On their own, single cells of cellular slime moulds are closely similar to amoebae, naked blobs of protoplasm enclosed in a cytoplasmic membrane, wandering through the water films around soil particles and leaf litter. But when they get together, they start to express a variety of complex behaviours and structures. They aggregate into networks of threads or into big slug-like blobs that act as a single organism, and during sexual reproduction differentiate into complex sporangia. And they also secrete mucous trails that act as a kind of exomemory
, helping them navigate through their environment and locate food. They lack a nervous system, but display a kind of intelligence. Like ants (which create scent-based forage trails), like human beings, they are able to create a form of external notation about their history. A kind of writing. Maps. Diaries. Epic slime-mould odysseys.
For the past two years I've been laying down my own trail, a sequence of about 130,000 words in the form of a novel, Evening's Empires
, and travelling over it again and again, altering and refining it, draft upon draft. I've now just about finished the final stage of editing (I'm taking a break from hunting down adverbs, querying their usefulness, and eliminating them if they don't pass muster). Next week, the manuscript goes back to my editor, who'll pass it on to the copy editor for a close reading that will query every word. When I've responded to that, the novel will be set in type and pass through the proofreading stage, a last chance to comb out errors, and then it will go into production. And at last join that part of the human exomemory, vast and very nearly measureless, located in bookshops, libraries, and book-like electronic devices.