The great escape (failed). As you drive south on the Rama II expressway out of Bangkok, you approach wooded patches and scenic hills in the distance. Not that you can see them. Rows of gigantic billboards line the road to demand your attention, blocking out the natural attractions, what might have been visual relief from life in the big city.
Who erected these billboards, and why? Who did they consult before doing this; who didn’t they consult? And why?
Neither are you given any choice back in the city. You will pay attention to commercial hucksterism. On the Skytrain, on the Skytrain stations, in the streets… Even in your own car, its ceiling remains just about the only place you can look, so far, that isn’t glitzed up with pitches for new and improved ways to make your life better.
And now commercial interests are queuing up to scrawl their graffiti across the night sky. (See Space invaders, my last post.) Never mind. Given the air and light pollution, you can’t usually see the stars at night anyway.
Call me Nostradamus. The Magic Circles series of novels takes us into a variety of near futures, among other things providing peeks at what the sky is going to look like.
Space invaders take one (circa 2057)
The dull red orb of the sun sinks behind a bank of gray stratocumulus. It reappears between cloud and horizon, swells to a ﬁery, misshapen glob, and then melts into the earth. Night has fallen.
Leary watches the bloated orange moon lift off the horizon. Was Moon Station still manned? Hard to say, but he thinks not. He hasn’t seen a Loonie telep in the tank or in a World for donkey’s years. Could be a last shuttle contaminated the Moon with blurs.
As big as the moon might be this night, it’s gradually being obscured by an enormous, multi-colored WU. Leary is witnessing a rare semi-occlusion of the moon by the orbital Worlds UnLtd logo. Like the face of a long-lost friend, the night sky is at once familiar and strange. He makes out the Big Dipper, but the Dog Star is obscured by light from neighboring logos. He sees many of the familiar old celestial bodies. The Golden Arches ﬂoats next to the BioLogic molecule, half blocking out the Big Dipper, and below the giant Silver Swoosh.
Leary sleeps. When he opens his eyes again the Arches have hardly moved. Muggs is sitting right up tight against him, staring westwards into the black. Even as Leary sits up to help him stare, the stars in that direction fade. Then they smear away altogether. Leary’s ﬁrst thought is that the ﬂeye is back; he swats with both hands in front of his face.
Then he hears the dry rustle and rush of things rocketing past just above head level. He ducks. Hunkers down closer to the ground. Muggs doesn’t budge. There they are again. And again. A few go the other way, east to west. This time Leary sees something. Greenish lights whizzing past. Hummingbird size, maybe. Over to the east, ghostly green forms waver and then brighten. They ﬂicker and dance like an old-style billboard trying to spell something out with thousands of little electric lights, except the circuits are scrambled, and the message seems randomized.
“What’s going on?” Muggs says. The tinpot know-it-all doesn’t know.
The lights begin ﬂashing in unison.
Space invaders take two (circa 2057)
Dee Zu is watching. Silent and still as stone, she’s silhouetted against a sky bright with a full moonand its companion constellation of corporate logos.
The sky is clear, unusually free of dust, at least above the high-tide mark. You can even see a few stars, despite the brightness of the moon and other stuff up there. A WU logo, a three-color molecule twice as big as the moon, floats in orbit about thirty degrees from the western horizon. Who knows what it’s supposed to stand for.
Something Poppy told him once long ago: “When WU hides the moon in winter, dragons sleep high and winds can’t be far behind.”
“Really?” Son had said.
“Of course not.” Poppy replied. “I’m bullshitting you.”
Right now the WU is nowhere near the moon, which is more directly competing with twin golden arches. Neither does Son know what they’re supposed to represent; Auntie said it had something to do with hamburgers, if you can believe that. There’s also a silver checkmark of similar size.
Gran-Gran called the checkmark the Swoosh, claimed it conveyed a message from the Lord. “‘Just do right!’”
Auntie begged to differ: “It’s an ad for shoes.”
“Shoes?” Son asked.
“People used to buy a lot of shoes.”
“I don’t know. But it was very important. I mean, think about it: one shoe company orbited an ad bigger than the moon.”
“I’ll tell you what it is,” Poppy told them. “It’s a pain in the ass. Sometimes it blocks out the North Star, leaving us one low-tech navigational aid poorer.”
It’s Son’s watch.
He watches Dee Zu sleep, even though Poppy would say he can’t do that and stand guard at the same time. He watches the swell of her moonlit breasts, their gentle rise and fall, the line of her neck, the smooth movement of moonlit haunch as she shifts in some dream. He looks, and he sees the guy watching him watch Dee Zu.
Meanwhile, back in 2019
My advice? Get out of the city soon. Get as far away from the haze and light pollution as you can. Two hundred and fifty miles offshore Phuket should do it. Sail out well beyond the squid-boat flotillas with their banks of floodlights.
Switch off every light on board. Kick back and look up at the stars. Let them fill your soul. Try to remember in future how they spoke to you. Back before the advent of celestial billboards.
Of course no photo can do justice to the experience.