Wednesday, March 11, 2015

From "Interpellation"

From a work-in-progress, although really it's something that's been stuck at about 65%-finished for about five years, which I have no plans to get back to any time soon, so hmm. (I notice I've now nicked a character name for something else. Asset stripping, noo). This extract was originally published in an issue of Dusie (ed. Susana Gardner et al.) guest-edited by Robert Kiely. It seems to mostly be about Friends.


by Jo Lindsay Walton

We played Final Falsehood X together and The Abyss XX and Syndicate 6,000 and 20,000 BC. We played 20,000 Leagues of Extraordinary Gentlemen and all the The Empire Strikes Back to the Future prequels and aquels et cetera. We played On A Clear Day You Can See Batman Forever. We played networked Gods and Monsters Ball head-to-head and died on the quintiple helix grief waltz. We played Kramer vs. Predator. We played From Dusk till Dawn of the Dead with Love and the vice-versa remixes. We played Alien vs. Schmidt. We played The Cool, Running Man and James and the Giant Paunch and Sam Hodges and Kitty St. Aubyn and Mike Weller: Poetry Feller.

All of us but Bella were dead. Bella was making a Dead Cart Run, and there wasn’t much for the rest of us to do.
   ‘I am taking it back,’ said Cat. ‘I am taking that fucker back. Listen to this. ‘Ring of Protection. The wearer is impervious to instant death attacks.’ Impervious!
   ‘Maybe there’s a lesson here about stuff we find in chests.’
   ‘Caveat emptier,’ Cat said gloomily. ‘Look at Bella go. She’s solid Hit Points. She’s some kind of Hit Points neutronium. Oh my God it’s a Balrog.’
   Bella exhaled. ‘That thing’ll chase me all the way tae the Resurrection Springs. This could be it, guys.’
   ‘Don’t say that. You are a black hole for damage. You are Hit Points ringed with a singularity. I’m complacent.’
   ‘Yis’re dead. It’s easy tae be complacent.’
   ‘No Bella, it’s easy to chill out. Dead people aren’t necessarily complacent. But also I’m bare complacent.’
   ‘Mind flayer’s brain suck wisnae technically an instant death attack.’

We beat When Dirty Harry Met Sally and Legally, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Panic Room With A View. We beat Se7en Angry Men and The Ocean’s Magnificent 7-11 and Unanswering Rational Jersey Shore. God, we even beat Free Willy vs. the Seventh Seal. We beat The Postman Is Always A Ring of Fire. We beat Chess and Grid and Shufflechess. We beat Sid Meier and Vikram Seth present . . . A Sittable Buoy. We beat Poker and Whist. Without using cheat codes we would beat God and parents and careers and lovers and moral codes. We couldn’t work out Smearchess. We didn’t understand Frightchess.

Tam and I had died deep within the Ice Cave. Bella and Cat thought maybe it was a good time to head, then moments later they met the mind flayer. Hence Bella on Dead Cart.
   ‘Oh, I love how we all neatly line up for combat even though we’re kaput. I bet Bella nudges us into those face-down poses with her toes.’
   ‘Important tae keep up appearances. Or we become as bad as them.’
   We laughed. She was being ironic!
   ‘It must takes ages. Like waiting for a Regatta to start.’
   We laughed. Cat, with all her the ‘dense stars’ and ‘starting lines on lakes’ references, was hardly deferring to a swords ’n’ sorcery idiom!
   ‘If bodily death and mental annihilation,’ said Tam, ‘are each necessary and sufficient for the other, is there a distinction without a difference? The Ring of Protection says ‘no.’ The Ring of Protection makes quite an interesting point about the dialectic of physical and mental life. Just as all ‘abstract’ thinking is situated in some breathing, flowing, digesting, aging frame, so too there is no purely ‘visceral’ function of life that not accompanied by cognition in some form. Yet we cannot elide the two.’
   ‘Last time I go out wearing a Ring of Protection from United Healthcare Insurance,’ said Cat.
   ‘In many ways a ‘Hit Point’ is socially constructed,’ I said.
   ‘The problem in the Ice Caves isnae militarisation, it’s patronage. Tae remove the Ice Balrogs you’d huvti remove them as an economic substructure, no jist as a political class,’ said Bella.
   We laughed. We were all intentionally taking mass culture, specifically gaming, overly seriously!
   It was a long way to the daylight and then a long way to the Springs. Eventually we quietened down a bit, and watched her little legs go.
   Watched her little hit points go, and watched her little legs go.

‘Jack Nicholson was raised believing his grandmother was his mother, and his mother was his older sister,’ said Tam.
   ‘Bella thought Green Day were Irish.’
   We played on the attic PC and Tam’s netbook and Bellatrix Lamaze’s tablets. We played on our consoles and retro consoles and on our smartphones. We played them on untraceable phantasms, LARPing in the air.

‘You may lie on the top bunk tonight, Tam.’
   We lay with the lights out for some minutes – with the ‘speak’ out too!
   ‘Why is the sorceress,’ Tam began – seeming somehow much more high and distant than where I was assured I’d shelved him – ‘so iconic between you and me? Let me say why. We lionise her because her thunder and lighting magic consumes myriad lesser foes.’
   ‘She’s the swarms guy,’ I confessed. ‘She’s suited to consuming them, and she saves the most time. So she is our Death Drive. Where are the SNES of yesteryear? She is the constituent of the game that means that there is less of the game!’
   ‘Yes. That settles it. The cowl’s a frank clue. I hope I don’t dream of her again.’
   ‘Somehow,’ I said, ‘linked with how whenever you save game, it’s really the unplayed game you are “saving”. Saving for later, perhaps. So you are more and more pleased as you save less and less.’
   ‘Arthur,’ said Tam. ‘Imagine a game in which a maxed-out knight is better than a maxed-out sorceress. There is a kink in his improvement curve, and he passes the sorceress in the middle levels.’
   Silence. I mused. I liked it. ‘In the beginning,’ I said, ‘one’s party overcomes innumerable dogsbodies with innumerable devices, embellished with innumerable animations. Mook wolves wrapped up in thunder and lightning magic. Skeletons swamped by tsunamis. Waves crested with bone reconnaissance the horizon.’
   ‘The beetling femur!’
   ‘Hasted butteryellow flame golems, friendly to us, rise among rats who were forced to nap in their millions. Hoarfrost dropped on slimes like a shook larch. Fire dropped on wraiths ―’
   ‘Like a shook larch! Then gradually it’s just the sword. Chop, chop, chop. More or less the same sword he has always used, Arthur. Gradually more damage, but always the same image. The sorceress’s images grow familiar at the same rate as her damage grows insignificant. Perhaps she no longer even bothers to cast them. His sword deals with all elements and all humours evenly. Manticores, devils, water elementals, cockatrices. The final levels are pure numbers.’
   ‘Or imagine a game,’ Tam said – in that rare low tone of his which could either be terror or excitement – ‘in which skeletons are susceptible to sleep spells, and wraiths are as well, and to confusion and suggestion, and in which wind elementals are unaccountably immune to earth-based spells, and clay golems to wind-based ones, and dragon skin is the earliest armour and barely even keeps off the rain damage, and water snakes are not poisonous, but pirates are, and you can flee from your foes whether or not you’re on a boat or all turned to stone.’
   ‘This is what happens when I let you have the top bunk!’ I laughed. ‘To be fair, I’ve always thought elves should be poisonous. Tam, we’re suck geeks. How are you and your amoretta anyway?’
   I made out his stifled sob. ‘She likes to play games with me.’
   ‘Bella ditto. Is ‘Cat’ short for ‘Catherine’?’
   ‘Mother-of-Pearl Moth Caterpillar.’
   ‘If the knight was ‘Eros Geller,’’ I said gently, ‘And the sorceress was ‘Jonathanatos Ross,’ which Rosses are rogue and priest?’
   ‘Eross and Thanaross are only two ‘Ross’ principles that I can see,’ said Tam. ‘The others must be fragments, reflections and nominalist aphasia – the Steinian ‘a Ross is a Ross is a Ross.’’
   ‘Do you know the thing about the jointed pendulum?’ I asked. I was wide awake.
   We talked of love, and gender.
   ‘Let’s rename ourselves tomorrow before we visit the cave,’ said Tam. ‘Let’s make Cat the sorceress and I can be the priest and the knight can be you and Bella the rogue!’
   Silence. We were exhausted.
   ‘By damn,’ I said, ‘it’s worth a fellow’s while to be born into this world, if only to fall right asleep.’

We played The Norton Security Anthology of Criticism and Theory. We played Justice, Actually and Hamlet II.

‘I’ve always thought elves should be poisonous and have a crystal attack,’ I told Bellatrix Lamaze. We played the new Capcom titles where eventually you have to wait helplessly and let History decide whether you’ve died or won the level.
   We played Occam’s Razor and Ocean’s 20,000 Colleagues. We played Bonnie Tyler’s I Need A Magician and I Need An Innocent and I Need A Ruler and I Need A Care-Giver before we lost interest in the franchise. We played Tobermorie Dick and always died at the White Womble. Possibly that was just how it ended.
   ‘I ain’t comfortable with what we’ve just done,’ said Cat.
   What I had just done was badly scald a roshi, an ankheg and a mind flayer, and utterly consume a mastadon and a piranha, with my triple crested Tsunami at boiling point. I read how to do it in a book. Tamburlaine had found the bewildered mind flayer’s throat under her beard of tentacles and slit it, and Cat took our her big mace and pounded the ankheg into a flat puddle inside its shatterproof exoskeleton.
   Bella had only time to touch lightly the knob of her hilt.
   ‘If you think about it,’ said Cat, wiping her mace on the grass with mild success, ‘we’re walking along in the forest doop dee doop and we bump into these five guys, and before any of them can so much as – they’re all dead.’
   Tam’s eyes widened. ‘Rules of Engagement failure!’
   ‘Don’t you think so?’
   ‘Dinnae be hard on yourselves,’ said Bella. ‘Yis’ve fulfilled Continuum of Force. Whit? Pain compliance by tuggin the wee guy’s tendrils an that? There’s mair of them than us, eh, an they’re skulkin aboot next tae a lake wi a shedload lethal force.’
   ‘‘They huv tae be stopped noo,’’ Cat sarked.
   ‘Aye they dae an if anythin we’re mugs for Type I ‘insufficient force’ type RoE failures, preoccupied wi diplomatic objectives. See whenever we meet a boss, we always huv a wee chat before he starts killin us.’
   ‘Tusks are ‘lethal force’? For one, two, three, no four of these guys,’ Cat fumed, ‘they were anatomically merged with their weaponry! Not even like my tats, or like my skates will be hopefully – they were born that way.’
   Tamburlaine was looking very pale. ‘Oh gracious.’
   ‘Was the roshi proof they were militants?’ I intervened. ‘I mean – I may be wrong, but shouldn’t people with tusks, or who can extrude vampiric strands, not really stand next to people who are waving katanas? The company they keep puts a spin on the naturally occurring violence of their chins.’
   ‘So if I’m a pacifist sitting in Jessops and Black Bloc anarchists start laudably trashing the joint, therefore I deserve the cosh?’
   ‘Aw Cat gonny no, Arthur’s maw’s a polis’
   ‘Or if Hezbollah camp in my town, I have to up sticks and leave? Or get a fucking Jew-ass RPG in the mush with only a shrug as an apology?’
   ‘Cat, Ah didnae mean that. Anyway, whit’s an ankheg daen wi a mastadon, a mind flayer, a roshi and a fuckin piranha as weel? Is the game just fucked then?’
   Cat thought a family of rabbits playing in the woods found a polymorph wand.
   Tam thought they had every right.
   I thought maybe a ‘melting pot’ or ‘salad bowl.’
   ‘Whit’s next? A thundercat and a fuckin Fruit Corner?’

Greenday were Irish!
   We played different games head-to-translation-software-to-head so they were the same damn game. Cutting off your finger in Heavy Rain became nuking Megatron, not really, but.

Ah ken,’ said Bella presently. ‘It’s got tae be Friends eh? See Joey Tribianni, he’s the mastadon. Like kinda primordial an sexual an that, but cuddly. I’m no sure whit an ankheg is but I’m no fuckin sure whit Chandler wis either. Wis there no one where they hud a quiz, an naebdi kenned whit he wis? Some kinda monstrous arthropod. The roshi is Monica Geller – cut-throat, freakishly strong, comes fae an honour society. Bit ay a control freak an that. Roshis are masterless so I’m hinking it’s in the wee period after Café des Artistes but prior tae Moondance Diner. Mind flayer’s Phoebes, mainly jist because ay Lisa Kudrow. Also, a mind flayer, you would imagine has hud a patchy background, looks goofy an that but is actually quite street-smart. Plus the massage therapy an mind suck attack parallel, mindfulness an aw. Then the wee piranha’s Gunther! He’s always kinda inside ay the wee wave an he just sits there. ‘Hello. Hi.’ Cannae access the real deal. So whit wis they daen in the forest? The mastadon wis bein a stud, the roshi and the ankheg mebbe tryin tae keep their relationship secret fae the rest, blah blah blah, Phoebes in tow. Piranha servin up lattes and derision. Dependin on the season they could be aboot tae jump the piranha. The short answer though? Whit were they daen? Hangin oot.’
   Tam and I tumbled over each other to ask after Rache.
   ‘Rache’s already away. Ah mean, we’ll probably kill her in a bit. ‘‘The One With Heroes That Massacre Them.’ Ah’d say Rache is sufficient but no necessary eh? But ah mean, fuck. Ah consider Joey, Chandler, Monica and Phoebe Buffay and fuckin Gunther sufficient if no fuckin necessary for Friends – do yis no?’
   Cat hadn’t seen Friends.
   ‘Or she finally given in an shagged him and he’s skeletonised her’

With our Rick Rolling Hoop, our Dancing Matt Spinning Tops, our Double Rainbow Kite, our Snakes on a Ladder – with our Star Wars Kiddlywinks, Winnebagatelle Man and Bagatelle Bagatelle Bagatelle – we had no need for modern entertainments, we did not miss the newfangled one bit. We drank the innocent pleasures, Rick Rolling, flying our Double Rainbow, watching the Facebook Ladder clickety clack, chatting at the Chat Window, gazing peacefully into the Taylor Rain Glass, and exhausting our bodies with variety of wooden Two Girls One Cup & Ball games.
   One day, Bella ordered a wall of a pet carrier be brought down and a plate of lightly tinted glass screwed in its place. Thin strips of balsa wood were trimmed and sanded to slide into a set of runnered grooves, to be glued to the outer face of the glass. There was an inlet. Here we introduced a stray. Bella’s intention was ultimately to use a finer wood for the strips. Tamburlaine – who always caught the bug – envisioned ebony frames, into which letterpressed cards would be slipped, to replace the balsa strips, and sit within another set of frames in elegant ivory screwed onto the glass.
   For the time being we wrote on the wood in pencil, beginning, ‘CAN I HAZ CHEEZEBURGERS,’ and kept plenty of erasers to hand. We were joking around about how Bella really did have cat scratches all up her arms now, when Tamburlaine’s quip came – ‘scored with Cat’ applicable also to him – and we four literally had kittens.
   It chastened our hearts, and filled them with regret and hope, to learn what we might achieve merely by logging out.
   Those arms were seriously in ribbons though. And whilst the sheer novelty of our kind of carrier lucida or camera lolcat diverted us for several lengths of afternoon, the innate joie de vivre of its lodger imposed limits on its perfectibility. We soon had to accept that the captured stray, Molly, would always strike a new hilarious pose before we could even so much as suck the ends of our pencils. Nix to Tam’s letterpress roadmap, obv.! I’m afraid sometimes we gave it a good shake. The woozier the Schrödinger’s lolcat, the easier to . . . the pace of life was just slower, in them days!
   Out in the street, Triple-X was portraying Casey Heynes portraying Joffrey off A Fight of Streets II.

Tam implored that, should one start with the five monsters and those five characters, you might match them up in that way, but if one were to pick the five monsters that actually were Friends, then it wouldn’t be them.
   ‘How no? Whit would you dae?’
   ‘Joey an Uruk-hai, Phoebes just a witch, Chandler a lich, Monica a rust monster. Paleontologist may well be a character class. Otherwise Ross a shaman with a monkey familiar.’
   ‘Chandler Bing’s no undead.’
   ‘I’m intrigued whether you think all Italian Americans are Uruk-hai,’ said Cat.
   ‘Well perhaps an incubus,’ Tam admitted.
   ‘Aye but no you said Uruk-hai. An you, I thought you hudnae seen it.’
   Cat knew about it.

But it was mostly highly impacted, late modernist stuff we played. A fragment of high kitsch Hadouken! as we scored a Tetris and on a wriggling lawn we planted our last affordable leafy tower, at the crest of the enemy wave, the image dissolving as ten peas rolled from ten Triffid archers like spawning mint green bowling balls. We were already in the next moment, everything transfigured and yet not, in bloodsoaked labyrinth striding through a bonus pack which would not vanish, so maxed were our stats. And we stood paralysed in a cut of cut scene as the sisters were united in the city in the cloudscape, and the civic nimbus we stood on seemed to be all of impervious bonus. Ash received a Squirtle, and high above the map, we started to build an Isengard tower at the tip of a tendril of sandbags, in the heart of an enemy hobbit camp. Challenge point awarded. 64 pixels pirouetted. This music! We were squatting behind a desk from the cordyceps fungi corps, but what were we really hiding from? Sisters running forwards in clouds. Our mineral line ― what were those noises? God, our marines zerg rushed at 10% health, a third at 97% complete, and the princess was in another castle. We died of dysentery. In our Weaver hoodie we played the distaff melody for “Open” on the graves. But . . .

‘Ross would be the creature Arthur summons. Jonathanatoss Ross.’
   There was this joke we four had devised that day. The joke was we awkwardly looked away when I cast Death. ‘What a lovely pepper mill.’ ‘My, the carpet is the same.’
   ‘That’s quite good,’ Cat had admitted. ‘Jonathanaross.’
   Cat and Tam went upstairs hand-in-hand. Bella and I played on. The Death joke wasn’t that we were super sensitive or anything. We were average, in the joke. The joke was more that the effect was harrowing.
   Even I looked away from my Deaths, so harrowing were their effect.
   We cuddled close. ‘Chefs are like roshis, baby.’
   ‘I think ah was thinkin of Frasier anyway tae be honest,’ murmured Bella. ‘Friends is the antisemitic one, eh? Come tae bed?’
   ‘Maybe, baby. You know, I kind of disagreed with you earlier. You were kind of endorsing collective responsibility.’
   ‘How’s it collective?’
   ‘It’s what the Nazis did. ‘Oh, you’re with him? Die.’’
   ‘Ah dinnae think we should hold polis responsible for whit the Nazis wis daen jist cause they’s both usin collective responsibility.’
   ‘I’ll just be another fifteen min hon,’ I told her then. ‘See ya soon.’
   It was more ‘sorrowful’ than ‘reproving’ when it came. But I would disappoint her of all her gazes, whether lingering sorrowful engines or sharp reproving engines. So would I disappoint Mankind of all theirs, and also every blind engine Mankind designs to force me up, or roll me over, or have me beg or hoover, or end my stupid dream and wake, and work, or put away my silly Final Falsehood **, and sleep.
   To be fair, Bella didn’t milk her crutches as much as she might have as she rose to bed. I felt sorry. I would play another ten minutes and have a hero’s welcome.
   Soon though we had bad luck one night in the marshes, and ran down our wolvesbane to nil. I would never save this course of events. Tomorrow we’d have to start at the point where Tam and Cat had left. For I had not once saved since.
   Ten minutes exactly had passed since Bella ascended the stair. Still I played a little for my own sake now. I played it with a gentle recklessness, a quartermasterly whimsy, conserving only what was artful, not what was prudent. I cast Death on a few mooks and dogsbodies. The jokers who diverted their gazes were long gone, yet still their joke diverted mine to my chintz.
   My chintz was wonderful. It was silent, utterly silent in that room. Well-lit and warm.
   Perhaps Bella would have fallen asleep. Then hours and minutes might be a difference without a distinction.
   And when I looked back to the clearing, an ogre of a type I had never seen had emerged from the forest. He was called a twaza and I marvelled over him. His lips curled proudly from a sort of smile which showed his many small sharp teeth to me. He was blue-skinned – a blue-skinned ogre, for he was certainly an ogre, of the same genus with which I was familiar. He was agile, but worth average experience compared with other ogres, and used no special abilities on me. He had a badger-like aspect to him.
   As we fought I thought unaccountably of Darkspawn Dawnspark and how she would hug you, even if she hardly knew you, by stepping up quickly, so it was more like a leap than a hug, and stepping right up with the whole height of her body, so that it was more like holding each other than hugging each other. When I hardly knew Darkspawn Dawnspark, before I ever fancied her, I used to think of her hug for many hours before I met her, or before I might meet her.

Bella was caught red-handed at a troll, and many burly arms bundled her into a basket, making her to sit while it was drawn up to the top of a street lamp amidst peals of laughter.
   There was a second commotion and Gilder broke through the bodies, dragging Tamburlaine by the ear. He stopped, confused, obviously expecting the basket on the ground, not dangling in the air and occupied.
   ‘He was blowing up my timeline!’ bellowed Gilder.
   The detail of Tamburlaine’s protestation was drowned in the roar of a hundred cross-examiners.
   Bella’s face as she tried to struggle out from the basket, during its brief touch down! Tiny Tempa ate a fan’s balls. Adolf Hitler raged about the obese twelve-year-old girl rumoured to have gone on some dodgy sites and deleted the internet. Tomorrow the players would play the tragedy of Edgar’s Fall. Keyboard Cat to play us out, and in the early hours of the morning, I heard he leaned out a paw out the back of an accelerating motorcycle-caravan . . . then Molly danced aboard. Revelry, recession. Double dip. Triple dip recession. As many dips as dimples on our smiling faces. Degenerates cock fought. The carnivalesque saved Molly’s vivre. Not to be scoffed down. In retrospect lolsquids / lolslow lorises et cetera would have been the answer.

We convoked an ecumenical council. Everyone was there.


Tenuously related: check out Fionn & these other fine Contraband books.

BTW, re one of those tweet epigraphs: I'm pretty sure @gameideamachine is automatically permutationally generated, but hand-picked. I guess I feel a little bit good about that.

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