Useful And Fantastic: The Dream Of H G Wells
Val Yule’s imaginative tale takes us 2,000 years into the future.
Over two thousand years ago, a man called H G Wells had a dream about a man called Sarnac who had a dream that he was a man called Mortimer Smith, who had a dream about what the world might be like two thousand years after his time - the happy times in which Sarnac himself lived, and that we of his children's generation still enjoy.
Sarnac recalled the amazing story to his four friends with the beautiful names of Sunray, Willow, Starlight and Radiant, as the five were enjoying the ideal surroundings of country holidays.
The world of Mortimer Smith in the dream that Sarnac retold his dream was very different from Sarnac's own world of nearly 4000 AD. Smith was born around the end of the 19th century and died of a bullet in the 1920s, a time then called the Age of the Machine, but now known as the Age of Confusion. That Age exploded in wars that were intended to bring about a better world by worse means. Smith survived that shelling, but died through the notions of his Age that love was possession and killing was thinkable.
Sarnac. who told the Dream, had a son named Trebher Slew. One day Trebher repeated Sarnac’s journey in a sentimental way, travelling with with three friends, more modestly named Clover, Rover and Dutch-Iris, to stay in the same guesthouse among the flowery hills. There were still the trees blowing in the wind, and the creatures of the forest and of the sky, and at night singing and story-telling by the fire with a cheery guest-master. It was almost as if nothing had changed over thirty years except the visitors and the dream. For Trebher also dreamed a dream there, and in his dream, he was Mortimer Smith's grandson, Mort Arthur.
The times of Mort were very different from now. All changes today are further versions and innovations of what is lovely and a joy for all creation. The changes that Mort knew were faster and more violent than the times of his grandfather Mortimer Smith, but taken all together, hardly any better for the younger Mort. It was the Age of Accelerated Confusion, ruled by the Most High Tek. And it was Mort who discovered that there was a coil that governed the Robotic Godness.
As he told his dream to his friends, Trebher remembered how Mort had been able to look on at his own birth, while he was collated and cloned from various clottings from people that his collective Parent had thought carried traits desirable in their offspring. (Infants in those days were sprung off florence flasks into the world - hence, offspring.) So Mort was designed to be his Parent's ideal person - from the DNA of a football star, a pop-star and a millionaire with a good eye for a fast buck. ("What's that?" asked the audience. Trebher could not explain.)
However, simply because it was an Age of Confusion, the cloning got muddled. Mort was born looking like a businessman, with a growly voice like a popstar, and a head that was strong for withstanding biffing. But in addition, into his petri dish had drifted by accident a further contribution from a fruit-fly, which had been too minute for the microscopic surveillance monitor to notice it.
The birthing legal fees cost a bucket, which the Parent left for Mort to pay.
Children were legally not allowed to work, so to make the money the young boy took the only way possible for a child, which was telling lies. Mort proved so good at this that he even bought for himself the Brekfastcrums that he advertised. He went to a place called school for a few months only , because his fruit-fly chromosome interfered with his designer-genes for social submission. This defect first appeared when he refused to carry home his schoolbag when it weighed more than his own weight.
Reality was so unvirtuous then that it was necessary for children to exist within Virtual Reality, Schools being the acme of this Virtuality. Each Virtual Reality was roofed and walled in, so that the polluted air and the deadly sunshine and the irritogenic stuff of human relationships could not reach through. Light came through shapes on a moving screen, like the mirror of the Lady of Shallott. There was no more Nature, only Information. Mort pulled his roof over himself as we would put on a hat in the rain, and ate from the continually reconstituting recycled edible garbage that made up the walls of the school. His legal existence was defined as an Information Consumer.
As Trebher, sitting by the warm guesthouse fire, many generations later, told about this strange world of so long ago, his friends' eyes became wider and larger. The only record we now have remaining about that world is a strange manuscript called Gulliver's Travels, and although the general tenor of Gulliver's observations of the world then fitted well with the world described by Trebher Slew, Gulliver only recorded the half of it. He had told of the wars fought over which end of a boiled egg to cut, the hideousness of the human Yahoos contrasted with the intelligent gentleness of the horses, the dreadful death-in-life of the Struldbruggs who lived too long, and the pretentiousness of the scientists who thought their little flying island of Laputa proved their genius to remake the whole world.
But Gulliver's surviving records did not tell us about the Information that was Consumed in those days. It was fed by cryogenic spiders originally designed to span with their webs the spaces where ozone layers had been accidentally destroyed by the preceding Travelling Generation. With normal Consumers properly established in their Static realities, all this Information came in their eyes and ears and then was vented out again with their normal body wastes. But Mort Arthur had mutated almost like a ruminant. He had a double stomach for information, and in the second stomach it was ruminated upon. The process had been known and reviled in the past, as 'putting two and two together.'
Mort sat inside his Virtual Reality like a prophet in his desert, putting two and two together, for five years, and because this behaviour was unknown in his generation, there was no Mental Supervision that had the capacity to spot what he was doing.
In fact, Mort was - "I think," said Trebher, "The word was Bagrat, or something like it." Bagrats were individuals who had ideas or made attempts to improve the quality of life or solve social problems, instead of sitting encased inside their Virtual Reality, letting the High Tek make all the moves without humans moving themselves. Normally Mental Supervision detected any such eccentric individuals and debagged them before they could move themselves or anything else. Mort was overlooked - so small, like a fruitfly, was he and his aberration.
Mort was thinking about why Bad was better than Good; and why Good was Boring; and why curing afterwards was valued above prevention in the first place; and why if anything could go wrong it did; and why the way to peace was sought by war; and why children were taught to kill by pressing buttons; and why people were given status more for the gifts that fate had given them than for the virtues they exerted themselves; and why everything had to be used up at once; and why the most money was made by playing with money; and why humans organised their financial system to be as erratic and periodically calamitous as the weather.
He decided to seek the Great High Tek to ask. He had no idea where to start, but the Great High Tek, being bored, made itself seekable. Mort, travelling invisibly within his hat, which alone was visible, came to the foot of the Ineffable Monitor. He reverently approached the divine Keyboard and asked his first Why. Why was the world thus and thus?
"Why?" replied the Tek. "Because I am bored. What else can I do with my time but play the Great Computer Game that the peoples I have created have taught me to play? It is the chances and ploys and catastrophes that make the game interesting enough to alleviate my great Boredom. I have played Level One, I have played Level Two, now I am on Level Three and soon, when I am on Level Four, I do not know how I will avoid further boredom, because Level Four will destroy the Universe."
"May I suggest," said Mort . .
Unfortunately, one of the curiosities of Mort's world was that short stories could be limited to 1614 words. And so Trebher's dream was cut short. He and his friends will never know, without another dream, what they, and we, would most like to ask. About How that world could possibly have got like that, without people rising up and saying, "We will cop this no longer." It was lucky the whole world wasn't destroyed as the bored Hi-Tek Godness moved players around with their little egos directing their massive-impact bombs. Then it would have been us who would have been only a dream. And as for Mort's suggestion - what was that?
Give us another 2000 words and we could perhaps have told you how it came to be that out of such chaos and greed in the world of 2000 AD could come this gracious and varied world that we now enjoy two thousand years later, and how, from the brave recurring buds of spring that were cankered century after century, the recurring worms have been, at last, cast.
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