Sonnet for the Aglæcwif

Classic mum-in-law she was, Ma Grendl:

mood scorpio, wirehaired, snagged in the trap

of always having been a loving much-

beloved mum, no more—suddenly stuck


on the wrong side of the story: Beast.

Creeping through Hero’s brackish fits & tweets,

she’s damp of neck, bent of knee, tarsals

swollen thick as trees. The They all cheered


when bold boy knight raised golden mead

in the mouldering hall:  Death to the green-

clawed she-fiend, brine wolf, long of tooth

ragged hag, may she fall!  Defeat—


she who by her own kind, in her own time,

was called mama, milady, ma’am. Goddamn.


(Editors’ Note: “Sonnet for the Aglæcwif” is read by Joy Piedmont on  the Uncanny Magazine Podcast, 41A.)

Imagining Place: Reading to a Better World

As a writer, editor, activist, and community builder, my job has many components. I write essays (like these), watch movies, do media criticism, listen to other peoples’ experiences, research, do so many things that look like work.

But there is a part of my job that I often forget to look at as my work. I prioritize it less when the days are long, when the deadlines are many, when the people I need to speak with and the e-mails I need to write are endless.

I forget that it is my job to read.

I think I forget this because reading was my first love. My safe place. The thing that kept me from feeling alone. I remember reading while my father was dying. Reading while I flew across country to move to an entirely new city called New York. I read to forget, I read to remember, I read to process and to grow and to feel.

To me, after so many years of reading being my happy place, it is difficult to consider reading “work.”

But with the pandemic, I stopped being able to read. My reading days became a surprise—times when I was able to pick up a book and devour it were special, and the books that caught my attention were precious.

Seamus Heaney, C.L. Polk, Seanan McGuire, Maria Dahvana Headley, Nikita Gill—they all found me in my distracted places, their words filling the silence, catching my attention when I struggled to give it freely.

I am working toward treating reading as my job now, remembering that to read is to fill my mind with voices that are not my own, perspectives that educate me.

Reading may never be a simple joy for me again—I long for the days when I hid under blankets with a flashlight and devoured new stories. But it will be the thing that brings me back into the world.

And it will be the thing that makes me better as a human, not just as a writer or editor.

I think to build a better future we must read widely. Reading outside of our comfort zones is a matter of survival. Whether you’re not an SF/F reader and you turn to try a new genre, or you’re a hardened Heinlein fan and you read some litfic, the ability to hear and listen to new styles, consume a new medium, understand a new voice…these are the things which help us build the future we want to see.

Reading is a gift, it is the thing that makes us understand one another. Sometimes I think that the ability to disappear into a good book is a bit like meditation. To be consumed by story gives us a space to breathe.

When you come out of a book, you are forever changed by the story and by the author.

So I encourage you this summer to make space, not just to read, but to read something new. To read something that challenges you, that makes you shift your perspective. Kick yourself out of the ordinary, because it might just make you a better person, and that will help you build a better world for all of us.


Thank You, Patreon Supporters!

Uncanny Magazine would like to thank the following people for supporting us on Patreon. This magazine would not be possible without their support.


Space Unicorn Ranger Corps RECRUITS

Katie Sinkoski, Jennifer Hisrich, Jenny Barber, ml cohen, Danielle, a pair of enchanted gloves, Mr. Robin White, Andrew Gregg, Nadine Noll, Amit Gupta, Anitra Heiberg Lykke, Andrew S. Fuller, Aleksi Stenberg, Damien Neil, Not_the_brain, james qualters, Maria Schrater, Leetmeister, Max Andrew Dubinsky, Kayti Burt, Amanda J. McGee, Robin Hill, Liz Argall, S P, Ken Schneyer, Ryan Pennington, Neil Ottenstein, CathiBeaStevenson, Penny Richards, Josh Smift, Jay Lofstead, Sidsel Pedersen, Annaliese Lemmon, fadeaccompli, Clarissa R., Ai Lake, David Versace, Kate Barton

Space Unicorn Ranger Corps ENSIGNS

Surya H, Callum Williams, Jonathan Pessant, Dilly, Howard Cornett, Kellen Harkins, Alternis Tom, Rhian Bowley, Carl Olsen, Goran Lowie, Aliénor, Dawn Bonanno, Kelsea Kreuch, Kit, William Hay, Amanda Crowley, Dave McAvoy, Julia Pillard, Nicky Martin, Nicholas Davies, Monique Cuillerier, Thomas Faust, D. M. Baldwin, John Coxon, Kristina Saccone, Fabienne Schwizer, Greg Chapman, Khael, Lael Tucker, Colin, Jaime McLeod, Katie Rodante, Sofia G, Kathrin, Ross Williams, Andrew McIntosh, Alec Ross, Beth Myers, Karen Young, Simon Hoerder, Melanie Savransky, Ailbhe Leamy, Pete Kirkham, John Atom, Chris Gates, Kim Park, Christine McCullough, Shaun Garvie, Felicia Jordan, Jessica Lee, Tracey Thompson, Ryan V Thummel, Shannon H, Jenn Brissett, Brian J. Sanderson, Lisa Cox, Sonja Pieper, Kelly Quantrill, Kristi Chadwick, Aditya Dubey, Kari Keeling, Taylor Alcantar, Goetz Kruppa, Bonnie, Agnes, Peter Schmitt (Aragos), Douglas Dluzen, Hiu Gregg, Mary Brock, Chawin Narkruksa, Tuomas Pohto, Emily Goldman, Beth Hoffman, Alina Kanaski, Matthew Bennardo, Brad Preslar, Fiona Parker, Alison Gilder, Writer Markus Regius, Natalie Boon, Luke, Caroline Pinder, Vicente JM, Ben Hammerslag, Tina Skupin, Eris Young, Jeff Xilon, Chessa Hickox, machine_person, John Derrick, Charlie Lindahl, Lauren Strenger, Carrie, Beth McMillan, Sarah Jansen, Emily Kvalheim, [email protected], Leanne Kathleen Ingino, Sadie Slater, Andrew Hickey, Julia Struthers-Jobin, Tim Campbell, Michael Jeffries, Melissa Brinks, Nick Mazzuca, Maria Haskins, Sarah Elkins, Victor Eijkhout, Melissa Martensen, Joe Iriarte, Selim Ulug, Jacqueline Rogoff, Sarah Bea, Amanda B Cook, Ellen Zemlin, David O Mahony, Risa Wolf, John Cetrone, Cynthia Murrell, Gina, Emily Capettini, Albert Bowes, Leslie Ordal, Maria, Gene Breshears, Ysabet MacFarlane, Erik DeBill, Emily, Laura K, David Demers, Jeffrey, Ondrej Urban, Emily Hogan, Paul Weimer, Renae Ensign, Lauren Vega

Space Unicorn Ranger Corps LIEUTENANTS

Heather Holmquist, Ian Sweedler, Gregor M. Geemd, Sasha H, Victor, Mark Tyler, Christiane Knight, Salvatore Fabbiano, Kalina, Sarah Jackson, John Reynolds, Starr Hoffman, John Tobias, Kenneth Otani, Kyle DeVries, Matthew Montgomery, julianna zdunich, Koa Webster, Sarah Hale, Randall Beeman, Danielle Weaver, Nicola Wanless, Alena Geffner-Mihlsten, LInda Thompson, Ahsan A. Latif, David, Stephanie Novak, Rich Rubel, Sarah Trott, Haley N Cowans, A T-L, Margaret N. Oliver, Joan Combs Durso, Elan Samuel, Sid J, Sarah Berriman, Rosier Cade, devorah hill, Josef D Prall, Sam Gawith, Kirby Li, Declan Meenagh, Christi Clogston, Melissa Stahr, jenn northington, Gareth Morgan, Ravian Ruijs, Bee Buehring, E, David Dagg-Murry, Raphaelle, Emma Osborne, Sarah Biz, Max G, Matt, George Hetrick, Todd Honeycutt, Thomas Marks, Derek Smith, Erin Bright, michael smith, Ariana Dawnhawk, tatere, Adrian, Kaylan McCanna, Elena Gaillard, Lorelei Kelly, medievalpoc, Myz Lilith, Devin & Stephanie Ganger, Phil Margolies, Brandi Blackburn, Cait Greer, Jen Talley, Ian Radford, Brian McNatt, Adam Israel, Aaron Roberts, Jennifer Melchert, John M. Gamble, Sarah L., John Chu, Brooks Moses, Deborah Levinson, Michael Lee, Adam Leff

Space Unicorn Ranger Corps COMMANDERS

Kelly Lester, Chip Roland, Camille Knepper, Elizabeth Galliher, Mairin Holmes, William T. McGeachin, Alex Eiser, Katherine Mead-Brewer, Alexander M Henderson, Crystal Huff, Kate O’Connor, Marzie Kaifer, Edmund Schweppe, Nicole Fuschetti, Dain Unicorn, Jayme, Bliss Ehrlich, Daniel (a raven)


talkativeprovider, Jacob Aldrich, Karen, Roy Ha, SB Divya, Hayley Klug, Will Hindmarch, John Overholt, Marc Beyer

The Necessity of Slavery Stories

I think I first heard a Black person say “I’m tired of stories about slavery” in high school. Our school’s football coach, who doubled as our history teacher, had decided to show us Haile Gerima’s 1993 film Sankofa. A classmate whose name I can’t recall but whose voice I still hear to this day huffed at our teacher’s film selection and declared with his full chest that he was sick and tired of “motherfucking slavery movies.” Since then, I’ve heard this same sentiment from Black people at a fairly consistent rate in college and graduate school, around the water cooler, at cookouts, and at conventions.

I get it. Most Black Americans have a complex emotional connection to the idea of slavery, to say nothing of the historical facts. The products of slavery’s horrifying and efficient brutality are ever-present, and our country is only just beginning to give the barest acknowledgement of its lingering systemic impact. And many of the films concerned with slavery are preoccupied with the white filmmakers’ perspectives, seeking to titillate viewers with the horrors of slavery and call it “education” while ignoring the everyday violence that the Black descendants of slaves have to endure. Currently, radical conservative groups in America are attempting to meme their way into revising this country’s history of slavery. These groups are doing ridiculous things: declaring war against concepts like Critical Race Theory, an ideological framework used to examine the relationship between race, law, and power in order to uncover and challenge white supremacy. But they are also passing legislation that will penalize educators, many who support children in former slaveholding states, for teaching the accurate history of this country’s legacy and how that legacy shapes the United States that their students live in today.

What’s even wilder is that cultural critics have declared that Americans are living in an artistic and cultural renaissance largely due to the creations of Black writers, artists, and filmmakers. These same cultural critics declare one of these renaissances every few years, which I think speaks more to the capricious inattention of cultural critics than it does to some sudden proliferation of black creativity. American media has long relied on Black people’s inter-communal conversations to power their idea machines and fill our screens with flat, subpar representations of the stories of our ancestors. They seed our history with hashtags and create an image economy built on the products of our continued resilience. Their christened golden children, who can be and at times are Black creators, fill these not-quite-stories about not-quite-slavery with all sorts of wack shit from our history and culture, presenting it to us with a wink and nod in hopes that we will share these snackable moments. Even more contemporary projects often seek to situate stories from slavery as high profile, highly shareable content, rather than what they should be: art that pushes us, however uncomfortably, toward deeper understanding and realization.

But alongside this trend there is meaningful positive change. The people guarding the gates have had to necessarily shift how they operate and now Black stories, especially those in film, are appearing more and more often on digital streaming platforms. Slavery films with creators who are descendants of slaves at the helm have begun in recent decades receiving funding, distribution, and support.

Works like The Good Lord Bird, Underground, the novel Cane River, and the recent Seizing Freedom podcast show that stories about slavery can be more than studies of violence against Black people. There are creators who understand the weight of American slavery’s historical impact, who see in full color the depth of this country’s despicable campaign against Black life, but are armed with the creative language to look past the weight of the institution and see the humans who were at the heart of it, the Black humans who lived and loved and bled and died and survived and made their own resilient, joyous existence despite the American project to eradicate us, and its indigenous population, and any other group that insisted on claiming their space in this country.

The decades that slavery was legal in America were filled with humans living out their stories, stories that can serve as inspiration for true examinations of the Black perspective. More carefully wrought projects dealing with the subject of slavery will even allow us to experience the perspectives of those enslaved people that we’ve erased, like those of enslaved Black women. And more power to these projects if they are speculative fiction, because situating this painful and complicated history inside the speculative can help us explore even more critically what would have happened during slavery or the following periods of discrimination. What if time travel or astral projection were real, or if my ancestors’ prayers fell on the ears of slumbering gods of the deep, who, upon hearing them, became filled with the desire to destroy modern society?

The point of these stories should be to force us to truly, honestly reckon with the reality that Black people were—and continue to be—subjugated, ethnically cleansed, and made the victims of colonization efforts solely because of white people’s dedication to creating and preserving their position of social superiority. Sometimes, the fatigue we feel at the mishandling of these stories or our own internalized commitment to anti-Black ideas can get in the way of us understanding that fact. The stories of our enslaved ancestors, and other people who lived under, and struggled against various American campaigns of oppression and eradication, are worth more than our disdain. They are worth our care, our consideration, and our attention. Slavery was more than just a jumble of violences. It is a shared history that starred and featured Black people engaged in the most essential and important projects that any human could undertake: the quest for true freedom from violence and oppression, the fight to live fully realized human lives.


Every year the water flows up to the banks and beyond,

reaching slick algae fingers to the sky:

betrayal of an old one-eyed widow, her son never looked after

nor given a samurai’s sword. And now you have her tears

greening your lands, not salty, but fetid and harsh

stink rising in the bright wet spring winds

through the windows of the keep. The woman inside the pillar

is the bones inside the promise. The woman inside the pillar

has grown roots deep into this new earthquake. It shakes

the woman whose face was pressed against the stone.

The woman whose round body has rotted to earth

in a smile no one can see.

Her bones glow inside that cylinder that can’t hold her.

Her bones call for the whole thing to crash down.

Through a Thousand Eyes

None of us lives in the same world. I told my niece that as she drove me home from Alki Beach last week.  We could be walking down the same sidewalk, I said, and still be seeing and smelling and feeling completely different things. I pointed out the giant, 35-foot-tall flowered shovel sculpture across the street from us as an example of one of those things. “What? A shovel? Where?” she replied.

We had just passed an earlier site of this particular epiphany of mine: a billboard visible off of the West Seattle Bridge advertising a bank’s services. “Use our ATMs anywhere, anytime, anyplace!” it urged proudly. Other writers I share this wording with get bothered by the same thing that makes me shake my head in disgust. What, we ask, is the distinction between “anywhere” and “anyplace”? Why mention both? It’s redundant.

Not everyone sees that error, or cares about it. The typographer viewing the billboard with me that first time was more concerned with the message’s kerning—the regularization of spacing between words, letters, and lines. He notices these sorts of things—fonts, relative sizes, serifs or the absence of serifs. He knows his Garamond from his Georgia from his Goudy Old Style. Not me. That’s not my world.

China Miéville does a brilliant job of literalizing this concept in his novel The City and the City. Inhabitants of Besźel and Ul Quoma occupy the same physical space while living in separate communities and experiencing irrecoverably separate realities. From birth, Besźelers are trained to “unsee” and “unhear” Ul Quomans, and vice versa. There’s a critique of nationalism at work here, of course. But mainly I love this novel because it’s doing what speculative fiction does best: using metaphor and analogy to show the unacknowledged strangeness inherent in the status quo.

Decades earlier, genius fabulist R.A. Lafferty took a different approach to this same idea of worldviews as distinct and exclusive worlds. You can read “Through Other Eyes,” the relevant short story he wrote, here, if you like, although I warn you that it’s served with a heapin helpin of gender essentialism. Lafferty’s hero, Cogsworth, invents a “Cerebral Scanner,” a technology which allows him to perceive what others perceive—not just in terms of the input their senses register but in terms of how they interpret that input. Cogsworth is horrified and repelled by the noisome mindscape roiling with decay he discovers when trying the device out on his crush, a woman named Valery Mok. Mok, in turn, is horrified by the lifelessness of Cogsworth’s perceptual cosmos and calls him “a pig made out of sticks.”

We who don’t match up with the template for “normal” espoused by the dominant paradigm—we who are too old or fat or crippled or Black or queer or Asian or femme or butch or slutty or prudish or religious or atheist or possessed of whatever condition the dominant paradigm considers as defining us as sub-ordinary—we live in other worlds than these soi-disant normal people. But as Lafferty’s character Gregory Smirnov says, “There is no normal. There are only differences.”

Comprehending how these differences change not only those in possession of them but their entire universe is a gift. And it’s a gift you’re free to claim.

Stories can operate somewhat like Lafferty’s Cerebral Scanner. Authors create empathy by immersing willing readers in the viewpoints of imaginary people created just to show how something that never happened would feel. We base these characters on what we know, who we’ve met, where and when we’ve studied them, how real we want them to seem, and why we think they belong where we’re putting them. Cindy Ward and Tempest Bradford and I use our book, essays, classes, and workshops to help our students calibrate their Scanners so that they capture the intimate details of the worlds of Others-with-a-capital-O. In editing New Suns: Speculative Fiction by People of Color, I did my best to make a huge variety of viewpoints available for readers interested in exercising their empathy. Writing Everfair’s Martha Livia Hunter Albin challenged me to plausibly adopt the vantage of a Christian missionary; more recently, writing Nia, the narrator of my forthcoming story “I Being Young and Foolish,” was likewise a stretch: an albino Ugandan sorceress traveling through 11th century Europe? That’s several degrees of separation from my own demographic traits.

Reading widely can increase your ability to empathize, according to a study published in 2006 by University of Toronto professor Keith Oatley et al. In my opinion, writing further develops and fine tunes it; deliberately seeking ways to connect readers to new viewpoints deepens our experience of these viewpoints. We must immerse ourselves in them in order to share them.

Last year I visited author Karen Joy Fowler and she took me shopping. A clerk in what she’d told me was her favorite store was very, very attentive. As we were walking back to Karen’s house, I asked Karen if she’d ever had the feeling that this kind of helpfulness was also a way of keeping tabs on a possible thief. She hadn’t. But she showed me she understood what I was talking about even though it was outside of her experience. Nalo Hopkinson, Karen said, had once asked her how often she got strip searched when crossing the US/Canada border.

Not, you should note, whether Karen got strip searched. Nalo just assumed she did, because that was par for Nalo’s course. Her suspicious inquiry into the possibility of racial bias in their treatment (Karen is white and Nalo is Black) was, “How often?”

The store Karen and I were in at the same time was at the same location for each of us. The borders Nalo and Karen crossed were physically and geographically identical. Yet in both cases they were worlds apart. And Karen got that.

Of course she got it. Sarah Canary, her debut novel, published way, way back in 1991, shows us the mysterious, eponymous heroine from numerous characters’ perspectives. To Chin Ah Kin she’s ugly and obviously, therefore, a prostitute. To suffragist Adelaide Dixon she’s a heroic husband-killer. So on, so forth. Karen Joy Fowler knew what she was doing then, so long ago, and she still knows now.

Karen’s 70. I’m 65. At our ages we’ve witnessed the deaths of many worlds. My mother’s days and nights are gone. My mother’s dreams. Her friendships, those mutually built bowers of love and support and daring and rest are faded, melted, tumbled aside. Collapsed from without and within.

I hear that’s going to happen with me, too. Only before then I plan on making these models of my multitudinous mindscapes and getting you to come inside them. (You’re soaking in it.)

Twenty years ago, when I was applying for lots of grants, I wrote a Statement of Artistic Intent. That’s one text almost everyone asks for. My original SAI is lost to me in the mists of Wordperfect, but I can quote three relevant excerpts here:

“I want to make worlds out of words.”

“If I present my visions vividly enough, I can convince my readers that they’re wading through rivers of pearls, or flying through the air in a sentient dirigible.”

“The way into the worlds I make is easy and interesting. The adventures my readers have during their visits are the sort that stay with them when they have left. I write for the enlightened enjoyment of my audience, to draw them into a strange, familiar landscape, and show them secrets that no one has ever told them, yet which they know quite well are true.”

This is what I’ve been trying to do my whole life. Stories are worlds we leave behind us when we die.

I want you in my worlds. I want you in many others, too. The more you find, the more there are. Can you see them? Look through a thousand eyes.



The Uncanny Valley

Today is Raiders-of-the-Lost-Ark-melt-your-face-off hot. Thankfully, we have air conditioning and no shortage of things to keep us occupied inside today during one of those terribly muggy Central Illinois summer days. Though the world is theoretically opening up, we’ll be staying in for the time being. Other than the normal awful summer weather, things are improving here at the Uncanny Headquarters. Caitlin has remained healthy since February and has even returned to in-person school. Hugo the Cat continues looking for a way to get to the nefarious squirrels in the backyard, sadly with little success.

Meanwhile, Lynne and Michael are PLOTTING with the rest of Team Uncanny, as it is that time of the year. We will be running an Uncanny Magazine Year 8 Kickstarter starting REALLY SOON! Keep watching our Twitter and Facebook feeds and our newsletter for more information!

Stupendous news, Space Unicorns! “The Inaccessibility of Heaven” by Aliette de Bodard is a Best Novelette Locus Award finalist, “Burn or the Episodic Life of Sam Wells as a Super” by A.T. Greenblatt is a Best Novelette Locus Award finalist, “Badass Moms in the Zombie Apocalypse” by Rae Carson is a Best Short Story Locus Award finalist, “Dresses Like White Elephants” by Meg Elison is a Best Short Story Locus Award finalist, “The Sycamore and the Sybil” by Alix E. Harrow is a Best Short Story Locus Award finalist, and “50 Things Every AI Working with Humans Should Know” by Ken Liu is a Best Short Story Locus Award finalist! Congratulations to Aliette, A.T., Rae, Meg, Alix, and Ken!!! Plus, Uncanny Magazine is a Best Magazine Locus Award finalist, and Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas are a Best Editor Locus Award finalist!

We are so honored!

A huge congratulations to all of the phenomenal finalists!

From the Locus website:

The Locus Science Fiction Foundation has announced the top ten finalists in each category of the 2021 Locus Awards. These results are from the February 1 to April 15 voting, done by readers on an open public ballot. Congratulations to all!

Fabulous news, Space Unicorns! Three Uncanny Magazine stories, 2 poems, and an essay are 2021 Ignyte Award finalists! “The Inaccessibility of Heaven” by Aliette de Bodard a finalist for a Best Novelette Ignyte Award, “My Country Is a Ghost” by Eugenia Triantafyllou is a finalist for a Best Short Story Ignyte Award, “You Perfect, Broken Thing” by C.L. Clark is a finalist for a Best Short Story Ignyte Award, “Fin” by Terese Mason Pierre is a finalist for a Best in Speculative Poetry Ignyte Award, “Hungry Ghost” by Millie Ho is a finalist for a Best in Speculative Poetry Ignyte Award, and “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Excellence” by Nibedita Sen is a finalist for a Best in Creative Nonfiction Ignyte Award! Congratulations to everyone!!!

Plus, congratulations to former Uncanny Magazine Managing/Nonfiction Editor Michi Trota! Michi is a finalist for The Ember Award for unsung contributions to genre!

It is a fabulous ballot! Congratulations to all of the finalists!

From the Ignyte Award website:

The short list is derived from 15 BIPOC+ voters made up of FIYAHCON staff and previous award winners, of varying genders, sexualities, cultures, disabilities, and locations throughout the world. They are referred to as the Ignyte Awards Committee. Committee members were not permitted to nominate their own works or works of which they were a part. The Committee was not limited to selections authored or otherwise created by BIPOC. Public voting on the shortlist does not permit write-in nominations. Each year, we ask one year’s winners to be part of the subsequent year’s committee to ensure fresh perspectives and to help prevent repeated nominations of the same popular authors as recognized in many other genre awards.

More wonderful news, Space Unicorns! The 2021 Aurora Awards finalists have been announced, and two Uncanny Magazine pieces are on the final ballot! “The Death of the Gods” by Leah Bobet is a finalist for the Best Poem/Song Aurora Award, and “So You Want to Be a Honeypot” by Kelly Robson is a finalist for the Best Short Story Aurora Award! Congratulations to Leah, Kelly, and to all of the phenomenal finalists!

From the Aurora Awards website:

This ballot is for works done in 2020 by Canadians. The Aurora Awards are nominated by members of the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association. The top five nominated works were selected. Additional works were included where there was a tie for fifth place. An online awards ceremony will be held on Oct 16, 2021 hosted by Can-Con ( Voting will being on July 31, 2021 and close at 11:59 pm EDT on September 4, 2021. NOTE: Due to Covid-19, works normally in Fan Organizational are in the Fan Related Work category.

And now the contents of Uncanny Magazine Issue 41! The spectacular cover is Seelie Springs by Alexa Sharpe. Our new fiction includes Tananarive Due’s exploration of family, health, and hard choices “The Wishing Pool,” Eleanor Arnason’s tale of ghosts and cultural differences “The Graveyard,” Shaoni C. White’s story of sacrifice and rebellion “Diamond Cuts,” Tochi Onyebuchi’s journey through a lifetime and beyond “Presque vue,” Ellen Kushner’s Elizabethan drama of friendship and art “Immortal Coil,” and finally C. S. E. Cooney’s yarn of betrayal and revenge “From the Archives of the Museum of Eerie Skins: An Account.” Our reprint is “The Chameleon’s Gloves” by Yoon Ha Lee, originally published in Cosmic Powers.

Our provocative and compelling essays this issue include “Through a Thousand Eyes” by Nisi Shawl, “The Necessity of Slavery Stories” by Troy L. Wiggins, “The Bad Dad Redemption Arc Needs to Die” by Nino Cipri, and “WWXD: A Warrior’s Path of Reflection and Redemption” by C.L. Clark. This month also includes a new editorial column by Nonfiction Editor Elsa Sjunneson called “Imagining Futures: Reading to a Better World.” Our gorgeous and evocative poetry includes “Sonnet for the Aglæcwif” by Minal Hajratwala, “Hitobashira” by Betsy Aoki, “After The Tower Falls, Death Gives Advice” by Ali Trotta, and “Radioactivity” by Octavia Cade. Caroline M. Yoachim interviews Eleanor Arnason and C. S. E. Cooney about their stories.

The Uncanny Magazine Podcast 41A features “The Wishing Pool” by Tananarive Due, as read by Matt Peters, “Sonnet for the Aglæcwif” by Minal Hajratwala, as read by Joy Piedmont, and Lynne M. Thomas interviewing Tananarive Due. The Uncanny Magazine Podcast 41B features “Presque vue” by Tochi Onyebuchi, as read by Matt Peters, “Radioactivity” by Octavia Cade, as read by Erika Ensign, and Lynne M. Thomas interviewing Tochi Onyebuchi.

As always, we are deeply grateful for your support of Uncanny Magazine. Shine on, Space Unicorns!

Interview: Eleanor Arnason

Eleanor Arnason published her first short story in 1973. Since then, she has published six novels, three short story collections, a couple of chapbooks and some poetry. Her novel A Woman of the Iron People won the James Tiptree Jr. and the Mythopoeic Society Awards; her novel Ring of Swords won a Minnesota Book Award; and her short story “Dapple” won the Spectrum Award. A collection of her Icelandic fantasies came out in 2014. She has since written four more stories about Icelandic ghosts, trolls, elves and ordinary people. This is one. “The Graveyard” is Arnason’s first appearance in Uncanny, a beautifully crafted tale that weaves together folklore and history.


Uncanny Magazine: I love the structure of this story—we are reading the account of a narrator who is hearing about the ghosts from a curator, who in turn has heard the story from Atli. Why did you choose this structure?

Eleanor Arnason: The story begins with an actual conversation I had with the curator of a historical site in Iceland. She told me about a farmer who didn’t believe in ghosts, but had to deal with them. But there was no end to her story. The curator didn’t tell me what happened to the farmer. So, I rewrote her narrative and added an ending. The layering—the narrator who is told the story by the curator, who is in turn told the story by the farmer—came out of the actual situation.

Uncanny Magazine: What was the easiest part of writing this story? What was the most challenging thing?

Eleanor Arnason: The easiest part was the beginning, since I had a real (I think) incident. The hard part was finding an ending. I wanted to keep the uncertainty. Were the ghosts real? Did the characters end by believing in ghosts? And I wanted to keep the story pragmatic: the farmer had a problem. How was he going to solve it? What’s more important than believing in the ghosts is finding a way to get rid of them.

Uncanny Magazine: “The Graveyard” has a lovely anthropological feel to it, centering on a cultural conflict and weaving together Icelandic folklore and history, which are recurring topics in your work. What other topics or themes do you find yourself drawn to repeatedly?

Eleanor Arnason: A lot of my fiction is about social stereotypes and characters who don’t fit into the roles they are assigned by society. I come out of the Second Wave of Feminism, which hit SF in the late 1960s and was very strong through the 1970s. (Theodore Sturgeon said all the good new writers in the 1970s were women, except for James Tiptree Jr.) So I do a lot with gender roles. My characters want to be something they can’t be in their society, because of their gender. Sometimes they succeed in being the people they want to be. Sometimes they don’t manage. But I give them tolerable lives. There is enough suffering in the world.

My Icelandic stories are different. Not about gender, for the most part. They are about people who get in difficult situations which are often supernatural and struggle to get out of the situations and get on with their lives. Maybe the commonality with the gender stories is the struggle to have one’s own life. Atli has to find a way to calm down the ghosts and to get the Icelandic-American businessman to stop bothering the graveyard. There is nothing epic about this: he’s not like Frodo. He just wants to get on with his life.

Many of my Icelandic stories are about history: the land is built on the past, as my curator says. A lot of my Icelandic characters are trying to come to terms with the past and the folklore of their country: ghosts, trolls, elves. I am not a fan of Icelandic elves, who seem like rich people, indifferent to the suffering of the poor.  But I sometimes write about them. I like trolls, which I see as ordinary people, though very large and rock-like, who struggle to get by. Ghosts are past all effort. Though they can complain.

Writing the above I thought of the famous lines by Karl Marx in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte: “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.” Maybe that’s what my fiction is about: trying to make a decent life in spite the rules of one’s society and the weight of the past.

Uncanny Magazine: Do you believe in ghosts?

Eleanor Arnason: No, but neither did the farmer. I am not invested in not believing in ghosts. If I meet one, I will believe in it.

Uncanny Magazine: You’ve been writing short stories since the 1970s, and have published dozens of short stories and three collections. What draws you to short fiction? Which writers or stories do you consider to be your strongest influences?

Eleanor Arnason: I think my natural length is the short story. I especially like long short stories, novelettes. But I write a fair number of classic-length short stories. I’m a slow writer and writing a novel takes forever. So I like the shortness of short fiction, and the fact that—written well—it can have a density and tightness that’s hard to get in a novel. It’s hard to write a flawless novel, though Jane Austen managed in Pride and Prejudice. But you can write a close to flawless short story.

I think Ursula K. Le Guin is an obvious influence on my work. Possibly Jane Austen as well. I have read Austen’s novels over and over. I love her wit and clear-sightedness and extreme skill as a writer. Very obviously medieval Icelandic literature has influenced me, especially the Icelandic family sagas, not only in my Icelandic stories. My brother says he can see the influence of the sagas in everything I write. (I grant that Austen and the sagas are an odd combination. But it’s what I grew up with.)

Uncanny Magazine: What are you working on next?

Eleanor Arnason: I have just finished another couple of Icelandic stories. Then I will take a break from Iceland. I have a story about a journalist who gets an assignment to interview the ghost of Hugo Chavez, the former president of Venezuela, to find out if he was involved in the 2020 American election. (Some of Trump’s allies say Chavez helped steal the election. Chavez has been dead since 2013, as people keep pointing out.) I’m still tinkering with that one. I think it will be difficult to sell. And I have started a story about Yu the Great, who founded the first Chinese imperial dynasty, assuming he actually existed. What I like about him is he’s credited with taming the floods on the Yellow River. Imperial China was founded by an engineer! Of course, he was a supernatural engineer, helped by a yellow dragon and a gigantic black turtle. He was also, according to the Chinese stories, an exemplary person and devoted to the common people. Not all my stories work out. These last two may or may not.

Uncanny Magazine: Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us!

Imagining Futures: Imagination, Ltd.

When we’re little, we are told that imagination has no bounds, that we are unlimited in what we can come up with. Every television show relies upon the suspension of disbelief that children are gifted with, and that suspension of disbelief is eroded or beaten out of us as we age. Every children’s book allows for the fantasy of a child’s imagination, but as we grow we are told that those fantasies are left to genres like sci-fi and fantasy. My partner has two children. Being immersed in the world of childlike imagination has gotten me to thinking about how we imagine, and how our imagination changes as we age.

The word genre becomes a bad word.

The world and what we believe it can be gets smaller.

Because society gets in the way.

That process of erosion starts in little ways—forgetting to say “yes, and” instead of “no” when a playmate tells you part of the story they want to tell with you. In the way the books you read go from being picture books with talking animals and trees, to being hidden away and shelved with the other genre books. What’s the difference between The Princess in Black and Dealing with Dragons, which are shelved in general kidlit at my local bookstore, and Uprooted except that we assume children are accepting of all narratives? Isn’t Where the Wild Things Are a monster story in a secondary world?

The erosion tells us what we are allowed to imagine outside of the gutters on the page. Unless we partake in the art of fanfiction, we’re not asked to imagine outside the borders of what’s on the page past childhood.

Science fiction and fantasy worldbuilding is an art in developing boundaries; we have to decide how things work, who lives somewhere, and what can happen in order for our stories to make sense. Audiences (and frequently gatekeepers in our industry) want answers to practical questions like “why can that dog talk” and “is Garfield a kaiju”. They want to know if it’s “realistic” for a blind character to perform certain activities.

But the idea of things “making sense” is a fundamentally grown-up sort of idea. “Making sense” also relies upon commonly understood ways of being. A non-disabled audience is less likely to accept the reality of a disabled life, whether or not it’s accurate.

The world is so much messier than the sensible world gives us credit for.

When I watch movies or read books about science fictional worlds that don’t feature disabled characters, I often imagine those folks on the sidelines of the story. Sometimes I imagine what their lives are like—not because I want to but because I have to. Disabled people aren’t in the text, and are rarely in the subtext. When I imagine disabled characters, it is using my own mind, working off what the author has given me. We’re rarely there, because non-disabled people have been taught not to think of us, and that includes removing us from their imaginations.

The erosion of my imagination has been in part in what questions I do not ask. I have learned not to ask where the disabled people are, because when I do, the inevitable answer is that we wouldn’t be there at all. Curative culture demands that we accept cures for our broken bodies, and it tells non-disabled people that they should imagine that all disabled people have the internal narrative that something is wrong, that they must be fixed. But my internal monologue is rarely about what I need to fix, but about how my world fails me at every turn.

As adults, we contend with something called being “realistic.” It isn’t just in our real lives where we pay bills and rent that we are given little room to roam in our minds, but there are bounds to the world of story too. The imagined world is often gatekept by editors, marketing teams, casting departments and more in terms of what story is “believable” to a mainstream audience. The expectations game is fraught because what’s realistic is ultimately policed by the dominant society. We don’t see blind characters with nuanced vision, for example, because that’s outside of the collective imagination (you should see what happens when people find out I can use Twitter!). This means that the non-disabled people of our collective imagination have made decisions about the disabled imagination, too.

Basically, when a disabled person says what they do (for real) or even what they want to do (as an imagined act) often non-disabled people will tell us we can’t. That’s a limit to our imaginations, and it affects the stories that gatekeepers will buy. It affects what we can have our characters do, too.

In writing, imagination is more or less our currency, it is what makes our industry work.

But when we start to tell each other—our audiences, ourselves—what’s possible, when we start to lose suspension of disbelief in favor of what “makes sense” we’re making definitive decisions not about what anyone can imagine, but about what the creator can. There are thousands of ways to tell the same story, yet the gatekeepers of publishing lay it at the feet of the mainstream audience as a reason to keep perspectives easily understood. Catering to the mainstream narrows what we imagine as a collective. So if you’re a non-disabled author telling a story about the future and you can’t imagine a disabled person in space…we just won’t be there. If you can’t imagine Black people in historical settings…they won’t be there either.

Bias is often running the show when it comes to what can be believed. A clear narrative to a mainstream audience may be untrue for a marginalized author. For example, it doesn’t make sense to a hearing audience why a Deaf character would choose not to wear hearing aids. But it makes perfect sense to a Deaf audience. A Deaf character who doesn’t wear hearing aids is rejecting hearing society and making a statement about hearing culture or Deaf Culture that a hearing reader might not understand. Mainstream society is more than willing to suspend disbelief for the narrative of ghosts and dragons, of aliens and new languages, but the hardened truth of ableism or racism seems to be disbelieved in every imagined context.

Selective imagination is killing us. When we can imagine ourselves in the future, when we can imagine ourselves in public, when we can imagine ourselves everywhere in society, we have the ability to live. When our opportunities are cut off, our choices curtailed, our imagined futures denied…that kills us figuratively, but forcing disabled people to stop imagining possible hopeful futures causes harm that can result in severe depression and suicidality.

Constraining imagination has consequences.

I’m trying to show my partner’s 5-year-old in small conversations about how her imagination has power, the power to shape her world for good or ill. When she tells me that I can’t do something because I’m blind, I ask her where she learned it. That she is imagining the truth of someone else’s body—and that can cause harm.

The stories we tell ourselves about other people come from our imaginations, too.

These conversations, these meditations on story with a 5-year-old driving the bus remind me that the imagination is more powerful than we think.

Proof by Induction

Paulie rushes out the elevator doors the moment they part, only to skid to a halt at the sight of his father’s wife. She shakes her head, but he doesn’t need the confirmation. If Tricia is out here and not in the hospital room with his father, it can only mean he has passed. He numbly accepts a hug from her.

When she releases him, a woman in a tweed jacket clears her throat. “Mr. Gifford, we are all very sorry for your loss.”

“Thank you,” he replies automatically, focusing on her crucifix. He swallows. “This is probably a dumb question, but what happens now?”

The chaplain draws herself up. “Now we all go back to the room where your father passed, unless of course you prefer not to.” She begins walking as she talks. “You can enter into his Coda and say any goodbyes you’d like to say, or ask him any questions you have about his end.”

Paulie follows her, wondering dimly if there will be fallout from the meeting he had to cancel with Professor Tappert. Paulie’s father was a professor emeritus at his same university, so certainly they should be sympathetic. He doesn’t kid himself about how this meeting was going to go, however. Tappert is on his P&T committee, and with his scant publication record and mediocre yearly reviews, his tenure prospects were already dim. They’re even dimmer now.

Inside the hospital room, Paulie stares. He isn’t sure what he expected, but he almost believes his father could open his eyes at any moment—except for the endotracheal tube stuck in his mouth. He’s never been this close to a dead body before. Is he supposed to touch it or not? Paulie puts a hand on his shoulder; it feels like his father.

He grips the bed rail.

The chaplain gestures toward Tricia. “Mrs. Gifford elected not to enter his Coda. If you would like to, you can see him there.”

Paulie eyes the console and cables behind the bed. “Is it really him?”

“Yes and no. The human mind remains aware of stimulus for up to five minutes after what we consider to be the moment of death. The Coda does for his consciousness what the rest of his telemetry does for his vital signs—takes a snapshot that we can look at later. The Coda allows you to interact with a simulacrum of your father, with his memories and personality at the end of his life.” She gesticulates awkwardly, as though the topic is distasteful. “He can tell you if he had a life insurance policy, where the will is, things like that. The Coda cannot change in the way that a person can, however; it cannot learn or grow.” Her eyes meet Paulie’s. “Your father’s soul is not in there. Your father has moved on.”

It was early morning when Paulie put the headset on, but predawn when he blinked into the virtual environment. He had only left the hospital to go home and get some sleep about five hours before the end. Now he could almost believe he had turned back around and found his father waiting here, as though the 5 AM phone call from Tricia were just a dream.

Gone was the endotracheal tube. The room was eerily silent, with none of the sounds he’d associated with the hospital from his visits over the past week.

He met his father’s eyes. “Hey.”

His father smiled ruefully. “Hey.”

“Are you—”

“Dead?” His father gestured toward the inactive monitors. “Apparently so.”

“Does it hurt?” Are you afraid, he wanted to ask, but he knew better than to talk to his father about emotions.

“Nothing hurts,” he said, picking at a scab on his leg. “I guess they have a way of turning that off.”

“Did the doctors mess up? Should I ask for an autopsy?”

His father shook his head. “Nah. I’m seventy-one, diabetic, and with a bad heart. You’re not going to win any lawsuits here.”

It occurred to Paulie that Codas could be programmed to give whatever answer benefitted the hospital.

Paulie stared out the window, over the parking lot, to the eerily empty expressway. “I really believed we were close on that Perelman proof.”

“Maybe nobody’s meant to find it.”

Easy for him to say. He’d already been beyond questions of tenure and publication; now all of that was even more meaningless for him. For Paulie, though, Perelman would have been the home run his tenure dossier needed.

He turned back toward the bed. “Okay. Well.” He put a hand on the chair he’d sat in last night while his father complained about his breathing. He should say something. Something like I love you¸ he supposed. But his father had never gone in for the mushy stuff in life, so why start now?

“Goodbye, then,” he finished instead.

“Bye, Paulie,” said his father. “Thank you for visiting.”

Thank you for visiting. The same as he’d taken to saying every time Paulie came to him since his health began to decline last year. Paulie waited, hoping this time his father would say something more, until the moment dragged on awkwardly, and then he pulled the interface off his head.

“What happens to his Coda when we leave?” he asks, leaning against a counter.

The chaplain sighs. “The equipment will be cleaned and reused, except for the actual leads that connected to his scalp, which are disposed of.”

“I don’t mean the equipment.”

“No,” she agrees. After a moment she continues. “The simulacrum itself will be digitally compressed and sent to a data storage facility.”

“Will he be… awake?”

“He’s not actually conscious now, so no, he will not be conscious in storage.”

“Okay, well I suppose that’s…”

“Mr. Gifford?”

Paulie lets his vision rest on the blinds, absent-mindedly counting. Three straight blinds. Two twisted. Five straight. The rest in a mass, discrete, but not countable from here. Three two and five. Prime numbers. Two that add to the third.

“Can he think creatively? In the, uh, simulation, I mean. Can he do math? Can he have insights?”

“Again, that’s not your father in there. That’s a slice—”

“Yes, I know, a snapshot of who he was in his last moments. Last night when I was here he was arguing with the nurse about whether or not he should have to wear that oxygen mask. He was capable of thinking critically right up until the end.”

The chaplain winces. “I hate to remind you, but he was mistaken.”

Paulie nods. “He was no doctor, but he was a mathematician. Can his Coda still think mathematically?”

“I suppose, Mr. Gifford. I’m no scientist.”

Paulie pushes off from the counter. “I’d like to take him with me. That should be possible, right?”

She bites her lip. “This hospital is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church. While we are not opposed to the Coda on a theological basis, obviously, our ethics committee has concerns when it comes to the appearance of attributing personhood to what should be a temporary means of gathering information and comfort.”

Paulie crosses his arms. “If it’s not a person, then it’s data. I’m next of kin, so the data should be my property.”

“Technically his wife is next of kin.” She holds up a hand at Paulie’s intake of breath. “It is possible to take ownership of the simulacrum, with proper paperwork, if his wife agrees. You would be billed for the computer and interface, and insurance will not cover the expense. But Mr. Gifford, I don’t recommend it. The healthiest thing you can do is move on. Let go.”

He meets her gaze. “Thanks for the advice, but my mind’s made up.”

Gina wraps him in a hug when she comes home from work. “I’m so sorry,” she murmurs. “I assume you told Maddie.”


“How did she take the news?”

He thinks back to his daughter’s return from school. How much harder she took the loss than he, even though he’s the one who lost a father. “Not well. She’s up in her room.”

Gina eyes the computer console on the coffee table. “What’s that?”

“The hospital let me take his Coda.”

“You mean—is he in there?”

“Kind of. Not really.”

She shudders. “Wow. Okay. If this helps your grieving process, then I’m all for it.”

“It’s not about grieving.”

“What, then?”

“The Perelman Hypothesis.”

She frowns. “I thought you’d given up on that when your father retired.”

“He only retired from lecturing. From office hours and meetings and committees and grantsmanship. You never retire from thinking. We were working on it together. It was going to be his last big result.”

“Paulie, people have been trying to prove that conjecture for ninety years. Whoever finally does will be some grad student in their twenties, using techniques that don’t exist yet.”

“We were close, Gina. I know it.”

She meets his eye, and holds the glance a long time before replying. “And you think you’re going to accomplish this by spending time inside a computer with your father.”

He winces at the inaccuracies, but he doesn’t correct her. “I think so,” he says instead.

“Okay, Paulie,” she says, though she shakes her head. “But do me a favor. Keep it in the den, okay? I don’t want Maddie anywhere near it. I don’t want her confused about whether Grandpa’s really gone or not. Just let her grieve.”

The hospital room was dark once again in the simulacrum.

“Hey. Thank you for visiting.”

He nodded at his father. “Do you remember me, uh, visiting you here before?”

His father seemed puzzled. “You mean last night? Yes.”

“No, I mean here in… in this thing. In your Coda.”

“The last thing I remember is not being able to breathe, and my chest hurting like a motherfucker, and then I was sitting up with all the cables and hoses off, and you walked in.”

“Do you understand that you’re dead?”

His father nodded. “Either that or I’m suddenly cured.”

“What’s the square root of i?”

Paulie’s father stared. “What?”

“The square root of i. In any form you like.”

“Paulie, why?”

“I’m trying to see if it’s really—” Paulie turned away, his fists clenched. “They say this simulacrum knows everything you knew at the last moment. This is something you could have done in your head.”

“Okay, Paulie. One over root two plus i over root two. And its negation. Or would you prefer the answer in polar form?”

Paulie breathed a sigh of relief. “Okay, so I’ve been working on Perelman. Help me find something to write with.” He started digging in drawers, but all of them were empty.

“Are you serious?”

He looked at his father. “Don’t you want this?”


“We could still have that breakthrough. One last result to rock the mathematical world. Make everybody learn your name.”

His father smiled faintly. “Your name, too.”

Paulie put a hand on the bed. “Your legacy. My career. There’s something for both of us here. Do you have anything better to do?”

“I guess I really don’t.”

He returned to searching the room, but every compartment was empty. Nothing existed in this simulation except what could be seen on the surface. Finally he hit upon the dry-erase board the shift nurses wrote their names on. He pulled a cap off a marker and tested it, half expecting it not to work as in the real world. To his relief, it left a clear line on the board.

“That’s not a lot of space,” said his father.

“No,” he agreed. “I can’t bring anything in with me or take anything out, though. Whatever we come up with has to be in small enough chunks for me to remember and replicate in the—replicate outside. So it’s just as well.”

“Okay, show me what you have.”

Paulie started filling the little board with equations. “We know how to generate particular examples—”

“Trivial solutions,” his father interrupted. “Perelman referenced a dozen himself, in his publication. We can’t enumerate an exhaustive set, though.”

Paulie nodded. “Right. Now, before you went into the hospital the first time, we had taken the approach of looking for a relationship between the cardinality of the Ricci set and the number of solutions it generates. We started by considering finite sets.”

His father rubbed his forehead. “I vaguely remember, but this was right before things went downhill.”

“That’s fine—I’ve been working on that without you, so we don’t have to repeat it, we only need to figure out the next steps. I’ve been approaching it as a series, trying to tie the value not merely to cardinality, but to its h-value. This feels right to me.”

His father perked up at that. “Not an equation,” he said. “A series.”

“Right. Call it H and see what it converges to as n approaches infinity.”

Gradually the board filled with arrows and sigmas and integrals.

“I wish we had a bigger board,” Paulie said.

“Write on the wall. What are they gonna do, yell at us?”

Paulie stared. “Goddamn that’s brilliant.”

After another hour or so they hit a dead end.

“If we had a generalized solution for hyperbolic equations,” Paulie’s father began.

“We don’t, though.”

“No, but look up Brumbaugh Manifolds. Doug Brumbaugh was working on this the last time I saw him. He may have made some progress.”

“Okay, that’s something to try. I won’t be able to hold much more in my head anyway.”

“I bet if you talk to the company that makes this, they can find a way for you to email yourself from inside or something.”

“No way,” Paulie said. “I don’t want anyone to know what we’re working on here. I don’t want someone to go find every mathematician who’s died in the last five years and hook all their Codas up in some kind of screwed up massively parallel computer and beat us to the punch.”

His father’s eyes widened. “Shit.”

“Yeah. Only a matter of time before somebody else thinks of it, though.”

“So you might as well be first?”

Paulie chewed his lip. “Do you not want to do this? Do you think this is wrong?”

He grinned ruefully. “What do I know from wrong?”

Paulie dropped into the bedside chair. “What’s it like?”


“Being dead but being conscious. Does it make you upset?”

His father shrugged. “It is what it is.”

“You had plans,” Paulie said. “You were going to remodel the house.”

“Guess now I’m not.”

Paulie gripped the bed’s footboard. “Don’t you feel anything at all?” He couldn’t remember if his father had ever had a feeling in his damned life.

“Would it change anything?”

Paulie flips through images on a tablet in the mortuary office. “Somebody told me you had an option to put a Coda interface in the niche with his ashes, but I don’t see that here.”

Next to him, Tricia winces, but she schools it quickly.

“We don’t include Coda ports in the regular lineup,” the funeral director says, “but yes, it is a choice we offer. This is not a service that has caught on yet. Many people find the idea disturbing, as though we are preventing our loved ones from moving on. Or preventing ourselves from moving on. If you elect to equip the niche with an interface, you will have to choose the special columbarium we have set aside for that. It’s, ah, not near the other niches.”

Paulie glances at Tricia, but apart from insisting on a fancier urn for her husband, she’s let him make all the decisions.

“Do it,” he says.

At the cemetery Paulie kisses the urn, and Tricia does the same. Then he watches as an employee places it into the columbarium and closes the marble cover.

A minister selected by her side of the family drones on. As far as Paulie remembers, his father wasn’t religious, but this isn’t for his benefit, after all.

On the way to the car he grabs Maddie and pulls her into a tight hug. “You know I love you, right?”

She sobs and nods against him.

“You know I’m proud of you, right?”

“Paulie,” Gina says, “you’re upsetting her.”

“I just want to make sure she knows.”


His eyes adjusted quickly to the dark. “Hey.”

His father gestured at the silent equipment by the bed. “Guess this is the end. I had an insurance policy. There isn’t much, but it should pay for a cremation. Tricia should be able to find the paperwork. You’re the beneficiary.”

“Yeah, we took care of all that.”

“Oh. How long have I been gone?”

He stepped over to the dry-erase board. “About three weeks.”

“Then… what are you still doing here?”

“We’ve been working on the Perelman Hypothesis.

“Are you serious?”

Paulie uncapped a marker. “Don’t make me go through it all again. It’s fifty degrees out, we only have so much time, and I need to walk you through what we came up with last time. Trust me, you’re on board.”

His father blinked. “Okay then. Go ahead.”

The clock on the wall ticked off seconds, while the hour and minute hand relentlessly pointed to eight minutes after five the entire time it took Paulie to run through the connection to hyperbolic equations.

“I reached out to Professor Brumbaugh like you said, but he pointed me to the Jagadish-Rajput conjecture.”

“I haven’t heard of that. Are they working on Perelman also?”

“No, they’re working on node forms, but their conjecture is that hyperbolic equations correspond to node forms. They’ve tested several hundred terms using a supercomputer and they’ve all checked out.”

His father shook his head. “How’s that help us?”

“Node forms converge. Supposing we can prove their conjecture, we can use that to prove Perelman.”

“This isn’t math. This is grasping at straws. A supercomputer says it works—so what? That’s not theory. Where’s the proof?”

Paulie capped the marker, even though he suspected it could not dry out. “Don’t you see? If the correspondence holds, then—”

“Are you trying to give me a heart attack in the afterlife? Do Jagadish and Rajput have the basis for a theorem, or just a coincidence they can’t explain? Even Euler had conjectures disproven after three hundred years!”

“Well fine then—” Paulie lowered his voice. “Fine. Help me find a counterexample, then. Or better yet, help me prove Jagadish-Rajput true, because that proof will make us both famous.”

His father crossed his arms. “Fine. This conjecture is bound to have consequences for other node forms. Maybe a proof by contradiction is our angle.”

Paulie and his father toyed with a variety of extrapolations, looking for a counterexample. At least the false starts could be erased—and Paulie wouldn’t need to remember any of them when he got out of the Coda. All he’d need to remember would be a working approach, if they found one.

“The department voted on my tenure application this week,” he said during a break. “They voted to advance it to the dean.” Paulie suspected strongly the vote was not unanimous, which boded poorly for the next level of the process, but he kept that part to himself.


Huh? That was it?

“You could congratulate me. You could wish me luck.”

“Okay. Good luck.”

“Thanks,” Paulie muttered. He added a few more lines to the board. “Maddie has a dance recital next week. She misses you a lot.”

“Wish her luck too, then.”

“It just…it reminds me of my piano recitals.”

His father leaned on his bed railing. “Is that what this is really about, Paulie? Are you here to tell me I was a shitty father? I know. I already acknowledged that, after the divorce.”

Paulie dropped into the chair by the bed. “No,” he said at last. “Sorry. I keep thinking of what other people use the Coda technology for, and I keep waiting to hear you talk about something besides math or life insurance. I keep hoping you’ll have something profound to say.”

“I’m not the mushy type.”

“You could fake it.”

“You’re the smartest person I ever met. You would see through any faking.”

Paulie blinked. A compliment.

“I wouldn’t have blamed you if you didn’t want anything to do with me,” his father went on, “after not being there for you as a kid. But then you made me a part of your life and we got along okay. You treated me like a colleague, so I tried to treat you the same. Now you’re mad at me for not acting more like a father? I didn’t think you wanted that from me.”

Paulie waited to see if he would say anything else. That was about as close to “mushy” as he’d come since the night twenty years ago when he’d apologized for abandoning him.

After a quiet eternity, he got up from the chair. “Okay, well, I think I have enough to work on for now. I’ll come back when I have some progress.”

“Bye, Paulie. Thank you for visiting.”

“Jesus, Paulie, I don’t mind driving home, but if you puke in the car, you’re cleaning it up.”

Paulie clinks his empty wine glass against Gina’s still-full one. “The free wine is the only thing that makes these parties worth attending.”

She rolls her eyes. “Our holiday party’s at the Olive Garden. You should appreciate what you’ve got.”

He smiles. “I think that’s what I just said.”

“Just pace yourself, okay?”

“It’s a deal.”

She gestures toward the food table. “I’m gonna get some crudités. You should get some food in you too.”

“I will.”

As she walks away, his phone buzzes. Paulie takes another glass of wine from a server and heads to one of the standing tables.

His pulse quickens as he reads Jagadish’s name in the Sender field. He skims the text, but the message is too long and too dense to try to absorb on a tiny screen. The sooner he can leave this stupid party and go home, the better.

“Dr. Gifford!”

He tears his eyes from the screen to meet the gaze of his colleague, Professor Hewett.

Her expression softens. “How’ve you been holding up, Paul, since, well, since your father?”

“I’m doing alright, María.”

She nods and is silent for a moment, as though considering. Finally she plunges on. “How’s your research going? Anything promising? I know a bunch of us have been hoping to see something new from you.”

“Did I hear you say Paul’s working on something new?”

Shit. Dr. Tappert. The senior professor changes course to join them as though pulled in by lasso.

Paulie chugs the rest of his wine, as much for a moment to think as for an excuse to look away from Tappert’s idiot face.

“Yeah,” he says at last. “I’m looking into Jagadish-Rajput.”

“Oh!” says Hewett. “I met a Peruvian mathematician at a conference who was working on that. His name is Segami—you should reach out to him.”

Paulie nods. “Thanks. I’ll look—”

“Wait a minute,” says Tappert. “I remember reading something about—please tell me you’re not still tilting at the Perelman Conjecture.”

Paulie’s throat tightens. “It’s a perfectly valid area of research,” he spits out. He steps away from the table and flags down a server for another glass, hoping to lose Tappert in the process.

No such luck. “Dr. Gifford,” the older professor says, resting a hand on his arm, “Perelman’s a valid area of inquiry for a young man, maybe. Or for an old man, playing at being a professor emeritus. Not for a mathematician seeking tenure.”

Hearing Tappert’s disavowal of his scholarly value is all the confirmation Paulie needs. No way had he signed off on Paulie’s tenure application.

“I disagree, Dan,” says Hewett. “I have a lot of respect for people going after tough things. After all, that’s kind of what math is about.” Turning to Paulie, she adds, “Going after Jagadish-Rajput is perfect too, because if you don’t make it all the way to Perelman, at least that’s an approach that can get you some intermediary results. You just can’t go silent for this long a time.”

Tappert shakes his head. “It’s a fool’s errand. Paul, I hated to watch your father waste his later years on this, but not nearly as much as I hate to watch you throw away your career. At least your father had tenure.”

Paulie slams his glass down on the table. “I really don’t need you to—”

A gasp goes up around him, and Hewett points at his hand. “Dr. Gifford!”

Paulie looks down to realize that he has smashed the wine glass, and lacerated his hand. The moment he sees the blood, the pain sets in.

Some police procedural natters away on the big screen in the living room, but neither of them pays much attention. Gina makes incremental progress on her cross stitch, while Paulie rubs the label off a bottle of beer and lets his mind wander.

The officers on the screen, with their private dramas and backstories, make him think of his father—alive again in the hours Paulie spends in his Coda, and nonexistent when Paulie looks away. Or maybe the experience is more like a very lucid dream. Paulie hopes not, given how many seemingly profound middle-of-the-night insights have turned out, upon waking, to be nonsense.

Then again, he’s basing all his hopes on the assumption that deduction works the same in-Coda as outside of it.

No, this is beer-fueled nonsense. The whole point of deduction is it works for any set of starting assumptions. It doesn’t matter whether space is Euclidean or not—what matters is what axioms you proceed from and whether your logic is rigorous. A theorem that’s true in the Coda is true outside of the Coda. And if it turns out this life is a simulation, as Paulie has seen posited online, Perelman is just as true in the reality outside this one. Even if it’s simulations all the way up.

Induction. Paulie is certain that if the deductive process is solid for a reality n, then it is equally true for a reality n plus one. If he can prove Perelman in-Coda, he’ll have his n equals one. He’ll have everything.

On the coffee table, his phone buzzes with an incoming notification.

“Don’t,” Gina says.

Paulie checks his screen. “It’s my work account.”

“I know. I always told you it was a mistake putting that app on your phone.”

“This’ll only take… shit.”

“What’s wrong?”

“The dean’s office updated my dossier.” He swallows. “The School of Arts and Science denied my tenure application.”

The television goes to commercials, the volume seeming to double. He can’t think.

Gina strokes his forearm. “What are you going to do?”

He sighs. “I can ask my chair to appeal, take it to the provost, but as things stand right now, I don’t see a reason why he would.”

“What then?”

“I’ve still got a year on my existing contract. After that…” He shrugs. “With my evaluations and fizzling research, I’m probably not looking at a tenure-track position. I could teach community college or high school, or somehow find a job in industry, but…hell, I wouldn’t even know where to begin. Being an academic is all I know.”

She mutes the television. “Oh God, Paulie, please don’t tell me you can’t find something around here.” Gina manages a nonprofit educational foundation. Paulie can’t even guess at what starting over would look like for her. “I want to support you, Paulie, but you have to understand that’s asking a lot.”

“We’ve still got time before we have to worry about that.” He takes a breath. “I still have one chance.”

“What do you mean?”

“If I can prove this thing. Technically I’m past the deadline to add publications to my dossier, but Perelman is such a big deal, I’m pretty sure they’d find a way to let me.”

She runs a hand through her hair. “Is this…is this about the math or is this about something else?”

“What else would it be?”

She takes a breath to answer, then stops and faces away. Paulie considers repeating his question, but then she looks back at him. “Is this about living up to your father? Or about proving yourself to him?”

He swallows. “It’s about the math, Gina. It’s always been about the math. We’re close, I know it.”

She nods slowly. “Okay. Prove your theorem then.”

He stepped into the darkened hospital room. “Hey.”


Paulie ran a hand along the back of the chair by the bed. “You got a nice, uh, write-up in the AMS Proceedings. A lot of mathematicians said some pretty amazing things about you.”

“I’m not going to see it; makes no difference to me.”

“No, I guess it wouldn’t. You never were the mushy type.”

His father chuckled. “You can say that again.”

Paulie erased the shift nurse board. “I know you don’t remember, but we’ve been trying to prove the Jagadish-Rajput conjecture.”

“The what?”

Paulie began filling the board. “I’ll catch you up on the broad strokes.”

They were approaching a point of diminishing returns. Every visit was going to have to begin with Paulie summarizing all their past conversations, as well as the work he’d done between visits. There would come a point where recap would take all the time he could reasonably spend in the Coda. Then he would really be on his own.

“We should consider a proof by contradiction, then.”

Paulie shook his head. “I tried. It hasn’t gotten me anywhere. I reached out to a mathematician named Segami who’s been working on a proof by induction, though. It’s trivial for n equals one.”

“Of course it is. Can you prove it for n equals n plus one though… Show me what you have so far.”

Paulie cleared the board again, and filled it with differential topology, Vila Groups, and half the Greek alphabet.

“What about Suárez Theory?”

“How’s that apply?”

“It’s about group automorphisms. We might be able to apply it to these Vila Groups of yours.”

“Walk me through it.”

Paulie took notes while his father dictated, stopping to ask for clarifications or to offer his own suggestions. The little board got cleared four times—each time a chance to mistranscribe something or miss an assumption. But finally Paulie capped his marker and stared at their work.

“I think—” He swallowed and tried again. “I think we just nailed down Segami.”

“Looks like.”

Paulie wandered toward the window, with its predawn view of the empty expressway. Softly, hardly daring to say it, he added, “and that gives us Jagadish-Rajput, which takes us to—” Somewhere he had raised his voice to the point where he was practically shouting. He turned back to his father. “To Perelman,” he concluded, in a more conversational tone.

“That’s good,” his father said.

Good? Holy shit, we’ve slayed the dragon, and all you can say is ‘That’s good’?”

His father shrugged. “Paulie, I’m dead. The moment you leave, I’ll forget we even had this conversation. I can’t get all emotional about this.”

Paulie sagged into the visitor chair. “What was your excuse before you died?” he muttered.


“Nothing. Fine.” Paulie met his eyes. “Anyway.”


“I was just…I mean, I should go. Try to write this up before I forget it all.”

“Makes sense.”

“Maddie misses you,” he blurted out. “And Gina. Gina sends her love.”

His father nodded.

“Maddie had her dance recital. She did great. She was graceful and confident. She didn’t get that from me. I was so proud.”

“That’s good.”

Paulie stood. “Yeah. I should go…I was wondering if there was anything you wanted to say.”

“Uh, bye, I guess? Thank you for visiting, Paulie.”

Maddie squeezes cement on a plastic wing, making the clear liquid bead up.

“Not so much!” Paulie blurts out. He reaches for a sponge. “Here, let me fix it!”

“Dad! You said you weren’t going to take over! This is my model!”

Paulie puts his hands up in surrender. “Fine, do it your way!”

Maddie frowns, chews on her lower lip, and attaches the wing.

He experiences an odd sort of reverse déjà vu, back to his first chemistry set, working through the experiments in the instruction manual—or rather, watching while his father worked through the experiments. Paulie winces and rests his hand carefully on his knee. Then he does the one thing his father never would have done. “You’re right,” he says. “I’m sorry. Keep going.”

Maddie snaps the next piece of plastic off and trims a bit of flash from it with an X-ACTO knife. “Mom showed me a vid about your, um, the math problem you solved. Are you famous now?”

He smiles. “Famous among a very small group of people.”

“That’s still something. I bet you feel super proud.”

Paulie doesn’t answer. He’s not sure what he feels. After spending decades imagining the aftermath of proving Perelman, it’s possible he burned out his ability to feel anything at all about it. The reality can’t match all he imagined.

“Maybe I could be a mathematician,” she says. “I’m good at math. Grandpa said so too.”

“You definitely are,” he says. Funny how his father could say to Maddie the things he couldn’t say to him. Maybe it was easier when it wasn’t his direct offspring he was talking to.

He squeezes her shoulder, the n plus one to his n. Just like he was the n plus one to his father’s n.

Paulie frowns. What conjecture would he be hoping to prove? That mathematical talent runs in his family? That’s trivial. He thinks instead about the things he wishes he could prove. Did his father feel anything for him like what he feels for Maddie?

Deduction is useless here.

Maddie holds two pieces together and blows on them to dry the cement. “Is it true the university gave you back your tenure?” She says the word awkwardly, like she’s testing out the concept. “Does that mean you can’t be fired?”

“It’s, ah, a little more complicated than that. Close enough, though.”

She swallows. “So we don’t have to move?” She focuses on the model with faux intensity.

Paulie shakes his head. “We never decided that we were definitely moving.”

“But now we’re definitely not?”

Paulie picks up a brush and taps the back end lightly on the table. “We’re…still talking about it.” Still avoiding the subject, if he’s being honest.

Maddie nods and attaches another piece.

He accidentally fumbles the brush. “How about you? What do you want?”

“I want to stay,” she says. “All my friends are here.”

Everything’s so simple from her perspective. Paulie doesn’t know what he wants. Since his proof—since their proof—passed through peer review, the math world has been buzzing with the laying to rest of a decades-open question. He’s gotten informal offers from schools across the country, including a couple of top-twenty departments. And, sure, his own university. Does he really want to stay someplace that hadn’t wanted him?

On the other hand, Gina has her career, and Maddie has her whole life.

He squeezes her shoulder. “I’m not sure what’s gonna happen, but I’ll make you a promise. We won’t decide without talking to you, okay?”


“I love you.”

“Love you too, Dad.”

He entered the hospital room and marveled at how unchanged it still was after all these months.

“Hey,” his father said.


He shivered, the hospital’s cool seventy degrees feeling like an ice bath compared to the warm day outside.

“You’re not going to remember this, but we proved Perelman. Here in your Coda.”

His father’s eyes widened. “Really! Now that’s something!”

Paulie nodded. “Got it published. Both our names are on it. It’s all anybody can talk about—not just the proof, but, uh…”

“Proof by simulacrum? I bet that’ll shake things up.”

“So that’s two things you’ll be remembered for. I’m not actually sure which will have the bigger impact.”

“That’s something.”


The two men fell silent.

“You don’t…I mean, you can’t remember any of the things we talked about, can you?”

“I’m sorry, Paulie, the last thing I remember is not being able to breathe.”

Paulie shook his head. “No…yeah, that…that makes sense.”

“Did you find the insurance policy?”

“Yeah. It took care of everything. Thanks for having that.”


Paulie fidgeted with the rod for the blinds.

“Is there something else?” his father asked.

“No, I guess…it’s exciting, huh?”

“I suppose. I mean, I don’t get to see all that.”

“I just thought you might be…”

His father inclined his head. “Might be what?”

Paulie walked around the bed. “No matter how many times I come back in here, you’re never going to say the things I want you to say, are you?”

“What do you want me to say?”

“Never mind. Look, it’s blazing outside. I have to get back in the car, or I’m gonna get sunstroke.”

His father nodded.

“Goodbye. Dad.” The word tasted funny on his lips; he didn’t think he’d said it once since his father came back into his life two decades ago.

“Bye, Paulie. Thank you for visiting.”

Paulie runs the air conditioner in his car for several minutes, letting it cool down inside. While he waits for the temperature to get comfortable, he checks his phone. The congratulatory emails tapered off weeks ago. In their place is a grocery list from Gina, and a drawing of a horse, against a backdrop of hearts and stars, from Maddie.

Finally he puts the car in gear and rumbles off, watching the columbarium disappear in the mirror.


(Editors’ Note: José Pablo Iriarte is interviewed by Caroline M. Yoachim in this issue.)