Sunday, January 19, 2014

Among The Angels' Hierarchies: The Movie (Part III)

A Question for the Damned

“So…what’s your novel about?”

It’s a legitimate question. But it can cause even the most confident of writers to run screaming down the hall, lock themselves in the bathroom, and spend the night sobbing, curled next to the toilet. Imagine spending years putting together a somewhat layered and complex story only to find that the world needs - nay...MUST HAVE - a condensed, easily digestible summary, in order to open the book.

 “Yes, yes, all that’s a given – so what’s the novel about?”

There are times when I’m somewhat autistic when it comes to small talk, and during those times, I immediately interpret the question in terms of theme: “It’s about illusion.”  “It’s about Fate.” Invariably, I’ll get the glazed look, the confused nod, then a quick exit from the conversation: “Oh, fate…yes…you want another beer …”

“Okay, what I’m really asking is this: What happens in the book? What’s the plot?”

Oh right, I understand now. Another legitimate question, surely. When you pull a book off the shelf at a bookstore (remember those?), or while scanning for books online, you want to know what the book is about, yes? I do.

Cool Cover: Family Cannon/Halina Duraj

First, like everyone else, I judge a book by its cover (“Ooh, cool image!”), then I turn it over and read the blurb on the back to see what it’s about. Now, you and I both know that the blurb is not telling us what the book is really about – it’s an advertisement, meant to get you hooked enough to dig into your miserly pockets and pull out fifteen bucks, just for the privilege of reading on:

"Running away from a dark past, Ishmael ships out on a whaling vessel to the South Seas. Just when he thinks his troubles are at an end…that's when his true nightmare begins. Is the captain taking the ship on a one-way collision course into HELL? What hideous white beast has been lurking beneath the waves, waiting for this very ship, this very captain, this very crew?  A cliff-hanging, edge of your seat, white-knuckle inducing, cosmic battle between good and evil awaits...." 

                             Call me Ishmael. Call me a cab.

“Unh-hunh. The question still remains – what’s the book about?”

The World of Among the Angels’ Hierarchies

Angels' takes place in a dystopian near-future. The majority of the population in the western United States has been forcibly evacuated east of the Missouri River due to prolonged drought. The wealthy live on protected compounds, while the poor scrabble for a living as best they can. 

The preoccupation in both compound and non-compound life is with virtual games. (Yes, yes, I know this is a clichéd trope – but in this case there is high level of satire involved. To play a game you put your face into a blue halo - called a Nimbus - projected off any available screen. The Nimbus enshrouds and triggers parts of the brain, giving the player the sensation that they are actually a character in the game – thinking what they think, feeling what they feel. But there is no winning or losing, you are just along for the ride. All choices have already been made....a bit like participating in our economy, many parts of our political system, and the entertainment/spectacle culture. The only choice is usually which 'character' to be.)

The corporations (in reality, just one, under different 'imprints') control all media technology and are almost exclusively engaged in broadcasting spectacles of fake natural disasters: giant sand plumes in the Sahara; mutant cranes as harbingers of a Christian apocalypse (known as crane-gels); plague pyres in China. Games are released to accompany each spectacle (For example, images of plague pyres are synched with a game called Voyages, in which the player participates in a ghost dance until they leave their body and travel the globe, visiting shamans and healers in search of a plague cure). 

Meanwhile Deth, a drug that simulates a near-death experience, ravages the country. Deth-heads hear angelic voices compelling them to carve words into their skin. The drug is fatally addictive.

Oh, for the Love of God, Christien, What the F@#$ is Angels' About?

Okay, fine. Here's a short synopsis-type-thingie:

Angels' is the story of Caleb Mission, recently returned to Christmas City, his hometown in northwest Iowa, after an abortive search for his cousin and childhood mentor, Christine, an artist and apprentice shaman/healer, who mysteriously disappeared in Colorado ten years before. 

The novel tracks his first month back in town, including dangerous run-ins with the local Deth-house leader (called an Azrael); encounters with mutant cranes, said to be apocalyptic angels; misadventures procuring euthanasia drugs for a possible immortal in an old folk’s home; and building a tentative relationship with his Aunt Therese, the local healer, who he blames for Christine’s disappearance. 

Interwoven with the present-day action are chapters tracing Caleb’s past in the megalopolis of Des Moines (food riots, anarchist collective shenanigans, marriage and divorce) and Christine’s journey from Iowa up to her disappearance in Colorado.

Throughout , the three main characters – Caleb, Christine and Therese – struggle with and against their understanding of fate and free will and what these things even mean when seen in the context of vast, cyclical patterns of the natural world.  

All threads are eventually tied together when a local territory dispute between Deth-houses erupts into all-out war. 

                          Greek Fate.


                                                                                                       Taoist Wu-Wei


You know,the usual stuff.

Among the Angels' Hierarchies: The First Chapter

New Moon

New moon is blindness.  The bat jerks, insect to insect – mouse-bodied, monster-faced – a black thread through the holes of night. 

My eyes are stones.  They slip from their sockets, sink through the surface of the earth; through the faces of those not yet born, clinging to the underbelly of a white grub; through the brittle lime-crust of the still-aching dead; through harsh tunnels of anthracite that beckon like the claws of the lonely; through the underground veins of water, warm as blood, that dissolve thirst, dissolve hunger, dissolve cloth, dissolve the soft electrical thoughts that shoot between the phantom calcium carbonate skeletons of horn coral fossils...   

A black dog stops at the edge of a field, turns, listens.  Dawn is coming.  Do not be afraid.  


Silence the length of Highway 6.  No wind, no crickets.  Caleb Mission wiped sweat from his eyes.  Ten yards ahead, a half-burnt deer carcass stretched across the road’s shoulder; five empty beer bottles propped against the torn belly, one stuffed into the deer’s black mouth. 
            The stench was unbearable, eye-watering. 
            He lifted the back of his hand to his nose, looked across the fields south of the highway:  burdock, ragweed, Canadian thistle, horseweed.  A grove of trees a quarter mile off marked where a farm house used to stand.  Beyond the grove, a silo rose from a patch of scrub sumac, listing slightly, wrapped in grape-vine and clutchweed.  When he was a child all these fields had been Renascorn; a pharm-strain grown by Renascorp.  Their motto: a renaissance in corn.  
            He scanned the dark blue thunderheads flashing on the western horizon.  Somewhere out there, across ten miles of abandoned weed fields, the storm was drenching the long-abandoned town of Jasper in cool sheets of rain.  But here – no wind, no scent of rain, nothing.
            What was he doing out here?  Back in Christmas City for only one day and he was already walking away?
            There was a shiver of grass, leaves.  Caleb squinted east down the highway.  Twenty yards beyond the deer, a black mongrel appeared through a curtain of wild carrot.  The dog crossed the road, angled toward the carcass.  Ignoring Caleb, it sniffed a leg bone, then took a black hoof into its mouth and pulled, tearing the rotten haunch away from the body.  One of the bottles propped against the deer’s stomach fell, rolled a few inches, stopped. 
            Flies scattered, settled.   
            Caleb spotted a fist-sized slab of broken macadam on the road’s shoulder, slowly bent down, and picked it up.  The dog dropped the deer leg and took a step towards him, growling low, baring yellow teeth. 
            Rock in hand, Caleb waited for the dog to make the next move.  Waves of heat rose off the black road.  Sweat trickled down his temples, hung off his chin. 
            The rattle of an engine, coming from the west, drove the dog into a patch of burdock next to the deer.  Caleb turned.  A black Dodge pickup was heading towards him, riding the center line.
            As the pickup passed, Mike Shiner, shirtless, handprints the color of dried blood across his naked chest, leaned out the passenger window and tossed a beer bottle over Caleb’s head.  An arc of yellow liquid trailed behind the bottle, raining down onto Caleb’s head and shoulders, into the ditch grass.  The truck squealed to a stop next to the deer. 
            Caleb sniffed his t-shirt.  Piss.
            Three women, naked to the waist, sat in the bed of the pickup.  Their emaciated shoulders, breasts and torsos were streaked with dried blood from the gibberish words they’d cut into each other’s skin.  They giggled, still high on their run, seeing angels everywhere, in everything. 
            Danny Shiner leaned out the driver’s window, nodded at the deer.  “You see the present we left you?”
            Caleb waited. 
            “There’s more there than meets the eye,” Danny continued, “but you gotta look real close.  It’s our way of saying ‘welcome back.’”
            One of the girls stood up, raised her face and arms to the sun and erupted into a long Deth-shriek.  The two sitting on either side of her opened their mouths in unison and let fly shrieks of their own.    
            It was all Caleb could do to keep from covering his ears to block out the terrible sound.  The scream echoed around him, inside him.  He took a deep breath and slowly lifted his hand, gave Danny the finger. 
            “C’mon, Mission, I expect more from you,” Danny said.  Mike laughed. 
            The girl dropped her arms, looked at Caleb; smiling, ecstatic.  Her face had the caved-in look of a long time user, as if the skull behind the skin had shrunk, leaving the face prematurely wrinkled. 
            She was already dead.  
            “I think Kalia here likes you,” Danny said. “And I would have offered her to you...but now…”  He pointed at Caleb’s upraised finger.  More laughter from inside the truck. 
            Danny slid back into the cab, punched the brake and accelerator at the same time.  The rear tires screamed against the blacktop and all three girls shrieked back, echoing the tires.  The truck fishtailed, shot east, pitching the Deth-girls forward onto their hands and knees.  
            More shrieks, laughter. 
            Caleb held his finger aloft until the truck was out of sight and he was, once again, enveloped in silence.  He scanned the burdock for signs of the dog.  Runnels of sweat trickled down the back of his neck, along his spine, down his arms, dripped off his fingers.        
            Water.  He needed water.  Maybe the storm would reach him on his way back to Christmas City. 
            The clouds were so dark.  A promise of cold rain. 

Next week, a new series: Poetry? I Just Don't Get It.

One poem with commentary by the author

First up in the series:
"If I Ring My Body Like A Bell of Coins..." 
by Michaela Kahn 


No comments:

Post a Comment