[Fiction] The Dystopian Philosophy Club

 

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“Okay, so a train is heading for an intersection, and if you don’t do anything no one gets hurt. But if you pull the lever…”

    “Wait, what? Why would I pull the lever?”

    “I haven’t even told you what it does yet! So if you pull the lever, the train gets switched to another intersection, where there’s a second lever…”

    I kicked absently at the shale while Lana went on, outlining her preposterous idea. Somehow, she would always come up with these convoluted ‘thought experiments’ that felt like they’d been run through a bad translator one too many times.

    “…and so the second man on the tracks ends up with quite an interesting predicament. Does he pull the lever and save the cows upon the tracks, or sacrifice the passengers to the canyon?”

    “Let me get this straight. If I don’t pull the lever, nothing happens. If I do pull it, I endanger everyone on board.”

    “That’s right!” exclaimed Lana, happily. “It’s a conundrum, isn’t it?”

    I sighed, staring hard at a tiny iridescent rock crab climbing out of a hole between two slates. It was gently raising its legs one by one over the lip, an eyestalk poking out like a quizzical periscope. I thought about Lana’s proposition, trying to see if maybe there was some clever philosophical angle I was missing. I came up blank.

    “What’s the incentive, though? Why wouldn’t I just walk away and save everyone the trouble?” Lana seemed unimpressed by this.

    “Because pulling the lever makes the whole thing more interesting! If you don’t, you’re being boring.” I groaned inwardly. These sort of ‘twists’ were typical of Lana’s philosophical offerings – her moral quandaries seemed designed more to keep philosophers from being sent to the Outregions than to pose any actual dilemma.

    “Call me boring, but I would choose to save people’s lives.” The rock crab had succeeded in levering itself out and was now stutter-step scuttling towards a little pink pebble perched upon a wide chunk of shale. My scuffling kicks sent little tremors through the rocks, tiny vibrations that made the crab pause before darting forward again, like a video that kept freezing.

    Lana screwed up her face, and I knew she wasn’t happy with my answer. I intervened before she could launch into another of her tirades about how lame I was.

    “What business do I have pulling levers, anyway? That stuff’s all automated by people in locked control rooms, you know. The real question here is do I break into a government facility just so I can mess with their train timetables?”

    “Hmm…”

    “See, now that’s a real hypothetical to consider. If you got caught doing that, they’d flush you for sure.”

    “Really? Yunsi tried something like that, and they didn’t flush her.

    “No, Yunsi tried to find out if any of her birth siblings were in her college by hacking into the university records. Now she has to attend a behavior program once a week.”

    “Oh.” We fell silent for a moment. Then Lana asked the question we’d been avoiding all morning.

    “Ally, do you think Niles is alright?”

    “I’m not sure.” Obviously, the pebble had been the crab’s goal, because now it was climbing all over it, clacking its claws. The pebble was twice the little crustacean’s size, and it looked funny clambering around with its awkward crab-walk. What do crabs eat? I didn’t know.

    “It’s a shame about their dad.”

    “Yeah.” One of Niles’ care-givers, Dad Warner, had been discovered harboring a collection of beautiful prints given to him by an artist who was neither a registered close friend or partner. Private gifts like that should only be given within your inner circle – to hide art of that caliber from the greater public unlawfully was to deprive them of a group-positive experience and a chance at bonding. They were shipping Dad Warner away to the Outregions today, and Niles was there to see him off.

    “I mean, it was his own fault, but still…” Lana’s voice lacked conviction – many people had such unlawful collections, treasure troves of valuables or stories given to them by people just outside their inner circle. Dad Warner had only been unlucky enough to be caught. We weren’t so stupid as to say that aloud, though.

    “Niles must be pretty upset. Imagine if it had happened to one of our own parents, like Mom Addison or Carer June-Bloom.”

    “Yeah… I hope they don’t take it too hard. At least they’ll have the two days off for emotional recuperation, since it’s one of their carers.”

    “And we’ll still be here for Niles when they return. They’re one of our close friends, after all. We’ll help them through it.”

    “It’s still sad. I liked Warner. He shared his baking with me, sometimes.”

    “Lana, it’s not like he’s getting flushed. It’s only the Outregions – he’ll be back before you know it.”

    “Will he, Ally? They could do anything, and we wouldn’t know. How do we know they’re not flushing him, huh? How would we know?”

    “Lana!” I reprimanded her sharply. Even though the stretch of beach we sat on was empty save for us and the inquisitive little rock crab, talk like that was dangerous. You never knew who could be listening in, or where the treacherous sea breeze might carry our words.

    “Sorry, Ally.” We fell silent again as the sea-wind picked up, beating up the water into short, choppy surf. It was turning cold – nowhere near wind-wrack levels, but enough to set us shivering. The hem of my long skirt flapped erratically, rippling and snapping against my bare legs and the stone embankment we were perched on. I was glad I’d thought to bring a jacket.

    Niles was the third member of our little group, which we’d whimsically termed the Dystopian Philosophy Club. The name itself was enough to suggest mind-expanding conversations and worthy self-improvement, and we’d been easily able to get the concept approved as a suitable hobby for each of us at Central Office. It wasn’t a complete fabrication, though probably no one would have cared if it were – we did often go on philosophical tangents, debating ideas of right and wrong, or discussing moral and ethical quandaries that had occurred to us the day before. It’s just that wasn’t all we did – the DPC had become a safety net for us, a space where we could air ideas that bordered on the controversial without too much fear.

    This semi-sheltered stretch of Pebble Beach served as both our headquarters and our meeting-place, secluded enough to offer some degree of privacy but public enough to defuse suspicion of subversive aims or dissidence. We were lucky that each of our officially registered passions or callings were sufficiently flexible to enable our irregular but frequent meetings. Over the past few years, the DPC had become a home away from home for each of us. I’d seen Niles upset before, but I could hardly imagine what they were going through. The most traumatic thing still to have happened in my life was the normal sibling purge at the age of five – I had never lost a carer, like Niles was now. Temporarily or otherwise.

    “Look, we should probably get going. I have to be at rehearsals by one, or my director will flush me. She’s mad enough I was late last week thanks to that train breakdown near Junction 11.”

    “Alright, Ally. See you Thursday?”

    “Yeah, Thursday.”

    “Hopefully Niles will be back then.”

    “I’ll send them a message tomorrow.”

    “Alright.”

    “See you.”

    “Bye.”

[Podcast] Storytelling podcast “Tales from Spasming Hill” is out!

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It’s been a while again, friends, but I’m here with the really super duper exciting news that “Tales from Spasming Hill”, my new absurdist storytelling podcast, has been released! After three months of work including writing, recording, lots and lots of hours of editing, and a whole heap of fun, we have released the first episode “Dungeoncrawl”.

This will be an ongoing series with lots of twists and turns and awesome plot arcs, so stay tuned for future episodes too!

I’ve embedded it below but you can listen to it on iTunes, Soundcloud, Stitcher, and just about any other podcasting application you can think of. Head to our website to find out how!

[Review] The Nice Guys

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On the outside of the cereal packet, The Nice Guys follows one of the most well-worn formulas in Hollywood: two private eyes, just out to make a difference in the world in their own way, are thrown together by circumstance and forced to co-operate on that one big case.

In this comedic iteration of the reluctant buddy cop film, the morally-conflicted tough-guy do-gooder Jackson Healy is played by Russell Crowe, while ambiguously talented yet charming incompetent Holland March is brought to us courtesy of Ryan Gosling. As scripture dictates in this style of film, both detectives have grim and probably tragic pasts which they have no desire to share, but emerge gradually as they learn what haunts the others’ footsteps. While The Nice Guys wallows freely in the conventions of its genre, it is mercifully free of a few of the more groan-worthy excesses buddy cop films are prone to.

Like Starsky & Hutch, Gosling and Crowe drag us back into the smoky, strange world of 1970s California, this time to the City of Angels, Los Angeles. It’s a different world, one where the internet’s not a thing, projectionists named Chet roam the streets, and the cars of naked porn stars crash downhill through your house at night, leaving their occupants sprawled picturesquely upon a rock. People contact each other by corded home phones and drive flashy sports cars past billboard advertisements for Jaws 2.

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[Announcement] Podcast: Tales from Spasming Hill launching soon!

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I am excited to announce that my new podcast, Tales from Spasming Hill, will be launching very soon. We’re aiming for launch on Monday 13th of June (AEST).

Tales from Spasming Hill is an absurdist fantasy storytelling podcast set in the fictional town of Spasming Hill. The official description runs as follows:

Buried in the forests of Oregon and built thoughtlessly atop a fault line, the small community of Spasming Hill is home to friendly people, good clean living, and a mayor and her monstrous doppelganger that prowl the streets at night.

With a vast, sprawling containment complex, a local sport played only during violent earthquakes, and all the other familiar and highly classified elements of a welcoming community, Spasming Hill is probably just an ordinary town.

Join local reporter Rex Zorkel-Smythe and his newest intern Jacqueline Hyde as they bring you reports on the latest news, cultural happenings and council-mandated color-confiscation days in TALES FROM SPASMING HILL.

I hope you’re as excited as I am! It’s been a lot of work and I know my writing output here has suffered for it, but it’s heaps of fun to make and produce. Keep an eye out for further details here🙂

[Rainy day flashfic] Under the influence

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Image credit spiky-summer-girl on DeviantArt

Creatures crouch beneath the eaves. They are there when I look, still and passive, but when I look away their teeth grow long and sharp and their eyes dark. They’ve never overtly threatened me or made so much as a move in my direction. Like demented lawn gnomes, they just sit and stare with vaguely off expressions into the middle distance.

Their teeth breed anxiety. It’s like when you’re sleeping but your eyes are open and the wardrobe door is open, too, but you just can’t move, because sleep paralysis is a thing that 10% of people experience in their lifetime. It’s the feeling of knowing the danger is there but being unable to do anything about it. And worst of all, the wardrobe door is open only because you forgot to shut it, and not because Mike Wazowski is lurking there, evaluating you with his cyclopean stare. Tension resolved by mundane explanations is tension left unresolved.

When I approached the creatures crouched beneath the eaves, they reverted to their non-peripheral form, all malevolent grins and stifled mocking chuckles. So I kicked one, right in the face. That got the attention of the others, and they started exchanging stilted whispers and worried expressions – were they going to have to rise to my challenge and reveal themselves? Understand that their dilemma was decidedly non-feudal. It wasn’t a matter of besmirched honor or letting slights go unpunished, but something far simpler. Having kicked one and seen its teeth grow sharp in feral anger, would I proceed to apply my unprotected foot to the others? Their self-interest compounded into a far greater sum, until levees burst and fear flooded through.

The under-eaves are deserted now, the creatures left to go inhabit some other poor sod’s lawn. Did I defeat them? Not really. At night, there is still the chance that I will wake up and experience the terrifying lack of movement of a body held captive by REM atonia even as my consciousness fights against the suffocating hallucinations that so often accompany these waking nightmares. A loss of agency is one of the most horrifying fates imaginable – to look on helpless as your captor’s teeth grow long and sharp around you.

[Radio] Theatre challenging heteronormativity

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Theatre has a long, proud tradition of challenging the dominant societal norms of its day, from The Marriage of Figaro during the French Revolution to Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot.

One particular social issue which has come to the fore over the past few decades is that of gender. The traditional view of a binary system with men and women at opposite ends has come under scrutiny from all areas of society.

Charlie O’Grady is a trans playwright who has dealt with themes of gender before in his play Kaleidoscope. He has a new play showing this week and next that continues his exploration of gender and questioning of traditional views on the subject.

I spoke with Charlie about his upcoming play, Telescope. Check it out on 2

http://www.2ser.com/component/k2/item/22286-theatre-challenging-heteronormativity

[Fiction] The day the Minotaur died

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Image credit soft h on DeviantArt

The day the Minotaur died, the inhabitants of Knossos were distraught. What were they to do now? Their town’s major attraction was gone, and its thriving tourist industry was under threat. And if Nashuja, second cousin to the Sybil, stalked about muttering of freedom from an ancient curse, well. Nashuja muttered about many things, and few but Ariadnh, the healer’s daughter, listened to him much anyway.

Over the coming weeks, the Minoans learned to their dismay just how much the Minotaur had pervaded every facet of their life. Their legal system was in shambles – prisoners condemned to death now wandered out of the Labyrinth a few days later, dazed and dehydrated but very much alive. The auguries no longer behaved for their bull-headed priests, and of course no ships could be launched nor commercial ventures considered without favorable portent. Business declined rapidly as visitors began to instead visit Phaistos across the island and Zakros on the eastern shore, famed for its haunted Ravine of the Dead and intricate honeycomb of seaside caves.

And if Nashuja pointed and frothed at the mouth when two-fathered Theseus, son of progenitor-hero Aegeus and the dread sea god Poseidon, emerged from the Labyrinth two days after the Minotaur’s death, well, no one really listened to what Nashuja said. They had bigger problems. Only Ariadnh, who watched silently as her mother bound and tended the wounds of grimly triumphant Theseus, heard Nashuja’s presentiments and heeded them. Her heart grew heavy.

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