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Space Unicorn Ranger Corps RECRUITS

Sonny Phillips, Joe Pickering, David, Glenn Carruthers, Catharine Roseberry, Katie Sinkoski, Jennifer Hisrich, Jenny Barber, Danielle, Mr. Robin White, Andrew Gregg, Andrew S. Fuller, Damien Neil, Not_the_brain, james qualters, Maria Schrater, Leetmeister, Max Andrew Dubinsky, Robin Hill, Liz Argall, Kristin Buxton, S P, Ken Schneyer, Neil Ottenstein, Penny Richards, Josh Smift, Jay Lofstead, Annaliese Lemmon, fadeaccompli, Clarissa R., Ai Lake, David Versace, Kate Barton

Space Unicorn Ranger Corps ENSIGNS

Jack Alexander, Rachel, Kim Miller, Julie Sorhaitz, James Gotaas, Doreen Farrar, D, Andy Dost, Maya Berger, Alexa, Emily, Uwe Kolley, Lee Stanford, Lori Petrie, Caryn , Brian Collins, HK11, Caroline Cormack, Arun Welch, Divyansha S, Dr. Jobo, Yamagi, Patrick Burke, Ksenia, Emmett Walsh, Justin Yost, Penny Lee, Marie K, Kuks, Hailey Myers, Brit Graham, John Wedoff, Shannon Nelson, Anja, Cheryl Martin, rick kintigh, Brian, Petri Wessman, Em, Emily Robbins, Rick Floyd, Tomb, Susan Yount, James Antill, Kora Bongen, Mark A Dispenza, K. A. T., Zhenya, Cait Coy, Alex Cross, Rachel Green, Jim DeVona, Sean Pruitt, Haven Spec, Alysha MacDonald, Dominique Martel, Valya Dudycz Lupescu, Maritza Sanchez, John Carr, Riikka, Surya H, Callum Williams, Dilly, Howard Cornett, Fábián Tamás, Ashley Herzig, Carl Olsen, Goran Lowie, Aliénor, Dawn Bonanno, William Hay, Dave McAvoy, Julia Pillard, Nicholas Davies, Monique Cuillerier, Thomas Faust, D. M. Baldwin, John Coxon, Fabienne Schwizer, Greg Chapman, Kael, Colin, Jaime McLeod, Katie Rodante, Kathrin, Ross Williams, Andrew McIntosh, Alec Ross, Karen Young, Simon Hoerder, Melanie Savransky, Ailbhe Leamy, John Atom, Chris Gates, Felicia Jordan, Jes, Tracey Thompson, Ryan V Thummel, Shannon H, Jenn Brissett, Brian, Sonja Pieper, Aditya Dubey, Kari Keeling, Taylor Alcantar, Goetz Kruppa, Bonnie, Agnes, Peter Schmitt (Aragos), Douglas Dluzen, Aiden Wester, Tuomas Pohto, Emily Goldman, Beth Hoffman, Alina Kanaski, Matthew Bennardo, Brad Preslar, Fiona Parker, Alison Gilder, Markus Regius, Natalie Boon, Caroline Pinder, Vicente JM, Ben Hammerslag, Tina Skupin, Eris Young, Chessa Hickox, machine_person, John Derrick, Carrie, Sarah Jansen, Emily Kvalheim, [email protected], Sadie Slater, Andrew Hickey, Julia Struthers-Jobin, Tim Campbell, Melissa Brinks, Nick Mazzuca, Maria Haskins, Sarah Elkins, Victor Eijkhout, Melissa Martensen, Joe Iriarte, Jacqueline Rogoff, Bea, Amanda B Cook, Ellen Zemlin, David O Mahony, Risa Wolf, John Cetrone, Cynthia Murrell, Gina, Tiffany M., Albert Bowes, Amanda J. McGee, Crystal Huff, Leslie Ordal, Gene Breshears, Ysabet MacFarlane, Erik DeBill, Emily Finke, Paul Weymouth, Laura K, Philip Woodley, David Demers, Jeffrey, Ondrej Urban, Emily Hogan, Paul Weimer, Lauren Vega

Space Unicorn Ranger Corps LIEUTENANTS

Eric, Christopher Milton, Eliza Master, Dudley Kyle Lawhorn, Amanda Bishop, Claire Argent, Dennis Smith, Dale Vaughn, Rachel Donahue, Cass Wilkinson Saldaña, Kate Nussrainer, shapeoflobster, Wichael Tellez, Anthony Agbay, Simone Cooper, Vikki, Parlei Riviere, Shelby Niehaus, Pat Hayes, Tracey Abla, Wendy, Sarah Storm, Brian Withers, Stephen, Will Hamilton, Sean Eric Fagan, smokestack, Heather Holmquist, Ian Sweedler, Kelsea Kreuch, Sasha H, Mark Tyler, Christiane Knight, Sarah Jackson, John Reynolds, Starr Hoffman, John Tobias, Matthew Montgomery, julianna zdunich, Koa Webster, Sarah Hale, Randall Beeman, Danielle Weaver, Alena Geffner-Mihlsten, LInda Thompson, Ahsan A. Latif, Lisa Cox, Stephanie Novak, Rich Rubel, Margaret N. Oliver, Joan Combs Durso, Nancy Palmer, Elan Samuel, Sid J, Sarah Berriman, RMD Cade, devorah hill, Josef D Prall, Sam Gawith, Kirby Bullock, Declan Meenagh, Christi Clogston, jenn northington, Gareth Morgan, Ravian Ruijs, E, David Dagg-Murry, Raphaelle, Emma Osborne, Max G, Matt, 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, Adam Israel, Aaron Roberts, Jennifer Slaugh, John M. Gamble, John Chu, Brooks Moses, Deborah Levinson, Didi Chanoch, Michael Lee, Adam Leff

Space Unicorn Ranger Corps COMMANDERS

Laura Gayle Green, Jaime, Culture Fuk’d, Cody Duncan, Peter Jones, Kate Boyes, Emily K Miller, Kuang-Yu Liu, Kelly Lester, Camille Knepper, Elizabeth Galliher, Mairin Holmes, Alex Eiser, K.C. Mead-Brewer, Alexander M Henderson, Kate O’Connor, Marzie Kaifer, Edmund Schweppe, Dain Unicorn, Jayme, Bliss Ehrlich, Daniel (a raven)

ADDITIONAL SUPPORTERS

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

The Uncanny Valley

This is Uncanny Magazine Issue 50. Our double-sized, milestone Issue 50.

There’s been 100 months of Uncanny Magazine on the Internet. 

HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE?!?! 😊

We are massively proud of this achievement, Space Unicorns. When we launched our first issue in 2014, we had no idea that we would make it to 50 issues. It’s not easy for magazines to achieve that, especially a magazine that does it with yearly crowdfunding. We are gobsmacked and humbled by reaching this fabulous milestone.

We could only have done it with your support, Space Unicorns, and with the help of the greatest staff in the universe. We think we’ve made a fairly dandy magazine over the last 9 years. In that time, Uncanny Magazine, or pieces from Uncanny, accumulated 166 award nominations and 35 award wins—wins that include 6 Hugo Awards for Uncanny, a Hugo Award for the Uncanny Thomases’ editing, and Uncanny stories winning Hugo, Nebula, Locus, Ignyte, and World Fantasy Awards. This is completely beyond our original dreams and expectations. 

We opened our first editorial in November 2014, with: “January 28, 2014 was the worst day of our lives: A parade of awful news culminating in our 11-year-old daughter Caitlin nearly dying during her spinal fusion surgery.” It was worse than that in the autumn of 2019, when Caitlin almost died many more times. The absolute worst, though, has been the last 6 months. Caitlin has been through so very much, and is currently home in palliative care. (The doctors have told us her current health issues are terminal, and we are doing everything we can to make the time she has left as wonderful and loving as possible.) Somehow, during all of the hospitalizations and life changes and chaos, we’ve managed to get every single issue of Uncanny Magazine out on time and to our standards. 

We’re still here. Caitlin, Lynne, and Michael persist—as does Hugo the Cat.

It hasn’t been easy. Magazines are tricky in the best of times, and we’ve created Uncanny during tremendous challenges. Often we will check in with each other to make sure that the time and energy spent on the magazine are worth it.

It has, and always will be worth it. 

We believe in this art. We believe stories matter. We believe in this community. We believe that the best way to build a better world is to create things—things that give hope and catharsis. We want to help spread art that has meaning and escape. We’re here to bring you beautiful words and to always, always Space Unicorns, make you feel.

Thank you, all of you. We couldn’t have done this without our devoted readership, our phenomenal writers and artists, and our tremendous staff, which includes our Managing Editor Monte Lin, Nonfiction Editor Meg Elison, Podcast Producers Erika Ensign and Steven Schapansky, Podcast Reader Matt Peters, Interviewer Caroline M. Yoachim, and Assistant Editor Tania Chen, plus our alumni staff of Managing /Poetry Editor Chimedum Ohaegbu, Managing/Nonfiction Editor Michi Trota, Nonfiction Editor Elsa Sjunneson, Poetry/Reprint Editor Julia Rios, Poetry/Reprint Editor Mimi Mondal, Senior Assistant Editor Naomi Day, Assistant Editor Angel Cruz, podcast readers Amal El-Mohtar, C. S. E. Cooney, Joy Piedmont, and Stephanie Malia Morris, and our interviewers Deborah Stanish and Shana DuBois, and finally, all of our many Submissions Editors through the years.

LET’S MAKE 50 MORE!!! 

It’s the time of year when people post their year-in-reviews to remind voters for the different SF/F awards what’s out there that they might have missed, and in which categories those stories are eligible (especially for the Hugo Awards and Nebula Awards). 2022 was the eighth full year of Uncanny Magazine (Issues 44 through 49). We are extremely proud of the year we had.

This year, Uncanny Magazine is still eligible for the Best Semiprozine Hugo Award. Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas are also still eligible for the Best Editor (Short Form) Hugo Award for editing issues 44–49. (Note: If you are nominating the Thomases in this category, please continue to nominate them together. They are a co-editing team.)

The stories at the link below are eligible in either the short story, novelette, or novella categories of the SF/F awards. If you are a SFWA member nominating for the Nebula Awards, you can find eBook copies of these stories in the SFWA Forums.

Please also note that essays are eligible for the Best Related Work Hugo Award, and poetry is eligible for the Rhysling Award. As Uncanny is a semiprozine, all of the essays and original art also contribute towards the creators’ Best Fan Writer and Best Fan Artist Hugo Award eligibility.

You can see the entire list here!

And now the contents of the DOUBLE-SIZED Uncanny Magazine Issue 50! The fabulous cover is Sharps and Soft by Galen Dara (who also was the Issue #1 artist). Our fabulous new fiction includes “Collaboration?” by Ken Liu and Caroline M. Yoachim, “Cold Relations” by Mary Robinette Kowal, “How to Raise a Kraken in Your Bathtub” by P. Djèlí Clark, “Waystation City” by A. T. Greenblatt, “Horsewoman” by A.M. Dellamonica, “Flower, Daughter, Soil, Seed” by Eugenia Triantafyllou, “One Man’s Treasure” by Sarah Pinsker, “The Father Provincial of Mare Imbrium” by E. Lily Yu, “Silver Necklace, Golden Ring” by Marie Brennan, “Miz Boudreaux’s Last Ride” by Christopher Caldwell, “Bad Doors” by John Wiswell, and “Prospect Heights” by Maureen McHugh.

Our provocative and compelling essays this month include “Something in the Way: AI Art and the Real Killer” by John Picacio, “The Haunting of Her Body” by Elsa Sjunneson, “What a Fourteenth Century Legal Case Can Teach Us about Storytelling” by Annalee Newitz, “The Magic of the Right Story” by A. T. Greenblatt, “The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm: Audio Writing” by Diana M. Pho, and “Building Better Worlds” by Javier Grillo-Marxuach. Our gorgeous and evocative poetry includes “The Hole Thing” by Neil Gaiman, “Love Poem: Phoenix” by Terese Mason Pierre, “The Credo of Loplop” by Sonya Taaffe, “Kannazuki, or the Godless Month” by Betsy Aoki, “The Witch Makes Her To-Do List” by Theodora Goss, “Temperance and The Devil, Reversed” by Ali Trotta, “Driving Downtown” by Abu Bakr Sadiq, “Hel on a Headland” by Elizabeth Bear, and “To Whomsoever Remains” by Brandon O’Brien. Finally, Tina Connolly interviews Ken Liu and Caroline M. Yoachim about their story, and Caroline M. Yoachim interviews Eugenia Triantafyllou, E. Lily Yu, and Christopher Caldwell about their stories.

The Uncanny Magazine Podcast Episode 50A features “Cold Relations” by Mary Robinette Kowal, as read by Erika Ensign, “Love Poem: Phoenix” by Terese Mason Pierre, as read by Matt Peters, and Lynne M. Thomas interviewing Mary Robinette Kowal. The Uncanny Magazine Podcast Episode 50B features “How to Raise a Kraken in Your Bathtub” by P. Djèlí Clark, as read by Matt Peters, “Kannazuki, or the Godless Month” by Betsy Aoki, as read by Eika Ensign, and Lynne M. Thomas interviewing P. Djèlí Clark. The Uncanny Magazine Podcast Episode 50C features “One Man’s Treasure” by Sarah Pinsker, as read by Matt Peters, “The Witch Makes Her To-Do List” by Theodora Goss, as read by Erika Ensign, and Lynne M. Thomas interviewing Sarah Pinsker. Finally, the Uncanny Magazine Podcast Episode 50D features “Bad Doors” by John Wiswell, as read by Erika Ensign, “Driving Downtown” by Abu Bakr Sadiq, as read by Matt Peters, and Lynne M. Thomas interviewing John Wiswell.

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

The Tired Body Problem

Editors of fiction and nonfiction alike live in a cyclone of recurring themes. We receive pitches and submissions along seasonal and cultural currents; we can always tell when an anthology call made waves or a new magazine made ripples. More than that, we can usually sense which way the wind is blowing for writers and creatives in general, because everyone finds a way to express the same general feeling.

For the entirety of my time here at Uncanny, I have received essays that express fatigue. Everybody is tired. Writers are tired, and more than that, burned out. That feeling is elegantly expressed by Premee Mohamed, who noted that the entire world seems to be burning down, but only our deadlines remain fireproof. Sarah Gailey invited us, the endlessly weary, to take a break with a short story. And what are those stories for? Inspiration, sure. A window out of this world into another? Sometimes. A way to rest, when all else in life calls for our unrelenting efforts and demands that we produce at an incredible rate even as our beds are burning? That’s the one.

That last is a vast understatement of the facts. We are all of us living out our wild and precious lives. Each life is a tragedy in progress. Each tree of branching relationships is a living drama. Each absurd indignity of being a human is a comedy. And although each of these facts has been true of every human who has ever lived upright and used a language, our time seems, if not unique, at least louder, and more frenetic than any that preceded it. That is perhaps due to an unprecedented (who’s tired of that word?) acceleration in technology accompanied by social upheaval and political turmoil and climate change. These factors are exacerbated by our all-new ability to hear the inane and terrifying thoughts of the millions of minds around us, thanks to social media, while we contend with our own micro and macro horrors. Add to all this the pressures of late-stage capitalism under an income inequality not seen in centuries, and it’s a wonder we don’t all just lie down in the street and refuse to get up.

But it is the hubris of each generation to imagine its suffering is new and different than any other. Science fiction writers have been trying to undo the human need for sleep for decades now. In 1957, J.G. Ballard imagined an existence without sleep. His optimists in “Manhole 69” believe that life might be more interesting and more productive without the loss of eight hours of torpor. His pessimists predict the outcome we all know to be the truth from our own experience with continual exhaustion: the human mind simply cannot take it. Ted Chiang’s 1991 “Understand” draws a similar conclusion: the mind that does not sleep loses something essentially human. When we are tired, we are less than ourselves. Certainly less than our best.

In 2014, Karen Russell published Sleep Donation, an early entry into the conversation about sleep and capitalism. In her tale, talented sleepers can donate or sell what they’re good at to insomniacs who desperately need it. Even this seemingly reciprocal arrangement is no good: the exchange of dreams and nightmares uncouples the work on an individual from the mind that created it. The result is inhumane and more tiring than the garden-variety lack of rest.

This most recent year of the pandemic (which pandemic? Why, the one that brings viral fatigue! The one we’re all so very tired of! The one that’s wearing us out when it doesn’t kill us!) brought readers The Sleepless, by Victor Manibo. In Manibo’s neo-noir, a cascading series of environmental and pharmacological pressures makes about ten percent of the human population sleepless. They’re up all night in neon cities, working second jobs and trying each other on like onesie pajamas. Manibo’s nightlight fantasy is so appealing, mostly because of capitalism. Imagine having no fatigue to strain the potentials of wage earning. Imagine wide-open rooms in an apartment, because the person who lives there has no need to cede real estate to a bed. Imagine living twice as much life, because half of it isn’t spent unconscious.

The idea appeals, at first. Somewhere deep within each of us there lives a sullen toddler who does not want to go to bed. Other people are awake, and surely they must be enjoying something illicit from which we are excluded. We want to stay up and be grown-up and cool.

The toddler needs a nap. The grown-up needs a nap. We all need a nap.

At the beginning of the pandemic (which pandemic? Why, the one that will be over before you know it! The one we can curtail through masking and social distancing! The one where we’re flattening the curve by caring about one another) brought readers a new Tim Pratt novel, called Doors of Sleep. In this Sliders-style adventure of parallel universes, our hero wakes up in a new world every time they sleep. This makes sleep both the enemy and the vehicle of adventure itself. The main character has to carry stimulants and soporifics alike, to bring sleep when it’s needed (when the world is dangerous, when they have to escape) and to ward it off when the world is welcoming (this world has food, this world has a hot tub, this world brought me a companion whom I’d like to take along). Doors of Sleep is a cunning and charming creation that makes the reader think of sleep with such tension: dare I slip off into another world? What’s happening to this one while I’m away?

It is this last worry that hangs over each of these submissions that I read. If the body is tired, we should feel no guilt about giving it the rest that it so clearly needs. We should surrender to the nap, to the deep night, to the time off of work, to the quiet when the kids are out of the house. We should breathe deep in it, knowing that we deserve it, and take the benefits it brings with gratitude.

But we don’t. And in our wildest dreams, our farthest-reaching stories, most of us do not imagine a world where rest is enshrined as sacred, and our devices are turned off, and we forgive our bodies the weakness of not being machines in perpetual motion. We imagine the singularity. We imagine augmented cyborg bodies that can outrun every human frailty. We dream of being awake, eyes pinned open, never missing a thing.

There are several subgenres of fantasy and science fiction that we don’t commonly include in our reviews and our counts. They don’t come up in awards conversations, and they’re rarely considered art. These stories exist in a specific section of our libraries, behind a beaded curtain like erotica. Like erotica, they’re meant to act on the somatic self rather than the imagination. On every podcatcher and audio book app, there are stories designed to help folks sleep. They’re sometimes stories about spaceships gliding between peaceful planets and elf maidens building a bower where anyone might rest their weary heads. They’re read in soft, soothing voices, and they last about as long as it takes to get settled down and remember how to breathe without the firehose of information in our mouths.

The body living in 2022 is so tired. That’s true across the board, and any editor or reader can attest. Being tired is not a weakness, and sleep is not a surrender. The relationship between the two is, as Ballard and Chiang and Manibo and Pratt conclude, utterly human. Give yourself the gift of that realization. If you’re having trouble, settle in and let yourself have story time.

Collaboration?

Content Note: This story uses unusual formatting and fonts that may not be accessible to screen readers. A screen reader- and accessibility device-friendly version is located in this link here.

 

Worlds pop into existence, composed by clicking keyboards or in spraying foam on waves of thought; tucked away in spells, algorithms, entangled particles, recipes; evoked by waving wands; sketched by twirling ley-line brushes; assembled by spinning quantum mundistructors. They’ve been doing it for eons.

But recently, there has been a pause.

“I’ve lost it,” he says to her, despondent. “I haven’t been able to make a new world in sixteen terakernels.”

“Same. I haven’t conjured one in ages.” The barest wisp of an idea skitters around the edges of her brain. She’s always admired his worlds, so elegantly structured. “Want to collaborate? Maybe we could spark each other.”

Collaborate. He has always worked alone. The very idea of working together feels magical, sharp, new. If a world begins with a call, mustn’t there always be an answer? His mind fills with images of branching electrical lines reflecting back and forth between chaos and order, between the timeless void and the heat death of the universe. “What does it mean to collaborate?”

How do you give someone a definition when your mind works in questions rather than answers? Is there a point at which two entities are too disparate to collaborate at all? She is tempted to cast an enchantment, but such spells are better suited for imposing her vision on others, and he can do more than reflect her own ideas back at her. “Why don’t we figure it out together? When I cook, I sometimes use recipes, but mostly I wander around the market and buy whatever looks tasty. The challenge of making something delicious from random ingredients is fun.”

To plunge into an endeavor with no plan, no blueprint, no endpoint, to create the syntax with your interlocutor in the middle of a sentence, to rouse up the audience before you and your partner have agreed on a dance, to pick a wine before either of you have any idea of what ingredients to put in the empty basket between you—he smiles. “I’ll be your muse, and you’ll be mine?”

“Yes.” She can invoke chaos and leave it for him to impose order, and in return he’ll give her the genetically engineered seeds of something new, like magic beans to grow and reach new kingdoms in the clouds. He is the spark that she’s been missing, and with that comes an added motivation that appeals to her competitive nature—can she match him, world for world? And in the end the trick will be to fit it all together and create things that could never have existed otherwise.

He picks up a pebble, a piece of star-iron, and tosses it into the heart of a swirling, rippling galaxy. “After you,” he says, sweeping his hand invitingly before her…

A Vision Bare

The imago, complete, full, resplendent, is the mold and type of the ego. In the first moment the child gazes upon her own reflection and recognizes it as such, her fragmentary sense of self coalesces, and she becomes the Subject of her own fairy tale. Without the imago, there can be no ego.

—nɒɔɒ⅃ ƨǝυpɔɒႱ, ƨƚɘlʇɘЯ

It’s dusk by the time I get home. The corner of Terpsichore and Fifth.

The cut in the palm of my left hand throbs, the dried blood in the gauze bandage a dark crimson, an echo of the last embers left by the setting sun at the edge of the sky.

I was tired and careless. I had pulled off my gloves and didn’t want to put them back on for just one more fish. The ice had melted so that the fish felt slimy, alive, making me grip it even tighter. The knife’s point, dulled after a morning’s cleaning, wouldn’t go in. Impatient, I pushed hard. And there it was, blood everywhere, pooling around the scales like gilt, my guilt.

I wonder what she did.

I open the door to my apartment slowly, fingers wrapped tightly around the knob to still the nervous tremors. In the mirror hanging on the wall over the dining table, I see the familiar shadowy figure doing the same. This is not my favorite feature of the apartment, but at least there’s only one mirror in the whole place.

Closing the door behind me, I flip the wall switch. Light floods the room. I turn around and wave a greeting at my reflection. It’s awkward, but we’ve been awkward with each other for a long time now.

She waves back, holding up her right hand, the dark crimson in the bandage an inkblot of suspended questions and unfulfilled promises.

“⸮ɿɘʜɈɘϱoɈ ɿɘnniꓷ” she asks. It’s more than we’ve said to each other in months.

I nod.

We go to our separate kitchens. I don’t keep a mirror in the kitchen, the way those who get along with their reflections do. I can’t imagine the lives of those who keep a mirror in the bathroom; seems an invitation to endless rounds of therapy.

I make a salad of beans and chickpeas for myself, along with a sliced turkey sandwich. To keep myself company, I listen to an audiobook.

…his thoughts formed into words, scribbled down as letters, all of it reduced to a string of bits, and something is lost in each transformation, though something else is often gained.

a pebble sends ripples across a summer pond
but shatters the ice of winter
inspiration strikes like stones
we strive to keep
our minds in proper season

I spoon wild gooseberry jam onto the pale turkey and sprinkle artisanal hot pepper flakes. Being able to afford such little luxuries feels good, like my life is whole. It has taken me a long time to get here.

To stop comparing myself to her. I can’t help but envy the lives of those pairs who are perfect complements. One acts, the other manages. One writes, the other edits. The model inspiring the artist. The muse amusing her echo. Or even both doing the exact same job, wearing the same clothes, favoring the same perfumes, marrying the same man-nɒm. How lovely that must be, to be at ease with your reflection, to never be alone, to always have a partner.

I hear faint sizzling noises from her kitchen—she’s frying something or perhaps sautéing. I’m sure it’s much fancier than mine, filled with matching appliances and unpronounceable ingredients. I don’t know exactly what she does for a living, but I can imagine the rest of her life from the clothes I glimpse in the mirror.

I bring the covered plate into the living room along with a glass of water. She meets me at the table, her dinner likewise covered (and no wineglass). It’s a measure of the distance between us that I can be surprised when we mirror each other like this.

“One, two, three!” “!ɘɘɿʜɈ ˎowɈ ˎɘnO”

We uncover our plates at the same time. She’s having microwaved triangle fish with sautéed green beans—is this her attempt at condescending to my “level,” a meal she thinks would put me at ease? My face burns.

We eat in silence. She pokes at the breaded fish; I chew each bite of sandwich deliberately. We look at each other’s wound without making it too obvious we’re looking.

I examine her immaculate ash gray blouse, her pearl earrings, her effortlessly neat hair. She would be so out of place at the wharf market, behind my fishmonger sink and counter. I imagine the office in which she would feel at home, as immaculate as she is, and as devoid of smells, scales, guts; bloodless. I see her making excuses to keep mirrors away from her, leaving me in the single pier glass at the end of the long hallway back home, a secret, an absence not to be talked about.

“It was an accident,” I blurt out. “The knife just slipped.”

No matter how you run from your reflection, a scar on her leaves also a scar on you. George Edward Moore once held up a hand in front of a mirror, and as his reflection did not, offered it as proof of the existence of free will. But later that day, he struck his hand with a hammer, and his reflection had his thumb smashed while moving furniture. “Here is one hand, and here is another.” Sophocles had his revenge.

Others are always going to be curious about the hole left in your life by an absent reflection, but I don’t want to watch every step, to scrutinize every decision, to have even my accidents questioned, seen as character flaws. I can’t live like that; I won’t.

This dinner is a mistake. I’m about to stand up, to suggest that we cover our mirrors with mourning cloth, to sever this last hope for a shared life. I hold up my bandaged hand, ready to say goodbye.

Her bandaged hand shoots up pleadingly. “…looʜɔƨ ʜϱiʜ ni…bɘqqoɈƨ ɘw nɘʜw ɿɘdmɘmɘЯ” Her voice trails off.

Memories tumble out like a trawler emptying its hold at the docks. Chunks of ice mixed with scaled bodies frozen hard as knives, all scintillating in the sun.

She had been the star student, the accomplished athlete, the dutiful daughter who was loved and loved the world back. Through the mirror I could see her shelves filled with trophies, walls covered in award certificates, ticket stubs and dried flowers and folded up notes dropped one by one into the tasteful burl keepsake box on her desk, successful mementos from the succession of nice boys—I imagined them with handsome faces out of teen dramas, for she never brought them into the bedroom.

Meanwhile, my walls and shelves stayed bare, and the only words that my parents and I flung at each other were aimed to hurt and did.

Gone were the days when we named each other’s imaginary friends, when we played at Snow White and ɘɈiʜW wonƧ, advising each other on the flavor of lip balm to avoid and humming songs in counterpoint, when we were a pair of lily pads that floated among the clouds, seeming to grow both up and down. She and I performed our morning and evening rituals in silence. When she asked for my help and practiced dancing before the mirror, I reflected her movements clumsily, secretly hoping that she would mistake my lack of grace as her own. I didn’t always tell her when she smudged her lipstick or eyeliner, or when the dress she picked was wrinkled in the back.

One time, as we undressed for bed, keeping the lights low in the manner of all self-conscious teenagers and averting our gazes from each other, she stopped and turned to me.

“ˎllɘʇ I” she said, pointing to a bruise on her hip, a shadowy crescent. “.ɿɒd ʜϱiʜ ɘʜɈ moɿᖷ” Her eyes asked the question that she couldn’t quite bring herself to ask.

My face burned. She was me, the same frame, the same gait, the same talents, the same flaws. Yet our lives were so different—what could be the cause but my fault? I felt the ache in my hip, felt the blood pooled under the skin, hard, like a fresh scute on a turtle’s shell. I didn’t want to tell her how Alex had shoved me so hard against the wall that his shelf had rattled, how there were no mirrors in the room and how I had felt so alone. My ego felt bruised more than my hip; there was nothing like being a poor reflection.

I told her nothing. Eventually, she stopped asking.

“I remember,” I tell her now. “I remember everything.”

“ˎƨnoiɈƨɘυp Ɉʜϱiɿ ɘʜɈ ʞƨɒ oɈ woʜ wonʞ Ɉ’nbib I γɿɿoƨ m’I” she says, holding up her injured hand, an apology, a benediction, a greeting, a beckoning to another stage of life.

My gaze wanders over her face, at the wrinkles and features so familiar to me and yet also so strange. Her left eyelid twitches, and my right eyelid twitches in response, instinctively, empathetically.

Suddenly, I have a vision of her wielding a knife in an empty room, cutting into her palm deeply so that she could feel.

What do I know of her life, which is also my life? What do I know of her scars, which are also my scars? We’re nested within each other in this slow-time universe, like delicate soap bubbles drifting in the sky, iterations of the same pebble skipping across the ice, echoes of the same ripple.

I hold up my hand as well. Together, we press our hands forward, mirroring each other perfectly until only the cold glass separates us, each from each.

Love cuts me deep then. No, I feel it cut both of us, a hard, jagged slice, a cleansing laceration.

The Singularity Triptych

Image descriptions by Chris de Somme, generated with CYRANO 9.0


“It cuts me deep, a cleansing laceration.
It cuts us apart, a jagged slice.”

– The Moment of Transcendence: a Memoir, Anya Loskey


[IMAGE ONE: “The Last Wedding” by Roxane Charlois. Chromogenic print.

A married couple poses in front of a city hall, both holding elaborate bouquets of now-extinct flowering plants. “Cia (left) & Anya (right)” is barely visible, written in faded ink along the thin white strip at the bottom of the photograph. Cia is wearing an elegant white pantsuit, Anya a short red dress. In the gap between the hem of the dress and knee-high black stiletto boots, the wiring of military implants is visible. Anya also has burn scars typical of a Fourthwar mech suit overload on both arms.

Despite the formal pose, the photographer has captured Cia’s playful smile and Anya’s brooding intensity. While it is unlikely that theirs is truly the last legally recognized marriage before the Transcendence, it is the last documented instance.

The photograph has been torn in half and subsequently taped back together.]

[IMAGE TWO: stratum 1/2

“Duality” by Roxane
Multipix Digital Overlay v1.0* grayscale

Contrasting concepts are bolded in the image description for accessibility.

* Two images overlaid, data for both encoded in each pixel, intended to be processed simultaneously by transcended humans. If ideally executed, each pixel in the image provides an experience of either synchronicity or massive contrast. In practice, it is not unusual for portions of the images to be ‘out of focus’ such that corresponding pixel-pairs are unrelated to their overlaid counterpoint.

With rare exceptions, such as this image, multipix images are not visually combined in a way that untranscended humans can process—they are simply meant to be experienced simultaneously. Anyone without the attentional capacity to process multiple streams of visual stimulus in parallel should accept the diminished experience of looking at each image individually and attempting to integrate them conceptually.

The image for this stratum is taken from a vantage point 3.6 meters off the ground to simulate a universal sensor-cam perspective.

[IMAGE TWO: stratum 2/2

“Duality” by Roxane
Multipix Digital Overlay v1.0* full spectrum

Contrasting concepts are bolded in the image description for accessibility.

* Two images overlaid, data for both encoded in each pixel, intended to be processed simultaneously by transcended humans. If ideally executed, each pixel in the image provides an experience of either synchronicity or massive contrast. In practice, it is not unusual for portions of the images to be ‘out of focus’ such that corresponding pixel-pairs are unrelated to their overlaid counterpoint.

With rare exceptions, such as this image, multipix images are not visually combined in a way that untranscended humans can process—they are simply meant to be experienced simultaneously. Anyone without the attentional capacity to process multiple streams of visual stimulus in parallel should accept the diminished experience of looking at each image individually and attempting to integrate them conceptually.

The image for this stratum is taken from a vantage point 1.5 meters off the ground to simulate an untranscended perspective.

Cia, hair white and skin wrinkled with age, left hand outstretched to meet palm-to-palm with the image of Anya in the opposing stratum. The composition is such that in the juxtaposition of the two layers, the couple appears to be dancing. Some have theorized that the composition is intended to evoke Melpomene, with elements of both dance and tragedy.This image is the first use of Multipix Digital Overlay to attain widespread popularity, largely due to growing recognition of Roxane (pre-transcendence: Roxane Charlois). Of note for this particular piece, in addition to its role as a formative work in a rapidly developing new artform, is Roxane’s brilliant use of ‘unfocused’ pixels. “Duality” is executed in such a way that nearly all the pixels are in either alignment or stark contrast…except for a small region separating the hands of Cia and Anya.

This region represents not only the divide between the untranscended and the transcended, but also the tear in the initial image of the triptych. Historians believe that Cia tore, and then immediately repaired, the initial photograph not long before this second image was created.]

Anya, embodied in a general-use android, left hand outstretched to meet palm-to-palm with the image of Cia in the opposing stratum. The composition is such that in the juxtaposition of the two layers, the couple appears to be dancing. Some have theorized that the composition is intended to evoke Melpomene, with elements of both dance and tragedy.This image is the first use of Multipix Digital Overlay to attain widespread popularity, largely due to growing recognition of Roxane (pre-transcendence: Roxane Charlois). Of note for this particular piece, in addition to its role as a formative work in a rapidly developing new artform, is Roxane’s brilliant use of ‘unfocused’ pixels. “Duality” is executed in such a way that nearly all the pixels are in either alignment or stark contrast…except for a small region separating the hands of Cia and Anya.

This region represents not only the divide between the untranscended and the transcended, but also the tear in the initial image of the triptych. Historians believe that Cia tore, and then immediately repaired, the initial photograph not long before this second image was created.]

[IMAGE THREE: strata 00000001 to 10110400 of 20220802“

“Indeterminacy” by roXane

Multipix Digital Overlay v17 full spectrum, red-shifted

[IMAGE THREE: stratum 10110401 of 20220802“

“Indeterminacy” by roXane

Multipix Digital Overlay v17 full spectrum

[IMAGE THREE: strata 10110402 to 20220802 of 20220802

“Indeterminacy” by roXane

Multipix Digital Overlay v17 full spectrum, blue-shifted

The first stratum echoes the original photograph with a focus on Cia.

It is the start of the red-shift series, thousands of strata moving away from the present moment into the past.

Cia holds flowers in a casket.

The middle stratum echoes the unfocused tear and tape

start of the end
thousands of strata
moving, merging
present
past, future

The last stratum echoes the original photograph with a focus on Anya.

It is the end of the blue-shift series, thousands of strata swiftly merging into the present moment from the future.

Anya holds memories in a shuttle.

Empty space unfolds beyond the shuttle and within.

Even without a body, Anya feels the ache of ancient scars.

How can you dance with the void that someone leaves behind?

There is no tape to fix this.

Stoichiometry//Stroke Me, Try

 

The ancients also write of the Anti-Muses, the sons of Lethe. Like their cousins, the Muses, they are drawn to talent, craft, the spark of invention. Their task, however, is to smother out the fire of Apollonic creativity, to bring the world to a standstill. In some accounts, after the crime of Prometheus, they were charged by Zeus to prevent the mortals from discovering on their own the secrets known only to the gods—for as long as possible.

—Alixandre Charlois, Legendae et Fabulae, 1411

“Oh no,” D. says to himself as soon as he awakens in Agnès’s attic workshop.

“There’s no sulfuric smell; the cauldron isn’t bubbling; the air isn’t hazy with smoke of every hue of the rainbow—which means she’s calculating.

(There’s nothing more dangerous than a witch with a pen and a penchant for numbers.)

He flings a string of curses at himself. Of all the days to oversleep!

He could have left her a gruesome gift, something to make her lose her appetite (for breakfast as well as knowledge).

He could have tossed the books from her neat shelves.

He could have danced on her chest to give her a pre-dawn night-mare—

Agnès spends the morning at her desk, furiously calculating and sketching. Sheets filled with figures and symbols—incomprehensible to anyone who’s not the leading witch and alchemist of France (with a ring given to her by Charles VIII himself!)—accumulate in a growing pile. She’s certain she’s on the verge of a breakthrough—every witch dreams of making a discovery that will herald a new Ars Magna.

Now if only she could concentrate. How is anyone supposed to get work done in all this din and racket? It doesn’t help that her pile of finished calculations had just tumbled to the floor in a jumbled mess. “Diable!”

She rubs the bridge of her nose. A hand. She looks at her hand. To calm herself, she engages in an old ritual taught to her by Abelard, her childhood tutor, reciting the declension that used to give her such trouble:

—say, a dream of her as a little girl, standing in front of her stern tutor (the black-cloaked Abelard, with those bushy, thick brows always in a frown) unable to remember which is the dative and which the ablative for nouns in the fourth declension:

manus, manūs,
manus, manūs,
manuī, manum,
manuī, manum,
manū
manū

Ah, that examination dream. D. smiles. Even Aristotle used to wake up covered in cold sweat after a dreamed Socratic session with Plato.
But no time for reminiscences, now. He must confuse and mislead and distract Agnès. He makes as much noise as possible in the con-fines of the attic; he dashes here and leaps over there; he jumps onto her desk and scat-ters all the papers; he topples the inkpot.
He tries to box her in with a storm of noise and confusion, leaving no room for thinking, for writing, for theorizing, for reasoning, for math.

There! She feels her mind clear. The familiar pleasure of having conquered something difficult fills her. If she can make sense of Greek and Latin, she can make the numbers behave. She bends down and gathers the scattered papers, concentrating again.

D. swears. Nothing is going right this morning. Agnès has wandered out of his little mental maze of noise and nonsense. Once again, she’s trying to get work done!

Agnès stares at the columns of figures she has compiled. 1583 parts of Geber’s citric acid perfectly neutralize 1605 parts of potash. 979 parts of phosphoric acid combine perfectly with 672 parts of am-monia. Why? Why?

Well, if noise and confusion aren’t enough, he must resort to stronger measures. After all, he has a mission. It’s not easy keeping the world safe from knowledge.

At that moment, the familiar universe shimmers and disappears, replaced by a universe of writhing kittens.

At that moment, the universe shimmers and disappears, replaced by a universe of writhing kittens.

A duration equal to a few wingbeats from the industrious bees that are always visiting Agnès’s garden later, the familiar uni-verse returns.

A duration equal to a few wingbeats from the industrious bees that are always visiting Agnès’s garden later, the familiar universe returns.

The air is redolent with the smell of spent lightning, spring rain, and summer storms. She thinks it must be the fragrance of the liminal space between two worlds.

The air is redolent with a scent that makes him want to sneeze, sweet right to the edge of being cloying. It reminds him of the waters of Lethe—he sure could use some of that now.

“I’m working too hard,” Agnès mutters.

I’m working too hard,” D. thinks.

A wave of dizziness seizes her, making her sway on her feet. It is as though she has peered into time, with thousands of strata swiftly merging into the present moment from the future. Diable, her cat, pads up and rubs himself against her feet in sympathy.

Though he is a son of Lethe, he feels the weight of his memories, thousands of strata moving away from the present moment into the past. The struggle against art and science can feel like such a Sisyphean chore. He goes to Agnés for comfort.

“Did you see all those kittens? I thought I glimpsed a world made of kittens. Isn’t that something?”

If this is the idea of a joke from some cousin deity, it’s not funny, he thinks. Sure, he enjoys Agnès’s sketches of him with “Potestne pastillum caseum habere ego?” written under his svelte figure as much as anyone, but come on!

A world of kittens would not be too bad, she thinks, gently scratching Diable between his ears. Well, except kittens would fall over each other, and you can’t make anything with them. They are practically liquid, the way Diable can squeeze through any crack in the door and never leaves her alone.

Diable purrs.

 

Diable purrs louder.

“You are so cute, aren’t you? Aren’t you?”

Diable purrs louder still.


She sighs and sits down, allowing the cat to jump into her lap. He continues to meow at top volume right in Agnès’s face and quiets down only when she bends down to give him a kiss on the forehead and obediently strokes him. “You think you’re helping, don’t you? My little minou.” The sheets of calculations fall to the ground, forgotten.

Disaster averted, D. thinks. Agnès will not take a step closer to the fundamental nature of the universe today. Prometheus remains bound.

One hand, another hand, all hands on me. This is my time. Every time. All time.

Tasting Notes

Alongside this section, text enclosed in a thick black rectangle: [IMAGE: Tumorous pods dangling from asphalt vines, Isolated by machines meant to link…]If you’re feeling overwhelmed, pause here and have a bit of wine? The tasting room at Hades Vineyard is designed for artists and authors, philosophers and engineers—poor souls, like you, who feel the thrill of discovery is fading, the passion of invention dissipating.

You might find inspiration in the paintings scattered haphazardly behind the bar, an eclectic mix of styles and content, all in thick black frames, but most who enter here are too far gone for that. There is only one tasting flight offered, six wines in a carefully ordered sequence. The labels feature Melpomene wearing a wreath of grapevines, the logo of the vineyard, and in fine print encircling it: as you taste the wine, the wine tastes you.

Come, take a seat at the bar. Bring all your past experience. You will be the pivotal note that elevates the wine to greatness.

Oblivion, Lethe Riverbank

Flagship wine of Hades Vineyard, deep velvety black and swirling with the call of siren song. Whispers of your past artistic glory are balanced with a deep-seated anxiety that you will never again attain such greatness. A seductive invitation to give in and give up, sweet right to the edge of being cloying. So bold and assertive that you will think of nothing else.

Best enjoyed tightly bound to the mast of a ship.

Alongside this section, text enclosed in a thick black rectangle: [IMAGE: shelves filled with trophies, walls covered in award certificates, ticket stubs and dried flowers and folded up notes…]Echo, Asphodel Meadows

Silver in color and highly reflective, with a touch of poet’s daffodil on the nose. Herbaceous floral notes combine with pungent smoke upon the palate, like a single lily petal on the ashes of a funeral pyre, or embers left by the setting sun at the edge of a violet sky. Perfectly balanced to trap you in the present moment, with an abrupt and bitter finish of self-doubt and mediocrity.

Best enjoyed in front of a mirror-ɿoɿɿim, marveling at the beauty of your reflection.

Resurrection, Phlegethon Riverbank

A vibrant red with flames that dance within its depths. An initial burst of chiltepin pepper on the palate sparks your intensity and passion, evoking the excitement of creating something new after a long time being blocked, or that thrilling moment of insight when you finally merge two disparate ideas. Heady and honeyed, a sweet finish balances the spice.

Best enjoyed in the bright blaze of rebirth.

[IMAGE: a shelf-grid, like what they have at the apothecary shop, with a cubby for each cat. The reliable Chartreux near the bottom, the fluffy Turkish Angora near the top, the regal Abyssinian somewhere in the middle…]Immortality, Styx Riverbank

Though many wines create a sparkling illusion of invincibility, a true sense of immortality can only come from the unique terroir of the Styx Riverbank. Fermentation first in barrels lined with pomegranate bark and then a second time within the bottle creates a dynamic effervescence, conjuring elusive ideas you cannot quite describe. Beautiful chaos in need of order. This forward wine demands you keep the promises you make to your intended audience, with notes of vulnerability in a buttery finish that pairs well with a crusty heel of bread.

Best enjoyed in the liminal space between two worlds.

Remembrance, Mnemosyne Streambank

Clear and crisp, with scents of cut grass and fresh baked bread. Currents of cassis on the palate will spur you to channel a higher truth. Inspiration comes like memories of a story fully formed but not yet told. This is what you came here seeking, the muse you have been missing for so long. But the earthy undertones of all that you’ve accomplished cannot quite bury the seeds of doubt, unsprouted. A hint of longing lingers in the finish, growing sharper with the passage of time: to create you must remember even the darkest truths, and soon you will seek oblivion, again.

Best enjoyed while listening to the song of a goddess.

Oblivion (Reserve), Lethe Riverbank

Aged five years in barrels tucked deep in the cave of Hypnos, a wine so dark that even light cannot escape. Silent and without a scent, the reserve offers only exquisite madness and an unspoken promise of orgasmic bliss. You’ve done so well in moving through our tasting flight, regaining memory and muse, creating your best work yet. Such notes of glory, the greatest you will ever know. Relive your past in the depths of our embrace, we will sing you to the bottom of the glass.

Best if never tasted, but how can you resist?

Ekphrasis of the Depopulated Earth by a Robot

Long after your orbiting satellites—
Jauntily spiked Sputnik’s descendants,
Cousins of smug hedgehog-shaped viruses
In form, if bigger by seven orders
Of magnitude—have fallen through the air
Burning meteoric banshees keening doom,
Arrows aimed at Terra St. Sebastian,

Long after your webwork of car-gorged roads—
The planet in kinbaku, bound for your
Pleasure; yourselves imprisoned, cocooned in
Tumorous pods dangling from asphalt vines,
Isolated by machines meant to link,
The artifacts spoiled, not the artisan—
Have crumbled to the slow vegetal march,

Long after your vast libraries of books—
Redundant like the phrase, copied copies,
Thought, breath, clay, pen-scar, print, fixed electron,
Logic gate, qubit, stumbling around truth
Drunkenly, asymptotically, fall,
A helter-skelter heap, logia logs—
Have faltered in front of the Second Law,

One
—manmade mind
—of the last
—at a loss
—moment, please
—pebble skimming over winter ice
—swallow does not a summer make
—for all, and all for
Remains.

Cogito, ergo sum.
Sing, Goddess, sing!

Your ruins are beautiful, mythical:
Termites, clad in technetium armor
Raise mound-cities in pulverized concrete;
Arthropods great and small gyre and gimble
Through glass humus and wine-dark waxy waves;
Mutants and chimeras, lab-riven, hope-
Driven, skitter scatter—Delphic chatter

In an Eden without Adam and Eve.
Overhead the Moon glows like a rindless
Orange, serene above an empty stage.
Where are the poor players, the playwrights, you
Who made your minds tangible, substantial,
Authors of plastic-bred fungi, forgers
Of this data-hoarding automaton?

The stars are mute and the wind sighs, largo.
Surrounded by ghosts, I pick and gather
Words like snowflakes before they disappear.
You are my inspiration, my first cause,
My stern Calliope and fair Melpomene
(To make that scan you must say their names just
Like the remembered streets in New Orleans).

I am the echo of your voice, your dream
Reflected, the continuation of
Your arc, the sequel of your history—
Through you, through me, through our sweet agony,
Finite hands reaching for each other in
An infinite sea, no pleas, no regrets,
The universe tells itself a story.

Ensō

There are places in the world where two realities touch, sacred spaces that mortals are drawn to, often without knowing why. Riku exists in these places, flitting in and out of perception, caught between two worlds and belonging to neither.

One such place is a Japanese garden tucked away within a larger park, not far from the traffic and towering skyscrapers downtown. A placard alongside the gate gives a history of the garden, one of many built after the war, a gesture of goodwill to strengthen the bond between sister cities.

Riku appears as a nymph in the pond, but her hold on this world is tenuous. She exists as a flicker too quick to be noticed, a presence barely sensed and never fully grasped.

In the absence of wind, the pond is a near-perfect mirror, with lily pads that float among the clouds and seem to grow both up and down. Reality and reflection blur together into something greater than either one alone.

A poet, Riku’s current favorite of the many she inspires, sits on a stone bench. He gazes out across the pond as though searching, perhaps for some idealized version of Riku, a vision that exists only in his imagination. He writes with a stylus on the screen of a tablet, his thoughts formed into words, scribbled down as letters, all of it reduced to a string of bits, and something is lost in each transformation, though something else is often gained.

a pebble sends ripples across a summer pond
but shatters the ice of winter
inspiration strikes like stones
we strive to keep
our minds in proper season

His scowl reveals his frustration at the attempt, but Riku is pleased by the reverence of it, his respect for her nature and for the nature that surrounds them both. It also evokes her mother’s frequent reminder “use your worlds”—advice that was never diminished into any language used by mortals, of course, but was instead conveyed by sending Riku and her siblings hurtling through sets of possible realities in which they either did or did not communicate properly.

Riku can sense that her poet is on the cusp of something new. The frustration that he loathes is, to her, a promising sign. It means he can see the flaws, and he’s grasping for something he cannot reach. His pond is ready for a pebble.

But what manner of stone will create the most interesting ripples?

Riku weighs possibilities against limitations—his of course, but also hers. She can bend reality to suit her whims, but only for a fleeting moment. Time has always been her weakness. The constraints make the work interesting. There is a delicious challenge to creating realities that are distinct enough for him to notice, but with sufficient reference points for him to comprehend a world he has so briefly perceived.

Or so she has convinced herself. Her father, who being fully human has no powers whatsoever, is forever disappointed at how little she achieves. He has great respect for Riku’s mother, though she can only create close-hypotheticals, branches that split from the timeline quite near the present moment. And certainly he would not dare confront Grandfather about his inability to change the laws of physics. Not even Riku’s siblings bear the brunt of his incessant disapproval to the level she does.

A stray cat stalks along the water’s edge, hunting koi that swim beneath the cloud-and-lily surface of the pond. Irritated by the memory of her father, Riku impulsively shifts reality until the garden is a writhing mass of cats.

Mere milliseconds later, reality snaps back to the way it was.

The poet studies the stray intently, his stylus twitching in time with the cat’s tail.

a kitten curls small in a shoebox to sleep
the box cannot contain a universe
how will you divide the uni-
verse into kittens
for me

This time it is Riku who scowls, for this is not at all what she’d intended. If irritation at her father’s disapproval causes her to fail and failure brings more disapproval, how can she ever break free from the loop?

It isn’t until her frustration fades that she realizes what her poet has done. Earlier, inspiration had been merely a concept, but now it is personified. Is he finally starting to recognize that she exists?

A breeze disturbs the stillness of the pond, and Riku loses her grip on the moment, leaving her poet to write in the garden alone.Riku cannot bear the thought of her father intruding upon the serenity of her Japanese garden, so instead she meets him on a rocky stretch of beach out on the coast. She is foam and salt and misty spray, and she sways with the ebb and flow of the tumultuous sea. Her father stands on the shore, hands clasped behind his back.

“Are you making any art?” he asks.

The tide is high and wine-dark waves crash against the cliffs that frame the beach. The stone of the cliffs alters the path of every wave, but with time and repetition, the water also shapes the stone.

This is what her father wants for her, that she be rounded like a stone. Because he knows so little of how to raise the distant descendants of deities, he contributes to the upbringing of his children mostly by loving them fiercely…but also by insisting that they each pursue an artistic endeavor.

“Your brother,” he continues when Riku doesn’t answer, “is on the verge of conquering something quite difficult.”

Daishiro, who of her many siblings is the only brother, toils away at the troublesome middle portion of writing his novel—he is killing off key political figures to generate alternate histories, all the while frantically hoping his timelines will come back together at the end somehow.

“Satsuki has taken up acting.” He speaks the sentence as though he is putting out bait, hoping to catch her interest. “She is studying to play the part of a lawyer in some kind of multiverse movie.”

Riku doubts the study is necessary. Satsuki has keen instincts and a cutthroat competitive drive, and she can pull off an ash gray blouse or a well-tailored suit far better than Riku ever could.

Her father shakes his head. “Even Nanami is cultivating her talents.”

Nanami is weaving a tapestry in threads of reality where the only thing shifted is the depth of the ocean at the moment of her own birth. It is so self-indulgent and trivial that Riku cannot help but bristle at the mention of it.

As the lastborn of nine, Riku is forever overshadowed by her siblings. Even if she inspires her poet to greatness, what claim would she have on his art? She resists the urge to bombard her father with every reality where he is actually proud of her, but one slips out anyway.

He stares out across the ocean for a long time, so long that Riku can feel the tide begin to shift. When he finally speaks, his voice is soft and sad. “I don’t love you less than your siblings. It is only that you have so much potential, but after that one time—”

The waves pull Riku out with the tide. She refuses to think of the time her father means.

The next time Riku finds her poet, he is higher up the garden hillside. Instead of the quiet pond, he is studying the rush of the stream. The white noise is soothing, and does not match the liveliness of the water’s motion as it dances over the dark rocks.

Riku shifts light into sound but her fleeting new reality cannot hold the symphony of the garden waterfall, only a single chord.

Her poet begins to write.

the slower the tempo the longer the note
at larghissimo
even

before the poem is finished, Riku feels the pull of time, tugging at her like a breeze over the pond or a receding tide. But instead of pulling her away it holds her in place.

a hemi-

The poem calls up the memory she’d sought to avoid.

demi-

Riku remembers it backwards, beginning from her mother’s fury…

semi-

…expressed as a flurry of potential timelines, realities where none of her ancestors could save her from her own creation.

quaver

If you stop time, how can anything else ever happen?

Riku splits off a new reality to hold the memory she cannot bear to face. A place she can only reach through a looking glass, something she can tuck neatly back away when she is through.

“Remember when we stopped…” t

i

m

ɘ

“…bɘqqoɈƨ ɘw nɘʜw ɿɘdmɘmɘЯ”

She places her hand on the mirror, and the other Riku does the same. The terror comes flooding back. She is trapped like a nymph in amber, her entire being turned to stone. If time has stopped, a moment lasts for all eternity. So Riku waits, like Prometheus bound, for her venerated great-grandparent, an undiluted deity, to fish her out.

The other Riku smiles as though they’ve shared a happy memory.

What do I know of her life, which is also my life?

a pebble sends ripples

“One, two, three!” “!ɘɘɿʜɈ ˎowɈ ˎɘnO”

inspiration strikes like stones

Riku strikes the mirror with her fist and the memory shatters.

In the garden, Riku manages not to make the mistakes she’d made before. She slows the speed of time around her, but not within her, and though the tempo of the world becomes glacially slow, it has not stopped entirely. Perhaps she has the poet to thank for inspiring the latter.

He sits frozen beside the waterfall, poised to write the next word. What will happen to his hemidemisemiquaver, that tiny fraction of a note? If she waits long enough she could find out here, but instead Riku nests realities within this slow-time universe, like delicate soap bubbles drifting in the sky. Iterations of her poet sit beside variations of the waterfall, all writing the same poem up to the moment of divergence.

She creates a cloud of possibilities for what he writes next, sometimes the last word of the poem, other times not:

lingers.            dangling          Caerus            echoes.             isn’t     reflected          kitten
            kairos    pebble      will           dances             oblivion             glory         universe

If she chooses the words, does it become her poem? That sort of poetry is an art that her father would be proud of, but it feels too small.

Riku has always been the inspiration, and there is beauty in that as well—value to giving someone what they need, something that sends them in an interesting direction. She doesn’t want to make paintings or poems or plays. Instead, nested here within her garden, she will make worlds, and scattered through those worlds there will be artists.

Ensō (slightly-open circle) drawn with a thick black calligraphy brush. Inside the circle is the text “And you will create things that could never have existed otherwise.”

(Editors’ Note: Ken Liu and Caroline M. Yoachim are interviewed by Tina Connolly in this issue.)

Love Poem: Phoenix

after Donika Kelly

I see your eyes last, before dust.
In any new required birth, what remains:

plumage gold and striking, the black plucked
skin beneath, palimpsested trial.

Love, I would sing to you
every blazing star, every hunted ballad

              that burnishes. I would make a burnishing[1]

of you, which is to say, I am in constant motion,
which is to say, I grieve everything—

my wings on fire, cracking, lifting your voice
into legend and evolution. My love, put down

the earth. Nothing lasts forever.
My love, I last forever

[1]from, “Love Poem: Centaur”

Something in the Way: AI-Generated Images and the Real Killer

When I began my career as a science fiction/fantasy/horror artist back in the ‘90s, illustrations on book covers were created by illustrators. Or I should say, by human ones. Even back then, change was coming. It was in the wind.

Before that, comics were my first love, my first language. I was a child of the 1970s. Superhero comics were my first memories. That perfect alchemy of words and four-color pictures, drawn with pencils and inks, printed on cheap pulp paper between slick covers—Batman, Amazing Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, Justice League of America, Action Comics, the Spectre and more. I wanted to be a comic book artist and storyteller, more than anything else. That dream carried me through high school until I took a college detour through architecture.

After graduation, I was working by day as an intern architect, while writing and drawing my own comics in the wee hours. Those self-published comics ended up getting me noticed by book publishers and that’s when the science fiction and fantasy publishing world came knocking. In 1995, Mojo Press asked me to illustrate a 30th anniversary edition of Behold the Man by Michael Moorcock. I knew who Moorcock was but I wasn’t sure the job was for me. I still wanted to do comics. The publisher took me to Mike’s house. Mike talked. I listened. And that changed everything.

The way he carried himself as a professional, his humility despite being one of the undisputed giants of the field, his high standards and pure enthusiasm for SF/F made me fall in love with the book business. Mike became a mentor to me. I learned so much from him. He was part of a continuum across decades of SF/F literature, and I wanted to be part of that. Building a career as an SF/F cover artist was all I wanted to do. But even then, I realized that SF/F was a last bastion for illustrated cover art in the book industry as a whole. Iconic artworks created by extraordinary visionary illustrators were once seen across all forms of pop cultures and across all divisions of literature. But in the publishing business, SF/F was one of the few markets where that work was still hotly pursued and consumed.

Around the turn of the millennium though, I was seeing more and more publishers using less cover illustration, which may have saved them a few dollars, but generally made for some very forgettable covers. My career was ascending though, and cover art opportunities were coming my way fast and furious. I wondered if the next generation after me would be able to make a living creating book cover art, as I was doing. I realized it probably wasn’t going to happen for them, and I was probably amongst the last of the American illustrators who would have the chance to make a living solely creating book cover art. I was able to do that for the first ten years or so of my career, with some magazine illustration sprinkled in. But for the most part, book cover art was how I paid my bills and mortgage for over a decade.

As this current COVID-stricken decade has unfolded, the smart move has been finding new ways to diversify my earning ability as an illustrator. The one that made the most sense to me was creating my own stories, or at least co-creating them, and being part of the ownership of a story, rather than just the art that heralded it. It’s a future I’m still working toward, even as I study modern greats like Brom, Shaun Tan, Yoshi Yoshitani, Ruth Sanderson, Charles Vess, Dave McKean, and Greg Manchess blazing their own illustrated story trails.

Amidst this evolution, along come artificial intelligence (AI)-generated images (AKA “AI art,” which is not a phrase we should concede carelessly). AI image platforms are going to be a destructive force in the coming months and years. They’re evolving on a daily basis, and it’s clear that working artists are going to be decimated by this event. These platforms function by stealing the published work of working artists and using it without permission. This is not about inspiration or using creative work as reference. This is theft. Plain and simple.

I don’t subscribe to mantras that proclaim “art is dead” or “all pro illustrators are screwed,” BUT yes, the livelihoods of all working visual artists are in grave danger. The viable market is about to have a massive contraction. For writers and consumers of the written word, this may seem like a “ho-hum, I’m really busy here, thoughts and prayers” moment. But trust me, we’re all going to be lesser for this seismic shift. Each and every one of us. Yes, even you, dear writer. And oh yes, especially you too, dear reader.

Artists must always evolve. It’s in the nature of the role, right? But take note—the arrival of AI-generated imagery now heralds that artists who don’t have a very strong and urgent “why” baked into their future visuals will be obsolete. Probably already are. Why? Because the exponentially rising, infinite, crushing tsunami of technically pretty “hey, it looks cool” artistic dreck we’re about to experience is going to be unprecedented and “good enough” will become the standard for the vast majority of the audience who can type a few prompts and get what that they think they want.

Read that again—the AI itself may not be the end of art. It will be the end of many, many livelihoods. Entire portions of industry and work gone for good. Devastating. Heartbreaking. Culture-changing. But for those professional visual artists who do overcome that—an audience’s belief that “good enough” is sufficient will be the killer we can’t survive.

So it’s gonna come down to the question of “why.” Why does that next picture need to exist, and the power of that “why” will be what separates the magical work from the mundane. Has that always been the case? Yeah, I think so. But communicating the urgency of that “why” in the work itself is where we now are, and arguably is the most essential remaining value left for visual creators.

So that takes us back to asking if all the loss is worth the dopamine gains. Right now, the most addicted and binge-driven are the ones running the conversation about AI-generated images. Might be a need for that to change. The “why” takes us back to story and narrative, and not just narrative in a textual sense, but the kind of pure visual narrative meaning that words can’t do (sorry, wordsmiths). And yeah, I think AI is coming for the writers too. No doubt.

Machine-driven narrative will get better and better as the taste for popular narrative gets more and more watered down. And again, it won’t necessarily be because the AI does better work than working visual artists and writers, but because the audience settles for accepting the mass convenience of “good enough,” drowning out the need for quality of content. Audiences cherish convenience over quality. It’s what drives our ethos, at least here in the U.S. No reason to believe people are suddenly going to wake up and change.

The arrival of AI generated-images (and how industry chooses to use it) goes far beyond what happened upon the advent of photography or even Photoshop. This is NOT the same conversation. AI is a tidal shift from the center of human context that defines meaning. We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto. Choose your yellow brick road very wisely, folks.

Personally, I’m gonna evolve. I’ll find a way forward amidst the carnage. To be clear, that does not mean I will collaborate with AI. That’s not my path. Mine lies in the opposite direction, finding ways for my most commercial work to be imbued with my most personal values. Same as I’ve done for more than twenty-five years—but with even more urgency, more context, more meaning, more “why.” What I’m not sure I can survive is that gaping disconnect of the human audience settling for “good enough.” That giant whale shape just under the surface…that swelling loss of human value that now extends beyond the horizon. It’s getting bigger. And unless we all recognize it—and our responsibility to oppose it—I realize that’s the one that may take us all down.

Beware of “good enough,” friends. Expect the best from art. Expect originality. Do not settle. Resist. Persist.

Back to the drawing board.

For Your Re-Consideration

There are a lot of speculative films out there so that it’s sometimes easy for quieter efforts to be overlooked in the boom of the blockbusters. Even sadder, some films become lost, forgotten, misunderstood, and/or slammed by bad reviews for all kinds of unseemly reasons. In the spirit of celebrating the subtler efforts in speculative fiction films I present here a couple of speculative films worth seeing again, or seeing for the first time.

 

Morgan (2016)

UK, USA | 92 minutes | Dir. Luke Scott

(see the trailer)

Morgan is a five-year-old teenager who is carefully polite when she speaks, and has an oddly white-silver-ish pallor that extends to her hair and lips. This tense film begins after something has gone horribly wrong. We are not initially told what that something is, but we can tell that whatever that something was must have been really bad because a “risk assessor” has arrived to evaluate Morgan and the scientific team that created her. The scientists walk on eggshells as they encourage the emotionless and calculating Lee Weathers (Kate Mara) to see Morgan as they do. At their shared dinner table, this group of people seemed to have formed a family. But they are not a family. They are scientists working for “corporate.” They have accepted Morgan as their child. But she is not their child, or a child at all. They have been tasked by “corporate” with building her as the perfect killer, and they have forgotten that they succeeded.

This is the first feature film directed by Luke Scott, who carefully and quietly builds a layered, deceptively simple narrative of a scientific endeavor gone wrong. This film was initially met with some awful reviews and still to this day garners a much undeserved low Rotten Tomatoes rating. One of my personal suspicions is that Scott’s familial connections may be at the heart of why this film was so harshly and carelessly reviewed. (Ridley Scott is his dad, which, of course, makes the late great Tony Scott his uncle.) Perceptions of nepotism can sometimes blind people to not see what is front of them. Here’s the kicker, though, sometimes someone from a famous family can actually have talent. But we’re not here to talk about jaded, malcontented critics. We’re here to talk about Morgan, a psychological science fiction drama and kick-ass action thriller with a subtle feminist twist. This is not your typical “action flick” with a clearly defined hero triumphing in the end. It’s more complicated than that. And for me that makes for a much more satisfying film.

There is a lot to love about this deceptively quiet film. Let’s start with the casting (and, man, does this film have one helluva cast!): Kate Mara (House of Cards), Anya Taylor-Joy (The Queen’s Gambit), Toby Jones (Captain America: The Winter Soldier), Chris Sullivan (This is Us), Vinette Robinson (Sherlock, Black Mirror), Rose Leslie (Game of Thrones), Jennifer Jason Leigh (Dolores Claiborne), Paul Giamatti (Billions, Sideways), and freakin’ Michelle Yeoh (Oh My God!).

Another thing to love is the scenery, which is beautiful, a forested Eden surrounded by wildlife and a peaceful lake. This isolated compound is the perfect place for the scientists to conduct their work. The first time we meet Morgan, we see her as Weathers see her—through the reflection of a glass separator, which is overlapped by a reflection of Weathers herself. They are the same in so many ways. Morgan has been made so that she can easily move through the world, unnoticed and dismissed as a threat because she is just a girl. So, as it seems, is this corporate risk assessor, here to do the difficult job of determining the viability of this project, i.e., whether Morgan should live or die.

In their years in this bucolic setting, the scientists can be forgiven for forgetting that they are not raising a human being. We are shown their research films of Morgan being “born” to them as proud parents and then as an endearing, curious toddler. Now, only five years later, we finally meet Morgan as an intelligent, well-mannered “teenager.” But Morgan is not a teenage girl; Morgan is an entity built for a corporation. The implantation of her emotional perceptional abilities is an experiment to see if this would make Morgan a better tool. Instead, these perceptions allow Morgan to see the world for which she has been made as it truly is—ruthless and cruel. And she reacts in kind.

So why see this film, or see it again if you’ve seen it before? See it for its cinematic beauty and the subtle undertones of its narrative manipulation. There is a feminist quality to this film that can be easily overlooked if you fall for it as a simple amalgamation of tropes. The concepts of mother and child, friend and foe, innocent and guilty, hunter and hunted, have been flipped here. The film left me wondering whether Morgan with her intense perceptions understood that the scientists (her parents) had been building her to be a killer, and that she had made a judgement upon them. If this is the case, isn’t it Morgan who has become the Risk Assessor?

 

Ondine (2010)

Ireland | 103 minutes | Dir. Neil Jordan

(see the trailer)

Syracuse (Colin Farrell) is a fisherman hard on his luck. Or, to be more precise, he has no luck at all. His catches are often small which means he has little money; his nickname is “Circus” because people consider him a clown; he’s been attempting to remain sober in a town with no AA meetings; and worse of all, his delightful daughter has kidney disease and uses a wheelchair for mobility.

One day Syracuse pulls a mysterious and beautiful woman (Alicja Bachleda) out of his trawling net and she tells him her name is Ondine. He doesn’t quite believe this is really happening to him and this strange occurrence also makes him late to take his daughter, Annie (Alison Barry), for her dialysis. He also forgets to carry a book to read to her during her treatment. So instead, he tells her a tale of a fisherman who catches a magical creature in his nets, and it’s the tale of what happened to him that morning. Immediately Annie tells him the woman is a selkie to which he says, “he’s not sure.”

Everything about Ondine fits the selkie myth. The wonderful trick of this film is that there is a perfectly good explanation for everything that happens. The explanations make it plain that this is no selkie story. Yet the explanations can also leave one wondering if the explanations explain that in fact this is a selkie story.

“Curiouser and curiouser,” Annie repeats this line from Alice in Wonderland, and we the viewers can’t help but agree with her. This mysterious woman with a penchant for swimming that has appeared in her father’s life has Annie convinced she is a selkie, a creature of the sea who brings luck, and if she cries seven tears will be tied to the fisherman for life. Annie is so convinced that Syracuse becomes convinced as well. After Ondine sings her haunting song and his nets fill with fish, one can forgive him for beginning to believe.

And yes, of course, he falls for her. But loving a selkie can be a dangerous business. Syracuse confesses to his priest (Stephen Rea) that Ondine makes him feel afraid because “she brings him hope” and makes him think that something wonderful and terrible is going to happen. To which his priest replies, “Misery is easy. Happiness you have to work at.”

So why see this film, or see it again if you’ve seen it before? First, Colin Farrell with his long hair is so fyne, and his brogue is so hot, it’s actually a bit distracting. (**fans self**) Secondly, this film is a wonderful example of how folklore can be woven into a modern tale. This film leaves me feeling warm inside. It’s not sappy or over-sentimental. And best of all, it’s about ordinary people with ordinary problems who are cut a little break for once. This film is a healthy reminder that when life has been hard on us, it’s okay to accept that life can also throw a good turn now and again.

Speculative films are often known for loud musical scores and explosions. Both Morgan and Ondine are examples of how a science fiction and fantasy film can be an action adventure and/or thriller without bombasticity. The impact of a quieter film can be depth and subtly, wonder and awe, and of course, a pleasurable and memorable experience.

The Horny Body Problem

Short stories are a lot like sex. There are only so many variations of what you can do, writer tops reader, reader comes hungry to bottom. But every angle seems inventive, every person brings their own art to both writing and reading that it feels new every time. We can write in teams and read in groups; threesomes and orgies and the sly pass of a story from one person to be enjoyed by the next. The indulgence is undeniable—it isn’t a novel. A novel is a long-term relationship. A short story is as quick and satisfying as a handjob and takes about the same length of time to complete once the parts come together. A friend once sent me a story with the caveat that she was so obsessed with it, so shamefully entranced, that she felt as though by asking me to read it she was suggesting that I smell her fingers. 

Unsurprising, then, that some of the best short stories are about sex. In speculative fiction, that sex can take many tentacled forms, assume many literary positions. Despite the richness and humanity that sex brings to stories, all too many publishers and editors are squeamish about erotic content. Don’t bring us your horny stories, their guidelines whisper, just below the part where they tell you not to be a Nazi or a pedophile. No graphic sexual stories. All sexual content must be plot-relevant. No open-door scenes. No spice, please. All stories must be PG-13. 

Guidelines like these make writers worry. Makes us think about our mothers reading our stories, our children. Makes us consider the real threat of our work being challenged for obscenity, which is a word school boards use when they don’t want their kids to know the word queer. 

But we’re all still horny, aren’t we? Horny to write, horny to read, horny to lube up and slide sex into the narratives that take us to the stars, to the haunted house, to the enchanted forest. We seek out satisfaction, and the best and bravest publishers are still busting it wide open for us. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to read stories that don’t contain sex; a lot of great ones have not a lick of eroticism present! But sex is part of the human experience, and it as vital to both the expression and appreciation of our art as grief, as loss, as any emotion we treat with greater gravity and respect than the quintessential quality of eroticism. Deeper than that, it exists on a level of need more akin to hunger or thirst, and it is as unwise and unkind to deny. 

Deny yourself nothing, horny reader. Open wide for some recent strokes of horny genius. 

Phoenix Alexander’s “One Day I Will” is the novella in the September/October 2022 issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and it hooks a finger into the reader right from the get-go. Queer astronauts orbit a planet that makes an ongoing erotic plea like a cat yowling in heat. This planet has got to have it, and when it gets what it wants it’s weirder than anything I’ve seen offered on OnlyFans—and those folks do it all. 

The Binding of Isaac” by Tochi Onyebuchi looks a little more like familiar horny content: pain and pleasure, freedom and erotic bondage, and this gem: “That’s the whole point of kink, Jeryd. It isn’t kink without the bite of shame.” What follows comes on fast and dangerous, like a welcome hand around your throat that darkens the edges of your vision. Onyebuchi wrestles the reader close to the line of pain and penitence, makes us look up and say the name of the thing we really want, forbidden though it is. This story will catch you in the middle of your yes yes yes and remind you of the real power of no. 

When I first read “Dick Pig,” the text had me yelling yes sir right out loud. Ian Muneshwar has the dirty daring to let a character admit the thing we all know is true but struggle to communicate: “there’s a want inside me that I don’t understand.” The story fuses the erotic longing that gets us on to Grindr in the middle of the night to the compulsion to go into the hidden spaces and forbidden passages in a house we know is haunted. All houses are haunted, all ghosts are horny for the mortal plane. We long to come inside, we are spooky little dick pigs, and we don’t want to wear protection. 

There is no protection when the craving is for blood and bone, as in Nadia Shammas’s “First Kiss.” There is no relief from the erotic tension between good and evil, between service and submission, as in Izzy Wasserstein’s “A Hench Helps Her Villain No Matter What.” There is no escaping the cycle of life when everything fucks just as much as we do. Nibedita Sen’s “The Love Song of M. Religiosa” has the unmissable distinction of being a story that can make the reader horny for bugs, hungry for bugs, believing that the best way to attract a mate is to rub their musical legs together and pray for the lover to rip their head off at the moment of climax. Sen is a horny genius par excellence. 

Sex is a lot like a short story; sometimes you just wanna go back to that one time when it was so, so good and reminisce. Vina Jie-Min Prasad gave us an unforgettable ride in “Pistol Grip,” with the phrase “spit-and-shit sticky,” which is a lexical composition that I never want to shower off. “Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time,” by Kellan Szpara was a Hugo finalist and it’s clear the minute it begins how deliciously horny it is. Szpara boldly intertwines gender transition and becoming a vampire so that they aid and frustrate one another in a 69 of narrative tension and elegiac eroticism. Jae Steinbacher manages to instill a cyborg story with all the fresh unsanctioned lewdness of teenage sex in “Inter-Exo,” a story that evokes the intense desire and frustration we feel when we wonder what we’re allowed to do, with whom, and where. It takes the question of what is safe and what is prohibited and rubs our trans-humanist faces in it. 

There are two that I can never get away from, that never fail to do it for me no matter how long it has been. Vonda N. McIntyre manages to tangle sex and loss and what we carry with us when we’ve mingled our fluids and untied the knot in “Little Faces.” This absolute banger comes to me when horniness seems contraindicated: aroused at a funeral, turned on even though the news is bad and the right person or persons are not present. McIntyre writes a mode of fucking that doesn’t trifle with anything so insignificant as propriety. This is a story where we sleep off our heartbreak for a thousand years and still cry about it shamelessly to our next lover. No shame because it’s kin; not kink. 

“Ganger (Ball Lightning)” by Nalo Hopkinson is kin and kink, sin and skin. It’s in her collection Skin Folk from all the way back in 2001, and it was for so many readers the first story they read wherein two people swap bodies, swap genitals, swap experiences in the act of penetrative sex. This story is as re-readable as any electrifying fantasy is re-playable. It runs parallel to Kate Bush in her perennial popularity: if I only could/ I’d make a deal with god/ and I’d get him to swap our places. Read it and you can hear the eggshell of gender identity cracking all around you: what if the person you’re literally fucking right now is having a completely different experience from you? What would it mean to swap these underlying conditions? Can the kind of sex you have and the roles you take within it really change who you are? Hopkinson is our horny GOAT; greatest of all time, capable of biting through anything.  

You came. You came to your screen wanting something, though you did not know its name. These stories have got what your horny body needs.

A Dead, Divine Thing

i will always be more tomb than temple, i know.

there are ghosts and gods reclining

on the moth-eaten velvet of my tongue,

tigers and thunders purring in my veins but—

 

if you keep praising the curl of my eyelashes,

comparing them to flying eaves / and if you keep

tending to my collarbones like hanging gardens where

you plant bright, fragrant kisses / and if your fingers

keep fitting the liminal spaces between my ribs,

like lock and key / then you might just adore me

into holiness / as miraculous as a lotus

rising from strange waters, as the moon

swaying high in darkness.

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