Karl-Erik Tallmo,
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Excerpt from the "airport section" of the electronic novel

The Watcher's Ability to Interfere

by Karl-Erik Tallmo (published in 1992)1


Cassette cover for the original electronic novel from 1992.

When the bus reached the crest of the hill, the gigantic, shiny aluminum airport terminal building with its sign "ARLANDA INTERNATIONAL," spread out before the gaze of the passengers, taking form just as a drop of mercury that stabilizes, becoming completely still within its surface tension; it was like a topological crescendo,* [hyperlink to note: This landscape, which had for centuries consisted only of agriculture's ever-changing fields of color, of sharp bands of green forests against the horizon or, in the most dramatic of cases, perhaps a red painted barn, had now been graced with a gleaming collection of matter, which most closely resembled a hole.] a culmination of brass and cymbals in a chord that held both harmony and dissonance. Peter already had the foretaste of homecoming; with recreated eyes he saw his hometown from the viewpoint of an experienced traveler, and this feeling was as encompassing as the sheets of rain that the bus produced during its quick, routine passing of other vehicles.


At the check-in counter he closed out the din of his fellow passengers by concentrating fully on the incredibly casual woman in the blue* [hyperbook function: a random association to the word "blue"] uniform, who exuded the kind of false maturity found in imported fruit that had ripened in domestic warehouses.* [link to margin pop-up note: A sort of eroticism that had been deep frozen through habitual smiling and a servility, combined with the authority accorded to a clearly defined area.]


Unresistingly Peter allowed that which happened to happen, he passively let himself be conveyed with the flow of directional signs, over the stone floors, past the glass enclosed shops and food stands. It invoked in him a sort of tenuous peace, the sort one experiences when a long expected catastrophe finally happens, allowing one to calmly wander off into a sort of comforting darkness, without the need for any form of intervention, because an attempt to that end would already be too late. His actions had nothing to do with an urge to travel.

With disgust, he allowed himself to be sucked through a door which, with mechanical hospitality, opened when he pushed his foot against a rubber pad. Inside this luxury convenience store people crowded, plastic shopping baskets in hand, all with the look of having cajoled extra value coupons under a system of rationing. Here, in this special zone, a completely different legislative climate prevailed, a local high pressure of freedom on parole. Peter walked passed the cognac shelf and didn't even look at the good wines; he refused to acknowledge these good friends in such company.*


Peter peered up at the large clock on the wall* [Link to note: In the completely secure world of an airport, time exists only in relation to the timetables and the airborne vehicles whose maneuvers are overseen from a glass tower with many telephones; every load of passengers also arrives with its own time, its own solstice, transported in pressurized cabins from other airports where time is apparently different.] and simultaneously, in a kind of thoughtful manner, he wiped his thumb and index finger off on the seat of the chair. He then took out a clean, white cigarette and lit it.* [Link to note: The first puff on a cigarette was always a sort of replica of that first deep drag he had inhaled. Almost the same giddy feeling as then of forcing something foreign into one's body.]

The identity of an airport can be defined only by establishing which newspaper is foremost arranged in the piles at the newsstands, he thought, or by which accent the bartender reveals when saying "whiskey sour", or by the interpolation that is possible to make out of place-names and times on the monitors listing take-offs and landings. While travel had become ever faster, the departure itself had become muddled and clumsy. An entire indoor city had been constructed with inhabitants so temporary that their only habitat were the stiff plastic chairs of the food stands or the departure area sofas; complex delay mechanisms were activated so that after endless preparations, one could intersect this foreign ether as quickly as possible, high above roofs and treetops.

"Why did the most trivial things become so interesting if only one visualized them as if they were a movie?" thought Peter. The sterile, boring hall in front of him, with wandering, commonplace people; all one needed to do was to form a rectangle with one's thumbs and index fingers, observe the surroundings through this frame, and then imagine that the buzz of voices, the dry echo of clattering hard heels, the droning of the floor washing machine (which left a slippery snail's path behind the man in blue overalls) and the distorted voices coming through the loudspeakers, that they all came from a tape recording - then at once everything gained an air of dignity with a mysterious purpose, which could no longer be ignored, but rather demanded attention and interpretation.* [Link to note: Was this impression strengthened by the fact that airports were of the same era which brought forth photography; that they were built from the inside out, based on functions such as intake, flow through, registration and resolution, just like the camera?]


At an airport one was really just as far away from all places. Kastrup was just as far away from New York as it was from Copenhagen, Arlanda was just as close to Stockholm as to Tokyo. Airports are a medium, geographical processors, that connect fish and fowl, foot and eye, and the heard with the seen.


Over the loudspeakers it was announced that right now they were flying above an overcast northern Germany, a message the passengers received with disproportional invigoration.* [Peter tried to imagine that he had northern Europe beneath his feet, a rather imperial metaphor, a turn of phrase echoing from elementary school classrooms, filled with floor wax aroma, which reduced this incomprehensibly vast area to a fathomable abstraction, as convenient as a school atlas with its glaciers, rain forests, deserts and cultivated areas, over which a dreamy index finger once slowly glided with the same ease that the airplane now seemed to scan the European continental shelf; and despite the fact that this took place at very high speeds it seemed to go unendingly slow, and the plane undoubtedly lost the race against the forward creeping finger from the geography lesson - just as Achilles lost to the tortoise.

In a way, Peter felt secure in this lack of action. This elevation, this highborn seclusion, this calm of inhibited aggression: may the mountains of the earth fall asunder and may its cities be drowned - this normally hair-raising thought suddenly appeared irrelevant, in spite of his understanding that an air trip cannot go on forever. In a similar way, the highest political leaders of the world planned - in the event of a nuclear war - to dwell in specially furnished emergency aircraft high up above common destruction. Actually, air travel had had the same role in transforming trench warfare into a remote-controlled intercontinental missile war as the telephone had in those days when dueling was substituted by negotiations between two lawyers, and as a result of this the borderline between conqueror and conquered dissolved.


The Watcher's Ability to Interfere was Sweden's first electronic hypernovel, published in 1992. The above excerpt is from chapter 1, a pretty extensive rendering of the main character's air trip from Stockholm to New York. The whole novel comprises 88,000 words, and the air flight alone is 8,000 words, of which 1,200 are excerpted here. The particular section about the airport and the flight was written approx. in 1986. The brackets above indicate texts that in the original programmed e-novel appear as various kinds of pop-up windows or margin notes, which become visible only after the reader has clicked a certain word in the body text. There are also randomized text functions - and neither of these scripted effects is possible to transfer to this HTML coded page. The original e-book was authored in Macintosh Hypercard. You may read more about the novel on this page, which is in Swedish, with an English summary at the bottom.

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