"The Wireless Folly", by Michael Swanwick.
     First printed in Thunder's Shadow Collector's Magazine, February  1992.
     Transcribed from "A Geography Of Unknown Lands"  w/o  permission.
     -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -

     It may  have begun  as a rambling Victorian resort hotel, a fantasia of
gingerbread and gables, with wide  verandas and oceanic lawns. Or perhaps  a
dark,  Gothic  structure, part castle and part cathedral,  squatting like  a
toad over twisting, labyrinthine catacombs-- the core is lost in elaboration
and addition, the newspapers of the time  are silent on the matter, and both
elements are present in the mustier reaches.
     Indeed, the original building (whatever it  was) was  not even finished
when renovations began. It was a spirited and  high-willed family that  laid
the foundations and they agreed on nothing. Glass photographs from its early
glory days show an elaborate pile of building, recomplicated with trap-doors
and hidden passages within, and  topiary  gardens and ha-has without. It had
already overgrown several neighboring structures.
     However begun, the  building  goes deep. The stone tunnels, with  water
seeping  down the  walls and  the occasional  scurrying rat, have never been
thoroughly mapped. And while a few  stones have loosened underfoot  and  the
mortar is slowly  melting into stalactites,  so that one is  never sure if a
passage is natural or now, they are still serviceable.
     With the  scattering of the original family (there are those  who claim
they merely withdrew  into the  interior), the building fell into disrepair,
ferns  dying  by  the  slow  decade  in  the  yellowed parlors,  and  a  few
disreputable roomers haunting the porches. The Great  Depression was on, and
plummeting  property  values  put the  structure within reach of the  meager
pooled  resources  of   the   newly-formed  Greater  Verne  County  Wireless
Association.  The Wireless  Association was  made up  of sincerely young men
with skinhead crewcuts and ears that stuck out to  the side. These engineers
manque  would argue late into  the night  over resistors and magnetic fields
and then stay up to dawn, wrapping coils. I is possible to imagine them now,
a pipe stuck in the corner of the mouth, oily cup of Java growing cold by an
elbow,  as  they  earnestly  invented the future. One can  almost  hear  the
sporadic sizzle of a soldering iron.
     They built their  additions with an absent-minded casualness. Sheds and
crude barns were  needed  to contain the stinks and fumes  and explosions of
their experiments. They stuck antennae  on all the cupolas and cornices,  so
that the roof fairly bristled, and dug concrete-lined rocket pits in the old
croquet grounds.
     There  is  a  certain nostalgia  for  those  rough additions  nowadays,
perhaps  because  some  few (fewer  with  each  passing  year, alas!) of the
original members are still with  us. You may  find them in the leather chair
of  the  smokers lounge, gin-and-tonics in hand, maundering  on about quartz
crystals, and the  night they first raised Kansas City, to the inexpressible
embarrassment of some of the younger, more cosmopolitan members.
     Early on they were joined by other eccentrics--  not their  type, you'd
think, and  yet there was  the  kinship  of outcasts among  them, or perhaps
simply an aloof, unnoticing toleration. These  newcomers  were occultists of
varied ill-defined convictions, and filled the place with orgone generators,
maps of Lemuria and the hollow  earth, cutaway models of the  Great Pyramid,
and ghost-catching machines. Many of the more whimsically useless towers and
puzzlingly  misleading  passageways  were built in this era.  One inevitably
thinks  of the east stairway which,  after many twists and  turns and not an
option  to  get off, deposits its unwary victim back at its own  landing. Or
the  Salem room , built by a  reclusive young bachelor, which is all strange
and  eldritch  angles  and  has  a  single  occulus  window overlooking  the
moon-barren  slate roofs.  And  from  which the  occasional member has  been
rumored to have vanished.
     After World  War  Two, there was an influx of new  members-- cool-eyed,
wise-talking  gals and guys, many of them  ex-GI's.  The wanted dance floors
and jazz pavilions, roller rinks and in-house garages. They were responsible
for all the neon and much of the aluminum siding.
     But  there is so much to see! There are at least a dozen bars scattered
throughout the Folly, and none of them completely abandoned even yet. One of
the favorites is a complete  English pub with brown oak paneling and frosted
glass and (oddly enough) a broken Wurlitzer in the corner.
     It was  through  here,  in  1968, that  one of the young  radicals  the
Association seems  always to attract, ran brandishing a  war  ax,  screaming
that he was going to demolish  all the older, outmoded rooms to let some air
and sunshine in. Waving the weapon over his head, he charged for the core of
the Folly, pursued hotly by a puffing mob of old-timers.
     Two or three rooms suffered minor damage to the moldings.
     Or there is  the  orangery which, more recently, several self-appointed
bricolateurs   retrofitted  with  network  of  old  radio  tubes,  clockwork
telescope drives, and ormolu bells,  all operated off a rewired NASA-surplus
Cray. The mechanism thus created periodically acts out postmodern notions of
cosmology and then deconstructs itself. It has met with great admiration and
no little puzzlement.
     Predictably enough this  structure served  as catalyst for yet  another
affray involving the roused emotions of all the membership. Rubber bands yet
litter the parquetry.
     Alas, there is simply not the time to visit every room in the Folly. It
has grown  practically beyond human ken,  and continues to  grow. As witness
the  recent  proliferation  of  indoor  rifle  and  pistol  ranges.  Or  the
diminishing daisy-chains  of  replica rooms that spiral way  from several of
the more imposing master bedrooms.
     Nor have we the patience  to chronicle all  the doings  of the Wireless
Association's members. The they not mellowed with age -- indeed, they can no
longer  even agree  on  the  purpose or  goals  of  the Association. Several
conflicting charters float about, surfacing now and again in the glass-domed
aviary,  perhaps, or in the  empty  indoor swimming pool with untranslatable
runes  carved on its bottom which one member (who shall  remain unnamed) has
converted to a pornographic movie theatre.
     But they keep on building anyway. The folly increases with each passing
month.  Grotesque  and  sprawling,  it  slowly  humps  its  way  across  the
surrounding fens. And while some elements are shoddily built, and there  are
recurrent rumors of watch-beetles  in the  wainscoting and  dry-rot  in  the
dormers, taken as a whole it remains an  undisputed work of genius, and  one
of the great eccentricities of our age.

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