John looked through the first few pages, which appeared to be describing a kind of weird magical practice. Something utterly impracticably pointless. Crazy pseudo-scientific nonsense, John reckoned.
That initial chapter encouraged him to take a pen and build for himself a “sidual”, which, it explained, was a magical symbol.
The book told him to design it any way that seemed sensible to him, but that while designing it he should keep in mind the thing he wanted to achieve in the universe, the way he wanted the world to respond to him. It encouraged him to steal imagery from the book itself, and from movies and TV shows that he’d seen, things the book described as the universal unconscious, the intrinsic and subliminal meaning and connotations of every word and action which happens in the world.
The word “Sidual”, it explained, was itself a sidual, being the residual remains of the word “residual.”
The book appeared to be instructing him to break down his desires, his wants, his demands of the universe into simple symbolic ideas. He should then combine those ideas and spread the resulting symbols as far and wide as possible. This would somehow make the world more likely to contain the actual thing which the symbols he’d made and reduced to merely their residual components represented.
The book suggested that the universe would read this ‘sidual’ magic, reconstruct the entire meaning of that desire for itself, and then feed it to him back on a plate.
“What a load of old nonsense” thought John, his eyes tiring from trying to read in the semi darkness and his hangover throbbing in his head.
The book, however, had anticipated his disbelief, and went on to explain exactly how this “Sidual Magic” was supposed to work, in real, physical, terms.
The word ‘magic’ here was apparently misleading. This was no supernatural effect, merely a system to take advantage of the way human brains worked.
It used an example, of course, which had already been hinted at by the cover of the booklet.
The author of the book claimed that he himself had invented a sidual, by writing down his goal, his demand of the universe, and manipulating the letters until he had come to an image. He described eliminating all the vowels from the sentence, and then all the letters which
still seemed redundant. He’d combined that with important images from his life, his culture, his own involvement in the universal subconscious, to arrive at the image of a short fat penguin with slitty eyes which appeared on the cover of the book.
John yawned. His attention had been caught because, let’s face it, who doesn’t want to learn the secrets of how to get whatever they want from life. However he was still deeply skeptical.
He read on, wondering vaguely why he wasn’t trying to get to sleep since clearly that would be the best thing for him, what with having to work again in the morning.
The author described his sidual in more detail. Explaining how, because of the system used to build the penguin, the shape of it’s body was made from certain constants, certain universally recognizable contours and curves. The ones which had been gradually evolved
through what it called “memetic evolution” to most closely match the neural structures of the brain which symbolized that desire, that need, that gap in the universe which the author had tried to fill.
The book suggested that the activation of those structures in other people’s minds would push those minds towards believing in the power of the symbols, in the power of the sidual, even if the minds it was recreated in didn’t fully understand the significance of them. Even if they didn’t believe. Possibly especially if they didn’t understand.
The book seemed to read his own mind, in that it preempted his skepticism.
It tried to explain how the very fact that he was reading about these ideas pushed those ideas closer to reality, that the more a human being shared these ideas with the author the more likely those ideas were to appear in the universe. As though reality, at least the shared consensual reality that made money and laws and mathematics real, would somehow transcend the fact that the people reading them didn’t have a complete description of them and still make the function of the sidual active.
The book stressed that while the symbols themselves were not, of course, in any way conscious, they could push the consciousness of anyone who came into contact with those symbols into working to make those symbols real.
People, it explained, feel a desire to make more money just because of the meaning attributed to money by the rest of society. So similarly, merely contemplating these other symbols would bring them into reality too.
It pondered the significance of money some more.
Money, it maintained, was intrinsically valueless. You can’t eat a bit of paper. You can’t burn a coin for heat. The only thing you can do with money is believe in it’s value, and trade it for something new.
This is why it was important to take an already known sidual for the basis of your own, the book claimed. To adapt and change those that were already an important part of your life.
It gave examples of siduals already “active” in modern life: Flags, words, money, history, mathematics, all of fiction, all of politics.
In fact it went on in some length about how the division of the political landscape into “Left” and “Right” forced people to identify with one or the other, forced them to believe in one or the other, to support and love one or the other despite the fact that political ideas are not really something so easily categorized.
People, the book maintained, were easily influenced. It was easy to make them contemplate your ideas, your passions, and in doing so to make those ideas and passions more solid in their own minds, and the minds of everyone they came into contact with.
As though just by spreading and encouraging the copying of certain ideas, one could give those ideas flesh, give them consciousness.
The book described some of the personality traits of this short fat penguin. It described his searching narrow eyes, skeptical of everything he saw. His waddle, which symbolized a cautious groping for the truth, never willing to put his weight on a footing not already tested, already proven.
It explained that as more details of the penguin’s personality were revealed throughout the rest of the booklet, the very fact he was reading about this penguin would make that penguin real to him in some sense. Make it animated in his mind, building and reinforcing the penguin’s semantic existence in yet another brain. Stretching it’s position in the universal
The penguin would be made real.
John’s drowsiness started to seep over his entire body, relaxing his muscles, and his mind’s credulity.
He pondered this penguin for a while. Wondering what exactly had been the desire behind the person who had created it. Did he want Wealth? Power? Knowledge? Love? Readers? Fans? Followers? World domination?
He closely examined the penguin. Looked at it’s strangely round wings, and wondered what they meant. It’s short legs which gave it the waddle, what did they imply In his mind? Was it the same thing that the author of this crazy book had in his mind when he first drew this idiotic bird? Did the author know what it implied to others, or was he just relying on this “universal subconscious” to fill in the gaps?
He thought he heard the door knock, but then convinced himself it was just his imagination. Who could possibly be knocking the door at this time in the morning?
He read on.
The book started to go deeper, to explain the nature of consciousness and personal identity, frankly it started to get a bit beyond his drunken ability to understand what the hell it was talking about and that imaginary knocking at the door had started again.
In fact, it was getting quite insistent. And really quite loud.
John rolled out of bed, pulled on his trousers again, and went to look through the peephole. Just to check.
He saw an eye. A shining black eye, reflecting the harsh light in the hallway. It blinked back at him.
Cautiously, he opened the door.
Outside the door stood a penguin, standing up on tip-toes to put his face against the peephole.
It waddled backwards slightly, looked up at him, and said “Hello, I think you’ve been expecting me.”
“Um,” said John, “I don’t think so?”
“Sure you have,” the penguin barged past him in a manner more violent than his waddle would have suggested, “You’re in my world now.”
John watched the penguin walk into his flat, blinking in disbelief. It didn’t really look like the sidual in the book, it was more detailed, more real, more three dimensional and solid than any picture could have been.
“Oh, don’t look so surprised,” said the penguin, “anyone would think you’d never had a dream
“I’m dreaming then?” asked John.
“Well duh! Do you think it’s more likely that you’re dreaming or that a genuine four foot tall talking penguin actually knocked your door?”