“Personally, I think that contemporary reality is sufficiently science fiction for me. Some critics are already maintaining that science fiction is a sort of historical category and it is not possible any more… I may not be done with the future but I have to figure out what it means to try to write about the future at a time when we are all living in the shadow of at least half a dozen wildly science fiction scenarios.”
William Gibson, 2007
It’s hard being a science fiction writer these days – especially if you want to write about the near future. This morning I had a surprising reminder – JG Ballard expert Simon Sellers alerted me to this news story about an augmented reality marketing campaign that seems scarily close to a scene from my forthcoming book Paintwork. But instead of letting it get me down, I’m taking it as a sign I must be on the right track, and as a result I thought I’d share the scene in question…
3Cube waits, knowing soon the signal will come from Tera, his unseen guardian angel. Unseen and never met, he knows he can trust Tera, that somewhere hidden deep in the damp greyness of Bristol’s collapsing architecture he sits with the CopWatch and Antisocial Behaviour wikis open in front of him, his army of spiders monitoring the data and voice bursts. Between the disgruntled pensioners posting the precise loitering patterns of bored teenagers to the legit wikis, and the dealers and look-outs reporting squad car and UAV movements to the illegal ones, he is putting together a real-time model of police activity across south Bristol. 3Cube trusts him not just because Tera is one of the best, but because the unseen hacker was once a writer himself, and understands how unfortunate it would be for one of those occasional passing cars to light the raindrops in alternating blue and red at just the wrong moment.
He shudders, thinking of 4Clover again. Caught red-handed, right in the middle of a bombing, stencil in one hand, beetle-juice in the other.
So he waits for Tera’s signal before moving, and as he does he lets his eyes fall on to the billboard’s own QR-Code, a 30 centimetre square black and white grid, shimmering under the protective nano-gloss. Untouched, unblemished. He focuses on it, and double-blinks acceptance.
The surface of the billboard starts to shimmer and flex. Ripples start to emanate from its centre as a huge can of Coke emerges from its surface, ring-pull end first. It reminds 3Cube of a tube train at first, but then it starts to buck and move, and he realises its meant to be a rodeo horse. The big clue is the Chinese cowgirl sat astride it, undoubtedly some vurt star 3Cube doesn’t recognise, her outfit a focus-group assembled mess of old west Americana and Asian sci-fi lingerie.
Stars and brightly lit bubbles fill the air around 3Cube, blocking out the drizzle, while streaks of rainbow light encircle him like a psychedelic lasso. Gently the cowgirl leans forward towards him, her smile simultaneously enchanting and disturbingly vacant, the stars and bubbles reflected in her deep brown eyes. She reaches out an impossibly long and elegant siren’s arm, and with a perfectly tanned hand strokes the side of 3Cube’s face so gently that for a second he can almost feel her.
Then he rips the spex from his face, and she is gone. There is nothing left except for the cold air, the drizzle, the generic red and white Coca Cola branding.