Some Thoughts About Caitlin R Kiernan’s Black Helicopters

Professor Zeh sits in his office in Heidelberg. It’s 1969. Rain falls outside and Zeh’s office window is nothing but a dark grey rectangle. He’s smudged the ink in his notebook, jotting down a thought about Bohr’s interpretation of measurement he had while staring at his reflection in a mirror brushing his teeth this morning. Gemeinsamer Realität, Zeh writes over the faintly smudged word Mehrfachinterpretationen. Immediately, he crosses it out and writes dekohärent. Zeh frowns and feels irritated. His thinking this morning is messy. Inexact. In another room nearby he hears someone’s muffled shout followed by laughter.

Here is the day. It’s 2021. Alice is using the government-issued testing kit to see whether she’s caught the killer virus before she goes out to meet her friends. They’re going for a walk in a wood near Canterbury where, she says, there’s a stream for the kids to splash in.

“I need to take an old towel,” she tells me.

“All our towels are old,” I reply.

The inky smudge of her test creeps along the swab where a ghostly line begins to manifest. I’m re-reading the Signalman chapter – Chapter 16 – from Black Helicopters and thinking about the difference between real, natural horror and supernatural fictive horror. The Signalman examines a “hazy smear to demarcate the brewing of an apocalypse”. My brother believes the killer virus was manufactured in a lab in China. Wet market. The virus, it seems is just another form of information. Not language as virus but virus as language. Information travels faster than the speed of light. There’s now a quantum fuzziness at our everyday level of reality.

There are points where the narrative coheres around events: something falls from space and grows in the sea around Deer Island. It invokes a dilation of time, constellations shift and the Moon is gone or there never was the Moon. At then end of the novel Lizbeth Elle Margeride, the White Beast, gives some explanation to Ptomela, she tells her: “Too bad there isn’t ever going to be time for all those answers.” That’s the nature of Black Helicopters.

As long as there’s a phase relationship between all this then it’s all coherent. Coherence is time-based and fiction get incoherent over time. Only isolation maintains coherence. Black Helicopters charts that decoherence.

It’s 2012 and Ptomela plays the recording of strange, viral broadcast – “Black queen white. White queen black” – to agents in a Dublin bar. Ivoire is with Sixty-Six on Deer Island. There’s a miasma, a muddling aura surrounding every agent of X that’s a weapon in an invisible war (a metaphysical chess game?) ever-ongoing. The agents of X and Y and the Albany seem to have purpose and function only in relation to each other. Both are concerned with causality. Ivoire realises this:

“I am beginning to feel as though I was almost meant to come here and to be what I have become, these days and this island and Ivoire set on an inevitable intersecting path from the birth of the universe, Planck time, zero to ~10-43 seconds, and there was never any doubt that this is how it would go.”

In 2035, Mr Carlisle, the reporter, describes an all-media suicide du jour (while imagining a conversation with the Woman in White?).

2112. Aboard one of the village barges Ahmed Andrushchenko shows Bartleby Johnson a cannister of the substance from the sea around Deer Island. It confirms the conspiracy theory he’s investigating. At that time, it seems, the world has already flooded.

In 2152, aboard a space station above Mars, Ptolema prepares an attack from whatever person the twins, Ivoire and Bête, have been collapsed into. She has bomb ready to distribute the alien substance from the sea around Deer Island into the Martian atmosphere.

When, in 1966, we are informed that Madeline Noble will give birth to Patricia Noble who will give birth to Olivia Estrid “Sixty-Six” Noble there is a causal chain established: “Link to link to link. / Dot to dot to dot.” Drugs are used by CIA to turn Madeline Noble into a remote viewer who can see the future. It seems that Madeline Noble also births X and Y and Albany and their attempts to control the narrative of the future.

Lizbeth Margeride dreams of the white room in 2001 where she plays chess against her sister and Thisby tells them that “Quietness is wholeness at the centre of stillness.”

It’s April 2021 and I’ve become part of a superposition in relation to Black Helicopters. It’s me that’s imposing a textuality on Kiernan’s writing here. These chapters are entangled. The plot advances kinematically. Classical fiction insists on a shared, coherent narrative. It needs characters, locations and time to anchor it to a “reality” the reader can measure/apprehend. In Black Helicopters the chapters are waves from which the shoggoths of comprehension emerge.

“The end of the world never starts without us.”

Some thoughts about the previous novel in this trilogy, Agents of Dreamland, here.