “Better clean that off ASAP.”

***

But was Peterson correct? Decide for yourself at https://birdsarentreal.com/

Time Travel Via Sea Anemone! Tentacle by Rita Indiana, A Review.

Pros: Fantastic world building. Interesting Dominican Republican setting complete with sea anemones and pirates. Rich prose. Excellent portrayals of unpleasant people in desperate circumstances.

Cons: Interesting and well-crafted but unlikeable characters who don’t grow. Disappointing ending.

 

 

 

Time travel by sea anemone powered by Olokun, the great spirit who knows what lies on the ocean floor: what’s not to like about a novel based on this premise? And initially, I was quite excited to read Tentacle by Rita Indiana. Because young Achilde is more than a transsexual maid living in a plague ridden Dominican Republic surrounded by a sludge-brown sea. He’s the chosen one, heir to oceanic power, the only one able to harness the power of a sea anemone electroencephalogram and travel back in time to save his homeland.

But what Achilde really wants is a sex-change operation, not a problem in of itself, but part of the problem with this novel; the principal characters are too busy chasing self-interest (drugs, desire, public acclaim) to take right action. And they don’t grow during the novel. I’d even categorise the other main character, failed artist Argenis, as a passive-aggressive narcissist, brilliantly portrayed, but being inside his mind while he self-destructs becomes a chore. Sure, both these characters haven’t had the best lives, even so, a touch more selflessness while they skate back and forth in time. would have been appreciated. Admittedly, the author convincingly conveys her character’s humanity but the type of humanity that will drive us to extinction. And I’m still hoping we’ll redeem ourselves.

The book ends very abruptly and on a multilevel betrayal. Hoping Olokun would whip a tentacle from the ocean and drag the protagonist to a watery grave, I flipped the page, only to encountered an advertisement. Disoriented, I thought, “how strange, the publisher inserting an advertisement into a book mid-chapter.” But sadly, our time tripping protagonist wouldn’t be reconsidering his choices. I would be reading an advertisement.

The ad, however, was of interest. Tentacle’s publisher, And Other Stories, sells subscriptions to offset the cost of releasing innovative literature. And while Tentacle may not tick all my literary boxes, I’d love to read more wildly creative literature from all over the world. If you agree, check out the And Other Stories website. Hopefully, this group will navigate COVID and continue to produce mind-blowing weirdness like time travel by sea anemone.

Replay by Ken Grimwood, a Review.

Experts claim that time travel into the past defies the universal laws of physics. But there’s no reason to allow pesky reality to interfere with good fiction.

So fictional travel back in time occurs rather frequently. And whether transported by a machine, magic objects, reincarnation or dream, characters find themselves back in time. Some times, the travel results in a ground hog day-like scenario, an awakening back to the early days of the character’s life. And this sort of backward time travel makes a great story because almost everybody can relate to the question: What if I had only…?

In Ken Grimwood’s novel, Replay, Jeff Winston wakes from a soured marriage, a mediocre career, and fatal heart attack to find himself in his eighteen-year-old body. Grimwood beautifully describes the confusion, melancholy and excitement a life reboot would evoke. And Jeff Winston’s tactics, as he faces the future with knowledge of what that future holds, feel realistic. After all, there’s a certain predictability to the answer to the question: how would a person live if they had a second chance? So the reader is along for the ride as Jeff loses himself in avarice, power, hedonism, saving the world, and love. Continue reading Replay by Ken Grimwood, a Review.

The Reincarnation of Tom by Aden Simpson, a Review.

Humorous and philosophical species-jumping time-travel.

The Reincarnation of Tom by [Aden Simpson]Cubical dwelling everyman, Tom Robinson, has a problem. He’s been hit by a bus, but fortunately a crystal shop purveyor has just provided him with the secret to remembering past lives. Now Tom will wake into a new life with the memory of his old life intact. Sounds great! Doesn’t it?

Problem is Tom immediately messes up because, like most of us, he’s morally average: a bit cowardly, an occasional liar and self-interested. He spends several lives popping back and forth in time, sampling different animal species and genders, while trying to game karma into reuniting him with an unrequited love. Naturally, Tom runs afoul of the reincarnation system and his fellow “reincarnation remembers” and various unfortunate events ensue.

This book raises many of the classic time travel questions, such “should one kill Hitler?” While addressing classic karma issues, such as “is being a vegetarian that necessary, especially when one has been reincarnated as a tiger?” And the answers to these questions are interspersed with nuggets of humour and wisdom. But sadly Tom never quite learns to stop meddling and go with the flow. In fact, Tom seems to be at his best as a tree.

The writing is excellent throughout, and I appreciated the exceptional proof-reading. The Reincarnation of Tom appears to be the second book from a talented, young self-publisher. I’m looking forward to reading more from this author.

Them Bones by Howard Waldrop, a Review

Bayou time travel adventure.

Time travel fiction encompasses many subcategories, and Them Bones by Howard Waldrop fits into a couple. The novel has an anthropological survival angle and an archaeological subplot, but also falls into the hail-Mary-backward-pass-last-ditch attempt to fix an untenable present.

The author presents three story threads; the most fleshed out relays the tale of Madison Yazoo Leake who hails from a “bombed-out time in which everybody would eventually die from radiation, from disease, from chemicals.” Continue reading Them Bones by Howard Waldrop, a Review

Sensors and Intuitives in Neal Stephenson’s Novel, Anathem

A successful character reads like a complete person with particular thought patterns and reactions, habits and tics. The best characters are consistent and believable, a person one might encounter in real life, for better or worse. How does an author fashion the mental world of diverse but credible characters? Continue reading Sensors and Intuitives in Neal Stephenson’s Novel, Anathem

A Review of The Echo Chamber by Rhett J. Evans

Pros: Clever set up, interesting characters, timely topics
Possible Cons: Video game style climax and villain-tells-all scene. Roving point of view and a fair bit of “tell.”

The Echo Chamber is in part a tale of tech-corporate malfeasance, involving a rogue AI, a blender and ruthless Silicon Valley executives who build a social media “echo chamber.” This hypnotic virtual reality seduces most of the world’s population, trapping people in their own memories or with a personalized preconceived-worldview-comfort-zone. This shadow world is a paradise for pundits who spew, to put it politely, “non-evidence-based ideas about people and the environment.” The company dodges moral responsibility, citing freedom of access, acceptance and inclusion. Moral blinders allow massive corporate expansion with “no constraints, no thought of consequences.” Continue reading A Review of The Echo Chamber by Rhett J. Evans