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
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
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.