Thursday, July 15, 2010

Almost Robots and Nearly Perfect

And Clarion West continues . . .

Yesterday was the 25th day of the six-week phenomenon often referred to as "boot camp for writers."  Those guys are working hard.  But are they working harder than I am?

Yes, they are.  Much harder.

In their honor, here's yesterday's story:

Almost Robots and Nearly Perfect
Michael Swanwick

If you think about it, insects are almost robots, which means that they’re nearly perfect.  Their articulation is exquisite, their form is functional yet infinitely variable, and their chitinous exoskeltons armor them every bit as effectively as does a robot’s cladding.  Some are civilian worker-bots who burrow, trundle, and build.  Others are war-bots armed with stingers, poisons, and claws.  That, at any rate, was how Erin English saw things.  And, being an artist, she decided they needed appropriate decoration.

It involved a lot of programming and even more genetic engineering.  But programmers and engineers were a dime a dozen and tended to be bored stiff with their day jobs.  It wasn’t hard to find volunteers.

She began with wasps.  They were divided into squadrons, each with its own insignia on the thorax and individual identification numbers.  On their abdomens she painted pin-up girls in swimsuits and red-white-and-blue shorts, sitting on crescent moons and cheerily riding bombs down into oblivion.  It was ironic to place nose art on tails, but there was no getting around how good they looked.

From there, English moved on to ticks, chiggers, and mosquitoes.  Tsetse flies. No-see-ums.  Yellow jackets.  Blow flies.  Oh, there were an infinite number of insects to work with.  Sometimes she decorated them with big yellow smiley faces.  Other times she did up fire ants in chintz or greenhead flies with the Green Lantern logo or scorpions in tigerstripe camouflage pattern.

The pinto horseflies came out particularly well. 

By dint of careful phrasing in the application, she obtained a Federal grant to fit mosquitoes with nanobiocameras and photosensitive skins, so that many a picnicker would look down on a swatted ‘skeeter’ and see her own startled face staring back at her.

Word got around.  You don’t pull a stunt like that without getting famous.  The next thing English knew, she was being interviewed about the project by a journalist for a major artzine.  “You’re quoted as saying that you love insects and other things most people don’t notice,” the journalist said.  “But why is it that all the insects you’ve worked with are prone to biting or stinging human beings?

“That’s just the job of art,” English said.  “To get under your skin.”



Erin English said...

Ha! That's awesome! That has for sure made the rest of my week fantastic.

Michael Swanwick said...

I'm glad you liked.