SD: Ah yes. Well. Enough japes. Shall we take a step backwards? (No verbal jousting or trickery now please.) You initially came to some fame as the curator of the so called Museum of Unnatural History. Could you perhaps tell me a little about it? Bumbly: Ah, yes. The folly of youth, ay what?
Well, it all began when I was only forty years old, this would be just five years since the successful courtship of Ms Sveldt. We were still enjoying our honeymooning, when my elder brother, Phileas, passed away. I hadn't seen or heard from Phileas for many years, none of us had, but he left behind a rather curious collection which arrived at the Bumbly estate without warning, or invitation.
There are a lot more details to it, but it seemed my strange brother had promised this group that he would build them a museum where they, and other more inanimate objects, could be housed and live comfortably. Our hearts went out to them, such an odd bunch of characters led by two gentle mangotans. When Sveldt saw them she immediately invited them in for tea, which, as you can predict, meant bringing the tables and chairs outside as mangotans absolutely loathe having roofs over their heads.
A rather amusing month followed as we let them camp in and around the estate and, coincidentally, all the other members of the Bumbly family found themselves engaged elsewhere. I laugh to think of how exasperated the cooking staff became- not only did they have to cater for a variety of humanoid and animal diets, but we nightly held fund-raising parties which required all the pomp and ceremony it takes to inspire philanthropy.
But it was a wonderful time, the collection grew in our very house as guests brought their own, shall we say "unnaturals" and hope no one is offended, until we were fit to burst. Once we secured the sub-tower in Berlin it all went quickly from there and we never looked back (except for that memoir, a short series of articles and nightly when the sun went down).
SD: It sounds like a rather splendid time. Is it possible your trip into the outer reaches of the universe has its genesis in those years at the museum? And I wonder—why do you call it a "museum"? Your "specimens" are living! You certainly won't find many animate things in the museums of my century! Only in zoos... but I fear you won't appreciate that analogy...
Bumbly: Well, yes. Yes and no. Paradoxically, while the museum was very open and welcoming to all kinds, this resulted in us receiving all kinds. The sudden end of the museum created a void in both our lives that wasn't easily filled; exploring the galaxy was the most satisfying challenge to present itself.
You are right that "museum" may not be the most accurate of terms, but it was better than "commune" or "retreat". And again, I can blame that brother of mine as he was the one who conceived the mad idea in the first place. We do still have zoos, to preserve what animals there are, but we didn't want those connotations. I'm not one to fall back on pedantry, but the definition of museum is just a place that holds items of interest, be it scientific or historical or whatever; so it is only a cultural hangover that precludes the living!
SD: Tell me a bit more about your journey. We now know why you decided to head out into the great beyond. But what did you see? What wonders? Or what horrors?
Bumbly: What horrors, beyond the great beyond? What is more horrible or more wonderful than infinity? I think I can't answer at all for "nature".
We saw such things as we'd never imagined, of course, and only a fraction have I covered so far. I hope to do more writing on some of the specific wonderfulness, but haven't found a structure yet.
I know go on about them a bit, but in terms of what seemed the most different to my understanding of life and how to make the most of it, the Mutilists are a standout. They are a people who have taken body alteration as some sort of transcendence. They pierce and stretch, cut and peel and so much more, all in the effort of changing their perceptual experience. It is very uncomfortable to me, very hard not to stare and just as hard not to look away in shock! But, I must say, beyond that they come in the same ranges of character as, um, the rest of us. —Sveldt and I are determined to see a Putrifist some day, if only to determine if they are mythological or not.
We also saw life at the Hive, which is, again, a very different way of life. It isn't very insect-like, but they do work en masse. Passing things between them as we do with our own hands. Outsiders are tolerated, and they are safe in their knowledge that none would want to stay. They do not communicate with outsiders. They provide food and lodgings, and make sure you don't damage anything as you explore, but beyond that, no interaction. Totally insular.
Of course we saw the remnant of GONN, but that doesn't seem to be the only example where humanity has been so reduced to irrelevance. The horrors know no bounds. I have seen no limits to depravity, which reminds me, I must at some time bring myself to talk of menageries. I have not been able to assimilate those experiences properly yet. Not ready to speak of.
There are also many places we could not go, planets and moons with such environments that we would not survive. There is on my list of places to see the planet of Atavism, which is not as imaginative a name as it sounds as it is only a classification for the type of research that goes on there. On Atavism they are attempting to devolve all sorts of organisms — including humans! All sorts of plants and animals subject to conditions that are designed to push them back along their evolutionary footsteps. I hear there is a man much like a dugong who I'd like to meet.
SD: Ah yes, GONN. That sounds like a truly terrifying episode. But hard, perhaps, for a contemporary reader to understand. Most unsettling. Perhaps you could enlarge on it for us. What precisely was GONN? And why was "it" (?) built?
Bumbly: A dangerous use of the word "contemporary", in the context. But I would think however temporary the contemporary, the GONN event would be disturbing to one and all.
The God of Nexus Nine's origins are probably a good place to start, though I, not being a citizen of that world, can not be counted on to explain the whys precisely. I think too many have linked the project to the eternal pursuit for a higher being, which is an ongoing theme in human history. On Nexus 9, the ninth planet in a convenient intersection of interstellar trade routes—thus the creative naming— at some point decided that life without a guide was too hard. They wanted something to organise them, protect them, design meaningful, constructive and satisfying lives for them to live. Since there was no hope of agreement on a belief system that could achieve this, they began building an artificial satellite, a moon-sized machine that would provide this function for them.
Of course, as we all know now, it went horribly wrong. GONN "woke" and immediately sprang into action. Those on Nexus 9 who were unhappy were made happy. Those who didn't fit in with the model society were remodeled. For GONN, humans were clay, or at least their brains were.
You could put it down to poor programming but I think the experiment was ill-conceived from the outset.GONN achieved the task it was made for. The citizens were "happy", they had destiny, they were part of a larger narrative; all that sort of thing.
The planet would have been left to itself if GONN hadn't extended its reach. I'm not really clear on why it did so, whether its programming demanded it, or whether it simply followed its followers, but its zealotry spread to other systems. Then the Opposition was formed.
SD: And who were the Opposition? Why, precisely, did they object to GONN? Surely if the God Machine could make everyone happy, then that would be welcomed by most!
Bumbly: Well, some people rejected it as not being "real" happiness. Is happiness just a chemical state of mind? GONN's path to happiness often involved altering or wiping people's memories, or changing their thought processes so they merely thought they were happy. I think if GONN had been successful then history would tell a different story and have a different perspective on how best to attain happiness.
The Opposition encompassed the nearest star systems and a number of corporate entities that were being affected by GONN's actions. At one point GONN detonated a dwarf star simply to remove what it saw as an annoying gravitational influence. This bred a lot of fear for any other actions that GONN might deem necessary and it didn't take long to build up an alliance against it.
The interesting thing, or one of the interesting things, is that GONN never killed. It justchanged. Whether that is the same thing or not is the question. If for example I was subjected to a fickling, what would be left that was me? Is my essence not the continuity of my existence? I think I can get into a lot of trouble pursuing this line of reasoning as it suggests that forgetting something is akin to dying, which at my age becomes a little worrying.
Did I manage to answer the question?