Sunday 18 September 2016

Nanny Knows Best - Epilogue

As I pointed out here, I've long been a fan of collections of short stories that not only have interlinking themes, plots and characters but which are also "top-and-tailed" by an interlinking prologue and epilogue.

Last year I wrote "Nanny Knows Best", a short story which I knew would act as a prologue for the State of the Nation collection (see reading, below).  This has since been broadcast on Dave Reeves' Radio Wildfire spoken word show.

This Summer, I finally got round to writing the Epilogue, the tail of the collection, if you will.  I had a vague idea of what I wanted to accomplish with this but a final definitive story just wouldn't come.  For a long time, as the story is a critique of the Nanny State and overbearing Public sector, I toyed with doing a variant of the following joke, with Nanny being the narrator:

"I'm tired. For a couple of years I've been blaming it on iron poor blood, lack of vitamins, dieting and a dozen other maladies. But now I found out it ain't that. I'm tired because I'm overworked.

The population of USA is 237 million. 104 million are retired.

That leaves 133 million to do the work. There are 85 million in school, which leave 48 million to do the work. Of this there are 29 million employed by the federal government. This leaves 19 million to do the work.

Four million are in the Armed Forces, which leaves 15 million to do the work.

Take from the total the 14,800,000 people who work for State and City Government and that leaves 200,000 to do the work.

There are 188,000 in hospitals, so that leaves 12,000 to do the work. Now, there are 11,998 people in Prisons. That leaves just two people to do the work. You and me.

Boy Oh Boy. And you're sitting there reading this. No wonder I'm tired, I'm the only one working."

However, I just couldn't think of a way of making that work, even within the confines of a satire, so nothing came of it.  I finally worked out what it needed to do by simply going back to basics and thinking, "What exactly am I satirising here?  What am I criticising?"  And that's when the final story came to me and then came out, fully-formed, in one writing session.  While this doesn't happen very often, these are always the best stories, in my eyes.

Anyway, without further ado, please see "Nanny Knows Best - Epilogue", the final, concluding story to the State of the Nation collection:

“Nanny Knows Best - Epilogue”

“What we have here,” Nanny said to the Judge, “is a blatant disregard for law and all social etiquette.”  He wagged his finger at the defendant.  “This Client has gone out of his way to break the Abolition of Death Act time and time again.”
Nanny paced the Court-room and addressed the twelve Clients who sat in their padded, slightly ululating Chairs™, some farting and dozing, others gurgling contentedly as their IV drips slowly fed them sedatives and perfectly balanced Liqui-Meal™.
“As a society we have made great strides in Public Health.  Our forbears consigned the Social Evils of smoking, drinking and obesity to the history books.  Exercise has been prescribed and perfect nutrition implemented.  The emotional stressors of social inequality - jealousy, envy, despair – have been eliminated.  The negative health impact vectors of personal desire, personal responsibility and indeed any kind of emotional inner life have been removed.  And all at the cost of only a hundred trillion pounds, a bargain at half the price I am sure we would all agree.”
The Nannies murmured their assent as one of the Clients shrieked in delight when a fly landed on his nose and he clumsily pawed at it with meaty fingers.  There was a beeping noise as a sensor in his Chair™ detected the secretion of dangerous levels of adrenaline and serotonin in his bloodstream and an automated plunger squeezed down in a syringe and he was settled.
“Yet this Client, despite all these breakthroughs in Public Health, stubbornly and obstinately refuses to obey the law!”  He pointed at the defendant, his stiff, pale body wedged into the dock in such a way that it would not collapse onto the floor.
“It was found that the Client had acted in a way inconsistent with the Abolition of Death Act in October of last year.  As is customary in such cases the Client was issued with a Cessation of Behaviour Notice and warned about the dangerous and anti-social aspects of his actions.  However, despite this, when the Client’s Nanny returned to his Home™ the following day, he found that the Client was continuing to indulge in risky and anti-social behaviours contrary to life.”
An usher, discretely stepped forward to swat some of the flies that were gathering around the ripe-smelling corpse.
“At this point his Nanny had no choice but to distribute “I like being alive!”™ stickers around the Client’s Home™.  Recent research has determined that these stickers have a 95% success rate in preventing death addicts from succumbing to previously ingrained, personally destructive behaviours, such as lacking life.  So of course you can imagine his Nanny’s sheer horror to discover that, on his next visit, the Client was continuing to insist on being dead.”
Not being sat in the thermostatically moderated environment of a Chair™, the defendant’s body had started to bloat in the summer heat and it jerked noisily in the dock as its abdomen swelled, his head lolling grotesquely to the side.
“However, never let it be said that the role of the Ministry is to persecute the dead.  Rather it is to prevent death.  So, the Client was then given another opportunity to moderate his behaviour by attending a half-day Life Awareness session.   His Nanny at the session reports that he was….  Nanny flicked through some papers as he tried to find the correct quote from the report.  ““….Quiet, attentive and clearly reflecting on the experience.””  He closed the papers and turned to the Judge.  “But yet again, when his Nanny visited him the following day he was continuing to act in contravention of the Law and stubbornly refusing to live.”
The defendant stared at him with milky, unseeing eyes.
“Milord, I contend that this Client should face the full sanctions available to this court.  His refusal to even mount a defence of his actions surely only adds to his obvious guilt.”
Nanny sat down as the Judge considered the case before him.  One of the Clients gurgled and slapped his thighs, a line of drool slowly dripping from his chin.  The judge nodded, coughed and turned to the accused.  “It seems that the judgement of this court is that the defendant’s wilful obstinacy in maintaining outdated behaviours and his continuing refusal to act in a manner befitting a progressive society are both obvious and somewhat foul-smelling.  It is therefore the decision of this court that the defendant is found guilty, final sentencing to be undertaken in a fortnight.”
The judge struck his gavel and shuffled from the courtroom as the defendant was dragged from the Court, leaving a slime-trail of putrefying flesh behind him.  Other Nannies murmured their approval and gathered around Nanny, congratulating him.
And as they shook his hand and slapped his back and exclaimed “Well done!” and “That’ll teach him!”, Nanny could only feel great pride in his work.  For decades his forebears had struggled with keeping their Clients safe from themselves and their own unfathomable behaviour.  Yet despite the taxes and bans and media propaganda nothing had really worked.  Until the Abolition of Death Act.  
Yes, statistics from the Ministry demonstrated that there was a 100% successful conviction rate for contravening the Act, clear and quantifiable evidence of its undeniable success.

Nanny smiled and walked down the Courthouse steps, eager to continue his important work.

Copyright © James Burr 2016

Six PKD short story radio adaptations

While Philip.K. Dick fans are waiting for Electric Dreams: The World of Philip.K. Dick to debut on Channel 4, they might find their cravings sated, at least slightly, by a number of audio adaptations of Dick's work.  Open Culture have collected together six readings and radio adaptations of some of Dick's shorter fiction“Impostor,” “The Preserving Machine,”  “Colony,” “Sales Pitch,” “The Defenders” and “The Builder.”

These are mainly from Dick's super-prolific (2 or 3 stories a week) "SF pulp" period of the late 50s.  But even in these pulpy stories, the sheer range and power of his ideas are often visible and I don't know about you, but even if some of these tales do often suffer from the amount of time devoted to their writing, they still have that warm, nostalgic feel of classic "zap gun/marauding robots" 50s science fiction so are well worth listening to.

As always though, even in these tales, PKD is uncannily prescient.  Here in "Sales Pitch" he basically predicts pop-ups, spam and personalised advertising, even down to the never-ending pimping of weight loss products and fat burners.


A Cache of Flashes

Black Pear Press have announced the publication of their 2016 Worcestershire LitFest Flash Fiction Anthology, A Cache Of Flashes, in which my shortlisted story "Genuine Photo"will appear.  The launch of the anthology will take place at 4pm at Drummonds Bar, The Swan with Two Nicks, 28 New Street, Worcester WR1 2DP on Sunday 20th November 2016.  I'll be reading the story at the launch and hopefully filming it, to be posted here at some point in the future.

Mindwebs - 153 Classic Speculative short fiction readings

I came across this recently although I've only had a chance to listen to a few of them.  Mindwebs is a collection of 153 SF and speculative short story readings from a radio series that ran on WHA Radio in Madison, Wisconsin from the mid 70's until the mid 90's.  The readings are further enhanced by sound FX, music and some guest voices and there is a heavy emphasis on one of my favourite periods of SF, the 60s New Wave, with readings of stories by PKD, Thomas Disch, Brian Aldiss, J.G. Ballard and Harlan Ellison, as well as stories from other giants of the genre such as Ray Bradbury, Arthur.C. Clarke, Robert Bloch and H.P. Lovecraft.

Well worth a listen if you are a fan of spoken word and/or classic speculative fiction.

Friday 3 June 2016

Flash story shortlisted by the Worcestershire LitFest & Fringe Festival

As always, I've been busy most of the year with University work, but as I build up to what will hopefully be another long University vacation of writing, some good news on some of the work I completed last Summer.

"Genuine Photo" has been shortlisted by the Worcestershire LitFest & Fringe Festival in their flash fiction competition.

Not only is this pretty good news in itself, but judging from the Festival I went to a couple of years ago (when "The Doll's House" was published, albeit not shortlisted), they usually ask the shortlisted writers to read their stories out.  So hopefully I may be able to upload a fresh reading video from that event.  I suspect this may be at some point in the Autumn.