Ken MacLeod was born in Stornoway, Isle of Lewis, Scotland, on August 2, 1954. He is married with two grown-up children and lives in West Lothian. He has an Honours and Masters degree in biological subjects and worked for some years in the IT industry. Since 1997 he has been a full-time writer, and in 2009 was Writer in Residence at the ESRC Genomics Policy and Research Forum at Edinburgh University. He is the author of thirteen novels, from The Star Fraction (1995) to Intrusion (Orbit, 2012), and many articles and short stories. His novels and stories have received three BSFA awards and three Prometheus Awards, and several have been short-listed for the Clarke and Hugo Awards.
Listen to Ken MacLeod’s story, ‘Maxwell’s Platter’
‘This is unexpected,’ said Adam Smith.
He was in his best suit. In his hands were his two famous books. Around him: green grass to the horizon. Above him: only sky. The plain’s other occupants were dotted across it. Some stood, some sat, some lay outstretched. One at least was engaged in productive activity. Not far away, a mound of earth had piled up. Every few seconds a spadeful of soil flew up from the hole beside it.
Smith strolled over to investigate. The hole was already fifteen feet deep. At the bottom of it, James Hutton laboured with a spade.
‘My good man!’ cried Smith. ‘What are you doing?’
Hutton looked up.
‘I am investigating the geology of this place,’ he said. ‘It is most perplexing. I have found nothing but topsoil. My spade has not struck so much as a pebble.’
Smith smiled down at him. ‘No prospect of an end, James?’
‘None at all,’ replied Hutton.
‘When you’re in a hole,’ said a familiar voice, ‘stop digging!’
Ben Franklin looked older than Smith remembered, stouter of girth and shorter of sight, and even more dishevelled. His eyes glittered behind his spectacles as he gazed around.
‘How like James,’ he said, ‘to find himself in the fields of Elysium, and to seek rock! Still, God wants us to be happy. Speaking of which, I could really do with a beer.’
At the word, a foaming bottle manifested in his hand. He peered at the label. ‘Sam Adams!’ he said. ‘I’m glad my old friend has found immortality.’ He raised the bottle, and drank, then belched.
Smith stared at him. ‘My dear sir!’ he said. ‘You appear to be taking this very casually. Surely, our situation should prompt the most solemn reflections.’
‘Not from me!’ the Yankee retorted. ‘I always expected to find myself re-issued in a finer edition, revised and corrected by the great Author of all.’
Smith kept to himself the thought that Franklin did not seem much improved. He sighed and looked around.
‘If only,’ he mused, ‘my good friend David were here.’
‘Surely you do not fear,’ said Franklin, ‘that Hume has gone to … another place?’
Smith shook his head. ‘Not that, no. I see around me the godly and the freethinkers alike. Why, there is the good Reverend Reid, and my lord Abercrombie, and poor Wilson, and … ‘
‘No women,’ said Franklin.
The two men shared a worried glance.
‘Perhaps this is not the abode of the blessed after all,’ said Smith.
‘Then where are we?’ cried the Yankee.
As before, his cry was answered. An extraordinary figure, tall and lanky, bearded like some biblical patriarch, strode across the sward in flapping coat, and stopped before them. In his hands he held a shining flat silver disc, about the size of a dinner plate.
‘My name is James Clerk Maxwell,’ he informed them. ‘I lived and died a century after you. Mr Franklin, your experiments with the lightning bore fruit in my time, and more thereafter. Very strange fruit, I fear.’
Maxwell passed the silvery disc to Franklin, who turned it this way and that, then passed it on to Smith. Around its rim was a title.
‘Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh – the first hundred years.’
On the back was a label. ‘Twenty-Five pounds.’
‘Gentlemen,’ said Maxwell, ‘it would appear that our personalities have in a distant futurity been inscribed upon some electromagnetic medium, perhaps for the instruction of the young.’
‘And it would further appear,’ said Smith, ‘that we are in the gift shop!’
Recorded, edited and produced by Laura Cameron-Lewis and Andrew Eaton-Lewis of (g)Host City. www.virtualfestival.org and mastered by Hamish Brown.
Additional voices on Ken MacLeod’s ‘Maxwell’s Platter’ by Ryan Van Winkle, Drew Wright and Martin McKenna.