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CREATIVE NONFICTION by Richard-Warren Strong

La république des lettres —
CREATIVE NONFICTION by Richard-Warren Strong

Picture credit: Richard-Warren Strong

Fact and fiction in the novels of Richard-Warren Strong*, by Jeremy McFarlane

*Born in Melbourne in 1943, Richard-Warren Strong has lived in France since 1967, apart from a single sabbatical year in Australia in 1999/2000. An eclectic and prolific author, his novels range from short detective thrillers, to psychological spy stories, to science fiction. A (drop-out) student in Mathematics and Physics at Sydney University (from 1961 to 1965), he went on to do post-graduate studies in Information Systems in 1985 (at the IAE de Paris, Université Paris 1) after completing studies in French literature and English linguistics.

He wrote a doctoral thesis in Linguistics on English syntax under the direction of Professor Antoine Culioli at Université Paris 7 in 1981 (Analysis of verbal structures in contemporary English -- the role of 'verbal operators'), while working as an English teacher. He is also the author of an unpublished essay on French nuclear testing in the Pacific, written in the seventies. Since 2002 he has published about twenty books including novels, essays, short stories and poetry, written either in French or English.

The introduction to 'Quinze ans, cela suffit', a collection of essays written in French, gives a good biographical summary.

Novels, novellas (fiction)

La Cible Oblique (roman d'aventures)

L'Adieu des Sherpas, The Sherpas' Farewell (roman psychologique)

The Expatriate's Game

The Spirit of Old Jack K

Overlanders (roman initiatique)

Mayday - Grabuge (policier - suspens)

A year in the shoes of Lepton Kwaark

The Adventures of Jack Straughan (The Memoirs of Alfred John Straughan)

The Legacy of Moondyne Joe

North of Northwest Cape

A strange thing

Short Stories

Contes de fin de millénaire

A Vicarious Life (and other stories)

The Wake of Joe Blight (and other stories)

also published in Several unusual detective stories

Essays, poetry, travel

Quinze ans, cela suffit

Just passing through and why we lost the referendum for a republic

Still just passing through

Les images du 3 juillet

Homing

A Ball of Wax

The mysterious disappearance of HEH

* * *

The chronological order of publication is not the same as the order of writing. The earlier novels, Overlanders and The Expatriate's Game, are basically autobiographical. They are fictive only in a formal sense, with narrative text either in first person or third person, presented in a linear chronology. The main character (Anthony Barker) is the author himself, and all perspective (focalisation) is always on him. True, the ending of Overlanders is fictive, and so is the introduction to The Expatriate's Game. The first fictive novel is Mayday and this is largely autobiographical also, but includes a series of events that are presented as fiction. In particular the character 'Pilbara' (WJ Bliggs) is a fictive 'double' of the author/narrator. The narrator is writing a story in which Pilbara is a character. The job history is autobiographical, whereas the main story line is a set of muffled accusations concerning the industrial spy network dubbed 'Mayday', which operates in the company where the narrator works.

Fiction. This is all really fiction. Le dire souvent pour mieux s'en persuader...

What we are led to believe is that some fact underlies this imagined 'fiction', and that everything should be read as more or less true, with camouflage used only to mask the real people involved. Some of the camouflage involves the use of code names, easily deciphered in most cases.

The novel 'Overlanders' was begun in 1968/69 and completed around 1995. The Expatriate's Game was begun around 1966 and completed around 1994. Mayday was written between 1992 and 1997. The job history of Pilbara was included as an afterthought (written around 1992/1993). These three books have a careful structure and were not written exactly as they appear.

Following 'Mayday' Strong wrote a series of related novels/novellas, dated 97/99 --

The Spirit of Old Jack K, The Sherpas' Farewell, Contes de fin de millénaire.

The Spirit of Old Jack K is an expanded travel diary, written in English, about a trip to North America (in 97) with inserts from earlier texts.

Le Somnambule (written in French) is a journal written before and after the trip to North Americal, included in Contes de fin de millénaire (Tales from the end of a millenium).

The other tale, Operation Peppercorn, was written following a trip to Australia (in 98)

contained in 'The Sherpas' Farewell'.

The Sherpas' Farewell (l'Adieu des Sherpas) is a fictive spy story, written 98 in French. Both Mayday and Operation Peppercorn contain references to Pine Gap, a key re-transmission station in the global network 'Echelon' run by the USA, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

Strong uses the 'travel diary' as an item of narration in 'Mayday' and 'The Sherpas' Farewell'. In Mayday, Briggs (Pilbara) writes a diary while traveling to Holland, then to Prague via Germany and back to France. In 'The Sherpas' Farewell' the narrator has a travel diary while studying the location for his story to be set in Australia. Both Mayday and The Sherpas' Farewell include the story within a story principle as a (well-worn) narrative technique.

'Operation Peppercorn' gives one direct reference to Pine Gap -- the story part is more like a fantasy fairy tale in which the newly elected Australian president tries to gain control of the base.

* * *

During the 1970's and 80's Strong wrote mainly essays and short articles or papers. This began with the Master's degree 'Mémoir' (on Beckett's novel 'Murphy') and the doctoral thesis (on English syntax). During the same period Strong wrote an essay on French nuclear testing in the Pacific. The collection of essays "Quinze ans, cela suffit" spans the period 1981-96.

The future novels contain several extracts from essays or related texts, which are outside the scope of narrative fiction. These are included in 'Mayday' as 'submissions'. The Expatriate's Game begins with an essay, as introduction. The Sherpas' Farewell also contains extracts from several essays. La Cible Oblique also contains discursive text.

As a novelist, essay writer, travel writer and occasional poet, Strong has dabbled in most forms of literature, except for drama, theatre and screenplays. Though here again a few extracts are more like short theatrical dialogues. Also The Legacy of Moondyne Joe ends with a short screenplay. His poetry is often adapted from travel diaries, in free verse.

Operation Backhaul also contains a short screenplay. These extracts are more like a literary exercise. They are not intended to be actually screened or played.

* * *

Ideology

Ideology, of one form or another, is never far away from the story line (plot) in the novels of Richard-Warren Strong.

Mayday (Pilbara) is a spy story, but close in theme to European politics. Pilbara goes to Brussels to meet the EEC commission president on the subject of industrial espionage. He is concerned by the possibility of security leaks within the company where he works. The network Mayday is obviously related to the CIA or NSA (either or both) with operations within the companies in selected sectors (aviation, electronics, ...).

La Cible Oblique is a story of geopolitical conspiracy, revolving around the attacks of September 2001. OBL (Ossamar Bin Laden) is a fugitive hiding out in Afghanistan or Pakistan. The "heroine" (Laurence R) is sent to find him and discover whether there was any complicity between the US secret services and the mastermind of these attacks. Were they ignorant, or simply ill informed? Did they turn a blind eye? Or were they actively an accomplice to the fact?

The author does not attempt to answer any of these questions. In the sequel (Operation Backhaul) we have an introduction which denies all complicity of any degree. But the "story" is in contradiction with this theory, since when discovered OBL reveals his real motives: "Never Say Anything" code words for NSA -- but clearly the context is now mainly 'fiction'.

The attacks of 11 September 2001 were the pretext for the war in Iraq (2003), following a more logical intervention in Afghanistan (2002). The Taliban were given an ultimatum -- deliver Bin Laden or be invaded. They refused to deliver Bin Laden.

Saddam Hussein was supposed to allow UN access to his chemical and biological weapons sites. He refused, and Colin Powell mounted a trumped up threat before the UN General Assembly regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction.

But in 2002, when La Cible Oblique was published, the subsequent events were still unknown, in particular that the war would drag on in Afghanistan throughout the decade.

It would appear (from several sources) that on September 11th 2001, NORAD (military radar control/surveillance over North America) had been 'switched off' because of some planned military exercises. Was this a mere coincidence? Or was it known to the belligerents at the time? Of course a novel cannot replace a serious journalistic enquiry on such an important subject.

The Sherpas' Farewell is a post cold war spy story. Fairfield is a Russian, Finnegan is an Irishman. Both have been working for the secret services. However the theme of the book is 'paranormal activity', which brings the story closer to the realm of science fiction.

A Year in the shoes of Lepton Kwaark is a book of 'inverted' science fiction, in which the hero sets out to "debunk" the rumours of ET's and UFO's said to have been sighted near Pine Gap, in Central Australia. This is no longer a spy story, but the sequel, 'A Ball of Wax', (a study of the MJ12 hoax) gives an insight into the role of disinformation, when propagated by official agencies as "pyschological warfare".

The Legacy of Moondyne Joe is a detective story with accessory reference to the disappearance of Harold Holt in December 67. The novella format is better suited to a fast-moving dramatic thriller. However various references to ASIO (Australian secret services) also appear, since the detective Chauncy is a former ASIO operative.

The same themes (espionage and conspiracy), with the disappearance of Harold Holt, appear in the novella 'North by Northwest Cape'. The essay that Chauncy has written on Harold Holt, called 'Mystery on Cheviot Beach', is an item of the story in North of Northwest Cape. The title of the novella refers to the set of antennas at Exmouth WA.

The Wake of Joe Blight is a comic version of Treasure Island. References to the US secret services are not entirely absent, but they are not central to the story.

The entire set of "spy" novels or novellas (and police detective stories) including:

La Cible Oblique, L'Adieu des Sherpas, Operation Peppercorn, Mayday

A Year in the shoes of Lepton Kwaark, A Ball of Wax

Mystery on Telegraph Beach, North of Northwest Cape, The Legacy of Moondyne Joe

develops the theme of information/disinformation and psychological warfare.

To what extent were the secret services themselves involved in propagating cold war disinformation, including much of the conspiracy theory itself? (Some examples are given in the documentary fiction A Ball of Wax regarding Roswell and the MJ12 hoax)

La Cible Oblique follows the James Bond model -- an adventurous female agent goes off to Afghanistan to find OBL, the horrible megalomaniac, responsible for the terrorist attacks of 9/11

Mystery on Cheviot Beach is a critical examination of the last few days of PM Harold Holt -- an essay, which does not attempt to solve the mystery, and is based on factual information from the National Archives in Canberra.

Another theme which is evoked per se is Australian politics, both economic and social. This is the subject matter of the non-fictional essays in Why we lost the referendum for a Republic and 'Still just passing through' (travel, Australia, 1999/2000) and also some of the essays in the fictive story 'The Memoirs of Alfred John Straughan'

A Vicarious life and other stories is largely biographical or autobiographical (travel), but the last short story, called 'The Worst Book in the world' is a short fable of science fiction, with a reference to George Orwell.

* * *

Questions and answers:

How did you begin writing La Cible Oblique? (your first published book)

Answer: I'd written a lot of stuff before then, but nothing that was ever published -- just two articles: one for Touraine Economique, the other for the SneSup* publication, (*French university teachers trade union). I started out with a typewriter in 1967, typing out the journals that I was writing at the time. They were written on letter paper, air mail, for weight purposes, for weight and space, to be carried around in a rucksack. Some time later I started writing the novel 'Overlanders', and then typed out the first few chapters in 1970, in Orleans. I still wrote notepad manuscripts, and typed them up later, never typed straight onto the typewriter. Since nothing had ever been published there were no limits, it was all one big mass of typed pages. I bought a computer in 1992 and then I typed onto the computer from the typed manuscripts. The first text was a journal called 'Miasma', about 300 pages. Then came the novel 'Overlanders', autobiographical, and a set of texts called 'A portrait'. I can't remember when they were actually written, some were started around 1969. As I typed them onto the computer I did a bit of editing and censorship too. But this set of files called 'A portrait' were typed onto the computer around 93/94. The files called 'Overlanders' came a year or so later. The text (typewritten) had been submitted to several publishers during the eighties (in Paris) and refused. This had nothing much to do with 'La Cible Oblique' except that I was pissed off with literature and publishers, and this explains the tone "désabusé". I had a few texts written in the mid nineties, and typed them onto the computer at the same time. 'Mayday' was one of these (called 'Grabuge'), a mixture of story and diary, with a few additions (such as the trip around Australia in 1979). Following 'Mayday' which was also submitted to one or two publishers around 1998 (with parts of the text in French) in one version or another, since it is composite, I wrote three more texts including 'L'Adieu des Sherpas'. By then I was living at Bonneuil sur Marne. Bits of these texts had to be translated, either into French or English, since they were mixed up. I had paper printouts. The same thing applied to 'Mayday', some bits were written in French. I translated them so as to have a coherent text, either in one language or the other.

Following my trip around Australia in 1999/2000 I had a whole pile of untyped texts, written on notebooks (17?).

Through the seventies I did very little writing on my own 'literature'. Had to work on a Mémoir for the Master's degree and then a thesis for the Doctorate (linguistics). I also wrote an essay on French Nuclear testing, based on a collection of newspaper cuttings. My father sent me cuttings from the Australian press, and I collected whatever was available in the French press. This essay was written in French, submitted to several publishers (Seuil was one) and refused of course.

At some stage I did type out some of the manuscripts of 'Overlanders' while living at Pruneville (in 1979). I wrote the second part at this stage, and again later on. The essays (written in French) in "Quinze ans, cela suffit" were written and typed during the eighties, and early nineties. Later I typed them onto the computer.

Question: So your first book was really this journal called 'Miasma'?

Answer: It was Annie Labarre who coined the name. She must have read a part of it. Bernadette Trottier had read the first part and compared it with Henry Miller. And Joyce Michaels typed it all out again, so she read it. Also George Whitman read it, and didn't like it much. It was written between May 1st 1966 and May 30th 1967, with about one third missing, the pages I wrote in Reims and Strasbourg. I had burned them in the wood stove in the dormitory of the Youth Hostel at Baden Baden in January 67. I had already written a hundred pages or so, beginning as letters, and left them with Bernadette. Then I kept on writing again, after returning from Germany, where I tried to find work, unsuccessfully. The journal was a 'here and now' sort of book -- what was going on around me, what I had been doing over the past day or so. I included some of it in the novel 'The Expatriate's Game'. I stopped writing for a while when I started a course in French literature in late 67. Then I began with a few "odds and ends" over the next two years. I began writing Overlanders a year or so later.

For Overlanders I began by collecting dialogues, from memory, jumping from one scene to another. Later, much later, I organised all this into the chronological order of scenes. It was written piece by piece, for example the trip down the Hume highway by motorcycle dates from summer 68 in Amsterdam. And some of the texts in "A portrait" (the other part of The Expatriate's Game) were written in the period 68/69.

When I went to live in Orleans in late 1970 I typed out the first part of 'Overlanders', on another (hired) typewriter. So anyway these two books Overlanders and The Expatriate's Game were the oldest. (The Odds and Ends included in the middle of The Spirit of Old Jack K were also written in the late sixties.)

Question: What was the next novel you wrote?

Answer: The next novel was 'Mayday', first titled 'Mayhem'. It was a composite book, not written in one go, and hardly even intended as a novel to start with. Around 1993/94 I wrote the parts which give the job history of Pilbara, or maybe even earlier, around 91/92. During the years 94/95 I wrote the Round Australia Trip (1979). And the "submissions" were all written in late 1992. But the rest of the story came along in 96, along with the idea for a story. Finally I rearranged these texts into the order in which they appear in the book. There were several other previous versions. The original name was 'Grabuge', and some parts were written in French, then translated later into English.

Question: How do you start writing a novel?

Answer: To begin with I may have a word or sentence in my head which sets the ball rolling. For Overlanders it was: 'The open road is never so good as when you are on two wheels, and one of my favourite daydreams was to go rolling by on a lusty throaty motorcycle past the places where I had waited for hours when hitchhiking." For 'The Legacy of Moondyne Joe' it was "Jack Straughan. Captain of the Push..." and then "When he came into the office I could have sworn I knew his mother."

I don't have a plan, to start with, so I don't know where it's all heading. That is the discovery, as it goes along.

Question: Would you say that La Cible Oblique is really a novel?

Answer: Sure, there is a story line. It's classified as an adventure story. There aren't many scenes, that's true, and there is a correspondance with real events (the war in Afghanistan, to start with, the early part). But it's fiction, and not an essay, with an outcome.

Question: What about the Spirit of Old Jack K?

Answer: This is more like a travel story -- a road novel -- like we have road movies. And 'On the road' is a road novel, not the first by the way. I wrote a journal and diary and then filled it out from memory soon after -- and converted it to third person later. To start with it was all first person. I merged the diary with the text written from memory, recent memory, written on my return to Paris (Bonneuil). Then later I included the retrospective bits (which I mentioned previously -- Odds and Ends, in particular the scene in London 1969).

Question: And The Sherpas's Farewell?

Answer: I started out with a name "Fairfield" and tried to improvise from there. And that gave rise to this story. Fairfield led to Farewell, the spy, on the one hand, and on the other to the boat "Fairfield" taking settlers to the site of Adelaide. So I got two overlapping stories

Question: Tell me something about the later work.

Answer: The most recent novel is 'A year in the shoes of Lepton Kwaark'. Again, I started out with a name, but a very special name. Had been reading about particle physics. So then I just drifted on to the story about Pine Gap, UFO's and ET's. I had already written the Pine Gap tales (in the middle of the book). And had the idea of including an author character like myself, who lived in Alice Springs. But the interviews with SF authors (not necessarily claiming to be fiction) came from research on Pine Gap and Exmouth. I had 1000 pages of downloads on scalar waves, starting with Valdamar Valerian (John Grace), Tesla, Harry Mason, etc. So I invented these fictive interviews, and the context of the book to contain them.

Pine Gap is surrounded by fairy tales of ET's and UFO's that people claim to have seen there. I assembled all this into a novel -- but really it's a study of these subjects, as operations of psychological disinformation. The red herring principle. You bring up the red herring because herrings are never red (I suppose), to throw people off the track. ET's and UFO's are fascinating in themselves, but they are not spontaneous.

So in this UFO novel the action is trivial -- the real purpose is to take another look at these wild claims -- about UFO's, ET's, scalar waves, mind control, and psychotronics (psychological warfare) that we find on the Internet.

Lepton Kwaark is a fictive character who goes off on a wild goose chase. His relationship with Phyllis Hamilton (Paris Hilton) is pure fantasy. The essay called 'A Ball of Wax' takes it one step further. At the same time I included some of my favourite authors as characters (William Boyd, Douglas Kennedy, Peter Carey).

The three books L'Adieu des Sherpas, La Cible Oblique, and A year in the shoes of Lepton Kwaark all deal with conspiracy and disinformation, as seen from different angles, in particular with respect to the secret services (intelligence, renseignement). The three stories in the Chauncy (detective) series are closer to movie scripts. They are in 'novella' format, short and relatively coherent, with no long developments on other subjects. (True, the Harold Holt disappearance is a catalyst.)

For Moondyne Joe I was thinking about Martin James (and around the same time, before or after? -- I read his obituary notice in Libération (2009). (Martin James fell down a mine shaft at Hill End in 1964.)

Henry Lawson's poem 'The Captain of the Push' had been on my mind for some time, before I read it again at the BNF (along with the anonymous version, 'The Bastard from the Bush').

Last Question: What's your best book, Richard?

Answer: The most important one for me was 'Overlanders', followed by 'Mayday'. But I would not say that these are really the best. It's impossible (at least very difficult) to evaluate your own work, because memory suggestion is very rich, so you see much more behind the text than an ordinary reader does. (You see all the unstated things, with the physical descriptions, and the stuff you had not wanted to write down.) You can easily get carried along by your own texts, whereas another reader will find it dry, or uninteresting. Then again I would like to say that the best are the most recent. So then I would say 'The Legacy of Moondyne Joe' and 'North of Northwest Cape'. The last one, 'A year in the shoes of Lepton Kwaark' is not the best in my view. But it's probably the most original of all my books.

* * *

Reviews, a short summary:

La Cible Oblique

Geopolitical fiction. This is a minimalist story, about the chase for OBL in the Afghan mountains. Nothing really happens in fact, that can't be stated in a few sentences. The rest is all padding, and diversions. Laurence R and Bill B get caught, captured by OBL (Bin Laden) and Laurence is released to negotiate his own (OBL's) surrender. She goes to Washington. The story line is very weak. The characters are all just stick figures. The conspiracy part is hidden in a cryptic text, that the 9/11 events had been anticipated, and allowed to happen, because of the rivalry between the three main (intelligence) agencies (called apple, orange, pear). Much of the text is more like a pamphlet, in which the author exposes his ideas on the subject.

The Sherpas' Farewell

A spy story with the theme of paranormal phenomena, written in 1998. Another minimalist and barely comprehensible story. Fairfield is a Russian scientist in charge of research on parapsychological warfare. He wants to defect to the West, but gets denounced, caught and imprisoned. Released at the end of the Cold War, he goes to settle in Australia. Later in 1997 he is kidnapped in Chicago by Finnegan, an Irish journalist, working for the CIA. Finnegan wants the key to Fairfield's coded research work, which the USA has recently purchased from Russia.

Glenelg is an Australian agent sent to survey Fairfield. He gets caught and imprisoned in Toronto, due to the complicity of Diane, Fairfield's daughter and bodyguard. Later a conference is held in Dubbo, to ban the research on paranormal weapons. This follows the disappearance of the sherpas, and the firing of 256 unarmed rockets. Meanwhile, in parallel, the narrator does research on his own family tree.

The Expatriate's Game and Overlanders

Two parts of the same story. The second is the "ellipse" in the first, which covers a span of 12 years in the life of the same character, Anthony Barker, (from age 12 to 24, 1955 to 1967). The second novel, Overlanders, follows a strict chronology, with no anticipation, events are all narrated in linear order. The first, The Expatriate's Game, contains two time-lines, one a chronological narrative, the other a journal with distorted time intervals.

There is no lack of action, and no lack of characters either, both main and secondary. Focalisation is on the main character, typical of autobiographical novels. [The key events will not be revealed until A Vicarious Life is published in 2014.]

Mystery on Telegraph Beach

Novella, which broods over the same events, repeated in multiple versions. There is no real solution to the mystery (who killed Hiro, the Japanese tourist, in Broome W.A.). A few tentative suggestions are made. As a police detective story, this is not a great success. The comments on the role of Echelon are not relevant. We don't know who Hiro is, nor why he is there in Western Australia in 1992. Focalisation is on Chauncy, the detective, hired by the Agency to continue the investigation (Chauncy's first case, is subtitle). "I had never intended to be a detective..."

The Legacy of Moondyne Joe

Really a story about the character Jack Straughan, Captain of the Push, then businessman and investor. But also secret services (ASIO) informer, who gets poisoned in the story. Chauncy, the detective, is the prime suspect, and was set up as culprit. Plenty of action, with suspense and mystery. As usual the crime is not resolved in the end [the real culprit is not found]. Moondyne Joe is a secondary character, a leurre.

North of Northwest Cape

Novella. Chauncy has written a book about Harold Holt, the Australian Prime Minister who disappeared mysteriously at Portsea in December 1967. He has sent it to a literary critic. But a corrupt Sydney accountant is found dead in the critic's house. A pastiche on detective stories by Raymond Chandler. Chauncy is hired by the victim's widow. Fast moving, but confused. The critic disappears, then he phones from Perth. He was investigating the pyramid system, introduced by James Leake, the accountant

But also the critic (Raymond Chervil) was having an affair with the accountant's wife

Given the short length (novella), the story is full of action, but neither of the mysteries is really solved. The parallel with history (Harold Holt) and present (2008 financial hoax) is a success.

The mysterious disappearance of HEH

This is the book, as written by Chauncy, based on the National Archives, an examination of the events in the last few days of Harold Holt, presented as an essay, with references and appendix.

The Wake of Joe Blight

Short story, a fantastic tale of a treasure found on Great Keppel Island, in North Queensland. Chauncy, the detective, is hired to put the treasure back in the tin can where it was found. Joe Blight has written a story, which Chauncy sells to Hollywood.

The story is really funny, full of "rebondissements", and totally unrealistic.

A year in the shoes of Lepton Kwaark

Pseudo novel of science fiction, in fact a series of interviews "mis en scène" by the author. Lepton Kwaark (a wink at particle physics) is a New York lawyer. He is joined by a millionaire heiress on a trip around the world. Are UFO's a hoax perpetrated by the secret services as part of 'pychological warfare'?

A Ball of Wax

Documentary fiction, an essay on the Majestic 12 hoax, which develops the theme of disinformation and pyschological warfare. The MJ-12 hoax is perpetrated by the secret services, to exploit the Ufology community. The twelve characters are real, what is unreal is the crashed UFO and the surviving ET's at Roswell in 1947.

Homing

Short travel texts and poems written over the period 1998 to 2014.

The Adventures of Jack Straughan

Pseudo memoirs and interview with Henry William Jones, hack writer and journalist.

Jack Straughan describes his childhood in Tasmania, and the main events in his long and tortuous career, from artist to businessman and investor.

Still just passing through

Travel descriptions and notebooks of a trip around Australia, in 1999/2000.

Mayday

Themes, industrial espionage and electronic eavesdropping. The narrator (Pilbara) is a translator for a high tech company in Paris. He stumbles across a network of industrial spies (Mayday), specialized in aeronautics. To reveal this network he starts writing a book, which outlines the methods used by the network. The book also gives a detailed description of Pilbara's job history over a period of thirty years, from cherry picking to aeronautics.

* * *

Extract, from the Forest Palms tales

OCTOBER 20 Conflans. Coffee and muffin, for 3 euros. You can’t even order at the counter any more. You have to go to a terminal and type it on a touch screen. No more queueing. No more receipt either. Just a number. Twas raining when I came here last. But next time will be somewhere else. Even these very bad deals are folding up, or changing into something totally impersonal. Do it yourself, that’s the trick. If they could get you to do the cooking as well, they probably would...

Snug to Kingston, Kingston to Snug. Then on to Hobart, to some creepy hostel, once again. 101 things to make and do for retirees. Go fishing, read books, go to the public library, go to alpha-66 to look at the bookshops. Window shopping, or to the computer shops. Buy nothing, or very little, at best a coffee and muffin. Because as a retiree you’re too broke to do anything much more.

So I caught the timeline express... to 3011. When I came out it was a warm sunny day, in mid summer. Alpha-66 hadn’t changed much in the meantime, a few more skyscrapers, a lot higher. Most of the people around me were not humans though. They were MIBs or Greys or Nordics mostly. They didn’t seem to intermingle much. Everybody gave me dirty looks, as though I was a cave dweller. I suppose I was, to them. They spoke a kind of lingua franca of which I understood not one word, complete jibberish. There were no signs of any kind anywhere. Some of these people could fly, more or less at will. They lifted off the ground and went up a few levels to enter the buildings. I went to the shops to see what was offering. Nothing but video games, and clothes. They seemed to spend most of their time playing these games. I went into an office building, carefully avoiding the porters. Couldn’t buy anything because I had no money. Couldn’t steal anything either. They didn’t seem to eat, I was begining to feel hungry. Nothing, not anywhere, all those food stalls had gone. People just ate pills, I discovered later... Well I had this one way ticket to 3011, and no hope of getting back. The day seemed interminable, about 40 hours. I would be lucky to survive another one. Nowhere to sleep, nothing to eat or drink. Why did Tesla have to invent this stupid Timeline express?

So I walked around the place for a while longer and then I curled up in a corner and went to sleep. When I woke up I was in a white cell, or a small room about ten feet square without doors or windows, a kind of quarantine, I supposed. Someone must have found me and carted me off to this place for further inspection. I was being watched, I knew that, though there were no viewing holes visible. The white walls were transparent, but as seen from the other side I was in a glass cage, for them. A bit later someone opened an invisible door and gave me 3 pills, a red one, a white one, and a blue one. This was breakfast lunch and dinner combined. I drank them with a glass of water and they expanded into a kind of baby food, like a thick soup. You wondered if these people had teeth. Probably I’d been picked up by the Samu social, or something along those lines, the bus that goes around collecting derelicts. They conveyed their meaning by telepathy. The person said “jibberish jibberish” and it meant “Eat this. It will be good for you.” I knew that, like a voice heard in the head, whispering softly. The pills had no taste at all, and the thick soup had no taste either. But I felt better, already

I sat down on a chair; there was a chair and a bench in the cubicle, made of wood, it seemed. When I sat on it, it was elastic. Same thing with the bench. The ambient temperature was about 19 degrees. I stared at the white walls. What next? There were no decorations of any kind. Air came in somehow, but there was no apparent ventilation. So I lay on the bench, and waited.

After a long while I went back to sleep. When I woke up I was back where I started, on a concrete slab, in a corner beside one of the tall buildings at alpha-66. I’d been checked out, I suppose that was what you could say. No viruses found. The people around me were all identical clones, there were several types of them. The men were all about 6 feet tall, old and young. There were no children to be seen. The women were about 5 feet 8. They all wore the same clothes, silver-coated space-suits. The men had no facial hair (beard or mustache). Under these silver-coated space-suits they had all kinds of colourful clothing, and this was the stuff for sale in the shops, along with video games. Compared with a long time ago there were relatively few people, like an off-peak day. Without a silver-coated space suit I was very conspicuous. They were not for sale and I had no money anyway. Things were not looking very good. Survival would be a major problem. Maybe I should leave this place and just walk somewhere else, anywhere, I thought. At that point, when all hope had gone, I looked around and saw another guy who looked just like me, a mirror image, in fact an exact replica. More of them appeared over the horizon, approaching slowly. Then I figured that I must have been cloned, while I was asleep in the transparent cubicle. These people had a gene deficit; whenever they found someone new, they made a few copies, for the future. Just in case.

Just then someone back in the Timeline express in 2011 pulled out the plug... With a jolt I was back in the chair, surrounded by people with question marks on their faces.

* * *

Picture credit: Richard-Warren Strong

Picture credit: Richard-Warren Strong

Picture credit: Richard-Warren Strong

Picture credit: Richard-Warren Strong

Picture credit: Richard-Warren Strong

Picture credit: Richard-Warren Strong

Picture credit: Richard-Warren Strong

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