Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Danny Roberts' Heuristic Tales E01

Danny Roberts' Heuristic Tales is a series of one act audio plays that I'm going to try and get recorded over the summer and put out as podcast or on Soundcloud. However, what with all the recent interest in a possible mission to Mars, I thought now might be a good time to post the script for the first one, as it involves a similar scenario, set in the future.

And as I always say: Enjoy!


Scene: Café table in the window of an old fashioned café, plate glass with ornate mahogany frame, looking out to modern street.

Malcolm: Jen. Jen. Jen, where on earth have you been? You’ve been ages. You said it was urgent. You know I’ve got the samples coming in from Madagascar today. Professor Blackwell did not look pleased when I said I had to pop out. This had better be important. This had better not be one of your pranks. I ordered you a tea by the way. Jen, Jen you’re shaking. What’s the matter?

Jen: Oh my god Malcolm, Malcolm oh my god.

Malcolm: Whatever is it?

Jen: The most wonderful thing has happened.

Malcolm: What?

Jen: I’m going to Mars.

Malcolm: What?

Jen: I’m going to Mars.

Malcolm: What did I just say to you? I said this had better not be a prank.

Jen: It’s no prank Malcolm. I’ve been chosen to serve as Exobiologist on the Gamma Red mission. Isn’t it incredible?

Malcolm: You applied to Gamma Red?

Jen: No, that’s the thing, I didn’t, they approached me. Came to my office. Called me a leading authority on Martian bacteria. And I fit the age range, so, so, so I’m going to mother fucking Mars Malcolm!

Malcolm: My God Jen, what’s come over you? I’ve never known you to curse.

Jen: I’m going to Mars Malcolm, I think I’m permitted a swear or two.

Malcolm: Jen really, can you hear yourself? You’re going to Mars! You’re not going to Mars, don’t be ridiculous.

Jen: And why am I being ridiculous?

Malcolm: Do I need remind you what happened to the first two missions?

Jen: It’ll be different this time.

Malcolm: Really? I hear Gamma Red’s first assignment after landing is to bury the remains of the Red Beta mission.

Jen: Yeah well no one could have predicted that happening.

Malcolm: Warner went mad and slaughtered the entire crew.

Jen: I know.

Malcolm: There’s rumours he’s still alive.

Jen: I’ve heard those stories. They’re stories, just stories. Conspiracies. You can’t have a disaster without the conspiracy.

Malcolm: Yeah, but you don’t think anyone foresaw that? You don’t think it could happen again? And then there was Red Alpha.

Jen: Red Alpha was always a one way mission. Those men knew what they were doing. They were pioneers Malcolm. They gave their lives just so they could be first.

Malcolm: Well parroted comrade. What I’m saying is, if they could be so callous as to conduct a space mission without the contingency to bring their astronauts home, can you imagine them acting any differently towards subsequent missions.

Jen: Them? Oh, I see, so that’s what this is really all about? Your feelings towards the Chinese.

Malcolm: There was never any talk of one way missions when the Americans were in charge. And then the Chinks steamroller in…

Jen: Malcolm, enough with the casual racism. You know as well as I do, there was no Mars mission before the Chinese rescued the project. Come on, America couldn’t fund a trip to Montreal at the moment. The country’s bankrupt.

Malcolm: I just don’t trust them.

Jen: Really? You’ve kept that under wraps. Is that all you’ve got to say? I tell you I’ve been personally selected to go to Mars and all you can say is the Chinese aren’t to be trusted. What else?

Malcolm: Well, no.

Jen: No?

Malcolm: No

Jen: Sorry, did you just forbid me to go on this mission?

Malcolm: I did.

Jen: And what do you think gives you that right?

Malcolm: Seven years of being together, that’s what gives me the right. And the mission is how long?

Jen: Five years.

Malcolm: And assuming by some miracle you actually return, you don't seriously expect me to wait five years for you?

Jen: Six.

Malcolm: What?

Jen: Following the Warner Anomaly.

Malcolm: Sorry, the what?

Jen: The Warner Anomaly. It’s how the Chinese refer to the Red Beta Massacre.

Malcolm: God help us.

Jen: Well following that incident it was decided a closer eye needs to be kept on the mental health of all future missions. So the entire team is being placed in isolation for the duration of training in order to catch any early signs of mental disorder. Our training is scheduled to last a year. So I’ll be away six years. And no, I don’t expect you to wait.

Malcolm: You don’t?

Jen: No. I arranged to meet you to tell you it’s over. In the car, I started thinking that maybe we could make this work, that the break might be good for us. But thank you Malcolm. Listening to you express your usual level of sneering cynicism has made this all much easier.

Malcolm: No.

Jen: And god knows I'd have to fly to Mars to escape your manipulating clutches.

Malcolm: Jen, I won’t let you leave me. I’d never let that happen.

Jen: Malcolm, don’t go all Godfather on me. I’ve been reading, dreaming and eating Mars since I was a girl. It’s pull on me is far greater than any you could ever exert, even at this distance. I’m going and there’s nothing you can do about it. I leave for Shanghai this evening. I’m being picked up. You want to try and stop me, be my guest. Would be ironic if you got shot by a couple of Chinese MPs. They’re outside as a matter of fact, if you want to step out and get it over with.

Malcolm: You brought minders?

Jen: Well like I said, we both know you’re manipulative. Now come on.

Malcolm: Jen, don’t leave me.

Jen: Malcolm, don’t.

Malcolm: I won’t survive without you.

Jen: Don’t be silly Malcolm. You’ll be fine.

Malcolm: How can you say that? You’re the love of my life, I can’t just let you go on five minute’s notice.

Jen: You don’t need me Malcolm, you just need someone to validate your existence. Any pretty girl will do. You’re a handsome man Malcolm, you've got a career and tenure, it'll be no trouble at all, even for my dusty academic.

Malcolm: Jen.

Jen: You could go on that website. You know, the one where attractive women bid for rich men.

Malcolm: Please don’t.

Jen: Sorry. Just an idea.

Malcolm: Why must you go this evening?

Jen: The mission’s ahead of schedule, they’ve accelerated the program. Say what you like about the Chinese, they know how to get things done ahead of time. Not like the Americans. Too busy with all the razzmatazz to do the job properly. 

Malcolm: I don’t disagree with you about the Americans. It’s what finished them off in the end. Went bankrupt trying to look big before the world.

Jen: They should have remembered Amphiaraus.

Malcolm: Yes.

[They laugh]

Jen: Malcolm, I’m going to get to see the Attenborough Caves. We’re going to be the first people to explore them.

Malcolm: You might find life.

Jen: Exactly. Actual, living bacteria. Not the fossilised stuff like we’ve seen on the surface. Life Malcolm.

Malcolm: You’d be famous.

Jen: That’s not why I’m going.

Malcolm: I know.

Jen: But you understand why I have to go.

Malcolm: Yes. It’s a shock though. I can't remember what I did before there was you. I think I'm a little numb.

Jen: You’ll find someone.

Malcolm: Not like you. Not someone who understands me like you do.

Jen: I’m not sure I understand you at all.

Malcolm: You can’t do this to me.

Jen: You’re getting angry again. I think it’s best I go.

Malcolm: No don’t. Not yet. Not like this.

Jen[standing]: There’s nothing more to say Malcolm. This is a shock for me too you know. I have to get my head in the game and quick. And all you do is make me doubt myself.

Malcolm: No.

Jen. Is that it? Can’t you say anything else?

Malcolm: Yes.

Jen: Go on.

Malcolm: Goodbye.

Jen: And?

Malcolm: Good luck.

Jen: And?

Malcolm: The red planet really matches your hair.

Jen: Cute.

Malcolm: But I won’t be able to look at a clear blue sky without seeing the sapphires in your eyes.

Jen[laughs]: That's the one. That's my Malcolm. Will you write me? VM me?

Malcolm: I’ll try. Give me some time. Are you sure you won’t stay for a drink. A real drink. We should celebrate.

Jen: No, no, I have to pack yet. I’ll always love you Malcolm, I hope you understand that. Let’s not prolong this any longer. Goodbye Malcolm. [Exit]

Malcolm: Jen. [sighs] Oh Jen.

Monday, 29 April 2013

Gone Time

The lyrics to Gone Time came about from reading 'Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick'. I have a number of problems with the book. For a start, the author, Lawrence Sutin, is obviously a bit of a fanboy, which doesn't leave much room for objectivity. Also, I assume the author felt too embarrassed to call his subject, Dick, all the time and so he resolves to refer to him, without variation, as Phil.

Now, 'Phil' was a writer with many of the associated personality disorders that are common in writers. 'Phil' was married 5 times, and he seems to have been physical with most of his wives. So it really jars to hear recounted tales of domestic violence, interrupted by the chummy, 'Phil', all the time. 

It got to me, it annoyed me. I'm used to reading about male 'role models' whom I feel ambiguous towards. You want an introduction to the history of Jazz, read Miles Davis's autobiography. You may come away still considering Davis a musical genius, but it's impossible to like him, not after the countless beatings of girlfriends, wives, the prostitutes he pimped to raise skag money, all rounded off with a shrug and half-arsed apology. 

Or Gandhi. Gained India its independence from the British, but let his wife die of appendicitis because he said antibiotics were unnatural. Yet when he needed surgery, he took antibiotics, morphine, the lot. Far from being a pacifist, Gandhi fought for the British in both Boer Wars and was a recruitment officer during the First World War. He was also a fervent believer in the caste system. He went on one of his famous hunger strikes in response to a suggestion that the Untouchable caste be abolished. As with most revolutions, Indian independence really only meant independence for the top tier. Not that you'll hear about any of this in the Attenborough film, but then it was partly funded by the Indian Tourist Board.

All of which raises an important question: How much is too much? How much of a prick does someone have to be before they are removed from the artistic roll-call? I don't know that I have an answer.

The 1st verse of Gone Time plays on this veneer of male respectability, a pillar of the community, who's true nature only breaks the surface in the last line. The 2nd verse is an old Bob Dylan trick, playing time backwards, each line bringing us nearer the actual event.

I'm no musician, so I nicked the chords from Tom Waits's 'Clap Hands' - Bm for verses 1,2 & 4, Bm & G7 for the choruses and verse 3.

Phil was for everyone, Phil topped polls.
Phil kept a tavern called, 'The Gambolling Foals'.
Phil had a rowing boat to save our souls.
Phil filled his Phillie with a splatterful of holes.

Gone time. Gone time.
Gone time. Gone time.

Say Phil, Phil, it's twenty minutes' time,
Since the bitch had it comin' f'talking outta line.
Belly-worth of bourbon and a face full of wine.
Gently arching crimson in a parabolic line.

Gone time. Gone time.
Gone time. Gone time.

Don't know why I wonder, but wonder if you will,
Why no one gets the name of the victim of the kill.
Get fifteen minutes fame for every victim that you maul,
Don't know why I feel it, but I'm properly appalled.

So Phil, Phil, had enough cane?
Mopping up the spillage from a heartfelt vein.
Coming on for dawn now, coming on to rain.
Blue light flashing in a high Vault pane.

Gone time. Gone time.
Gone time. Gone time.

Gone time. Gone time.
Gone time. Gone time.

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Saturday, 20 April 2013


What if everyone but you was zombies?

What if everyone but you is a robot?

What if all the people that you know are paid to act like your friends and family?

What if you woke up one morning and your partner was a different person and everyone but you acted like they hadn't noticed?

What if life is just a pre-life? A short feature before the main presentation. Or;

What if this is just life on demo mode and what we call heaven is the perfect life we all lead once we've tried out all of the main features?

What if you died years ago? Heaven or hell, this is it.

What if you woke up and you were another sex? Or:

What if you woke up with a sexual preference you didn't go to bed with? Or;

What if you woke up to find the last eight years of your life were a dream? What would you do differently? Anything?

What if you had a superpower? What would it be?

What if you were invisible?

What if you could make statues come to life, just by touching them? Or walk into paintings with a thought?

What if all the water in all the oceans disappeared one night and left behind nothing but a pile of dead fish and mammals and rotten cadavers and seaweed and scuttled battleships and sunken treasure and mountains? Imagine the smell!

What if you were a photon, deep inside the core of a star, by-product of the fusion process? So crowed into that dense space that you bounce from atom to atom over ten millennia, till finally breaking free, emerging in seconds, racing through the photosphere, across the vastness of space, to fall on one random retina orbiting one random star in a civilisation unborn when you set out on your interstellar journey.

What if you were a wave, crashing against the shore, ebbing and flowing? Or:

What if you could be a flock of starlings for an hour?

What if you could be in your favourite TV show? Like it was real!

What if you could travel back to the point of a person's death and download their consciousness to a computer drive?

What if all your imaginary friends came to life?

What if you could make anyone appear on your couch just by concentrating on them? Or you could instantly be in your home, wherever in the world you were, and with whatever (or whoever) you were holding?

What if everyone else sees colours different from you?

What if, for one day only, everyone was compelled to act as they say?

What if we never find intelligent life out in the universe? What if intelligent life downloads itself first chance it gets and explores cyberspace instead? Far simpler. Far safer.

What if every plan you fail to see through is brought to fruition by another you in another universe?

What if you could live out all your unrealised dreams and day dreams and fantasies and ambitions in a day?

What if all the dark matter in the universe is all the thoughts that have occurred to sentient life in the last thirteen billion years? Or;

What if dark energy was released as part of an ambitious project by an ancient civilisation to prevent the imminent collapse of our universe? The universe survives but the civilisation went the way of Pyrrhus.

What if you could live the life of a famous person, go through their meteoritic rise, catapulted to fame overnight, a household name, recognised in the street, cried at and fawned over and loved and adored and abused and dependent and hooked and receding, a shrinking violet, a where are they now in the annals of living memory and only disgraceful death to look forward to? Would it be worth it?

What if you could be anything?

What if money were no object? Or space? Time?

What if wishes were horses? Or unicorns came crashing across the scene as you read these words?

What if we track down the meaning of the universe and it turns out to have been created solely to house some 1960s US sitcom that was cancelled after one, poorly received, season? Or a soap opera set in Karachi that's been on air for fifty years?

What if your reality is completely different to mine? Or;

What if the universe came into being at the moment of your birth and the shockwave travelled backwards through time to set the conditions at the moment of the big bang as just right for your existence? You are as a god to us.

What if our universe is nothing but one of those God Games, where you build a city or an ancient civilisation. The one we're in was a Roman Empire god sim, but the kid's accidentally left it playing overnight. The Visigoths came over the hill about 2am and Rome fell. The Renaissance took place around dawn and the Industrial Revolution happened just after 6. It is now just gone half seven and his mum'll be calling him for school in a moment. He'll wake, rise, check his computer and turn the program off without even bothering to find a save poi

Anyway, that, in summary, is why I forgot to do the dishes.