Nick Harkaway is taking Arc on a wild ride

7 May

Simon Ings writes:

Arc 1.2 goes on sale soon with a wild new story by Nick Harkaway, author of Angelmaker and The Gone-Away World.

As well as writing two of the freshest, most exhilarating and (let’s face facts) plain barking novels in living memory, Nick now finds himself in demand for his views on the book industry. “I blogged about the Google Book Settlement,” he says, “and soon enough I ended up – through Twitter, if you please – on the Channel 4 News sitting opposite Krishnan and Tom Watson and feeling like a massive fraud.”

Not one to shirk a challenge, Nick’s now challenged his thoughts on the digital world, its promise and perils (and paranoias) into a new book, The Blind Giant: Being Human in a Digital World. It’s a sort of laid-back Negroponte for the noughties and it’s the reason we finally (after months of emails) caught up with each other – outside the studio of BBC Radio 4’s flagship discussion programme Start the Week.  (You can hear Andrew Marr trying to corral us on the show’s podcast.)

“We tend to either blame digital technology for a multitude of evils or revere it,” Nick says. “The best approach is somewhere in the middle.” This is a territory he mines to heart-stopping (and occasionally hilarious) effect in ‘Attenuation’, his story for Arc 1.2, a roller-coaster ride through a world transformed (but not nearly enough) by cheap teleportation.

“The glass slips from between thumb and finger. The German girl smiles and–


He’s in his own body, his old, persistent corpse, familiar aches and narrow shoulders. He screams as he finds he’s restrained in a slick plastic sack, wrapped from ankle to shoulder. Giant spider! Mummification! Dark rites! There’s a blindfold over his eyes – no, something worse: slick and organic and lukewarm, little circles the size of the orbit resting on each eyelid. Suckled on, it seems. He wriggles, feels the restraints give a little, gritty slime sluicing around his arms. Body farm! They’re coming for my kidneys! But what sort of organ thief would impede access to the body with this sheath? So then: cannibals! He screams, or barks, and there’s a sound of running feet. Light returns, a solicitous face.

“Mr Hall?” The blindfolds are removed. A nurse or an orderly. Long fingers removing… cucumber? “Are you all right, Mr Hall?” A cave-like room with towels and a sink. Candles. And this is… a massage table?

“This is a spa!” Sonny Hall cries in outrage.

“Yes, Mr Hall,” the orderly says – no, he’s a bloody massage therapist, Sonny can smell the jasmine, Liz used to rub it on her neck when she was stressed, part of the healing knowledge of ancient somewhere-or-other. The orderly’s face distorts like a soap bubble, but no, that’s the universe going past. Black space and white suns. The ice falls up to meet the umbrella –

And he’s back.

“You should have told me you were attenuated,” the barman mutters irritably, “I’d have given you a plastic cup.”

Nick used to work in the film industry as a scriptwriter – an experience he likens to bathing in mild ammonia solution. We reckon the film industry’s loss is our gain. Read Arc 1.2  and decide for yourself. It’s out on 28 May for tablets, Kindles, phones, screens (anything breakable, basically), and there’ll also be a collectible print edition.

Buy your favourite format at And if you missed Arc 1.1, never fear, it’s still available, and still as current as ever. (It being about the future, how could it not be?)

Over the next couple of weeks we’ll be giving you many more glimpses of Arc 1.2’s 160 pages of strangeness and speculation. Let us know what you think. It won’t change anything, but it will give us both a warm sense of belonging. 

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