Terrarium

Terrarium

by Scott Russell Sanders
     
 

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With round-the-clock drugs, games, and eros parlors to entertain them and virtual weather to sustain them, humans live inside a global network of domed cities known collectively as "the Enclosure." Having poisoned the biosphere, we’ve had to close ourselves off from the Earth. The cities of the Enclosure are scattered around the globe on the land and sea, and

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Overview

With round-the-clock drugs, games, and eros parlors to entertain them and virtual weather to sustain them, humans live inside a global network of domed cities known collectively as "the Enclosure." Having poisoned the biosphere, we’ve had to close ourselves off from the Earth. The cities of the Enclosure are scattered around the globe on the land and sea, and are connected by a web of travel tubes, so no one needs to risk exposure. Health Patrollers police the boundaries of the Enclosure to keep the mutants and pollution out.

Phoenix Marshall decodes satellite images for a living. He has spent all 30 years of his life in Oregon City, afloat on the Pacific Ocean. He busies himself with work and various forms of recreation to keep boredom at bay. One morning he opens his door to find Teeg Passio. Teeg is the same age as Phoenix, but she’s different; she’s menacingly and enticingly wild. She grew up on the outside. Her mother oversaw the recycling of the old cities, and her father helped design the Enclosure. Teeg works maintenance, which allows her to travel outside the walls. When she introduces Phoenix to her crew, he is drawn into a high-tech conspiracy that may threaten everything he understands. Are humans really better off within the Enclosure? Is the Earth? Are Health Patrollers keeping us safe or just keeping us in?

Teeg seduces Phoenix out of his orderly life, enlisting him in a secret, political and sexual rebellion. Teeg and her co-conspirators, part mystics, part tech-wizards, dream of a life embedded in nature. Then one day, during a closely monitored repair mission on the outside, a typhoon offers the rebels a chance to escape the Enclosure and test their utopian dreams in the wilds.

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Editorial Reviews

Ursula K. Le Guin

"A keen eye, a sensuous and exact imagination, and a buoyant spirit." —Ursula K. Le Guin

From the Publisher
"A keen eye, a sensuous and exact imagination, and a buoyant spirit." —Ursula K. Le Guin

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780253017291
Publisher:
Indiana University Press
Publication date:
01/22/1996
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
288
File size:
0 MB

Meet the Author

An award-winning author of essays and fiction with an ecological focus, Sanders’ work has been compared to that of Emerson and Thoreau, as well as to that of Wendell Berry and Annie Dillard. In "Terrarium," he infuses his ecological vision into a timely and beautifully wrought science fiction novel.

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Terrarium


By Scott Russell Sanders

Indiana University Press

Copyright © 1995 Scott Russell Sanders
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-253-32956-1


CHAPTER 1

Phoenix thought of her as the barefooted walker. From the morning when she first loomed into view like an unpredicted planet, she set up fierce tides of desire in him.

On that morning the pressure inside Oregon City and inside his head seemed no greater than usual, no more conducive to visions. A blue wig dangled stylishly about his ears, facepaint disguised his features, and a portfolio of satellite film beneath one arm identified him as a man bound for the office. Chemmies regulated every bodily process that needed regulating. All his life was in order. But when Phoenix emerged from his apartment, ticking off the day's plans in his mind (work, then breeze-tripping for lunch, electro-ball in the afternoon, and eros parlors in the evening), suddenly there she was, a barefooted woman pacing in the wrong direction on the pedbelt. Slap of naked flesh on the conveyor. By matching her stride to the speed of the belt she managed to stay at the same point in the corridor, just opposite his doorway. Bustling along, yet never stirring from her chosen spot, she reminded Phoenix of the conjoined whirl and stillness of a gyroscope.

Surely a madwoman. Escaped from the health patrollers. Phoenix backed rump against his apartment door just as it clicked shut. Embarrassed, he glanced down, but not before catching a glimpse of red hair escaping from the woman's hood, her cheeks showing feverishly through a skimpy glaze of cosmetics, her green gown actually darkened with perspiration below the arms and around the neck. The corridor trapped her scent, forced him to breathe it. Smell of hot animal. Her knees, thrusting against the gown at each step, nudged a raw spot in his brain. Just a beast, a throwback, he thought—and he felt aroused and ashamed.

By lowering his gaze he hoped to give the woman a chance to recover her senses, to withdraw from his life. But down below were those naked feet, slapping the pedbelt, and they sent his gaze skidding back up along her flanks and spine to the hooded face. So he had the misfortune to be staring at her luminous green eyes when she turned on him and said, "It's called walking, you idiot."

Abruptly she stopped her pacing and tugged the hood closer about her face; the conveyor hustled her out of sight.

Phoenix blinked. Gone back to her cave, he thought. Crawled under her rock. Good riddance. He filled his lungs slowly, emptied them. The ventilator banished her smell within seconds. Well, that's over, he decided.

But the image of her face—flushed, practically naked beneath the film of cosmetics—stuck fast in his memory. He went on to work, transferring from pedbelt to escalator to elevator, and eventually to the roller-chair that deposited him at his desk, where he bent as usual over the satellite monitors. But rather than hunt for signs of hurricanes, thermal inversions, radiation storms, for the thousand signs of Terra's assault on the human system, his eyes kept tracing the shape of the woman's face in the cloud patterns, the bulge of hip and breast in the contours of continents.

After work he yearned for something stronger than breeze-tripping or electro-ball, so he proceeded directly to the gamepark for a day-ending orgy in the eros parlors, where he hoped to wipe the woman's image from his brain. At the door of the eros parlor he drew back, however. The rosy electronic din inside the lovebooths seemed distasteful. So he joined his cronies at the pharmacy, thinking he would take a chemmie. That would surely obliterate all memory of the barefooted walker. But as he tilted the drink toward his lips, something caught in his throat, and he set the chemmie back on the counter. As the shutters came down over the eyes of his companions, he slipped away from the pharmacy and rode straight home.

There was no barefooted woman pacing on the conveyor outside his apartment, of course, since both pedbelts were jammed with riders. Of course, Phoenix reassured himself. What do you expect? Patrollers would have caught her by now. Already be coaxing the beast out of her. Make her a good citizen of the Enclosure, no threat to anyone.

He spread his palm against the lockplate on his door, then stood there for a minute in the opening, glancing sidelong at the double stream of riders. All their feet were covered, their legs motionless, their heads properly hooded and wigged, their bodies hidden beneath gowns, their faces expertly masked. All as it should be. No one returned his wary glance.

It pained him to enter the apartment. The room's orderliness, which had comforted him that morning, oppressed him now. The dials glinted on his console, row after row, perfect circle after perfect circle. The glittering angles of his metal furniture seemed too harsh. Nothing invited his touch. The photo-murals on the wall were just then shifting their kaleidoscopic designs to mark the beginning of a new hour, but they could not be touched, they were only patterns of light. Feeling like an idiot—she had called him that, an idiot—Phoenix stood in the middle of the room, tongue hanging out, sniffing and tasting. Dead air, without taste or smell. Beastly smell she had. Sweat? Green eyes like flares. He tossed a few pillows on the floor, left a cabinet standing open, and dragged half a dozen costumes from their hangers, but without any real hope of disturbing the order of the place. He oozed a dollop of veg from the food dispenser, sniffed it without appetite, then flung the green stuff down the recycle. Slumped in the softest chair, burning his lips on a cup of hot narco, Phoenix scrutinized the geography of his life, seeking some wild place that might accommodate the longing aroused in him by this barefooted woman.


Days ticked by. Each morning before work he peered out through the spyhole in his door, but with less and less fear—or was it hope?—of seeing her. Just when his life was composing itself again, when the clouds on the satellite monitors were beginning to resemble clouds again instead of lips and ankles, one day he looked out and there she was, pacing along in her sweat-darkened green. The lens of the spyhole made her appear swollen. Her naked feet seemed to dangle from a bulbous torso. Her head, with its fringe of red hair, bobbed ridiculously. Horrible, really, now that he had a good look at her. Wondering how such an unappetizing creature could have enthralled him, Phoenix boldly opened the door. It was a mistake. Her full stare caught him. Moist cheeks behind the glaze of makeup, long-boned feet, swim of legs beneath the gown.

This time she pronounced the words icily: "It's called walking. You should try it. Melt away some of that flab."

By reflex, Phoenix smoothed the gown over his cushiony stomach. Flab? How dare she refer to his body! The chill in her voice told him she had no memory of their earlier meeting. All these days while he had been suffering around Oregon City with her image spiked into his brain, she had salted him away in the vaults of forgetfulness together with a million other once-glimpsed faces.

"Do you mind?" she said, never breaking stride. "There's less traffic here. Fewer pedbelt zombies to compete with."

Looking away down the corridor he shook his head no, then in confusion nodded yes, unsure just what he was answering. The woman kept at her walking, matching the conveyor's pace. Phoenix shilly-shallied in his doorway, immobilized by a sudden vision of himself as he must appear to her: bouffant wig of iridescent blue, face painted to resemble the star of Video Dancers, every inch of flesh cloaked in a moodgown. And, yes, to tell the truth, a wee bit heavy in the paunch. He could not bear to look down at the fireworks of color he knew his gown would be making in its vain attempt to express his inner pandemonium.

"I don't mind." He felt his nostrils flare with the scent of her. "Why should I mind?"

"Good question. But there's a lot of drecks who do."

She smiled, and he winced. The smile, the private sharing of words, the eye contact, the exposed face—it was all coming in such a rush, shattering the rules of sexual approach.

Unable to bring himself to name a body part, he stammered, "Your walking things ..."

"My feet?"

"Yes. Do they hurt?"

"Never. That's why I go barefoot, to keep them tough."

"And why have diem tough?"

"So I can walk barefoot."

"But why walk at all?" Phoenix demanded in vexation. Before he could slice into her circular reasoning, passengers trundled around the curve, and the woman, with no attempt at disguising her smile, crossed to the other pedbelt and rode away out of sight.

For a long time he stood in his doorway, hoping. But traffic thickened in the corridor and the woman never reappeared. Or perhaps she did pass again, duly costumed and painted, camouflaged in the crowd. Passing, she might even have seen him, and still not been able to distinguish him from the hundred others who were decked out this morning in iridescent blue wigs, and whose faces were patterned after that video actor. Phoenix felt paltry, lurking there on his threshold, at once conspicuous and invisible.

Finally he surrendered to the day, to work, to an afternoon of lightshows, to an evening of brain-puzzles at the gamepark; and then he surrendered to the return home, to the waterbed, to sleep. Dreams of the barefooted woman stalked through his skull. An extra dose of narco did no good. A bout on the eros couch, with the gauge spun all the way over to visionary delight, offered only mechanical relief. Electronics could not reach the territory in his mind where the woman's image kept burning and burning.


Desire melted away what little order remained in his life. The apartment grew shabby. Friends stopped scheduling daykillers with him when he failed to show up a second time or a third. His costume suffered, at first from neglect and then from his deliberate search for idiosyncracy. He wanted to be visible to the woman when he met her again. So he hauled out unstylish clothes, ones that paid no attention to his body chemistry but just hung upon him in outrageous combinations. His wigs grew increasingly bizarre. His facepaint appeared slapdash, as if applied in the dark by a vindictive cosmetician. Wherever he went in Oregon City the glances of passersby slithered along at his heels.

He wondered how long he could traipse around like this before the health patrollers carted him away for a little hormonal therapy. Perhaps he should even turn himself in for a checkup. Judging by all he had been taught concerning health, he was a profoundly sick man. Yet he did not feel sick. He felt exhilarated.

At work the satellite photos looked more than ever like a stew of lips and breasts and trailing hair. His supervisor made him rewrite a third of the eco-wamings and advised him to cut back on the narco. But Phoenix was not applying narco or any other balm to his inflamed heart. Nothing half so vivid as this love-ache had ever seized him before, and he was in no hurry to escape the exquisite pain.

Days off work he spent vainly trying to discover some timetable in the barefooted woman's exercise. But he had no more luck than the ancients had at predicting sunspots. When she did loom into sight, he kept indoors, not yet ready to meet her again. Every night he paced with naked feet around the perimeter of his room. Five steps and then turn, five steps and then turn: the blisters multiplied on his soles. After two weeks of this, questioning his sanity at each step, he could walk for an hour without panting, and his feet began to leather over.

Training on the pedbelt was more risky, only possible at two or three in the morning, when anyone else traveling through the corridor would most likely be as eccentric as he. Soon he was able, with very little puffing, to stay abreast of his room for half an hour. Struggling to defeat the conveyor's ceaseless motion, he did not feel like a gyroscope—he felt like a lunatic.

On one of his three A.M. training sessions he was striding along, engrossed in the study of his feet, when her voice broke over him:

"So you tried it."

Looking up, he met the achingly familiar stare. "Yes," he mumbled. "I kind of wondered what it was like."

"And what do you think of it?"

"Oh, it's interesting." Witlessly he repeated, "Very interesting."

For several seconds the two of them paced side by side, two lunatics out for a stroll. From the comer of his eye Phoenix enjoyed the woman's profile, her skin showing more nakedly than ever through the paint, her legs kicking against the loose fall of gown. Elegant concentration of energy. The eyewall at the center of a typhoon, that's what she was.

"Good for the heart and lungs," she said.

"I suppose so," he agreed, shocked by her language.

"And legs."

He loosed the sexual word without thinking: "Legs."

The woman calmly continued, as if she were in stage seven of the mating ritual. "My name is Teeg Passio."

"Passio?"

"Something wrong with that?"

"It's just a famous name, that's all."

"Famous for the wrong reasons," she said. "My father ..." she began in a tone of bitterness. There was a spell of silence, broken only by the pad of feet, the rumble of the conveyor. "And don't you have a name?" she eventually asked.

Phoenix could sense the expectant twist of her body as she waited for a response. "Name? Sure, sure. My name's Marshall."

"Only Marshall?"

"The back one's Marshall. Front one's Phoenix. Phoenix Marshall."

Her green eyes seemed to be measuring him. "You're not offended? About exchanging names?"

"No, no, certainly not," Phoenix boasted, with a show of bluffness. "I don't really accept all the ... well, you know, the formalities."

"Stupid waste of time, aren't they?"

"Stupid, yes indeed."

"All this business about mating rituals," she proclaimed, dismissing his lifelong code of behavior with a sweaty stroke of her greensleeved arms, "and when you can exchange names, and when you can look in another person's eyes, and when your little fingers can touch. Ye gods. Idiocy."

"Idiocy," he mumbled, swept up by those passionate gestures.

"It's like a web, all these rules. Every time you want to open your mouth or lift your hand there's a rule binding you."

Phoenix heard himself agreeing earnestly. "Like a web, exactly. Everywhere you go you get tangled in it."

"Cut loose, is what I say."

"Cut ... loose?" He stilled his tongue, alarmed by the turmoil her talk was stirring in him. He could feel the sweat trickling down his face, streaking the paint, dampening the collar of his moodgown.

"How often do you walk?" she asked.

"Oh, every day. Sometimes twice a day."

"Any special time?"

His eye was caught by the surge of flame-colored hair around the edges of her hood. His fingers twitched. "Morning," he said, then quickly added, "or night, just about any time. My schedule's flexible. And you?"

Her smile seemed to raise the temperature in the corridor several degrees. "I don't keep a schedule. But maybe we could set a time, meet for a walk. That is, if you—"

"I would. Yes, very much," he said with a rush.

"I know places we can walk without these jackass conveyors getting in the way."

Jackass? he wondered. But all he said was, "Anywhere's fine."

"How about Shasta Gamepark at 1600 tomorrow? South gate?"

"Sure," he agreed, reduced to monosyllables. "Fine."

"Peace." With palm lifted, she began to drift away on the pedbelt.

"Wait," he begged. In a panic he thought for ways to keep her, fearing that such an improbable creature might not survive until tomorrow. "Do you live in Portland Complex?"

She jerked a thumb domeward. "Seven floors above you." Walking again, she kept her place on the belt. Arched above her face the hair formed a red border of turbulence.

"And what brings you through here for exercise?" he asked.

"Looking for a walking partner."

"Oh." Again he scrambled for words. Her bluntness dried up his throat. "And why do you walk?"

The smile again, crippling all his faculties. "I'm in training," she said.

"Training?"

"For going away."


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Terrarium by Scott Russell Sanders. Copyright © 1995 Scott Russell Sanders. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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