Seb Doubinsky’s novella, Paperclip, was extremely fun to read. It is set on Earth, in a world similar to ours, but countries are all run as City-States, and have different names. The story feels both classic and modern. There are references to social media and other technology, but the story has a real 60s detective noir feel. The story follows several characters, including Georg Ratner, the commissioner, Kurt Wagner, a rich capitalist, and Susan, a documentarian. Heavy topics are covered, especially political incompetence, but it is written in a light satirical way, and you’ll find yourself reading for the sake of the writing as much as anything. I also read Missing Signal which is a superb work and set in the same World. Seb’s books will appeal to literary as well as genre readers.
PAPERCLIP by Seb Doubinsky
RELEASE DATE: August 17, 2021
GENRE: Dystopian / Noir / Speculative Fiction
BOOK PAGE: https://meerkatpress.com/books/paperclip/
In New Babylon, leader of the Western alliance of the city-states, armament mogul Kurt Wagner has a secret dream: to build a space station to save mankind. Little does he know that he is the target of competing plots involving geopolitics and black magic. In the background, a film director with a political conscience, a bodyguard with a secret mission, a driver with an occult hobby and a talking bird are trying to make sense of their world, hoping to see their wishes come true—which they will, but not in the way they expected.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Seb Doubinsky is a bilingual writer born in Paris in 1963. His novels, all set in a dystopian universe revolving around competing cities-states, have been published in the UK and in the USA. He currently lives with his family in Aarhus, Denmark, where he teaches at the university.
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“Phew, it’s hot in here . . . Let’s step outside.”
“Oh my, what a view!”
“Right? Sheryl was so lucky to find this mansion. So pseudo-Edwardian! Love it!”
“And then I told him—Oh sorry, I knocked your glass!”
“No problem. It’s champagne. It won’t stain.”
“I heard Rust threatened Sheryl that he would have her show canceled if he won the election.”
“I’m sorry, I’ll squeeze right here, if you don’t mind. This balcony is a very crowded place.”
“Well, it’s so warm in there.”
“And so cold out here. I think I’m going back in.”
“What do you expect? It’s November! At least it isn’t raining!”
“Do you mind if I smoke?”
“What’s your next project, Susan? You don’t mind me calling you, Susan, do you?”
“I’m thinking about doing a documentary now.”
“What? But you’ve just won a Golden Star for best movie!”
“Did you see president Delgado’s dress? She looked stunning!”
“I thought she looked tired. And she’s put some weight on.”
“Might be stress eating. I understand, with all those awful polls.”
“Isn’t that Wagner over there?”
“Kurt Wagner, the CEO of Allied Weapons International.”
“Maybe, yes. Who is he talking with?”
“I don’t know. Someone from Delgado’ staff, perhaps. Or a New Moscow spy.”
“After all, Rust did call Delgado a Bolshevik.”
“Pretty pink for a red, in my humble opinion.”
“A documentary about what? Did Netflix contact you about a project?”
“No, no, it’s my own idea. I feel like doing something different now. More personal.”
“Is that the bridge we see from here? With all the lights?”
“Excuse me, I would like to squeeze through.”
“Is that Lee Jones? The writer?”
“Must be. He seems already drunk.”
“And who is he talking to?”
“Manny Povero, I think”
“The artist, you know. The painter.”
“And the old guy?”
“City Commissioner Ratner.”
“Ah yes, I didn’t recognize him. He looks older on TV. Does look like a cop, though. Sexy, in a violent kind of way.”
“I told Sheryl it was crazy to have this party. Rust will use it against her and Delgado. And the rest of the media, for that matter.”
“Do you know Sheryl Boncoeur well? I mean, personally?”
“Yes, we were in journalism school together, way back when. She’s always been a killer.”
“Her talk show is awesome.”
“Yeah, but I think she has more enemies than friends now.”
“Everybody loves to hate Sheryl. Herself included.”
“Is that the airport, over there? With all the lights?”
“Yes, that is an excellent idea, Mister Wagner. A new pilot-less helicopter? Like a huge drone, you mean? I will tell president Delgado about it. Oh, you have already?”
“Love that dress Sylvia is wearing.”
“It’s a Chanel. New collection”
“Good her husband’s rich.”
“I heard Wagner bought it for her. They’re seeing each other, I heard.”
“Well, who isn’t he seeing?”
“Oh sorry, I stepped on your toes!”
“No worries. I’m just afraid this balcony will end up collapsing at some point.”
“Manny, this is Susan DeVeere. Susan, Manny Povero.”
“I have seen all your films.”
“Well, I love your art. Looking forward to your exhibit at the Contemporary Art Museum!”
“Thank you. Congratulations on your Golden Star!”
“Well, that’s all thanks to Lee’s superb novel! I just had to add images to his fabulous dialogues.”
“I’m freezing. I’m going back in now.”
“I’ll go with you.”
“Phew! I can breathe better now.”
“Yeah, it’s nice when it’s less crowded.”
“President Delgado will address her guests in a few minutes.”
“Did you hear that? I didn’t know she was going to make a speech.”
“I hope it won’t be a long one.”
“I know what you mean. Dreadful.”
“Let’s go hear her.”
“I’m staying here.”
“Come on Lee, be sociable for once. Show your support.”
“Fuck my support. I only support my whiskey.”
“It’s okay, I’ll stay with Lee.”
“I have to go. It’s my duty.”
“I’ll go with you, Georg.”
“Thanks Manny. The arts supporting law and order. I like that.”
“I don’t, but I’ll go with you anyway.”
“I fucking hate politics. Poor Georg. Wouldn’t like to be in his shoes. Top cop must be the worst job in the world. And congratulations for your Golden Star, by the way. Can’t remember if I called you that night or not.”
“Thank you, and yes, you did, actually. Are you working on a new book?”
“I’m always working on a new book. My ex-wives cost me a lot.”
“Is that the presidential palace we see other there? With all the lights?”
Kurt Wagner brought a hand to his aching head and almost took his eye out with his heavy unique golden sports watch.
“Ouch!” he exclaimed, then immediately chuckled because it was funny. Well, sort of. He was so drunk last night he had forgotten to take his watch off. He suddenly wondered what else he had forgotten about last night. And where was he? Well, a bed. He was in a bed and he was looking at a ceiling. He half-raised himself on his elbows, feeling the pain in his head rumble like a heavy storm. A room, possibly a hotel room. A room unknown to him, at least. A new room. A discovery, of sorts. He was naked too, or at least he assumed he was, as a sheet hid his groin, but his legs stuck out, bare. Hum, hum. The splitting headache jingled in his brains like a rattle from hell, sending lightning shards into his eyes. He felt like a Hindu deity, Shiva the Destroyer, or rather, in this case, Shiva the Destroyed. He chuckled, sending more waves of pain through his body.
A scent tickled his nose. Perfume. A woman’s perfume. Panicked, he quickly looked around. The pillow next to his was deformed and the sheets more wrinkled than necessary. Had there been someone here with him? In his bed? Had they slept together? He lifted his fingers to his nose. Yes, they definitely had sex. Shit. Who was she? He sat up in spite of the glowing headache, trying to gather his memories in the white-noise storm raging behind his forehead.
He had never experienced such a blackout before and he wondered if she had spiked his drink. A spy? Blackmail? Had she taken pictures? Was she on the pill or was she going to sue him for child support, asking for astronomical sums? He thought of calling his lawyer immediately, then decided against it. No need for unnecessary paranoia. The world was bad and expensive enough already. No need to add a couple zeros to the bills of his existence.
Looking around, a new thought crossed Kurt Wagner’s mind: where were Omar and Jet, respectively his bodyguard and his chauffeur? He slowly got up to pick up his clothes. He worriedly searched his pockets and was relieved to find everything there—the phone, the keys, the wallet, which he opened: nothing was missing. Even the little cellophane package with the two last Synth pills was intact. Synth, the wonder drug. Before discovering Synth, Kurt had tried all sorts of stimulants, from high grade cocaine to low grade meth, but he had always been disappointed. The effects didn’t last long enough, or the drug made him sick, or whatever. Synth was different. Synth was magic. It had all the effects you wanted, modifying your surroundings as you wished, and you could stop it anytime. You could also function with it in everyday life, Synth superimposing your dream on reality in seamless fashion—and nobody would notice. It had appeared out of nowhere, and had conquered the city within a year. There were no known side effects, nor real addiction problems. It wasn’t even that expensive, as a pill could last up to twelve hours. He carefully put back the cellophane package in his pocket and made a mental note to get a new batch soon.
He checked his phone, wondering if he might have taken a picture of the mysterious woman he had more than likely spent the night with. If it had been a woman, that is. He chuckled again, although he didn’t really find the thought so funny. No pictures. Just the usual selfies and crap.
He decided to call Omar. He waited, listening to the tone and trying not to move his head too much. He caught a glimpse of his naked self in a mirror hanging on the wall. A sad, white, suffering body, slightly trembling from alcohol poisoning. The media had nicknamed him “The Emperor,” but right now he felt more like a helpless little shit with a killing headache. My kingdom for an aspirin, forget the horse.
Omar’s voice sounded both scared and relieved. That was actually how Kurt felt too, but he hid it behind a growl.
“Omar! Where the fuck are you and where the fuck were you last night?”
“I was afraid you would ask this question, sir.”
The rusted mechanism of Wagner’s brains began to move counterclockwise, making him wince. He couldn’t remember a darned thing.
“Because you told me and Jet not to follow you, sir.”
“Yes, sir. Because of the lady. She objected to our presence, sir.”
“So there was a lady!”
The words had escaped his lips.
“How do you mean, sir?”
“Nothing. I was just . . . testing you.”
The conversation sounded more and more absurd, even to his own ears.
“Of course, sir.”
“So you just went back to the mansion? You and Jet?”
“And . . . where are you now?”
“At the mansion, sir. We were waiting for your call.”
“I could have been killed. Or abducted.”
“You didn’t push the alarm button on your phone, sir. And we could trace it to a hotel. It didn’t move all night.”
“Of course, yes,” Wagner mumbled.
He had forgotten all about the alarm button and the tracking chip inside his phone. And almost everything else, actually—his jackets, shoes, computer, car, plane, what not: all chipped and traceable. Equally reassuring and scary.
“So you have the address, I suppose,” Kurt resumed, sounding impatient. He liked that sound. The Emperor was back.
“Yes, sir. It’s here, on the computer. We can even find the room number, if you want.”
“No need. You and Jet come and pick me up at the hotel.”
His two concrete hands squeezed his temples with all their might, and he was glad there were no witnesses to hear him whimper as he bent over to pick up his underwear.