Zach Galligan is coming to save us. Not the Galligan you know, or don’t know, as the case may be. Not a Galligan at all, not really, but infinite worlds with infinite incarnations are confusing enough without quibbling over a name, without searching for the seam on the hero’s mask. Let him be Galligan, then, for it can be no other—there’s no mistaking those boyish good lucks, that charming smile, the glint of pure goodness that flashes in his eye…and the monsters that forever surround him.
Cristina Algarotti, Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Sunday (Howells 2018), 292pp
The main character in Algarotti’s new novel is an artificial intelligence, a consciousness spun out of a cat’s-cradle of linked supercomputers (some on earth, some in orbit, one on the moon), called Lah Rïd 7040qb, known as Lala by its developers. The opening chapters are all told from the point of view of Lala: how s/he comes into awareness, his/her friendships with Lance and Kuoh (his/her favourites amongst the programmers and developers). She’s a charmer, is Lala: vastly knowledgeable and sensitive, creative and accomplished. Through her eyes we see the wonder of the world as if for the first time. Algarotti effortlessly sketches in her interplanetary future, its gleaming tech, its marvellous ruins, explosions throwing out lotus-petals of light, crowds pulsing along the superhighways, webbing between Earth and Moon, and humanity’s hopes for reaching the stars.
The book was big and heavy, which meant it would burn well. Ree ran her fingers over the embossed cover before opening it. The leather was a little damp, of course, but not sodden, and the pages inside were crisp and dry. She tore out the first page and threw it onto the fire.
"To parasitise. To live off other forms of life whatever forms they have or will take."
"And what separates the forms, humans and animals, from artificial life?"
We well know what are the requisite conditions of life on the earth; and we can go no further for grounds of inference; for if we were to start by assuming forms of life capable of existence under conditions widely and essentially different from those pertaining to our planet, there would be no need for discussing our subject further: we could revel in conjectures, without a thought as to their extravagance. The only legitimate phase of the question we can entertain is this: can there be on the moon any kind of living things analogous to any kind of living things upon the earth? And this question, we think, admits only of a negative answer....
Literature requires the least capital of any enterprise with the possibilities of rich reward and wide renown. A pen, a bottle of ink, a ream of paper, and — brains. These are all. There is no occupation so discouraging to the one who lacks the last-named quality and few so alluring to those who possess it.
1Q84, a no longer new novel by beloved Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami, is the story of Aomame, a feminist vigilante assassin who uses her seductive wiles to kill deserving if unsuspecting men in service of an aging widow with an ex Japanese special forces soldier as her bodyguard. Along with her childhood love, Tengo, Aomame is pulled into a parallel universe in which she must oppose a secretive cult in service of a strange race of alien fae. Aomame becomes embroiled in an attempt to stop these shadowy, possibly demonic figures by assassinating the leader of said cult, who is also molesting his daughter. Meanwhile, Tengo wanders through a surreal, shadowy Japan, trying to find Aomame and return safely to their original reality.
It is impossible to express from the above (accurate) summary how absolutely mind-numblingly boring this books is. You would not believe it. I don’t really believe it, and I read it. It is so insanely boring that one might almost see some spark of genius in Murakami’s ability to entirely denude potentially exciting scenes, like murdering a cultist or having sex with a changeling ingenue, into an experience akin to reading a stereo manual. Let me be clear; I like boring books. I prefer boring books, mostly, to interesting books--but I cannot stand to be lied to. “This is not a bacon cheeseburger!” I want to yell. “This is salmon, and it’s raw in the middle!” At one point, presumably as a meta-reference to the reader’s own misery, Aomame sits in a room for a very long time and reads À la recherche du temps perdu. I would urge you to follow her example, rather than mine. Come to that, I would recommend you let someone drop Proust’s unannotated work on your big toe, rather than tackle 1Q84.
She talked to her pet in pet-voice, smushing its cheeks and speaking close enough that her breath made its nose twitch, the high-pitched ’Ello!, the very rhetorical questions asked in a voice made ogreish by coming from her kiss-shaped mouth, with affirming reflexive declarations, ‘Yes you are!’ and so on. In a handheld mirror she was showing the pet images it couldn’t understand, first among them itself. Then she showed one of the young women who’d once approached the castle. In continuing pet-voice, she acted out an explanation of what the images meant.
The words are pretty great, and they're accompanied by a cover by one of our all time-favourites (and former resident contributor!): Joey Hi-Fi. Taking advantage of the situation (as one does), we asked both the author and the artist a few questions...
EJ, what was the process in approaching Paris Adrift? How'd you go about the messy task of plotting/composing a novel that skips around in time?
EJ: I’d wanted to write about Paris since I spent 18 months living there after university, but it was the experience of working the night shift and having your body clock completely reversed that really sparked the idea of Paris Adrift. Time travel was a way to explore a lifestyle that felt at times surreal, and also some of the city’s fascinating history.
As for plotting - let’s just say it involved hair-tearing and the shape of the book changed a lot along the way.
The explosions have stopped, and in their absence a raw quiet unfolds. The bunker feels empty and cold, as if the people it harbours are already dead and have been for some time. Outside, what looks like snow is falling. It is not snow. Figures lurch past the cameras, sudden ghosts, there then gone. Inga breathes out. Breathes mist. In the confinement of the underground space, she listens to her thoughts detonating one by one.
This is the calm before the storm.
This time—this storm—will be the end.
There is a chance to fix this, but it means breaking everything they believe in. All that they’ve worked and sacrificed to preserve.
“The heating’s gone.”
That’s Toshi, the eldest of them.
Inga looks about the bunker, observing her depleted crew. Only a handful of history’s incumbents remain. Some have died during their travels through time, or have taken their own lives. Most have been buried never knowing the truth about their nature—perhaps they are the lucky ones. Others are yet to be born. Might never be born, now. Those too, she envies. What is left of the House of Janus is a world-weary collective, traumatised by experience and the implausibility of what has happened to them.