Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Here you'll find not only the complete text of Fergus Bannon's novel Judgement, but also some of his articles and stories, including Burning Brightly (first published in Interzone), and Ten Things You Never Wanted To Know About Neurosurgery (Because You Were Too  Well-Adjusted to Ask). You can also buy his novel Judgement in various ebook formats for a measly two dollars, you stinking cheapskates.

Further down this page you can read a few words about Fergus by the people who know him (scroll down to read them: the first is by Hal Duncan (author of Ink and Vellum) and the second by Jim Steel.

A mysterious figure, Fergus was last seen off the coast of Somalia in a schooner purchased in cash from a Miami-based financial consultancy subsequently closed down following a DEA investigation into drug trafficking. No links between Fergus and the shipping of narcotics were ever found or proven, although records taken from the offices of the consultancy corroborate his growing interest in the site of a major cometary impact in the Tunguska region of Siberia in 1904, an interest that led to his seeking finance for an expedition in order to recover 'artifacts'.

Precise details of what took place in the depths of the Siberian forests at that time are not known, although of those accompanying him - amongst whom are numbered an ex-Cosmonaut, a Khazak pop singer who had one hit in 1978 before fading into obscurity, and a US documentary maker since placed in psychiatric care having later been found wandering weeping and naked in the private grounds of a major Hollywood producer - none claim to be able to recall what actually took place once they reached their destination.

Following his acquittal on charges of fraud and kidnapping due to a lack of evidence, Fergus attempted to develop a new form of MRI technology intended to facilitate communication with the dead, a move which is believed to have greatly contributed to his subsequent fall from grace within the UK medical establishment.
- Gary Gibson

The Fergus Bannon Effect

Hal Duncan is the author of the award-winning fantasy novels Vellum and Ink, published by Pan Macmillan and the UK, and more recently Escape From Hell! published by Monkeybrain Books.

I may never have been a writer if it hadn't been for Fergus Bannon. I don't recall exactly when we first met, back in 199_, when I was a young student at Glasgow Uni, drawn into the seditious sphere of the GSFWC; but I know I was only an innocent lad at the time, newly arrived from the small town of Kilwinning, a wide-eyed naïf in my chicken-bone necklace and green face-paint. (Iraq War protest or one too many viewings of Apocalypse Now? You decide.) Just as one leather-jacketed, slouching renegade by name of Jim Steel took me under his musical wing, to open my ears to the glories of The Stooges, The Ramones, Radio Birdman and suchlike, it was one surgical-gowned, growling reprobate by name of Fergus Bannon who opened up my eyes, searing his scribblings on the inside of my skull -- right at the back, by the medulla oblongata, the snake-brain.

(When I say "growling," by the way, I mean literally growling, his years as a bona fide seadog -- Norwegian trawler? African gun-runner? Chinese pirate? he never specified -- rendering his voice as rough as a barnacle-crusted boat. And when I say "opened my eyes," I mean literally opened my eyes. He said something about an experimental development of the Ludovico Technique that he needed "control" subjects for. I was young. I didn't realise what I was in for.)

It wasn't long after the Mezcal Incident, I think. The Mezcal Incident itself isn't particularly relevant, though perhaps the fact that Fergus deemed the Glasgow University Union Beer Bar with its rugby-players and drinking games "fucking wank" affords some idea of his spirited personality; and maybe the way he led both Jim Steel and myself to the nearby Chimmi Chunga's, to drink Mezcal by the individual miniature bottle -- each with its own individual hallucinogen-saturated worm -- perhaps that gives a sense of the sort of influence he exerted on at least one impressionable young soul; and a sense of his infectious... lust for life might well be imparted if I tell you that, according to the stories told afterwards, even as Jim Steel ended up on stage with a band that night, Fergus was reputedly chatting up a female friend somewhat... advanced in years. So the story goes, at least; I was too busy waking up on a train in bloody Troon to bear witness to the events of that notorious night.

So, how does all this bear on the birth of Hal Duncan as a writer. Well, there were the stories, of course, in the first place: "The Unusual Genitals Party"; "Burning Brightly"; "Binary", those twisted and twisting tales. But most of all there was the Experiment. I won't go into the details too deeply, save to say that one day Fergus told his fellow members of the GSFWC that he was looking for "control subjects" for a "scientific study" he was doing. It would involve being in a Machine for... oh, maybe an hour or two. It might be a little claustrophobic and... uncomfortable, as we'd have to be "secured" to prevent movements that would "fuck it up". There wasn't too much danger of small pieces of metal being propelled into the centre of our brains, he said. The noise might be rather... loud and discomfiting. But hey, we'd get to see what the inside of our brains looked like!

Needless to say, I jumped at the chance.

The Experiment was... an experience. You don't need to know much more than that, only that while we were being "stimulated" Fergus asked -- well, more demanded, really, in his usual colourful parlance -- that we focus all our attention on the stimuli presented us; and that in the periods of non-stimulation (oh, the blessed periods of non-stimulation!) we allow our minds to empty, to think of nothing at all, simply drift into the nirvana of nullity. He may or may not have used the term "blank slate". Either way, I do remember actually coming to feel quite comfortable in the Machine after a while. And the results he got with me as his subject were, he said, remarkable.

When you're on the path to being a writer, a lack of confidence in yourself is one of the key obstacles. Along the way, at some point, one must find the all-important belief in one's abilities, the conviction that you can and will do it. Even the validation that one gets from friends and family, or teachers and tutors, even that may not be enough to inspire the lunatic faith required to take a lifetime's writing and burn every last motherfucking word of it while laughing maniacally, to start from scratch, reborn as a writer, knowing that you are indeed made for this. Being told you have talent is nice, but it don't always cut it. Fergus showed me -- with science! -- that I was, in his words, "a fucking freak of nature."

Where the graphs and images of other subjects showed a degree of difference between "stimulated" and "non-stimulated" states, you see, my brain went from being "lit up like a fucking Christmas tree" to "no one fucking at home at all". The up-down, on-off results were, according to Fergus, so clear and so perfectly in synch with the sequencing of the optical stimuli -- and God, I can still see those stomach-churning stimuli now if I but close my eyes -- that no other scientist would find them remotely credible as anything but complete fabrication. Did he say "aberration" or "abomination" that day? I can't recall. But hearing that I had the ability to flick my brain on and off "like a fucking light switch," to go from overload to utter vacancy in 60 milliseconds flat... well, I knew then that the two mental states most critical to being a writer were open to me: I could be both crazy and stupid.

There may or may not have been subsequent Experiments carried out by Fergus in the aim of harnessing such abilities in those of us he affectionately referred to as his "bald monkeys." These Experiments may or may not have involved other stimuli -- optical, audio, tactile, biophysical, pharmaceutical, psychological, even literary (Fergus being convinced that Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is best viewed as a neuroplasticity research study rather than "mere journalism".) These Experiments may or may not have integrated the Ludovico Technique with another Machine that Fergus referred to only as the "parallax viewer." My inability to confirm or deny such rumours may or may not be due to engrammatic imprinting, a behavioural control chip, the presence of a small explosive implanted at the base of my skull which Fergus still has the remote detonator for, or simply the ongoing danger of attracting attention from the various intelligence agencies Fergus refers to as "goat-fucking lizard-faced Nazi spooks from Peru." Or all of the above. One thing I can say for sure though: I may never have been a writer if it hadn't been for Fergus Bannon.

Whether that's a good or a bad thing is, like the moral consequences of many of Fergus's actions, debatable.

Fergus Bannon
Jim Steel is the book reviews editor for Interzone, and his poorly researched and superficial reviews can also be found in The Fix, VideoVista, Whispers of Wickedness, The Zone, Soundchecks and Vector. His ‘fiction’ also has a habit of appearing unexpectedly in strange corners of the world, causing unnecessary distress to both editors and readers alike.

It seems a bit of a turnaround for me to be writing a testimonial for Fergus Bannon; after all, the first time I met him was when he was interviewing me. It was such a long time ago that I no longer remember the questions. I do remember that my answers caused him much amusement, though. “No - not the face!” and “You’ve got the wrong man!” seemed to elicit the biggest laughs at the time and it turned out, of course, that he had indeed mistaken me for someone else. However, we would bump into each other often over the years as our paths crossed. I was a jobbing journalist and he was an international trouble-shooter. If someone – a military junta, for example – had trouble, they could call Fergus and he would turn up and… well, you get the idea.

But if Fergus works hard, he also knows how to play hard. Once he gets to know you he likes to keep in touch, and it takes a brave man to turn down an invitation to one of the cocktail parties at his Glasgow ranch house. We are all adults here: we are talking about drug cocktails, of course, although you don’t know which ones until you walk through the door and one of his assistants hits you in the back of the neck with a syringe. The Viagra/sodium pentothal night is particularly legendary, and not just for the scale of the guest list. Is ‘legendary’ the correct term for something that is on video? No matter. It suffices to say that I wholeheartedly recommend his novel. I am very pleased to see that it has finally been published, and it is typical of Fergus’s generosity of spirit that he said recently he only wished he had a contract for me.