This year’s Mulholland Classic, BEAUTY by Brian D’Amato, was hailed by Dean Koontz as “absolutely irresistible,” proclaimed by Peter Straub a “breathtaking” novel “bristling and humming with intelligence,” and acclaimed in the Chicago Sun-Times as “superb” when first published nearly twenty years ago.
Read on for a sneak peek at the novel’s first chapters–and don’t miss the D’Amato-penned illustrations and reading group guide exclusive to our edition, now back in bookstores everywhere!
An egg floated in the void. It rotated on its vertical axis as the blackness behind it gradated toward a dark ultramarine purple. It moved closer, in microscopic increments. Its surface was absolutely pure, smoother than any real egg and scaleless in its non-space. Rose-colored light fell on it from a source apparently somewhere between the egg and the implied observer, and the light pooled one-third of the way down the surface in a spot that suggested its texture was, perhaps, slightly more glossy than that of a real egg.
Then an irregularity seemed to appear in the lower center of the oval. At first it was so slight, it might have been imaginary: a faint depression, with perhaps a slight bunching-out above and below. The depression and swellings grew, becoming more distinct with agonizing slowness. It was an order of motion that animals or machines never approach, the slowness of plants, or of crystals forming in solutions. Above the irregularity, two more slight indentations, identical round concavities in the pristine surface, manifested themselves with the same intense deliberation. They were symmetrically aligned along the vertical axis. As they worked their way into the surface of the egg, the light highlighted over and under them and shadows began to form, first soft like airbrush marks, then soft only on top and hard-edged on their lower sides.
Suddenly the egg passed over the threshold of abstraction, the invisible barrier that separates a geometric form from the most basic figurative paradigm.
It was a face.
The eyes and mouth became more distinct. The outlines of cheekbones and the hollows under them began to alter the silhouette of the egg itself. A nose began to protrude ever so slightly, and tiny indentations under it developed into near-nostrils. Buds sprouted that would eventually be ears. A peach color began to spread beneath the surface like an Icelandic dawn. Now the eyes had a hairless eyebrow ridge and closed lids not quite separated from the flesh beneath them. The lips were still fused, but they were lips, complete with hollows at the corners and the depression beneath the nose. The wings of the nostrils extruded slightly. The forehead broadened. It was a face, but not a human face. It was a face from some idealized realm beyond death and life, ageless and silent and beautiful. It was still embryonic, and more like mathematics than flesh. But it was becoming an entity.
I typed out halt f9 on the keyboard. There was no perceptible change, but somehow you could tell the growth had stopped. And I’d stopped it before it had left the land of the undead for the land of the (at least in appearance) living.
I punched in a few coordinates and moved the mouse-cursor over the face, up to the command line at the top of the screen. I clicked it on wire frame, and instantly a small screen appeared on the lower left of the image, blocking out part of the face but showing it again, schematically, with triangular facets etched in orange lines against dark blue. I moved the cursor down to the region of the eyes and began to program.
After eighteen minutes, I clicked off the wire-frame screen and typed resume image generate on the command line. The egg disintegrated itself, then reappeared a few seconds later, slightly closer. Very, very slowly, the eyelids began to rise. A mirrorlike surface appeared under them, a strange, cold, wet-looking lavender substance. Then the circle of the iris came into view, emerald green against the lavender, with magenta and golden facets shifting under the green like the spicules in Mexican fire opals. And then, as the lids passed the halfway point, the pupils should have come into view. But there were no pupils. The eyes were fully open and the face looked straight at me with the blind, soulless, malevolent blank stare of a demon.
I looked back for what seemed like a long time. I heard a scratching sound at my left wrist and recoiled from the desk, hitting my head against the wall. A coil of paper was extruding itself from my fax machine. I peeled it off and read it:
have you turned your ringer off?
don’t forget, penny penn appointment 2:00
I’ll be there in 45 mins. david.
I allowed myself to look back at the screen for a few minutes. I rotated the head through 360 degrees, thinking about the profile and the three-quarter views. The Face was becoming a thing of awesome beauty, I thought, unless I was just flattering myself. I didn’t think I was, though. I wondered whether I’d ever really get the chance to implement it. I typed save and shut down the computer and got up. My back cracked a bit. I’d been sitting down for quite a while.
Somewhere in the microscopic binary code of sixty-four megabytes of memory, the demon slept with open eyes. The ghost in my machine. Continue reading ›