Read Fremder Online

Authors: Russell Hoban

Tags: #Literature, #U.S.A., #20th Century, #American Literature, #21st Century, #Britain, #Expatriate Literature,, #Retail, #British History


BOOK: Fremder
2.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Once we had a country and we thought it fair,
Look in the atlas and you’ll find it there:
We cannot go there now, my dear, we cannot go there now.

W.H. Auden
Songs and Other Musical Pieces

who do you have to fuck to get into this picture?

Dory Previn
starlet starlet on the screen, who will follow norma jean?


























By the Same Author


Out of the tomb, we bring Badroulbadour,
Within our bellies, we her chariot.
Here is an eye. And here are, one by one,
The lashes of that eye and its white lid.
Here is the cheek on which that lid declined,
And, finger after finger, here, the hand,
The genius of that cheek. Here are the lips,
The bundle of the body and the feet.

… … .

Out of the tomb we bring Badroulbadour.

Wallace Stevens, ‘The Worms at Heaven’s Gate’

In the deep chill and the darkness of the Fourth Galaxy, in the black sparkle of deep space, oh so lonely, see a figure in a blue coverall tumbling over and over as it comes towards you: no space suit, no helmet, no oxygen. Is he dead? He can’t be alive, can he? What’s in his mind now? Are there pictures frozen in his mind?

Pictures in the mind! Words also. Again last night I had the dream, the one in which it was made known to me, perhaps by a written message, perhaps by the sound of distant weeping, that the rats were lamenting the removal of their sacred objects. I have never dreamed this dream on the planet Badr al-Budur but perhaps one night I shall.

Badr al-Budur (everybody calls it Badru) in the Fourth Galaxy is a little off the beaten track: because of El-Niño
variables in that sector you can’t flicker to it, you have to go to Hubble Straits and jet from there. Badru is a place you stop at on the way to somewhere else, an in-between place, a middle-of-the-night scene change where you breathe bottled air that smells like LavaKleen and wait for the next jet to Erehwon or Xanadu or wherever.

There’s nothing on Badru but the spaceport which is mostly empty except for robot sweepers humming through the echoing silence under dim blue noctolux lamps. Clocks, too, that tell you what day and time it is in London, Tokyo, New York, and so on. There’s MIKHAIL’S QWIKSNAK, a multilingual cafeteria in pink, purple, red, blue, green, and yellow neon (with missing letters) where you can get GALAKT K MIKS, SPUDNIK FRY, KRASNAYA K LA, and indigestion or worse. Nearby is Mikhail’s Bistro where you can get a better class of indigestion. Next to it is a gift shop where robots fluent in twenty currencies will sell you clockwork orreries made in New Taiwan, models of the
Stephen Hawking
, pornoscopes featuring the
Arabian Nights
Princess Badr al-Budur with her lover Qamar al-Zaman, key rings with bits of polished budurite, and tea towels that say, ‘I’VE BEEN THRU BADRU. HAVE YOU?’ Not surprisingly, Badru orbits the planet Qamar al-Zaman which is the rubbish tip for that sector.

There are a mini-cine and a cybercade in the spaceport but my favourite night spot on Badru is the Q-BO SLEEP that beckons in purple neon, SLEEP & SHOWER IO CR. PER HOUR: each cube with its high-mileage futon, shower, sink, and toilet. The blankets have a grey prison look and the towels are only a little thicker than the toilet paper. To check in you insert your card and punch in your hours, then you get your Hi-REM or Dropout tab from the dispenser and you’re bye-bye until your jump to Erehwon or Xanadu or wherever.

Nobody lives on Badru except cockroaches; the staff are all robots and the supplies are delivered weekly by Mikhail’s
Intergalaktik. Mikhail loses money on it but he had to take it on to get the Fourth-Galaxy franchise. What I like about Badru is that it’s so much what it is, so much the appearance of itself printed on the very thin membrane that we call reality. On the other side of that membrane is the endless becoming that swallows up years and worlds, Badr al-Budur, Mikhail’s Intergalaktik, even the dream rats and their sacred objects, in the dark of no remembrance.

I was only a few megaklicks off Badru when they found me drifting in space on the morning of 4 November 2052. No space suit, no helmet, no oxygen, and the pictures in my mind all frozen.


From the hagg and hungrie goblin
That into raggs would rend ye,
And the spirit that stands by the naked man
In the Book of Moones defend yee!
That of your five sounde sences
You never be forsaken,
Nor wander from your selves with Tom
Abroad to begg your bacon.

Anonymous, ‘Tom O’ Bedlam’s Song’

The fourth of November 2052 was my thirtieth birthday. What happened that morning in the Fourth Galaxy came to be known as the
Clever Daughter
incident, and after it they kept me at Hubble Straits Space Station for three weeks for a Level 4 Study at Newton Centre. They wanted to know how I’d been able to hold on to the world. When I say ‘the world’ I don’t mean Planet Earth, I mean everything this side of the reality membrane.

My head is full of music: all kinds of songs and fragments of songs, most of them written, sung, and played by dead people. Some of my best friends are dead people.

I like old standards, American mostly, all the way back to the nineteen-twenties. They don’t write songs like that any more, that world isn’t there any more. Once I saw an old documentary with grainy black-and-white footage from 1936, the Spanish Civil War: men running up a hill with bolt-action rifles
thinking they were going to do some good.

I took a trip on the train and I thought about you,
I passed a shadowy lane and I thought about you,…

A little strange, a little bringing tears to the eyes, to hear that in your head out beyond the Sixth Galaxy. I’m amazed at how many songs and bits of songs live in my head. And the times when it sings them. Why did it give me ‘The Shadow of Your Smile’ when the jets packed up on a local from Escherville to the Hand of Glory in
Schrödinger’s Cat
? Or ‘Begin the Beguine’ when the AG slipped its channel and
Constanze De Groot
took the top off the New Tokyo Sonydome? That morning last November when
Clever Daughter
and I parted company, however, the music in my head was a much older standard than those.

You know how it is when you’re sitting in a bar somewhere dark and quiet just breathing in and out and maintaining neutral buoyancy and a stranger starts talking to you and after a while he brings out of his pocket a letter coming apart at the creases; he brings out this letter to show you that at one time he mattered more than he does now and he tells you the story of his life. At first you wish he’d go away but perhaps you say to yourself, Maybe one day I’ll want somebody to listen to my story. Never mind. My name is Fremder Gorn. Fremder means stranger in German.


i have flown
to star-stained heights
on bent and battered wings
in search of
mythical kings
mythical kings
sure that everything of worth
is in the sky and not the earth …

Dory Previn, ‘mythical kings and iguanas’

Sometimes I think about the age of steam and those great locomotives that thundered into oblivion like the Spirit of Progress. Sometimes I think about the motorcars that poisoned the air and swallowed up the green and pleasant land and finally sputtered to a halt in gridlock. And sometimes I think about flicker drive.

My mind goes back to a few minutes before three o’clock in the morning of 4 November 2052, just over a year ago. Nova Central Cargo Spaceport outside London – the flicker docks under the purple stutter of the rhodolux lamps in the rain. Diesel and electrical smells of forklifts and cranes and juicers. Another smell, whispering and beckoning like the Erl King’s daughters: the smell of Out There. People move a little differently at three in the morning. Purple light and deep shadows. Figures in infraglo macs shouting. High-legged gantry cranes loading and unloading freighters and tankers.
Lights and colour and motion reflected in the shine of the wet tarmac. Lots of noise but behind the hiss of the purple rain the silence is cruising like a shark.

Looking down the line of buffers I see
, Miyazaki, Nippon Enterprises Universal;
Aral II
, Minsk, Sony Pan-Galactic (ISR) Ltd;
Dietrich Bonhoeffer
, Bremen, BASF Ausserirdisch GmbH;
, Marseilles, Corporation Française d’Exploitation Minière Interstellaire. Big names, billions of credits, millions of megaklicks. Beyond the dock lights the ruins of old Nova Central are ghostly, dim. Blackened grasses growing out of cracks in the tarmac; gulls wheeling out of the dark rain into the bright, circling over heaps of rotting refuse, rusting junk; empty buildings put up by somebody’s nephew with their roofs fallen in on floors laid by somebody’s brother-in-law; huge empty fuel-storage tanks with the Corporation logo fading on them; the control tower standing empty with broken windows. The sky is dark and heavy, no moon.

In Dock 14 (there’s no 13):
Clever Daughter
, a deep-space Corporation tanker, a huge battered thing like a discarded oil refinery all pocked and pitted from the dust and flying debris of seven galaxies, dull metal shining in the rain. Nothing sleek, nothing aerodynamic – it doesn’t need to be smooth and sleek like those old ships that went up on a pillar of fire and five million pounds a minute.
Clever Daughter
’s bound for the Morrigan in the Fourth Galaxy with 500,000 hectolitres of protomorphic acid for De Groot Draconium.

The juicers have disconnected and pulled away. The transmission window’s cleared. ‘OK for flicker on 72.3 Ems,’ says the voice in the headphones. There’s a loud hum and a strong smell like burnt-out writing; the air shimmers in the purple rain under the lights.
Clever Daughter
and its reflection aren’t there any more. Nothing to see. Only the silence cruising like a shark. That’s flicker drive.


Flicker freako, here and gone,
flicker freako, be my baby,
flicker quicker, off and on,
love me sometime, love me maybe,
flicker with me till we peak O!
be my baby, flicker freako.

Sol Krummer and Harry Stein, ‘Flicker Freako’

Some children inherit money and property. What I’ve got is an oscillator in my brain: it’s about the size of a pellet of birdshot. If you want to be a flickerhead you’ve got to have one of those.

Most civilians don’t get to see the
Corporation Yearbook
. Here’s the beginning of ‘A Note on Flicker Drive’ from the 2053 edition:

Victor Lossiter’s investigations into biological scaling began after he read Richard Voss’s early 1970s papers on 1/f noise and Benoit Mandelbrot’s theory of fractals published in 1977. He credited film director Gösta Kraken, however, with the idea that started him on the research that resulted in his formulation of the Intermittency Principle in ‘Being: Not Steady State but Flicker’,
Scientific American
, April 2017. Thirty years earlier Kraken had written:

Being is not a steady state but an occulting one: we are all of us a succession of stillnesses blurring into motion on the wheel of action, and it is in those spaces of black between
the pictures that we find the heart of the mystery in which we are never allowed to rest. The flickering of a film interrupts the intolerable continuity of apparent world; subliminally it gives us those in-between spaces of black that we crave. The eye is hungry for this; eagerly it collaborates with the unwinding strip of celluloid that shows it twenty-four stillnesses per second, making real by an act of retinal retention the here-and-gone, the continual disappearing in which the lovers kiss, the shots are fired, the horses gallop; but below the threshold of conscious thought the eye sees and the mind savours the flickering of the black.

BOOK: Fremder
2.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

A Beautiful New Life by Irene, Susan
Letters to Penthouse XXII by Penthouse International
Desolation Crossing by James Axler
The Art of Murder by Louis Shalako
Corrupt Practices by Robert Rotstein