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Sam Wilson

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“Walled Garden” review

The Pornokitsch website has published a really good and thoughtful review of my short story The Walled Garden, originally printed in Chew Magazine and available for free here. The review compares it to another short story “The House On The Wall” by Stanley Weyman, which deals in a different way with society’s gatekeepers.

Sam Wilson’s “The Walled Garden” (2010) is emotionally and morally ambiguous throughout – a brief and disturbing tale about a corporate employee whose role is to evaluate “inappropriate” content from a major (unnamed) website. The work is grinding, both physically (“We each have to get through sixty thousand images a day, or we’re out”) and mentally. The images are of the most horrific scenes imaginable.

The full review is available here.

Genre Stories 4

Here’s the latest collection of Genre Stories, condensed and edited for your reading pleasure.

Social Drama: He listened to new music and hung out with new people. He told his old friends that they just didn’t get bald culture.

Spiritual: “Only by shutting down all thought can you achieve happiness,” said Michael Bay.

Somnambulist Detective: Idunnit.

Horror: My soul haunts the spot I died, cursing those who enter the building. But someone turned it into a Home Affairs, so no one notices.

Fable: The prince climbed the tangled hair and heard swearing from above. Legend said Rapunzel’s hair grew long. It never said which hair.

Drama: His tattoos were stretching. His piercings got caught on his wife’s doilies. He had lived fast, but was bad at following through.

Dickensian: “I may lack fancy clothes, but helping strangers gives me something more valuable.” The stranger’s pocket-watch, for starters.

SciFi: “Laugh at me?” said Dr Zarxo. “I’ll show them! I’ll show them all!” So he did a double-blind study and got the results peer reviewed.

Sequel: All things considered, a spoonful of sugar wasn’t the wisest way to encourage Jimmy to take his insulin.

School Memoir: “Think quick!” his friend shouted, so he did a differential calculation and got hit by a cricket ball.

Apocalyptic: Meteors. Explosions. Lava. It was a terrible day to have (a) drunk lots of coffee and (b) worn white trousers.

Action: “Anyone on board have pilot training? Or played Flight Simulator? Or had flying dreams on absinthe?” And Philipe’s hour had come.

Drama: Moral dilemmas are like birthdays. Even if you ignore them, they add up. He sighed, and blew out the candles on the skull-cake.

Medical: He isolated the virus responsible for procrastination. No one believed him except the makers of Angry Birds, who made millions.

Fantasy: Gromud raided the ruby mines of Xethi and foiled the Greed Kings. This alienated his friends, who worked in finance.

Creepy: Hundreds of dead butterflies, each labeled with the name of one of the girls who’d seen his collection and left him forever.

Political: “Well, I didn’t WANT to be grand dictator for life and exulted father of his people anyway.”

Crime: The museum paid the consultants millions to install laser sensors and pressure plates. Minutes later they were gone with the diamond.

Mild Horror: Biologists studied the outbreak of zombiedom in the turtle population with interest, but not alarm.

Hedonistic: The pills kicked in. The music filled his mind with joy. He raised his hands up towards the lights. And crashed the ambulance.

Drama: She thought he called her “Lightswitch” because she turned him on and lit up his life. Actually, it was the on-again-off-again thing.

Apocalyptic: “At least I’ll get thin now,” thought Bob. He hadn’t counted on the stress-eating.

Tragedy: Swimming at night. The riptide was strong. He had been drinking. He even kept his shoes on. He didn’t die. Darwin wept.

Chick Lit: She stood on her own two feet. She didn’t want to get swept off them. High-heels.

History: Isaac Newton made an important discovery in that orchard: Birds sitting in apple trees don’t always control their bowels.

Fantasy: The spell took him to a strange world. The ground was pink and covered in fine hair. It was unfamiliar, like the back of his hand.

Horror: “Bind Them Forever!” chanted the eyeless ones, holding a rusted needle. And the couple began to regret having a themed wedding.

Coming Of Age: He learned a lot that year. Laundry won’t do itself. Deodorant is not a bath. And scurvy is still an actual thing.

Modern Romance: “Why do you still sell AA batteries?” he said. “What devices still use them?” The cashier’s blush gave her away.

Fantasy: The scientist uncovered the wires that the mystic used to fake levitation. And Tlazotl the God of Skeptics grew powerful.

If you want more, here are the previous collections:

One
Two
Three

And if you still haven’t had enough, you can follow @GenreStories at twitter.com/genrestories.

The Walled Garden

Originally published in Chew Magazine, Issue 18.

Photo by Irini Michopoulou

The new kid is crying. Someone should comfort him, but he’s the third one this week. We ignore him. He’s better off quitting.

We don’t have time to talk anyway. We’ve been slipping on our quota. The rules are clear: We each have to get through sixty thousand images a day, or we’re out. This is the kind of outsourcing work the Indians snap up, and we were lucky to get it.

On my screen is a five-by-five grid, twenty-five images at a time. They’re all from the same website. Every time a user flags an image as inappropriate content, it’s sent to us to be verified and, if necessary, deleted. Sometimes they click the “flag” button just because it’s an unflattering picture, but those times are rare. Mostly it’s porn. Sometimes it’s worse. And sometimes it’s much, much worse.

Charlie used to grade the images according to what it’ll take to get the image out of your head. Drinkers. Shrinkers. Mallets. Bullets. Before lunch, our new kid catches his first Bullet. He runs to the bathroom and we hear retching.
“Oi!” calls Riaad. “Close that door!”
I feel sorry for the boy, so I go to his computer to delete the image. When I see it, I turn away.
“Bad one?” asks Riaad, not looking. I don’t need to answer.

I surreptitiously send a copy to my computer before I delete it.

As I’m walking back, Riaad calls me.
“Sandy!”
I go over to his desk.
“This’ll cheer you up,” he says, and shows me an image of a charred, twisted body.
“Cable thief,” he said. “Tried to steal a live electric wire. Dumbass!”
“You’re sick,” I say.
He’s still giggling as I sit back down. I can’t blame him, though. We’ve all got our own way of dealing.

At lunch we sit together at the corner café downstairs. The new kid doesn’t have anything to eat.
“We have to tell the police,” he says.
“We don’t,” says Riaad. “Nondisclosure agreement, remember? No-one wants this stuff getting out.”
“You won’t try to stop it?”
“We can’t!” said Riaad, laughing. “Have you seen how much there is?”
The kid claws at his scalp.
“Charlie said we can’t make the world a better place,” I said. “All we can do is make one little place on the internet where everything’s safe. A walled garden.”
“Who’s Charlie?” said the new guy.
“Your predecessor,” said Riaad, and mimes a gunshot to the head.
I look down at my food.

The new kid doesn’t come back after lunch.

I spend the last few minutes of my break opening his Bullet in Photoshop.

This is a trick Charlie taught me. I select the girl in the image and delete her. I copy some of the wall and paste it into the gap. I extend the window and the carpet with a content-aware fill, and spend a few minutes with the clone tool cleaning it up. Now it’s just a picture of an empty hotel room, with floral-print curtains and a cream bedspread. Behind the bed is a sliding-door cabinet and a floor-lamp. On the other side is the back of a door with an empty coat-hook. There’s no sign that anything’s wrong.

I upload the picture onto the website, into the gallery with all the others. Hotel rooms, store rooms, bar-room floors, playgrounds, all sterilised and safe. One thousand and twenty seven images so far. My safe place. My garden.

Something I Found While Moving

My girlfriend and I moved house over the weekend, and while we were piling four years worth of accumulated telephone bills, refrigerator magnets and toy robots into cardboard boxes, I found a handwritten copy of this (very) short story.

I wrote it on stage during this year’s Open Book Festival, at an event in which eight writers were given a few minutes to write a short story with a given style and topic. The style I was given was “Enid Blyton” and the topic was “Space”.

Here’s what I wrote.

FOUR GET EATEN BY A XENOMORPH

Harry, Suzy, Freddy and their dog Toby were on their way to visit Auntie Gladys and Uncle Ben at Penal Colony IX, known to the locals as “Agony Nine”.

“I hope Auntie Gladys gives us sticky buns!” said Harry. “I’m starving after all those months in suspended animation.”

“You’re starving all the time,” laughed Suzy. “Tubby!”

“Woof,” said Toby.

Their transport shuttle dropped slowly towards the blasted terrain.

“Wait!” cried Freddie, pointing to the view-screen. “There was movement out there, by that ice-cave!”

“Perhaps it’s smugglers,” said Suzy. “Or pirates! Let’s go explore!”

They landed the transport, and walked into the jagged mouth of the cave.

“Shh, everybody,” said Harry. “I’m sure I heard a sound. Whatever could it be?”

In the torchlight above them were two cocoons. One held Auntie Gladys, the other Uncle Ben.

“Kill Me,” said Auntie Gladys.

THE END

The Cringe Factor

It’s the Open Book Festival, and I’m stuck here in Joburg missing out on the awesomeness. As I can’t be there in person, I’d like to post the text I wrote for one of the events happening this evening.

It’s for the “cringe factor” event, where we had to write the worst possible opening page for a novel, starting with the words “In Cape Town, nobody…”

In Cape Town nobody lives in Johannesburg, except for the people who are there on holiday or business trips or for some other reasons, medical maybe, but those cases are rare and not worth mentioning. Most people in The Mother City as it’s called live there all the time, in houses and apartment blocks or shacks in the city center or the suburbs or the townships or the favelas as they’re called in Brazil. The people in Cape Town also don’t live anywhere else like Port Elizabeth.
 
That’s why it was hard for the South African Special Emergency Relocation Service (SASERS) to know what to do with all the people they had to evacuate from Cape Town, because if they lived anywhere else it would be easy. In fact, mused General Neo Motsepe, the general in charge of the South African Special Emergency Relocation Service, they would probably be home already, wouldn’t have to worry about the giant squid.
 
But they couldn’t not worry, because the people didn’t not live in Cape Town. So General Neo Motsepe needed a plan, and needed it yesterday, when the voluminous squid attacked the harbor, which was positioned along one of the world’s busiest trade routes and is one of the busiest ports in South Africa, handling the largest amount of fresh fruit and second only to Durban as a container port.
 
Was, thought General Neo Motsepe privately to himself, because that was yesterday, and this was Friday. Now, there was nothing in Table Bay except for a ginormous squid which was bigger than any squid before it.
 
Why the corpulent squid had attacked Cape Town, nobody knew. What the gargantuan squid wanted was anybody’s guess. How it had grown to such a Brobdingnagian size was impossible to say. Where it had come from was a total mystery. Why it wanted to eat Cape Town was still up in the air. The only thing General Neo Motsepe of the South African Special Emergency Relocation Service knew was he had to act, and act quickly.
 
“Sheila,” he barked at his buxom assistant who was called Sheila. “I need to act quickly.”
“Yes Sir,” Sheila accorded. The night before they had been making wild, passionate love, but today they were entirely professional, as is befitting of members of the South African Special Emergency Relocation Service and government departments in general.
“What is the plan?” he interrogated.
“There’s only one option,” she responded. “We cannot relocate the citizens of our beloved Mother City to anywhere else in the country. They would not understand our ways and customs, and cultural sensitivity is very important.”
“Then where should we send them?” quizzed General Neo Motsepe.
“It’s dangerous,” said the 23 year old blonde who kept her body in good shape with regular tennis sessions, “but it might be possible to relocate the city in its entirety into the only place that is safe from being eaten by that massive squid.”
“And where is that?” queried General Neo Motsepe, batting the question at her. She served the answer back like one of the many balls that she hit when she was playing tennis.
“We can relocate the city – into the squid itself!”
General Neo Motsepe stared at Sheila like she had just turned into an elephantine squid herself. The idea was demented, farcical, preposterous, harebrained, cuckoo, nonsensical and cockamamie, but it just might work.

The Ends of the World are Nigh

The good people at the Pornokitsch website (low down and dirty, but not in that sort of way, at least not while on the clock) are editing a collection of apocalyptic fiction, and I’m one of the lucky writers who put in a story.

The collection is inspired by the works of John Martin (1789-1854) A british painter of wildly dramatic apocalyptic scenes that were popular with the masses but largely dismissed by critics. Or, as the Pornokitsch people put it, “our type of guy”.

The book features works by fellow South Africans Lauren Beukes, S.L. Grey (The chimera of Sarah Lotz and Louis Greenberg) and Charlie Human.

It’ll be on sale in October.

My story is about a postmodern apocalypse:

One of the placards read “MATHEMATICS IS RACIST”. Another read “WHATEVER”. A third read “TINRBTOWMFO”. Dr. Chandrasekhar pointed at it.
“What’s that? Is that self-parody?”
Shelly Bream looked up to see which sign was irritating him this time.
“I asked them about it,” she said. “It means ‘There Is No Reality But The One We Make For Ourselves’.”
“Well, how is anyone else meant to work that out? Did you ask them that?”
“Um. I did. They don’t care. That’s sort of the point.”

More Genre Stories

Once again, here are 35 of the most recent Genre Stories that I’ve written for Twitter. And once again I made a few corrections for spelling and clarity, but I have made sure that none of these corrections make the tweets go over the 140 character limit.

If you like these tweets, then please follow Genre Stories at Twitter/Genrestories. Thanks!

Medical: For years the doctors thought he had Tourette’s, until they found out that he was just surrounded by arseholes.

Philosophical: His motto was “Live every day like it was your last.” He spent the final 37 years of his life screaming and crying.

Fable: The Late Bird came home after an all-night bender, and ate the worm. When the Early Bird woke up it had to reevaluate its priorities.

Uplifting: The tattooed man looked into his newborn baby’s face. His heart melted. “I’d Fuckin’ KILL fer yew,” he said. “KILL!”

Drama: She married him at his ultra-orthodox church. “I declare you Man and Disfigured Rib,” said the priest. And she had second thoughts.

Culinary Historical: It was a disaster, but he had to brazen it out. “Voila!” he said to the shocked dinner guests. And the flambé was born.

Cautionary: Alone in the blizzard, he wondered what had compelled him to check whether his tongue would stick to the snowmobile.

Mob: The cops watched the rookie heading out of the station. When he was gone, the desks flipped and the place turned back into a speakeasy.

Adventures In Cliché: After base camp it was a seven-day hard climb. When they got to the summit they saw the mole and felt ashamed.

Circus Drama: She always tagged along whenever he went to unicyclist conventions. She always got in the way. His second wheel.

Business: He’d finally made it. A corner office with huge plate-glass windows. A wheelie chair. But the two didn’t go well together.

Twitter – The Musical: It seems his stream’s become a flood / of dull banality / I wonder why they follow / Twits likes him, and never me?

War: The recruit sat in a circle of candles. The others got scared. “Satanist!” said the major. “No Sir! Scared of spiders, sir!”

Zen: .

Family drama: Fishing with his sons. “This is lame!” said the youngest. So he took out the dynamite, got their respect, and lost custody.

Classical: The poison taster gagged and writhed. The cook was executed before the taster could explain that he just hated coriander.

Historical: He stared at his tools. The bolts first? The pliers? That wouldn’t work. He sighed helplessly. Torturer’s block.

Bio: In a work far ahead of his time, Mozart composed the operettas “Rollin’ in florins”, “Musket up yo ass” and “The Bitchiz of Figaro”.

Crisis Of Faith: Dress for the job you want, not the job you have, they told him. But the scuba tank kept knocking over the communion wine.

Prehistorical: As the meteor grew near, some dinosaurs rejoiced. They roared hymns, denounced the mammals, and awaited the Velocirapture.

Fable: The sparrow didn’t care that her chick was a changeling. “Fly, my pretty!” she said with pride, pushing the baby rhino from the nest.

Magic Realism: She followed the knife-thrower everywhere, always first on stage, showing off the scar where his knife had pierced her heart.

Overheared: It was New Years Eve in Zimbabwe. They raised their glasses. “Here’s to 2011. It can’t possibly be worse than 2012.”

Utopian Conspiracy: This tweet was the only way to get to you. Everyone else is in on it. CIA. FBI. They’re throwing you a surprise party.

Pop-Sci: “It’s okay to be shallow,” said the biologist. “90% of ocean life is in the shallows. It’s warm and bright.” The model just yawned.

Fable: The clumsy trap-maker always got caught in his own traps. “Here we go again,” he thought, as the ring slid onto his finger.

Conspiracy: Inside the hanger wasn’t a moon landing set. There was a stadium. Our minds reeled. The 2010 World Cup was faked.

Apocalyptic: Everything got gradually worse. People fantasised about a quick and definite end. Roland Emmerich made millions.

Horror: “Fish Fingers tonight!” said New Mommy. Jimmy looked at his plate. Scales. Knuckles. They weren’t what Jimmy expected. Not at all.

Speculative: To end racism, we found new ways to define ourselves. But a new power elite rose. Fucking Sagittarians.

Epic: He had The Call. He has a Love Interest, and an Antagonist, and the potential for Personal Growth. Unfortunately, he also had an Xbox.

Urban Legend: A string of cheese led up from the top of the pizza to the mouth of the guilty-looking waiter.

Ghost: Dripping walls. Patches of cold. Weird laughter in the night. On the plus hand, only 800 per month and close to varsity AND the pub.

Paradise Lost: He thought he’d finally found the ideal way of life in the nudist camp. Then he tried frying sausages.

Revisionism: Jesus made a famous statement about rich people and camels and eyes of needles. But he didn’t say “Heaven”. He said “Prison”.

Would you like more? The first 100 genre stories can be found here, and the next 35 can be found here.

Zombie Stand Up

Me as head of the Zombie Survivors' Committee. Photo by Liesl Jobson.

I just got back from Lily Herne’s Deadlands party, where the younger part of the Lily team, Savannah Lotz, was talking to Lauren Beukes about the process of writing a book with The Mother. It was a fun evening, with plenty of zombie costumes, and Tape Hiss And Sparkle revealed to us to the zombie subtext of Boyz II Men.

For the evening, I was asked to write and perform some Zombie stand-up comedy. Here’s the transcript of my speech:

All right everyone, settle down, settle down! Survivors Committee call to order, please.

For the record this is Day 127 of the Zombie uprising, 25th of March by the old calander, which is also… National cleavage day! So that’s, er, jolly.

Now listen. I’m calling this meeting together because our supplies are low. According to this list, all we’ve got left is:

Half a pot of mayonnaise,

a slightly wrinkled tomato,

some chewable antacid,

an Endearmint,

and about 500 kilos of rat bobotie.

Seriously, please, will someone just eat it. Just think of rats as… the cows of the sewer. You can have the Endearmint afterwards if it helps.

You may need the antacid, too.

Unfortunately, even with all the bobotie, we only have enough food for about a week. That’s not a real problem, though, because we only have enough water for two days. I wouldn’t get too upset about that, though, because I’m told that the bars on the window will only last for about another 15 minutes.

Which brings us to the next critical point, defence.

Now, I know we all thought it was a good idea to vote Frano as the head of defence. He’s strong, he’s direct, he’s a man of few words, he can rip off a man’s head off with his bare hands. And I think that maybe we should have all just thought about that incident a bit more before voting.

So maybe next time we should go ahead and do some background checks, and make absolutely sure that the next person we vote for as the head of defence is NOT already a zombie. By now we should all be clear that there is in fact a difference between a thick Pofadder accent and the groans of the undead.

Oh! On the subject of voting, you remember we all agreed that since we were rebuilding society, we should have a name for new, er, fledgeling democracy? Well, the nominations for what we’re going to call our new country are in!

Don’t run off! I know you’re keen to get on with the defending, but this is good for morale.

This is the first time I’m seeing these. It’s all very exciting. The potential names for our new country are:

“Sipho’s mum’s house’s cellar.” Yes, all right, that accurate, but at some point we are going to try to expand our country beyond these walls at some point, so…

“Stevetopia.” Very mature, Steve.

“The People’s Republic of Steve’s Bonerville.” No.

“Lick Steve’s…” No.

“Steve’s Meatflap Paradise.” Oh, that’s just obscene. Look, if you’re not going to take this seriously then we might as well have a dictatorship. Is that what you want? No? Because if you all wake up tomorrow and find this place being run by jackbooted thugs then it’s all Steve’s fault.

And look, on the subject of our new civilisation, I know we’re running short of supplies but please, could we stop using the pages from our only encyclopedia toilet paper? Please, if you find it in your hearts, could you use one of the Heat magazines? We’ve got plenty of those! Someone ripped out the page about Penicillin yesterday. Penicillin! That could have been handy! Does anyone here know how to generate electricity? No? Not since curry night, we don’t!

Just, next time you go to the bathroom ask yourself, does the future depend on us preserving MORE THAN ONE article about Katy Perry’s cellulite? Would it kill you to wipe with one of the many, many pictures of the unthreateningly well-groomed teen sensation Justin Beiber? More than one generation will thank you!

Now I know we’re all very keen to get back to defending against that zombie attack, so just one last thing. The breeding program. I know the idea was vetoed and I respect that, but I can’t help but noticing that Steve is getting a lot of action lately, so if we started to think again, just think, mind you, no pressure, about repopulating the planet of a formal basis, then, as chairman of the survival committee, I am sort of, well, you know…

if we were gorillas, then I would be the silverback. Precedence. So just, putting it out there.

All right, here come the zombies, so good luck to everyone, and if we all survive then for tonight’s music evening, Mimi will be performing “A tribute to the silver voice Susan Boyle!” So that’s… worth living for.

See you on the other side!

Quite A Friday, Really.

On Friday I received an MA with distinction for my debut novel, Commedia. I also found out that I was on the Mail and Guardian’s top 200 young South Africans list, and I got to attend the premiere of Lauren Beukes‘s Glitterboys and Ganglands. I have no idea what next Friday has in store; presumably I’ll get my own space shuttle and discover a harem-planet made of chocolate.

I want to give a huge thank you to my supervisor Mike Nicol who remained calm in the face of the whirling chaos of my first draft, and to Sarah Lotz and Lauren Beukes for reading the book in record time and giving me sensible advice which I absolutely should have followed. I’d also like to thank my examiners Zukiswa Wanner and Tihalo Raditlhalo, for liking it.

Here’s me graduating. I’m the one on the left with the double chin. The one on the right is my girlfriend Kerry who got her PhD in biochemistry, which is even more awesome.

Franschhoek Literary Festival

This Friday will be my first time attending the Franschhoek Literary Festival, and I’m greatly looking forward to it. Last year I was holed up in Cape Town, listening to the third-party accounts of Thoughtful Analysis, Heated Discussions, and drunken J.M. Coetzee impersonations. This year, I shall witness the identity theft in person.

If you need tickets (and you probably will), the online booking form can be found here. And while you’re booking, I’m talking on Friday from 11.30 to 12.30, on the panel “A Real Tweet” with Steve Vosloo, Michael Rice and the other Sam Wilson. So, you know… There’s that.

See you there!

Sam.