Discover the Philosophical, Fantastical Fiction of Australian Writer Boris Glikman, and a Sneak Peek of His Upcoming Coffee Table Book, Anti-Labyrinths, with Art by Michael Cheval
Over the years, I have published many of Australian author, Boris Glikman‘s short stories on my blog, because I’m a fan of his work. He is currently working on a coffee table book collection of his fictional, philosophical, and fantastical stories that will be accompanied by the gorgeous, surrealistic paintings of artist Michael Cheval whose work inspired many of Boris’s stories. It is my pleasure to offer my readers a glimpse into Boris’s upcoming book, Anti-Labyrinths.
But first, here is a list of story titles by Boris Glikman and links to each of them on this blog (in order of latest publishing to earliest). If you have not already read this man’s work, I strongly urge you to do so as it is entertaining, fantastical, philosophical, and thought-provoking.
In an ancient land, distant in time and space, the absolute ruler decreed that a new construction would be built – in the centre of the capital city – an anti-labyrinth, a place where people could go to find themselves if they felt lost or at odds with themselves or with their lives.
What is an anti-labyrinth, you might well ask? Well, everything in this world has its antithesis. And so, just as a labyrinth is a place in which people get lost and experience confusion, frustration, and sometimes fear and despair, a maze in which one must traverse a long and often tortuous path to its centre, becoming disorientated while seeking the secrets that lie at its core, an anti-labyrinth is a place in which the centre lies at every point, where mysteries and truths are revealed and comprehended with each new step, a place without any dead ends, where every path leads to the finishing point, and where instead of getting lost, one finds oneself and realises one’s place in the Universe.
(This is also how the book Anti-Labyrinths is structured – you can enter or exit it at any point, you don’t have to begin reading it at its beginning or finish reading it at its end, and at every point of the book secrets and truths are revealed.)
An anti-labyrinth is not an abstract or fictional entity that resides only in books or in the imagination. On the contrary, an anti-labyrinth is a well-defined solid structure, yet its form is not stable and changes over time, sometimes taking on the shape of a building, other times the shape of a tree, occasionally the form of a tune, and many other forms too. Presently, it has taken on the form of a book which you are now holding in your hands.
After the cataclysm took place, people, or rather the beings that people transformed into, would refer to it as The Great Switch. When these beings recalled how the world had been before The Great Switch, what struck them above everything else was how blind they’d been in those times.
Back then, religious teachings and scientific theories kept mankind obedient, cowed through ominous prophecies of apocalypses and armageddons, when all life on Earth or indeed the Universe itself would come to an end. What no one had foreseen was that there could be far greater calamities than universal annihilation.
The Great Switch was a process which caused the inner and outer selves of human beings to swap places, so that the emotional, mental, and spiritual characteristics now became external and vice versa. It must be stressed that it wasn’t just a case of the intangible inner characteristics becoming visible; rather, the inner selves now literally became the outer physical bodies, while the physical bodies became invisible internal entities.
Naturally, the consequences of this event were momentous and far-reaching. No longer could anyone conceal their true inner self; it was exposed in all its glory and disgrace, in all its beauty and ugliness. Many lives were wrecked, relationships destroyed, and careers ruined, as a person’s internal neuroses, anxieties, delusions, hatreds, prejudices, insecurities, and character flaws were revealed to their partners, family, friends, work colleagues and strangers. The very structure of society was threatened, for its smooth running was greatly dependent upon people suppressing and hiding their true natures and feelings.
After The Great Switch, a large proportion of the world’s population disappeared completely. Of all the competing theories about this vanishing, the most popular one was that the superficial, soulless lives led by many had made them emotionally, mentally, and spiritually vacuous. Consequently, once the Great Switch had taken place, those people were rendered externally empty and became invisible.
Yet, for some, this turn of events proved to be a godsend. Before the Great Switch, physical appearance was of paramount significance; people’s impressions and opinions of you were predominantly based upon how you looked. In your daily interactions you were constantly, indeed instantly, judged on your looks. Your inner essence, being imperceptible to others, required much more time and effort to uncover. Few were interested or willing to do that, as, in those fast-paced times, people hardly had the time to discover their own inner selves, let alone the inner selves of others.
And so, it was especially touching to witness the pride and joy of some of those who had been physically ugly before this event, those who, despite all the slights and the disregard meted out to them by the world, maintained their dignity and self-respect, their souls not begrimed by bitterness, self-loathing or envy. Now, their inner purity sparkled brilliantly for all to see and marvel at.
On the other hand, it was rare to come across someone who was strikingly good-looking both before and after The Great Switch. Maybe it should not have been surprising for, given the ceaseless attention, admiration and favouritism that was lavished upon those of great physical beauty, it was inevitable that they would become self-absorbed and incapable of empathy. And so, after this cataclysm, a large proportion of the blindingly gorgeous turned into some of the most hideous beings around, their ugliness causing others to turn away in shock and disgust. Yet there was pity for them too, and a desire to help somehow.
It was particularly ironic how the mirror, once the most treasured possession of the beautiful people, now became the bane of their existence—something to avoid at all costs, lest they catch sight of their transformed selves. Indeed, mirrors and other reflective surfaces became horrifying and loathed objects for many in this post-Switch world. Few had the courage to see themselves exactly as they are. Perhaps they were terrified of facing the stark truths their reflections might reveal. Or, maybe they were afraid of what they might not see, given how easy it had been in the pre-Switch world to delude yourself about possessing undiscovered talents and untapped potential, and to convince yourself that all these marvellous gifts were supposedly hidden in the depths and shadows of your mind and soul.
It should be mentioned at this point that The Great Switch was so all-encompassing that its effects were not limited to mankind. All living organisms, from bacteria to whales, and everything in between, were affected too. However, unlike many human beings, none of the other living organisms disappeared after this event, thus settling once and for all the age-old question of whether it was only man who possessed a soul. It was now indisputable that all microrganisms, plants and animals had an inner self too. Moreover, in stark contrast to the prevalence of ugliness in post-Switch mankind, they all became beings of simple yet distinct beauty. From this it could be concluded that every non-human living creature, no matter how loathsome or harmful it might have been in the eyes of humanity, no matter how devoid it might have seemed of any redeeming features, had a pure, beautiful soul. Regardless of how much suffering and death such organisms as typhoid bacteria, malarial mosquitoes and lice have caused to mankind over the eons, their inner selves all shone with the same plain, steady radiance.
How exactly did The Great Switch come about and what had caused it is still being fiercely debated: Was it God’s doing? Or was it a hitherto unknown, yet completely natural stage of the evolutionary process? Perhaps it was something else entirely; a singular, unprecedented phenomenon that neither science nor religion could explain. What is not debatable is the radical transformation this upheaval wrought upon the Earth, for it had affected each and every living entity. Even embryos and foetuses gestating inside their expectant mothers were not immune from its effects.
Perhaps the scenario that I have painted seems implausible and utterly preposterous. Yet, who is to say that our current reality is not actually a temporary aberration from the state of being described above? What if it is only during this period of existence that we briefly possess physical features on the outside, and emotional, mental, and spiritual features on the inside? And what if, once in the Afterworld, we exist for all eternity with our inner selves externalised?
Is that as good a reason as any for us to start working on our souls, to start devoting as much time to developing and improving our emotional, mental and spiritual selves as we devote to bettering and beautifying our physical bodies? For, after all, these fragile corporeal bodies belong to us but for an instant of time while our inner selves may live on forever.
I leave you to ponder these questions. And if you choose to dismiss my suggestions as absurd nonsense, let’s catch up again to talk about them when we are both dwelling in the Afterworld. I will then say to you, without a trace of smugness or schadenfreude in my voice: “I told you so!”
 Indeed, given that one’s inner self was invisible, it was easy for others to ignore, if not deny its existence altogether. And this sort of repudiation was not limited to amoral types like ruthless criminals and callous psychopaths. Entire philosophies, such as solipsism, were based on the premise that it is impossible for an individual to determine whether other people have souls and minds.
It was perhaps inevitable that some bright spark in the Research and Development Department of a certain, internationally famous company would, during a brainstorming session, come up with the idea of a beverage consisting solely of pure light. The essential concept behind it was simplicity itself: Why, in these modern, fast-paced times, go through the lengthy and convoluted process of needing the Sun’s light to be photosynthesized by plants into chemical energy, which then has to be converted into carbohydrate molecules, which we then have to consume and digest in order for us to finally incorporate the energy from the Sun into our systems? Why not bypass all the intervening stages and just capture, bottle and imbibe the sunlight energy directly?
The management loved the proposal and supported its realization by all means possible. Thus, less than a year after the go-ahead was given, the product appeared in the shops: a soothing, delightful elixir of natural sunshine, free of any preservatives, added sugar or artificial flavours.
The drink provided an instant energy boost, sating hunger without any necessity for digestion, as well as immediately quenching thirst and making one feel warm all over. And, of course, it was suitable for all types of diets including but not limited to kosher, halal, vegetarian, vegan, raw vegan, gluten-intolerant and fruitarian. No one could take any issue with it, for it was pure light straight from the Sun. And, fortuitously, it was also very suitable for those dieting, for according to the famous E = mc^2 equation, even a tiny amount of mass released a tremendous amount of energy and thus one could quaff great quantities of this potation with hardly any weight gain.
Amazingly enough, apart from satisfying the most basic physical needs (food, water, warmth) in the hierarchy of needs, this beverage also enabled the consumer, and this was a completely unforeseen consequence, to become instantly spiritually enlightened once they have drunk it and thus fulfil the highest need in the hierarchy of needs – the yearning for self-actualisation. (Perhaps it should not have been so unexpected, for, by ingesting light one, ipso facto, became illuminated within, which is exactly what enlightenment is, and also as the very morphological structure of the word “enlightenment” indicated its intimate connection to light.)
This serendipitous effect was perfect for the contemporary society, for given that the online world now provided instant information, instant communication, instant entertainment and instant gratification of needs and desires, it was only natural there would also be a great demand for instant self-realisation. And with this product, one no longer had to spend countless hours meditating and repeating the mantra, or sit at the feet of a guru, or clamber up the Himalayan mountains in search of monasteries. Instead, there was the convenience of immediate spiritual awakening in a bottle, accessible to all.
The advertising campaign was built around the slogans “Instant EnLIGHTenment™ in a Bottle!”, “Fast Food for Body and Soul!”, and “Let the Light DeLIGHT You!”. For once the reality corresponded exactly to the promotional claims, as it truly was a unique kind of an invention the likes of which had never been seen before.
And so, as was to be expected, everyone flocked to buy the new drink, for, apart from its obvious appeal to the general public, its attraction was also irresistible to a diverse range of people with specific needs, such as the athletic types looking for an immediate energy fix, the spiritual seekers looking for the truth about themselves and the Universe, and the weight-conscious dieters, who immediately added it to their fastidious regiments. Of course, children loved it too, given its novelty value and its almost-magical properties.
This unqualified success gave the company the freedom and the impetus to experiment with new varieties of the product. The flavour of the original sunlight brand was a mixture of melon and orange. Later on, many more flavours became available, as the company’s researchers went about capturing and bottling light from other celestial objects, as well as from man-made sources.
It was discovered that each planet and star had its own unique taste: Moonlight was cooler on the palate than sunlight and had an indefinable element to it one couldn’t quite put a finger on; Mars tasted a bit like tomato juice; Venus was quite tart and almost vinegary, and thus was best drunk in combination with light from other sources; Jupiter and Saturn, as befitting their gaseous nature, were like the finest bubbly champagne; and supernovas had a mouth-exploding, extremely hot chilli flavour that only the very brave and the foolhardy dared to sample. It was also found that the illuminations of every city had their own particular flavour, although the health-conscious preferred only drinks made from natural sources and scorned the artificial flavours of light globes, fluorescent lights and neon signs, which invariably tasted like cheap wine.
With this product on the market, many believed the world was surely heading towards a utopian existence in which humanity would finally be liberated from its burdensome, imprisoning dependence upon plants and animals for nutrition; and the common man, having become instantly enlightened, would see beyond the constricting confines of self-interest and self-preservation and realise everything is inextricably connected and we are all one.
Yet, those who were optimistic that an idealistic state of being would, at last, be achieved had forgotten all about a deep-rooted and paradoxical aspect of human nature, namely that anything that brought pleasure and enjoyment was open to abuse, misuse, and overuse. Consequently, the very source of gratification and bliss, like for example alcohol, could and did mutate grotesquely into a dire threat to one’s very existence. Thus, obesity and all the maladies it caused was rife in those societies in which food was in ready supply; alcoholism was the scourge of many a land; addictions to both legal and illegal substances destroyed countless lives.
Given the way this beverage immediately satisfied, in one neat package, a person’s needs on so many levels, it was inevitable some would become hooked on it. As is often the case with addicts, they found ways to bypass the option of legally purchasing a limited quantity of the product, instead consuming for free limitless amounts by staring directly at the Sun and letting the light flow both into their open mouths, as well as into their eyes. Imbibing light through the eyes was something non-addicts would never do, and that particular experience was likened to mainlining heroin, giving an even greater kick.
These addicts quickly became known as “sunkies” (a portmanteau word blending “sun” and “junkie”), and this word coincidentally had the additional connotation of “sinking” which was very apt, for no drug addict had ever sunk as low as these sunkies. Most of those hooked on narcotics could be rehabilitated and again become respected members of a community. The Sun junkies however voluntarily gave up their sight and their mobility, two of the most precious and vital features a human being possesses, and assumed a static, plant-like existence, remaining rooted to one spot. They cared for nothing else but to follow with their turning heads the Sun’s daily progress across the sky, using their sense of warmth to locate it, their retinas having been burnt out, and to drink in the light.
“In Sol Veritas”, in Sun all Truths lie, was their motto and guiding principle, believing as they did that the Sun is the portal to the ultimate reality and the sole source of eternal, absolute truths. Their proselytising spiel to the non-addicts was quite persuasive, claiming that once you started staring at the Sun, you would quickly realise how petty and drab are the affairs of daily life, and how overflowing-with-meaning and magnificent are the inexhaustible revelations and infinite beauty emanating from the Sun, the place where perfection, transcendence, purity lies. The sunkies also extolled the stability and the security their lives now possessed, for the Sun’s motion, perfectly regular and unvarying each and every day, scorched away the unpredictability and the uncertainties of their previous everyday existence.
One saw these sunkies everywhere one went, sitting, standing or lying on the pavements, roads, grass, in the mud, in puddles, in gutters, totally oblivious to their surroundings. Their limbs became atrophied from complete lack of movement and turned into something resembling gruesome, withered tree branches, further accentuating their plant-like appearance. The sight of these addicts was both sickening and unspeakably sad, especially as many of them were young people who had sacrificed all the promises the future held out for them.
The greatest tragedy was that the sunkies denied their lives had turned into an irrevocable tragedy. Not only did they become physically blind, they also became blind to the reality of their situation, convincing themselves into believing they were the superior beings living superior lives, and the only ones in possession of the ultimate secrets of existence. They saw themselves as part of an elite caste, the vanguard of an egalitarian utopia to come, for, before the Sun everyone was equal. These Sun’s Sons (as they preferred to call themselves, in reference to their claimed filial kinship with the star, for they felt reborn through gazing unwaveringly at the Sun, and also in reference to the brotherhood they felt they had entered into) were totally untroubled by their loss of sight and mobility, for there was nothing down on Earth they wanted or needed to see or do. Indeed, they considered their blindness and immobility to be a godsend, for not only did it stop them from being distracted from giving all of their attentions to the Sun, but, even more importantly, it prevented their minds and souls from being contaminated by the imperfections and iniquities that so marked and defined earthly existence.
Thus, light in a bottle, previously the greatest blessing to mankind, became its greatest curse, causing a calamity the likes of which could not be imagined before its arrival on the market, for who could ever envision healthy people willingly becoming immobile vegetables, sacrificing their lives just so they could stare at the Sun and feel its warm smile upon their faces. The sunkies were now completely lost to society, both bodily and mentally, and no kind of rehabilitation was possible for them. In the bitterest of ironies that occur so often throughout the course of history, mankind, having liberated itself from its dependence upon plants, and thus attaining the greatest freedom it had ever possessed, now found an ever-growing proportion of its population choosing to lead a plant-like existence.
But this unfolding global tragedy was of little concern to the company that brought the beverage into the world, for its technicians were busily working on an even greater creation which would undoubtedly trump the bottled sunshine for popularity. Inspired by instant coffee, the new invention-in-the-making already had the brand name of Insta-Life, and, once completed, it would allow a person to experience their whole life in an instant. This surely was, or so the management thought, the ultimate desire and goal in this instantaneousness-obsessed era, for by condensing all of your life into one single moment, you no longer would have to trudge through decades of endless drudgeries and tediously repetitive routines of daily existence, through all the banal and boring stretches of life, and instead get it over and done with in a jiffy. Additionally, you would gain an unbeatable upper hand over your rivals in the field of fast living.
With the lure of holiday profits in their minds, the management kept prodding its engineers and scientists to work harder and harder, so that Insta-Life could appear on the market around Christmas time. And so, it was only a matter of time before this new invention swept the world, and people would begin to live and die faster than mayflies.
I recall that day well. My friends and I were checking out an abandoned, run-down mansion on the outskirts of town and that’s when we noticed that strange, inexplicable things were beginning to happen…
Every time we open a door to some room to take another look at it, the room and the things in it have changed and look completely different. The more adventurous amongst us explore the building more thoroughly, only to discover that it has an impossibly paradoxical structure. One girl gets spooked out and, in her hurry to get out of the house, jumps through the ground floor window. A moment later we hear a shriek of horror and bewilderment coming from the top floor – her senses refuse to accept that she ended up there and not on the overgrown lawn in the front yard.
Then someone screams out, “Don’t you see what is happening! None of this is real! This is all Virtual Reality! Someone is running this game and we are its involuntary, unwitting participants. So we can do anything; break all of society’s taboos, take any risks, shoot one another, because it is all a counterfeit, simulated world.”
At once I devise a way of putting this remarkable claim to the test. I speed off in my car and start driving along train tracks that ascend to a great height before ending abruptly in mid-air. My car goes for a graceful flight through the sky, spinning and turning, soaring up on the warm air currents, then gradually descending, rising again higher and higher, then stopping and hovering in mid-air.
Finally, I get tired of flying and crash-land on top of a high-rise building. ‘I wonder if I have sustained any injuries,’ I think to myself. ‘If this really is a virtual world, then I should be just fine!’
It occurs to me that if in fact my life has been virtual reality all along, then that would certainly explain a lot of things. I always thought this world and my life in it never made any sense – things were just too absurd and incoherent. Horrible, unthinkably terrifying events like massacres, famine, persecutions, injustices which would never happen in the real world kept occurring, time after time after time.
Now I could see why certain things kept getting lost and disappearing in my life, why my life never worked out right, why something always got in its way and ruined its forward progress. Now I could comprehend why I could never fit in anywhere and always felt at odds with the whole world, for this wasn’t an authentic environment, but rather an artifice of someone else’s mind; a degenerate, corrupt copy of the real reality.
No, this wasn’t the universe that the Absolute Being had created, according to His flawlessly sublime and ideal specifications, but rather a miscreation of some devious, impious, immoral human being. And so it contained within its make-up all the faults, deficiencies and imperfections that every human construction possesses, as well as being coloured by the particularly nasty character of the cad running this simulation.
It was also obvious that this contemptible creature held, for some reason or another, an intensely bitter grudge against me in particular. He obviously meted out the worst of his cruel tricks on me, judging by how my life has been just one senseless absurdity after another.
‘What kind of a person am I, really, outside of this sham construction? What is my life actually like in the real world? Who is the wise guy that created this diabolical game? What’s he got against me? Wait till I find my way out of this virtual world and get my hands on him! I’ll make him pay for all he has done to my life!’
And just then, an even more devastating thought strikes me: ‘What if I am the evil genius who created and is operating this game? What if it is I who has inflicted all of this misery, pain, suffering onto myself and the whole world? But why would I do that? Why would I torment myself so?’