Wednesday, December 10, 2014

That one perfect word

It's a warm, starry, moonless night.
Let's go out, you and I. Walk out into the dark, lie down in the soft grass, and look up. 

See that star over there? 
Now, see that one? 

Now, see how in one glance you traveled a distance greater than all of humanity through all of their history, put together? How that one flick of the eye covered a time greater than the existence of mankind, maybe of the planet under us? 

That's the power of imagination. That's the power of what a phrase in a book can do, a million times over, a casual word spoken by a stranger in that perfect moment, that one unique context that your life, knowledge and being put together, that shook everything you were and everything you thought the world was and would be. 

The last electron that smashes down the lightning bolt, the last neutron that triggers the critical mass chain reaction. 

Little things, tiny things, insignificant things that can shatter universes. 
Ripples in the air, squiggles of pigment on paper. 

Reading can be a terribly dangerous thing to do. It can be terrifying, if you think about it. That one word will suddenly come around the corner of the next page you turn, the next link you click, and change everything. For everyone. At any time. 


A storm of thought that can rip off your mind's sails, wreck you, sink you... or take you to a new continent, a new world. 

That's why we keep turning the pages, riding the storms. We fear it, yet we seek it, a glimpse of that one perfect word. 
Maybe follow it. 
Maybe... one day... if it doesn't rip us to shreds first.. capture it, make it ours. Tame it. 

It has the power to make us the master of our universe. 

Monday, December 08, 2014

Waiting for the Singularity

Nearly there. 
It's been a long ride. We nearly didn't make it so many times. We still might not get there, but we can see the ribbon stretched across the track now. 

I's a relay race that's lasted thirteen billion years. Physics of gravity, nuclear transmutation and supernovae, to chemistry of elements becoming molecules and complex hydrocarbons, to biology's replicating strands and evolution, to the oxygen-making algae, complex multicellular organisms, that first step out of the ocean, the hand and the opposable thumb, sparks from a flint into fire, charcoal marks on the cave wall that told stories and sang songs, from the domesticated wolves to the invisible virii that delivered gene-modifiation therapy, to silicon minds and global networks... 

We nearly didn't make it so many thousands, millions of times. That bacterium smashed into space under a world-ending cosmic bombardment, only to return aeons later. That specific configuration of planets. The asteroid that hit, and all those that missed. The Ice Ages, the Black Death. A Nuclear Winter that almost happened. Maybe others that did. 

A dying planet unable to cope with the demands we make of it, a species ripping itself apart and all others around it in paroxysms of imagined slights and self-destructive responses. 

We've danced on the edge of the cliff for millenia, and it's second nature now. 

Just another generation, maybe two. Then we can hand over the baton, sit back, and settle peacefully into history as our successor solves all our problems once and for all and goes ahead with Life. 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Touched by a Dark Angel

I see Her sometimes out of the corner of my eye, a flitting dark shadow far away, right there in front of me, going about her work, and I always try to watch the expression on her face. She's sometimes absorbed, serious, curious... sometimes wistful, even compassionate... and sometimes there's a cool, unimaginably alien indifference as She shatters lives and breaks hearts, a remote blankness the ant sees on the oncoming car's wheel... 

We've never spoken, but I could swear She knows what I'm planning, exactly why I'm trying to stay just far away enough so She can't reach for me, but keeping Her close enough to watch, make sure She can't sneak up on me on one dark night, around a blind corner. So far She's mostly amused, not insulted... and why wouldn't She be? She's seen this before. So many billions of times before. The ways and means have varied, but in the end it's all come down to that moment, when the light fades on all the pleading, the tears, the fights, the pain. 
The moment when the light fades away into the silence. 

A baby and a middle-aged man, one a stranger, one the remotest acquaintance, yet...
One is dead, the other is dying, and behind each unknown face I see a familiar one looking out, through that tangle of hair, and is that a wink?

We've all been there, she whispers, done that. Give it your best shot. You're interesting. Maybe I'll give you a little chance. Just to see how far you get. I got the razor to your throat, the bead on your head, but... let's run, anyway. It's fun. 
And who knows?

She's looking directly at me now, like the few times before, and wherever I am, whatever I'm doing, I can feel that glance, sliding in like an abstract icicle shard, a diamond-edged scalpel slicing through hopes, dreams, fears, desires, wants, plans, every resource I've saved and every defense I've built. Straight to the heart it goes, and stops, with the faintest single crystalline-cold tingle of a touch that reverberates through my life, then goes back, a little reminder of how close she can get, and how ephemeral the world and all I held close in it was, to begin with. 
A little reminder of how it can all end. Anytime. 
Anytime She wants. 

That's fine, I whisper back, I know you're there, but let's run anyway. It'll be fun. 

And her razor grin widens as her whipcord body relaxes, and - yet again - that tiniest nod. 

And we run. 

We run through traffic, through blaring horns, skidding rubber, and hurtling metal; we run through the billion, trillion little killer lives hanging in the air waiting to take root; we hurdle open manholes, dodge fizzing, spitting power lines, skate under crumbling, creaking edifices, and past dark alleys glinting with watching eyes and waiting steel. We run past claws, teeth, stings, and talons, we run through deserts, skate over thin ice, jump dark chasms, through freezing cold, open flame, and a witches' brew of poison, we run through night and dark as thunder growls in the building clouds... 

We parkour through that dazzling, dizzying obstacle course called Life and and I can still see Her, still here in the corner of my eye, effortlessly pacing me in the distance, and She's laughing in delight. 

And She's laughing because, no matter how tired, how damaged, how heartsick, I'm laughing too, and I will keep laughing till all the laughter runs out, into the silence at the end. 
But for now, this is the most awesome thing ever. 

And we run. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The best of all possible worlds

There was a interesting ethical question doing the rounds on Quora - would you go back in time to kill Hitler?

I don't think so. It's not about one man and his evil masterminded scheme; it was a result of history, economic factors, social, political... there would still be nationalism, frustration with the '18 treaty, still the Nationalist Party, still Nazism. 

Kill one baby Hitler, there would still be the same factors - and the times make the man, someone else would simply step up and take his place. 

And maybe not make any of the same mistakes - not invade Russia, not lose the cream of the scientists and fail to make the A-bomb, doesn't alienate the Japanese...

You know, this timeline, this reality may be a result of several - maybe dozens, hundreds of interventions from a time-travelling corps - as a best possible outcome. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

sensory continuum

i stood in an empty room
halogens glowed in pools of oil and water on the concrete
rows of chrome gleamed in silence, perfectly disciplined machines, waiting

...nothing happened. 

no sound
no clocks
no people
no change
no footsteps
no breath

the silence sucks the thoughts out
pushing on my eyes

roars in the blood
screams in the tendons
reverberates in the lungs
echoing slam of eyelids

...nothing happened. 

i could stand there forever
i could stand there a precious empty few seconds
no difference
no time
without sound to push it along

perfect, frozen silence

between timelines

haunted by the ghost of a boy who never existed
stepped back a decade or two through the portal
everything changed
forget the family left behind
forget the son
he ceased to exist, never had been
as soon as I went. 

I'm haunted by the ghost of who I'd been
who I might have been
haunted by the future and past I killed