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Показать все книги автора/авторов: Stephenson Neal
 

«Spew», Neal Stephenson

Yeah, I know it's boring of me to send you plain old Text like this, and I hope you don't just blow this message off without reading it.

But what can I say, I was an English major. On video, I come off like a stunned bystander. I'm just a Text kind of guy. I'm gambling that you'll think it's quaint or something. So let me just tell you the whole sorry tale, starting from the point where I think I went wrong.

I'd be blowing brown smoke if I said I wasn't nervous when they shoved in the needles, taped on the trodes, thrust my head into the Big Cold Magnet, and opened a channel direct from the Spew to my immortal soul. Of course they didn't call it the Spew, and neither did I - I wanted the job, after all. But how could

I not call it that, with its Feeds multifarious as the glistening strands cascading sunnily from the supple scalps of the models in the dandruff shampoo ads.

I mention that image because it was the first thing I saw when they turned the

Spew on, and I wasn't even ready. Not that anyone could ever get ready for the dreaded Polysurf Exam. The proctors came for me when they were ready, must have got my address off that job app yellowing in their infinite files, yanked me straight out of a fuzzy gray hangover dream with a really wandering story arc, the kind of dream concussion victims must have in the back of the ambulance. I'd been doing shots of vodka in the living room the night before, decided not to take a chance on the stairs, turned slowly into a mummy while I lay comatose on our living-room couch - the First Couch Ever Built, a Couch upholstered in avocado Orlon that had absorbed so much tar, nicotine, and body cheese over the centuries that now the centers of the cushions had developed the black sheen of virgin Naugahyde. When they buzzed me awake, my joints would not move nor my eyes open: I had to bolt four consecutive 32-ounce glasses of tap water to reconstitute my freeze-dried plasma.

Half an hour later I'm in Television City. A million stories below, floes of gray-yellow ice, like broken teeth, grind away at each other just below the surface of the Hudson. I've signed all the releases and they're lowering the

Squid helmet over me, and without any warning BAM the Spew comes on and the first thing I see is this model chick shaking her head in ultra-slow-mo, her lovely hairs gleaming because they've got so many spotlights cross-firing on her head that she's about to burst into flame, and in voice-over she's talking about how her dandruff problem is just a nasty, embarrassing memory of adolescence now along with pimples and (if I may just fill in the blanks) screwing skanky guys who'll never have a salaried job. And I think she's cute and everything but it occurs to me that this is really kind of sick - I mean, this chick has admitted to a history of shedding blizzards every time she moved her head, and here she is getting down under eight megawatts of color-corrected halogen light, and I just know I'm supposed to be thinking about how much head chaff would be sifting down in her personal space right now if she hadn't ditched her old hair care product lineup in favor of -

Click. Course, it never really clicks anymore, no one has used mechanical switches since like the '50s, but some Spew terminals emit a synthesized click -

they wired up a 1955 Sylvania in a digital sound lab somewhere and had some old gomer in a tank-top stagger up to it and change back and forth between Channel 4

and Channel 5 a few times, paid him off and fired him, then compressed the sound and inseminated it into the terminals' fundamental ROMs so that we'd get that reassuring click when we jumped from one Feed to another. Which is what happens now; except I haven't touched a remote, don't even have a remote, that being the whole point of the Polysurf. Now it's some fucker picking a banjo, ouch it is an actual Hee Haw rerun, digitally remastered, frozen in pure binary until the collapse of the Universe.

Click. And I resist the impulse to say, "Wait a minute. Hee Haw is my favorite show."

Well, I have lots of favorite shows. But me and my housemates, we're always watching Hee Haw. But all I get is two or three twangs of the banjo and a glimpse of the eerily friendly grin of the banjo picker and then click it's a

'77 Buick LeSabre smashing through a guardrail in SoCal and bursting into a fireball before it has even touched the ground, which is one of my favorite things about TV. Watch that for a while and just as I am settling into a nice

Spew daze, it's a rap video, white trailer park boys in Clackamas who've actually got their moho on hydraulics so it can tilt and bounce in the air while the homeboys are partying down inside. Even the rooftop sentinels are boogieing, they have to boogie, using their AK-47s like jugglers' poles to keep their balance. Under the TV lights, the chrome-plated bayonets spark like throwaway cameras at the Orange Bowl Halftime Show.

And so it goes. Twenty clicks into the test I've left my fear behind, I'm

Polysurfing like some incarnate sofa god, my attention plays like a space laser across the Spew's numberless Feeds, each Feed a torrent, all of them plexed together across the panascopic bandwidth of the optical fiber as if the contents of every Edge City in Greater America have been rammed into the maw of a giant pasta machine and extruded as endless, countless strands of polychrome angel hair. Within an hour or so I've settled into a pattern without even knowing it.

I'm surfing among 20 or so different Feeds. My subconscious mind is like a retarded homunculus sacked out on the couch of my reptilian brain, his thumb wandering crazily around the keypad of the world's largest remote control. It looks like chaos, even to me, but to the proctors, watching all my polygraph traces superimposed on the video feed, tracking my blood pressure and pupil dilation, there is a strange attractor somewhere down there, and if it's the right one....


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