Celebrating 20 E-Books: ‘Calabash’
They’ve been remastered and have out into the electronic atmosphere, so to celebrate this massive backlog of 20 e-books finally being made available – a project I began with designer Martin Butterworth over two years ago – I’m going to occasionally publish an excerpt from the range.
Here’s a scene from the novel ‘Calabash’ in which the hero, 17 year-old Kay, having apparently reached the kingdom of Calabash after an accident on an English seaside pier, tries to understand a little more about the place…
“Do you have electricity?’ I asked the doctor.
‘Most certainly. It accumulates in the sky when storms bring the rain, and is discharged into the earth. You must have it too, it is a part of nature.’
Whenever we embarked upon a question-and-answer session, it never seemed to get us anywhere. ‘Then do you have television?’
Trebunculus gave the word some consideration. ‘I think I understand what you mean,’ he replied uncertainly.
‘Little moving pictures you can watch, in a box.’ I attempted to demonstrate with the use of my hands.
‘Ah. No. We are clearly not talking about the same thing. I thought you had truncated the words. Telescope-Vision. Television. Seeing distances. Now you’re saying some kind of puppet-theatre.’
Rosamunde dropped down on to the mossy edge of the fountain beside Menavino, giggling again. ‘Kay is making fun with you, doctor.’
‘I’m not,’ I replied in some earnest. ‘We have an invention, a box like a little theatre, it runs on electricity. You plug it into the wall.’
‘You have electricity in the wall?’
‘Yes.’ I could see that we were about to be sidetracked again.
“You catch it from the air?’
‘No, we make it ourselves.’
They all had a good laugh at that one.
‘But seriously,’ said Trebunculus when they had settled once more. ‘It is in the walls of your houses?”
‘It is carried by wires from the places which make it, great big turbines that build up huge amounts of electricity, very powerful, millions of volts, and then it comes into our houses and we turn on the little box and it gives us the news.’
‘Sort of. And adverts. Selling things.’
‘And it tells us what the weather will be.’
‘And it acts out stories. It shows you what life is like.’
‘But what can it do that a man cannot?’
‘Well, nothing really.’
‘And for this you have to make your own storms?’ They shrugged at me. ‘Seems a lot of effort.’
I tried to think. Every time I asked questions about Calabash, I ended up having to justify something about my own world. ‘All right,’ I said, finally thinking of something useful, ‘we can light a room with electricity.’
‘So can we, with candles.’
‘But not very well.’
‘How much light do you need?’ Trebunculus gave Rosamunde one of his looks.
‘Ah, but a candle burns you if you stick your finger in the flame.’
They laughed again. ‘Of course, if you stick your finger in the flame, but why would you be so stupid?’ asked Rosamunde.
‘So electricity does not hurt if you stick your finger in it?’ asked the doctor.
‘Well, yes, it hurts very badly. It can kill you.’
‘There you are. Better to stick with candles.’ We were back to where we had started. The doctor’s bones cracked as he folded his long legs and joined us in the shadow of the vines.
‘Why do you distrust electricity so?’ I asked.
‘Because it belongs in the natural place of things, in the angry summer air, not in boxes. If it can be put in a box and used to drive mechanical devices, and set to a multitude of uses, cannot its masters then be tempted to wage war against those who do not possess such science?”
‘Well, yes,’ I conceded.
‘So be it. What else have you got?’
‘Short for …’ Trebunculus searched. ‘Caravans, yes?’
‘No. Not short for anything, really. You drive them about.’ I performed a hopeless mime. ‘Open the door, get inside, start the engine, off you go.’
‘Ah! An engine!’ He leaned forward to nod knowingly at Menavino.
I ignored the diversion I was being offered. ‘Then you drive away. You can travel at great speed, get where you’re going a lot faster.’
‘Faster than a horse?’
‘Faster than many horses.’
‘This thing, what is it made of?’
‘Metal alloy. Steel. On wheels, like a cart, but you get right inside it, and it’s much, much faster than any old horse or camel.’
‘What do you mean, why?’
‘Why go so fast?’
‘So you can get there quicker.’
‘To … arrive there … earlier.’
I could see that this wasn’t going to lead anywhere useful either. The doctor raised a bony tanned forefinger. ‘And.’
‘If it is made of metal and going very fast, why does it not hit things?’
‘It does if it’s not driven properly. You have to have lessons.’
‘People go to school for this?’ asked Rosamunde. ‘To not hit things?’ Behind them, Menavino snorted with laughter.
‘I’ll tell you what. Forget about the cars.’
‘No. Now I am interested. They run on electricity?’
‘No, on oil.”
“Incredulous faces. ‘Like the lamps?”