This week’s stories are about the things people will and won’t do for love, the monsters embedded in our skin and under the crust of the Earth, and the even worse horror waiting out there in the void.
Duller’s Peace by Jason Sanford | Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine September 2015
Serija knows what happens when she thinks the wrong thoughts—people die.
When Serija’s mind creeps across forbidden ideas like “I hate the nation,” her mother dies. When Serija feels anger at the nation, her brother and father slip into death.
So now Serija stays happy happy and smiley smiles. Now she tries to keep her thoughts calm and loving even when she smells the burnt-orange scent of dust laughing at her. This is entirely proper, she believes, and what every twelve-year-old should do in these days of whispered screams and dulling pain.
“Serija?” her grandfather asks. “Serija? Are you even listening?”
Serija sits with her grandfather on the cement steps in front of his home. Her grandfather worked all day in his rice fields and now rests—exhausted—as the mud on his clothes slowly dries into cracked maps of imaginary lands.
Before them stretch the family’s fields, newly flooded with finger-shoots of gened rice poking through the mirrored ripples. Beyond the fields rise the hills and mountains that hem in this valley. Sometimes Serija pretends the high peaks are alive—that their shrieking winds are actually whispered promises to conceal her valley from the outside world. She knows the mountains do this simply to keep her happy and safe.
“I’m listening, Grandfather,” she says.
“Doesn’t seem like you are.”
Serija smiles again, which she knows troubles her grandfather. But it’s not safe to do anything but smile. To reassure her grandfather, Serija leans over and hugs him.
They are still sitting there minutes later when a mother and child pass by the house on their way to the village market. The mother holds the little child’s hand as their footsteps raise a trail of dust from the dirt road.
The dust’s burning-orange scent jumps through Serija’s mind. Before she can stop herself, Serija remembers holding her own mother’s hand as they walked home from that final political rally in the capital city. Serija had felt so proud at the rally, her face giving to true smiles as her mother stood in front of thousands of people and announced that even the death of her son and husband wouldn’t silence her.
“Let the nation feel your anger,” her mother had yelled to the cheering crowds. “Let the nation know your every thought is hatred for what they’ve done to our people!”
But after the rally, as they walked down a street near their apartment, her mother gasped and fell to the ground. Passersby screamed and ran away, afraid they’d be killed for being sympathetic or helpful.
Serija’s mother shivered and gagged and squeezed Serija’s hand tight as the smell of oranges burned around them. Her mother tried to say something, but words refused to slip past her lips. And then the shivering stopped and her mother lay on the street as nothing more than dead.
An intense distopian world in which a government achieves control through nanotechnology that reaches into everything, including your thoughts. The concept is creepy, mostly because it’s not far fetched. I can see people balking at the ending, I say it’s perfect. Highly Recommended.
Beyond Sapphire Glass by Margaret Killjoy | Strange Horizons
Sometimes at night, with Kevin curled up against me, I think about you. I think about you and I can’t sleep but all I want to do is sleep. All I want to do is sleep because sleep resets my emotions and I don’t want to think about you.
I remember when you first came to us, a pilgrim. You reached the top of the steps on your twentieth birthday and I saw you spinning around the mountaintop, looking out at the whole world, out to every horizon. It was a clear day, a summer day. You have a summer birthday. I don’t think that matters anymore, but I can’t make myself forget.
We told you what we told every pilgrim: if your health wasn’t bad, you had to stay with us a year before we’d lead you into the depths, before an angel would show you to the sapphire gate. Before we’d let you upload your mind, before we’d incinerate your body. One year with us so we knew that you knew that you were certain. A lot of people call the wait “purgatory.” You didn’t and I don’t.
We caught one another staring so many times we made a game of it, laughing and turning our eyes from one another for just a second before staring again. Then one day it escalated to tag, and we chased each other like we were children, and you tackled me and I skinned my arm on the rocks and you pinned me down and I don’t remember which one of us broke the awkward silence first but I remember that one of us asked and we kissed. You’d never kissed a girl. I’d never kissed a pilgrim. And the air smelled of clover.
Another future world, this time a bit more utopian than distopian, though that depends on your point of view. This story is less than a thousand words long, yet deftly tackles the nature of love, of existence, and of faith. Highly Recommended.
Image Credit: Geneva Benton
Beyond the Visible Spectrum by Axel Taiari | Fantasy Scroll Mag
In sleep I see what lies beyond this world. Vast shapes skulk in the cold crevasses of the cosmos and slither through the fissures of reality. They glide through the void in perpetual craving, unscathed by the ravages of time and cellular decay. They are as they once were, and as they will continue to be. Amorphous shapes squirm and spread across the skyline then coalesce into organisms the size of moons. Dimensions rupture like dehisced wounds. Alien suns cower before slippery swarms. An eye opens. Plump spores rain down from orbit. There is nowhere to hide and I must—
I meander in and out of consciousness. Colossal insects whirr. No, the frequency is mechanical, not organic. Drills. The dreams recede. Disjointed thoughts hit me in staccato waves. Where? Yellowstone Caldera, way below the resurgent dome and the geysers, past the water reservoirs and the brine, close to a soothing pocket of basaltic magma. The heat reminds me of home. This is my nest.
The humans have found me, as they always do. I am grateful for this intrusion; I have been dreaming for too long. And I will be hungry soon.
It’s not often that I see stories written from an alien POV that work, so kudos to Taiari for managing to pull this off. There’s a whole history in the background, including the history of humanity on Earth, all done in just enough detail to feel real and deep without bogging down the galloping narrative. I’m also so very down with the mixing of fantasy and science fictional elements here.
Image: Helix Nebula, taken by the Spitzer space telescope
The Closed Window by Christina Sng | Fantastic Stories of the Imagination