The Savannah Liar’s Tour

I’d been meaning to post this for a while, but time does what it does, and here we are… I recently read Will McIntosh’s The Savannah Liar’s Tour at Lightspeed Magazine. It’s interesting, surprising and touching – SF with the feel of contemporary fantasy.

Excerpt:

On the trolley, Delilah pointed out Chippewa Square, a cozy park shaded by huge Live Oaks.

“At last count there were seventeen hundred such squares in Savannah.” She was speaking to everyone, all of the tourists on her trolley, but she was looking right at me. Her gaze sent a thrill through me like nothing I’d ever experienced. “Under no circumstances should you go near any of them. They look friendly, but they bite, and many carry disease—”

According to Delilah, a creature lived in the Savannah River that could swallow the Loch Ness monster whole. The Buddha was buried in a local graveyard.

Today was the day. I was going to speak to her.

With the tourists chanting her name, Delilah stepped off the trolley, took a bow, waved to or shook hands with each person as they exited her magic trolley, onto the cobbled street, back in the real world.

I lingered so I’d be the last off. My heart tripped as I climbed down the steps. As I paused in front of her, I could find nothing to do with my hands. They felt wrong on my hips, wrong in my pockets, wrong dangling like dead fish at my sides.

“Your show is really something,” I stammered. “I’m spreading the word, telling all my friends.”

“I was wondering when you were finally going to talk to me,” Delilah said.

Read the whole thing here.

The Structure

You’ll find a new story by award-winning author Marlee Jane Ward up at Slink Chunk Press, The Structure.

Disclaimer: Marlee and I are… close.

An old lady who she thought looked very kind once hit her Mama on the head with a chunk of concrete and twisted rebar. She grabbed their full trolley and took off, with Destiny in it. Destiny jumped out, skinned both her knees and as she cried the lady laughed at her. Lantra cried too. Destiny tried to help by collecting a few bits and pieces on their way home. Mama told her she was a good girl, hugged her and smeared blood and tears all over Destiny’s best t-shirt.

This man looked very dirty and scary and his face was all dirty and peeling. Lantra stared forward as he approached. When he passed the man reached into his sack and pulled out a bottle. He flicked it into the trolley and it rattled in around Destiny’s feet.

“Luck for the day, ladies,” he said, and tipped his hat, even though he wasn’t wearing one. Lantra smiled a tight-lipped smile back at him and Destiny picked up the bottle.

“Thanks mister!” She called after him. She felt good that the man had been okay, but even more assured of her theory. You could really never tell what people were going to be like out here.

Client Species

You can read my story ‘Client Species’ at Domain SF.

“You want to kill me, don’t you?”

There was a pause.

“No, I don’t want to kill you.”

The room was a uniform grey across every surface. The air was thin, but warm and dry despite the water pumping through the coolant system. The processor banks were matte black and unmarked – not easily sabotaged – and slaved to the master CPU that sat somewhere behind the walls or beneath the floor.

Miranda was inside Axis Mundi’s brain.

Thanks to Phil Rhoades at Domain for picking the story up, and for a painless editing process.

Loco

Following on from Wednesday’s post via Bruce Sterling, here’s a short story by Sterling and Rudy Rucker, Loco (audio here).

“Forget about Patel, he’s stuffed in a nuclear waste barrel. Let’s talk about Waverly. Even if a steamroller crushed him, it’s not scientifically established that he’s dead.”

“Where do you get that idea? Of course he’s dead. I saw his brains come out of his eye sockets.”

“I need facts,” insisted Becka. “Not your interpretations.”

“Oooh,” said Gordo. “The dragon lady. Okay, as soon as we stepped outside the safehouse, Waverly started babbling. He said, ‘I’m going everywhere.’ He was slobbering. Then he lost his muscle tone. His hands pulled up into his sleeves, and he went all boneless. And then—wham! That steamroller comes out of nowhere and runs him over.”

“Just like that?” said Becka skeptically.

“That’s how I saw it. That’s the machine that killed him, still tooling around out there. It’s like a remote-controlled drone.” Gordo peeped out the window. “Look, it keeps backing in and out of our garage. That’s where I dragged Waverly. It’s still running over him. Again and again.”

And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of the Dead

Blistering, visceral, hard-edged cyberpunk SF of the highest order from Brooke Bolander, And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of the Dead.

Excerpt:

The first time she meets Rack, Rhye’s fresh out of the army and fresh back from one of the meat-grinders the humans pay her kind to fight in. The children of wires and circuits aren’t worth a tinker’s fuck compared to the children of real flesh and bone, so far as the world’s concerned. The recruitment agents pluck her off the streets when she’s twelve and send her to a training camp and she’s good with linguistics and better at killing, so they keep her hands busy until she’s twenty-five and then they spit her back out again like a mouthful of cum. She has gray curly hair cropped short and gray dead eyes and calluses on the inside of her palms worn hard and horny from years of holding pistol grips. She’s small and lean, which makes people underestimate her, but she’s cool enough and don’t-fuck-with-me enough that most know to jump the fuck out of the way when they see her coming. The ones that don’t get flashed a warning glimpse of her teeth and holsters.

Read the whole novelette at Lightspeed Magazine.

Our Generation Ships Will Sink

Have a look at Our Generation Ships Will Sink over at Boing Boing, in which Kim Stanley Robinson tells us why, as a living, thriving species, we’ll never get off this planet (and therefore should look after it better).
Excerpt:

We are always teamed with many other living creatures. Eighty percent of the DNA in our bodies is not human DNA, and this relatively new discovery is startling, because it forces us to realize that we are not discrete individuals, but biomes, like little forests or swamps. Most of the creatures inside us have to be functioning well for the system as a whole to be healthy. This is a difficult balancing act, and does not work perfectly even on Earth; but divorced from Earth’s bacterial load, and thus never able to get infusions of new bacteria, the chances of suffering various immune problems similar to those observed in over-sterile Terran environments will rise markedly.

Because we need a broad array of bacterial companions, one would want to bring along as much of Earth as you could fit into a starship. But even the largest starship would be about one-trillionth the size of Earth, and this necessary miniaturization would almost certainly lead to unknown effects in our bodies.

Second Person

As a general rule, you should never write a story using second-person perspective. And like all writing rules, you can and should break it at least once. If a story’s good enough, you’ll get away with it, if it isn’t, try again some other time.

Anyway, lately I’ve come across some examples where it works.

  • Liminal Grid, by Jaymee Goh, recently published at Strange Horizons.

One of the interesting things about the story (which is sort of a post-civilisation Mr. Robot, if I’m to be reductive), is the way it forces you to take on the role of the character in the story, and embeds you into their conversations without explaining the local colloquialisms or bits of non-English because obviously the ‘you’ of the story understands all that. Which I think is perhaps one of the strengths in second-person in general – it can force you to sympathise with a character, even if they are intrinsically other. But what if you went the other way? Imagine a second-person story where “you” keeps doing horrendous things and the narrator is trying to figure out why…

Excerpt:

Because you live there, in that condemned building, you know that the plants in the buildings are carefully planted into a low-maintenance, edible garden. What looks like lalang is actually serai. The branches of the trees hang with fruit that feed the local fauna on the outside, but inside, they are covered with discarded CDs to confuse the birds. There are window boxes on the inside growing leafy vegetables, and chickens are allowed to run free to keep down pests. The courtyard used to have a pool—it still sort of does, but it is home to a crop of water-plants.

  • There’s also Ted Chiang’s Story of You, which I’ve only had a chance to glance at so far, but which sounds fucking fascinating (and is to be a film by the incredible Denis Villeneuve). It’s actually a hybrid between first person and second, almost a conversation between ‘I’ and ‘You’.

 

Excerpt:

The whites of your eyes are yellow, a consequence of spiking bilirubin levels in your blood. The virus afflicting you is called hepatitis E. Its typical mode of transmission is fecal-oral. Yum. It kills only about one in fifty, so you’re likely to recover. But right now you feel like you’re going to die.

Your mother has encountered this condition many times, or conditions like it anyway. So maybe she doesn’t think you’re going to die. Then again, maybe she does. Maybe she fears it. Everyone is going to die, and when a mother like yours sees in a third-born child like you the pain that makes you whimper under her cot the way you do, maybe she feels your death push forward a few decades, take off its dark, dusty headscarf, and settle with open-haired familiarity and a lascivious smile into this, the single mud-walled room she shares with all of her surviving offspring.

What she says is, “Don’t leave us here.”

Solarpunk

I’m not convinced that Solarpunk will become the next true movement of SF (I feel like it could easily go the way of Steampunk, becoming more of an aesthetic movement rather than a literary one with sociopolitical importance, but I’ll get into the -punks at some other time [and remind me to tell you how I invented cli-fi years ago, but I called it Ecopunk {but never managed to finish my Ecopunk thriller}]), but this is some very interesting food for thought.

On The Political Dimensions of Solarpunk:

Novelist Bruce Sterling […] says that the future is about “old people in big cities afraid of the sky.” This is inexorable. Barring radical cataclysm, the reasonably inevitable trends of urbanization, an aging populace and climate change will set the stage for life in the coming five decades. If you are a human living in the middle of the 21st century, chances are you will be elderly — or surrounded by the elderly. Chances are you will live in a city. Chances are your community, country and supply chains will be plagued by some combination of extreme weather, rising sea levels and droughts.

These are the facts we must build on and around, whether we are making solarpunk fiction, solarpunk fashion, solarpunk infrastructure, or solarpunk political demands. If solarpunk is to back up its optimism with meaningful solutions, or even meaningful notions, we must consciously consider how to respond to each of these trends.

Read the whole thing, but I’ll warn you now, it’s a long one.

And the above points to this: Notes Towards a Manifesto, which is shorter and shallower, but still interesting, and a better bet if you’re short on time and/or processor cycles.

And if you do want to think about Solarpunk fashion, it’s probably worth reading the below excerpt, taken from Deb Chachra’s Metafoundry Newsletter, about textiles and fashion after our current fashion industry has become so much dust inside so many abandoned sweatshops:

At some point in the 90s, I got my hands on modern synthetic technical textiles for the first time, made of polyester fibres that were now fine enough that the fabrics were soft and comfortable to the touch and could wick moisture. The first item was a Christmas gift, a Polartec fleece headband for running outside in the dead of winter in Toronto. When I went for a run wearing it for the first time, a day or two later, I didn’t think much about how my ears and head were warm and dry, until I got home, took it off, and was amazed to see the beaded moisture on the outside surface. The second item was a wicking polyester t-shirt that I bought for triathlons (and only for triathlons–it was expensive enough for me at the time that I saved it for race days). I could pull it on over a wet swimsuit and get on my bike, without worrying that it’d end up soaked and clammy like all the cotton t-shirts I normally wore to train. When I starting spending time there in the late 90s, I joked that the tech boom in rainy Seattle was facilitated (if not driven) by the rise of Gore-Tex. Since then, I’ve been keeping a close eye on advances in textiles as they move out into the mainstream (for me, that means 100% synthetic workout clothes from REI and the Gap–no more cotton t-shirts, ever–plus a few items from Nau and Outlier, and also amazing microfibre dishtowels). So I predictably absolutely adored this piece in Aeon about how textiles are a technology that has been underappreciated throughout history. A day or so later, a friend commented on the post-apocalyptic clothing in Mad Max: Fury Road and elsewhere, and that sent me down a late night rabbithole.

Given a vaguely-specified Hollywood-style apocalypse, where we ignore how going back a hundred years in technology will make the Black Death (and its associated massive cultural change) look like a day in the office when everyone is at home with the flu, what might clothing look like, say, a decade or two afterwards? If everything is pushed back to the level of handbuilt tech, the biggest issue with clothing is that there won’t be much of a supply chain. No supply chain means that, at least in the short term, the local clothing stocks will be a major determinant of what people wear. Where I live (the northeast US), that means cheap and ubiquitous t-shirts patchworked into everything, for a start–making quilts out of a hundred thousand unneeded t-shirts. Notions (zippers, hooks, buttons etc.) will be cannibalized from worn-out clothes–even cheap zippers bring together out-of-reach precision metallurgy and polymers, and reliable YKK zippers will be sought and prized. Speaking of polymers: Patagonia and North Face and Gore-Tex outerwear will be prized heirlooms, the most valuable garments made of durable, functional and irreplaceable technical synthetics (especially needful in New England winters). No supply chains means no polymers, nor much by way of dyes (most of which are derived from petroleum), which means returning to fibres that can be grown (and grown locally, initially). Plants or animal products like wool, as well as leather (probably not black, though) and fur. This was nicely captured in Mad Max: Fury Road: the Vuvalini of Many Mothers, who gardened, wore handwoven-looking scarves and fabrics in colours consistent with vegetable dyes. No sweatshops on the other side of the world means that the urban hipster hobbies of knitting and sewing are suddenly survival skills, assuming that raw materials can be found (and disposable sewing kits from hotels become immensely valuable for the sharp, strong steel needles). The city of Lowell, just north of where I live, was built in the 1820s as a factory town to manufacture textiles. Many of the canals, some of the water wheels, and a roomful of looms have been preserved as a national historic park. While they could be converted back to water, the timescale of that seems long enough that other technologies might be rebuilt.

This is just off the top of my head–I wonder about needles, about spinning strong but fine threads, about how warm clothes allow mobility in the wintertime. But ultimately, it’s hard not to feel like the idea of a catastrophe as a short sharp shock is an artifact left over from the Cold War and the insanity of concepts like ‘full-scale nuclear war’ and ‘mutual assured destruction’ and ‘nuclear winter’. The catastrophes that loom over us now are all happening in slow-motion: anthropocentric climate change, planetary-scale pollution, peak oil, pandemics (or some combination of all of the above, as occurs in William Gibson’s The Peripheral and referred to, with grim humour, as the Jackpot), which will likely allow at least some evolution in what people wear as they play themselves out. One thing is for sure, though–there’ll be mismatched plastic buttons everywhere, since they need millions of years to decompose, and crafters will be finding stashes of those suckers until the sun goes out.

And finally, I feel as though Warren Ellis & Paul Duffield’s Freakangels might have been the original solarpunk text, without realising it and long before the term was coined. Think about it – it’s set in a flooded world, and follows the exploits of a small group of people struggling to build themselves a sustainable community without help (or interference) from any authority but themselves.

Freakangels

Lich House – Warren Ellis

I’ve long been a fan of Warren Ellis – his thinking in public, his creator-owned comics, and his novels and novellas. That said though, Lich House is perhaps my favourite thing that he has written. Presented as part of the Institute of the Future in 2013, it’s a phenomenal story; beautiful descriptions that drip with the sort of tactile body-horror Cronenberg used to bring to cinema, but in a completely unique post-cybperunk setting.

Excerpt:

The white room is bleeding to death.

A white vestibule, with white floors and white walls and a lit white ceiling. The only other color is red. A crack in one wall, exposing a raw fistula in the bioelectric packeting. Blood leaks from the hole, down three inches of slick white wall, to pool on the floor. A broken heart in the interstitial net of veins and wires that makes our houses live and breathe.

Somebody has murdered the house.

Read the whole thing at Boing Boing.