Modem Times 2.0by Michael Moorcock
Jerry CorneliusMichael Moorcock’s fictional audacious assassin, rockstar, chronospy, and possible Messiahis featured in the first of two stories in this fifth installment of the Outspoken Author series. Previously unpublished, the first story is an odyssey through time from London in the 1960s to America during the years following Barack Obama's
Jerry CorneliusMichael Moorcock’s fictional audacious assassin, rockstar, chronospy, and possible Messiahis featured in the first of two stories in this fifth installment of the Outspoken Author series. Previously unpublished, the first story is an odyssey through time from London in the 1960s to America during the years following Barack Obama's presidency. The second piece is a political, confrontational, comical, nonfiction tale in the style of Jonathan Swift and George Orwell. An interview with the author rounds out this biting, satirical, sci-fi collection.
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Modem Times 2.0
By Michael Moorcock, Terry Bisson
PM PressCopyright © 2011 Michael Moorcock
All rights reserved.
MODEM TIMES 2.0 A JERRY CORNELIUS STORY
MINIATURE phones you carry in your pocket and that use satellite tracking technology to pinpoint your location to just a few centimeters; itty-bitty tags that supermarkets use to track their products; bus passes that simultaneously monitor your body temperature to find out how often you are having sex ...
— James Harkin, New Statesman, January 15, 2007
Mother Goose: Youth, why despair?
The girl thou shalt obtain
This present shall her guardian's sanction gain
The GOOSE appears
Nay doubt not, while she's kindly used, she'll lay
A golden egg on each succeeding day;
You served me — no reply — there lies your way.
— Harlequin and Mother Goose; or, The Golden Egg by Thos. Dibdin, 1st perf. Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, Dec. 29, 1806
LIVING OFF THE MARKET
1. A MYSTERY IN MOTLEY
GALKAYO, Somalia — Beyond clan rivalry and Islamic fervor, an entirely different motive is helping fuel the chaos in Somalia: profit. A whole class of opportunists — from squatter landlords to teenage gunmen for hire to vendors of out-ofdate baby formula — have been feeding off the anarchy in Somalia for so long that they refuse to let go.
— New York Times, April 25, 2007
Madness has been the instigator of so much suffering and destruction in the world throughout the ages that it is vitally important to uncover its mechanisms.
— Publisher's advertisement, Schizophrenia: The Bearded Lady Disease
The smell of pine and blood and sweet mincemeat, cakes and pies and printing ink, a touch of ice in the air, a golden aura from shops and stalls. Apples and oranges; fresh fruit, chipolata sausages. "Come on, girls, get another turkey for a neighbour. Buy a ten-pounder, get another ten-pounder with it. Give me a fiver. Twenty-five pounds — give us a fiver, love. Come on, ladies, buy a pound and I'll throw in another pound with it. Absolutely free." Flash business as the hour comes round. No space in the cold room for all that meat. No cold room at all for that fruit and veg. The decorations and fancies have to be gone before the season changes. "Two boxes of crackers, love, look at these fancy paper plates. I'll tell you what, I'll throw in a tablecloth. Give us a quid for the lot. Give us a quid thank you, sir. Thanks, love. That lady there, Alf. Thank you, love. Merry Christmas. Merry Christmas."
"I hate the way they commercialize everything these days."
"That's right, love. A couple of chickens, there you go, love — and I'll tell you what — here's a pound of chipos fornothing. Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas! Seven-pound sacks. Two bob. No. Two sacks for half a dollar. Half a dollar for two, love. Last you the rest of the year. Stand up, darling. Here, Bob, hold the fort, I'm dying for a slash. Dolly mixtures, two bags for a shilling. Two for a shilling, love. That's it, darling! Genuine Airfix they are, sir. All the same price. Those little boys are going to wake up laughing when they see what Santa's brought them. Go on, sir, try it out. I'll throw in the batteries. Give it a go, sir. No, it's all right, son. Not your fault. It went off the curb. I saw it happen. Go on, no damage. I'll tell you what, give me ten bob for the two. Tanner each, missis. You'll pay three and six for one in Woolworths. I'll tell you what. Go in and have a look. If I'm wrong I'll give you both of 'em free. Hot doughnuts! Hot doughnuts. Watch out, young lady, that fat's boiling. How many do you want? Don't do that, lad, if you're not buying it. Get some cocoa. Over here, Jack. This lady wants some cocoa, don't you, darling? Brussels. Brussels. Five pounds a shilling. Come on, darling — keep 'em out on the step. You don't need a fridge in this weather."
Now as the sky darkens over the uneven roofs of the road, there's a touch of silver in the air. It's rain at first, then sleet, then snow. It is snow. Softly falling snow. They lift their heads, warm under hoods and hats, their faces framed by scarves and turned up collars. (Harlequin goes flitting past, dark blue cloak over chequered suit, heading for the Panto and late, dark footprints left behind before they fill up again.) A new murmur. Snow. It's snow. "Merry Christmas, my love! Merry Christmas." Deep-chested laughter. Sounds like Santa's about. The students stop to watch the snow. The men with their children point up into the drawing night. "Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas!" It's a miracle. Proof that all the disappointments of the past year are disappearing and all the promises are really going to be kept. "Happy Christmas, darling. Happy Christmas!" The Salvation Army stops on the corner of Latimer Road. The tuba player takes out his vacuum of tea, sips, blows an experimental blast. Glowing gold flows from the pub and onto the cracked andl ittered pavement. A sudden roar before the door closes again. "Merry Christmas!"
A boy of about seven holds his younger sister's hand, laughing at the flakes falling on their upturned faces. His cheeks are bright from cold and warm grease. His thin face frowns in happy concentration.
"Here you go, darling. Shove it in your oven. Of course it'll go. Have it for a quid." All the canny last minute shoppers picking up their bargains, choosing what they can from what's too big or too small or too much, what's left over or can't be sold tomorrow or next week. It has to be sold tonight. "I'll tell you what, love. Give us a monkey for the lot." Merry Christmas. Merry Christmas — sparking toys — little windmills, tanks and miniature artillery — glittering foil, tinsel and trinkets. Clattering, clicking, nattering, chattering, clanking, whizzing, hissing, swishing, splashing the street with cascades of tiny lights. Multicoloured bulbs winking and shivering, red, white, blue, green, and silver.
Stacks of tightly bound trees, already shedding ripples of needles, some rootless, freshly sawn, some still with their roots. The smell of fresh sawdust, of earth ... The smell of a distant forest. The boy knows he has to get a big one and it has to have roots. "Five bob, son. That's bigger than you, that is. Give us four. Six foot if it's an inch. Beautiful roots. What you going to do with it after? Plant it in the garden? That'll grow nicely for next year. Never buy another tree. That'll last you a lifetime, that will."
Jerry holds his money tight in his fist, shoved down between his woollen glove and his hot flesh. He has his list. He knows what his mum has to have. Some brussels. Some potatoes. Parsnips. Onions. Chipolatas. The biggest turkey they'll let him have for two quid. Looks like he'll get a huge one for that. And in his other glove is the tree money. He must buy some more candle-holders if he sees them. And a few decorations if he has anything left over. And some sweets. He knows how to get the bargains. She trusts him, mum does. She knows what Cathy's like. Cathy, his sister, would hold out the money for the first turkey offered, but Jerry goes up to Portwine's tothe chuckling ruby-faced giant who fancies his mum. Nothing makes a fat old-fashioned butcher happier than being kind to a kid at Christmas. He looks down over his swollen belly, his bloodied apron. ("Wotcher, young Jerry. What can I do you for?") Turkeys! Turkeys! Come on love. Best in the market. Go on, have two. ("Ten bob to you, Jerry.")
There's a row of huge unclaimed turkeys hanging like felons on hooks in the window. Blood red prices slashed. Jerry knows he can come back. Cathy smiles at Mr. Portwine. The little flirt. She's learning. That smile's worth a bird all by itself. Down towards Blenheim Crescent. Dewhurst's doing a good few, too. Down further, on both sides of the road. Plenty of turkeys, chickens, geese, pheasants. "Fowl a-plenty," he says to himself with relish. Down all the way to Oxford Gardens, to the cheap end where already every vegetable is half the price it is at the top. The snow settles on their heads and shoulders, and through the busy, joyful business of the noisy market comes the syncopated clatter of a barrel organ. God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen, The First Noël, The Holly and the Ivy cycle out at the same manic pace as the organ-grinder turns his handle and holds out his black velvet bag.
"Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas!" His hat is covered in melting snow but his arm moves the crank with the same disciplined regularity it's turned for forty years or more. Away in a Manger. Good King Wenceslas. O, Tannenbaum. O, Tannenbaum. Silent Night. Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Cathy puts a halfpenny in his hat for luck, but Jerry's never known his luck to change one way or another from giving anything to the barrel organ man. He pulls Cathy's hand for fear her generosity will beggar them. "Come on. We'll do that butcher right at the top. Then we'll work our way down." There's no such thing as a frozen turkey here. Not in any Portobello butcher's worth the name, and all the veg is fresh from Covent Garden. All the fruit is there for the handling, though the stall-holders affect shocked disgust when the middle-class women, copying French models, reach to feel. "No need for that, love. It's all fresh. Don't worry, darling, it won't get any harder if you squeeze it." Dirty laughterdoes the trick. "Ha, ha, ha!" Gin and best bitter add nuance to the innuendo. Panatella smoke drifts from the warm pubs. Chestnuts roast and pop on red-hot oil-drum braziers.
And Jerry looks behind him. "It was all true," he says. "It really was. Every Christmas after the Blitz."
"Well, possibly." Miss Brunner's attention was on the present. The box was big enough at any rate, in red, gold, and green shining paper and a spotted black and white bow. "Nothing beats Christmas for horrible colour combinations."
"Of course, it couldn't last." Jerry contemplated the best way of opening the present without messing up the wrapping. "The snow, I mean. Turned to sleet almost immediately. By the time we got to our place at eighty-seven Ladbroke Grove, with the turkey, it was pelting down rain. I had to go back for the tree. At least I could hold it over my head on the way home." He'd opened it. The brown cardboard box was revealed, covered in black and blue printed legends and specifications. Automatically, neatly, he folded the wrapping. He beamed his appreciation, his fingers caressing the familiar sans-serif brand name in bars of red, white, and blue. "Oh, blimey! A new Banning."
Shakey Mo Collier grinned through his scrubby beard. "I got another for myself at the same time. Joe's Guns had a two-for-one."
Using a Mackintosh chair she'd found, Miss Brunner had built a blaze in the ornamental grate. Smoke and cinders were blowing everywhere. "There's nothing like a fire on Christmas morning." She drew back the heavy Morris curtains. There was a touch of grey in the black sky. Somewhere a motor grunted and shuffled. "Don't worry," she said. "I think it's dead."
Carefully, Jerry peeled the scotch tape from the box. The number in big letters was beside a picture of the gun itself: BM-152A. He reached in and drew out a ziplock full of heavy clips. "Oh, God! Ammo included." His eyes were touched with silver. "I don't deserve friends like you."
"Shall we get started?" Miss Brunner smoothed the skirt of her tweed two-piece, indicating the three identical Gent's Royal Albert bicycles she'd brought up from the basement. "We're running out of time."
"Back to good old sixty-two." Mo smacked his lips. "Even earlier, if we pedal fast enough. OK, me old mucker. Strap that thing on and let's go go go!"
They wheeled their bikes out through the side door of the V&A into Exhibition Road. White flakes settled on the shoulders of Jerry's black car coat. He knew yet another thrill of delight. "Snow!"
"Don't be silly," she said. "Ash."
With a certain sadness Jerry swung the Banning on his back then threw his leg over the saddle. He was happy to be leaving the future.
2. WHEN DID SUNNIS START FIGHTING SHIITES?
Scanning your brain while you watch horror movies might hold the key to making them even more frightening. The findings could reshape the way scary movies — perhaps all movies — are filmed.
— Popular Science, June 2010
The holidays over, Jerry Cornelius stepped off the Darfur jet and set his watch for 1962. Time to go home. At least this wouldn't be as hairy as last time. He'd had a close shave on the plane. His head was altogether smoother now.
Shakey Mo and Major Nye met him at the checkout. Shakey rattled his new keys. "Where to, chief?" He was already getting into character.
Major Nye wasn't comfortable with the Hummer. It was ostentatious and far too strange for the times. He might as well be driving a Model T, he got so much attention.
"I hate it," said Jerry. "And not in a good way."
Resignedly, Major Nye let Mo take the Westway exit. "A military vehicle should be just that. A civilian vehicle should besuitable for civilian roads. This is a kind of jeep, what?" He had never liked jeeps for some reason. Even Land Rovers weren't his cup of tea. He had enjoyed the old Duesenberg or the green Lagonda. To disguise his disapproval he sang fragments of his favourite music hall songs. "A little of what you fancy does you good ... My old man said follow the van ... Don't you think my dress is a little bit, just a little bit, not too much of it ... With a pair of opera glasses, you could see to Hackney Marshes, if it wasn't for the houses in between ..."
"So how was the genocide, boss?" Mo was well pleased, as if the years of isolation had never been. He patted his big Mark 8 on the seat beside him and rearranged the ammo pods. "Going well?"
"A bit disappointing." Jerry looked out at grey London roofs. He smiled, remembering his mum. All he needed was a touch of drizzle.
"Heaven, I'm in heaven ..." began Major Nye, shifting into Fred Astaire. "Oh Bugger!" Mo started inching into the new Shepherds Bush turn-off. The major would be glad to see this American heap returned to the garage so he could start dusting off the yellow Commer as soon as Mr. Trux came back from his holidays. Thank god it was only rented. Mo, of course, had wanted to buy one. Over in the next century Karl Lagerfeld was selling his. A sure sign the vehicles were out of fashion. They drove between the dull brick piles of the Notting Dale housing estates whose architecture was designed to soak up all the city's misery and reflect it. Major Nye glanced at Jerry. With his '60s car coat and knitted white scarf, his shaven head, Jerry resembled a released French convict, some Vautrin back from the past to claim his revenge. Actually, of course, he was returning to the past to pay what remained of his dues. He'd had enough of revenge. He had appeared, it was said, in West London in 1960, the offspring of a Notting Hill Gate greengrocer and a South London music hall performer. But who really knew? He had spent almost his whole existence as a self-invented myth.
Major Nye knew for certain that Mrs. Cornelius had died at a ripe age in a Blenheim Crescent basement in 1976. At least,it might have been 1976. Possibly '77. Her "boyfriend," as she called him, Pyat, the old Polish second-hand clothes dealer, had died in the same year. A heart attack. It had been a bit of a tragic time, all in all. Four years later, Jerry had left, been killed and resurrected countless times, went missing. After that, Nye had stopped visiting London. He was glad he had spent most of his life in the country. The climate was much healthier.
As Mo steered into the mews the major approvingly noted that the cobbles were back. Half the little cul-de-sac was still stables with Dutch doors. Mo got out to undo the lockup where they had arranged to leave the car. Nye could tell from the general condition of the place, with its flaking nondescript paint and stink of mould and manure, that they were already as good as home. From somewhere in the back of the totters yard came the rasp of old cockney, the stink of drunkard's sweat. It had to be Jerry's Uncle Edmund. That cawing might be the distant kar-harkaa of crows or an old man's familiar cough.
Major Nye could not be sure he was actually home but it was clear that the others were certain. This was their natural environment. From somewhere came the aroma of vinegar-soaked newspaper, limp chips.
Excerpted from Modem Times 2.0 by Michael Moorcock, Terry Bisson. Copyright © 2011 Michael Moorcock. Excerpted by permission of PM Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Michael Moorcock is the author of numerous novels, including the Elric series, Cornelius Quartet, Gloriana, and The White Wolf's Son. He has received the Nebula, World Fantasy, and British Science Fiction awards and is a Grandmaster of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. As editor of the science fiction magazine New Worlds, Moorcock was one of the progenitors of the controversial New Wave movement. His nonfiction works have appeared in the Daily Telegraph, Guardian, and New Statesman. He lives in Austin, Texas.
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