Крис Бекетт: The Holy Machine

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Крис Бекетт The Holy Machine
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    The Holy Machine
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The Holy Machine: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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George Simling has grown up in the city-state of Illyria, an enclave of logic and reason founded as a refuge from the Reaction, a wave of religious fundamentalism that swept away the nations of the twenty-first century. Yet to George, Illyria’s militant rationalism is as stifling as the faith-based superstition that dominates the world outside its walls. For George has fallen in love with Lucy. A prostitute. A robot. She might be a machine, but the semblance of life is perfect. To the city authorities, robot sentience is a malfunction, curable by erasing and resetting silicon minds. But George knows that Lucy is something more. His only alternative is to flee Illyria, taking Lucy deep into the religious Outlands where she must pass as human because robots are seen as mockeries of God, burned at the stake, dismembered, crucified. Their odyssey leads them through betrayal, war and madness, ending only at the monastery of the Holy Machine…

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‘Have you ever tried winding it back?’ I found myself saying, very much to my own surprise.

‘No, I haven’t,’ said Marija, turning her bright, interested eyes on me.

Feeling increasingly awkward, I told her about my experience: the human form assembling itself from dust in Ullman’s godlike hands.

‘It’s as if…’ (I faltered a bit at the end of this unusually long speech). ‘It’s as if the way you see the world depends on the direction you choose to come at it from…’

Exactly!’ exclaimed Marija. ‘Exactly!’

Tony laughed. When it was time to go, Marija wrote down for me the date of a forthcoming meeting of the League.

‘You’re well in there, George,’ Tony said to me, when Marija said goodbye. ‘Play your cards right and you and she could get together and discuss the meaning of life on a regular basis.’

* * *

Outside night was falling, and the Beacon, which is silvery by day, was lighting up from within to give glimpses of its intricate interior, like one of those transparent water creatures you can watch under a microscope and see its heart beating and the food moving along its gut. Gigantic and yet seemingly weightless, it hovered over its own reflection. People were going in and out of it, up and down it, round and through it like ants in a nest: on staircases, galleries, walkways, escalators. High up in the Beacon‘s great spherical head, people were riding the Ferris wheels that revolved outside.

I walked over to the railings. The sea softly splashed against the stones. From a flagpole above me, the eye of Illyria flapped in a light breeze.

Was Tony joking, or did he really think that someone like Marija might be interested in the likes of me?

I became aware of another sound just below me. A pair of lovers were kissing in the protective darkness of the concrete sea wall, kissing and kissing and kissing, slowly and gently feeding on one another’s mouths.


I went to the meeting of the Holist League. It took place in the function room of a bar in Upper Edison. There were about thirty people there, among them Marija, looking very beautiful in a loose white jumper. She smiled and gestured to the seat beside her. I was still trying to think of something to say when the meeting began and the main speaker was introduced.

It was a philosopher called Paul Da Vera, a strikingly good-looking Brazilian perhaps five or six years older than Marija and myself who spoke with great fluency and wit for about an hour, mainly about the meaning and origin of words.

‘Spirit’ was one of these words, I remember. Da Vera said that pre-technological societies would attribute all kinds of events to the presence of spirits. More technological societies, with more organized religions, would limit spirits to certain locations: there were ‘animate’ and ‘inanimate’ objects, a material and a spiritual world. And then science-based societies, such as Illyria and its precursors, had tried to dispense with spirits altogether.

But Da Vera argued that every Illyrian from Ullman downwards did still believe in spirit and would not be able to function without that concept – even if it wasn’t given that name. He demonstrated this point with common English expressions such as ‘the spirit of the law’ (as opposed to the ‘letter of the law’) which Ullman and others had regularly used in speeches. ‘Spirit’ referred to the attributes which things possessed as wholes and which transcended the sum of their parts.

‘And once we accept the idea of wholeness,’ Da Vera said, ‘we are a mere step aware from the idea of holiness, which derives from the same etymological root.’

Tame and commonplace as this might sound, it was strong stuff for an Illyrian audience at that time.

I have to admit that at this point I lost the thread of his argument because I had more immediately pressing things on my mind. I had made my mind up that I ought to ask Marija to have a drink with me afterwards. But the idea of actually speaking any such words made me almost physically sick. I spent the entire second half of the meeting rehearsing and discarding one sentence after another in my mind.

‘I wondered, Marija, if you would like a…’

‘Have you got anything on, Marija, or do you fancy a…’

‘Marija, I thought I’d have a glass of wine before I went home and I wondered…’

‘Do you know any good bars in this part of town, Marija? I was just…’

Meanwhile Da Vera finished speaking and invited comments. A discussion of some sort followed in which Marija played a part. And then the meeting ended.

‘That was very interesting didn’t you and I was wondering if you’d like to have a bar with me…’ I said to Marija.


(I had omitted to get her attention before I started to speak.)

‘I did wondering you would drink?’

‘A drink?’ She smiled. ‘Well… I’d like to, but I’ve got something else on…’

‘Yes of course, sorry…’

I rushed away.

‘See you at the next meeting perhaps?’ she called after me.

At the door someone pushed a leaflet into my hand and I glanced back at Marija. She had gone across to the speaker, Da Vera, put her arms round him and given him a kiss.


Well who cared? What did it matter? Why did I need anyone? I was hurrying through the streets, dodging between cars, looking at no one. There was no stopping me. I was in the Night Quarter, I was inside the red room with the sleepwalkers and the dreamy half-human voices that crooned baby, baby, baby love…

Lucy was wearing a short, sleeveless denim dress and dangly earrings, sitting on a sofa with her bare legs curled up underneath her. I headed straight for her. She smiled at me and started to get up. I felt wonderfully empty, as if I was made of air…

‘Would you like to come upstairs with me?’

I nodded. Her smile broadened, seemingly with pure delight.

‘I’m afraid my room’s a bit of a tip,’ she said. I noticed that her speech was British, with a faint regional burr.

‘What’s that accent?’ I croaked.

‘Wiltshire,’ she said, ‘It’s in the south of England. My dad was a postmaster there.’

She glanced at me, smiling almost mischievously, as if acknowledging the absurdity of this life story with which she’d been provided along with her vat-grown human flesh.

We crossed the landing and she opened a door. It was a student’s room: a single bed, a desk, a computer, a reading lamp, a couple of mugs, a jar of freeze-dried coffee, some underwear draped over the back of a chair, a half-finished bottle of red wine… There was even a shelf of discs and books, though the books seemed to have been bought at random from some second-hand place and had no coherent theme: History of Western Thought, Pygmalion, The Cell Biology of Plants, Science Fiction in the Twentieth Century, Principles of Self-Evolving Cybernetics, The Song of Wandering Aengus, Byron in the Balkans….

Lucy handed me a kind of menu that lay on the bedside table, next to an edition of Dickens.

‘Is there anything special you want?’

I swallowed. ‘No. Just for you to undress and… kiss and…’ She nodded and smiled. Briefly she took my left hand and ran her thumb over my credit bracelet. (Her thumb contained a barcode reader, invisible to the naked eye). Then she put her arms round me and kissed me quickly and warmly on my lips before standing back and slipping off her dress, leaving nothing on but the dangly earrings.

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