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anthropology

Thirty Years After

by Jared Kavanagh

Great Yarmouth, the British call it.

To the uninitiated American reader of my travel journals, any town in modern Britain that possesses the appellation “great” must have acquired it via tragic irony. After all, Britain no longer possesses any urban agglomerations of sufficient size to be called cities.

In truth, the provenance of the name is ancient, far older than the Day. Four locals gave me five explanations for where Great Yarmouth’s name came from. I was, and remained, sceptical of all of them.

What mattered was that Great Yarmouth was a minor British port before the Day, and was the largest that didn’t receive a visit from Soviet bombers or missiles. The town has boomed since then, where most of Britain has declined.

As a surviving port on a railhead, Great Yarmouth became the main entry point for the trickle of American aid that Britain received after the Day. Marks of our country’s time here are plentiful, from the six soulless concrete and timber piers built for relief ships, to the equally soulless concrete runways built in an airport when it appeared our aid would be an ongoing endeavour, to the prominently named Yankee Refuge which is still the largest pub in town.

The last relief ship left a quarter of a century ago, but Great Yarmouth prospered afterward, in so far as any town in the ashes of Europe can be said to thrive. Tourism is the only industry in modern Britain which genuinely earns the country any foreign currency, and Great Yarmouth is the biggest arrival point for the few curious sight-seers who want to experience Britain’s surviving hospitality.

My arrival date was October 27, 1992, the thirty year anniversary of the Day. A few Americans celebrate this date as the anniversary of the day the spectre of communism was cleansed from the globe. Most only mourn, even back home. In Great Yarmouth, no-one celebrated the Day, but all remembered it.

Arrival at the airport was simplicity itself, for those who had found one of the few flights that crossed the Atlantic. Passport control consisted of a cursory glance at whatever travel documentation was presented, and customs checks were non-existent. Britain’s downsized government had much higher priorities than bothering incoming tourists. Their officials occasionally scrutinised those who were departing, but never arriving.

Distinguishing tourists from locals – or returning locals – presented no difficulties. Most of the accoutrements of travel in Europe were similar to those within the Americas, but there was one significant difference. Tourists in Britain all had Geiger counters somewhere about their person.

Three decades on, most of the United Kingdom was no more radioactive than the background levels back home. Save for the sheets of glass which once formed their cities, that is. Nevertheless, any prudent traveller knew the risk of stumbling into one of the remaining hot pockets of soil somewhere on their jaunt, or being served fish which was hot in a manner other than the traditional culinary style.

The airport was only a couple of train stops from town. I’d planned to use the railroad as the best way to meet passengers, but it turned out that every visitor caught the train, for want of an alternative.

Private cars in Great Yarmouth were non-existent; people walked or pedalled or were pedalled by others. Fuel was rationed for essential transport and agricultural use, and misusing it was a hanging offence, literally. A couple of the chattier locals on the train into town went into great detail about executions they’d witnessed.

As was my habit, on the first day I spent a couple of hours strolling around Great Yarmouth. I didn’t need longer – nowhere in the town was far from anywhere else.

The town was a small strip of land between river and sea, marked by a mix of old and new. The old was traditional Britain, with heritage cottages on narrow lanes. The new was identical brick houses – brick was the cheapest construction material around here – with wider, cobbled streets. Broad streets served no transportation purpose that I could discern, but made the tourists feel more comfortable.

I bypassed the more openly tourist-seeking spots, leaving them for another time, though the prospect of the Herring Museum intrigued me. On this day, I cared more to find out what the locals recalled of the Day.

This aim drew me to the Yankee Refuge. Like so much of the town, the décor here presented a curious mix of classical and new-fangled. The walls, and the bar itself, were made of finely-polished chestnut; sound and beautiful timber. The stools were newer, and could be politely described as workmanlike. Beer came in ceramic mugs, not glasses. Light bulbs existed, but only a few – enough to make the dimness bearable rather than illuminate.

Ventured conversations quickly made it plain that discussions of the Day or its anniversary would attract flinty stares. Some were prepared to talk, but none wanted to be asked.

Conversations about the Day revealed the British think the United States emerged unscathed. Not true, to anyone even casually familiar with American history. I saw no reason to mention the rubble where Anchorage and Seattle once stood, or the effects of radiation which touched everywhere. Compared to Britain, we got off lightly. Compared to mainland Europe or the former Soviet Union, we were blessed.

Indirect probes about Britain’s fate provided more revealing answers. The locals viewed Great Yarmouth as “the luckiest city in the unluckiest country.” Every year two thousand or more people moved here from elsewhere in Britain. Every year, around the same number fled Britain’s shores entirely.

None of my American readers would be surprised that so many sought to emigrate. More intriguing was their choice of destination. None mentioned the United States. Most named Canada, Australia, or New Zealand. “They helped us, and help us still,” was the gist of their explanations. If I had to sum up the difference between Americans and the British, it would be thus: Americans want to forget the Day happened, while the British want to escape what happened.

~

Bio:

Jared Kavanagh is a writer of alternate history, speculative fiction and sometimes just plain weird stuff. He is the author of the Sidewise Award-nominated Lands of Red and Gold alternate history series, and editor of the Alternate Australias anthology. His short fiction has recently appeared in anthologies from Sea Lion Press and B Cubed Press.

Philosophy Note:

The inspiration for this tale came from assessments of how if the Cuban Missile Crisis went nuclear, the United States had the power projection to devastate the Soviet Union, while the Soviet Union could strike at the USA’s European allies but do relatively little harm to the United States itself. It follows the tradition of works which explore alternate histories via pseudo-non-fiction, such as the venerable collection If It Had Happened Otherwise (edited by JC Squire) and Robert Sobel’s classic alternate history textbook For Want of a Nail. Other recent examples in this tradition include Nicholas Sumner’s Drake’s Drum series, and Tom Anderson’s Look to the West series.

Recursed

by Tristan Zaborniak

Once upon time, a people (and their gods) lived, rollicking, chortling, sometimes wistful (though never despairing), watching the seasons turn and themselves grow old, all in amiable collaboration with time and admiration of space. They felt themselves comfortably swaddled in unambiguous laws of material and its causality, ordained as to allow precise quantity with rod and with clock, and thus a consistent sequence of consequence.  

And so they went about, measuring goods and their distances of travel, the passing days and years and stars, the sizes and weights of coins, the freeboard of boats and their areas of sail, transactions and cattle, pints and bales, all with scales appreciable to the eye or its slight stretch. A practical people they were.

However, so his story goes, one chance evening Moredictus (among their lot) put to doubt prevailing thought (or its lack thereof on the matter), asking: “What might be eventual, if I were to cleave this wheel of cheese first in half, take one of the following halves and cleave it in half again, repeating this procedure so on and so on, endlessly?” 

In this benign way did begin the beginning of the ending of the end of measure. Frenzied debate swirled and clamored over Moredictus’ dimensionless volumes, birthing a bloated bestiary of other profane quandaries. Informatic singularities, substance without substance, interminable surfaces enclosing terminable spaces, untimable moments and unmomentable times, and beings… civilizations… of scales unseen.

Reason proceeded thusly. If a body may be split unto infinity, then that body is, piece-wise, an infinitude, each piece of negligible proportion and constitution. Therefore, asking how to construct or specify anything of any size requires (in many cases) an instruction set of unending length. One such case is that of an island coastline: shorten one’s rule, lengthen the extent, shorten one’s rule, lengthen the extent. One finds the coastline to be with interminable detail, while the area contained converges to an exact finitude. 

It was then conjectured that if information content is scale-independent, then a body of arbitrary intricacy at scale X may be reproduced exactly at scale Y, where X > Y or X < Y. This led to the inevitable corollary that there might and must dance and sing and multiply persons and beasts unbeknownst to the unmagnifying eye, and untimeknownst to the unmagnifying watch.

Finally, questions of affect and effect lent further befuddling to the burgeoning craze. Assuming an atomic foundation, it may straightforwardly be said that the interactions between atoms yield epiphenomena, interactions between these epiphenomena yield further epiphenomena, and so on. Casting aside this foundation à la Moredictums, all phenomena become prefixed with epi, rendering the dream of reductionism dead and the nightmare of recursion chaotically stampeding, saddled by homunculi.

The people wailed with indignant dread at this affront to sense and logic, and their deities burned in effigy. They felt marooned, their yardsticks and balances and hourglasses and yearnings deceptive and impotent and asinine and vain. They felt themselves a hideous crossbreed of delusion and illusion, an infinitesimal blip located precisely nowhere, lost to some remote corner of an incalculable mandelbulb, bullied by the trappings of existence.

Verging on collapse without conviction or creed, a council was called to determine their faith and their fate. Admit death and join the cold graves of the old gods? Or, admit breath and seek nature’s secret natures anew?

After much deliberating discussion, the latter saw favorable election, and the central pillar to its scheme developed. A story would be written, about a people building castles in the err, convinced of the tautological equation between sense and reality, perceiving of but one scale. The story would recount the sudden, paroxysmic recounting of counting. The story would tell of forlorn angst and abandon, and the project of the dejected people to seek solace in seeking. The story would be printed so small as to reach the hypothesized beings of the scale below, and ask that they pass it along likewise, unless they inhabit the frontier of epilessphenomena, whence they should write to the beings above in iterative succession of their atomism. In this way, the people hoped to resolve their circumstance and circumscale.

You hold in your hands this very story, and we ask you, in turn: are you of atoms, or of continuum?

~

Bio:

A vertiginous hodgepodge of maps and territories, quantum computers, wildfire and carbon dynamics, algorhythms, mirrors, and corpuscles and vibratiuncles define this author.

Philosophy Note:

We all know that particles combine to make wholeicles. What if the stuff of stuff were continuous, though? Pursuing this question, in combination with ideas from endosymbiosis and fractal chaos, and inspiration on scale-shift abstracted from Douglas Hofstadter’s Little Harmonic Labyrinth form the warp and weft of this tale.

Humans

by Madeline Barnicle

Pursuant to galactic policy 10-93, no humans are permitted in microdimensional (4-11) transport vessels, except as licensed Observers to resolve any quantum inconsistencies that may arise.

Passengers must provide their own oxygen for humans.

Policy 13-72 guarantees that no licensing institution can require humans to limit their reproductive capabilities as a condition of becoming Observers. However, humans in transit for more than 2.5 megaseconds may experience higher-than-average tissue discharge.

As a matter of etiquette, please refrain from insulting other passengers’ humans. Humans from all planets, and those of undetermined ancestry, can become qualified Observers.

Unfortunately, empathy-processing companions are not allowed.

~

Bio:

Madeline Barnicle holds a PhD in mathematical logic from UCLA, and now lives in Maryland. Find her stories at madeline-barnicle.neocities.org.

Swag Of Distant Earth

by Matt McHugh

The Journal of Cultural Xenology

Volume 4,236,957 – Issue 3 (Supplemental)

Analysis of Crypto-Marketing Symbology in the Pioneer 10 Advertisement for 2001: A Space Odyssey

SubLord Gormatu (Lead Author), Professor of Xenoglyphics, The Empress B.A.T. University; k]i[n+Xi(ah)vün-te’əl, Associate Professor of Adjacency, Institute of Dimensional Topology; Jeet Patel (Corresponding Author), Intern.

Mass Tariff Funder Statement: Grants provided by The Empress Beautiful and Terrifying, Foundation for Expansion Studies; and Viewers Like You.

Abstract

A gold-anodized plaque affixed to the artifact dubbed “Pioneer 10,” which was set adrift by a pre-quantspace society inhabiting the third planet of a mid-galactic star, is an advertisement for an audio-visual narrative entitled 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Introduction

Since the start of the Eighth Age of the Empress Beautiful and Terrifying (all praise and submission to Her horrific glory) our team of xenologists has focused on the cultural particulars of the inhabitants of a remote planet known in its most common local dialects as Earth, or more descriptively, Dirt Ball (地球). (NOTE: The inhabitants use many dialects and scripting systems, the study of which is a specialty of our team.)

Relatively recently, the planet’s dominant primate species has developed the technology to process visible light and acoustic waves for storage. This stored information is manipulated to produce narrative sequences known as moving pictures, or more commonly by the quaint diminutive “movies”—though again an alternate dialect offers a more technically illuminating moniker: electric shadows (电影).

Electric shadow movies are extremely popular on Dirt Ball. Fees charged for their viewing fuel entire sectors of the economy. The industry is highly competitive and, somewhat paradoxically, must invest heavily in marketing expenditures to recoup production costs. Physical signage with cryptic imagery, intended to suggest but not reveal details of the narrative’s storyline, is a common advertising strategy.

The electric shadow known as 2001: A Space Odyssey (Erratum: The numeric prefix refers to a time-keeping system, not—as previously thought—the number of discarded versions produced by its creator) is a speculation on what the natives might encounter beyond the gravitational field of their planet of origin. Since Pioneer 10 was designed to travel outside Dirt Ball’s gravity, placing advertising for 2001 upon it was an inspired marketing gimmick.

Materials and Methods

Access to the Quantspace Omniscope, enabled by the boundless largess of the Empress B.A.T. (oh, what ecstasy to behold Her magnificent oblivion!), was essential to our remote observational research. Also, the Homeomorphic Space Grapnel, on loan from the Institute of Dimensional Topology, allowed us to obtain the actual Pioneer 10 artifact for direct inspection. From there, our team of iconographers collaborated to decode the marketing message.

Finally, it must be mentioned that culling the archives of Dirt Ball provided enormous insight. A popular maxim among Empire xenologists is “No one understands undeveloped primitives like other undeveloped primitives” and to that end we acknowledge the contributions of the American Film Institute, Wikipedia, and reddit user pFloyd237.

Analysis

Analysis of the Pioneer 2001 advertisement begins in grid square [1A] with multiple circles extending to square [1K]. These represent the local star and planetary bodies (Dirt Ball itself is in [1E]). Their unnatural alignment, a common motif in 2001, plays to native superstition that planetary conjunctions herald momentous events.

The line extending from Dirt Ball to [2H] indicates the travel of the space vehicle in 2001 called Discovery, depicted as a parabolic communications antenna, known as the AE-35 unit, aimed toward Dirt Ball. Note Discovery passes between two planets. The ship’s stated destination in the 2001 moving picture was “Jupiter” [1G] while the scripted version said “Saturn” [H1]; this is obviously a compromise to appease the substantial ego needs of the respective version creators.

Turning now to the circular objects in [10C] and [10E]. These suggest the relationship between Discovery’s support vehicles, referred to as pods, and the singular eye of the sentient computing machine named Hal. Discovery’s primate crew believe the pod to be safe from Hal’s omnipresent awareness, but are proven incorrect when Hal assumes control of a pod to lethal effect. These linked symbols illustrate that the primates’ technologies have aligned against them.

On to the most conspicuous feature: the representation of the primates themselves in grid [9I] to [3M]. They are a sexually dimorphic species—highlighted with a striking lack of modesty in [6J] and [6L]—with the male obviously the more submissive as shown by the gesture of supplication in [8I]. Note the geometric arc-and-chord behind the male. This depicts a tension-based projectile launcher called a bow. The protagonist of the 2001 narrative is named as “Dave Bowman” so the symbolism here is rather blunt. For one more subtle, note the pair of right triangles with adjacent vertices in [7N]. Baffling at first, these become meaningful when rotated perpendicularly in conjunction with the bow: it is a boat with a wind-driven sail. Oriented vertically, the sailboat is aimed against the vector of gravity, the significance of which is revealed by delving into a defunct primate dialect where “astro” means star and “naut” refers to travel by boat. Dave Bowman is an astronaut, sailing to the stars. Very clever. (NOTE: Due to local moral conventions, Dave Bowman is never depicted in the electric shadow in a pristine uncovered state, except during a regression to infancy.)

Finally, to the most contextually significant images: the rectangle cornered in [9H] and the multiple radiants centered in [6D]. The rectangle is an object in 2001 called The Monolith (a defunct dialect for “single stone”). The Monolith is intended to be an artifact originating from an unknown civilization outside of Dirt Ball. It is described with a frontal proportion in the ratio of 4×9, although this two-dimensional depiction here is 3×9. This discrepancy is possibly due to the marketing department receiving incorrect information from the movie producers (a common occurrence in the electric shadow industry) or the marketing department simply being stupid (also common, see: Gormatu et al. “A Case Study in Xeno-Economic Fatuousness: The ‘New Coke’ Fiasco.” Seminars in Social Inferiority, sponsored by the Empress B.A.T. Academy of Inevitable Destiny).

Taken overall, 2001 is the story of the primates’ attempt to discover the civilization responsible for The Monolith. That quest is aided by an accidental excursion through a quantspace conduit—i.e., the figure centered in [6D]. Referred to as “The Stargate sequence,” the visual representation of a quantspace journey in 2001 is astoundingly accurate for a society yet to achieve one. This leads to the disturbing notion that a rogue element from the Fleet of the Empress Beautiful and Terrifying (may all who defy her exquisiteness burn in agony before her pediments) has traversed to Dirt Ball and communed with the locals for some treasonous purpose.

Conclusion

Given that 2001: A Space Odyssey reveals that a primitive society has speculated on the existence of an advanced trans-galactic civilization with worrisome precision—and then chosen to boldly go and advertise that speculation via an extra-gravitic projectile—our team proposes immediate invasion and subjugation of the planet Dirt Ball. Let it be noted that SubLord Gormatu is prepared to assume the heavy burden of full Lordship in service to the insatiably righteous hunger of the Empress Beautiful and Terrifying, and is willing to accept the lowly governorship of Dirt Ball. In doing so, Lord Gormatu will be ideally positioned to plunder Dirt Ball’s archives, transmitting via Omiscope uncorrupted versions of the electric shadows most favored by the Empress (Her radiance, Her ruthlessness, matched only by Her sophistication) including the “Disney Princess” series and the complete oeuvre of Jackie Chan (成龍), especially the early-career efforts when he was still “yummy buff” (with great apology for quoting the candid ejaculation of the Empress in Her aesthetic reverie). This analysis and conclusion is hereby submitted with prostrate humility for the peerless review of the minions of the Empress B.A.T for the undeserved honor of basking for a fleeting moment in the all-consuming glow of Her unrivalled and devastatingly gorgeous wisdom.

~

Bio:

Matt McHugh was born in suburban Pennsylvania, attended LaSalle University in Philadelphia, and after a few years as a Manhattanite, currently calls New Jersey home. Website: mattmchugh.com