The Post-Gibson Continuum Continuum by William Matheson
(Note: This served as my term "paper" for Recent Science
Fiction. I got an A. Why not A+? It was twice the assigned length. Anyway,
I can only halfheartedly reccomend this for general consumption.)
(Warning: Please don't be a dipshit and use this for your paper next semester. She'll remember I wrote this.)
far back as I can remember, I’ve never been a good reader. I grew up in
a world of Everquest: immers and Quake IV, both of which I frequent
increasingly. I’m only able to express myself decently now because I got
stuck in one of those stupid Gibson worlds for twenty years with nothing
else to do but learn more English, but I’ll get to that in a minute.
My friend Laura, by contrast, is a very good reader, more so than her inch-thick glasses and total lack of hand-eye coordination might indicate. I met her on Spring Garden Road one day when we both jaywalked at the same time to avoid a panhandler. I asked her for her number and she said something like “9024557999” but when I plugged it into ICQ, nothing came up, so I had to find another way to get to know her. My parents unplug me every day and send me to Saint Mary’s University by bus, and since the bus only runs once a day I have little choice but to actually go to class. I noticed she was reading a paperback entitled “Burning Chrome” which I assumed had to be science fiction since the cover art was so abstract.
With that as a clue, I joined the Recent Science Fiction class, and there she was. I was there when she opened her mouth to comment on Gibson’s “Hinterlands,” and before I could protest, I was transplanted into a Salyut capsule for something that seemed like twenty years. I don’t meant to be so curt, but nothing happened except that I gained a few more pounds and like I said, I learned how to write and stuff because I had nothing else to do. Then there was this weird bit where they showed me a new equation that covered more things than Einstein’s did, but by then I was out of paper, so I guess those Heaven surrogates are just screwed, plus I came back to reality just after the equation experience. I didn’t commit suicide like the characters did because I knew it was a made-up story the whole time, but unfortunately I found it impossible to ‘wake up’ from, until I came back to hear Laura say, “... isn’t it, Dr. Harry?”
After that I stopped reading the stories. I tried to stop listening to Laura, fearful of another such experience, but they continued to happen anyway. The worst one happened when she asked me to accompany her on an inner-city bus to the library to check out a novel for her term paper. We got stuck in traffic.
“If I ever invent warp engines,” I complained, “I’m putting them on a bus. This is taking too damn long, and these seats are too damn small.” Actually, I was using two seats, but together they were barely enough to support my 420-pound frame. My girlfriend from PEI weighed 611 pounds, but since we only have sex with our avatars, it doesn’t really matter to me. I don’t want to talk about the “pork chop desks” in McNally East Wing right now.
“It’s funny that you say that because most of the science-fiction lately has abandoned the notion of fast interstellar travel and instead explores the new frontiers of inner space.”
“Yeah, I’m all for that-“
“However, some writers write stories that caution us against going too far off in that direction, as we are biological beings after all, needing physical infrastructure such as this bus and real sustenance such as Aramark.”
“Yuck. Give me Everquest over this crap any unplugged time unit of the week.”
“Or, what would you think of a post-cyberpunk version of our city of Halifax?”
“Oh, no, no! No!! NOOO-”
but it was too late; I was sucked into the mental vortex and before I could
sit on her or something I was deposited in another bus in another Halifax.
Even the bus itself had been improved to meet the future; it was smaller
and slower and had many more people standing, no doubt to improve their
digestion, and I’m sure the common “ALF” acronym stood for “All
Love standing on the Floor.”
I got off the bus and looked at a map. To my consternation, I saw that there were an awful lot of ALF bus routes, but no new highways. A greasy, well-lubricated, robot came up to me and offered to work for food, and then I realized that it was just another homeless beggar. Then three people in “McDonalds Social Corps” uniforms came out and said, “Okay, you, back to the grill. You’re ten minutes late - no Everquest privileges for you!” He screamed all the way into the nearby quick service restaurant. Intrigued (by which I mean ‘hungry’), I followed them in.
I went up to the counter and asked for a Big Mac. I was told it would be “just fifteen minutes.” “Just fifteen minutes?!” I asked. The fit and trim and acne-free server pointed to a sign that said “At McDonald’s, We Take The Time To Get It Right - McDonald’s: The Perfection Confectionary.” Whatever. “Any idiot can make a Big Mac,” I said.
“No! On the contrary!” she exclaimed. “Our Mac artist - well, he’s a Mac artist too, isn’t that funny? Anyway, our Mac artist is finishing his PhD and yeah, he was at Apple in his last Commercial, but I guess he got too specialized - anyway, he’s really smart! And he’s been making great Big Macs!”
“If he’s a graduate student, why’s he working here?”
“Almost everyone works at McDonald’s sometime in their Commercials!”
“Oh, don’t you remember? To make things fair for everyone we have our time divided up into seven Units that everyone has to go through repeatedly: Labour, Commercial, Education, Artistic, Athletic, Enforcement, Free. Boy, what have you been doing in your Education not to even know that, let alone not have taught it to children? And do you play golf in your Athletic? You must have been very good for them to keep bringing you back to it!”
“I’m scared to ask; what do you do in your Labour unit?”
“Oh, I dig ditches for the Department of Highways!”
“Well, it’s not fair to have certain people in a society who don’t work. Besides, I like the exercise and the camaraderie. Isn’t that how you feel?”
“No, I’d rather just play Everquest and live off the profit from my dad’s consulting business when I inherit it.”
Suddenly, a trio of Bowflex Motivational Corps burst into the restaurant and tried to take me away. I say ‘tried,’ because if I wasn’t going to move, then I wasn’t going to move if you gather what I mean here. To my additional relief, the gi-
“SEXIST THOUGHT ALARM! SEXIST THOUGHT ALARM!”
- woman behind the counter said, “Please give him a few minutes. He just ordered a Big Mac and he might file a grievance and I’d lose Commercial Points. I’m saving up to trade for Artistic Points because I want to publish a novella.”
And so the Corps sat down at a table and asked me to sit down with them while one of theirs would retrieve my food. Finally, it came. Ah! I got the feeling that I wouldn’t be eating hamburgers for a long time to come, so I got myself mentally psyched for the first big, juicy, beefy, bite.
And it was a big bite. It was even a juicy bite, if you can extend ‘juice’ to ‘bile,’ but to call it a ‘beefy’ bite might be generous. I couldn’t eat the thing; I had heard that tofu was an acquired taste, and now I knew how right my friends that were husbands to the neo-hippies were.
“Ugh! This is disgusting!”
“Yeah,” agreed a Corps fellow. “Wendy’s has better tofuburgers.”
“And great granola fries, too!” another added.
“What about hamburgers? Beef hamburgers! I just wanted a hamburger!”
“Oh, I’m afraid those are illegal,” said the first man. “It’s inefficient to feed off an animal that feeds off of plant material when that is compared with eating the plant material ourselves. We must fight entropy. Where have you been lately not to know this?”
“Our ancestors must have been insane,” said the second man. “It’s amazing to think about all the ways they wasted energy. They had cars, rockets, supersonic airplanes... they even dreamed and wrote stories about colonizing Mars, or travelling to other stars, or commuting to and from work in flying cars. So even their art was wasteful. They could have used some Enforcement!” The Corps members laughed.
“What’s your unit?” asked the first man.
Before I could respond, the vortex had expired.
rematerialized back on the bus to hear Laura saying, “... and of course
everyone would be vegetarians. Oh! You looked like you were nodding off.
Have you had enough now?”
“Yes, yes... no more Halifax, please.”
“Okay, how about Toronto?” she laughed, pulling out a hardcover copy of Calculating God. “I got this at the library... you followed me the whole time but didn’t say anything.”
“Actually, no, I’d rather not hear about Toronto, though I imagine it’s a less smarmy and presumptuous place to set a story than Halifax.”
“Oh, that’s just as well, because I obviously haven’t finished this book yet and I don’t have time to tell it to you.”
I breathed a groan of relief.
“Does it look like a good book?”
“Oh, yes! The first chapter was very informative and it had been written with a lot of real scientific knowledge that you don’t see so much in, say, Gibson. It’s very funny. I like the repor between the scientist and the spider-alien.”
“Is your term paper going to be on the book?”
“Yes, I’m going to stay up all weekend on shrimp pills and Jolt cola-“
“Don’t even joke about that,” I shuddered, trying to forget.
She laughed anyway. “Well, I’m going to read for as long as it takes. Though I don’t think everyone will have my dedication; there’s also this short story option that a lot of people are probably going to use just because it seems easier.”
“Ha-ha, what a bunch of losers.”
“Yeah! They deserve A’s just for being so silly.”
bus rumbled back to campus. I got lost in thought, but this time I was
able to stay inside my Grand Estate of a body. Reality was bearing down
on me, and I didn’t appreciate it. If you want to know what I think, behaving
properly and doing everything fairly is too much work. I say, the ends
justify the means - so what if a few lives are deprived - it’s not like
it’s my life that’s going to suffer. Whatever happened to sanitized
detachment? I want my flying cars and my Flash Gordon babes! I want to
be able to play Everquest for as long as I want. In fact, I should be allowed
to do that just because I’m such a great player. Why shouldn’t my rupees
be real money?
I later asked Laura to read me some Hugo Gernsback or Kilobyte or something, but she refused, saying something about it being “no good for me,” then threatening me with David Copperfield. All right, be selfish! I’m not going to let her turn me into some smart, thin, humble dorkwad. When I said the ends justify the means, I meant just for me.
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