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  Viper Wire by Richard Kadrey



The Magnetic Garden


Every thought, idea, and piece of data creates an information echo. When the information is forgotten, discarded, or lost, its echo remains forever in the Magnetic Garden. What Heaven is for humans, the Magnetic Garden is for information.

While information is often formless in the mind of the thinker, thoughts and other "data ghosts" have shape and dimension in the Magnetic Garden. Raw data-the square root of pi, the number of stone blocks in the Great Pyramid, lovers' phone numbers, the proper engine compression in a 1965 Impala Super Sport convertible, the formula for Greek Fire-takes the form of books or scraps of white vellum that blow through the Garden like cherry blossoms in Tokyo.

The thoughts of the mad and the drugged are thorn bushes, continually tangling and untangling themselves, like barbed anemones. Some mad ideas are chimerical beasts, animals cobbled together from parts of other animals. Like the manticore. It sports a man's head, the body of a lion, the wings of a dragon, and a scorpion's tail. Manticores and sphinxes lurk in the thorn patches and pounce on passing thoughts, ripping them to pieces. Of course, the data forms reconstitute themselves in an instant and move on, driving the mad chimeras even madder.

The Magnetic Garden is full of sculptures. These are the data ghosts of every artwork ever completed or dreamed. This includes novels, poetry, music, and dance. They all become sculptures in the Garden. Novels, in the form of a character or symbolic object, read themselves to anyone who stops to listen. Song sculptures continually sing the music they embody. Some of the sculptures resemble the works they represent. Some are idealized versions that the artist could never quite realize. Inhumanly complex and subtle works, these are the real ghosts of the Magnetic Garden since they never really had form and only existed as phantoms.

Failed art frequently appears as kinetic sculptures, gnarled works forever changing, trying to get their forms right. Some failed art never even makes it that far. These abandoned art ideas join lost works and corrupt graphics files in the form of broken glass tumbleweeds that blow listlessly back and forth across the Garden.

Memories of sex, daydreams, and fantasies of love and lust are the Garden's most restless residents. These ideas move in herds and immense migrations throughout the Garden, following the phases of the moon. Sex data is shapeless and pink, warm and faintly sticky, like living cotton candy. The candy smells of vanilla and purrs like cats. Some of the pink forms are soft, but others have teeth. It's impossible to tell which are which just by looking. You have to take a chance and touch them to know for sure.

Every furious and hateful idea eventually appears in the Magnetic Garden. This dark information takes the form of what appear to be enormous spiders, but look again. The "spiders" are the echoes of bodies twisted back on themselves, hands and feet on the ground and distended bellies thrust into the air. These are images of the bodies of the murderous, the jealous, and those consumed with rage. This black data crabs along, bodies contorted, heads twisted upright and covered in dozens of eyes, ever watchful. Whenever these violent bodies meet it usually ends in combat. Some of the spiders have fought for so long and hard that they've fused into a single creature, a great shapeless mound of limbs, eyes, and screaming mouths. This mangled creature propels itself through the Garden on its scrabbling arms and legs as the flailing limbs try to beat itself to death.

There are rivers and lakes in the Magnetic Garden. This is were new information forms appear. Buzzing over the water, like swarms of gnats, are unanswered questions and snapshots of memories-that woman's red dress on the bus, How many drams in an ounce?, the smell of crickets frying in Taipei market stalls during Ghost Month.

There are storms-monsoons of blinding razor-sharp static-noise in the information system. When the storms clear, the more fragile data forms have to reconstitute themselves. Occasionally, the damage is so great that repair is impossible, and a complete data set is corrupted forever.

This is where we catch a glimpse of the Magnetic Garden. Damaged and unstable data ghosts infest can wander from the Garden and infest our systems, haunting our communications. You can hear the ghosts whispering on dirty phone lines and in the whine of modems, data poltergeists. They crash computers and distort cell phones. They dry up pens and knock pianos out of tune. They distort and diminish all our attempts at perfect creation and communication. The ghosts are here in this story. Now that you've read it, the shadows from the Magnetic Garden have found you, too.


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Richard Kadrey is a member of a small group of innovative writers, including William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, John Shirley, Pat Cadigan, Tom Maddox, and others, who changed the face of science fiction in the 1980s. He also creates art. He lives in San Francisco.

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