Low Res Scan: Glyphotech and Other Macabre Processes, Mark Samuels, 2008, 2016.
Processes are those legal, political, technological, bureaucratic, and scientific things that define our modern world, a world Mark Samuels is not fond of. So it’s no accident that the very word process shows up in this collection’s title. I’ll eventually be looking at another work of Samuels’ called The Prozess Manifestations.
As befitting the “Low Res Scan” designation, I won’t be reviewing “Sentinels”, “Cesare Thodol: Some Lines Written on a Wall”, “Ghorla”, “Regina vs. Zoskia”, and “A Gentleman from Mexico” since I’ve looked at them already in my post on The Age of Decayed Futurity. This is a variant edition of Samuels’ 2008 Glypotech collection sans “The Cannibal Kings of Horror”, a satire story he deemed “wholly undertaken by even more outlandish developments”.
Psychotropic drugs had dulled its effects to the extent that he was almost able to ignore the surrender of the human race to this phenomenon of sham. But the medication only produced neutrality; one more means of ensuring his tacit compliance if not his participation. Early on, when he first recognised the all-pervasive nature of the sham-existence, he had talked to others about it. However, they did not seem to realise that all apparent solutions were equally part of the problem. Science, psychology, religion and philosophy were likewise only manifestations. There seemed only one viable way to circumvent the circus that is sham-existence: annihilation.
That’s the world according to Keyes, the protagonist of “The Vanishing Point”. Lke many a Samuels’ character, he’s a loner. He’s
aware of the gulf between him and the rest of the human race. His social skills had degenerated to the point where conversation and making eye contact with another human being overwhelmed him with panic. Without the pills to assist him, such essential interactions were nigh impossible.
Well, he’s off the pills now after leaving work one day, driving for hours to a random hotel, and determined to end his sham existence there.
But then, just to confirm the world is corrupt, he turns on the tv in the room and sees a weird broadcast, an emergency announcement by some “dream-scientists” announcing a state of emergency. They have process to remake the world.
That’s what you would expect to happen when somebody turns on a tv in a Samuels story. Keyes has a strong antipathy towards television:
When he saw a television now, usually in a bar or some such public area, he was more aware of its hypnotic aspect and the amount of time it could steal from a person’s mental life. Keyes believed that it was a drug (albeit of an electronic rather than pharmaceutical nature) more addictive than heroin. He had often warned television viewers about the way that time passed without one realising it, whilst the machine’s cathode rays bored into the fragile tissue of the .human brain, rotting it away. There are studies conclusively demonstrating that television is the most effective form of mass subjugation ever devised. Where television is readily available to all members of a society, voyeurism rapidly becomes the dominant creed.
And, if dream-scientists broadcasting on tv sounds familiar, this 2004 story takes up some of the themes of Samuels’ 2003 novel The Face of Twilight though it goes to different places and, besides tv, has another of Samuels’ symbols of horror. For me, it’s the superior of the two works.
Sogol, an actor, is actually part of the tv industry in “Shallaballah”. When he gets mutilated in a car accident, he agrees to go to the sinister plastic surgery of Dr. Punch, definitely a criminal and probably insane. Besides being cut off from the outside world and under surveillance as he heals from surgery, he is forced to watch a in-house transmission proclaiming “Television is the New Afterlife”.
This is another story in which I wonder about Samuels’ names. “Shallaballah” suggests “Shambhala” which, in Hinduism, is the coming of a new age. “Sogol” is “Logos” backwards. In the beginning was the Logos, the Word. In the end, there is tv, and the new world and afterlife it proclaims..
And tv is at the heart of another Samuels’ story, “Patient 704”. He’s the star of his own show, a very narrowly focused transmision that our protagonist Hartmann discovers. He’s sent to an insane asylum to investigate a dubious report of patient abuse. There he finds himself drugged and in an institution run by the inmates. (Shades of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Sytem of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether”.) The inmates are fascinated by Patient 704, a bald man with scars on the back of his head – which is the only part of him ever seen as he giggles and rocks back and forth doing something out of sight. Hartmann finds himself increasingly fascinated too. In fact, he no longer really wants to escape. And he’s there for the anticpated “final broadcast”.
Perhaps, this is Samuel’s commentary on how tv renders us socially isolated, unable to possess our own vision or express it and even steals our identity.
And what would a Samuels’ collection be without a look at a distorted, nightmarish version of that process a lot of us partake in: office employment.
“Glyphotech” is the kind of Samuels story I like best, a horror satire that pokes its fingers into the wounds modernity inflects on us. Here that is not only the soulless, boring job with Mare Publishing Company protagonist Franklyn Crick finds himself doing after returning from living in Japan for 20 years but also modern, corporate cults.
When the story opens, it is hot in the office, and the workers of the Glyphotech Reconstruction Company are doing something behind screens outside the building. When they’re seen, they have none of the usual bonhomie of construction workers. Their faces are strange: pale, slashes for mouth, and “eyes like huge inkblots”. They eventually finish their work. Shortly afterwards, Crick’s boss suggests Crick and the other workers to attend a seminar by Glyphotech Reconstruction Company. It seems they are involved in more than construction – or, to be more precise, just the construction of buildings. Going to the Glyphotech seminar is not so much a suggestion as an insinuation Crick will be fired if he doesn’t go.
Crick thinks it will be another “motivational seminar that would improve efficiency in the workplace and raise staff morale”.
But, once there, with his co-workers (on the weekend and on their own time), Crick sees creepy public confessions and “public brainwashing”. So, before the end of the first day, he walks out past the facilitator and his goons.
And he doesn’t even get fired. He does overhear his co-workers increasingly drop Glphotech jargon into their conversation, and he’s increasingly shut out of social life in the office. And Glyphotech isn’t done with him as he feels the recuitment efforts increase. As does the surveillance on him.
This is another Samuels story of a massive, institutionally-linked menace taking over the world and threatening both the mind and body of people, a hive-mind that will, it seems, engulf all individuals in it.
Of the stories I’m reviewing here, “Destination Nihil” seems the slightest. I suspect this story, set on a train, was inspired by Stefan Grabinski who had a fascination with trains. The story opens with our protagonist on a run-down, ramshackle train. He has no idea who he is, why he’s there, and where there is. Besides a disturbing ticket inspector, the only other man on the train, Toombs, tells him not to worry. The journey is the thing, he claims, not the destination.
Our protagonist, incidentally, is named Graves. Given that his suitcase, and others aboard the train, are full of maggotty grave dirt, I suspect some metaphor on the nature of life, and a very nihilistic one at that. But, if it exists, it was a bit undeveloped for me, and the story seems not that much different than other stories with a similar revelation to that of the narrator.
But this is another fine Samuels collection and shows why he is one of the most prominent chroniclers, in the distortions of his fiction, the macabre processes around us.