"The Wireless Folly", by Michael Swanwick.
First printed in Thunder's Shadow Collector's Magazine, February 1992.
Transcribed from "A Geography Of Unknown Lands" w/o permission.
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It may have begun as a rambling Victorian resort hotel, a fantasia of
gingerbread and gables, with wide verandas and oceanic lawns. Or perhaps a
dark, Gothic structure, part castle and part cathedral, squatting like a
toad over twisting, labyrinthine catacombs-- the core is lost in elaboration
and addition, the newspapers of the time are silent on the matter, and both
elements are present in the mustier reaches.
Indeed, the original building (whatever it was) was not even finished
when renovations began. It was a spirited and high-willed family that laid
the foundations and they agreed on nothing. Glass photographs from its early
glory days show an elaborate pile of building, recomplicated with trap-doors
and hidden passages within, and topiary gardens and ha-has without. It had
already overgrown several neighboring structures.
However begun, the building goes deep. The stone tunnels, with water
seeping down the walls and the occasional scurrying rat, have never been
thoroughly mapped. And while a few stones have loosened underfoot and the
mortar is slowly melting into stalactites, so that one is never sure if a
passage is natural or now, they are still serviceable.
With the scattering of the original family (there are those who claim
they merely withdrew into the interior), the building fell into disrepair,
ferns dying by the slow decade in the yellowed parlors, and a few
disreputable roomers haunting the porches. The Great Depression was on, and
plummeting property values put the structure within reach of the meager
pooled resources of the newly-formed Greater Verne County Wireless
Association. The Wireless Association was made up of sincerely young men
with skinhead crewcuts and ears that stuck out to the side. These engineers
manque would argue late into the night over resistors and magnetic fields
and then stay up to dawn, wrapping coils. I is possible to imagine them now,
a pipe stuck in the corner of the mouth, oily cup of Java growing cold by an
elbow, as they earnestly invented the future. One can almost hear the
sporadic sizzle of a soldering iron.
They built their additions with an absent-minded casualness. Sheds and
crude barns were needed to contain the stinks and fumes and explosions of
their experiments. They stuck antennae on all the cupolas and cornices, so
that the roof fairly bristled, and dug concrete-lined rocket pits in the old
There is a certain nostalgia for those rough additions nowadays,
perhaps because some few (fewer with each passing year, alas!) of the
original members are still with us. You may find them in the leather chair
of the smokers lounge, gin-and-tonics in hand, maundering on about quartz
crystals, and the night they first raised Kansas City, to the inexpressible
embarrassment of some of the younger, more cosmopolitan members.
Early on they were joined by other eccentrics-- not their type, you'd
think, and yet there was the kinship of outcasts among them, or perhaps
simply an aloof, unnoticing toleration. These newcomers were occultists of
varied ill-defined convictions, and filled the place with orgone generators,
maps of Lemuria and the hollow earth, cutaway models of the Great Pyramid,
and ghost-catching machines. Many of the more whimsically useless towers and
puzzlingly misleading passageways were built in this era. One inevitably
thinks of the east stairway which, after many twists and turns and not an
option to get off, deposits its unwary victim back at its own landing. Or
the Salem room , built by a reclusive young bachelor, which is all strange
and eldritch angles and has a single occulus window overlooking the
moon-barren slate roofs. And from which the occasional member has been
rumored to have vanished.
After World War Two, there was an influx of new members-- cool-eyed,
wise-talking gals and guys, many of them ex-GI's. The wanted dance floors
and jazz pavilions, roller rinks and in-house garages. They were responsible
for all the neon and much of the aluminum siding.
But there is so much to see! There are at least a dozen bars scattered
throughout the Folly, and none of them completely abandoned even yet. One of
the favorites is a complete English pub with brown oak paneling and frosted
glass and (oddly enough) a broken Wurlitzer in the corner.
It was through here, in 1968, that one of the young radicals the
Association seems always to attract, ran brandishing a war ax, screaming
that he was going to demolish all the older, outmoded rooms to let some air
and sunshine in. Waving the weapon over his head, he charged for the core of
the Folly, pursued hotly by a puffing mob of old-timers.
Two or three rooms suffered minor damage to the moldings.
Or there is the orangery which, more recently, several self-appointed
bricolateurs retrofitted with network of old radio tubes, clockwork
telescope drives, and ormolu bells, all operated off a rewired NASA-surplus
Cray. The mechanism thus created periodically acts out postmodern notions of
cosmology and then deconstructs itself. It has met with great admiration and
no little puzzlement.
Predictably enough this structure served as catalyst for yet another
affray involving the roused emotions of all the membership. Rubber bands yet
litter the parquetry.
Alas, there is simply not the time to visit every room in the Folly. It
has grown practically beyond human ken, and continues to grow. As witness
the recent proliferation of indoor rifle and pistol ranges. Or the
diminishing daisy-chains of replica rooms that spiral way from several of
the more imposing master bedrooms.
Nor have we the patience to chronicle all the doings of the Wireless
Association's members. The they not mellowed with age -- indeed, they can no
longer even agree on the purpose or goals of the Association. Several
conflicting charters float about, surfacing now and again in the glass-domed
aviary, perhaps, or in the empty indoor swimming pool with untranslatable
runes carved on its bottom which one member (who shall remain unnamed) has
converted to a pornographic movie theatre.
But they keep on building anyway. The folly increases with each passing
month. Grotesque and sprawling, it slowly humps its way across the
surrounding fens. And while some elements are shoddily built, and there are
recurrent rumors of watch-beetles in the wainscoting and dry-rot in the
dormers, taken as a whole it remains an undisputed work of genius, and one
of the great eccentricities of our age.
Майкл Суэнвик. Беспроводный Фолли (engl)
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