Fixtures

She became my boiler, me her leaky tap. We passed daily, reminding each other that we each existed with small moments of mutual irritation. Attention beyond that was limited to the bare necessities that we imagined were maintenance enough.

In the end she had me replaced. I just stopped trying – cold showers aren’t so bad.

I Confess

Lady Justice Licensed for modification and use

I confess.

I admit to it all. No excuses, no explanations, no defence. I killed them. I walked down the line, I put my gun to their heads, I pulled the trigger, they died. No one else was involved, no one needed to be, I took it on myself to do it.

It wasn’t self-defence, not in the moment, not as an abstract, not at all. It was murder.

No. It was execution. Cold and hard and violent. No passion, that’d make it something else I suppose.

Is that a guilty plea? Sure. I’m guilty. Guilty of everything I’m accused of. More even, because there are no charges for thinking the thoughts I thought, or walking away like I did. Maybe there don’t need to be though, I guess that part’s not for you to judge. Someone will though.

I see you. Sitting up there, in the gallery. It’s hard for you, I guess. Sorry but I’m sane and sorry but I can’t make a show of remorse. I might feel it though, if that helps, but I’m not ready to think about that. I am guilty though, I can offer you that. I’m guilty and I deserve everything I’m going to get. I deserve justice and I want it and don’t worry, if you were, I’m not expecting any redemption from it. It just needs to be done, because I’m guilty.

I killed them, I confess. I walked down the line, I put my gun to their heads, I pulled the trigger, they died.

Culture Cargo Cult

Just a quick heads up to say that recently I’ve been working on a new side project – a kind of poetry and prose journal site called Culture Cargo Cult.

Only just started posting work there having drummed up some submissions and if you’re a writer yourself and looking for a platform to share on then don’t hesitate to get in touch. You can find all the submission details over there. And if you’re a reader in search of something new be sure to check it out and spread the good word too if you get a chance.

So far I’ve not included any of my own work there although no doubt I will sooner or later. For now thought the focus is on finding other contributors and getting a feel for what sort of stuff it’ll cover.

Anyway – Culture Cargo Cult, have a look.

No Cure for Shell Shock – Free eBook

No Cure for Shell Shock Cover

To start with the good bit – my collection of poetry and prose, No Cure for Shell Shock, is available as a free download if you just click below.

No Cure for Shell Shock (PDF)

No Cure for Shell Shock is intended as the antithesis to the war story. Each part of this collection of poetry and short pieces was designed to search for those lost, silent moments which shape the human experience of conflict but which are left unmarked and uncommented on in the aftermath.

Anti-war by intent the focus throughout is on the human, attempting to find the self that endures beyond comprehension and judgement.

I’ve decided to make it free, for now, because I honestly just wanted to give something away. It’s easy to get lost in the grind of writing when it’s so often overshadowed by the hyper-mercenary ‘creative industry’. You start to myopically focus all your attentions on becoming part of it, or generating enough cash to validate your work. Truth is though writing is writing, it might be tossed about and effected by the society it takes place in, but the joy of it is in the work itself, not in how it’s framed. Being able to just share something, share a set of thoughts and ideas I felt were important as I wrote them, is a nice break from that mentality and a minor rebellion against it. Plus you get a free book, so it’s nice all round.

To contradict that spirit a bit though – I’m not averse to money and I’m sure as hell not rich. So if you fancy chipping in to support my meagre lifestyle then you can also buy NCfSS as a paperback here. Or you can grab any of my other work of course. Plus you can donate with the button below, if you’re feeling overly rich and generous.

Dylan's Donate Button

You can also support me without spending a penny by recommending or reviewing my work on your platform of choice, it’s always appreciated.

For now though- enjoy.

– Dylan

Side note: I’ve made it available as a .pdf to start with as most devices can read them without problems. Plus, given that it’s a mix of poetry and prose, it’s hard to convert it into an epub (or similar) format without messing with the structure. If you don’t care about that and just want the words then I recommend Calibre for all your file conversion needs. Also, if you’re reading it on a phone or mobile device, Aldiko is a good ereader app – like Calibre it’s free.

The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi

I’ve been on a mini Bacigalupi streak recently – Wind Up Girl, Ship Breaker and now The Water Knife, a minor diversion into post-apocalyptic and dystopian misery which, to be honest, is a bit exhausting.

To start with the good The Water Knife is an efficiently well written and occasionally very immersive book, Baigalupi seldom drifts from the essentials of his characters and story telling and while the prose has flair to it there’s little that doesn’t also serve a purpose. So it’s readable, very readable.

The story is set in a water starved Southern and Mid-Western US where thirsty power blocs – California, Las Vegas, Colorado – vie for rights to the ever diminishing supplies under the decaying and largely indifferent gaze of the government back East. Throw in straggling hordes of refugees from the dried out state of Texas, narcos from the now formally declared Narco States, Chinese corporate interests and local gangs in Phoenix, the broad focus of the book, and you’ve got enough apocalyptic fodder to depress anyone. Which Paolo does, constantly.

There’s an ensemble cast of characters, all unified by their existence on the edge. On the edge of legality, criminality, their own societies, their own professions, morality. Bacigalupi’s world here is one with no interest in or time for the masses or the middle which, as far as an action driven plot goes, makes perfect sense. His perspective is one held just beyond the breaking point, his characters either spiralling towards it or long since submerged into a chaotic mess of cruelty and survivalist necessity. Which does work, for the most part, as I said this is a well written and eminently readable story. One which is set in a interesting world too, a compendium of human paranoias and fears about climate change, cultural decay and societal oblivion all brought to their pinnacles in one hellish, desertified landscape.

The one problem I found with that though was that his focus is a little bit too relentless. In Wind Up Girl, the first of his books that I read, things weren’t that much less extreme but in some characters at least he did allow a little humanity to survive. Even as it was shattered by another, similarly brutalised, world there were elements and characters which spoke to a remnant of recognisable humanity which wasn’t entirely despairing. With The Water Knife though there’s pretty much no redemption, no trace to be found of anything positive about our species and what minimal nods there are to a world beyond the extremities of the main characters are only ever given as a prop to demolish in the greater service of making everything worse.

I’m not saying this should be a book which offers hope mind, it obviously didn’t set out to be and grim as the reality he’s created is there’s not much scope for it. But even in the world Paolo builds there is evidence of something else, some ongoing collective struggle and sense of community existing within the horror. The shanties of the thirsty future aren’t just killing grounds, the streams of refugees aren’t solely comprised of those who’ve turned to obscene cruelty and violence as a basic state. Again though, as far as the story goes they exist only to further the main cast’s misery, to reinforce and, through suffering, prove their own descents into moral oblivion and incomprehension. There are hints that this is being presented as a comment on the US itself, a condemnation of the spirit of ultra-individualism in times of crisis which, maybe, wouldn’t be the same in other cultures. But if the relentless hopelessness is meant to push that line then it’s almost comically extreme. Pushed too far to make the point as anything short of a hammering horror story.

It’s a lack of balance which stops a good book from being a great one for me. The best exposures of human misery, in my experience, are the ones which don’t forget that there are humans in the story. The ones which don’t forget that, for most people, there is a desire towards community and a sense of security, even in situations which refuse to allow for it. That’s not to say there are happy endings or that some fantastical ‘good guys’ get their moment of victorious glory but there is some desire and, well, hope that things could be more normal. Something which Bacigalupi seems to revel in repeatedly smashing down as fodder for corruption.

On the generous side you could say that, given the issues of the books covers, like climate change, resource scarcity and societal decay an element of over the top grim-darkness is justified. Maybe that was an active choice for this story and, to be fair, in his YA Ship Breaker book there are hints of solidarity and (attempted) decency even amidst a similarly decaying world. With The Water Knife though it’s so completely, resolutely absent that it almost just feels like nihilism. Paolo has concluded that humanity will turn to cruelty without hesitation or even much resistance when circumstances demand it. All of humanity, more or less, with any hold outs falling quickly enough to be exceptions that prove the rule. A certain relish for violence, especially sexual violence, in this book (and The Wind Up Girl) doesn’t do much to dispel that notion. It’s evil all the way down here, with the only question being how long it takes any given character to descend, or be butchered before they can.

That said it’s still a good book, it’s still very well written and very strong in its intent and dystopian vision. Just as The Wind Up Girl was before it. When I circle back to his work though (and I will) it’d be nice, maybe even necessary, for him to allow for a view from the centre. Not one that’s any more upbeat or hopeful perhaps, but one where there are characters at least allowed to attempt decency without being knocked down with knowing disdain by a sense of absolute misery. Perhaps even allow a sense of agency for them, show that not everything, from society to family, is a flimsy front for inherent cruelty.