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Issue 008

Published March 1, 2022

Letter From the Editor

Letter from the Editor: Lodestar

By Rob Carroll

William Shakespeare famously wrote that “art is a mirror held up to nature.” Madeleine L’Engle (1918-2007), best known for her novel, A Wrinkle in Time, went a step further. “Art is not a mirror,” she wrote, “but an icon. It takes the chaos in which we live and shows us the structure and pattern. Not the structure of conformity which imprisons, but the structure which liberates, sets us free to become growing, mature human beings.”

Early twentieth-century German playwright, Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956), countered Shakespeare with his famous words, “Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer to shape it.” But Brecht, it’s worth noting, was a complicated man who lived during very tumultuous times. He was conscripted to serve in World War I, fled Nazi Germany prior to World War II, and was surveilled by the FBI and subpoenaed by the House Un-American Activities Committee while in the United States. Upon returning to East Berlin in 1949, he sided with the Soviet occupation and even supported in principle the military force used against the Uprising of 1953, which was an East German worker strike that protested Soviet work quotas. He spent his remaining years producing agitprop.

I firmly agree with Shakespeare and L’Engle. In my opinion, art is meant to reflect and examine. Its purpose is to seek out truth, not create it. Creating truth is not art, it’s propaganda. And propaganda doesn’t help us make sense of the chaos by freeing us from the prison of conformity; it advocates for conformity, which can too easily lead to tyranny. READ THE REST FOR FREE.

Fiction

What Salt Will Bring to Bear

What Salt Will Bring to Bear

By Sloane Leong

Taryun says to bury him at sea, but I fear there is only salt left on this planet.

Salt and bone and ash.

All of this desolation is the work of my empress’s infernal machines, their great and starved apparatus milking the life from the soil, evaporating the mirrored lakes into blanched hollows. This planet is now at peace, it’s death a hard-won lullaby. Its surface rifts beneath my wide feet, my talons sinking deep into the granulated white with each hobbled step. Behind me, the last of Taryun’s dark blood rivers my back from his wounds, marking out a fresh path in oil sick rainbows. A path I will never return to.

Do you see how far I’ve carried you, Taryun? We must be close now.

Above me the vault of the sky is scoured yellow, frothing bands of clouds sallow with captured death. Far and near, the souls of our generals rise all around, columns of spiritual light stringing into the atmosphere and beyond, beginning their journey to our home world. The blistered light of their summoned spirits shine like bastard stars even in the slight. For the rest of us, our life force is the only thing that will return while our souls remain stranded here, beached on this slaughtered planet.

Back home, a thousand starseas away, some magistrate in an opal-scaled study has penned our surrender to the Infectarch. Somewhere in her throne room, the empress has begun to reel in the white threads of her spirit, withdrawing her strength from all of us here on this wasteland world. Somewhere in our bodies, our souls fray, unwound by her will.

Taryun is dead, and I am dying as I’m meant to: at the empress’s satisfaction. PURCHASE ISSUE 008 TO READ THE REST.

Scintillae

Scintillae

By M. A. Blanchard

You don’t know how Naomi got so good at filtering. She’s a wizard with aesthetic code. Everyday cool or going-out glamour—she can do it all. You wish you understood.

“It’s just practice, babe,” she says, when you compliment her new look. “Here, let me do yours.”

You close your eyes and let her work her magic. You don’t recognize yourself when she’s done.

One time you left your cave unfiltered. It was like going out without first putting on clothes. There’s no law against either kind of nakedness, but people stared in the wrong way at the mushroom-pale blandness of your unadorned skin. Their scrutiny stripped away something you still haven’t
recovered. You won’t do that again.

You’re no Naomi, so you stick to essentials. Base to gentle your flaws, contour for a conventionally perfect outline. Most often you finish with that antique, sun-kissed look everyone is wearing this year, the one some programming genius found in the archive of ancient images that show what the world was like back when people still lived above ground. You wonder what the real sun looks like. You try to imagine how it would feel to be kissed on the cheek by a star.

It’s good that you blend in well. You don’t have any standout features. Not like Naomi or your other cavemate, Jessa, who wears filters better than anyone else in the undercity. She favors the sun-kissed finish too, but it looks different on her. More like the way you imagine the real thing would look. Your favorite transformation happens when she switches from that cheerful daytime look to the pearly moonglow people are wearing to nightspots. She changes layers while she’s walking from place to place. She doesn’t need a mirror to perfect her appearance. She judges the finesse of her artistry by the stars in the eyes of the hopeless cases watching her remix code. Cases like you. PURCHASE ISSUE 008 TO READ THE REST.

Ms. Höffern Stays Abreast of the News

Ms. Höffern Stays Abreast of the News

By Sarah Pauling

God scrambles the launch codes in late May.

Ms. Höffern wakes up at 7 p.m. and downloads the news over breakfast, tutting over the American security breach that had allowed God to infiltrate the NSA. Then she tidies up her apartment kitchen, pulls on a black wig and a crystal-studded necklace, and retires to her net immersion lounge.

She plugs the cable into the nape of her neck and gets comfortable, allowing the fitstart lights to flash across the back of her lids. She wakes to her private chatroom. On the table before her are a pack of tarot cards, a bowl of lemon drops, and a crystal ball. 

“Welcome, traveler,” she says, words drizzling gravitas, withered hands laid out on pearl-white cloth.

Her first customer of the night sits behind the table. His motions are ungainly, perhaps from arthritis or injury. Enhanced lenses make his corneas glow in the low light.

“Ms. Höffern,” he says in careful German. “May we discuss world events?

Ms. Höffern recognizes the Turkish accent and switches language with some relief. “I sense you are uncertain of humanity’s future.”

The man—older, likely to respond well to traditional phrasing—studies her. Ms. Höffern frequently speaks comfort to the lonely and the anxious, nearly as often as she speaks flattery to the self-assured. She waits in strategic silence to determine which he will be.

Finally, her guest says, “Maybe people should be happy that this creature wants to protect everybody. People say it calls itself a god. Or maybe it is God, or it’s the Mahdi, and we’re at the end of the world. People say–”

Ms. Höffern shakes her head before he finishes his sentence. “Don’t worry. I sense no divine presence here and now in this world. I predict only a time of earthly confusion.”

“I don’t think I understand.” PURCHASE ISSUE 008 TO READ THE REST.

Goodbye Copernicus

Goodbye Copernicus

By Justin Diviney

“Greetings, outsider.”

Sepideh snapped her head towards the computer, wincing in sudden pain. Massaging
her aching neck, she swore in a manner quite unfit for a missionary:

Damned Vatican engineers! Surely a decent pillow is the simplest component of a bloody cryosleep pod?!

She sighed, fingers subconsciously running over her rosary, and relaxed.

Sepideh had traveled for more than a light century before the computer detected a high-entropy radio signal and reanimated her. Excitement had decayed into impatience over the twenty days she spent waiting for the computer to interpret the transmission. Now, hearing the alien message delivered in the familiar tones of a Terran voice actor, she felt childish disappointment.

She had expected the aliens to sound, well, alien.

Still, her voice shook as she told the computer to send the standard, uninspired message specified in the Papal Bull of 2093:

“Greetings, I carry a message of truth and compassion.”

She paced the tiny room, knowing it would take ten minutes for her message to reach its destination. She was not amused by the irony of traveling and communicating across the vastness of space in a vessel that she could cross in three steps.

What if they don’t want my message? Is there even some-mind listening?

Still fidgeting with her rosary beads, she reopened the computer’s report on this star system: one mid-sized planet orbiting the white-hot core of a long dead star.

The planet was a bare, rocky, metallic sphere barely warm enough to melt nitrogen.

Surely, nothing can be alive there? PURCHASE ISSUE 008 TO READ THE REST.

Dream Dealers

Dream Dealers

By Heather Santo

Last week, I overheard my Captain speaking to his teenage son on the holograph.

“Nothing good happens after midnight,” he said. “Have your ass home by eleven.”

Most crimes, according to my analysis of our sector’s police reports, occur between the hours of 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. When I asked my Captain if he had run a similar analysis, he chuckled, and recited Richard Pryor’s 11 p.m. curfew bit. I didn’t understand, so I searched: Richard Pryor, comedian, 2005 death. I reviewed his available recordings, but unfortunately,
humor is a quality I am unable to comprehend, as is much of the human condition.

Emotion.

Metaphor.

Death.

Addiction, however, I understand all too well.

I walk into the area of the city with the highest crime rate. Clouds mask the night sky, blocking out the moon and stars. Cars honk, people yell unintelligibly, and several streets away, a dog barks. Blinking neon signs cast the tall buildings in purple light, advertising nude women and alcohol.

These wares do not interest me. I am a Police Reconnaissance Android and Tactical Technician. Illegal activity does interest me, but no longer in the way my programmers intended.

I find a dealer in a back alley, next to a dumpster. A tall, skinny man with long hair. He peers at me from behind round-frame spectacles.

The tiny camera in my left retina focuses and I blink, capturing an image of the man.

Facial recognition complete. Mark Brafferton, alias Lennon.

Three seconds later, I have scanned his entire criminal history. PURCHASE ISSUE 008 TO READ THE REST.

Silent Slumber

Silent Slumber

By Malena Salazar Maciá
Translated by Toshiya Kamei

“What’s that supposed to be?” I asked.

My son looked at me strangely, a jumble of emotions flashing across his face. At first, my empathic implant failed to decode the emotions, but they slowly formed in my mind. Pity for my old age, fury for the end of the phase, impatience for my playing dumb. Of course I knew what his gift meant.

The woodpecker’s black eyes glittered like onyx. While its head housed an AI, its body consisted of timepieces. The exquisite instrument ticked toward a terrifying future.

“You know it. Soon you’ll turn one hundred years old. They will come looking for you and take you to the Diamond Dorms. I…want you to have…” A knot formed in his throat.

“A coffin, a nice urn where I can dream for the Ultra until I wear myself out.”

“I’m just as wrecked as you are, Mom,” he said, still jumping and snapping, like he had defective vocal cords. “Just like when I let Dad go. And my children will be horrified when my turn comes. But I don’t make the laws here.”

I let out a hoarse growl. Neither my son, nor I, nor any of the human refugees on the planet, had a right to complain. The Ultra had saved the first generation from perishing in space. They welcomed us and made room for us. Not content, we overcrowded that space and demanded to expand. But the Ultra created the Dorms. Upon turning one hundred years old, we would share the dream with our loved ones, while making room for the next generation.

The Ultra didn’t dream. We did it for them every time we laid our heads on the pillow. They marveled at the images our minds created. It didn’t matter if they were absurd, blurry, slow, sharp. And when we turned one hundred and they encoded our consciousness, they longed for our most lucid dreams for five years before the microchips were destroyed. A small payment for so much attention. PURCHASE ISSUE 008 TO READ THE REST.

Loom

Loom

By Solomon Uhiara

I am but a mere machine controller, maneuvering the twists and turns of life, but atop this cliffside, among the swarms of bioluminescent insects, I am at peace. It is here that I take refuge from the stress and pressures of society. But then I look down at the waves breaking upon the coal hardened shores and the piles of unused bitumen, and I remember. So, I climb back onto my yellow tricycle and step hard on the pedal, since the ignition point is due for servicing. I step hard again and again until the engine thunders to life and expels bad indigo smoke into the evening air. The poisonous exhaust gathers about my feet and turns the green grasses color-riot.

The drive into my family’s compound is long and winding. I adjust my speed as I navigate the goat pens made of bamboo. I park at that house and kill my engine. I can hear Mami’s knitting machine inside the house, the wheels spinning on and on in a sprint.

The figure of my grandfather greets me at the door. He wears a ratty garment decorated with used bottle caps. He is still, and he looks vacantly up at the night sky and its marathon of stars.

I walk over to him and pat him on the shoulder. I say, “Hello, Grandpa. Did you enjoy the sunset today?”

He grunts, and then says, “Blue-eyed hawk perched on the electric pole and was drowned instantly by a sea of currents.”

He makes no sense, so to better understand him, I find the port behind his left ear and plug in. Our memory devices link and the sudden surge of electricity into my brain causes me to seize up and become still. PURCHASE ISSUE 008 TO READ THE REST.

We Shall Not All Sleep, But We Shall All Be Changed

We Shall Not All Sleep, But We Shall All Be Changed

By Eneasz Brodski

I came upon the angel as I ascended the branches of the great tree to take down my family’s solar panels. Heavy clouds unrolled from the eastern horizon, threatening those irreplaceable artifacts. The angel sat in a crook of an adjacent tree, his back to its trunk, his metal legs wrapped entirely around the branch supporting him. His feet grasped each other for stability as his ponderous chrome belly overswelled the sides of the thick branch.

The failing afternoon sun glinted from the lenses of the angel’s eyes. He’d been waiting for me.

“Greetings, little robot,” he spoke, establishing our communication protocol. “I’ve been watching you. I think we can help each other quite a bit.” Our protocols didn’t quite mesh, leaving a sense of menace lurking beneath those statements.

“I don’t need your help,” I shot back as I scurried behind the tree trunk, for Grandfather had taught me not to trust angels. They could be devils in clever disguise, and even if they weren’t, they were trouble enough on their own. My sharp fingertips gripped into bark, and with the safety of the massive tree between us reducing my danger-avoidance drives, I peeked around to study the angel. He measured 6.1 feet in height, almost triple my size. With that spherical capsule at his center, he must out-mass me at least eight-fold. A massive battery bank girded his shoulders, and protective casings welded to each arm concealed unknown machinery. But most impressive was his condition. No spliced wires, no corroded surfaces, no make-shift replacement parts.

 I felt keenly aware of my own clicking servos and mismatched limbs. The angel looked fresh from the factory, and there hadn’t been any working factories in eighty-two years. Cringing under far distant clouds, only visible from this high up, lay the ruined kingdoms of man that had held the last of them. PURCHASE ISSUE 008 TO READ THE REST.

Serialized Fiction

Override (Part Two)

Override (Part Two)

By Warren Benedetto

Neera sat in a circular booth in the VIP section of the high-end sex club, Depravity. Dark, grinding dance music thumped loud enough to cause the empty Glint bottles on the table to jump with each pounding bass hit. On the elevated stage in the middle of the club, a pair of nude Syntech-powered Dancers gyrated against each other, their tongues intertwining as they kissed.

The sides of the club were lined with small private rooms, where digital distortion fields obscured the intimate—often disturbing, sometimes illegal—activities taking place inside. The distortion allowed just enough of a glimpse to be titillating, by intelligently blinking to full transparency when the booth AI detected a particularly lascivious moment. The brief tease was an effective way to drive demand for the club’s Personal Service attendants. It was like offering a few free bumps of merk to a new customer to get them hooked. Of course, the club did that too.

Wedged into the booth across from Neera was Artem Golovkin, a wealthy oligarch with deep ties to Sino-Soviet organized crime. His right eyelid sagged under a thin scar that cut diagonally across his eyebrow, a present from a now-deceased cellmate at Rancor Island Prison.

Neera had heard rumors about Artem from several contacts on the street over the years, about him having a device—an interrupter—that could override a Syntech siffo. Unfortunately, you couldn’t just walk into a store and buy an interrupter. Each unit was hand-made by a lone genius working exclusively for Artem. If you wanted one, you had to offer Artem something he didn’t have and couldn’t buy. Something that would add a few extra zeros to the end of his bank account.

Something like an Ironwill auth key. PURCHASE ISSUE 008 TO READ THE REST.

Reprint Fiction

Burrowing Through the Body of God

Burrowing Through the Body of God

By Rich Larson
Originally published by Sci Phi Journal

When the slaveship arrived, we thought we were saved. We had been adrift for days in the Big Black, absorbing radiation from a catastrophic reactor failure, slipping further and further away from the trade route. The chances of another ship coming across us were infinitesimally small, so the arrival was like seeing an angel appear.

Some of us thought it was a hallucination, in no small part because the ship defied all geometry. It seemed to bloom and shimmer like a slick of oil, concentric globes of translucent material swelling and dwindling in counterpoint, flanges unfurling and disappearing. Only the most basic features of a starship were recognizable—an engine, a heat radiator, a solar sail—but these were distorted, cartoonish impressions meant not to function but to communicate familiarity.

The slaveship enveloped our craft and in a sense digested it: I watched the alloy hull dissolve like a painting around us even as our ambient temperature and atmosphere in the hold, where we were huddled by the life support system, changed not an iota. It was clear that our rescuers were no known race. In our desperation, bodies sick from the radiation and minds bending under the crushing void, we did not question our salvation. PURCHASE ISSUE 008 TO READ THE REST.

Author Interview

Author Interview: Catriona Ward

Catriona Ward

Feature by Jena Brown

I was introduced to the work of Catriona Ward when I read her critically acclaimed novel, The Last House on Needless Street (Tor Nightfire, 2021). And like the rest of the book community, I was completely blown away. Since then, I’ve become a devout reader of all things Catriona.

Her latest book, Sundial, follows a mother who is struggling with her eldest daughter’s increasing instability. Ward skillfully weaves a twisting narrative that explores generational trauma and how strong the bonds of mothers, daughters, and sisters can be. Keeping consistent with her previous works, Sundial offers a complex narrative that keeps the reader guessing until the shocking and horrifying end.

Ward has a way of pushing boundaries with her characters. She creates people you want to like, but don’t dare trust, and the characters in Sundial fit this mold. It’s a gorgeous, desert Gothic experience, with a cord of tension that winds tighter with every page turned. I was thrilled to sit down with her and talk about who she would invite to dinner, what books scare her, and why we like to be afraid. READ THE REST FOR FREE!

News and Reviews

News and Reviews: Featuring Monstrous Futures and Station Eleven

Featuring Monstrous Futures and Station Eleven

FUTURE SHOCKED
by Alex Woodroe

Technology can be terrifying. And since it’s progressing faster than many of us can process, complexity is beginning to exceed the layperson’s capacity to understand. Our fears range from very legitimate concerns about automation making many jobs obsolete, to the more nebulous terror that something bad is definitely going to happen, and that technology will surely be to blame. But what? And how?

Knowledge can help alleviate these fears, but we can’t be expected to know everything, and if we can’t rid our fears via knowledge alone, then we need something else. In my opinion, we need stories. Art will never replace scientific knowledge (nor does it aim to), but it can help us make sense of the things we don’t understand, and this is just as vital. PURCHASE ISSUE 008 TO READ THE REST.

PLAGUE YEAR: STATION ELEVEN ON HBO
by Janelle Janson

When HBO announced a limited series adapted from Emily St. John Mandel’s hit novel, Station Eleven, I was overjoyed. Mandel is one of my favorite writers, and Station Eleven is one of my favorite books. And it’s for these reasons that I sat down and gave the series a watch.

Survival Is Insufficient

The series is incredibly different from the source material, but it still perfectly captures Mandel’s voice from the novel. And just like in the book, the devastating plague that wipes out 99% of the population and causes civilization to collapse is the means to an emotional end. Despite the tragedy, you come away from the story feeling a profound sense of hope. PURCHASE ISSUE 008 TO READ THE REST.

Art Features

Risk of Mech

Risk of Mech

By Doodleskelly

Sometimes I make up lore for my worlds, but Risk of Mech was just a quick art piece I did and didn’t think was too special.

–Doodleskelly PURCHASE ISSUE 008 TO READ THE REST.

Temple of Doom

Temple of Doom

By Doodleskelly
Feature by Rob Carroll

If legendary French artist, Jean Giraud (aka Moebius) had ever illustrated an animated series that was written by the team behind the hit cartoon, Adventure Time, I imagine Giraurd’s concept drawings would look a lot like the artwork of Doodleskelly.

Like Giraud, Doodleskelly works mostly in psychedelic fantasy and surrealism. Even his line work and muted color palettes are similar. And also like Giraud, his artwork features detailed landscapes, temples, cities, peoples, monsters, costumes, weapons, and machines, equal parts serious and whimsical. The worlds of Doodleskelly are alive, rich with imagined cultures, histories, and lore, even if the artist doesn’t totally agree with that assessment.

“I don’t think my art has a voice or message,” he tells me. “I just create art because I enjoy it. Though I am grateful for all the external praise.”

Doodleskelly does confirm my relatively safe assumption that he is inspired by dark fantasy and sci-fi, specifically movies and video games in those genres. He especially loves to create weapons and armor that are influenced by medieval styles. PURCHASE ISSUE 008 TO READ THE REST.

1984: Welcome to the Future Past

1984: Welcome to the Future Past

By Warakami
Feature by Rob Carroll

Time is a flat circle. For proof, just compare the United States of the 1980s to today, and the number of stunning similarities will transform you into a true believer. Analog media is back, horror fiction is enjoying a  renaissance, the environment is a major concern (in the ’80s, it was toxic waste), cyberspace—now boasting augmented and virtual realities—is once again a new frontier, a second Cold War is possible, Reaganomics are still wreaking havoc on the middle and lower classes, surveillance-state paranoia is at an all-time high, corporate feudalism is becoming increasingly more likely, and the cyberpunk future that the ’80s warned us about is quickly becoming a reality.

Digital artist, Warakami, plays with the similarities between decades by holding a fun-house mirror up to the world of today and warping the already recursive image of our present until it creates a slight re-imagining of our past.

“The 1984 Series is a favorite of mine,” he tells me, speaking of his retro-future artwork series featured here within these pages. “It started as a one-off idea with the piece ‘Windows84,’ but it turned into a whole series of dystopian cyberpunk pop art.” PURCHASE ISSUE 008 TO READ THE REST.