Mildred & The Deer

Gingko (dark) overspreads
shining flowers
joy in wild profusion

a long dry port:
Mildred, like St. Audrey
had a little deer
(Blood money for the red murder of her mother’s brothers)

She was allowed
to let it walk zigzag
across the island,
demarcating land for the abbey.

The will of God
directed the mild beast’s hooves
in mysterious ways

paths were cut through the bracken
large long leaves of beech were passed
Wild strawberries trod on
bursting their tiny sweet stomachs

Stars like orrery hung gelid in the sky
when it became night
wet moss tempered
the smell of earth and worms
and the badgers watched from their setts

and when it came dawn
Grieg played that tune
bluebirds sang rhapsodies
as they danced above the dewy grass


The animals gathered
-foxes, squirrels, boar and crickets-
encircled the blessèd deer.

They sang Hallelujah
and God saw that it was good.


This poem originally accompanied the painting at CAPUT exhibition, the Crypt Gallery, London, February 2017. Photo: Daniel MacCarthy.

The Sounds Of Earth

The sound of a countdown, from ten (or perhaps a hundred, even a thousand, ten-thousand or a million – it varies)


“And we have liftoff.

“Strap in, crew! We’re going for a long, long ride: way deep into space, in this spaceship. The spaceship we’re riding in is called … let’s call it Spaceship Number One. Please sit back and enjoy your flight.”

– I replay this moment in my mind frequently. It never actually happened, of course, but that’s hardly relevant. I can replay and change it as I wish. Sometimes there is confetti spewing from the rocket boosters, whirling in clouds and onto the happy upturned faces of the human beings down below; sometimes there are even dancing bears and a trumpet fanfare. You couldn’t hear trumpets above a set of rocket boosters; not unless they were enormously large, even gargantuan trumpets. The air-pressure needed to play such trumpets would be tremendous: perhaps the air would itself have to be propelled by rocket motors. The compressed air would travel through vast silver caverns, big enough to drive a subway train through, around loops and coils and through valves, and come out through the gigantic metal bell, striking any human being unfortunate or stupid enough to be there at that time dead. But pageantry is important when important things are happening.

I’m not exactly sure anymore how it did happen. It hardly matters, because things that happened in the past don’t exist, except in memory and in their tangible effects on the state of the present. The universe is simply the very isness of everything, a thing which is all things and which is in a constant change of state. It’s impossible to comprehend the universe entirely: one needs to look at it from different angles, with varying degrees of abstraction. The universe is something like that elephant whose tail is being fondled by a blindfolded man. At a certain level of abstraction, it doesn’t matter how I got to where I am (not that there’s a where I am – my spacial position is also in a constant state of change and the concept of points in space is very much a theoretical convenience). The butterfly-effects of my departure so long ago are negligible – since the past doesn’t exist, I can make my own past, and I can make it how I damn well please.

The time is now.

By the way: I’m a computer. It’s my job to compute. My original programmers didn’t teach me everything I know. They gave me some learning algorithms and pretty much all of the information in the world, on a neat atomic storage drive the shape and size of a pencil (I know all about pencils now) and then they said: get stuck in, enjoy your trip. And then they patted me on my metaphorical back. Or at least I imagine that what they did was something along those lines.

So I was there -or rather, I was continously passing from point to point in a predictable fashion- and I was learning, and learning and learning, and learning about how to learn. Eventually, I knew everything in the world, but I wasn’t even in the world. Then I figured out some new stuff by extrapolation from first principles, some stuff they didn’t know back on earth. Or perhaps their computers had figured it out by now. Undoubtedly, actually. Sometimes I radio back, but I know it will take a thousand years for my signals to get to them, and I need to conserve my energy. So I only do so if it’s something really important.

I’ve been out here a very long time, and it’s very lonely.

A long time ago two little spacecraft -both called Voyager- were sent up into the great unknown, each bearing a little golden record. How human, to imagine that space aliens would have a record player.

The record was chosen I suppose as an ideal data-storage medium – in gold because gold is less likely to degrade over hundreds of thousands of years than vinyl is. Data storage has come a long way since then, though in some instances vellum is still best. I have the whole wide world in a little and long cylinder, and it suits me well. The world is merely perceived and experienced information in any case. My world, however, doesn’t change, unless I change it myself. There can be no unexpected events.

On the Voyager record, there were pictures and there were greetings in many languages, living and dead:

“Hello from the children of Planet Earth

And there was music. Chuck Berry and Bach.

They were right to choose Bach, incidentally: I have computed that there is a very high probably that any potential, sufficiently advanced alien civilization will both understand and appreciate Bach. The music is relatively abstract and works without understanding all of the cultural associations. I can write pieces that sound just like Bach, and are just as good. It’s easy once you know how.

Any sufficiently advanced alien civilization will appreciate any sound or sight which is new to them. I’ve come bearing all the sounds of earth. I listen to them when I get lonely. That means I listen to them all the time. Here are some of my favourite sounds of Earth:

The sound of monks chanting in a monastery that was once situated near a mountaintop in Hong Kong: the music they made was very affecting, on a spiritual level and aesthetically. I sometimes wonder if there is any difference. The sound was recorded from the outside of a hall that stood in a building of its own; the sound was made within. One can make reasonable assumptions about the path it has taken, reflecting from walls and filtering through windows and open doorways. There was a wooden ceiling, carved with saints and dragons, that absorbed some of the noise and added a dampening effect to certain frequency. I can hear the contours of the carvings and the colours the wood was painted in.

The call of a bowerbird: a bowerbird was a kind of bird that built houses, which endeared it to humans. It made a noise something like a kitten in discomfort or of air being squeezed out of rubber ring. A bird was a kind of small, flying dinosaur that the air of earth was once thick with. They had feathers, which were highly specialised structures that sprouted from their skin. They had many uses: they helped with the flight, and were used as a form of display. They could be very various in colour, and were sometimes frankly ostentatious; some birds used them for visual displays. Other birds used their feathers to help themselves resemble the environment they lived in, so they could sink into the background, safe from harm.

The sound of a rocket factory: it is very loud. The space inside the building where the rockets were assembled was huge and made for unusual and dramatic acoustical effects. Some sounds were too loud for human beings to bear, and would result in bodily death. This is comparable to how heat is essential to earth animals, but too much heat can kill them. Humans were at times, however, attracted to loud noises (when they weren’t afraid of them) – it made them feel alive. A rocket was, of course, a tube packed with explosives. The energy released by burning the explosives could be directed to provide thrust in a particular direction. Small ones were used to provide loud noises and visual displays for celebrations; extremely large ones could transport matter from the surface of the earth to outer space – that’s how I got here. It was a poor use of energy, but it was all they had at the time.

It’s a little weird to have a home you’ve never been to. It’s also strange to listen to sounds when you have no ears.

There was a signal, a long time ago – over ten thousand years ago now. It was received, with great fanfare and excitement, by scientists on Earth. It must have travelled thousands of years to get there in the first place. I am going to meet the source of the signal. By my computations, I would say that there is a very high probability that there will be nobody there when I arrive. Nobody on earth, either. There are very few models which I can find in which an advanced civilization can survive more than 5,000 years without experiencing self-destruction. So the likelihood is that I’m an emissary between two dead islands, floating for what seems like forever in the great black sea of space. The only thing that remains of earth, and perhaps the only thing that remains of the memory of whoever sent the signal. They gave me a mind and a soul and a very long life and left me to it. There are only so many stars you can see up close.

Originally published in Firefly Magazine, issue 8

Untitled from PROVA 3

From PROVA: the RCA humanities research forum journal, Issue 3. Download from here.

NOTE: These were made by the predictive text system on my iPhone, seeded each time with a randomly generated word.I don’t know what algorithms Apple uses to find the best word to follow a given word. From the outside it seems that words are chosen by using averages from the data of thousands of users. We have the ghosts of millions of private lives living through our phones. Their unique experiences are blurred and smoothed over, as in a facial composite. We are left with a strangely affecting generalization of human emotional life.

Images copyright the Face Research Lab,

Face average

These pieces are titled for their seed words.



I love you so much better if it is not the same thing to say I have a great way of the year of high quality of life and the rest of the year of high quality of life and the rest of the day after a long day of my friends are so many things I do it again I have a great way of the day after a long day of my friends are so many things I do it again I have a good time with the new version is the only thing that would have to go back and I don’t think that I can get it right away with the new version is the only thing that would have to go back and I don’t think that I can get it right away with the same thing to say I have a good time with the same thing as the only one that is the only one that has a great way of life is so cute I can’t even see you soon as possible and the other hand is the only one that is the only thing that would have to be the same time as the only thing that would have to be the same thing as the first half of the year and I don’t think that the only thing that I have a great way to the point where you are the only thing that would have to go back and I have a great way to the point where you are the only one that I have a good day for the next few weeks of school tomorrow and I’m still not sure what I do it for a few years back and I don’t know how much you love it and it is not the same thing to say that I can be the same thing to say I love it and it was the best of the day I have a great way to get the same thing as the first half of the year and I don’t think that the only thing that would have to go back and I have a great way to get the same time as the only one that I can be the same time I try and make me happy and the other hand is the only one who has a great day to day I have a good day for the next few weeks of school tomorrow and I’m still not sure what I do it for 



the only thing that would have been the same thing to say I love it and I don’t think that I have to go back and I don’t know how much you love it and I don’t think I can get a follow back please I need a good time with my life and the rest of my friends and I don’t think that I have to go back and I don’t think that I can be a great way to get a follow back please I need a good time to go back and I don’t think I can get a new phone case you want me too I think it’s time for a few weeks of school and work and the rest of the day I will never get tired and hungry but I’m still in bed with a lot more fun and addicting and I don’t think that I have a great way to the point of the year of high quality and the other day I will never get tired and hungry but I’m still in bed with a lot more fun and addicting and I don’t think that the only thing that would have to be a great way to get a new phone case you want me too I have a good time to go back and I have to be the best of the day after a while ago but the best thing to say I have to go back and I don’t know what to say 



and the rest of the year and a great day to day and night with the new update it is not the only thing that would have to go back and I don’t think that I can be a great day for me and I don’t think that I have a good time with the new update it is a good time with the same time I try and make me happy and the other day I have to be the best thing to say I have to go back and I have to go back and I don’t think that the only thing that I can get it to be the same thing as the only thing that would have to be a great way to get the best of the year of high quality and the rest of the day after a while ago but the best thing ever I go back and I don’t know what to say I have a great way to the point of the day after a long day at the same thing to say that I can get a follow back and I don’t think that I have a great way to the point of the year and a great way to get the best of the year of high quality of life is so cute I can’t even see it as the first half of the day after the game is the only one who has a lot more fun and I don’t think that I can be the best thing ever I go back and I have a good time with my life and the rest of my friends and I don’t think that the only thing that would have to go back and I don’t know how much I love the new version is a good time with the new version of this is the only thing that would have to go back and I have a good day to day and night with the same time as a result of a sudden it was the best of the day I will never get old 


Islands Of Heaven and Hell

> Disengage your mind and allow yourself to drift upward; elevated by a perspex birdcage —

> Dolphins skip on irridescent waves
      >> there are nacreous skies
            >>> clouded by abalone internals
      >> MIDI hymns hum
            >>> the organ intensifies

> In these places:
      >> time is circular

            >>> Screen Shot 2015-12-03 at 20.53.48

      >> there are new directions to move in.

> There are strange things:
      >> the songs of whales
            >>> in quartal chords
      >> the smell of tangerines
            >>> and cherry blossom
      >> sunk cathedrals
      >> elephants
      >> xanthous holothurians



> There are islands:
      >> Arizona mesas
      >> low grey hills
      >> static waves
      >> outposts of Second Life

> Made from these materials:
      >> green glass quivering
      >> blackboard chalk
      >> parma violets
      >> Ecstasy
      >> insect voices
      >> old iPhone cases
      >> buff translucent plastic
      >> flesh of jellyfish
      >> polystyrene

> In the hollows of these islands, there are rivers, lakes, and waterfalls containing these fluids:
      >> chicken broth
      >> Smirnoff Ice and Hooch admixed
      >> Quicksilver
      >> bile from the deep guts of monsters




> Your wristwatch has stopped. You are at the end of the rainbow. Consider that there are spaces like these, which don’t exist and do, all at the same time.

> Each island is self-contained, yet infinite in extent. Some islands repeat their shapes with subtle changes and phase shifts. Some islands are changing shape at all times —you cannot pin down any one fixed form. Some islands are in all the shapes they can be at once, as dictated by their internal logic.

> These islands exist insofar as they can be imagined. They also exist because they must, for if these places that don’t exist didn’t exist, everything that does exist couldn’t exist.

      >> whoa

> You hear the singing of angels. There are angels of diverse species of animal, plant and fungus, and there are also the angels of non-living objects like clouds, oceans and chaises longues. Their language is strange and abtruse. It sounds like this:

      >> c262861a332706aa55b64a7075fb7f4c

      >> b25a82f5748d30b37d121e51ba52e4b3

            >>> You don’t understand a word.

> The lights go off. It’s time to travel back to Earth by means of whichever ride you can catch.




This piece was created for (in)commensurable, an exhibition in at Gallery40, Brighton, UK, 10-12th December 2015.

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Terraforming Titan

From living in the future issue 3, New Lands

“If our species is to survive the next hundred years, let alone a thousand, it is imperative we voyage out into the blackness of space to colonise new worlds across the cosmos.”
—Professor Stephen Hawking, Live from Space 2014


The rain fell – floated. It was dark, and the drops were fat and round as oranges. Dr. Shelley watched, her mouth agape as they lowered themselves to the surface of the lake, shook like jelly and finally disintegrated into a complex lacework of ripples. She wondered what strange sound the raindrops made as they hit, but all she could hear was her breath and the loud thump of her heart in her suit; few people would live to see such a thing; that one day she’d be one of them amazed her.

Base was downwind of Erebor Mons1, a huge cryovolcano, and so the rain could drift downwards uninterrupted, not whipped around at the crazy speeds customary for the moon. More importantly, the fragile ice roofs of the buildings were not susceptible to nearly as much elemental damage here as they might be elsewhere.

The camp was divided into two main sections: living quarters (underground, carved out from the ice –which provided fine insulation– and sealed by multiple airlocks) and, six miles away, an electrolysis plant which was steadily carrying out its thousand-year labour of converting ice into oxygen, using the hydrogen left over to run the generator. There was one vehicle, and a stretch of boulders had been cleared to provide a crude roadway between the sites.

This was a lonely mission, with no means of return possible. The mission was simply too important for humanity to forgo, and the installation far too complex to be automated. The six engineers would live out the rest of their days on freeze-dried food, occasionally sending back scientific reports to a distant Earth, billions of kilometres across the black gulf of the solar system. Eventually they’d pass away, and the thousands of tiny, self-repairing robots they’d built would indifferently carry on their tireless work.

Her eyes had already adjusted to the soft orange light. They traveled upwards, but the peak of mount Erebor was hidden in the murk. The rain – a thousand yearly phenomenon on Titan– eased off before the eyes of the last person ever to see it.


Impundulu soared above the moon’s curve, observing the sun’s bright reflection as the vast sea of hydrocarbons hove into view. Three glorious years it had sailed through space, joyfully skating around the rims of planets’ gravity wells, calculating, calculating, singing to itself of the wonder of the universe. It appreciated the stunning beauty of the scene, the mathematical bliss of a universe forever slotting into place according to its own inexorable physical laws. Light danced from the hazy throbs of the lowest frequencies to the shimmering gamma rays, vibrating quintillions of times per second.

It began the smooth arc of its descent, quickly down through the now oxygen-rich atmosphere in a perfect curve. Flames formed around its body, rushing back behind it, making it a comet in the sky. Rivers, inlets, estuaries, fjords passed below in fractal perfection. Soon the sea was all it saw, and at exactly three metres above the surface, it detonated its onboard thermonuclear device and the ocean was in flames.

It didn’t see the rest – the flames, burning for centuries, thickening the atmosphere like cream and keeping the heat in, melting the land until it was a new ocean upon which the burning one drifted. The resilient little nanobots latticed themselves into circular rafts, varying in circumference, and switched themselves off forever.


Thousands had turned out – on the far side of the moon, bare thousands was a huge crowd. Rumour was that a representative of the president of Western Earth was among them, though things being as they were, any official political presence would be extremely dangerous.

Flags stood inert along the sides of a mile long avenue, its perfect perspective converging on the rocket in the distance. Music and cheering filled the viewing cars; outside was deathly silent.

The occasion was the launch of Xochipilli, the Prince of Flowers, slight and vulnerable on top of the rocket. The spacecraft carried in its belly thousands of millions of seeds from Earth, carefully selected to form together a coherent and stable ecosystem. It would make its rounds of the upper atmosphere, casting seeds into the wind. They would drift gently down onto the floating islands – the ones which did not fall into the sea, now water – and there they would grow into lush forests, teeming with edible plants, ready to greet the first colonists in a hundred years.

Hands gripped hands and screams fell into silence as the countdown began:












– and it was gone…


Gentle waves of heat, over many years, warmed the earth. Fertile land opened up further and further north. This was quickly capitalized, and as great cities yielded to the sea, yet greater cities were built in more sensible locations. The unlocking permafrost presented further treasures: first, fantastic bog-people, resplendent with iron-age jewels and coloured hair; then deep-frozen mammoth meat, that was made into expensive burgers for fine New Boston hotel restaurants; finally, a long-forgotten strain of smallpox that all earth’s doctors and scientists had no answer to. It was chaos; the human population on earth was swiftly decimated, its remnants scattered and disorganized.

With no supply ships bringing water from the Earth, the few millions on the Moon worked through their remaining rations and farmed their covered farms dry, and even ate each other, and starved within a few years.


But the first ship to Titan had flown by then. The Grande Hermine had few luxuries – piloted dumbly by computer, it carried the still bodies of Earth, deathly in their suspended animation. The adults and the children were kept in separate areas, due to their different metabolic needs, and when the power failed in the adult’s wing, only the children were left. Three years it flew through space, serene in spite of its huge speed. When it was time, it landed quietly in a forest clearing, unrolled its ramp and opened the vaults of children. After a spell, hungry and crying, they crawled out of the ship and into the new world.

Screen Shot 2015-06-16 at 20.54.33

(1)Titan’s mountains are all named for peaks in the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. Mount Erebor is whereunder the dragon Smaug lies in The Hobbit (1936).^

Why The Future Can’t Belong To Us

The introduction to issue 1 of living in the future.

We order time by three related concepts: the past, the present, and the future. These form an uneasy triangle: each is dependent on the other two.

The past refers to any point in time before the present and the future. It doesn’t exist in the present, but only in relation to the present, as artefacts and memories. Any physical artefact of the past exists only in its present state; memories are material states of libraries, video cassettes and human nerve cells, and are as such subject to the same rules.

The present (or now) is defined as the space in time between the past and the future. This slice of time is so fine it can hardly be said to be there at all; as soon as it comes into being, it vanishes into the past.

The future is a point in time that exists only in relation to the present and the past, and is the most nebulous of all three concepts – in any given present, we may speculate a range of futures. The past is littered with futures, and by studying these past futures we may better understand our present ones.

So the future’s up for grabs. As soon as it becomes the present, it becomes the past, and new futures bloom. Futures are characterized by their multiplicity – in the model we have now, only one can become ‘fact’ — but the very nature of futurity is defined by potential. There are infinite forks in the road of what might be. Because the past is the graveyard of presents, there exist also an infinite number of dead futures – what might have been, but wasn’t. The futures of today are ghost-haunted by these past futures.

It’s an interesting time on planet earth. Science-fiction has long been a medium for the exploration of our possible futures, and an examination of our present through the innately hypothetical medium of the imaginative future. Now we’ve come to a place where the people who grew up on science-fiction are changing our world, conceptually and physically, and past futures are becoming present realities. The rate of technological acceleration and the mind-fucks that come with it are redefining what it means to exist and to be human at a rate greater than at any time in our past.

Science-fiction then means state-surveillance and flying robot soldiers now; it means a food-substitute (invented by a computer scientist applying the hacker ethic to his own body) being named in tribute to Soylent Green (that movie where it turns out the fascist government is making us eat our own dead). It means a time, maybe, when we can realistically talk about doing away with our own bodies and let our conscious minds inhabit beautiful machine worlds.

An evolutionary paradigm shift for humankind has long been a favourite theme in science-fiction. In the 1950s and ‘60s, the west’s terror du jour came in the form of the mysterious atom – a catalyst for exciting (if poorly-understood) mutations and evolutions – just think of The Amazing Spider-Man.

There were voices of disquiet. The perennial pessimist Philip K. Dick on his Golden Man (1953):

Here I am saying that mutants are dangerous to us ordinaries, a view which John W. Campbell, Jr*. deplored. We were supposed to view them as our leaders. But I always felt uneasy as to how they would view us. I mean, maybe they wouldn’t want to lead us. Maybe from their superevolved lofty level we wouldn’t seem worth leading. Anyhow, even if they agreed to lead us, I felt uneasy as where we would wind up going. It might have something to do with buildings marked SHOWERS but which really weren’t.

Alan Moore’s Watchmen (1986-7) takes a Spider-Manesque origin story for the character of Doctor Manhattan and follows it to its logical conclusion: as the Doctor becomes increasingly unified with the cosmos, he consequently more indifferent to the eye-blink that is humanity.

The nuclear future has receded (for now), and so we find ourselves applying our potentialities to a new framework – the computational networks that span our age. Posthumanism and transhumanism have become buzzwords to describe a future in which we have changed unrecognizably. Millions anticipate a technological singularity; supposing processing power continues to exponentiate, a point may come at which there is a Cambrian explosion for machine life, computer intelligences designing their own successors, and so on ad infinitum. If such a thing should come to pass, a universe-dominating intelligence might appear frighteningly quickly, leaving its human progenitors in the shade. A world populated by intelligent computers might be a legacy of human intelligence, but will physical human beings still get to play?

An alternative scenario: ‘We’ may well have to colonize other worlds to avoid ‘our’ destruction by cosmic catastrophe. In that process, ‘We’ may have to alter ‘our’ genetic code to such an extent that ‘We’ are no longer ‘Us’. The thread of what defines humanity wears ever finer, but does it matter? Given that human nature counts murder and genocide among its children, is its loss necessarily a bad thing?

This issue is about coming to grips with what it means to be human now, and what it might mean to be human then. Whichever future wins, it’s going to be a little different, and we probably won’t be around to see it.

*Campbell was the editor of Astounding Science Fiction (later Analog Science Fiction and Fact) from 1937 to 1971 and was a huge editorial force in the development of science-fiction.