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Headlong
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Headlong

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Author: Simon Ings
Publisher: Gollancz, 2014
HarperCollins/Voyager, 1999
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Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
Sub-Genre Tags: Artificial Intelligence
Cyberpunk
Psychological
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Synopsis

Surgically connected to their swarm of mechanical workers, architects Christopher and Joanne Yale were turning the moon into a paradise. Now, without warning, their machines have pulled the plug.

Christopher Yale is drowning in a sea of sensory deprivation and bootleg medicine. Joanne is dead, and neither the police nor their friends have any explanation. But Yale knows she was plugging pirated hardware into her head, to fight the same condition he has - Epistemic Appetite Imbalance.

Confronting his loss and his new, empty-headed world, Yale seeks out the truth of Joanne's death, all the while being drawn into a new, colder London which has no place for the Moon's failures. He hasn't got much time. The police are after him, so are his wife's killers -- and so is the condition which is slowly draining his life of meaning...


Excerpt

The moon.

Thinking back to that time, I feel as though I am examining someone else's life entirely. Like most people, I was drawn there by the adverts. These appeared in the sort of urbane style magazine you might find anywhere where there's money or the promise of it: in the lobby of a Vietnamese restaurant in Melbourne; folded back on itself underneath a copy of Vogue in an orthodontist's waiting room in Pnom Penh; or abandoned beneath the buffet table of a transcontinental train running between Moscow and Beijing.

The text of these advertisements combined offers of varied government employment with tourist-company hyperbole, as if to suggest that in a world already mapped, portioned out and colonised by artificial intelligences, you might yet stumble upon a lost city whose timid, butterfly-winged denizens would with their clumsy, complicated dances, impart to you the secrets of insect millennia. Such promises, stripped of their sophisticated setting, were a rather puerile sort of wish-fulfilment. Most of us spent our time on the Moon convinced that, should the moon's foreign-ness become in any way uncomfortable or oppressive, it could somehow be dismissed: drowned in the smell of familiar fast food, or shattered by the latest Gamelan beat spilling from the door of a neon-lit bar.

My first architectural assignment had come up in Eddington, on the farside, and I had decided to travel there overland. The journey took four days. There were six of us on that journey, including the capcom, rolling about in the pioneer-level discomfort of a twelve-wheeler portable transfer habitat.

I could have covered the journey in about an hour by dart. But I was going stir-crazy. The last thing I needed was to be buzzed seemlessly from one notional location to another in a windowless tin-can.

Since my arrival, extreme sunspot activity had kept us all underground. And even when it became safe to topside, there was nowhere for me to go. Everyone else headed to the airlocks, but that wasn't any use to me: I was months away from earning even the most junior of EVA licences.

At least, travelling by PTH, I could look out of the windows.

I was the baby of the party. The other passengers were veterans, here to take advantage of our leisurely schedule. Right now, I was alone with the capcom-a pre-Apolloco retiree who could remember the days of the government stations. The other passengers had EVAed, walking out of sight behind a complex of scree slopes and partial structures marring the outskirts of Eddington.

'They found a bone near here,' he said.

'Yes?'

'At the edge of this sea.'

'Where?'

'Markov. Ten klicks out. Sixty west, twenty north. A human calcaneum.'

'What?'

'It's the bone in your heel.'

I watched his face, reflected in the port glass. It gave nothing away. I said, 'Maybe when the Sally Ride-'

Already he was shaking his head. 'No scorching,' he said. 'No flesh. No impact mark, either. Covered by dust.'

'They date it?' I asked, giving way to fancy.

He grunted. 'After how much solar rad?'

I shrugged, and turned back to the window.

Nothing obvious, like a skull, or a femur. A calcaneum. A nice touch, if you were inclined towards that kind of here-be-dragons bullshit.

But as a story it was an anachronism even before its teller opened his mouth. There would never be an audience for it. No generation of wide-eyed newcomers or frightened children to en-trance, not this time. No sooner did the capcom and his kind make up their first crude mythologies of the place, than they were blown aside by the convenient social geometries of the cities, the bright certainties of evenings at the multiplex, the quartz-accurate rythm of railways and radio schedules.

There would be no time, this time, for fireside stories; no time to shape, out of old men's malign leavings, a national identity. Not one generation would pass before the myth-free moon was all mapped, mined and malled to abstraction.

There was something pitiable about the capcom and his prehistoric stories. 'And a skull atop the Montes Rook,' he said, to himself.

Copyright © 1999 by Simon Ings


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