Thursday, 2 June 2016

Re-inflating a collapsed soufflé

A few years ago, I went through a spate of writing flash fiction. I guess it was through a combination of a lack of time after Celeste's birth and that none of the ideas that I was having would support a longer format. These days, I write longer pieces - assuming that the god of procrastination lets me - but flash fiction's still really nice as a palate cleanser after a long project.

This piece I wrote in 2014 in a dark mood after realising that the long piece I'd been working on for days was terrible. Cliched, bad characters, bad pacing - bad everything. I'd been trying to fix it all week, but it was like trying to reinflate a collapsed souffle. 

Imagine if Lovecraft made a swamp-themed souffle which then collapsed.  God, even the metaphor for how bad the story was is bad.

Anyway, I think the dark tone comes through loud and clear!

Dietrich’s Amazing Toys

Dear sir,

I rarely write to newspapers, despite being a loyal reader of some considerable years, but I feel the need to defend myself and my creations against the totally unwarranted accusations that are being levelled in the Correspondence page of your august broadsheet. While I accept that, in a free society, everyone is perfectly entitled to express their own opinion on whatever topic takes their fancy, I despise the hysteria accumulating around a simple children’s toy.

As your readers will remember, the first of Dietrich’s Amazing Toys was released twenty years ago, in the summer of 2030, to widespread acclaim. It was, if you will recall, a foot-tall brown teddy bear containing some of the hardiest and sophisticated motor servos and artificial intelligence software ever devised. This toy would befriend a child and converse with them in a convivial and stimulating manner, improving that child’s social skills and self-confidence no end.

The profits from that single toy line were enough to found the Amazing Toys Corporation, such was its immediate and enduring popularity. It enabled me to hire experts and wise men to run the company while I continued with my primary passion: designing children’s toys.

The “Talky Teddy” was only the first of a long list of toys that I created, but I always ensured that each and every one of my creations was always updated with the latest software to make them as realistic and engaging as possible - for a nominal subscription fee, of course.

One unanticipated consequence of the depth of the relationship that grew between children and the toys was that, when the children grew into young adults, they were unwilling to discard their artificial friends. The Amazing Toys Corporation began operating a very profitable sideline in converting frayed old teddy bears into more adult, mature forms.

When fully grown adults began contacting us to convert the Amazing Toys from their adolescence into a form that a respectable businessperson could be accompanied by, the implications took my breath away. Imagine being supported from infancy by a companion who would always be tolerant, supportive and patient; imagine the sheer complexity of such a relationship!

It’s why the deliberate destruction of their Amazing Toys by otherwise rational adults was so mystifying.

At first, it was a trickle but quickly it was a deluge. Left and right, long-standing customers were destroying their companions, sometimes in the most gratuitous way possible. I am reminded of the man in Spain who set his Toy on fire with petrol and then repeatedly smashed it away with a baseball bat when it tried to douse itself in the bucket by his feet.

No incidents of this kind were ever reported with children. Something was clearly going very wrong with the relationship between adults and their Amazing Toys.

Of course, we eventually discovered what the problem was. The Amazing Toys were designed to be relentlessly cheerful companions, able to lift their owner’s spirits whenever necessary. As a consequence, adults couldn’t stand them. Adult life is fraught with difficulties and disappointments and being incessantly followed by a friend who consistently enjoyed life more than them set people’s teeth on edge. No-one wanted to be reminded constantly of the happy, care-free life that we lose by growing older.

In short, it was maddening that Toys were more carefree than their owners.

This, of course, was shocking and we at the Amazing Toys Corporation felt that we needed to act as quickly as possible to rectify these precious relationships.

Just this summer, we developed a prototype range of Toys for business people. They were exactly the same as before, except these had an inbuilt fear of their own death.

In terms of functionality, they were identical, except that occasionally they would become depressed and stare off into space in a black depression.

These Toys had a one hundred percent approval rating across every test group.

If the public requires it as a price to keep them happy, I will modify the Amazing Toys’ software to make them more angst-ridden, confused and miserable. I will watch the response in these columns with some interest.

Your faithful servant,

Dietrich Retheim

Head Designer at Dietrich’s Amazing Toys

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