The Speculative Meme-Pool 1

So here's the idea, friends: in the absence of a proper non-fiction item this issue, we're setting up a new feature, which we hope to come back to if there's any interest. The "Speculative Meme-Pool" is a primordial soup of ideas into which you may drop any thoughts you have had, and from which you may draw if any of the ideas therein inspire you. (It would be nice if you would credit the Meme-Pool and the original contributor if your work is ever published, but we can't insist on that as you can't copyright an idea...)

This is all sort of in the spirit of Jorge Luis Borges, who used sometimes to come up with ideas that were too long for him to be bothered to write out completely—or even that sounded good as an idea, but wasn't the sort of thing he was ever going to write. So an idea for a novel, for example, would appear only as a book review (giving the impression that the non-existant book had already been written, perhaps), or as a précis of the novel, with character sketches and plot summary only, as in ‘Theme of the Traitor and the Hero’ (1944).

Please send your ideas, therefore, to  [  ] (no spaces or underscores in this address)—but only if you are sure you don't mind someone else stealing it. We have posted a few ideas of our own below, as a starting-point:

Peter Saracen

(Danny Hydrus)

I just read an encyclopedia entry about a little known twelfth-century knight apparently named "Peter Saracen", who was based in Rome and was on the payroll of two successive kings of England. His name even found its way into an English medieval church prayerbook, probably while he was visiting the country on some business. Presumably this good Christian, crusading knight was not actually a Saracen—so where, I ask myself, does his name come from? No etymology is offered, leaving it to our (unscholarly) imagination.

Was he perhaps so formidable and ferocious a warrior that he became known as "Peter Saracen-slayer" for his feats in battle? This name perhaps shortened to the less bloodthirsty version for use in church... Or was he perhaps a diplomat, given this name as a badge of honour by some Saracen king, and continued to use it later in life? Or a childish nickname given because of his dusky, mediterranean complexion? Or were there perhaps Arab Christians in Rome at this time? The possibilities are near endless...

I'd love to see a story (maybe in the vein of Baudolino, but needn't be as absurdist or postmodern) in which Peter Saracen appears as a character, and his actions and adventures reflect this ambiguity of his name, allowing for several or all of these possibilities. What a great character he'd be.

The Viral Meme AI

(Johann Carlisle)

My idea is based on the now-commonplace notion that within the multiple, near-neural networks of the Internet a virus could evolve, unseen and unnoticed, but of such complexity that it would effectively be alive, an artificial intelligence that could even take over entire nodes of the network and force humanity to interact with it. Fred Pohl used this basic idea in Man Plus as far back as 1976, and I'm sure it's even older than that. (I remember an article by Richard Dawkins making the same point, probably in the late 1980s.) This idea is then kind of combined with the idea of a virus in the human mind (e.g.—but not only—Neal Stephenson's 1992 novel Snow Crash) to form a new premise: if it is possible to conceive of an artificial intelligence that is pure information, and parasitic on the information-bearing mechanism that carries it, namely the Internet, then could not such an intelliegence also adapt itself (or copies of itself) to exist on other information-platforms, such as the human brain, or more to the point, the network of brains that is the human meme-pool?

The story might go something like this: intelligence starts communicating with humans, or becomes noticed in some other way, by its activities. At first we think it's an alien, but then we realise it's a terrestrial viral AI. So we think, "Shit, how we gonna clean this thing out of the networks? We can't reboot and uninstall the whole internet..." Plans are devised—with great difficulty since any computer is potentially, and probably, infected, including communication and other technological devices—but even this proves pointless in the end as the lifeform is not just in the wires, as it were, but wired into our heads, and we don't yet know how to write anti-virus software for the meme-pool.

But at this point I realise that this isn't the kind of story I'm going to write, so I leave it at the idea stage, and maybe someone else will like it...

Bird flu...


The concept is that an invading alien species has engineered a version of themselves into the DNA code of a virus inflecting the apparently dominent, free, and most mobile species visible on the planet: winged migrating birds. This virus is genetically engineered to evolve and subtly to modify the species in question over time, until the aliens have effectively taken control. But soon they realise their mistake, that the species they have infected are not in fact the planet rulers, and that taking control of ducks and geese won't win them much command of the Earth. So they start to subtly modify their own virulence in the hope of crossing the species barrier and infecting humans...

Alien ring colony

(Westley Nan)

The story begins with a community of colonists on an alien planet, making their new homes on thick vegetation growing on the dark, inner surface of a Halo-like hub world. At first these colonists could be human, as we hear of their travails on this new, unhospitable, dangerous, methane-based world and their relationships with one another. But it soon transpires that they are totally alien, an almost unrecognisable species neither carbon-based nor from our galaxy, although the location of their new world is unclear. These aliens have something like a hive mind, although this doesn't stop their society from being hierarchical and riven with conflict, as we learn by example in very scathing and satirical terms. Eventually, we learn (no more than 3/4 of the way through the story, as it would be a duff punchline) that the new homes they are inhabiting are actually the hairs growing around the rim of a human arsehole. The final portion of the story piles on the farce as the hostile environment is described in more detail.

As you can appreciate, I'm not putting my name to this story.

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