Tag Archives: human enhancement

A festive flash…

This piece of flash fiction was originally written for a Christmas blog at a time when I was discovering more and more about human enhancement. Then, it became the final segment of The Envoy of the Ultimate Observer, a story set across twelve months and published in my collection Biohacked & Begging.


You Need a Festival of Enhancement

‘You’re purple,’ said Tommy’s niece.

‘He’s from another universe. He came here to see how we live. Like a space explorer,’ said Tommy before I had a chance to explain.

‘But why is he purple?’

I put my cup of tea down on the sitting room table and beckoned her over. ‘Where I come from, we change people so they’re cleverer and stronger – we call it enhancement. Sometimes it goes a bit wrong and that’s what happened to me.’

‘Does it hurt?’

‘No. Not any more. Do you like it?’

‘It’s cool. Will you help me?’

‘Of course.’

She grabbed my sleeve and pulled me across the room to a child-sized green plastic table. ‘Help me make some invites,’ she said as she sat down on the matching chair.

I looked across at Tommy who nodded to let me know it was okay. I knelt down next to her. ‘What’s your name?’ I asked.

‘Lesia. What’s your name?’

‘It’s really hard to pronounce, so just call me Purple.’

She giggled nervously. ‘That’s wrong, calling someone by their colour.’

I shrugged. ‘It’s what everyone calls me.’ I rummaged through the cards, glue and glitter. ‘Did you say you’re making invites?’

‘Yes.’

‘Invites to what?’

‘A party. Silly.’

I smiled. I love the directness of the young humans in your universe. ‘But what’s the silly party for?’

She chuckled. ‘You’re funny. It’s not a silly party – it’s a Christmas party.’

‘Sounds fun.’

‘It’ll be great; lots of games, presents and cake. Shall I show you what to do?’

I nodded.

She scrunched her face with concentration and cut out some trees and some stars, glued them on to card and then sprinkled them with silver glitter.

‘Do you have parties?’ she asked.

‘Of course, every universe I’ve ever visited has parties. It seems to be one of those things that happen wherever you are.’

‘I bet ours are the best, aren’t they?’

‘I haven’t been to many of yours, but I think the best ones are where I come from. Although you might find them a bit strange.’

‘Really?’

‘Yes. Shall I tell you about one?’

She put the remaining half-made invites in a pile and turned to face me with her chin resting in her hands. She glanced at the adults on the other side of the room. ‘Go on,’ she whispered.

I shifted a little closer to give her the impression that I was sharing a secret. ‘Where I come from, we don’t have Christmas but we do have a special party once a year – the Festival of Enhancement. There are lots of other parties and they’re great fun, but this one is compulsory.’

‘Does everyone go to the same party?’ she asked with wide-open eyes.

‘No. No. No. There’s a lot to choose from and you only have to volunteer for one.’

She nodded wisely without really understanding, in the way that I realise is typical of you humans.

I beckoned her to come even closer and whispered, ‘When we get to the end of the year, there’s a list of all the new enhancements that have been developed. It tells you what they will do to you and which of the previous ones they can’t be mixed with.’

‘I don’t understand,’ she whispered.

‘In my universe everyone has things done to them to make them better. We take medicine and have bits of our bodies altered to make us super-beings.’

‘Oh,’ she said, nodding wisely again. ‘But what’s that got to do with these parties?’

‘Well, it’s at these parties that they experiment with real beings to see if the new things work.’

She frowned. ‘That’s sad.’

‘You shouldn’t be sad – it’s great fun. When you arrive they take you into a special room to do what they have to do and then we all sit in a big hall waiting for the changes to take effect. One by one it starts to work and you can see people experimenting with their new power.’

‘What’s yours?’

‘Last year, just before I came here, I was given more empathy. That was amazing. As each change took effect on the others, I could sense what it was like.’

‘Is everyone happy?’

‘Even when it goes wrong, people are okay because we do it together and share the experience and there’s no shame if it doesn’t work. It only goes wrong on very rare occasions and someone has to be taken away. The festival organisers try their hardest to make sure the new one doesn’t react badly with something else they’ve done to you, like turning you purple.’ I winked.

‘My dad takes pills to cheer him up but that means he can’t drink beer. Is it like that?’

‘Exactly, and in my world if you’ve had your brain enhanced, then you wouldn’t be invited to the parties where your body is improved. When you’re born, your parents have to choose between your body and your brain.’

She looked at me for a while and then looked away. ‘Can we finish off these invites?’

I laughed. ‘Of course we can, silly.’

She smiled and handed me the glue and the glitter.

Is it a collection for commuters?

I’m told that we have a shorter attention span than we used to. That we are at a moment in history when we want everything in bite-sized chunks. We make these micro-transactions in all sorts of ways. From the instantly ‘liked’ and instantly forgotten interactions to the chopping and changing between watching a film while flicking through our feeds.

Do we want bite-sized fiction too?

Well, I’m told we do. Actually, I’m told people enjoy reading tightly formed flash stories, such as those in my Nudge the Future collections – did I mention there’s a new one out? It’s called Biohacked & Begging. 

In this new collection I play around with the notion of micro-transactions. I touch on such things as micro-voting, renting your home by the hour, and the zero-hours contracts of the future.  It’s not all bleak (honest).

Short fiction is certainly not at all a new thing and I don’t think flash fiction will ever replace the full immersion of reading a novel, it’s a totally different experience.

Hopefully, these Nudge the Future collections fill a gap – they’re perfect for the commute to and from work, or for reading with your morning coffee.

Why not use them to create a small oasis of entertainment? Why not flit off to another place for a precious few minutes each day with a self-contained story?

And if they also prompt some pondering that’s great because don’t forget, The future is ours and it’s up for grabs…


“The more we surround ourselves with technology, the more uncanny our lives become. Enter Stephen Oram: with Bradbury’s clear-sightedness and Pangborn’s wit, he pulls ways to live out from under modernity’s “cacophony of crap.”” Simon Ings, Arts Editor, New Scientist.

Find out more about Biohacked and Begging

 


photo credit: SHAN DUTTA _DSC1241 via photopin (license)

An excess of ears to entertain

With less than a week to go before Biohacked & Begging is released, the interviews have started. One of the recurring questions is about the inspiration behind the collection. There is a long answer, which can be found on a previous post Prodding and poking the possible, but the short answer is, “to entertain.”

The second story in the collection is Mr Enhancement, wonderfully illustrated by Kim Hutson above, and written specifically for the Enfield Literary Festival as part of The Clockhouse London Writers Presents.

I took the inspiration from the performance artist Stelarc, who famously has an ear on his arm. Here’s an extract from his biography: “[…] has visually probed and acoustically amplified his body. He has made three films of the inside of his body. Between 1976-1988 he completed 26 body suspension performances with hooks into the skin. He has used medical instruments, prosthetics, robotics, Virtual Reality systems, the Internet and biotechnology to engineer intimate and involuntary interfaces with the body. He explores Alternate Anatomical Architectures with augmented and extended body constructs.”

As you can imagine, I was really chuffed when Stelarc agreed to read an advance copy of Biohacked & Begging and doubly chuffed when he gave me this quote for the cover:  “Can humans remain ‘more than digital, more than flesh’ with detachable limbs, multiple ears, implants that can be hacked and nanobots that can be ingested? These thoroughly enjoyable and contestable futures explore the personal and political implications of fleshy and messy encounters with contentious technology and the epidemic of algorithms.”

I hope you enjoy the collection as much as Stelarc did.


Biohacked & Begging is published on 12 April, but you can pre-order from Amazon now.

Press release available here and on request.


Art: Mr Enhancement by Kim Hutson @batfacedgirlart