This week’s stories are about dying languages, about the stuff of dreams crossing on over—and about how the world can come to an end more than once.

Saltwater Railroad by Andrea Hairston [Part 1 | Part 2] | Lightspeed Magazine

Miz Delia’s Island was protected by deadly reefs on the Georgia/Florida side and nine hundred feet of jagged cliffs on the other. Indians called it Thunder Rock, a place where the wind and sea played rough and tumble. Spaniards named it Ghost Reef because of whirlpools, deadly fog, and wailing drowned folk who wouldn’t rest. English sailors claimed that Delia was a vengeful slave haint, howling demon talk and luring men to a bloody death. What ship’s captain would risk his crew or his own hide on quicksand beaches and breakneck ledges? The few adventurers stupid enough to land and lucky enough to get back off in one piece warned everybody to steer clear. Anybody who knew the waters gave the Island a wide berth.

Miz Delia was grateful for the tall tales. Born in the last century, after the Colonies took their freedom from Britain, she’d grown craggy and wild like her rock refuge. She had a gap in her front teeth, droopy eyes, and high cheekbones holding up tired skin. Always dressed in black, she blended into the gloomy ledges day and night. Rainbow was her first star child. Delia was going through the change, hearing mostly Spirit talk the night high waves tossed Rainbow against the reefs. Truth be told, many a body got banged senseless in the whirlpools at Wolf Wedge and drowned, but not Rainbow. She clawed her way to the surface, spit seaweed, and shrieked like a demon.

Delia was on the other side of the Island. She tossed and fussed in a feather bed, lost in a dream she’d had every night for a month:

A warm breeze turned to mist. Delia floated in fog above straw hat roofs tucked in a mountainside. She marveled at meteors streaking across a black velvet sky. Below Delia, a young woman (her mother?) ran along rocky cliffs at the edge of a Dogon village back in Africa. Delia’s mother waved to the flashes of light. Her laughter was brighter than her colorful headwrap. A man, flimsy as mist, dark as soot, with wing marks on his forehead, chased behind Delia’s mother. Tracking the meteors, the couple stumbled over a broken rabbit mask. Delia’s mother gripped the man so he didn’t fall over the edge on account of raffia ears. They laughed, then gasped in wonder as a fat-bellied boat with blazing lanterns and spidery sails (or were they wings?) flew down from the sky on a river of fog.

“Delia! Delia!” Spirits shouted.

Delia woke with a start, wheezing on mist drifting in her cabin window. A gurgling stream gnawed at the rocks by her door. Warm winds off the Georgia coast rustled the straw hat roof.

“Sky is falling,” the Spirits said. “Bits of light coming down!”

“Hush now.” Delia covered her ears. “I’m awake. I can’t hear dream talk.”

“Stars falling into the sea, right now,” Spirits insisted. “Gifts, Delia. See?”

The fat boat with spider-web wings rode the mist right past her nose. Delia leapt up as it sailed off into the night. She stuck her head out the cabin window and gasped. A shower of meteors dissolved in the dark, spraying colorful sparks before hitting water. Tears filled Delia’s eyes.

Blanket statement: you should just read everything by Andrea Hairston. She’s an amazing writer that almost everyone sleeps on—and you shouldn’t. Get to know Hairston’s work and treasure it. This is an excellent place to start. Her prose is evocative but not what I would call gentle. It seizes you up and says Come Along in such a way that you do because you were told but also because you’re deeply intrigued. The following pays off.

image credit: “Waiting for the Quadrantids” by Eneas De Troya on Flickr

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At the End of Babel by Michael Livingston | Tor.com

Tabitha Hoarse Raven, not yet thirty years old but already the last of her tongue, inhaled the cool air of the desert. Though she’d lived in hiding for nearly eighteen years, it had been a long time since she’d actually slept out beneath the stars, and she felt a strange thrill to be doing so again. If nothing else, she was excited to see the sky at night, free of the dissolving bubble of cityglow, free of the slashing scars of neon and steel, free of the burntrails from uplifting ships. A sky full of stars.

She’d forgotten how many there were. Tabitha chose a blank spot of sky, an ebony rift between twinkling lights. She stared until her eyes watered, and she saw more stars.

She thought of her old grandfather, who’d come to the Sky City to die when all hope had left him. And others of that last generation, who’d all come to die.

I’ve come, too, she thought. Do I have hope?

She took the carbuncle stone from her pocket, shook it into luminescence. Small creatures skittered away from the sudden glow, and a moth flitted white across her sight. It was a risk to use the stone, but her campsite was isolated in a thin, bending canyon. Not like the wide-open plains she would cross in the morning, a vast expanse where there was nothing to hide her light. Out there, a searchskiff would already be bearing down on her. Up here, she felt confident and safe.

And that was assuming the authorities were even looking for her.

Paranoia, she was sure. There was no reason to believe the unity government knew of the cycle or even remembered the old pueblo atop the high New Mexican cliffs. There was no reason to think they might expect someone to come out to its ruins, to try to talk to old gods in outlawed tongues.

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I have a few conflicting feelings about this story. Livingston is one of those authors who spins words in such a way that you just want to keep reading and going along and get swept up in the world he’s weaving. And for almost all of this story I was completely into it. Languages die sometimes, but not naturally. They go extinct due to misuse, and sometimes due to active stomping out. It’s just one more way to erase a culture, and that’s what this story deals with in a very non-metaphorical way that works.

But then we get to the end and... no spoilers, because you need to read it for yourself. After you do (only after), go check out point #7 on this list, then come back here and let me know if you think the story falls on the problematic side of that.

That’s not to say the ending doesn’t work, because it does. Everything about this story works, as far as storyness goes. And throughout I felt Livingston’s treatment of culture and character were excellent. This is one of those stories I’m recommending, not because it’s unequivocally excellent and a must read, but because I really want to have a conversation about it.

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image by Greg Ruth for Tor.com

Elegy for the Green Earthrise by Joanne Rixon | Crossed Genres Magazine

The frogs died first. Not just the picturesque frogs in far-distant rainforests, but the small green and brown tree frogs I remembered from the muddy summers of my childhood. The Willamette Valley was humid and fertile and so terribly quiet that June. If I’d thought about it at all, I would have thought that the crickets would take up the slack, multiply in a world with fewer predators and make a racket with the joy of it. But they didn’t, and the long summer nights were silent as a cathedral, the fresh-leaved trees tall and straight and dark like mourners gathered around a grave.

The newspapers were bustling with sex scandals and war in Central Asia, but every so often there was a small headline tucked away in a corner: FROGS GOING EXTINCT? SCIENTISTS BAFFLED.

***

I barely noticed. I was too busy being diagnosed with melanoma, Stage IV. The doctors said: the cancer has metastasized to your lymph nodes and your liver. The biopsy shows mutations in an unusual gene, so the standard treatment is unlikely to be effective in your case. Our best estimate? Four months.

I got a second opinion, then a third. None of them had anything different to say. The tests were clear. I was thirty-seven, and I was a dead woman.

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I thought of this story a lot when I was reading the Hugo nominated novelette “The Day The World Turned Upside Down” which is.... not what I put at the top of my ballot. In both stories, there’s a massive, world-changing event, but the protagonists are so focused on their own thing that the massive event takes a literal backseat. I think Rixon handles this idea far better in this story, and I like how the world changing background info blends into the protagonist’s foreground as the story goes on.

image credit: “Green Tree Frog Litoria caerulea” by Stephen Michael Barnett on Flickr

Honorable Mentions

Tidings by Jayne Moore Waldrop | Luna Station Quarterly


K. Tempest Bradford is a speculative fiction author, media critic, and issuer of the Tempest Challenge. Follow her on Twitter, G+, Tumblr, or her blog.

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