Earlier today Margaret Atwood kindly retweeted a response of mine to a conversation she was having with William Gibson (Yeah, I know. The circles I tweet in, eh?). Made my day. Here’s the tweet:
— Gareth Renowden (@grenow) August 31, 2014
And here’s a relevant excerpt from Chapter Four:
The little flotilla of airships headed east, the Hammer in the lead. I sat on the flight deck watching the ocean pass, making small talk with the pilot and crew. The bishop left me alone for most of the day, but as the sun dropped towards the horizon he reappeared.
“Nearly there, Lemmy,” he said. “Thank you for your patience. I want you to see this at its best.”
“Where are we?”, I asked. “Just looks like empty ocean to me.”
“Not empty. We’re on the edge of the great Pacific garbage patch. The water down there is rich with particles of plastic. When we get nearer to the middle, you’ll see the ocean covered with the debris of our civilisation.”
A picture flashed on the main flight deck screen — plastic containers of all sizes jostling together on top of the water. “In places it’s so thick you can walk over it without getting your feet wet,” he said.
“Yes, I’ve heard about the garbage patch,” I said, “but why are you interested in it?”
“Because it’s a great resource,” he said. “All those raw materials just bobbing around waiting to be used.” More pictures flashed on to the screen. A large ship was moving slowly through the debris, booms spread wide either side of the bow to sweep the rubbish into its black maw.
“We’re cleaning up the ocean, Lemmy. It’s God’s work.”
The pilot walked over to the bishop and said something into his ear. The bishop smiled. “Eyes on the horizon, Lemmy. See, over there.”
I followed his outstretched arm. In the gathering dusk where sea and sky merged a faint spark of light pointed up at the first stars. The bishop was beaming.
“Ain’t it magnificent?”, he said, pressing his nose to the windscreen.
“What is it?”, I asked.
“Patience, Lemmy, all will be revealed.”
As the day faded and the Hammer drew nearer to its destination, the spark began to reveal its secrets. At first it looked like a tower, lit by powerful searchlights.
“Remarkable,” I said, genuinely impressed. “How did you build that tower out here?”
“Tower! Ha, you ain’t seen nothing yet.” The bishop was grinning broadly.
He was right. The tower was a huge translucent glittering spire lit by stabbing searchlights, rising out of a long building with flying buttresses reaching up to its roof. The whole edifice was floating above the plastic strewn ocean, with no visible means of support.
“Jesus Christ,” I whispered softly.
“That’s right,” laughed the bishop, “that’s the only credible response to the magnificence of our flying cathedral. God has been working his wonders through our creativity and technology. Now, show him,” he said to the pilot.
The beams of light on the spire fanned outwards like the petals on a giant daisy. The cathedral was surrounded by blimps sculpted to look like fat angels. The whole thing was so mad that I had to stifle a laugh. It was also an amazing spectacle, like some virtual reality immersion fantasy, and it showed that the bishop and his church could call on some serious fabrication technologies.
“Come,” said the bishop. “It’s time for evensong.”
The Hammer of God docked alongside the cathedral, and the bishop and Wanda took me inside. The place was huge and full of light. I sat in my chair and soaked up the sight. It was a fantastic crystal palace, glittering, glorious and truly awe-inspiring.
Wanda led me down the main aisle between rows of translucent pews, strangely shaped columns of coloured plastic arching up to the roof above our heads. The congregation was assembling, taking their seats, talking quietly to their neighbours. Wanda smiled and waved as she walked, like a star amongst her fans. She parked me in the front row, kissed me chastely on the forehead, and then disappeared.
A bell began to toll. The lights began to dim, until all was black save for a single beam lighting up the belfry high above our heads. Then the light cut out and absolute silence fell over the assembled faithful. The hush was broken by a stupendously noisy guitar chord that seemed to come from every corner of the cathedral at once. A single searchlight reached down to the altar, lighting up a white Gibson with a cross where the neck should have been. Another beam lit up the pulpit, and the bishop began to preach. Behind him, a large choir dressed in red robes faded slowly into sight. They were humming quietly. The congregation were greeting Brown’s words with occasional shouted hallelujahs. I could sense their expectation, the fervour building.
When the bishop stopped speaking, everything went quiet, and the spotlight moved to the front of the altar, where Wanda was sitting with a big acoustic guitar. She sang a quiet country-tinged song about hope and expectation and the promised land in the skies. Then it was the choir’s turn, all claps, hollering and hosannas, before the bishop led the faithful in prayer. A short sermon followed, including a mention of Thunderbird and me. The man in the pew next to me leaned over and put his hand on my shoulder. “Welcome brother,” he said. “Welcome to God’s friendly skies.” I gave him a faint smile.
The final hymn was a long song that started slowly with finger-picked folk guitar and a quiet organ accompaniment, then gradually built into a strident anthem. The bishop’s concluding guitar solo lasted a full five minutes. The congregation was on its feet, shaking their heads in time to the insistent drumming, most playing expansive air guitars. When Wanda sang the final line about building a stairway to heaven, I felt a surge of emotion and a rush of tears to my eyes. I had a sense of belonging with the bishop’s flock. They knew where they were going. They were building a future. Perhaps they had a place for me.
[Author’s note: It doesn’t end well for the Bishop… 😉 ]