Featured Poet of the Month Robert Frazier
My father taught cryptography for Army Security after working with Turing’s bombe at Bletchley Park during WWII. My mother was an oil painter who studied with Emile Albert Gruppé in Rockport. The science of deciphering gibberish into plain text somehow meshes with impressionistic imagery in my writing. I live on Nantucket Island with my wife, Karol Lindquist, a nationally recognized basketmaker, while my daughter, Timalyne, was a graduate of Clarion West in 1995 (I was at Clarion ‘80). I am the author of nine books of poetry, and a three-time winner of the Rhysling Award. I have published over one hundred poems in Asimov’s.
by Michael F. Flynn
Consider the man who is brained by a hammer while on his way to lunch.
Everything about his perambulation is caused. He walks that route because his favorite café is two blocks in that direction. He sets forth at the time he does because it is his lunchtime. He arrives at the dread time and place because of the pace at which he walks. There are reasons for everything that happens.
Likewise, the hammer that slides off the roof of the building half a block along. It strikes with the fatal energy because of its mass and velocity. It achieves its terminal velocity because of the acceleration of gravity. It slides off because of the angle of the roof and the coefficient of friction of the tiles, because it was nudged by the toe of the workman, because the workman too rose to take his lunch, and because he had laid his hammer where he had. There are reasons for everything that happens.
Not much of it is predictable, but causation is not the same as predictability.
It would never occur to you—at least we hope it would never occur to you—to search out “the reason” why at the very moment you walked past that building, some roofer in Irkutsk dropped his tool. Why should the concatenation become more meaningful if the roofer is closer by? Spatial proximity does not add meaning to temporal coincidence. Chance is not a cause, no matter how nearby she lurks.
So the hammer has a reason for being there, and the diner has a reason for being there; but for the unhappy congruence of hammer and diner, there is no reason. It is simply the crossing of two causal threads in the worldline.
“Ah, what ill luck,” say the street sweepers as they cleanse the blood and brains from the concrete. We marvel because our superstitions demand significance. The man was brained by a hammer, for crying out loud! It must mean something. And so poor Fate is made the scapegoat. Having gotten all tangled up in the threads, we incline to blame the Weaver.
* * *
Orphans of Time
I. Siddhar Nagkmur
Consider now the man getting drunk in a dingy after-hours bar in an unhappy corner of Chicago. He too is unhappy, which makes for a good fit. His name is Siddhar Nagkmur, and he has the morose visage of a sheepdog who has failed his flock. It shows in his face, which is long and narrow and creased with lines at the eyes and lips; and it shows in his drink, which is both potent and frequently replenished. He sways a bit on the bar stool, ever on, yet never quite passing, the point of toppling over. The lives of billions layer on his face and pool in his eyes.
The neighborhood is one of warehouses, wholesalers, terminals, and similar establishments, and the bar’s clientele the usual gallimaufry of pickers, packers, and teamsters, among whom Nagkmur’s coveralls blend well. Outside, the night lies empty, save for the men at the loading docks who are prepping the morning deliveries, and the drifting strangers who habitually rove empty nights at three in the morning.
From time to time, Nagkmur glances at the flickering television and mutters something about “phantoms,” but neither the bartender nor the other patrons ask him what he means. One is half afraid of what he might say. Each patron dwells introspectively on his own tidy failures until Nagkmur’s empty highball glass strikes the countertop and startles them into the moment.
The bartender does not ask if he thinks he’s had enough, because if he’d thought that, he would not have banged the countertop quite so eloquently. The bartender pours the bar Scotch, and waters it more than his wont—a blow struck for both sobriety and the bottom line.
“Shy Hero in Manhattan!” the television announces as the hour cycles around to a fresh story in the news-blender. The shout-out tugs momentarily at everyone’s attention, and on the screen, a stolid woman half-turns from the camera, anxious to conclude the inescapable interview. A fire. A baby. A dash through the flames. A rescue! Brief platitudes.
“Stupid,” says the bartender, not grasping the nature of heroism. “She coulda been killed.”
Nagkmur continues to scowl at the screen after the woman’s face has been replaced by commercials promising revivified male performance. “I see this woman before,” he mutters, in accents that proclaim English an acquired tongue.
“Yeah? Where’d ya see her?” the bartender asks, not because he is interested but just to break the silence.
But his effort is a match struck on a gusty night. Nagkmur says, “Glass water” and from his inside jacket pocket he plucks a flat tin containing lozenges, one of which he swallows and chases with the water. The bartender pretends not to notice. He has seen innumerable pharmaceuticals consumed in his establishment and regards everyone as entitled to blaze his own trail to hell, so long as he pays his tab along the way.
Speaking of which, the bartender mentions the cost of the water and whiskey and Nagkmur selects it from a pouch he wears at his waist, scrutinizing each bill as if unfamiliar with its value. He takes a deep, shuddering breath. Then, with the air of one spared the headsman’s axe to keep an urgent appointment on the gallows, he slides from his stool and walks toward the door. He walks without a stagger, too; and the bartender suddenly wishes he knew what had been in that lozenge.
Outside, in the lonely world of the small hours, Nagkmur finds three young men trying to jack his time machine.
* * *
They are engrossed in the task. The vehicle is too tasty to pass up. Larger than a minivan, not so large as a panel truck, it is clearly high end. The opaque windows prevent casing the interior, but it just got to hold valuable shit!
However, it presents certain difficulties in task execution. The blocky design is unfamiliar. There is no evident hood. How do you hot-wire a thing like that? The door—there is only the one—does not yield to their coaxing. Where is the damned handle? So they shake the vehicle like a man jiggling a doorknob, in the belief that one more jiggle will happily discover it to have been unlocked after all. One of them has crouched to study the wheels. There is something odd about them, but he cannot say what.
They are levitation disks, not wheels—just as the “windows” are external sensor panels—but Nagkmur does not share this intelligence. Nor does he fear the young men will make off with his transporter. Nothing known to this nexus is capable of unsealing it once it has turtled. So he stands quietly by and waits. READ MORE
by John Alfred Taylor
Ben Niehaus knew all about tribes and moieties and phratries, endogamy and exogamy, as well as the pitfalls of participant observation, but never imagined falling in love. Desperately, hopelessly, with a woman who had four hands. Worse than Montagues and Capulets.
Everything worked out from the beginning. Ben realized it was the chance of a lifetime when he learned that the mining unit Georgius Agricola would be passing on its way to a swingby of Venus. He’d always been fascinated by Celestials and asked to join Agricola during the loop. He sweated two days before they messaged that a sociologist would be welcome aboard. The Humanitas Foundation was forthcoming with a grant, the university gave him extended leave through the coming semester, and now he was waiting in lunar orbit.
Not alone. Five Celestials were in the transfer ship with him, three men and two women. He’d never been close to Ceelies before and considered this a preview of the coming months.
Medication had eased his transition to weightlessness, and he was already learning to maneuver, but the others were born for microgravity, moving about the cabin with inhuman ease, pushing off with a bare touch, turning in midair as if they were floating or swimming, grasping with feet or hands.
Ben had watched videos of gibbons after someone told him that Ceelies reminded him of the great apes. Not really like gibbons, he decided now, though his companions had the same long arms and short legs. But their chests were narrower, and their wrists normal—not the ball-and-socket joints that allowed gibbons to brachiate from tree to tree. No need to brachiate here.
Ben marveled at the arrogance of last century’s genetic engineers, their ruthless decision to remake humanity for space. Homo sapiens sapiens caelestis. He wondered how happy Ceelies were in their niche.
Enough introspection. He’d already memexed their names and images—time to get to know them better. He took his cue from a hint of complaint. “You didn’t like the Moon?”
Fredelin grimaced. “Too heavy.”
“Walking’s awful,” Valeska said. “Even with an exoskeleton keeping me balanced.”
“Walking’s all us groundgrubbers can do.” Ben said, raising his hands to pantomime helplessness till everybody laughed.
“But you do it better,” Valeska said. Ben found it was easier talking to the women if he concentrated on their faces—their bodies were wrong.
Then Ben was explaining his purpose. They knew why they were joining Agricola—Ceelie societies were exogamous when possible, and they had partners waiting for them, but why was he going? “I’m a sociologist; I study the ways people live together. Every society has its own rules—laws, customs, manners, local assumptions. I live among the people I study till I’m not just an outside observer, and the questions I ask aren’t stupid anymore.” Now for the pitch. “Maybe you can help me. You’re from L5, so you might notice things you learn to do different after you’ve turned miners.”
(They could tell him how long-distance courtship worked too, but that could wait.)
An electronic chime, and the ship announced “FIRST WARNING. ACCELERATION IN TWENTY MINUTES.”
Everyone headed for the zero-g toilet, just in case. Ben was impressed by their ability to form a queue in free fall.
“TEN MINUTES TO THRUST,” said the ship. “PLEASE GO TO YOUR ASSIGNED ACCELERATION COUCHES AND STRAP IN.”
Valeska groaned. “More damn weight.”
Each couch had a display with a name. As they found their seats, Ben noticed his was the only one without a transparent hood over the back. He clicked his safety harness shut, and looked around: everyone else was in place. please put your feet in the stirrups. The seat changed shape under him, stretching out till he was lying against it rather than sitting.
The countdown numbers flickered. The hoods came down over the others’ faces. supplementary oxygen feed in place.
3, 2, 1—
Acceleration slammed Ben into the couch. With breathing this hard for him, he knew why Ceelies needed extra oxygen.
* * *
Docking with Agricola was less of a burden, though they had to strap in again at the end. Ben tried to release his harness once they were stopped, but the ship kept it closed long enough to be irritating.
When the airlock opened, the rich, green smell of healthy plants rushed in as if Agricola had a forest inside. He took a luxurious breath, realizing how sterile the transfer ship had been.
Ben was last out, almost colliding with a man entering. Joining the others in the receiving hold, he saw the person he’d dodged returning with the line holding their luggage. The man snubbed his end to a cleat, but the rest of the line and its load kept coming. Everyone swarmed around the cord, but when Ben unsnapped his pack, it bore him on till he revolved sideways into the far bulkhead. The thump reminded him that inertia mattered, even without weight.
He glanced about, embarrassed. Luckily, no one was watching, too busy with their own packs. “Follow me,” the young man said, but held up his hand when Ben moved. “Not you. Your own guide is coming.”
After they left, Ben hung there alone wondering what was going on, one hand round his pack, clinging to a wall net with the other.
He was on the same wall as the door so couldn’t see her till she glided through. She grabbed the edge with a foot and curled in his direction. Her smile was dazzling. “Welcome to Agricola. Sorry I’m late.” Her eyes were blue-violet, her skin was pale as cream except for a few freckles—odd for someone who’d never seen the sun direct. “I’m Ellen Slade-Thomas.”
She was wearing her black hair longer than the women from L5, and her minimal coverall was bright red rather than their white. The L5 men had been wearing white too, while the young man who’d greeted them had worn horizon blue—already one difference between the two cultures? READ MORE
Featured Poet of the Month Suzanne Palmer
Suzanne Palmer is a Senior Linux System Administrator who lives deep among the trees in western Massachusetts and couldn't imagine life any other way (except maybe with better cell signal).
Featured Poet of the Month Lisa Bellamy
Lisa Bellamy studies poetry with Philip Schultz at The Writers Studio, where she also teaches. Her chapbook, Nectar, won the Aurorean-Encircle Publications Chapbook Prize. Her work has appeared in TriQuarterly, Massachusetts Review, New Ohio Review, The Sun, Hotel Amerika, The Southampton Review, Cimarron Review, Chiron Review and Calyx, among other publications. She won Fugue’s Poetry Prize in 2008 and received honorable mention in The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror 2007. She is working on her first full-length collection.
Featured Poet of the Month Bruce Boston
Bruce Boston is the author of more than fifty books and chapbooks, including the dystopian SF novel The Guardener’s Tale and the psychedelic coming-of-age-novel Stained Glass Rain. His poems and/or fiction have appeared in Asimov’s SF, Analog, Weird Tales, Strange Horizons, Daily Science Fiction, Realms of Fantasy, the Nebula Awards Anthology and Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. His poetry has received the Bram Stoker Award, the Asimov’s Readers Award, the Balticon Poetry Award, the Gothic Readers Choice Award, and the Rhysling and Grandmaster Awards of the SFPA. His fiction has received a Pushcart Prize, and twice been a finalist for the Bram Stoker Award (novel, short story). www.bruceboston.com.
Featured Poet of the Month A. E. Ash
A.E. Ash is a writer, nerd, gamer, mooncalf but not a baker or candlestick maker (and nobody said anything about butcher). She writes speculative poetry and fiction because why not make good use of an over-active imagination? Ash lives in the Midwest with her super-rad husband and her lazy cats who do nothing at all to help her on the path to world domination. You can find her on Twitter at @dogmycatzindeed or on her blog, www.aeashwrites.com.