Monday, June 1, 2009

Goat Variations Redux Redux

A while back I posed a recommendation of Jeff Vandermeer's amazing Goat Variations Redux, which appeared in last fall's election issue of Black Clock. It's one of the very best uses of the sf toolkit to achieve political surrealism that I have ever read, like a cross between China Mieville and Hunter S. Thompson. Jeff has now posted the story in its entirety on his site. Check it out:


The fungus cometh and in the shattered bunker President McCain laughs through a mouthful of blood. The last emergency sequences were overrun and they had to fall back even after he’d emptied a clip from his Glock into the heads of those creeping nearest. “Ah, Tootsie,” he says to his golden retriever, cowering in a corner. “Sometimes I wish I was back on the bus. It’s a helluva a thing to be President.” Blood wanders down his forehead, near the green crater where the fungal presence has manifested. It pulses and itches, and with the drugs to keep it under control now gone, McCain knows he only has a few hours of free will. As it is, the titanium door of the bunker tinkles and echoes with the sound of those on the other side.

On his side, it’s just him, the dog, and fifty dead marines; he’d had to turn the flame-thrower on them himself, just so more of the Colonized wouldn’t rise to challenge him. Laughing bitterly as he did it. If he hadn’t help kill the congressional resolution condemning the past President for internal use of nukes, the damn things might not have mutated so fast.

He’s lost the last of his hair, and shifting somewhere in the mottled red-and-white is a rough map of the world — half at war, half at rest, as if war were life and rest were death.

The sounds behind the titanium are getting louder.

“Tootsie, my old friend,” McCain says, sliding down beside the dog, wincing against the pain of the wound in his leg. “Tootsie,” and it’s as if he is about to give a speech but thinks better of it. He doesn’t think he has a speech left in him. Heck, Tootsie was just a photo op prop that happened to stick by him.

The world is like a furnace. The world is like a vast POW camp. The world smells of burnt human flesh, and outside the entire U.S. has become a colony of something that does nothing but Colonize, without thought or need.

“What’ll it be, Tootsie?” McCain asks with a bitter laugh. Prisoner of war. Prisoner of peace. Prisoner of war again. “I could blow your brains out, sure, but what would be the point?” They’d just bring him back, and it might be worse living as an echo. It might be much worse. “I’ll just sit here,” he tells the dog. “I’ll just sit here a moment longer.”

If this were a movie, we’d leave him there, slowly panning back, the gun in his lap, his head on the dog’s neck as it whimpers, eyes focused on that point in the middle distance that meant he was waiting for his own dissolution. You wouldn’t see the crater in his forehead explode, or the thing that comes out, briefly, like the gunner in a tank crew, and then goes back in again. You wouldn’t see him rush to open the titanium door, greet what crawled in as “old friend.”

There would just be the defiant red-tinged eye, the close-up so you couldn’t see: the trembling lip, the shuddering breath.

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