Here’s a short fiction work for the Future of Copyright Contest. It has to be published on the net so here it is, on a CC license. The whole idea of this blog is closely tied to the copyright problems (as in ‘about’ page) , so we had to take part. This here is a classic dystopian story with a post-ironic touch. Precisely 15,000 characters. Enjoy.
What is an author?
Michael turned 14 on a sunny, summer day. His family celebrated it with him, a large group of wiggling kids from his class turned up as well. Parents gave him something they called ‘old art’ and ‘a book’ and which had text inside but surprisingly there was no display screen. Michael, who born in 2050, was always feeling that this even number was a happy coincidence.
As for the parents they had to think about giving him something more, yet not another shiny box wrapped in paper, but an experience, some pleasant, enriching memory so as to mark his coming of age. And they decided to present to him uncle Doogie. It wasn’t a decision reached easily though. His father kept pointing out how dangerous and risky it was to bring his son so close to that kind of activity. The fact was that Doogie was a criminal. Michael’s mother, however, was firm on the matter. He would get to know it all soon anyway and it was safer if it was with them. Although Doogie was a recluse, they admired him for his work. Michael’s Dad finally realized he can’t oppose on this matter and let it go. When they told him, Michael, inquisitive as always, started with a question.
-Who is uncle Doogie? I never heard of him.
-Well, it’s time for you to hear. Your uncle Doogie is an author, you know?
-An author? What is an author?
-Oh, you’ll see for yourself, it’s hard to explain. At least in our times it was easier to give an example. To begin with, his is kind of a farmer. Like those people who grow food that we eat.
-What do you mean grow food Dad? Aren’t they synthesizing it in the supermarkets on the spot?
-Well, yes but it wasn’t always like that. I forgot how much the world has changed in the last ten years. Yes, of course you don’t even know what it is to grow something. I guess I need to start from the beginning. Try to use your imagination it was waaay more different in my years. So, in the past it actually took time to create things, it was a process. Everything wasn’t just made, printed or replicated. If you wanted an apple, you had to plant an apple tree, take care of it for weeks, every day. Only then you could get the apples. You see?
Michael looked confused.
-How inefficient! And why was it so? Oh, never mind, what is an author then?
-You know what art producers are, don’t you? These people who make movies and series that are on the Internet.
-Yeah, sure, but I don’t like the movies much. They’re boring and kinda ugly too. So uncle Doogie is kind of an art producer?
Michael seemed to lost his enthusiasm in the idea. He turned his head towards the door, as if hoping he could be upstairs already.
-No, no, he’s not. He deals with the old art but that’s a completely different thing, like the book I just gave you. You see, producers make art products from the ideas supplied by the government. You went on a school trip to see how it works, right?
Michael saddened and took a step back.
-Yeah, we’ve seen how they create ideas. But it was scary. I don’t know why but I felt those ideas had only emptiness inside, they looked at me with some desperation, I don’t know Dad, like they wanted me to save them. I don’t wanna see it anymore. Never. They were so artificial and looked troubled and still they had some human traits. It was a nightmare I can’t understand why others enjoyed it.
Michael’s Dad sat down on the sofa. He gestured at his son to sit beside him. Then he looked at both sides as if scared of being heard by someone. But it was only Michael’s mother, who showed in casual clothes, unusually dark for her standards. Her favorite color, warm green, was only manifested by her earrings. In passing she urged her husband to hurry up with the explanations. He carried on, calmly:
-You are right about the ideas; empty indeed. They are made in such form so as to meet the measurements and regulations. They are printed at the spot, it takes no time or effort. Of course, it’s efficient as you would say. Eventually, art producers can combine them into movies and you have seen the effects.
Now I can tell you about Doogie. He breeds ideas too but very, very different ones, and in a different way. It’s not scary at all. You’ll see for yourself. I’ve done enough talking for today. But you need to promise me you won’t tell anybody at school, it has to be a secret. What he does is not strictly speaking legal. To be honest it’s not legal at all. Ideas have to fit the regulations to be allowed into art.
Michael was thrilled about the illegal part. He felt that it might be an adventure plus, less consciously, he felt his parents trusted him. As he looked at his mother, she smiled but looked quite worried to him. He already learned that his parents were doing things not fully approved by the government; it was never that explicit though.
There was a locked room in the basement in which he was let twice. It was full of this ‘old art’ stuff, images on some kind of material, a ‘library’ and most bizarre instruments that looked like they were made for torturing people. His parents referred to them as ‘typewriter’ and ‘turntable’ or by some other names he couldn’t even remember. Not on one occasion he ever heard them anywhere else. He didn’t believe that but his parents claimed ‘old art’ was mainstream in their time and that there is none of it left on the Internet because corporations bought rights to it and then limited access through the net. To Michael it sounded like a crazy conspiracy theory. He was quite sure that if anything is gone than it’s because people lost interest in it. His parents claimed that people never did lose anything except the true art, and the reason it was banned was that otherwise no one would care for the movies they were making those days.
They took off two hours later. Michael’s Mom told him that she spoke with Doogie just a minute before and that it turned out he is one lucky boy. His uncle was hosting a creation party that night. They would all witness one of the most magical rituals that are to be found in the world. Michael was still nervous as he imagined he would have to sit in some dark room with unknown people surrounded by those glass tubes filled with ideas floating in clear liquid. On the other hand the excitement of his parents was quite contagious and he wouldn’t agree to go back now. He wouldn’t miss this experience for the world.
A giant old barn, that’s where they arrived. It was more than 15 miles outside the city. First thing Michael saw were people nervously walking around, heads covered with hoods, with big black bags over they shoulders. They reminded the boy of some hellish Santa Clauses, eccentric enough to swarm around in the middle of the summer. Only later had he learned how much more amazing their gifts were supposed to be. On the way he also noticed a tiny girl, about his age, with a bright red handbag, about half her size. Except that, and her red hair, there was only darkness and shade on the road. His parents kept him close and Michael could feel how uneasy they were. The memory of the production center that he visited with his class came to him again. The building was the same size as the barn, except it was all lighten up and full of smiling staff. Still he shivered on the thought of those bleak, bald ideas in the incubators with all kinds of tubes going in and out. Here he couldn’t even make out the faces of people; most of his perception came as whispers and rustling. It seemed like a real adventure this time.
-Oh my god! That has to be Michael! My dear! How fantastic it is to meet you on this special night!!! Come on in, quickly, I have so much to show you!
A man suddenly appeared on the left. His loud, rapid way of speaking made Michael jump. He looked like he was at least 100 years old, but this was because of an insanely long beard and white hair. He completely stood out with a Hawaiian shirt in green palm trees. After he welcomed Michael he greeted his parents:
-Oh, I’d bet my whole stock that you wouldn’t bring him here. Hell, you made your brother proud today!
He smiled widely at Michael’s Dad and without changing that expression, he brought them inside. The air and smell struck Michael and made him almost dizzy; he wasn’t used to that kind of environment.
In the room they entered just now, the floor was full of boots, coats and, most obviously, some weird little creatures zigzagging around, bumping into each other, making squeaky noises. Michael’s eyes become round, as his mind couldn’t make any sense of this sight. It was too hard to process. Doogie burst into laughter.
-Yep, there you have it, an army of naughty little ideas. These two in the corner were bred here, oh, and this one with little tentacles pinching the big black hairy one, that’s my favorite! What a rascal! The rest of them were brought today by somebody. Who knows which one is whose? There are simply too many.
He continued to laugh wholeheartedly, as Michael’s parents tried to pet ideas they could reach. As they were speaking, another hooded couple came in with the bags and emptied them with an energetic movement. Another ten or dozen creatures stormed out of the bag and immediately mixed with the buzzing crowd. The new guests hugged Doogie, shook hands with Michael and his parents, then went further to the next room.
-Come on in, don’t wait here It’s just the taste of what is coming next!
Michael came to his uncle, his forehead wrinkled:
-What is that? Why do you call them ideas? They are some animals or something, right?
– Oh, you must have seen only the legal ideas so far, haven’t you? Poor boy. These are genuine ideas; some of them bred by me, some by my friends. They seem hard to control, eh? That’s a major problem for some. Not for me though.
He smiled like he expected Michael to understand his riddle.
-Let’s go, I’ll show you more.
‘More’ couldn’t prepare Michael for what he was about to see next. His parents smiled faintly as if they knew what was about to happen. The family stepped through the old door on the right side, moved through a long, dilapidated corridor, with some graffiti on the walls. Still there were more and more tiny ideas scattered on the way. Then they went into a large storeroom that probably took most of the space in the barn. Michael was stunned. It looked like an enormous ant hill went under the influence of potent drugs. Thousands of ideas in all shapes and sizes, in all colors, wild and calm, resembling all kinds of animals and objects he has ever seen in his life where there, playing mindlessly, moving around like small tornados, singing and screaming. The landscape was something like an enormous park or even a jungle, with trees, plants and a sizable lake in the middle. Also, there were people here and there, waving to them.
-So how you like my little party, eh? – asked Doogie, raising his head proudly.
Michael just wasn’t able to put this experience into words. The little girl they saw earlier came there too and said ‘hi’ to them. She walked past Michael, sat on some tree trunk and let her little pets out. The boy was silently starring at her when another thing stole his attention. He had to turn his head. A tall, dark man entered. His face looked calm and determined, not as oblivious and happy as other people. He seemed to be fully consumed by his thoughts, perfectly absent-minded. Also he was the first person around that had glasses on. The other curious thing was that he had no bag. Michael was sure that there was something profoundly different about him, something unnamable for a 14-year-old. This man had a special spiritual aura around him; maybe it was some form of natural magic. Was he a wizard?
It was Michael’s mother, who explained it to him.
-Take a good look, Mike. This is an artist, a really special kind of a person. Your father was an artist too, at the time when I met him but the police found out and it was too dangerous for him to continue.
Now, Michael felt that his capacity for ingesting new information was really put to the test.
-Really? Why no one ever told me? Is it illegal? What is an artist? Is it different from an author? I have no idea what’s going on today.
He was so stunned that he barely noticed that the artist walked straight into the lake without even slowing down his pace or undressing. All the ideas crowded around him, pushing and shoving to get as close as possible while splashing water everywhere. He stood knee-deep in the lake, water dripping from his clothes, ceaselessly petting the ideas. It seemed as they were communicating somehow in a wordless way.
-You see? An artist is a little like an art producer. But he deals with the genuine ideas, as you see. He doesn’t buy them, like the law says he should. He just comes to places like this and spends his time with them. It’s a slow process. No one knows why precisely, but this crazy little ideas are in love with him, well, with all the artists.
Her eyes seemed dreamy. Michael tried to imagine his father standing like this, deep in water but to no success.
-This is just incredible. So, uncle Doogie, are these all your ideas? How can you take care of them all? Are you a superhero?
-Ha ha! They are not all mine. In fact not a single idea belongs to anybody. I only give food and shelter to some of them, most of the time they just run loose. The rest was brought by other authors as you can see. You know, the ideas are free to do whatever. You can’t tame them, as those fools try to. The only rule is to give them freedom. In fact those other authors always take different ideas from those they brought. It’s a never-ending exchange. Only for this one day we try to put them all together so the artist can work, and for us authors is the only time of true vacation. It’s a little reward for our humble work.
They followed Doogie across the jungle to the other side, looking with excitement on all the wonders around them. Some chaotic, wooden sculptures popped up every now and then. The artist was now climbing the tree, few ideas hanging from his sleeves, others already swinging from the branches. The people were gathering at a few tables that were placed between the trees. The whole party was between 20 and 30 people altogether.
A bit afraid of such a crowd of adults Michael indulged himself to follow a peculiar orange idea that was covered in short, shiny fur. He chased it to a dimly lit cave on the side. The idea rolled around, then came closer, putting pawns on his lap. Michael was thrilled with this brave act.
Then something moved behind him, at the back of the cave. A tiny oval bird-like idea jumped out at run across to him. He exhaled relieved. Then he heard a warm, high voice that he could recognize from earlier.
-Oh, just look how much they like you! Are you an artist too?
That was the redhead girl. And then he heard someone shouting something outside. A loud, horrible sound of braking glass came through the air. The only thing he heard from then on was a chaotic turmoil. The girl covered her month so as not to scream.
-These terrible men, they came again!
She stared crying. Michael cautiously moved toward the entrance. There were a few gunshots. He started shaking but peeked outside. From his spot he could see only the edge of the lake. The water was red now. He could also see the body of the artist. His head was lying on the ground, rest of his body under the water. His eyes were shut and he wasn’t moving at all. Michael gasped. He looked back, the girl’s face was covered with tears, the ideas run into the darkest corners of the cave and lied motionless. Michael was scared to death yet he managed to stick his head out another time.
He saw flipped tables and about 20 men in black suits walking through the debris of food and plates. They faces were covered, there was nothing written on their shirts. His parents, among other people were standing by the tree, cuffed. Farther to the right, Doogie was trying to defend himself but they forced him to the ground within seconds. Ideas were running everywhere in panic, while the men were kicking them around, somewhat irritated.
-Don’t go out, you can’t do anything right now. – said the girl. – My parents died in a situation like this. I’m so terrified. Please, don’t leave me now. Can I ask what your name is?
-I’m Nora. I wish we would meet in a better place.
She tried to smile but she couldn’t.
-I have to do something Nora, my parents are there. What are they going to do?
-You can’t do nothing right now, you can’t fight dozen grown men with weapons, can you? There is something else you can do though. You can become an artist one day and tell this story to others. Art is a dangerous activity, it always was, but it can get to people the way other things can’t. Then they might understand that everything went wrong. Come here I can’t talk that loud or they would find us here.
Michael reluctantly went to the back of the cave to sit by Nora. All the ideas got closer to him.
-I know nothing about that. It’s only today that I’ve even learned what an author is and what an artist is and I’ve never seen the real ideas before.
-But it’s easy. The only thing you need is the ideas to feel that you‘d be good to them. There is a connection between you and them, it’s clear to see. Look at them. It doesn’t get any harder than this.
-Ok, so I really feel something towards them, I can’t quite name it. Still it’s only my intuition, I have no ideas how do artists really work.
-Alright, so say you want to be a writer, you want to write a story. There are only 26 letters out of which you make combinations, so that you got the story. What’s difficult about that? Think about today, make the story of what happened, share your experience, write about what you felt when the ideas where around you.
-That sounds easy when you say it. But I don’t know. I suppose I could try it sometime. But how can we get out of here? They won’t let us. And what after that? Will they take my parents away for good?
-I have no idea what’s going to happen. We’ll find a way. The only thing that can make me feel better now would be your promise to write. Promise me that if you get out, you will write honestly about today. Even a short story, you know? Just 26 letters, about 15 000 characters should be enough. Will you? Here’s another idea…
When he put out his hand, much to his surprise it wasn’t an actual idea, she only put her hand in his.
This work takes part in the Future of Copyright Contest <http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/future-of-copyright-contest-2-0>
This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/.
List of used paintings in order:
1. Pablo Picasso – First steps
2. Carl Spitzweg – The cactus lover
3. Vajda Lajos – Monster’s Head
4. Rudolf von Alt -The Library of the Palais Lanckoronski Vienna
5. Francisco Goya – Hush
6. Max Ernst – Birds also Birds, Fish Snake and Scarecrow
7 Romare Bearden – Dreams of Exile
8.Ramedios Varo – Sympathy
9. Joseph Wright -Virgil’s tomb with the figure of silius italicus
9. Salvadore Dali – Honey is sweeter than blood
10. Pablo Picasso – Man and woman in café
11. Georges Seurat- Le labourage