America In The Sky (In Memoriam) by Boris Glikman

Amerika in the Sky image by Rosa Seeyah

Image by Rosa Seeyah

Once again, I thank Australian author Boris Glikman for sharing this epic short, quirky, science fiction story with my readers!

America In The Sky (In Memoriam)

I recall  that day starting off ordinarily enough; there I was playing in the open field not that far from home, the sky azure with hardly a cloud blighting its face.

I was alone as usual, for my mother didn’t let me play with the other kids. I never really wanted to play with them anyway. I always knew I was different, I could see things that they could not and understood matters that they had no inkling of.

This disparity between my physical and mental development did cause me problems; there was always the inner conflict between the body’s desire to be a child, carefree and frivolous, and the mind’s desire to think deep thoughts, explore complexities and subtleties of the world, create abstruse theories.

That day the body scored a victory for there I was playing in the open field…

The lay of the land is so perfectly flat I can see unencumbered all the way to the horizon.

As the day proceeds, the heavens rotate slowly on their axis. Towards mid-morning something very odd catches my eye on the eastern horizon. It is something that I have never seen in the sky before but there it is before me, arising slowly from beneath the edge of the earth.

By some process, the continent of North America has become attached to the celestial sphere at the place where land and heavens meet and is slowly getting unravelled from the crust of the Earth.

America is now being carried along by the turning of the heavens. I can clearly see its unmistakable shape and the features of the land: the whiteness of Alaska, the mighty rivers, the mountain chains, the major cities, the wheat fields, the pine forests, the Mojave Desert.

At first, while the continent is still at a shallow angle in the sky, the North American people seem to be enjoying their unique experience, smiling, laughing, some even waving to me down below.

As the heavens continue their inexorable turning and the continent slowly approaches the celestial zenith, the fun and the mirth turns to panic and despair.

At midday the continent reaches the highest point in the sky, hanging precisely upside down and the Sun is eclipsed. Some rays are still able to sneak around the frayed edges of the landmass, but the diffracted beams are of a different hue to natural sunlight and create an eerily muted illumination.

The view from down below looks like a disturbed anthill on a gigantic scale, with millions of Americ-ants scurrying frantically in random directions, trying to save their colony from some uncouth hooligan poking at it with a stick. If not for the desperate gravity of the situation, it would be almost comical to observe the way that they are trying to cope with the catastrophe that has befallen them.

The people are now in their most precarious position, desperately trying to grab anything that is firmly rooted in the ground, to blades of grass, to soil itself. Even when they completely lose all grip on land, still they attempt to find some protuberance in the fabric of the sky that they can hold onto, to give themselves just one more instant of life.

Some of the people hold hands as they fall, others are kissing and hugging, while others still are engaged in more intimate activities. I look away, not wishing to intrude upon the privacy of their last significant moments together.

As the continent remains in the apex of the sky, buildings’ foundations start to loosen, roots of plants are no longer able to cling to the soil; the once mighty rivers empty their banks in cataclysmic downpour of unprecedented proportions.

After all the signs of civilisation and life – buildings, forests, houses – disappear, the ground itself begins to give way and disintegrate. The earth slowly loses its compactness and adhesiveness, dripping down in small spurts at first and then in great lumps. Here and there, the liquid magma substratum is peeking through the locations where the entire continental crust fallen off.

As the whole continent continues to break up, a colossal downpour of bodies, concrete, trees, mud, water, cars, houses, rock, soil all mixed up together into a terrible blend, threatens to engulf the world below and destroy our lives too.

Thankfully, some clouds appear and block these scenes of suffering and chaos, but then they quickly disperse and again I am unable to look away.

But what right do I have to look, God-like, upon the numberless agonies? Who am I, a small boy, to watch scenes of suffering so terrifying that even Death itself turns its bony face away in fright?

After an interminable span of time, the continent begins to move away from the zenith.  The Sun re-appears in the sky, whole and wholesome, able to shine again. For a moment it seems to me that the sky is empty and blue, with its innocence intact, just the way it appeared early this morning. But morning happened a million irreparable lives ago, in that innocent era when things like this could not be envisaged.

A fortunate few have managed to somehow survive the nearly total destruction of the landscape of North America and they are approaching the horizon and security of the ground again. Thank goodness they now will be able to land safely and be lauded as heroes.

Alas, my hopes are proven to be woefully inaccurate. For when this ill-fated continent reaches the horizon again, it collides sharply with the unyielding ground that is already there. Two continents attempt to occupy the same location at the same time and one of them has to lose out.

Northern Canada and Alaska are the first to go. Bit by bit they are torn apart as the stationary earth refuses to shift and stands firm its ground and those remaining alive, that I thought would be the lucky survivors, are crushed to dust.  A horrible grinding noise is created that resounds across the span of the land, like a million fingernails scraping together across an inconceivably large blackboard.

I cannot help but rush to their aid, to try to save at least some lives. Suddenly I halt as I remember that the horizon is an illusory point in the distance that keeps receding further and further as you walk towards it and so I would never be able to reach the doomed ones.

By now, more than half the continent has been ground into fine powder as the merciless process continues without ceasing. The major metropolises of the United States, the founts of so much knowledge, art, music and creative energy are being pulverised into nothingness.

Icy pieces of Alaska intermingle with the glassy shards of New York City and with bits of tinsel of Los Angeles. Would it ever be possible to reconstruct America from these clouds of dust?  Civilisations, cities, entire countries have been rebuilt from ruins before, but this is annihilation on a thoroughly unmitigated scale, from which there’s surely no coming back.

“Well, there goes the New World. ” I think wistfully.  “ No longer will we have America in our lives. It is all gone in the cruelest fashion, right before my very eyes.  And yet, its ashes and dust will settle all over the world, infusing every cell of the remaining planet.  Forever more, it will provide fertilisation for the world to go on growing and progressing the way America once did and we will be able to say proudly that we now all have a little bit of America in our very souls.”

Many years have now passed since the day we lost America.

The world gasped, the world cried, the world mourned, and then it went on living. For a long time afterwards, all our activities down on earth seemed insignificant and frivolous by comparison with what transpired up above.

Ships were forbidden from approaching the ugly scar that lay across what was once the New World. However, that didn’t stop the morbid sightseers from making their way there to gawk at what became known as Ground Absolute Zero or taking chartered flights over what was once a mighty country, bustling with life.

Every time that I look up, I see it all again: the chaos, the panic, the destruction, America writhing in its death throes, a thousand lives being cut short with each passing minute.

In the end, however, what I have written is only a crude and clumsy depiction. Words that I have used to convey what I saw and felt that day are now impotent, bloodless beings that have lost their vital life-force together with America. And so I will speak no more, except in that most authentic and most profound language of all – absolute silence.

 

The Day Death Died by Boris Glikman

The Day Death Died image by Andy Paciorek

Image by Andy Paciorek

It’s time for another quirky short story from Australian author Boris Glikman. Death is a topic that has been on my mind a lot over the last couple of years as I’ve lost so many people I’ve known and loved so this concept is particularly thought-provoking for me. Enjoy!

THE DAY DEATH DIED

It was widely known that Death had been ill for some time. Its poor health made it rather slipshod in the execution of its duties. Whole generations were being taken away in the flower of their youth, while other people were living for an extraordinarily long time, over 400 years in certain cases.

For a while Death hovered in a half-alive condition, with one foot in the grave, and mankind held its breath, fearing that it would rally and make a complete recovery.

And then the day came when Death breathed its last and nobody could believe their good fortune. It was hard to grasp that Death no longer dwelled in the world, and that one’s life would never again be burdened with the ever-present spectre of extinction hovering nearby. No one would have to grapple any more with the problem of incorporating one’s own demise into their lives.

The most eminent pathologists of the land were assigned the task of performing autopsy on Death. Their unanimous conclusion was that it died of natural causes. What nobody had suspected was that Death possessed a finite life span. Everyone always assumed that it would live forever, yet it too carried within itself the lethal seeds of mortality.

The next most pressing issue on the agenda was the burial of Death. Issues that never have been considered before needed to be addressed urgently, for the world wanted to be sure that Death really was dead and would not rise again. Where should the funeral ceremony be held? According to which religion’s rites should the memorial service be conducted? Who should give the eulogy? Where to entomb it?

The matter of whom to invite for the service proved to be the most intractable issue of all. It was nearly impossible to determine who was genuinely grief-stricken by Death’s passing and who only wanted to attend the ceremony so as to be a part of a historic occasion.

Eventually, all of these matters were resolved, although not to everyone’s satisfaction, and the world gave Death the sending off that it deserved. Straight after the funeral, the world kicked up its heels and started to celebrate.

After the wave of joy at being liberated from its tyrannical rule had abated, people sobered up and started to remember the ways that Death had helped out in the past.

They recalled with fondness Death’s unique ability to resolve every inextricable problem of existence; its unmatched faculty of erasing all pain, shame and misery; how it provided an honourable solution to hopeless situations and readily offered its helping hand to anyone that would ask for it; the way that it brought equality to the world and granted everlasting rest to the weary.

Religions could no longer survive without Death, for their appeal and authority derived from the promise of ideal existence in the next world. New religions arose which prophesied that one day mortality would return to Earth and that the virtuous would be rewarded with Eternal Death.

Mankind recognised how fundamentally it depended upon Death’s existence for the maintenance of social order and peaceful international relations. Given that capital punishment and armed conflicts ceased holding any threat to a person’s life, nothing stood in the way of lawlessness and immorality in human affairs, and countries went to war on the slightest pretext.

Life soon lost its meaning, for Death had been needed to provide the contrast that distinguished being from non-being. Without it, existence seemed tedious, no longer worth enduring.

Each human being was forced to find the strength to face a baffling future in which the saving grace of demise was no longer present. Only then was it realised how Death had woven its fateful thread into every aspect of man’s existence and how much had been irremediably lost the day Death died.

The Day Of The Triffids: A Special FX Schlockfest!

DVD REVIEW
Title: The Day Of The Triffids
Studio/Distributor: eOne Films
Director: Nick Copus
Principle Cast: Dougray Scott, Joely Richardson, Eddie Izzard, Brian Cox, Vanessa Redgrave, Jason Priestley
Length: 180 minutes
Released: 2009
Stars: 2.0

I never read the post-apocalyptic 1951 novel by John Wyndham, nor did I see the original 1962 movie – which I have been told by a reliable source was really quite scary – starring Howard Keel and Nicole Maurey.  However, Nick Copus’ 2009 version of The Day of The Triffids is a two part television mini-series (in this special 2-disc edition) that’s half science fiction / adventure survival story, half love story and 100% bloody cheesy!

The Triffids are giant carnivorous plants that are part aloe vera, part Venus fly trap, with purple, grim reaper-hooded heads.  Genetic scientists have created this “Frankenstein fuel crop” that produces ethanol-type oil.  Triffoil out sells petrol at the pumps but now Mother Nature has decided to take her revenge on the humans who have all but destroyed the planet and it’s the Triffids’ turn to reclaim it.

Triffids use their tentacly roots to ensnare their victims so they can drag them off and sting them with their long, poisonous stamen daggers.  In this version, Triffids always go for the eyes, and their venom causes paralysis and heart attack, while after death they feed on the rotting, meaty corpses.

This story is primarily set in London, England in a future that appears to look remarkably like the present.  After a cataclysmic solar flash hits Earth and renders 99% of its inhabitants blind, the seeing are left to rebuild their world while taking care of the sightless and trying to figure out a way to deal with the male Triffids who have escaped their farms (where they’re genetically engineered) before they can pollinate the females and destroy the human race.  The survivors bid for power to try to stay one step ahead of a megalomaniac named Torrence (played with glee and much ill-placed humour by the British transvestite / stand-up comedian, Eddie Izzard who is the best thing about this production), as well as these crazy man-eating plants.

Bill Masen (the handsome but rather dour Dougray Scott) is a scientist who has been researching Triffids and works for the Triffoil companies that we later discover his father founded.  His mother and father were also research scientists and his mother was killed by a Triffid many years before in Zaire, when Bill was six.  His father (Brian Cox) made his fortune setting up Triffoil, which ultimately led to saving the world from global warming, but he was always too busy to have any time for his now estranged son.  Masen narrates parts of the story in a monotone reminiscent of The Road Warrior.

Joely Richardson plays a radio presenter named Jo Payton, an avant garde, forward-thinking woman who becomes the love interest for Bill Masen.  Her mother, Vanessa Redgrave, portrays the head nun of a country abbey who fancies herself the Queen Bee and decides that she has the right to play God.  Jason Priestley is Major Coker, one of the sighted who believes that it’s his job to take care of the blind and make sure that anyone else who can see does the same.  The cast sold me on watching this movie, but they couldn’t save it from being the crap that it is.

As the story opens, a plant activist named Walter (Ewen Bremner of Trainspotting fame) breaks into the Triffoil refinery to set the Triffids free.  While Masen tries to stop him, he gets stung in the eye by a baby Triffid and ends up in a hospital with bandages over his eyes when the devastating solar flash occurs.  In the meantime, Torrence survives a spectacular plane crash with his sight intact because he was wearing a sleep mask when it struck, so he sets off to take full advantage of the fact that he’s one of the few who can still see and soon devises an evil plan.  Once the Triffids escape the farms, they head for the nearest food source, which is of course, humans.

According to the bonus feature, CGI and green screen was used almost every day of the shoot.  Dougray Scott admitted that he found it difficult to deal with and it shows.  His character seems to loosen up and display more human emotions in the second half of the series, but throughout most of the first half, he wears the same stoic expression on his face all the time and I guess that the director didn’t notice.

The movie looks cool and stylized but the whole time you’re watching, you’re rolling your eyes, exclaiming, “As if!”, and thinking, “I should have smoked a big spiff before I watched this thing!”  It seems that the team in charge of sound effects couldn’t quite make up their minds about what the Triffids should sound like because sometimes they slither and rattle like snakes, sometimes they scream like panthers, and other times they just make a strange insect-like burring noise.

There are several holes in the story, one of them being that we never really know whether or not any other country aside from England has suffered the same fate.  It’s just assumed by the characters.  In the end, our heroes escape in a row boat to the Isle of Wight where the Triffids can’t get them as they are separated by the sea, but there are a lot of islands on Planet Earth so wouldn’t that mean that there would be many, many different places where new communities could form to reinvent their lives?

Bonus features on the DVD include trailers for other eOne Films and an approximately 34 minute long documentary of The Making of the Day of the Triffids.  It’s hard to believe when watching it that the director, producers and cast took the whole project so seriously and were so earnest about it when it is in fact nothing more than a popcorn movie that’s a special FX schlockfest.

Masen’s character ends the movie with this reflection:

“Future generations will ask how it happened.  How did the world get swallowed up so quickly?  It was because we had our eyes closed even when we could see.”

You know, there are times when it might not be so bad to be blind.

The Chemical Garden Trilogy: Wither by Lauren DeStefano is a Winner!

Book Review
Title: The Chemical Garden Trilogy: Wither
Author: Lauren DeStefano
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Released: March 2011
Pages: 368
ISBN-10: 1442409053
ISBN-13: 978-1-4424-0905-7
Stars: 4.0

I am a fortunate recipient of an advance reader’s copy of debut novelist Lauren DeStefano’s The Chemical Garden Trilogy: Wither, published by Simon & Schuster. Wither is the first piece of this dystopian puzzle and although it is recommended for ages 14+, I was charmed by it and could not put it down. Wither is a refreshing, unique and dazzling story (despite comparisons made to The Handmaid’s Tale), filled with compelling characters that leap off the page. While it does raise a few questions, I chose not to analyze the life out of it and just enjoyed it for the pleasurable fantasy read that it is. I can already completely envision the movie version and don’t think I’m remiss in saying that fans of the Twilight series will undoubtedly enjoy this too.

In the not-too-distant future, Earth has almost been entirely obliterated by a viral plague created through genetic engineering that has wiped out every continent except for North America. In this nightmare, males only live to be 25-years-old and females only live to age 20, raising the questions, “What if you knew when you were going to die?” How would you choose to live your life?

Sixteen-year-old Rhine Ellery is a beautiful, intelligent orphan with hemochromatic eyes (one brown, one blue) who has been kidnapped by “Gatherers” and sold at auction as a bride to a rich governor. She is torn away from the only life she knows in an almost unrecognizable Manhattan where her twin brother Rowan works in a factory to support them while it’s her job to keep their ramshackle home safe from looters.

Rhine isn’t a special victim, but rather the norm, as there are few things left for young women in this new world to do but be sold into slavery to propagate the species. Only the beautiful are chosen as brides while the others become prostitutes or are murdered.

Rhine finds herself living in a picturesque but sinister Florida mansion – decorated with holograms and steeped in illusion – and wedded to a naïve, young Governor Linden Ashby. Linden, a would-be architect, is mourning the impending death of his true love and first wife, Rose, while being completely controlled by his creepy, geneticist father, Housemaster Vaughn (a first generation who didn’t succumb to the plague), who lets everyone think he’s working on an antidote for the fatal disease.

Rhine has two sister wives: (polygamy is also not unusual in this new world) 13-year-old Cecilia, a bratty redhead who was born in an orphanage and never knew her parents – so has little problem adjusting to life as a rich man’s child bride – and 18-year-old Jenna, a sad, introverted brunette whose sisters are murdered in the same van she was taken away in when she was captured.

Rhine befriends Rose, who soon dies, and whose body is mysteriously transported to the basement, never to be given a proper funeral. Cecilia takes her place as Linden’s new lover, and before long becomes pregnant with his child. Jenna’s relationship with her husband is only sexual as she refuses to give him her heart, while Rhine rejects the consummation of her marriage and instead befriends a kind and empathetic servant named Gabriel whom she comes to trust. (It was a little hard to believe that she would have been able to continuously deny her husband who clearly had his way with the others.)

On the outside, Rhine’s world is one of glamour, parties, growing friendships with her sister wives and an orange grove utopia, while the reality is one of ugly secrets, danger and the dance of the Grim Reaper.

This first person narrative is thoughtfully conveyed in Rhine’s voice, with moral dilemmas always close to the surface, and her relationships with the other characters are as well developed and realistic as they can be in a science fiction setting. We know Rhine is biding her time by pretending to want to be Linden’s first wife until she can figure out a way to escape. We also know that there’s something inherently evil going on in the basement of the mansion and that although Vaughn is supposedly carrying out DNA experiments to find a cure, nothing is what it appears to be. We also know by the end of this page turner that we’re not going to get to know what happens to Rhine and Gabriel until the next edition of the trilogy. By then, you will be completely sucked into the story and will have to read the next book! And believe me, I will.

Bravo Lauren DeStefano! You’re going to have a very successful writing career.