Brian Aldiss

Superstate

BRIAN ALDISS WRITES: These two extracts come from the later sections of the book. We are in the EU, forty years on. We meet some of the many characters involved. While everyday existence persists, despite severe global storms, a small manned expedition, led by Alexy Stromeyer, has succeeded in landing on Jupiter’s moon, Europa. The news causes some excitement back on Earth, where life and death continue unabated.

Both Olduvai and Rebecca were troubled in their spiritual life. The typescript of his short book, Who Do We Call Father? had come into Rebecca’s editorial hands.

It had struck a chord in her heart; their ensuing correspondence had resulted in their meeting. He ventured now to take her hand as they walked down one of the side aisles of Cologne Cathedral, feeling its slenderness, its tenderness.

They seated themselves in an empty pew, very aware of their nearness to each other, he so broad, she so slim. The Archbishop was not in the pulpit, but standing by the altar, down from the steps, speaking simply to a small congregation. He was talking about the war and the inequalities in the world.

“Twenty percent of the population are consuming eighty-five percent of the globe’s natural resources. It represents a greed near madness, our greed. Our lifetimes are highly energy consuming and wasteful. And nothing consumes more and wastes more than warfare. Future generations will certainly condemn our attack on the small nation of Tebarou – if not on moral grounds, then on conservationist grounds. We are plundering our planet to the point of no return. Already we see the elements taking their revenge.”

Olduvai said quietly, “Oh, sorry, as civilized beings we know all this, don’t we?”

“We need to hear it over and over. And when even the church speaks of it…”

“Everyone speaks of it, yet does nothing.”

“My father does something. And now his funding is in question.”

“Believe me, I honour him for his work. You have spoken of your father in your letters. Now I wish I had loved – been able to love – my father as you do yours. I believe you are in love with him?”

“That’s not the case. I love my father – love him intensely. I’m not in love with him. That’s different. I think I am in love with you.”

He seized Rebecca up in his arms and kissed her lips.

A man in the pew behind them leant over and tapped Olduvai on his shoulder. “We don’t want that kind of thing in here, please. This is God’s house.”

“God would envy me,” said Olduvai. They moved out of the cathedral. They went into the railway station, where kissing was allowed. He said, “I hated my father. I told you that. Yet there is much truth in what he had to say. He was just lousy at personal relationships. I have made a lot of money from my songs, far more money than I need. Ever since my sister Josie committed suicide, I have wondered what kind of person I should be, and what to do with the money…”

“Money from your song?”

“In part, yes. ‘Once a Fabulous Holiday’… Funny how I have such contempt for that song now. It’s so frivolous, yet it has made me a millionaire – a millionaire in univs, not marks. Maybe I should found an institute. It would have to examine radically what it is in our make-up that gives us such pain. And that gave my father so much pain.”

She did not pursue that line of talk, since she did not entirely understand what he meant. Instead, she said merely, “Your book will make you more money. It will sell well in foreign translations, too, I’m sure of it.”

“I want to do something worthwhile at last, Becky.”

“I will help all I can. You feel you want to do it to justify yourself in your father’s eyes?”

“No, in my own eyes.” He thought, before saying with a sad smile, “Yes, I guess also in my father’s eyes. His dead eyes. Even though I hated the old bastard.”

She contemplated his face even as he scrutinised hers. “Don’t you think your hatred of God has much to do with your hatred of your father?”

“Oh, there’s no doubt in my mind that fathers and kings invented the idea of God to reinforce their own power. Why else is god always male and not female? Becky, darling, to me you are a goddess. I long for you, I crave you… You are entirely all my happiness.” When she dropped her gaze he studied the perfection of her eyelids.

She answered in a low voice. “How can you say that? We don’t really know ourselves yet, never mind each other. I find myself to be terribly duplicitous. At home, I am so sweet and meek and mild it would make you sick. Yet inwardly I rage for something. I’m ferocious, remorseless – but for what, I can’t tell. I’m unfulfilled, and I don’t just mean sexually. I want to do something. I want to change the world, when what I most need is probably to change myself.”

“We’ll work together – if you will let me. Do you think I would want a woman who was not, like me, in a rage about everything?”

Because it was a railway station, many people were saying goodbye to others, perhaps for an hour, perhaps forever. In the foyer, couples were standing against walls: kissing, youths, old people, men with women, women with men.
Rebecca and Olduvai stood there too, both wondering at the miracle that had been bestowed on them. A kind of perfume surrounded them, enfolding them, keeping them safely separate from all other mortals. They opened to each other, mouth against mouth, exchanging saliva, tasting one another. Their clothes formed no impediment to their imaginations. It seemed to them that they also exchanged thought, thus becoming one whole delighted and delightful person. Finally, they were gasping for breath, the warm carbon dioxide sweet on the other’s cheek. They went on to talk. They entered the cafeteria and ate croissants and drank capuccini, each wrapt in the other’s personality. Their gaze was on and through the other’s eyes.

As they emerged into the wide cathedral square, a parade was passing through it. Banners waved, a little tinpot band played. Most of the people were dressed as strange beings, with felt tentacles sprouting from their heads, or with plastic wings, or golden fins. Their banners said things like “WELCOME TO OUR FELLOW LIFE FORMS!” and “LONG LIVE EUROBEINGS!” The couple linked arms and stood to watch.

Some of those who were of the procession ran hither and thither with collection boxes. Bystanders threw money in, and applauded. Everyone looked cheerful. Small boys trotted along beside the procession. Rebecca gestured towards them, half-laughing.

“Some people at least believe in the unity of life!”

“And in the uses of money,” said Olduvai, throwing a five-univ piece into a passing box.

Hi! This is Alexy. Fatigue and malnourishment have struck. We’re all three pretty goddam Zill. We need to hear from you. This report will be brief. Eucarya is in the category of extramophilic animals. After seven trawls, executed with difficulty, we brought up two more Eucarya in one net. So we do not believe these creatures are particularly plentiful.

These two new specimens are slightly smaller than the first specimen, and weigh twenty-eight and thirty grams. They are rather more grey than their predecessor, but otherwise identical.

We eagerly anticipate your response. In our opinion, this discovery justifies the whole history of space travel, from Sputnik onwards. Out.

In the second extract, we attend the funeral of Sir Thomas Squire, the central character of my “Squire Quartet” of novels. The funeral is observed by a cluster of androids locked in a cupboard in the President’s palace.

The great ebony SS20 fighter-bombers were awing, flying far beyond the frontiers of the super-state, to bring destruction to the world of el Fashid.

In the Bargane vinyard, the old woman and her android worked together.

In the parliaments of Brussels and Strasburg, serious and dedicated men and women debated the rights and wrongs of war, and planned for a better world after the war.

On the altered coastlines bordering the Atlantic Ocean, cartographers mapped their diminished lands; town planners devised computer models of new harbours; economists calculated the ruinous expense.
In his bed chamber, kneeling by his great bed, Archbishop Jones-Simms prayed and wept for the sins of humanity. Far away from troubled Earth, three astronauts on the moon Europa, struggled with their destiny and the ferocious unknown.

The funeral of Sir Thomas Squire was held on the last day of November. Jane Squire and Remy Gautiner arranged everything with the funeral directors. A small reception was to be held afterwards in Pippet Hall.

Although Jane had requested no flowers, asking instead that financial donations should be made to the Squire Foundation of Popular Arts, of which she was President, flowers continued to arrive. St Swithin’s was choked with wreaths and bouquets, the damp sea air -saturated with their fragrance.

The church had been heated against the cold. It was a raw wet day; nevertheless, many locals from villages round about had come to pay their final respects. An ambient camera recorded proceedings unobtrusively from a corner of the apse.
The congregation sat huddled in their raincoats as the Reverend Rowlinson addressed them. Matilda Rowlinson was old and frail; she had been brought out of retirement to officiate as an old friend of Thomas Squire. She spoke now with some feeling.

“Tom Squire represented all that was liberal in the England that has passed away with him. He was a representative of that enquiring European mind which has given the West such pre-eminence in the world. He travelled far and wide, yet always returned here, to this little patch of Norfolk, which was his home. In his youth, he was a handsome and charismatic man, attractive to many women…” Her voice here had a catch in it. She went on hurriedly, “Now death has visited our old friend, Tom Squire. We shall all follow him to where he has gone. We find consolation in that, in sure and certain belief that he is now in Glory before the throne of Our Lord.”

Jane also made a brief speech. “Father is now with Teresa, our mother. Theirs was not entirely an easy marriage, but then, marriages are always a mystery to others. Indeed, our own marriages, too, are often a mystery to us. Marriage is out of fashion nowadays, although just two days ago, I’m happy to say, my dear daughter Bettina here became married to Bertie Haze before this very altar.

“Tom and Teresa had many happy years together. My father was a creative man. One of his accomplishments was to hold on to our beloved Pippet Hall, in bad times and good. Now it’s the elements that threaten us – elements that have been roused up by mankind’s inability to discipline its needs. This little church we have known all our lives is itself also threatened. The sea will soon inevitably claim both buildings. With them will go a part of our island history, and a valuable part at that. It’s with sorrow I say this. As it is with great sorrow that I, on behalf of my sister Ann, and my son at present fighting in Tebarou, and everyone who knew and loved my father, say a long farewell to him now.”
They sang a hymn. They received a blessing from the Reverend Rowlinson. They went outside, into the rain, to stand by the graveside. Sir Tom’s coffin was lowered into the grave.

Ann gave a small shriek and clapped a hand to her nose. Looking down at the palm of her hand, she saw an insect with a long proboscis, oozing blood, her own blood. Apologising afterwards to the Rev. Rowlinson for her outcry, she explained that this was a tropical insect, an anopheles mosquito, a new visitor to England, brought on the winds of global warming.

Close to the open mouth of the ground into which the body of Sir Thomas Squire was lowered lay the grave of his wife, Lady Teresa -Squire, Worthy of This Parish.

Jane stood at her father’s graveside with Remy, gripping his hand. Ann was nearby, having flown in from Antibes. With Ann was her current flame, the film director Casim Durando of Gabbo Films. Laura Nye was not present, having pleaded age and illness. Bertie and Bettina were present, having postponed their honeymoon for the occasion. In the background stood Victor de Bourcey, hat in hand. He had recovered sufficiently from the loss of his bride, Esme, whose body had never been found, to nourish a passionate regard for Ann Squire, whom he had seen on screen in her film role in “Lovesick in Lent”. Victor had come to the solemn ceremony more for Ann’s sake than for Squire’s, whom he had never known. He had found to his regret that Ann was totally preoccupied with Casim Durando, whom Victor regarded as a reptile.

Both Jane and Ann threw posies of flowers down on the coffin before the first spadefulls of damp earth were shovelled in. Remy kissed Jane’s cheek.

“We hope there is life elsewhere.”

“Yes, maybe, but do you imagine there’s a better place than this, for all its shortcomings?”

He did not reply. Taking her arm, he said, “Let’s go and dry off and get a drink.”

The funeral party assembled in the hall. Drinks and canapes were handed round. A fair-haired young man came up to Ann and said he was from the Norfolk Times. He asked Ann who Sir Thomas Squire was and what he had done.

“Oh, go and look at your cuttings, you ignorant little man! Look in ‘Who’s Who’. You call yourself a reporter and you don’t know who Tom Squire was?”

“I’m new at the job, love. I only need a paragraph.” He looked downcast, and snatched at a passing tuna canape as if it were a lifebelt.

The local people made their way on foot back to their village homes. The long black cars of the famous drew away from Pippet Hall. Mercifully, the rain ceased. The president’s son left the cemetary on feeling his heart to be broken.
I never belonged… Not here, not anywhere. And this smell of wet asphalt, as haunting as an old love affair. It’s always going to be winter now.

The androids in the president’s palace were locked up for the night. As usual, they talked among themselves.

“What was the meaning of this gathering we saw on the ambient?”

“It is part of what humans call the Human Condition.” “The theory is they were just enjoying themselves.”

“They all wore black clip-ons.”

“Some of them had drops of water coming from their eyes. It is a mark of sorrow. How do they achieve that?”

“You can rely on humans to enjoy sorrow. It has an effect similar to alcohol.”

“Someone became obsolete.”

“Did they have a man shut in that long box?”

“That is the theory.”

“Did the man fail to work any more?”

“He was obsolete. People last only about a century.”

“Many people came to see him go down into the ground. Did they dislike the obsolete man?””They revered him.”

“Then why did they bury him in the ground?”

“They have a theory he will get better there.”