Drawing Scenes: Chapter 3 from The Uncanny Valley Club

Benny the sex-bot salesman, also the company therapist, stretches his talents to creating a sexbot brothel that he has named, The Uncanny Valley Club. Unfortunately, his financial resources are limited to friends and colleagues, and he has come to Scottie, well known for her anti-sexbot campaigns and her cyborg enhancement engineering company, for the very big task of convincing her to invest in his new sexbot Brothel.

‘You pluck these ideas out of that scrubby little head of yours, Benny, and present them gold plated, just to get me on board, but this is no different to an average brothel, is it? I can’t see that there’s anything special about your new business.’

‘Scott, my business is different from all the others like it.’ Benny waves his hand gently across the room as if to display all the businesses that are just not quite as good as his is. ‘It’ll be a standout. We can grow a shit load of money from simple human vice. Listen to me. The Uncanny Valley Club will be the venue where punters can set their desires free, like wild animals tapping into their urges.’

‘Urges? I thought this was part of your therapy business?’

‘It is therapy. It’s next-level therapy. This is me hitting my potential. This is what I’m all about. I’m dragging the therapy trade into the future.’ Benny stands. His excitement at his plans has him all jittery. ‘It’s not called The Uncanny Valley Club for no reason. It’s all about the ‘uncanny’ moment, that dip in the robot-likeability graph, when you see a robot so lifelike that it gives you the creeps. That hideous little moment that defines the difference between robot and human—the absence of soul, your disgust, your fear and your fascination. It’s fake little face.’ Benny points at his own eyes and nose, and screws up his face. ‘You know what I mean, Scottie; you’ve felt it. The sense of deceit; the lack of trust. That’s where the lucrative Uncanny Valley moment is.’

‘Wait a minute, what happened to chicken soup for the soul?’

‘Troubled soul, Scottie; I said, “troubled soul”. This is the hinge where our clientele swing loose. What a goddamn release! They use it, they respond, they lash out and they release that pent-up techno-anger buried deep within. That little moment is so full of energy! It’s a heady mix of fascination and disgust, lust and hate—all those confusing emotions that live in that void. And we will exploit that little, black void of sexuality.’

‘Is this a joke, Benny? What kind of place is this?’

‘Scottie, nobody trusts a creepy little bot unless they know they control it, right? And how do we take control? We remove human morals. Let them do to it whatever the hell they want to do to it. Our club will give them permission to swing loose. Can’t you see it?’

Scottie’s mouth hangs open, speechless.

‘Listen, Scott, The Uncanny Valley Club will be known as the place to explore who we really are at our core.’ He leans in to catch her eye. ‘The punters can do whatever they like to their bot—no guilt, pure release and morality-free—an almighty cleansing of the soul. Do you see what this is, Scottie? Consequence out the window, do you understand? It’s a life-changing moment.’

Scottie’s face contorts with disgust.

‘Oh, the release,’ he says. ‘It’s so damn freeing.’ He lifts his arms into the air as though releasing doves. Benny sees in her face the wall she’s built up against this idea. He needs to make her want it. ‘And Scottie, let me tell you this much: this will happen whether you like it or not. This isn’t new. They exist in Japan and across Europe, and if you get on board with me, right now, you’ll control it in our part of the world. You, Scottie. I know this is what you want—to control this industry.’

Scottie says nothing. He holds his palms out to her and whispers her name. ‘Come on, Scott?’

He needs to get her over the line that she’s drawn for herself. ‘Imagine it, casino atmosphere, private rooms, music and social bots of every colour and proclivity; sturdy ones. You get what I’m saying don’t you? I don’t need to tell you what people are capable of given the chance. It’s exciting! Gives me a buzz just to think about it. All we need is the money. Your money.’

‘Why are you giving me this information, Benny? What you’re talking about is abuse. All you’ve done is give me a heads up to intervene and have you shut down. You’re an idiot, anyone tell you that?’

J. Proudfoot (2022) The Uncanny Valley Club

–a split-second pink flash…Moira Burke on detail

Losing It, Moira Burke. Text, 1998.

Losing it is written in the rare, second-person style. This, and the sparse punctuation and stream-of-consciousness manner force you to read quickly, forcing you to tumble over your words. It’s engaging, and addictive, and Moira Burke’s beautiful way of getting inside the detail has the words exploding on the page

“…you’re going to training on a blue train. You’re standing in the open doorway letting the wind come in bringing with it the soft drizzle in bursts. The train’s going over the bridge between Macaulay and Flemington and you look down, down to the wet black street the wet red houses and suddenly there’s a black wet tree. Blossoms all over it shining pink and wet swooping out of nowhere down below, the trains going fast its only a flash a wet flash from nowhere, the trains riding fast, bumpy, you’re in the open doors looking down going over the bridge a split-second pink flash and you go oh! And lean out to keep seeing it, it’s made a print in you like a photo all bright and black outlies in rainshine but it’s gone, gone.” (121)

Particularly engaging for me are the references to 80s Melbourne. Josie’s family holidays in Queenscliff, she hangs out in Melbourne train stations, and she frequents bars with names I remember seeing, or going to—I feel like I’ve even bumped into Josie–that’s how good she is at drawing you in. For me it sits up there with other coming of age stories written in teenage-speak style that we all know, Puberty blues, Catcher in the rye, The Incredible Here and Now.

Losing It was published in 1998, and re-released in 2017 as a part of Text’s campaign to support Australian authors.

For a comprehensive review see my page Agnes Water-books reviewed

Creating space in writing.

In the excerpt below, I love the space created by a simple change in focus. The grandmother pauses within the story to brush flies from the child’s face, and we just know there is something wrong! Love it.

“The little granddaughter came, picking her way through the long grass. She told the grandmother that the new baby was going to have a bath and she was going to have a bath as well. Her mother had said so.

‘Is mother going to have a bath too?’ the grandmother, brushing flies away from the child’s face, asked.

‘Yes,’ the child told the grandmother. ‘All, her and me and baby.’ The grandmother was surprised….the baby and the granddaughter had been bathed.”

(P116. The Orchard Thieves, Elizabeth Jolley 1995)

Truman Capote’s Violets

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Snatching her hand, he pulled her along with him, and they ran until they reached a side street muffled and sweet with trees. As they leaned together, panting, he put into her hand a bunch of violets, and she knew, quite as though she’d seen it done, that they were stolen. Summer that is shade and moss traced itself in the veins of the violet leaves, and she crushed their coolness against her check. (p.81)

I have recently written about violets, and violets that have poignant reason for being in the book, and this little violet moment in Truman Capote’s Summer Crossing is a reminder that I have missed an opportunity to slow the moment down, and bring attention to what is going on in the minds of characters – I think I might now go back to it and go a little deeper.

Up until these sentences quoted below from the book, there has been mostly action and words that move the story on, and then suddenly there are these descriptive sentences, waxing and waning and slowing down, and you just know that there is something coming, a point in the book in which everything changes, and sure enough it does. With one short sentence (that I haven’t copied here) the lives of the characters change, and without all this slowing down and going deeper that comes just prior, I think the reader would feel like it had all come way too suddenly. As it is, it’s a lovely sliding into the moment, the reader eases into it, and then, there it is, the moment we waited for. ‘…heat’s stale breath yawned in their faces…’ too good.

It was wilting out on Lexington Avenue, and especially so since they’d just left an air-conditioned theatre; with every step heat’s stale breath yawned in their faces. Starless nightfall closed down like a coffin lid, and the avenue, with its newsstands of disaster and flickering, fly buzz sounds of neon, seemed an elongated, stagnant corpse.

A roar from underground echoed through her, for she was standing on top of a subway grating: deep in the hollows below she could hear a screeching of iron wheels, and then, nearer by, there came a fiercer noise: car horns clashed, fenders bumped, tires careened! And she whirled around to see a driver cursing Clyde, who was jayhopping across the street as fast as his legs would go. (p.80)

A short note on Christina Stead’s sentences.

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I’m reading A Christina Stead Reader, by Jean B Read, and note the long, rhythmic sentences that give the sense of riding waves into a sandy romantic beach.

Henry had discovered long ago that his fish were temperamental. On certain days, quite apart from the occasional sad twinges lent them by soot, fog or nightfall, the fish appeared to change colour, hourly, and even momently, due to secret and invisible movements of the water, or its animalculae, or to the filtration of light through the plankton, or to the thoughts of those finned images themselves. Sometimes, their bars and mottlings, their scars, freckles and wine marks would glow and burn, redden, blacken, glower: sometimes, the fish would turn paler and the outlines of their beauties fade.

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