Emanations II

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Is that a uterus or a spaceman with his arms outstretched? The rose-lit dome I visit in my dreams has begun to play tricks on me over the last few nights. The hospital say it’s one of the signs. I know that should terrify me, but it doesn’t. It just makes me feel I’ve been taking the pills properly.

His thoughts are channeling through my veins. I can hear him in my spleen. He’s saying something important.

“I don’t know if you can understand me. They say you can’t, that you aren’t developed enough. But I believe there’s a chance, and it feels only right for me to talk to you. I’ll be the provider of your nourishment, after all. I’ll be your guide. So we need to establish our bond, don’t we? You need to know it’s all going to be ok.

You are in the womb of the fourth dimension. Everything you’ve learned in your ‘lifetime’ is simply the pieces clicking into place to prepare you for a normal birth up here. You have to learn three to know four. All the sights, sounds, smells: they’re chemical reactions as your mind builds itself. Side effects. Echoes. A vague awareness of what’s beyond.

Linear time is a weird phenomenon that happens only while in the womb, too. I can’t imagine what that’s like. But please know that all the mental suffering, the cognitive dissonance, and the sense of taking a one way trip is because you are not here. You are not where you belong. You are contained in a space of limitations that is unnatural to our kind. You are but a cross-section of what your whole self will be.

When you take your infinite breath, there’ll be treasures you can’t imagine. I promise you that, my angel. Movement without boundaries, and a plane of time. You and me. One more pill. Just one more pill.”

*

“Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

~ C S Lewis.

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‘Emanations’ is an experiment in automatic (but human) fiction writing. The words come from states of meditation, excitement, or indifferent vacuity and are subject only to the lightest touch of editing. They are intended to be read as streams of consciousness to open windows to the back rooms of the mind.

Emanations I

I had a date with chaos. I knew it would come, but never when, until one Tuesday when it spontaneously crashed in around me. It sent wine bottles flying and blasted out the music of my scent. Static interference. Sferics, I thought, as I bit my tongue. Chaos struggles with language, so, as it made itself at home in my cellar, I translated its vibrant colours for the sake of conversation.
“Human beings always coming with their whys,” it said. “Making connections. Putting meaning on my doings. The only disease that afflicts me. Billions of whys.”
“Giving things meaning is what we do,” I replied, curling my forefinger around a lock of hair. “We are castle builders. We pull the loosest of your sands into mind-buckets and force them into aesthetically pleasing shapes. We do it because we can, but also because it’s fun. Don’t you like the whys?”
The skies opened then, and flies with beating red hearts for eyes poured upon us. In seconds they covered every bit of visible skin. They crawled and buzzed and ate and loved. Grotesque things. So I said, in the most flirtatious tone I could muster, “I’ll take that as a yes.”

***

‘Emanations’ is an experiment in automatic fiction writing. These absurd little stories burst directly from states of meditation, excitement or indifferent vacuity, and are subject only to the lightest touch of editing for clarity. They are intended to be read as impersonal streams of (un)consciousness: windows into the back rooms of the mind.

Newsletter – February 2019

Virtual Futures Near Future Fiction Vol 1
News
I’m pleased to tell you that Virtual Futures Near-Future Fictions Vol. 1 is now up for pre-order on Amazon! This is an anthology of 18 ‘bleeding-edge’ social sci-fi shorts, and includes my brand new and exclusive story Undefined Variable. The official release date is 5th March.

It was a pleasure to be featured on Mike Chapman’s Saturday Interviews this month. Mike asks lots of interesting, in-depth questions, so that was a lot of fun to do. You can read the full interview here. Mike also wrote a very thoughtful review of Mind in the Gap, which you can read here.
What I’m Writing
I’m busy working on the second draft of my novel The Enlightenment Machine at the moment. It’s full of my typical mind-bending weirdness, but the very first part of it is set in the North-East of England where I grew up. I had written a lot on memory on the first draft, but as nothing quite compares to a visit, I went to Redcar to take some photos and make notes of the areas I’ve chosen to feature. My Grandma came with me, which was fantastic as she was able to give me some insights I’d have otherwise missed, and she unknowingly filled in a vital part of the plot I was missing. The visit was the injection of enthusiasm the project needed after being left on the back-burner for so long, and it’s now progressing at a pace and quality I’m happy with.

I’m continuing to make time for writing amidst a busy schedule by getting up an hour or so early each morning. There’s something that really sets the mind on task when it’s the first thing you think about when you wake up; before the over-rational, self-critical part of the mind stirs from hypnogogic bliss…
What’s On My Mind
I’ve been undertaking some night-time experiments recently, in which I meditate upon a chosen Tattva symbol before sleep and record the resulting dreams. I’ve had some interesting experiences with it so far, which you can read all about here.

tattva cards

Partly due to this experiment and partly as an avenue of research for the book, I’ve been reading a lot about the theoretical fourth spatial dimension. My thoughts on this are coming together to crystalize some unusual ideas, which I’ll be sure to write up on the blog soon.
What I’m Reading
I just finished My Eyes Are Black Holes by Logan Ryan Smith, which is an impressive novel in a style reminiscent of David Lynch or perhaps Hunter S. Thompson. It traps you in the mind of a man troubled by hallucinations, confused memories, and grotesque fantasies. I highly recommend it.

For my non-fiction read, I’m in the middle of Other Worlds by Christopher G White. It’s an exploration of our willingness to believe in higher dimensions across history, and our fascination with the line where spirituality and science meet. I’ve learned a lot from it, and plan to write a review feature on it when I’m done.

And (because I can’t read my Kindle in the bath) I’m also re-visiting an old favourite novel: Rubicon Beach by Steve Erickson.
What’s On My Headphones
While writing, I’m almost exclusively listening to Nine Inch Nails and Coil at the moment. They seem to hit the perfect creative vibe for the section I’m working on. Otherwise, Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic by The Ocean has rarely been off my headphones. I saw the band live for the third time back in November, and was once again blown away by their performance.

Podcast-wise, I’m still dancing with Third Eye Drops. It’s an ever-fascinating foray into philosophy, psychedelics, self-development and spirituality. I highly recommend checking it out.

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For more information on my books, or to purchase a signed copy, please visit my books page. Don’t forget to subscribe to the blog for regular updates on my projects, as well as articles, flash fiction, and reviews of the unusual. You can also follow me on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram if that’s your thing.

The Persistence of the Square

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After my run of four unusual big dreams, I took a break from the Tattva Experiment. But the yellow square of Prithvi persisted in planting itself in my mind in unseen ways.

Back when I was researching for Mind in the Gap, I watched an insightful TedTalk about string theory and how we could visualise 11 dimensions. In it, there was reference to 1884 book Flatland by Edwin Abbott Abbott. Flatland is the story of a two-dimensional world occupied by geometric shapes, in which the protagonist – a square – is introduced to a sphere and consequently the third dimension. I’d heard of this before, on a podcast though I forget which one. On both occasions I took note, but didn’t go out of my way to know it in detail. Then, a couple of weeks after my last Tattva dream, Flatland was mentioned again, this time on Rune Soup by guest Christopher G White. He is the author of a book called Other Worlds, which explores the overlap of modern day science with spirituality. I bought it immediately based on the fascinating conversation with Gordon White, and was fully absorbed from the introduction.

The first chapter of Other Worlds is almost entirely about Flatland. It forced me to contemplate it in ways I hadn’t previously. I read that chapter just before bed one night, and my head was spinning with thought. Then, the yellow square approached me. I could sense it on the peripheries of my mind: that magic realm of subconscious acknowledgement and hypnogogic suggestion. I didn’t attempt to commune with it, but in a way I realised it was unnecessary: my conscious attention, and the method previously employed in the Tattva experiment, had been bypassed.

That night, I had another of the big dreams. It went like this:

Continue reading “The Persistence of the Square”

Reflections: Reading and Writing Short Fiction

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Writing Short Fiction: The Word Count Limbo

JG Ballard once said in an interview:

“I am very grateful that I started my career as a writer writing short stories because you really learn your craft. You can also explore yourself; if you write a huge number of short stories it doesn’t take you long to realize you have certain strengths and weaknesses and that your imagination leans towards one corner of the compass. I think young writers today are tempted into writing novels far too early.”

That pretty well matches up with my experience as a writer so far. And I would add that short stories are a great way to get your name out there, either by sharing them on a blog or submitting to anthologies and journals.

I started out writing fragments of stories: just ideas, really, but written as prose rather than notes, and usually in first person. I progressed to writing ‘proper’ flash fiction with more curated content between 300 and 1,000 words. I wrote them in great numbers and shared them in multiple formats, so I got lots of feedback on what worked and what didn’t. In particular I learned where the uniqueness of my style shone and where it felt forced or mechanical. Continue reading “Reflections: Reading and Writing Short Fiction”

Shreds of Thought: Aphrodites Flown

The part of me interested in social media, marketing and metrics is very different to the part through which the prose flows. If I hold off looking at these things for the first hour after waking, and instead allow my still dreaming mind to externalise, I make a very different experience of the day. And – bonus – I have something like 777 useable words down before it even really starts.

See, the muse doesn’t care for social acceptance, book sales or writing advice. She doesn’t even care for thoughts, because she is a beast of intuition that merely plays with our language centre as though is were a harp.

If the prose isn’t flowing, the sure ways to attract it (for me, at least) are:

  1. Run a bubble bath hot enough to forget the world outside the door. And don’t take a notepad.
  2. Take a drive that will last at least an hour, and listen to music. Anything will do.
  3. Meditate.

Ray Bradbury described the muse as being like a cat that will resist attention and then follow on quietly as you walk away. I like that, because cats also like to scratch at an occupied bathroom door, climb into cars, and climb upon the stillest, most relaxed person in the room.*

The muse has no sense of completion. There is no beginning and there is no end. She will offer up ideas that have no obvious connection to one another, or tell a story in a nonsensical order. But I find if I don’t follow her natural trajectory, and instead force a story into a mould, I’ll end up with something substandard. I’ll produce works that feel mechanical and without heart.

If I have ideas as to how I might later sculpt her secrets, I must keep them on the peripheries until she’s curled up sleeping. That way, by the time it’s done, she’ll no longer care about those particular whispers. Her passion for them was spent by the very act of me listening without judgement, and she’ll have moved onto a new whim. Strangely, the pieces produced when I’m all ears are the ones that need very little in the way of editing.

I have many blog posts, flash fiction pieces, short stories – hell, even novel outlines – that never got past the concept phase. Scraps of prose, fragments of awareness, semi-conscious notions. They are evidence of the times I dared to turn my head away from the muse before she was done with me: betraying her with thought. The time for those pieces has now passed. I won’t hear those secrets again. Just like poems, they have expired.

Sometimes I wonder, could I revive them? But they’d be nothing more than shells, their Aphrodites long flown.

*If you’re not a cat person, consider that your muse might be a dog. You put a leash around her, set off along the path you chose. But, to the ground she wants to sniff, you will always go.

Additional ways to attract the prose that occurred to me post-script, as a direct result of the script:

4. Write a stream of consciousness.
5. Read poetry aloud.

Telepathic AI, Neuronal Art and Squids, Everywhere!

Pierre Huyghe Image from The guardian

Technology in the Gap

This is the first in a little series of posts about the real-life developments in technology that led to the bizarre extrapolated versions in my new book, Mind in the Gap. In this one, I share some of my research on the possibilities of creating art directly from the brain.

Squids, Everywhere

SQUID is a real device used to detect minute changes in electromagnetic fields, including those in the brain. It stands for Superconducting Quantum Interference Device, and has been used in science fiction for years, most memorably in William Gibson’s novels as a way to read-out information stored in neural circuitry.

The current method for brain imaging, Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), has limitations in that it is blind to detailed and direct neuronal activity. SQUID is one of the developments being investigated as a replacement for the future.

I used this idea in my story Frankie. I wanted to show such technology becoming so canonical and safe that it was used in a socio-commercial setting as opposed to only in medicine. I created an alternate reality where people no longer carry around mobile devices to interact with the world, but instead wear headpieces that continually read and output brain signals (and actually look like a squids!).

Telepathic AI

Scientists in a Kyoto laboratory have been working on a project that uses AI to analyse data collected during fMRI scans, and to interpret them into visual representations of what the individual was imagining at the time from a database of photographs. They call it Deep Image Reconstruction. Artist Pierre Huyghe worked with this recently by asking volunteers to imagine things he described, and then getting the AI to create a visual from their brain signals.

“If I tell you to think of an apple, the apple you think of will not be the same apple I think of,” he told The Guardian. It is one subjective impression (quale) informing another, which is then interpreted by an artificial intelligence. The resulting images are far from accurate according to those involved; they look nightmarish, fleshy and deformed (see the image above). They are uncanny: somehow recognisable to us but just strange enough that we know they can’t be real. You can read the whole article here.

I like to imagine these are the kind of images AI could think up independently in the future if we tried to simulate human perception. Would these grotesque mashed up images define us as a species in the mind of a robot? And I’m not even going to get into the possibilities of AI becoming capable of spontaneously reading our minds. I’ll save that for when I come to post about the horrors of my story One…

Painting with Thoughts

For several years we have been able use a brain-computer interface to command painting software: painting pictures with our thoughts, choosing colours and placement based on the way we focus our attention. It has been used to help people who don’t have use of their motor functions, and is hoped to even become an effective communication channel for people suffering locked-in syndrome.

Some say we can also use brain painting as a meditative therapy of sorts. If we ‘map’ our thought patterns and create a visual representation of what altering that would look like. It’s a bit like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy with a visual aid and creative output, and I’d be very interested to see whether this is proven effective in the future.

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Do Androids Dream?

A type of AI called a Convolutional Neural Network (CNN) has filters capable of abstracting out aspects of images in layers. This has been used in various experiments. For example, we know that CNN can produce new images that combine the ‘content’ of one existing image and the ‘style’ of another – think of the filters you have on your phone.

Google’s DeepDream uses a CNN to find and enhance patterns in images via algorithmic Pareidolia to produce psychedelic, over-processed images (pictured above) These experiments with neural nets are already evolving at pace. Artwork created by CNN is selling for thousands of dollars, and is informing the way virtual and augmented reality develops.

Frankie

In Frankie, I combined the general ‘output’ ideas of Deep Image Reconstruction, CNN and Brain Painting with the ‘input’ of advanced brain scans at neuronal level. I imagined a little piece of worn tech taking minute signals from the brain, that could output them instantly onto the surfaces around us to create a sort of communal psychedelic wonderland. I thought about what it could be like if certain skilled individuals were able to build the output images up in layers to create hologram-like objects for as long as concentration would allow. My nameless protagonist lives in a world where this is what memes have become.

Being a lover of psychology, I then began to wonder: what, then, might happen if the headpieces could take readings from the subconscious mind to show us things we didn’t realise we were thinking? It could tell us ‘You share an exciting chemistry with that person over there,’ or ‘you are harbouring deep-set doubts about this.’ And what if those thoughts in the subconscious weren’t intermittent, but ever-present in the background, and ever-growing? You’ll have to read Frankie to find out!

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If you’ve already read Mind in the Gap, have you seen the Connections and Easter Eggs page? People are starting to add their theories and findings, and I’d love you to join in. If you haven’t read it yet, you can check out the blurb or pick up a signed copy here. It’s also available as an ebook on Kindle or as a paperback from anywhere that sells books. Thank you!