DP FICTION #56B: “Save the God Damn Pandas” by Anaea Lay

My job? Purity shaming pandas. It’s great. You loom over a living, breathing, talking embodiment of the international fixation on world peace and you shout, “Why won’t you fuck, you lazy motherfucker?” And then you play them some porn.

Okay, it’s not actually like that.

At all.

Really, my job kind of sucks.

*

“You. Purity shame. Pandas?”

The dinner entrées have just arrived. There’s a real wax candle, with fire and everything, on the table. Tinny speakers are playing pretentious string music. Wine which came from some sort of grape a hippie read bedtime stories to every night through the long summer fills our glasses. And my date is judging me. Hard.

“Why would you do that?” she asks.

Her name is Samantha. She’s wearing a red dress which, if we were animals, would mean she wants to get laid. Maybe she did want to get laid, five minutes ago, when all she knew about me was that I ordered the wine made from happy grapes. Now that she knows what I am, I may not make it to dessert. I am in serious trouble. “We have to do something. They’re going extinct.”

She gapes at me. If I made that face, my mother would be all ‘Don’t do that, Jason, you look like a carp. Are you a carp?” I don’t know much about carp. My job is pandas. “Can’t you use artificial insemination or something?”

Because that’s better. The pandas won’t even fuck, but how do you think momma panda is going to feel when a few weeks after she has a weird close encounter with a zookeeper she finds out she’s in the family way. Shit like that is where alien abduction stories come from, but the minute a cuddly furball with good PR is involved, the public is all over it. “Some of us think that wouldn’t be the best for Fen Fen’s mental health.”

Samantha is not following.

“Gestation and the eventual cubs have better outcomes if the mother agreed to the act that led to the pregnancy. We’re pretty sure Fen Fen would get very depressed if we inseminated her. She’s basically said as much. So we’re counting on Lan Lan to work some panda seduction.”

I clearly should have brought worms to my date, because I spent the rest of the main course trying to pry conversation from a carp. And no, dessert did not happen.

*

It was hard enough to get those fuzzy fuckers to breed before they could talk. But some jackass had the bright idea that if we used these new neural implant things that had been developed for stroke patients, we could give panda bears the ability to speak and we could explain the gravity of their lack of gravidity. Also, they were hoping for insights into the deep wisdom of the panda, or something.

What they got was Lan Lan the fat ass complaining about the tenderness of the bamboo we feed him, and Fen Fen the would be career woman with a penchant for writing memoir. Meanwhile I, Jason Constans, the Breeding Encouragement Specialist assigned to the fat ass, am basically a glorified sex therapist turned pimp.

So yes, I spend most of my working hours wanting to punch a panda in the face. That is not unreasonable.

*

“Sorry, man,” Cory, my roommate and best bud from way back in our collegiate days, says when I collapsed on our couch. “Bad date?”

I give the universal primate grunt of utter defeat.

“Was it her, or you?”

“Lan fucking Lan. It’s not enough for that celibate bastard to take down his whole species. He’s wrecking my life, too.”

Cory hands me a beer as he plops down on the couch next to me. We’ve had that couch since our first place, senior year of college. It’s part of the family. “Just don’t tell them what you do. You don’t have to open with the pandas-not-fucking thing.”

“It’ll come out eventually and then I’ll have another Rachel. I can’t do another Rachel, man.” Broke my heart. We were engaged. I was living the dream, ready for the picket fence and 2.5 kids and all of it. But she just had to meet Lan Lan, and what kind of monster has daily access to those cute! adorable! overgrown raccoons and won’t hook his fiancée up with an interview? Ten minutes of conversation with Lan Lan, and I was one sad sack of a dumped Breeding Encouragement Specialist.

Actually, it’s unfair to raccoons to compare pandas to them. Raccoons are ambitious little fuckers, and they can sense light with their hands. That is bad ass. Fen Fen’s incisive memoir aside, pandas are useless.

Cory takes a swig from his beer. “They won’t all turn out to be Rachel.”

“I was with her for two years. I can’t waste two years again. I’m getting old. My biological clock is ticking. If they aren’t going to survive finding out they’re dating a panda pimp, I need to get them out of the way in a hurry and look for the one who will.”

“Michael liked that I live with a panda pimp.”

“Michael was a nutcase, as evidenced by his idiotic life choices, first in dating you, then in not dating you.” I glance at Cory to see how he’s taking the ribbing. It’s only been a couple weeks since he and Mike broke up, and I’m pretty sure we’re to the teasing and ragging on the ex stage, but I haven’t tested it out yet.

Cory rolls his eyes and punches me in the arm. I called it right.

“Maybe we should go out and look for dates. Right now. You’re getting old, too. We are on the road to becoming the dude version of platonic cat lady roommates.”

He grimaces. “There’s nothing wrong with cat ladies, and I’ve got work in the morning.”

I do, too, but I’m not looking forward to it.

*

The problem with pandas, aside from everything, is all that bamboo. They’re bears who eat grass. Bears. Eating woody grass. Think about that for a minute. It’s basically the same as if we decided to subsist entirely on popcorn and stuck to it so hard that after a few generations our gut bacteria went, “Okay, fine, I guess we’ll do something with this, but you’re never going to be happy about it,” and so we were tired, sleepy, useless fucks all the time. But damn if we don’t like popcorn so much that we’re not going to bother looking for anything else. Yum, popcorn.

Do not talk to me about the nobility and enlightenment implied by an essentially carnivorous species going vegan so hard they subsist on glorified grass. I don’t care how eloquently Fen Fen writes about it. That is shit. And I would know; I’ve scooped plenty of her shit in my time.

*

The day after Samantha’s aborted red dress, I do my zombie strut into the panda enclosure at my usual cheery dawn-o-clock in the morning, quadruple mocha caramel caffeine fest clutched in my hands. Everything is soft and quiet like things are when the sun hasn’t even bothered to crawl its ass out of bed yet. Lan Lan, the fuzzy mother fucker, is curled up in his custom designed rock cave built by some Swedish company that specializes in harmonizing Feng Shui principles with Scandinavian minimalism, all while authentically replicating nature. What that means is that the cave is made out of stones that were very precisely cut and fit together like an Ikea jigsaw castle, and somebody apologized to the rock the whole time they shaped it.

I’m still tetchy about the date with Samantha, so I don’t hesitate before firing up the projector and starting the day’s therapy right then and there. The enclosure is immediately transformed from a finely honed replica of perfectly balanced authentic nature, into an immersive theater experience. In this particular case, we’re immersed in a very authentic replica of Antarctic winter. The cave is overlaid with images of a wall of emperor penguins squinting against the wind and huddling together like the paragons of bad ass dedicated fatherhood they are.

Lan Lan opens one eye and harrumphs. “Bad date?”

“She wore red.”

“Then you should be more cheerful.”

“I would, except you ruined it again.”

“You could quit your job,” Lan Lan says. He’s said that before.

“Then I’d be the guy who walked away and let the glorious panda go extinct. That’s not going to win me any blushing brides, either.”

“You’re perverse.” Then he closes his eye and goes back to sleep. I’m tempted to have them install industrial fans so we can blast him with a fraction of the Antarctic winter. Or maybe we could give an emperor penguin the neuro-enhancement hardware we’d installed in Lan Lan and Fen Fen and let a real, dedicated member of a popular and thriving species talk some sense into our pig-headed mascots of peace.

I sip at my liquid confection, waiting for the sugar to hit and make me jittery, as I watch the movie. After twenty minutes we get to my favorite part, when the wind eases up and the sun breaks through. All the dads turn their tuxedo faces up and blink at the light. They look so god damned bewildered, like they’ve gotten into the groove of hellacious winter misery and had forgotten it was going to end. “Oh, right, spring! That’s a thing,” their beady little eyes say.

Then the penguin moms come swimming in from the ocean and waddle across the ice and dad gets his first meal in six months and falls over exhausted and they’ve got their little chick and it’s like the perfect triumph of the nuclear family on the world’s largest desert and the sugar finally hits which is the only reason my eyes got misty even though I’ve seen this movie something like five hundred times.

“Have you ever considered that I’m not the one who needs therapy?” Lan Lan asks, his voice rumbling through his chest because he doesn’t even bother to move his face from where he’s buried it in his paws. Parents would shit diamonds to let their kids see that pose this close. They deserve hemorrhoids.

“Do you see what they go through? And that’s just for one egg. You guys usually get twins out of the deal. Why is this so hard for you to get behind?”

“I’m not the family type. And neither is Fen Fen. There’s not enough penguin footage in the world to change that.”

“As far as we can tell, there isn’t a single member of your species who is the family type.”

“So we go extinct. Big fucking deal.” His butt waggles as he shifts to get more comfortable.

“You are the living, breathing embodiment of the symbol of peace. We can’t let that go extinct. What would that say about us?”

The long silence Lan Lan answers me with might be commentary if I didn’t know he was too lazy to work up the effort necessary to judge us. At long last he grumbles, “Make the penguins your symbol of peace.”

*

The dick thing about Michael and Cory splitting is that Cory wants to settle down and have kids as much as I do. I was honestly getting a bit jealous of him because it looked like Michael was going to be the one. My consolation was that I could be the weird straight uncle, like maybe Cory’s kids could be methadone to my raging paternal instincts or something. Dude has seriously let me down by letting that relationship fall apart.

*

“Bad day at work?” Cory asks when I got home. He’s already offering me a beer. All he needs is a string of pearls and he’d be a queer-guy Mrs. Beaver.

“I got sniffly over the penguins again.”

He sighs, withdraws the offered beer long enough to take the top off for me, then hands it back.

“Thanks,” I say, and take a long swallow. Then, “Is it cool if Kim comes over? We want to have a work confab thing, but keep it casual.” Kim is Fen Fen’s assigned Breeding Encouragement Specialist. Super sweet, with three-year-old twin girls who are constantly doing adorable things that get posted to Kim’s Facebook page. She was married before she got the job and her approach so far consists mostly of being utterly and jealousy-inducingly happy for all the world to see. She doesn’t seem bothered that Fen Fen isn’t getting the hint.

“Panda pimps unite?”

“If you cook for us, we’ll let you have one of the team T-shirts.”

“Deal.”

Cory does mysterious things to food objects in the kitchen while I bust ass cleaning up the apartment to make it presentable for company. Kim shows up with a bottle of wine and a loaf of bread.

We uncork the bottle right away and she and I hover near the kitchen island while Cory works. The bottle is nearly defeated, and Cory is serving something gloopy that smells like garlic and obesity when Kim gently steers the conversation toward work. “No, I’m serious. Fen Fen really has something good going on. She’s going to be a star.”

“A stand up panda act?” Cory asks as he grinds black pepper over the bowls. “Don’t they only have one punchline?”

“Exactly!” Kim says. “But she uses it really well. Even Jason will like this one.” She nudges me in the ribs to make sure I’m braced for it. “What does the female panda say when her sex therapist asks why she has low expectations for intercourse?”

I wince and bury my face in my hands.

Cory snickers. “Because he just eats, shoots, and leaves.”

“See. Brilliant!” Kim and Cory chortle.

I give the primal ape groan of abject despair. “You’re encouraging her.”

“Of course I am,” Kim says. “She’ll come around in her own time. And when she does, I want to make sure she’s as happy and fulfilled as she can be. That will lead to the best outcomes.”

“Don’t mind him,” Cory says as he hands Kim a bowl. “He’s bitter because he struck out at dinner last night.”

*

Kim waits until dessert to break the news that she and her husband are trying to get pregnant again. Twenty minutes later I’m on the couch trying not to bawl while Cory sees her out. He brings me an extra slice of Marie Callender’s calories-in-lieu-of-happiness pie, puts the plate on my knee, then sits down at my side. “You’ve got to get a handle on this.”

“I’m sorry. I know. It’s just…I’ve always wanted kids and the whole world has always been telling me I’m not supposed to care and even my job is telling me that but Kim’s just, whatever, guess I’ll have another one. It’s not fair. I feel like I’m running out of time.”

Cory picks up the fork from the plate, opens my hand, then manually closes my fingers around the fork. “Shut up. Shovel pie into your mouth until I’m done talking.”

I raise an eyebrow at him, but take a bite of the pie.

“Michael and I split up – ”

“Because he’s an idiot,” I jump in to say. Cory stabs a threatening finger toward my pie. I shut up and take another bite.

“We split up because he wasn’t ready to settle down and I was tired of waiting for him.”

I…hadn’t known that part of it. “Oh, man, I’m sorry. You didn’t say – ” I stop when he slaps the back of my head. A brotherly slap, not a domestic abuse slap. A hey-dipshit-you’re-supposed-to-be-eating slap.

“I’m sick of waiting around for you, too. Catch up to the 21st century. Let’s have a baby.”

It’s a really good thing I don’t follow instructions well, because otherwise I’d be strangling on a bite of Marie Callender. “I’m not gay.”

“I wasn’t planning to get you pregnant. We’ve been living together forever, we throw a mean dinner party on short notice, and we both want kids. Either you can wake up and face the facts, or you can keep getting weepy about penguins. Your call, but I’m done living with a mopey sex-pusher.”

I take a moment with that.

Cory takes my hand, steers the fork to scoop up a piece of pie, then delivers it to my mouth. Which is hanging open. Apparently I learned carp impersonation from Samantha.

“Our kids don’t get to play football. Concussions are serious bad news.”

“Fair deal,” Cory agrees.

*

So, adopting has a fuck-ton of paperwork and takes forever. At the rate we’re going, we could have gestated a baby elephant. But whatever. We’ve got it. It’s not like we’re balancing an egg on our feet all winter.

I still want to give Lan Lan a black eye more often than not, but I’ve switched him over to some great footage of seahorse dads. It’s kind of peaceful to watch them bouncing along in the water.

Fen Fen’s got a Facebook page now to support her self-published memoir, so she’s getting inundated with the photos of Kim’s twins and her ecstatic baby bump updates. Cory and I are trying to keep pace by posting selfies with stacks of paperwork, but it’s not quite the same. Not going to lie, though; it’s still fucking awesome.

The new strategy for Team Panda Pimp is to conspicuously have so much fun, Fen Fen breaks down and asks for insemination, if nothing else, to get material for her next memoir. It might even work. The international symbol of world peace won’t lift a paw to save itself from extinction, but humanity will bend over backward to perform test tube miracles on their behalf. There’s got to be some inspiring symbolism in there somewhere.

And it really hammers home Cory’s point: fucking is not required to make a family.


© 2019 by Anaea Lay

Author’s Note:One of my very good friends is extremely frustrated by pandas, to the point where he’ll happily go on at length about what a waste of space they are, and how we ought to let them go extinct.  Frankly, he has a point.  I was thinking about him while watching a documentary on emperor penguins, one thing led to another, and here we are.  This story was more on than I realized though, as demonstrated by a pair of would-be penguin dads in Berlin.

Anaea Lay lives in Chicago, Illinois where she is engaged in a torrid love affair with the city.

She’s the fiction podcast editor for Strange Horizons, where you can hear her read a new short story nearly every week.  She’s the president of the Dream Foundry, an organization dedicating to bolstering and nurturing the careers of nascent professionals working with the speculative arts.

Her fiction work has appeared in a variety of venues including LightspeedApexBeneath Ceaseless Skies, and Pod Castle.  Her interactive novel, Gilded Rails, was released by Choice of Games in 2018.  She lives online at anaealay.com where you can find a complete biography and her blog.  Follow her on Twitter @anaealay.


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The Best of Strange Horizons 2018

written by David Steffen

Strange Horizons is a freely available online speculative fiction zine that also publishes nonfiction and poetry.  Their editors-in-chief are Jane Crowley and Kate Dollardhyde.  Their senior fiction editors are Lila Garrott, Catherine Krahe, An Owomoyela, and Vajra Chandresekera, and their podcast is edited, hosted, and usually read by Anaea Lay.  They publish a variety of styles of stories and have regularly attracted award nominations in recent years.  All of the stories and poetry in the zine are published in the podcast.  In 2018, Strange Horizons published about 50 stories .

Stories that are eligible for this year’s Hugo awards are marked with an asterisk (*).

The List

1.“The Fortunate Death of Jonathan Sandelson” by Margaret Killjoy**
Hacker uses compromised drones to harass high-level executives of world-wrecking corporations, but is accused of murder.

2.“Some Personal Arguments In Support of the BetterYou (Based On Early Interactions)” by Debbie Urbanski*
This is a really interesting point of view piece, in favor of the “BetterYou”, a copy of yourself that fits some definition of an ideal you who joins your family.

3.“Variations On a Theme From Turandot by Ada Hoffman*
Very meta-story about evolving permutations of a play repeated over and over.

4.“Copy Cat” by Alex Shvartsman and K.A. Teryna*
What could a cat do to keep its home after its owner dies?

5.“Venus Witch’s Ring” by Inda Lauryn*
Make a deal with a devil, and the bargain is never what you expect.

Honorable Mentions

“The Trees of My Youth Grow Tall” by Mimi Mondal*

“Dying Lessons” by Troy L. Wiggins*

“Her Beautiful Body” by Adrienne Celt*

The Diabolical Plots Year Five Fiction Lineup

written by David Steffen

Diabolical Plots was open for submissions once again for the month of July, to solicit stories to buy for the fourth year of fiction publication.  1288 submissions came in from 915 different writers, of which 26 stories were accepted.  Now that all of the contracts are in hand I am very pleased to share with you the lineup.

There is a lot of strangeness in this lineup, varying wildly in tone from humor to drama.  I hope you’ll like them as much as I do.

All of these stories will be published for the first time around March 2019 in an ebook anthology Diabolical Plots Year Five, and then will be published regularly on the Diabolical Plots site between April 2019 and March 2020, with each month being sent out to newsletter subscribers the month before.

This is the lineup order for the website.

April 2019
“Why Aren’t Millennials Continuing Traditional Worship of the Elder Dark?” by Matt Dovey
“One Part Per Billion” by Samantha Mills

May 2019
“What the Sea Reaps, We Must Provide” by Eleanor R. Wood
“Dogwood Stories” by Nicole Givens Kurtz

June 2019
“The Ceiling of the World” by Nicole Crucial
“Bootleg Jesus” by Tonya Liburd

July 2019
“Little Empire of Lakelore” by D.A. Xiaolin Spires
“Lies of the Desert Fathers” by Stewart Moore

August 2019
“The Inspiration Machine” by K.S. Dearsley
“Colonized Bodies, Dessicated Souls” by Nin Harris

September 2019
“Empathy Bee” by Forrest Brazeal
“Dear Parents, Your Child is Not the Chosen One” by P.G. Galalis
“Fresh Dates” by D.A. Xiaolin Spires

October 2019
“Tracing an Original Thought” by Holly Heisey
“Save the God Damn Pandas” by Anaea Lay

November 2019
“Consider the Monsters” by Beth Cato
“The Train to Wednesday” by Steven Fischer

December 2019
“Consequences of a Statistical Approach Towards a Utilitarian Utopia: A Selection of Potential Outcomes” by Matt Dovey
“The Problem From Jamaica Plain” by Marie L. Vibbert

January 2020
“This is What the Boogeyman Looks Like” by T.J. Berg
“Beldame” by Nickolas Furr
“Gorilla in the Streets” by Mari Ness

February 2020
“Invasion of the Water Towers” by R.D. Landau
“The Cliff of Hands” by Joanne Rixon

March 2020
“The Eat Me Drink Me Challenge” by Chris Kuriata
“The Old Ones, Great and Small” by Rajiv Mote

The Best of Strange Horizons 2017

written by David Steffen

Strange Horizons is a freely available online speculative fiction zine that also publishes nonfiction and poetry.  Their editors-in-chief are Jane Crowley and Kate Dollardhyde.  Their senior fiction editors are Lila Garrott, Catherine Krahe, An Owomoyela, and Vajra Chandresekera, and their podcast is edited, hosted, and usually read by Anaea Lay.  They publish a variety of styles of stories and have regularly attracted award nominations in recent years.  All of the stories and poetry in the zine are published in the podcast.  This list covers all of the stories published since the last Best of Strange Horizons list posted here on November 9, 2015.  In that timeframe, Strange Horizons published about 53 stories (it’s hard to get an exact count because the poetry podcasts are mixed in the same feed).

This year they posted extra episodes as part of a Resistance special issue after the US presidential inauguration in January, and hosted a special issue in October for Arabic translations.

This year they added a new feature when they reached a fundraising goal to add Spanish translations.

Stories that are eligible for this year’s Hugo awards are marked with an asterisk (*).

 

The List

1. “Krace is Not a Highway” by Scott Vanyur*
An AI designed to monitor highway repair conditions keeps on going, doing its best, after societal collapse.

2.  “Utopia, LOL?” by Jamie Wahls*
A person woken up in the extreme far future where humanity is organized by a benevolent AI master, guided by one of the few humans still coherent enough to guide him.

3.  “Oshun, Inc.” by Jordan Ifueko*
Goddesses who live by eating shards of people’s souls try to find ideal candidates.

4.  “Owl Vs. the Neighborhood Watch” by Darcie Little Badger*
A young modern-day Apache woman who is visited by Owl as a harbinger of unspecific disaster does her best to guard her neighborhood against it as best she can.

5.  “Three May Keep a Secret” by Carlie St. George*
Two teenagers help each other fight elements of their past that are literally haunting them.

Honorable Mentions

“Sasabonsam” by Tara Campbell*

“The Dead Father Cookbook” by Ashley Blooms*

“Only Calculate the Motion of Heavenly Bodies” by Marcia Richards*

 

 

 

 

 

Announcing the Diabolical Plots Year Four Fiction Lineup!

written by David Steffen

Diabolical Plots was open for submissions once again for the month of July, to solicit stories to buy for the fourth year of fiction publication.  1003 submissions came in from 720 different writers, of which 25 stories were accepted.  Now that all of the contracts are in hand I am very pleased to share with you the lineup, which will start as soon as the Year Three stories have wrapped up in March.

This year I think the overall submissions were more on-target to my peculiar tastes than ever.  Emphasis on the weird, with a lot of great stories that involve religion without preaching or demonizing it.  I am very excited to share these excellent stories with the world.

Since I accepted 25 stories instead of 24, there is one month that will have three stories (which I’d like to see as a regular thing if the recurring funding is there for it).

April 2018
“Giant Robot and the Infinite Sunset” by Derrick Boden
“Her February Face” by Christie Yant

May 2018
“The Efficacy of Tyromancy Over Reflective Scrying Methods in Divining Colleagues’ Coming Misfortunes, A Study by Cresivar Ibraxson, Associate Magus, Wintervale University” by Amanda Helms
“Graduation in the Time of Yog-Sothoth” by James Van Pelt

June 2018
“Tank!” by John Wiswell
“Withholding Judgment Day” by Ryan Dull

July 2018
“Crimson Hour” by Jesse Sprague
“Jesus and Dave” by Jennifer Lee Rossman

August 2018
“Medium Matters” by R.K. Duncan
“The Vegan Apocalypse: 50 Years Later” by Benjamin A. Friedman

September 2018
“Glass in Frozen Time” by M.K. Hutchins
“The Fisher in the Yellow Afternoon” by Michael Anthony Ashley

October 2018
“Pumpkin and Glass” by Sean R. Robinson
“Still Life With Grave Juice” by Jim Moss

November 2018
“The Memory Cookbook” by Aaron Fox-Lerner
“The Coal Remembers What It Was” by Paul R. Hardy

December 2018
“The Hammer’s Prayer” by Benjamin C. Kinney
“For the Last Time, It’s Not a Ray Gun” by Anaea Lay

January 2019
“The Divided Island” by Rhys Hughes
“The Man Whose Left Arm Was a Cat” by Jennifer Lee Rossman
“The Dictionary For Dreamers” by Cislyn Smith

February 2019
“Local Senior Celebrates Milestone” by Matthew Claxton
“How Rigel Gained a Rabbi (Briefly)” by Benjamin Blattberg

March 2019
“Heaven For Everyone” by Aimee Ogden
“The Last Death” by Sahara Frost

Best of Strange Horizons Podcast

written by David Steffen

Strange Horizons is a freely available online speculative fiction zine that also publishes nonfiction and poetry.  They publish a variety of styles of stories and have regularly attracted award nominations in recent years.

All of the stories and poetry in the zine are published in the podcast.

History

When Mary Anne Mohanraj founded Strange Horizons in the year 2000, online publications were often looked down upon in many circles as inferior to print magazines–not getting much attention come award season and that sort of thing.  Since then the attitude has shifted greatly and many of the award honors every year go to online publications.  I believe Strange Horizons is the oldest of those online publications that regularly draws that kind of honor, and Strange Horizons has done a lot to turn around fandom’s opinion about online publications.

Mary Anne Mohanraj was Editor-in-Chief of Strange Horizons until 2003.  Susan Marie Groppi was Editor-in-Chief from 2004 through 2010.  The current Editor-in-Chief is Niall Harrison and the current fiction editors are Julia Rios, An Owomoyela, Catherine Krahe, and Lila Garrott.  There have been other fiction editors in the past, but I’m honestly not sure where to find a full list.

Strange Horizons is a nonprofit organization in the US and is run entirely run by volunteers so that all the money goes toward licensing the publication rights for the content.  Most of their funding comes from their annual fundraising drive, which ended a few days ago.

One of the rewards for reaching goals in their 2012 fund drive was to start producing a fiction podcast, which began publishing in January 2013.  Anaea Lay is the host and also narrates most of the stories.  There is also a poetry podcast if that suits your fancy–I am focusing on the fiction podcast here because I don’t understand poetry well enough for my opinion to be of much value.  Since then, all of Strange Horizons stories also appear on the fiction podcast.

Best Episodes

1. “The Game of Smash and Recovery” by Kelly Link
Wonderfully weird story of two siblings waiting on a strange planet for their parents.

2.  “Broken-Winged Love” by Naru Dames Sandar
Story of a dragon parenting a child with a damaged wing.

3.  “The Suitcase Aria” by Marissa Lingen
A castrato magician hunts an opera house murderer.

4.  “Why Don’t You Ask the Doomsday Machine?” by Elliot Essex
From the POV of a machine that outlasts civilization after civilization.

5.  “Din Ba Din” by Kate McLeod
Living days completely out of order, often years apart.

6.  “Such Lovely Teeth, Such Big Teeth” (part 1 and part 2) by Carlie St. George
A modern story of Big Bad Wolves.

7.  “What We’re Having” by Nathaniel Lee
A skillet serves the food that we’re having tomorrow.

8.  “ARIECC 1.0” by Lillian Wheeler
POV of AI meant to help people with traffic and weather issues.

9.  “Among the Sighs of the Violencellos” by Daniel Ausema
A very interesting and evocative mix of fun elements, including fantasy hero tropes.

10.  “Significant Figures” by Rachael Acks
Alien masquerading as human tries to protect Earth from other aliens. My favorite character is a waffle iron.

 

Honorable Mentions

“The Innocence of a Place” by Margaret Ronald
Cool epistolary tale trying to piece together evidence of a mysterious series of events that happened in the early 20th century, with a historian’s notes on the subject.

“Dysphonia in D Minor” by Damien Walters Grintalis
A world where music is used to build things, and a story about the people who do this as an occupation.

“20/20” by Arie Coleman
Time travel is used to change the result of medical treatment plans that turned out to be incorrect.

“The Visitor”  by Karen Myers
Very cool alien POV and its first contact with humans.

“Never the Same” by Polenth Blake
A sociopath who has learned to function even in a society that scans for sociopaths and treats them differently tries to make a positive difference in an SFnal world.

 

Long List Anthology Kickstarter: The Home Stretch!

written by David Steffen

A City On It's Tentacles (1)It occurs to me 20 days into a 26 day Kickstarter campaign for the Long List anthology that I have not actually mentioned the Kickstarter campaign on my own website.  It has been a crazy 20 days and so much has been happening this particular thing has been postponed while I was working on other factors related to the campaign.  Well, better late than never, and with 6 days left in the campaign there is still some time for those who are interested to back the project to get their rewards and to help push toward the couple of remaining stretch goals.

You can read more detailed information on the Kickstarter page, but I’ll give a brief rundown here.

Purpose

Every year the Hugo Awards celebrate short stories (and other content) related to SF fandom as nominated and voted by supporters of WorldCon.  The works on the ballot receive a great deal of attention as they are distributed in a packet to voters and the voters discuss them.  Every year after the awards are given out, the Hugo administrators publish a longer list of nominated works which receive much less attention though they are also works that were greatly loved by the voting fanbase.  The purpose of the Long List anthology is to publish as many of the works from that longer list as possible.

Goals

The campaign’s base goal was relatively modest–only covering the purchase of nonexclusive reprint rights for the stories in the short story category, with stretch goals to add novelettes and novellas.  The campaign got off to big start with the base goal being reached just 2 days into the campaign, and the stretch goals being reached only a few days later.  Since the stretch goals were reached so early in the campaign I got to work making ever larger and ever more exciting stretch goals.  This added up to three stretch goals to produce an expand an audiobook of those stories for which audio rights could be acquired, produced by Skyboat Media who you may know as the folks who produce the excellent award-winning Lightspeed Magazine podcast.  The first of those goals has been reached, so there will be an audiobook which will contain 8-9 of the short stories.  There are two stretch goals remaining to add novelettes and novellas to the production.  I am very excited to have the opportunity to work with Skyboat Media–they have produced many of my favorite podcast fiction recordings and I am very excited to hear their productions.

Table of Contents

The following is the list of the table of contents of stories that will be part of the anthology.

Note that there will be 3 formats of the anthology:
1.  Ebook:  Will contain all of the stories (180,000 words of short fiction).
2.  Print book:  Will contain all of the short stories and all of the novelettes. May contain novellas depending on printing constraints. (around 140,000 words for short stories and novelettes)
3.  Audiobook:  Will contain at least 8-9 of the short stories (close to 40,000 words, which I think comes out to perhaps 4 hours of produced audio?), and if higher stretch goals are reached may contain novelettes and novellas which will add more content.

The following is the full list of stories:

Short Stories

  • “Covenant” by Elizabeth Bear
  • “This Chance Planet” by Elizabeth Bear
  • “Goodnight Stars” by Annie Bellet
  • “The Breath of War” by Aliette de Bodard
  • “The Truth About Owls” by Amal El-Mohtar
  • “When It Ends, He Catches Her” by Eugie Foster
  • “A Kiss With Teeth” by Max Gladstone
  • “Makeisha in Time” by Rachael K. Jones
  • “Toad Words” by T. Kingfisher
  • “The Vaporization Enthalpy of a Peculiar Pakistani Family” by Usman T. Malik

Novelettes

  • “The Magician and LaPlace’s Demon” by Tom Crosshill
  • “The Litany of Earth” by Ruthanna Emrys
  • “A Guide to the Fruits of Hawai’i” by Alaya Dawn Johnson
  • “The Bonedrake’s Penance” by Yoon Ha Lee
  • “A Year and a Day in Old Theradane” by Scott Lynch
  • “The Husband Stitch” by Carmen Maria Machado
  • “We are the Cloud” by Sam J. Miller
  • “Spring Festival: Happiness, Anger, Love, Sorrow, Joy” by Xia Jia, translated by Ken Liu
  • “The Devil in America” by Kai Ashante Wilson

Novellas

  • “The Regular” by Ken Liu
  • “Grand Jeté (The Great Leap)” by Rachel Swirsky

 

Rewards

There are a variety of backer rewards left for those who might be interested, listed briefly here.

  • Copies of ebook, print book, audiobook or combinations thereof.
  • A sonnet or sestina written by Ruthanna Emrys
  • A question for Rachel Swirsky which she’ll answer in a blog post
  • A “Women Destroy Science Fiction” (Lightspeed Magazine special edition) audiobook autographed by Gabrielle de Cuir
  • Special thank you within the audiobook
  • 11×17 poster prints of the wonderful cover art for the anthology “A City On Its Tentacles” by Galen Dara)
  • Custom digital art by Sam J. Miller in which he will sketch an animal of your choice in the occupation of your choice
  • Studio recording copy of the Long List anthology with director notes and narrator autographs
  • Audio recording of your story by voice actors Stefan Rudnicki, Wilson Fowlie, or Graeme Dunlop
  • Voice mail recording by voice actor Stefan Rudnick (of Skyboat Media)
  • Story critiques by Yoon Ha Lee, Anaea Lay, or me
  • Consultation with Skyboat Media regarding suitability of book for audiobook format
  • Lunch with Skyboat Media at WorldCon 2016 in Kansas City
  • Breakfast and watching recording session at Skyboat Media in Los Angeles
  • Audiobook co-producer credit

Daily Science Fiction: October 2013 Review

written by Frank Dutkiewicz

No need to chatter on in an intro today. Instead, why don’t you enjoy our insights for Daily SF‘s October tales.

 

Space Mama by Karen Heuler (debut 10/1 and reviewed by Dustin Adams) is written in a series of short humorous articles similar to Dear Abby – in space. This isn’t a traditional story, as you will discern quite quickly.

Read this if: You’re up for some micro-stories (They really are quite clever). If you want bits-o-humor. If you only have a few minutes. (Keep it up on your phone and read a few as you go.) Or you wonder what people’s personal problems might be like five hundred years from now.

 

Willy by Deanna Kay Morris (debut 10/2 and reviewed by Frank D).

Willy is a janitor who has lost his arm. The missing appendage doesn’t mean his career is over, however. A small vacuum is put in its place. The replacement allows him to keep his job, and advancement is possible, as long as he doesn’t mind an upgrade or two.

“Willy” is a tale where workers are faced with choices , if you want to benefit in this society, you must be willing to make sacrifices. The subtle moral was not lost on me.

 

A forgotten school girl has attached herself to Connor. In Echo by Alexander Grunberg (debut 10/3 and reviewed by Frank D), Connor picks up a pencil that has fallen under his desk and hands it back to its owner , the girl seated behind him. The brief encounter has left an impression on the poor girl. She loses herself, completely, and becomes Connor’s shadow.

“Echo” is a tale of wanting. The girl has become somewhat of a soul mate of Connor, except Connor doesn’t wish to reciprocate her desire. The shadow accompanies him through life and is a nuisance at first. An elder Connor discovers he has come to need his permanent shadow.

I would describe this tale as a flashback love story (going to trademark that term). I liked it.

 

Superhero Art by Cat Rambo (debut 10/4 and reviewed by Dustin Adams).

Rarely do we see superheroes during downtime. Let’s face it: without super villains, is there much for a hero to do? But what if they had the same problems we did, and what if they cheated on their wives?

Cat Rambo takes us on a disturbing journey through the lives of several superheroes through the eyes of a biographer. What he sees isn’t always pleasant, but for us readers it’s always interesting. Note: Heed the Editor’s note on this one. There’s quite a bit of salty language and explicit situations.

 

The Frog Prince by Jonathan Vos Post (debut 10/7 and reviewed by Frank D), is another take on the ‘princess kisses enchanted toad’ fairy tale, technically speaking. The protagonist contemplates her upcoming nuptials to a less-than-bright prince when she encounters a frog with an equal intellect as herself.

This tongue-in-cheek retelling of a popular tale has two characters that use scientific jargon to converse. I pictured Sheldon Cooper and his girlfriend Amy (of Big Bang Theory) in the roles as I read it. Neat.

 

Parents that are willing to sacrifice for their children leave an even greater burden on their offspring in The Perfect Coordinates to Raise a Child by Barbara A. Barnett (debut 10/8 and reviewed by Frank D). Stacie house-hunts in a neighborhood where all the children excel. All it takes is a small self-sacrifice , such as a body part , and your child will be a genius. The association representative conducts a tour with her brilliant daughter, Rosalie: a child who can relate the precise coordinates of any location. Stacie worries what she will need to lose for the sake of her unborn child until Rosalie offers her the coordinates of a house where Stacie should raise her baby.

“The Perfect Coordinates” is a tale of parental ambition. The people of the home owners association sacrifice an extraordinary amount for the sake of their prodigy children without realizing what their kin lose in the process.

A delightful tale. An excellent metaphor on vicarious aspirations.

Recommended.

 

Revenge is a complicated dish to create. Gather Your Bones by Jenn Reese (debut 10/9 and reviewed by Frank D) is a tale narrated from the perspective of a witch. Her latest client is broken-hearted and seeks emotional restitution. The protagonist examines her client’s memories and asks for the items that defined their relationship.

“Gather Your Bones” is a story narrated by a witch who delights in her client’s bitter mood. The protagonist savors in the man’s thirst for revenge against his former lover. The story makes me grateful that a witch like the protagonist does not exist, because I could see such an evil woman enjoying a thriving business from an abundance of customers. An excellent tale, wonderfully told.

Recommended.

 

Chronology of Heartbreak by Rich Larson (debut 10/10 and reviewed by Frank D).

Time-traveler preempts a nasty breakup. Very brief and a bit cryptic.

 

Every person has a hero hidden within, and a villain bursting to come out. Doomsday Will Come With Flame by Anaea Lay (debut 10/11 and reviewed by Frank D) is the tale of a brave inventor whose exploits earned him a spot among Earth’s greatest heroes. The protagonist is the only one capable enough to counter the evil Maligno’s carnivorous flying monkeys. The Vigilance League is fighting a losing battle until a new mysterious hero, named Ti, appears to save the protagonist and stop Maligno for good. She has a soft spot for the protagonist inventor, but has a hidden agenda that makes her far more dangerous than a dozen supervillains.

“Doomsday” is a tale of deceit and attraction. Ti is nothing like a hero. Her supernatural powers are beyond superhuman. The heroes of the Vigilance League are in over their heads and only the unassuming inventor has any chance of stopping her. But the man never really wanted to be a hero, and Ti is one woman who can offer him something different.

As a person who has had a chance to view many of Anaea Lay’s works before they had the chance to see the light of day, I confess I marvel at her ability to write wonderful and brilliant short stories. This one, however, left me confounded and confused. By her explanation for her inspiration for this piece, it appears this is one tale that got away from her and turned into something she never planned. If so, the story itself serves as a metaphor on her own writing process. Well done?

 

Conjugation by Rich Kloster (debut 10/14 and reviewed by James Hanzelka)

I led her through my cities, slowly, saving the best for last: Berlin in the old Weimar Republic. We walked through the park, stood on the bridge and stared in the black water. Then we made love. When it was time, and the keepers had come, we bartered: exchanging memory and sensory feelings with each card we passed between us. And when she was gone I met with Sidra. Her exchange with Maia’s partner had also been successful, if more practical. “You liked her.” Sidra said. “Yes, humans can be very interesting,” I said.

I found this story a little predictable and a little confusing at the same time. The author does a good job of creating characters you can relate to, however I never got a real sense of what their motivation was for what they were doing. Did they lack the ability to really develop their own feelings, or was this like an exchange of ideas for some kind of pleasure-seeking exercise? Others seemed to have liked it more than I did, so if you are into existential metaphors check it out.

 

Home Invasion by Steve Rasnic Tem (debut 10/15 and reviewed by James Hanzelka)

The two officers at the door looked skeptical. Maybe it was the rundown neighborhood. Maybe it was the lateness of the hour. Perhaps it was the aluminum shorts Clarence had fashioned for protection. He didn’t mind their doubts, he been laughed at before – which he might have taken better if it hadn’t been his analyst doing the laughing. Clarence is being invaded by small aliens, or thinks so. But just because you are paranoid, doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you.

I really liked this story. An interesting take on the old premise of: what if those that we think are crazy are the ones that are really sane? The author does a good job of putting us in Clarence’s shoes with humor and empathy. Give this one a read and you’ll have a better day. Unless, of course, you start to notice some smaller pieces of aluminum that seem to constantly be out of place.

 

Negative Space by Antonia Harvey (debut 10/16 and reviewed by James Hanzelka)

It took a long time for Lucy Morgan to die. Hers was an unremarkable death, a slow unraveling skin and synapses that left nothing behind but dust and the lingering scent of lavender. It began that morning in the shower, when she noticed that her idle fancies were slowly being washed down the drain. On the way back from the store her sense of perspective sloughed off like a snakeskin and formed puddles in the street. At work the photocopier was clogged by dark hair and the memories of her father.

This short story is very long on metaphor, but it was a little too esoteric for me. The author is very creative in the use of symbolism to intertwine the physical and the metaphysical, but for me it was just one long series of metaphors. The author appears to be more interested in demonstrating their mental capacity than keeping the reader interested.

 

Crisis on Titan by Powers-Smith (debut 10/17 and reviewed by James Hanzelka)

“Now we switch to Shavonne Robinson for a report on the Quality Mining Company disaster on Titan.
“Thank you Janet, the disaster that has claimed the lives of seventeen hundred†”
“That would be 2350, Shavonne”
“What?”
“We hadn’t counted the families of the miners lost.”
Bottom third scroll: [Death toll on Titan nears 3,000]
“Oh,..”
“You’re sure we will be able to see the moon, Jupiter is awfully far away.”
“It’s Saturn, Janet, and yes we should be able to see the moon in this quadrant. The fire has ignited the methane lakes so it should be quite visible.”

This story is done as a mock newscast with both the talking head and the supposed science “specialist” demonstrating a unique lack of knowledge about the disaster taking place. The story highlights the premise that even though we may progress technologically we seem to be regressing intellectually as a species. The author does an excellent job of drawing out this premise throughout the story. He also focuses on the parochial nature of the species with the ending. Well done and well worth the read.

 

In Another Life by Kelly M Sandoval (debut 10/18 and reviewed by Frank D).

Clara lives another life. She slips into an alternative reality where another Clara didn’t drive away the love of her life. Slipping is dangerous, but she isn’t like others who have destroyed their brains, lost in a world that isn’t theirs. Clara slips as a validation that her life with Louise isn’t over. She just needs to show Louise the other reality, and prove that they were really meant to be.

“In Another Life” is a grass-is-greener tale. Clara is obsessed with Louise, and addicted to her alternative life. Her psychologist isn’t fooled by her lies. Louise (her Louise) has moved on. Clara believes her alternative self is living her dream life.

This story is interesting with a finale that is very fitting. Nice twist.

 

One by Sinead O’Hart (debut 10/19 and reviewed by Frank D).

The protagonist of this overcrowded dystopia future is a school-aged girl named Unubert, adapting in a cold, only-child society. Her mother has awakened ill. Her father is annoyed while young Unubert has a slight concern that her Mum will be decommissioned. Decoms are bitter but a part of life. After all, there is only so much room in the world, and in a family member’s heart, to spare.

“One” is a tale that serves as an entertaining commentary on the one-child policy some eastern nations have adapted. The world in which Unubert lives is hard and unforgiving for the unwanted. Ms O’Hart brings to light the drawbacks of allowing only a single child in a family, and of the detriment to the women of such a policy. Well done.

 

Flying Matilda by Gio Clairval & Cat Rambo (debut 10/22 and reviewed by James Hanzelka).

Every time they saw the apparition it meant more acrobats would die; the shimmering glow forcing them to unhitch their harnesses and crash to their deaths. The headlines read, “Pale Glow, The Merciless Killer”; and “The Man of the Mist won’t stop until all the Acrobats are dead”. Hunts were commissioned, all failed. Then she came along and took the job. She alone was impervious to his will. All the hunters and acrobats around her fell to their deaths, she unhooked herself and floated out to meet him at the top of the tent.

This story is a fantasy set around a world that lives within a circus. The authors did a good job of setting up their reality and creating a conflict, it just wasn’t enough to draw me in. They had a decent enough premise, that of the interplay between humanity and artifact, but for me it was too obscured by the fantasy of the world they had created. Fantasy lovers should enjoy the tale though.

 

Nesting by Mariel Herbert (debut 10/22 and reviewed by James Hanzelka).

I was on my third drink when she walked in the bar. “Is that what I look like?” I thought to myself. All long legs and desperation she melted into the chair next to me. Some small talk and we ended up in bed for the night. The next morning was all too familiar. After my shower I was prepared for the standard “Good-bye” speech, but she surprised me and asked to stay and share the apartment. “I could take some of your clients. They’d never know it wasn’t you.” So after some discussion we embarked on a new life, the two of us.

This story asks the question, “Can robots of the same sex find true love?” I thought the author did an excellent job of setting up both the reality and the premise as he rolled out a somewhat tilted noir scenario. The old veteran takes the younger novice home, only to fall in love with her. The homosexual overtones aside, I thought she did a very good job of conveying both context and subplot throughout the story. Nicely done. Not for everyone, but worth the read.

 

A series of simple questions are the theme of this un-simple title in 36 Interrogations Propounded by the Human-Powered Plasma Bomb in the Moments Before Her Imminent Detonation by Erica L. Satifka (debut 10/24 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist of this list compiled story is of a human altered into a weapon. The questions are aimed at a benevolent alien species. No answers were forthcoming.

Hmmm. I somehow expected a different outcome.

 

A woman travels back into her memories to visit her younger self in Time Travel, Coffee, and A Shoebox by Nina Pendergast (debut 10/25 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist is about to make history as the first woman to experience simulated time travel. The journey is to broadcast as a reality TV program. Upon seeing her younger self, the protagonist realizes some things are just too precious to share.

“Time Travel” is a tale of rediscovery. The visit, although only a simulation, is nevertheless real to the protagonist. She revisits dreams she had long forgotten and examines past concerns that seem silly now. The visit for her is like meeting a departed relative. I found the story sweet and enlightening.

 

Irresistible offerings in rare vending machines tempt three men in Cuddles by A. A. Lowe (debut 10/28 and reviewed by Frank D). Genetically altered pets are the desire of one character in this odd premise. The men search old motels in hopes of finding a kitten.

Strange piece.

 

A customer awaits the final delivery for a desirable package in Lost in Transit by K.B. Sluss (debut 10/29 and reviewed by Frank D). Body parts arrive by mail, one package at a time. The protagonist’s excitement grows as her product is assembled. One last delivery , the most important part , is expected, but alas, it never arrives.

“Lost in Transit” is a neat little tale. Shocking that such a complete and stimulating tale was written in the frame work of a flash tale. Very well done.

 

A daughter visits her intrusive mother in The God of Rugs by Nina Kiriki Hoffman (debut 10/30 and reviewed by Frank D). Karen rarely visits her Mom. The rugs in her place have a mind of their own, limiting Karen’s freewill without consequences. A throw rug gets a little intimate with Karen when her mother leaves the room.

I found this piece to be a little weird.

 

A grieving spouse is willing to pay a magicians stiff price to resurrect their better half in The Bestowal of the Magician by Tianyue Zhang (debut 10/31 and reviewed by Frank D). The husband of a departed mate has pawned much of their belongings to finance a necromancer’s fee. His wife won’t remember much, which will be a shame because the final price to bring her back is great indeed.

I found this story clever but predictable.

 

A million and three-hundred and thirteen

storySouth’s Million Writers Award has published their winners for 2013. Sadly, none of the Daily SF tales were in the running but several DSF authors did make their short list. storySouth will be accepting nominations for their 2014 awards very soon. We at Diabolical Plots will be providing our own best of 2013 DSF tales in the coming weeks. Please give our suggestions a look and consider them as your nominee for the award.

We would also like you to consider our own prolific David Steffen for the awards honor as well. 2013 has been a banner year for him, his work appearing in nine publications over 2013. Most of them were flash fiction publications, which aren’t eligible for the award, but his story “Could They But Speak” published at Perihelion is eligible.

Million WritersEach year, the Million Writers Award offers prizes to the authors of the winning story, a runner-up, and an honorable mention. These prizes are possible thanks to your generous support. Please click on the donate link below to offer your support. Donors have the option of being listed on the Million Writers Award Page or remaining anonymous. Donations are not tax-deductible. Except for the small percentage collected by PayPal to facilitate the transaction, all of your donation goes to fund the Award.

For additional questions or inquiries about the Million Writers Award, contact storySouth editor Terry Kennedy at terry@storysouth.com. For general updates about the award, be sure to check out storySouth.