My novel Vinylia, set in a not-too-distant future, is mostly about new breeds of humans, collectively known as Vinylics. The story starts when some genetic material is spilt on a vinyl record of Il Trovatore in a poultry laboratory and operatic chickens are accidentally produced.
Further research leads to the development of a new variety of humans who eat sound. Later, it is discovered that many interesting new properties can be obtained by soaking vinyl records in various mixtures of material (known as “mulches”) before the genetic material is deposited.
After some time, a company called Transvinylia Ho! is founded in Kampala by a woman called Octavia Absson, which focuses on producing interesting new breeds. Salamshaloms. are the first new group of people the company produces. The goal which they hope Salamshaloms will contribute to is that of removing friction between the monotheistic religions. Most new breeds don’t have the expected effect and Salamshaloms are no exception. Read on for some extracts from Vinylia about Salamshaloms.
(A few definitions of terms which may be unclear:
Anyweather, a global delivery firm, its slogan is Anywhat, anywhere, anywhy – Anyweather!
Matoke, for those who have never encountered it, is a Ugandan dish of cooked and mashed plantain.
Takataka stations – In the book, motor cars now run on garbage. Takataka stations are what garbage stations are called in Kampala.
Thwackbagging – is a sport in which opponents fight by trying to hit each other with heavy handbags
Threadcamel’s – is a huge department store, specialising in Vinylic products
Victorias – are enormous screens made from very humid air which hang on the streets of major cities and on which videos are constantly playing
WFC – the World Federation of Cities, equivalent to the UN, now that most nations states have fragmented into city states
Dervish – is a new international language.)
(From Chapter 21)
After only forty-eight hours, Octavia was handed a concept paper. It was entitled Salamshaloms and described a breed which would represent a syncretic mixture of all Christian, Judaic and Muslim beliefs.
The design phase took three months. It was essential, the vinylicators realised, to strike a perfect balance between the three religions: if one were to prevail over another other even by a fraction, then the entire effect might be lost. In order to do this, they produced three separate starter mulches, one for each of them. An enterprising mulchmaster invented a scripture juicer. For weeks religious objects, texts, miracles and relics were transported to Kampala. There were midnight shipments of things one wasn’t even supposed to name – delivered by Anyweather, of course – carried by porters who had been blindfolded. Inevitably some of them had accidents, but luckily no one was badly injured.
The mulches were left to settle in applewood casks for a month and were then transferred to figwood casks and finally to olivewood casks for the third and final month, after which the three mixtures were meticulously and delicately blended for four days by seventy-two eighteen-year old virgins using only their right hands. After mixing, the composite mulch was left to settle for another six months.
There was a mood of great expectancy throughout the Transvinylia building on the evening the new Vinylics were to be made operational. Everyone was speculating on the results which might emerge from a synthesis of the three religions. A few people were apprehensive and were worried that the combination of all those ingredients together might lead to some kind of explosion. Most of the experts were, however, confident. It was going to be fascinating to talk with the Salamshaloms and find out what they believed and there was of course the hope that the new breed might be able to teach everyone how to put an end to inter-religious friction everywhere.
When activation was completed at 7 pm, however, the staff was able to learn absolutely nothing about the Salamshaloms. The only person they would talk to was Octavia, as the leader of the building, and all they said to her was that they wanted a room to meet in privately. Octavia allowed them to move into the plush Strategy Room, which was where they had first been thought up. She didn’t realize that they were going to lock themselves in and spend two full days in there. She had some food sent to them after the first four hours, but they called her on the intercom saying that it was impure. Even the mere sight and smell of it was defiling them. She had to send someone to take it away, they couldn’t move it themselves because that would have meant touching the tainted plates. Octavia tried with other foods. She sent them a sample of everything she had on hand, but nothing met their standards. The only thing she managed to get them to accept was Toxicola, because it was obvious even from one sniff that it was made entirely of laboratory chemicals and it had never been in contact with anything which could be described as biological.
When they emerged after their forty-eight hour seclusion, the Salamshaloms were brandishing some sheets of paper which they asked to be printed out and stapled together in a large number of copies. They asked for a million initially but finally settled for one hundred, which was the most Octavia was willing to offer. The pamphlet which they had produced became their basic text. It was entitled: “The 59 Ways in which God is a Simple Concept.”
Octavia read the document while it was being copied. “It seems to me,” she told the Salamshalom who was collecting the printouts, “that number 15 and number 42 are mutually exclusive. I also don’t see how 25 and 26 and 37 and 58 can be reconciled.”
“Contradiction is demonstration,” he fired back. It became one of their most repeated notions.
As soon as they had been given their pamphlets, they walked out of the door, out of the building, into the night and vanished. Nobody realised they had left the grounds for almost an hour. People had assumed that they were going out to have another discussion outside under the stars. As it was, it took the TH! staff ten days to locate them all and bring them back.
They found two almost straightaway. They were under the lights of the Takataka station talking to a perplexed motorist. The last four were found ten days later in the crowd watching the Lightweight Person/Welterweight Bag Women’s World Championship Thwackbagging Title Fight. In between they found them in markets, on buses, inside Threadcamel’s, under the great Victorias, all over the place in fact.
Apart from the 59 Ways, no one really had any idea what was going on in the Salomshaloms’ heads. It was only after a few days that their nature became clearer.
The TH! staff had expected that they would turn out to be a distillation of the wisdom of the three monotheistic religions. Instead of this, for some reason – were all those girls really virgins? – all that mixing had produced an accretion instead of a synthesis. The Salomshaloms had every single element of the three religions inside them. They believed in everything which they had ever professed. The contradictions were of course countless but luckily “contradiction was demonstration”.
In a way, this outcome was even better than what had been planned if the aim was to have them influence the situation in Jerusalem because, having absorbed the proselytising energy of Christianity as well as that of Islam, they were twice as determined to find new followers as either of those two conversion machines had ever been.
In fact, what they had been doing around the city was preaching the “57 Ways” and when they were brought back it was found that they already had ten new acolytes with them. To express their thanks for this success, they held a prayer session. It included ablutions, incense, the doffing and donning of headgear, the blowing of horns, the ringing of bells, the forming of circles, the forming of lines, the rolling and unrolling of scrolls and an enormous amount of singing, spinning, rocking, kneeling, bowing, mumbling, chanting, wailing and banging.
Octavia was relieved that she hadn’t given in to the suggestions of some of her staff who had proposed to make them even more universal by including Buddhist and Hindu mulches as well. One apparently positive development, however, was that in their time on the streets of Kampala they had adapted to some of the local food. They informed Octavia that it was now clear that their religion allowed them to eat matoke and they were provided with a huge vat of it.
Their eagerness to get out and preach was so great that Octavia had to set up a round-the-clock watch to prevent them from disappearing again. Originally she had planned to have them bond in the protected setting of the Transvinylia building for a month or two in order to assure some cohesiveness among them but in view of their overriding urge to spread their beliefs, it was decided to dispatch them immediately to Jerusalem instead.
Octavia rented a complex for them in the old city and purchased air tickets for them all. The flights were very cheap. There were seventeen different airlines based in Jerusalem competing fiercely for customers. This was because each of the city’s creeds, confessions or religions felt it necessary to have its own carrier. In fact, each of them had their own airport. The extreme competition made the fares convenient, but seventeen airports so close together made the approach paths hair-raising.
A small team comprising one populationist, one interactionist and one statisticionist, was sent with them to monitor their progress. The first reports which were sent back focused on the fact that they were buying a wide range of hats. Some of them were wearing three different types at the same time. On the following days it was reported that they needed more funds for clothes: there was a lot of shredding of garments going on. Something else they needed was matoke: it had become a ritual food for them; they couldn’t live without it and there was none to be had in Jerusalem.
They also had big outlays on glue. This was because they spent quite a lot of their time painting dazzlingly beautiful religious images on porcelain. These they would admire for a few intense minutes and then they would shatter them with hammers. After shattering them with hammers, they would celebrate the destruction and then they would glue them together again. And then after a few minutes of contemplation they would reach for their intense hammers.
The cost of keeping them supplied with glue and clothes and flying in a daily provision of matoke was huge, but it was clear that the experiment was working. The Salamshaloms’ conversion rate was simply amazing. After three months, the statisticionist announced that, according to her estimates, if current trends continued, Salamshaloms should account for about 90 per cent of the population of Jerusalem within twenty-five years. This result was not just due to their preaching but was also linked to their pregnancy rate. TH! mulchmasters had taken note of the failures of previous religious breeds to reproduce and had made sure that the new Vinylics had excellent intercoursal inclination. The Salamshaloms’ conversion rate might have been even more impressive if they had not insisted on doing absolutely no work on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. And the complication of their system of festivities may have dissuaded some people who might have been candidates from joining them. Apart from their weekly holidays, they observed all the fast days and feast days of the three religions, some of which overlapped of course. This meant that there were some days which turned out to be double fast days and on them, in order to honour the increased obligation they entailed, Salamshaloms would not only refrain from letting food or liquids pass their lips but also restricted their breathing as far as possible. More problematic were the days which were both feast days and fast days. Despite contradiction being demonstration, the creed never really found a consensus on how to deal with this issue.
(From Chapter 26)
The only place in the world where there were debates which were equally abstruse was Jerusalem. Salamshaloms had continued to spread, but their proselytism and fertility was matched only by their ability to disagree among themselves and splinter into rival sects. In 83 AV there had been an Ultraschism, when the religion split into seven different sects overnight. Smaller fissures had occurred later and, by this time, Jerusalem, although almost completely Salamshalomonic, was divided into twenty-three enemy zones. It was impossible for them to agree on who should be on the delegation to the WFC so they rotated on a weekly basis among sects. When there was some important treaty to discuss, or when they were part of a Dervish drafting group, however, Jerusalem insisted on being present with a full complement of twenty-three delegates, each with one twenty-third of a vote.
Salamshaloms managed to disagree on almost everything but most of the splits hinged on the number of ways in which God was a simple concept. Alongside the original fifty-niners, there were now fifty-fivers, fifty-fourers, but also thirty-seveners and sixty-twosers and even one school of thought, the Simples, who considered that there was only one way in which God was a simple concept but that it was ineffable.
One sect, on the other hand, who were soon called ‘Blinkerists’ by other Salamshaloms broke away because of their extreme position on how much of a woman’s body men should be allowed to see. In their opinion, the answer was “none”. Blinker Wearers considered that the feelings of lust women caused in men were so unclean and horrifying that even the most conservative clothing was not enough to protect their minds from being defiled. Any glimpse of any part of a woman – hands, feet, a fingernail even – could be the spark which started a fire and so it was better to prevent the sparks completely. They therefore took the most drastic decision they could think of: all males after puberty would wear blinkers which would restrict their vision to the ground directly below them. Women, not being visible any more, could dress any way they wanted, except for one restriction. Since it was possible for their feet to accidentally drift into a man’s field of vision they were required never to go around barefoot or even to wear sandals and were encouraged to wear specially designed boots which closely resembled plastic bags wrapped around their feet. In their own neighbourhoods, the blinkered men managed to orientate themselves based on the appearance of the ground beneath them, but when they were in places they knew less they had to be guided by pre-pubescent children who held their hands and steered them clear of trouble.
Quite soon after establishing themselves in Jerusalem, Salamshaloms had expanded their diet beyond matoke, which had given them the opportunity to devise dietary laws of almost unfathomable complexity. Colours could not be combined if not in ways which were prescribed in great detail. Dining halls were divided into seven different colour areas: red, yellow, orange, pink, blue, green and zebra (black and white). Anything approaching purple was considered untouchable. But this made their agriculture excitingly adventurous since they developed a number of new crops such as blue pumpkins and zebra oranges.
The closer their beliefs the more bitter the rivalry was between Salamshalomonic sects. A fifty-fourer would be much more hostile towards a fifty-fiver than a sixty-twoser but none were on good terms and all of them called each other, disparagingly, “Pandemoniums”. People worried about what might ensue if the tension among Salamshaloms were to grow even more acute, but it was nothing compared to what happened with another breed during the period of the so-called Anyweather Incidents.