by Simon Hole

I joined the Bureau to find the next great civilization; another planet to join us here among the stars. So far, it’s been one disappointment after another. Fifty worlds examined, fifty Class I civilizations.

I really thought this would be it. The readings from deep space looked good. I rehearsed the ‘first contact’ speech. I even let my mother know I might be on to something.

But no, the final readings are conclusive. It’s just another hope-dashing Class I world. The regulations are clear; catalogue the findings, submit the report, and depart without contact. I hate knowing that when a follow-up team checks back in a thousand years this planet will most probably have devolved to the point where there is no civilization left and any beings still alive will be barely sentient.

An Astronaut's View From Space

NASA/Reid Wiseman (@astro_reid) via public domain

It seems like something could be done, something to nudge these creatures in the right direction. Minimal contact, of course; just enough to keep them from self-destructing.

And so I wonder. Suppose my shields were to ‘fail’—just for a moment—as I engage the star engine. Suppose these half-advanced bipeds on the blue and white world were to catch a glimpse of my departure. Would that be so bad?

More to the point, would it be enough?


Simon Hole lives in rural Rhode Island where he taught fourth grade for 35 years, publishing essays and co-authoring a book focused on life in the classroom. Since retirement he has been playing poker, gardening, and writing short fiction. Some of his work can be found on-line at 101Words.com and in upcoming issues of The Zodiac Review and Bewildering Stories.

by James A. Miller

Commander Adams,

My time as Head Baker aboard Station Imperion has been enjoyable, so it is with heavy heart, I resign.

Flour

cbertel via Creative Commons

These are good! Probably the best Christmas cookies I’ve ever made.

December 21st, 2057 will be my final day. I leave the kitchen in the capable hands of Nicol Truefsky. His work as apprentice over the past two years is commendable.

Maybe just one more. So sweet and light, must be the Glutovian flour–wherever did Nicol find it?

While, in my option, Nicol lacks the prerequisite education to be Head Baker, his experience will allow him to temporarily fill the position until a suitable replacement is found.

I just can’t stop eating these. Down you go little gingerbread man. I can catch you, yes I can. And your brother and your cousin…

Sincerely,

Edwin Dorchester

I finished them. Need more.

As Edwin rose from the chair, Glutovian microbes hidden in the cookies’ flour reached their saturation point and instantly collapsed his ample body into a pile of fine white powder. Nicol entered moments later, sweeping what was left of his boss into flour sacks.

He edited Edwin’s resignation—ever so slightly—before hitting “send.”


James A. MillerDuring the day, James A. Miller works as an Electrical Engineer in Madison WI. At night, he spends time with his family and does his best to come up with fun and creative fiction. He is a first reader for Allegory e-zine and member of the Codex writer’s group. He also has two cats but will resist the urge to say anything cute or witty about them here. He blogs at https://breakingintothecraft.wordpress.com/.

by Holly Schofield

The familiar tingling began across Mara’s scalp. She grabbed her spacesuit and had both legs in by the time the space station’s klaxon sounded. She’d been preparing for this her whole life. Her father said her inherited precognitive powers would diminish as she matured, but today seemed evidence they were holding steady.

Misplaced Warning

David Goehring via Creative Commons

Suit, helmet, gloves, check.

The other crew members were just beginning to suit up.

The pressure was dropping fast: a hull breach two levels down. Seconds counted. She grabbed the patching kit.
She slammed the hatch shut behind her. No need for anyone else to die. Beside a view port, air screamed through the meteoroid’s thumbsized entry hole.

Sealant, a metal patch, and the shrieking stopped, along with her tingles.

“Just in time.” The captain caught up to her. “How’d you react so fast?”

“Good reflexes, ma’am.” She wasn’t about to reveal her abilities. They had always served her well—calling 911 at age seven before she smelled smoke, being the city’s best teenaged lifeguard, a dozen other averted disasters.

Including this one.

She hid her smile of satisfaction by looking out the viewport, just in time to see the second, much larger, meteoroid hit.

originally published in AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review, April 2014


Holly Schofield travels through time at the rate of one second per second, oscillating between the alternate realities of city and country life. Her fiction has been published in Lightspeed’s “Women Destroy Science Fiction”, Crossed Genres, Tesseracts, and many other venues. Upcoming stories will soon appear in Unlikely Stories’ Coulrophobia anthology, Bundoran Press’s Second Contacts anthology, World Weaver Press’s Scarecrow anthology, and Metasaga’s Futuristica anthology. For more of her work, see http://hollyschofield.wordpress.com/.

by Ville Meriläinen

Ladder

David Alliet via Creative Commons

It was the end of the world as we knew it, but some things never changed. You were always a hopeless romantic, and I hated to let you down. When I said we should start thinking of tying the knot, you thought I meant something sweet, so instead of a noose I got you that ring you were eyeing before all this shit went down.

I took you to the old church and we sat on the roof watching stars and the city teeming with the dead and listening to their growls and the song of nightingales in the park. It was then I realised I hadn’t thought this through. We exchanged vows with no way out.

You asked, “Does it count as consummation if zombies climb ladders and we’re royally screwed?” I’d never seen them do much anything than shamble on without purpose, but I guess we’d find out in time. We were supposed to be home by now. I hadn’t brought any food or water, just some rope.

I wrapped my arm around you and told you, “If zombies climb ladders and death tries to do us apart, we’ll tie our hands together and walk as one forever.”


Ville Meriläinen is a Finnish twenty-something student and a miscreant of the arts, with a penchant for bittersweet stories and a passion for death metal. His noir fantasy novella, Spider Mafia, is available at amazon.com for the perusal of anyone who ever wondered what might happen if cats in suits had to save the world from spider wizards.

by Alison McBain

II-ii

Jaan Altosaar via Creative Commons

I saw her hair first, the same color as the wind-blown clouds. She was wearing only a thin shift, and her skin glittered with a thousand liquid stars, as if she had just bathed in the lake behind her.

She smiled over her shoulder at me, but before I could accept her invitation, I noticed something that sent a sudden chill up my back. Her fingers dipped below the surface of the water, but they caused no ripples in the lake.

I’d never seen a kelpie before, but the villagers had piqued my curiosity with a warning about unexplained drownings—I’d not believed them until now.

Glancing one last time at the most beautiful woman I had ever seen, I forced myself to turn away, my heart singing in agony. Her banshee shriek followed me all the way home and echoed through the many seasons that followed.

Decades later, I still dream of her at night, even though I have never returned to the lake. I dream of her with regret, although it is not my only one.

Twice, she broke my heart.

I was born knowing the ways of the world, with a heart that could resist her malicious magic—an old man’s heart.

I had a son, once. But… his heart was young.


Alison McBainAlison McBain lives in Connecticut with her husband and three daughters. She has over thirty publications, including stories and poems in Flash Fiction Online, Abyss & Apex, and the anthology Frozen Fairy Tales. You can read her blog at alisonmcbain.com or chat with her on Twitter @AlisonMcBain.

by Sierra July

La semilla muere...al germinar

Annais Ferreira via Creative Commons

Mason pricked his finger on a rose and fell onto his back, panting. He was certain he’d enter into a coma like Sleeping Beauty. When sleep didn’t come, he studied his finger. Instead of a red blood pearl at its tip, there was a blue substance.

Without thinking, he licked it. Blackness fell.

It was Chloro who went in to dinner, sat with Mason’s parents, and chatted.

Mason’s parents had never seen their son so talkative and imaginative.

“What were you up to before dinner?” his mother asked. “I saw you playing in the garden.”

“I wasn’t up to anything. As soon as I arrived, I came inside to learn about humans. I’ve only seen your species from a distance.”

Mason’s father laughed. “Still in the middle of a game, huh? Sounds like you’re set for an Earth invasion.”

Chloro nodded and went on talking.

The parents laughed as he described dinosaurs and other extinct animals he’d seen since his birth. Detailed how he lived on soil, sun, and water. How he’d waited for a chance meeting with an organism with legs. The parents laughed on, not suspecting a thing.


Sierra July is a University of Florida graduate, writer, and poet. Her fiction has appeared in Robot and Raygun, T. Gene Davis’s Speculative Blog, and SpeckLit, among other places, and is forthcoming in Belladonna Publishing’s Strange Little Girls anthology. She blogs at talestotellinpassing.blogspot.com.

by Deborah Walker

Only astronauts from New State China will travel through the Ghost Rift. In the Ghost Rift sleeting particles of dust make the unseen visible. The Chinese have always known that spirits fill the air.

The crew of the Silver Nightingale laugh at the tortuous routes Westerners take to avoid the Rift. They’re surprised, but they’re relieved when quiet Sung Li, the newest recruit, volunteers to pilot the ship.

She watches the crew as they climb silently into the stasis pods. When they wake, they’ll imagine the feel of ghosts lingering on their skins. They will make loud, nervous jokes.

Sung Li dresses in the captain’s uniform. She has travelled far from the factory slums of Neo Shanghai. She has risen like a leaping salmon from the swarms of her contemporaries. Sung Li has travelled a thousand light years from her childhood, and from her mother’s incessant encouragement.

Sung Li watches the approaching Rift through the metal-glass window. She smoothes down the captain’s uniform, and she smiles. Sung Li has travelled far. She is looking forward to meeting the familiar look of her mother’s disapproval.

Milky Way - Full 180 Degree Panorama

inefekt69 via Creative Commons

A version of this story originally appeared in the Dark Stars anthology.


Deborah Walker grew up in the most English town in the country, but she soon high-tailed it down to London, where she now lives with her partner, Chris, and her two young children. Find Deborah in the British Museum trawling the past for future inspiration. Her stories have appeared in Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, Nature’s Futures, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet and The Year’s Best SF 18 and have been translated into over a dozen languages.

by Clive Tern

Sienna’s boots left holes in the soot on the street of her childhood home. The smell of rot and decay wasn’t overpowering, but it was there.

Bootprint

Ron St. Amant via Creative Commons

Voices unheard for over two decades echoed in her ears; ‘Ma, he threw a rock at me!’ ‘Sienna, it’s tea time.’ ‘If you kiss me, you’ll see stars.’

While the voices played inside she looked at the devastation, and continued towards her destination.

Number sixty-seven used to have a blue door and white net curtains at every window. Now it was a ruin. The door and windows were broken through, the roof was tumbled down. Instead of bright cleanliness it wore a suit of grime.

“I’m home,” she thought. “For the first time in twenty years I’m home.”

Home. The word echoed through her, disrupting the memories by fragmenting them into shards which meant nothing, but cut her soul until it bled.

Coming here had been pointless, an exercise in whim to demonstrate power. Still, what was point of authority, if you didn’t abuse it a little?

She unclipped a beacon from her belt and tossed it through the broken doorway. This would be the epicentre of re-terraforming. Humanity could come home.


Clive lives by the sea in rural Cornwall, England, and writes short stories and poetry. He has been published by Zetetic, Pidgeonholes, & The Quarterday Review. Occasionally he blogs about finding writing tough at www.clivetern.com.

Who Fears Death
Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I mentioned a little while ago that I was making a conscious effort to read work from a more diverse sampling of authors. Particularly I noted that my personal literary canon over the past couple of years has been rather lily white. The thing about that kind of sampling is that the cultural underpinnings that inform North American/European white authors gets reflected in their settings and characters as a default. For example, most fantasy novels authored by white writers are set in some riff on medieval Europe, presumably because that’s where the fairy tales and other genre standards originated, but also I think because that period gets a lot of attention in white-majority primary schools.

So when you read a novel like Nnedi Okorafor‘s Who Fears Death, the cultural sameness of a lot of white-authored books becomes very plain. This is a book set in a sort of post-apocalyptic, magical realism Africa. Even though it’s probably not all that divergent from modern Africa (in the sense, for example, that The Road is not that divergent from modern America), just that fact alone makes it feel like this very remote, fascinating place to someone, like me, with limited literary horizons. Ms Okorafor crafts this world with a tender but unflinching hand. The world building is deft, typifying the novel as a whole being, by turns, lush and raw and gorgeous and devastating and ugly and remarkable.

This is not an easy book. There are no light, fluffy sections, no gentle fades to black when the ghastly truths of the setting come about. It follows the tale of Onyesonwu, a child born from the rape of her mother. Her mother’s attackers are Nuru; she is Okeke; the results of such violent couplings are distinctive, lighter of skin, freckled, and many superstitions surround those like her. But Onyesonwu is a survivor. She has strange abilities and she longs to find a sense of purpose for those talents such as shapeshifting and healing powers, as much as she longs to find a place in the world that does not accept her.

The fact that Onyesonwu is an outcast both from her parentage and her abilities, the violent assault on her mother, the local coming-of-age custom that involves female circumcision, the oppressive brutality of the setting and the antagonist, even the darkness inside Onyesonwu herself, these things make for grim reading. But what really worked about Who Fears Death is that Ms Okorafor never quite lets it feel bleak. Onyesonwu is fiery, sharp, stubborn. She is rarely self-pitying or whiny, despite having to deal with a great deal of angst. The supporting cast are wonderful foils for the protagonist, the pacing of the action is perfectly pitched to give Onyesonwu and the Okeke the right amount of triumphs amid the setbacks and tragedies to make the ending a genuine question. In most fantasy or hero’s quest tales the victoriousness of the ending is basically pre-ordained. But because the world in Who Fears Death is so grim and unsentimental, there is a genuine tension regarding the outcome.

There are so many little details about this book that made it gripping for me to read. The relationships, the fascinating blend of science fiction and fantasy, the characterizations, the breadth of the plot without having to resort to being “epic” (in the pejorative sense), the raw humanity on display at all times; it was all just so tightly woven. The book exhausted me somewhat, emotionally. I don’t know that I finished it thinking, “I’d love a sequel to this.” But I did finish it wanting to know more about the world Ms Okorafor had created, even if it meant having to make the harrowing trip back.

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Princeton Groups, Diversity_2352

co Nyanda via Creative Commons

A couple of articles have cropped up in the last week or so, mostly stemming from this one about a person who didn’t read anything from white authors for a year. You can see similar themes being addressed with, for example, the #weneeddiversebooks campaign. K.T. Bradford issued a straight-up challenge to skip out on books by straight, white, male authors for twelve months. She even offers a reading list to get people started.

Then I see things like this misguided Business Insider article which tries to suggest seventeen SF books “every real sci-fi fan should read” and can’t even come up with one book by a female author. Plus, it includes Asimov twice.

I decided to do some datamining to understand how insular my own reading world may be. The results were perhaps predictable (in part because I read a lot of “mainstream” books), but disheartening. Of the 66 books I checked—and note that I omitted graphic novels and anthologies because of their multi-creator aspects—I came up with these numbers:

Orientation Cultural Background Gender
Straight: 39 White: 60 Male: 42
LGBT: 2 Non-White: 5 Female: 24
Unknown: 25 Unknown: 1 Unknown: 0

Now there is some margin of error there. I didn’t research very much so this was largely based on my existing knowledge of the authors. But I think the takeaway is pretty clear: there’s not a lot of diversity happening here. Particularly problematic is the extreme whiteness of the authors represented here, which is exactly the sort of thing #weneeddiversebooks and others are talking about.

So now that I know, I’ll be making a much more concerted effort to diversify my literature. I think for the remainder of the year I will eschew a book if it doesn’t fit into at least one of the non-white, non-straight, non-male categories above. It’s a small step, but it’s a start.