FOREVER ALONE DRONE: Bruce Sterling introduces us to his pretty Alluvian bride

14 Dec

Simon Ings writes:

I owe Bruce Sterling about $200; thank God he’s forgotten. Back in the mid-1990s I was producing a little magazine of futurology (ha!) with Charles Stross. Charlie had written Bruce asking for material. Instead we got a cheque and about twenty A4s of notes that scared us half to death.

Fast-forward twenty-odd years:  I run into Bruce contributing to a design huddle that’s going to imagineer a city of the future for the MU Artspace in Eindhoven. He’s skipping about the street taking pictures of flyposters, drains and doorknobs.

The thing about Bruce is that he does not hang about. Ever. For anything.   

In the gallery, he explains why augmented reality will make liberal democracy redundant. Then takes his seat and listens politely and you can practically hear the gears whirring. Bruce has agreed to write a story based on our important ramblings (Warren Ellis is here, Rachel Armstrong, project head Liam Young) and he has a mind like a Henry vacuum cleaner. It sucks up everything.

At this point the metaphor breaks down because the very last thing Bruce is is a bin full of dusty facts. He has a way of combining trifles and throwaway bits of conversation, shards of the built environment and art-school uptalk into landscapes both alien and inevitable; visions of the future that are so compelling, they beg to be realised. It is sometimes said that the easiest way to predict the future is to make it up. This isn’t quite right. The easiest way to predict the future is to get Bruce to make it up.

Here, then, is a short extract from My pretty Alluvian bride, the story he wove out of that weekend in Eindhoven. I defy you to spot the joins, to unpick the thing into its elements, to read it as anything less than a compelling, touching, funny and utterly convincing memoir of the future. And very much Bruce’s own vision.

After three long days of my mud-tombed hallucination, I thought I knew the city pretty well. I had combed the city’s avatar as best I could, hoping to spot my future wife preparing for marriage. Yet the beauty parlours, bridal boutiques and gold jewellery emporiums had no signs of her.

No doubt she and her social network had come up with some scheme to conceal her, so as to test my mettle as a groom. They were cleverer people than me, at home with their tricky special effects. So I would have to win my bride with heart. Just keep my chin up, do whatever I could with charm, and stubbornly put one foot in front of the other, until I reached the altar of marriage. If that worked for Shah Rukh Khan, it would work for me.

So, I rambled and roamed in Alluvia. Seen at a glance, Alluvia was a stilted platform, crowded with piled-up domes, sails, stairs, scaffolds, pennants, verandahs and media minarets. But in the posher parts of the town – Yansoon, Battuta Towers, and Umm Sequin – the domes were fabulous, like roc’s eggs. They were knobby like coral, dappled like seashells, and inside they rather erred on the gaudy side of opulent bad taste.

In the humbler districts, the Flamingo Platform, Nakheel Pods and the Sports Village, they’d built the town the easy way. Blow up a big balloon, throw a simple net on top of it, soak mud all over that net. Then throw down another net, another layer of mud, add some chopped-up straw, and so forth. When the mixtures solidified, they would pull the deflated balloon out the door, waterproof the inside, and move in.

They had irrigation and sprinkler systems to keep the town cool, damp and ever-growing. Over the years, these simple domes became thick cemented rinds, cave-like. They would bore ventilation shafts with cheery little whirling propellers, and instal arabesque, branching networks for the water and sewage.

The lowest slums of Alluvia grew like oyster-beds, without apparent plan or expense. Lots of kids running around there: mom-and-pop businesses, too. Henna salons, fast-food joints, t’ai chi studios, oracle fortune-tellers, and sidewalk libraries offering battered paper novels by Laurence Durrell and Mervyn Peake.

Out at the crumbly edges of the town, where the supporting undersurface wasn’t yet rock-solid, was a vacant-lot version of Alluvia. These areas were sketched-in, barely there, all desalinated dirt and geotextiles, ghostly places they were pleased to call “parks”.

Crowds might have caused the parks to flake off into the ocean, so scarcely anyone went there. They were tentative places of scrawny weed-trees, snails, seagulls and silence. The occasional gloomy teen sulked by on a bicycle, children played marbles to win precious fishbones, and one bewildered Indian tourist watched the sun set, perching on a plastic bench to assemble his wits and dream of a pretty bride.

You can read My pretty Alluvian bride in full in Arc 1.4: Forever Alone Drone, out now,

for iPads and iPhones

for Android devices, Windows and Mac computers

as a collectible print edition

and for Kindle.

If you would like to write for Arc, check out our new competition.

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