READY FLAYER ONE





SCOTT R. JONES



















RIGHT, WELL, NOW THAT I’VE GOT YOU HERE, I CAN TELL YOU ABOUT POLYBIUS. THAT’S HOW IT ALL STARTED FOR ME. See, what the conspiracy theorists and urban legend chroniclers forget to tell you is that those Portland kids are still missing. Though by now, wherever they are, they’re no longer kids. Once you fall into their hands you’re basically clay.


I could have been one of them, I had the high scores. A contender. I could’ve been clay. Nearly a hundred thousand people go missing in this country each year. Imagine! You walk out the door one morning, and you never walk back in. Gone. Folks want to blame serial killers, cults, or the shadow government, but it’s simpler, and uglier, than any of those. There are doors, see, and then there are doors. This continent is old, and it’s rotten all the way down, full of holes, and some of those holes—they’re doors. POLYBIUS was just such a door, only open for a few months, which is to say it didn’t exist for long. I mean, try finding a console now. They may be ancient the way the dark between the stars is ancient, but that doesn’t mean they don’t like to try new things, when the opportunity presents. Who doesn’t like to jiggle the handle of a new door, just to see what might happen if it opens? When it opens.


What did the old Ay-rab say? Their habitation is even one with your guarded threshold. Yeah, no shit, Abdul. Tell us something fresh.


The stories get one thing right. POLYBIUS was highly addictive. I remember the line-ups for the game, outside the Avalon and around the block, the fights that broke out when quarters lined up on the screen weren’t honored, the faces that stumbled away into the night when the arcade closed. Those faces reflected something, and it wasn’t light, but it felt so right.


POLYBIUS played you, you understand? Games back in the day required skill, sure, but they were essentially empty things, a shell to fill with your imagination and hand-eye coordination. But POLYBIUS wasn’t there for you. You were there for POLYBIUS. That was the feeling, and it was electric. Stepping up to the console was like approaching an altar. As if you were tapping into something real, and vast, something majestic, and it only cost a quarter. A quarter! Nothing else like it. Reaching into the game through the joystick, the screen, you could feel them there. The interface went both ways. They would quest and probe, searching through you, for whatever it was you had they could use. I remember how it felt, that digital intimacy, that deeper than deep focus that burned the world away until it was just you, and the game, and whatever was on the other side of the game, connecting. I still dream about that connection, but it’s never the same. I remember how it felt, and I remember when it went sour.



Did you ever see that Last Starfighter movie? Right? Kid beats a game and it turns out to be a recruitment strategy for an alien armada? Imagine doing that, and when they show up to take you off world to a life of cosmic battle and ripe space babes, the recruiter sniffs the air around you with a forked tongue and decides, well, maybe not. It seems mistakes were made, it hisses. That was me, son. I knew I was a good POLYBIUS player, great even, my high score went up early on and it stayed there, goddamnit. POLYBIUS did select me, I swear. It wanted me, or the things that seethed and breathed behind it did, and there’s no feeling like that desire, when you’re the subject. The door opened, and I should have gone through. But when it came my turn, they said no.


Since then I’ve done everything I can to find them, claim my right to wonder and glory. I’ve learned about the other doors, which at the end of the day are all the same door, really. Before it was POLYBIUS, it was a sealed box of black lacquered wood belonging to a bruja in Juarez. A fly-specked folio of living daguerreotypes in a Spitalfields shop. A mummified tiger penis enshrined in a Himalayan cave. Other, less comprehensible things, going back centuries. The Arab knew, and Chambers, and the Marquis de Sade. Hell, even Borges wrote about it, in that one story.


I’ve learned that those kids? Those kids had the right stuff, and POLYBIUS took them for a quarter. For me, well, the price is steeper. Sacrificial. I have to give them what they want, for as long as they want it, and then they’ll let me through, I know it. No, you’re not my first. This isn’t some token thing they require. Takes dedication, skill. Think of it as a game, if that helps. And try not to struggle.


I don’t need you throwing off my hand-eye coordination.



INTERVIEW: SCOTT R. JONES



by: Cody Goodfellow





As a modern cosmic horror writer and editor, you've struggled publicly with reconciling Lovecraft's influence on the genre with... the issues. What about the Mythos still compels your attention, and what do you see as the most significant traits in modern cosmic horror?


Honestly, I think "the issues" remain resonant today, for what are obvious reasons if you've paid any attention to the current state of the world. That aside, though, if there's a perennial philosophy attached to the Mythos it is, for me, one of awe first and foremost, but an awe tempered by knowledge of our own insignificance (something I think we could all do with a touch more of in our daily lives -- see my auto-ethnographical work When The Stars Are Right: Towards An Authentic R'lyehian Spirituality). The monster-gods remain fun and fresh, because after all their abominable traits are factored in, they are in a very interesting way, a little bit of us. I have a transhumanist kink in my world view: could we be something, if not actually better, at least more novel? The Great Old Ones point the way to that state.





You wrote When The Stars Are Right as a sincere spiritual interrogation of the Cthulhu Mythos. What inspired you to do this, and what did you take from a bitter materialist's pulp existentialism that could lead to a fulfilling personal philosophy? I'm dead inside. Help me.


At the core of it, I think I was at a point in my life and my Lovecraft fandom association where I was just really tired of the fall back to Howard's materialism/atheism on the part of critics and a certain breed of fan. Especially since so much of the work reads as protesting too much. For me, and I think a lot of others, that mystery and awe found in the Mythos approaches something like religious terror, and I figure if it roars and walks and eats like a god... I dunno, probably a god? Or at least so close to a god as to make no difference. And gods are, above all, interesting filters for approaching reality. But also I found that, thanks to Howard's mania for completeness, he seemed to have endowed many of his critters with a basic skeleton of spirituality that benefits from examination and expansion. With WTSAR, I've basically nailed my theses to the door of the EOD and am now awaiting response.





Tell us what you can about Stonefish, your current work in progress.


What if there was a predator with perfect camouflage. What if it could disguise itself as everything that exists, an entire reality. What if you learned that the people who created this predator regularly slummed it on the thing's skin. Their agenda is one of harvest, and chaos, which they experience as novelty. It's their party but we do all the crying. It's a Gnostic apocalypse story with elements of cryptozoology, information and simulation theory, body horror, rogue tech millionaires and mentally damaged AIs. Also, it's breaking my head open, so maybe throw in some shamanic whoohoo there, too. Is there any more quintessential modern cosmic horror protagonist/victim than being a Canadian next door to Trump's America? Right now? No. But I'm hoping there will be, and soon. This narrative needs deep editing and I hope Those Who Sit Above In Shadow are on the job. More soon...



- STAY INFORMED -