Books & Bonbons: MM Buckner’s WATERMIND – Read an Excerpt!
By SMW Staff
From storm drains, illegal dumps, and flooded landfills, all of North America’s most advanced technology flows down the Mississippi River—microchips, nano-devices, pharmaceuticals, genetically modified seed—and lodges in the Louisiana delta. Out of this mire emerges a self-organized neural net, drifting in the water: the Watermind. It can freeze, boil, condense, and move—seemingly at will.
Both infuriating and sympathetic, CJ Reilly is a brilliant, sexy, self-destructive MIT dropout running away from Cambridge and the suicide of her ironic, emotionally-distant father. She is working as a laborer in Devil’s Swamp near Baton Rouge, cleaning up a small pollution spill, when she and her new lover, Max, discover the mysterious Watermind. Reilly’s more interested in investigating it than containing it, but when it kills someone and escapes into the Mississippi, corporations, governments, protesters, the Coast Guard, and a really wacky underground journalist get involved. And there’s no longer any question that it must be destroyed before it reaches the ocean. Watermind is Philip K. Dick meets The Blob, a postmodern combination of camp SF motifs and writerly ambition attacking serious subjects.
…CJ Reilly had always known there was something wrong with her, something insidious and concealed, not noticed by strangers. She kept a catalog of her faults: impatience, lying, egotism, disrespect, snap decisions, reckless driving – yet she could never find the one word that defined her wrongness. If only she could blame it on a chemical imbalance, treatable with meds. But no, she wasn’t like her father. Her personal evil loomed under the surface, churning her shallows and troubling her depths.
Her father Harry shot himself in March, a year ago, when the winds blew sleet that nicked her face like shattered window glass. Boston floated in a sea of icy brown slush, and her MIT friends were too slammed with lab work to notice her withdrawal. After the funeral, she bought a four-wheel-drive Range Rover and fled South, moving every couple of months and taking random jobs. She covered a hotel night-desk in Atlantic City, analyzed cat stool for a veterinarian in Norfolk, taught aerobics in Myrtle Beach.
Myrtle Beach was the best. She lived in a shoreline motel, and every day, she walked the wet sand. The ocean’s immense blue swell saturated her dreams. Skipping along its foamy fringe was the only time she forgot to think about Harry. When rain kept her from the shore, she grew despondent and wanted to chuck it all. Face the final judgment. Take her punishment. Pay her debt. Then oblivion. Just knowing that course existed gave her a prop to lean on. Plenty of other people had done it before. She wouldn’t be the first.
She kept moving. Money was not an issue – her father left her a trust (locked up in a bank that doled out interest. Even dead, Harry contrived to regulate her life.)
Thinking about Harry gave her a rancorous stomach pain, as if she’d swallowed raw aspirin. She told herself she was overreacting – her family issues were trivial. True, her mother walked out when she was two, but lots of mothers dumped their kids. And Harry kept strict rules: no carbonated drinks, no TV, no boyfriends. But plenty of fathers pushed their daughters to excel. Starting MIT at age 14, that was supposed to be a good thing.
When she saw Quimicron’s ad, the words “Hazardous Waste” tantalized her. She ripped the ad from the newspaper and fled South again. One year later, she found herself choking on her own vomit beside a pond in Devil’s Swamp.
“Don’t call anyone!” She knocked the cell phone from Max’s hand.
“Girl, we gotta get you to the hospital.”
He cradled her in his arms, but she twisted away. “We smoked pot, remember? One look at my bloodshot eyes, they’ll give us urine tests, then they’ll fire us.”
Max grasped her shoulders in his large powerful hands. “It’s your life, Ceegie. You been exposed.”
“I didn’t swallow anything,” she lied.
Nausea almost gagged her again, but she fought it down. Her hands were trembling, and an ugly taste dried her mouth. Could this be her oblivion? But she had put Max at risk, too. Quimicron had zero tolerance for drugs, and Max would never find wages like this again. She smashed her fist against her knee.
“Okay,” she said after a moment, “I’ll drive myself to the hospital. You go back and pretend nothing happened. Tell Rory I got stomach flu.”
Max crushed her to his chest. “I’m not leavin’ you.”
For a while, they argued and kissed, and finally, she resorted to more lies. She told him she was wanted on drug charges in another state. After that, he agreed to go back and cover for her. But as soon as he was out of sight, she vomited a gut-load of water.
Shaky and anxious, she found her Rover and drove out the rutted dirt access road to Highway 61. But instead of turning South toward the hospital, at the last minute she changed her mind and veered North toward the Roach. There was something about hospitals, the astringent smells, the sense of entrapment. She remembered the night with Harry. No, she wasn’t going to any hospital.
Behind the Hardee’s drive-thru, a quarter mile north of Devil’s Swamp, she swerved into the driveway of the Ascension Motel, fondly called the Roach Motel by the Quimicron crew who lived there. The Roach crouched like a blue cinderblock bunker, with concrete balconies, a despondent cactus garden and a sign offering rooms by the day, week or month. Quimicron negotiated a discount for its hazardous waste workers. The high wages drew migrants from all over the region, and Quimicron wanted them housed close to the worksite. CJ’s room faced the back, overlooking the blacktop parking lot, three dumpsters and a wild verdant grove of pin-oaks…
M.M. Buckner, is a winner of the Philip K. Dick Award.
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