The Glass Desert


Justa fictional sketch on the topic of posthuman environments/body variants. Those who know his work might spot the influence of Hannu Rajaniemi.

Might do some more with it subsequently.



The glass desert was filled with the hulks or dead or dormant machines – coiled like burnt snakes against white glare. The air pixelated with things that hummed and chattered on the wind. It held a faint tang of ammonia, burning eyes and throat.

Kame watched the collapsed bodies of the dead machines, alert for signs of raptors – shimmering like a school of fish under metal skin. Raptors hunted for incarnate data, for memories. She sometimes wondered if the chattering things were psychotic remnants of raptor feasts: soul shit.

The implants they had fitted after she had renounced her humanity back at the Reservation didn’t prickle under her air-sealed skin. She was safe, just for now.

She looked across a gap between two elephantine structures, still twitching in what passed for death among the sentient machines of the Abolition. Here was a smooth bowl in the desert, like a giant’s thumbprint. Its rim striated with something like writing that shimmered in the phosphorescent light.

As Kame bounded to the gap, helped by the cultured tendons in her new legs, she could see the writing resolve into thousands of worm-like cilia. The depression was like the mouth of a sea creature, a starfish crater: in fact, a temporary association of atom-scale assemblers known to the human cartographers of this place as “eaters”.

She knew that she did not have much time. The formation was not stable and might dissociate unpredictably. She would not survive here in her current form, however augmented. Either a raptor or incremental fluid loss would take her. Kame approached the eater-colony, stripping first her clothes, then her hard desert-fashion skin.

Underneath, she was just pink, soft meal. The air was corroding her, stripping away sheets of raw meat. The last few meters to the colony was a fog of pain and hemorrhaging lungs.

She almost didn’t make it. Finally, a raw, bleeding approximation flopped into the starfish mouth. Here the eaters could do their work. Gently taking her apart to reformat Kame in ways that would allow her to slip through the air like a manta ray and listen to the keening, inhuman voices beyond the sky.



8 thoughts on “The Glass Desert

  1. Way cool. Way-way.

    As a technical matter, there’s something about modifiers that jams their effectiveness when used consecutively. A good rule of thumb is the ‘every other rule’: give your modifiers space from other modifiers by never modifying consecutive verbs, nouns, or phrases thereof.

    Also, and this is just something I do, it pays to ask yourself what you think is most striking about a piece (or passage) then think about goosing it–in ways subtle or garish, depending on the effect you’re aiming for. So I found the most striking thing to be the contrast in imagery, the movement from the mechanical/hard to the biological/labile. Goose it, not in any way that would make it explicit to the reader, but in a way that slumbers just below the threshold. Make her the conduit of a dichotomous metaphoric relation.

    This ties into a last suggestion: give her observations, just a few, but of significant things. It’s a great way to simultaneously concretize the scene and her character (you can tell a lot about someone via their observations).

  2. Oh thanks, Scott – it’s sweet that yr enthusiaistic. i’m working on a larger piece ( bit Dying Earth meets Southern Reach – nothing very original), but this was just a writing exercise, really. Wanted to imagine an extreme “posthumous” environment. I’d just been reading the second of Rajaneimi’s quantum thief books and got a bit inspired.

    Great advice too. I generally like to pare down, but I was trying to dial up here. Probably too much.

    I find narrative so incredibly hard compared with writing a philosophy paper. And god knows, I’ve tried in the past. So a sketch seemed like a safe way to begin. It has occured to me that this could be the kernel of a longer piece. Giving Kame a bit more attitude and perspective would be necessary. I think of her as impetuous and splenetic – itching to get out of some zone of calm, into the weird. All the things, I’m not 🙂

  3. Drinking once with Jim Sallis (yes, the brother of you-know-who) at La Semana Negra in Gijon, we were talking about the difficulties of teaching creative writing, when suddenly none other than Anne Perry sweeps up (it’s hard to explain the surreal gravitas of that woman), and simply says, “Teaching someone how to write is as easy as any craft–do it, then do it some more. It’s teaching them how to have something to *say* that’s bloody impossible.”

    This is what I mean when I say you’re more than 9/10ths the way there!

  4. Interesting, David! I like it. Why the gender? Being posthuman would it be defined or confined to gender or our anthropomorphic linguistic constraints? Fiction of course, but why not substitute “it” the impersonal subject? Or even a neologism as substitute with some intro or glossary? Of course this is just convention, and I understand your use of it if the further story would entail some gendering of the creature under discussion.

    What I like is your descriptions of the environment and the various artifacts. Like to see more. This passage:

    “She would not survive here in her current form, however augmented. Either a raptor or incremental fluid loss would take her. Kame approached the eater-colony, stripping first her clothes, then her hard desert-fashion skin.”

    It’s as if whatever she is will be totally transformed shortly by this “eater-colony” … and hard to visualize “hard desert-fashion skin” – almost need something more tangible, more visual or hyperbolic – either insectual like a carapace or like a toad – the old likening to some actual object. “desert-fashion skin” seems too abstract and indefinite… for me description ultimately must become concrete and physical while thought can be abstract, object description needs that physical exteriority of concreteness.

    Hope to see this published … let me know where it goes!

  5. Cheers, Steve. As it is, it’s just a fragment, an attempt to visualise a posthuman environment. I’d need to fill it out with backstory. In fact it feels like the conclusion of a story so, it would need to grow a long tail.

    The “desert fashion” skin is a kind of Dunesque-joke.

    Regarding gender – well taking into account Scott’s comments – it’s very hard to write from a totally inhuman perspective convincingly. So the choice of gender is more or less arbitrary, but the fact of gender implies something about a human situated in a world that’s largely populated by entities that are entirely posthuman.

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