DP FICTION #6: “The Superhero Registry” by Adam Gaylord

“What about ‘Copper Penny’?” Lois spread her hands out in front of her like the name was on an old Hollywood marquee.

The square-jawed applicant sitting across the desk arched an eyebrow. “Seriously?”

“Sure! Just think of the potential catch phrases. Your arch-nemesis monologues about how you’ve yet again foiled his or her plans and you say, ‘Of course. I’m Copper Penny. I always turn up.’”

She could tell he was tempted. She tried to sweeten the deal. “Plus, copper is very valuable right now.”

He frowned. “It’s just, it’s a little feminine, don’t you think?”

“No way! I think it’s very masculine.” She batted her eyelashes a little. Anything to get this guy to settle on a name so she could go to lunch. Copper Penny was a bit of a stretch as far as the rules went but she was pretty sure it would pass muster because of his natural red hair.

“Hmmm. No. I just don’t think it’s right for me.”

Lois sighed. They’d been at this all morning and he was no closer to making a decision. Working in the Registry was usually fun. She got to meet the new class of superheroes before they got famous and occasionally she’d even help one pick a name, which was usually a blast. A few of the more appreciative heroes even kept in touch. She was supposed to have lunch with The Valkyrie Sisters next week.

But every once in a while she got one of these fellas. No creativity, no initiative, just expected to have the work done for them. Pretty bad traits for a superhero, in her opinion.

He leaned back in his chair. “Can you go over the rules one more time?”

It was the third time he’d asked and she was tempted to shove her coffee cup down his throat, but the agency had been pushing customer service lately. “These are tomorrow’s superheroes,” the memo said. “We need to establish a strong working relationship from day one.”

So she smiled, brushed her curly blond hair aside, and explained again. “Your name has to have something to do with your super power and/or your look. But, you can only base your name off the latter if you already have a look established, not the other way around.”

“But why? Why can’t I pick a name and then build a look around it?”

She shrugged. “Honestly, it doesn’t come up that often. Most heroes base their costume off something pretty significant like a traumatic childhood memory or the blanket their foster parents found them in. And of course, many heroes are actually green or blue or made out of rock or whatever, so that’s easy.

“But I just look like I always have.”

“Right. So we have to pick a name based on your powers. Now, your fists turn into metal, right?”

“And my forearms.”

She resisted the urge to roll her eyes. “Right. And your forearms. Is that it?”

“What do you mean, ‘Is that it’?” He stood, rolling up his sleeves to show off his shiny metallic appendages. “I can crush cinder blocks with these things.”

“Of course,” she said with a smile. “They’re very impressive.”

He sat down, apparently placated.

“Let’s use that. What else smashes cinder blocks?”

His eyes lit up. “’The Sledge Hammer’!”

She checked the database. “Sorry, that’s taken.”

“What about just, ‘The Hammer’?”

“Nope. Taken.”

“Hmmm… ‘Iron Hammer’?”

“Are your fists actually iron?”

“I’m not sure. Still waiting on lab results. They said it might take two weeks, but I want to get started now!”

“Well, we don’t want to register you as iron if they turn out to be tin or aluminum, do we? I only suggested copper because of your hair color.”

He looked at his hands. “I don’t think they’re aluminum.”

She clicked away at her keyboard. “What about ‘Hard Hand’?”

“Hmmm…kinda catchy.”

“Or just ‘The Hand’?”

“Perfect!”

“Excellent!” She quickly entered the appropriate information into the database before he could change his mind.

“Talk about catch phrases!” He stood and pantomimed shaking someone’s hand. “No worries officer, I’m always happy to lend a hand.” He punched an invisible assailant. “Sorry, I guess I was a little heavy handed.” He thrust his chest out, hands on his hips. “No criminal can outrun the long hand of the law.”

“Arm”, she muttered.

“What?”

“Nothing.” She hit the enter button and the successful registration confirmation message flashed on the screen. “Congratulations Hand, you are now a registered superhero. I will forward your information to one of our case managers and he or she will contact you within seventy-two hours to discuss training opportunities and duty assignments.”

“Wait, aren’t you gonna help me with my look?”

She handed him a fistful of colorful pamphlets she had at the ready. “There are dozens of costume consultants that can craft you the perfect super-ensemble.”

“Oh, okay. So, a case manager will call me?”

“Within seventy-two hours.”

“Okay.” He sat looking at her for a long moment. “Okay, well thanks for your help. If you ever need a superhero, look me up.”

Lois waited a full five count after he left, then scurried for the break room. They had a running over/under board for what superheroes would make it past their first year and she wanted to be the first to lay money on “under” for The Hand.


© 2015 by Adam Gaylord

 

Author’s Note: I love epic action and harrowing plot twists as much as anyone, but often it’s the everyday interactions of the worlds we create that really fascinate me.

 

HeadShot_AGaylordAdam Gaylord lives with his beautiful wife, daughter, and less beautiful dog in Loveland, CO. When not at work as a biologist he’s usually hiking, drinking craft beer, drawing comics, writing short stories, or some combination thereof. Check out his stuff at http://adamsapple2day.blogspot.com/ and www.hopstories.com.

 

 

 

 

 


If you enjoyed the story you might also want to visit our Support Page, or read the earlier story offerings:
DP Fiction #1: “Taste the Whip” by Andy Dudak
DP Fiction #2: “Virtual Blues” by Lee Budar-Danoff
DP Fiction #3: “In Memoriam” by Rachel Reddick
DP Fiction #4: “The Princess in the Basement” by Hope Erica Schultz
DP Fiction #5: “Not a Bird” by H.E. Roulo

DP FICTION #5: “Not a Bird” by H.E. Roulo

The baby’s crying woke me from dead slumber. My heart pounded, but I didn’t move. I dreaded holding my baby. Guilt, it seems, overpowers fear. I draped my feet over the edge of the bed to search for slippers.

The screaming reached pitches no human throat should emit. I winced, accidently brushing Sean’s sleeping shoulder. He’d turned off his audio inputs, since he had work tomorrow. My maternity leave lasted another eight weeks, and we’d agreed I’d handle nights but I was tempted to shake the bed so he’d awaken.

My slippers slapped the cold floor. Ocean lay in her bassinet, her howls rising in peaks and valleys above and below my ears’ range.

Sean couldn’t hear her. I could return to bed and cover my head.

Ashamed, I steeled myself. Pinfeathers prickled my palm as I supported her head and lifted.

Vague green eyes searched beyond my face.

We’d checked the box for tetrachromat vision—an easy choice. Once we were dreaming of our future child, it was hard to stop. Designing her became like adding options on a new car. After all, our after-market mods had attracted us to each other.

Sean’d said, “We chose to be transhuman, Chrissy. She’ll have the best gifts from birth.”

In the rocking chair I pressed her to my chest and she latched. Parrot-blue feathers lined her scalp, difficult and potentially traumatic to add later in life. Her eyes slid past me, tracking light, or infrared, or magnetic fields that lead birds south.

“Except I didn’t want a bird,” I said.

I pressed my nose to her, using my electrically stimulated sense of smell. Inhaling dusty fluff, I snorted and recoiled.

She grumbled and reattached. It wasn’t fair to her, but her extraordinary modifications left me wondering, “How much of me is left in her?”

I tipped my head, too weary to watch her nurse now that she’d gotten a good latch. My fingers rubbed her bare foot.

It wasn’t that she needed to carry my genes. People loved their adopted children. My fingers slowed on the pink skin of her foot. Sometimes I didn’t feel she was of the same species.

“Transhuman!” Sean liked to say, as if knowing the label meant he’d joined the club. “That’s where we’re all headed. Ocean will be envied.”

Maybe I cried because I was tired of feedings every two hours, but how could I complain? It was my own doing. When I’d handed Ocean to my mother, she’d pulled the newborn away, as if protecting her from parents who would do this to their child, who would make her into something new.

So we’d suffer on, together, trying to connect in the long hours of the night.

“Honey?” Sean said from the doorway. The scales grafted over his shoulders glimmered. He’d left them off his cheeks, since his employers frowned on mods, but he was sure the world would be more ready when Ocean grew up.

I sniffed.

“You’ve been gone a long time.” He kissed the baby and set her into her crib. We held our breath, but she exhaled and remained silent.

As we left, he slipped the door nearly shut.

“I can’t…” I clutched him, speechless. He’d think I blamed him, even though we’d both made choices.

“You’re tired.”

“And I expected that, but it’s supposed to feel worth it … She isn’t anything to me. She’s barely human.”

“All babies are barely human. You’re tired and second guessing yourself. I’ll stay home, and you can rest. Okay?”

“You have to go in,” I protested.

We returned to bed.

Sean said, “All parents gets scared. That we won’t be good parents. That we didn’t do everything right. But what she needs now is food and sleep. And when she needs the next thing, we’ll see she gets it. She’s just a baby—our baby.”

“Our baby,” I repeated.

“And our baby could never have been ordinary.” He rolled onto me.

I slid him to the side, glad Ocean had fed.

He nuzzled my neck. “Bodies change, that’s not what matters, right? We’re going to get old, but you’ll still love me?”

“I’ll love you,” I agreed, grabbing a tissue off the headboard. I wiped my nose then squirmed beneath his comforting weight. “Mods and all.”

He stopped kissing my tattooed circuits. “You like some of my mods best. Want me to show you?”

I giggled.

Ocean skipped a feeding, letting us sleep for four solid hours. Suddenly forever didn’t seem so insurmountable. And when her pinfeathers grew in, they were beautiful and unique, just as she was.

***

“Mama?” Ocean asked.

I clutched my granddaughter, finding it hard to look away as I remembered Ocean at that age. I shook my head, amazed forty years had passed.

My glance flickered to Ocean, surprised her feathers were lifted.

“What’s wrong, darling?”

Tears glistened in her eyes. She pushed the baby’s blanket back to show eyes, a hazy baby-blue, and pink skin.

Since Ocean’s birth, they’d outlawed pre-birth modifications, and frowned on adaptations before the age of sixteen unless illness applied. Cases of genetic enhancement had gone to trial as child abuse, though we’d luckily never suffered more than strange looks and clucks from judgmental teachers. Bioconservative legislation had outlawed designer genes. Sometimes, at the playground, I’d regretted making the choices for her, but I’d never again regretted having her.

Ocean’s green eyes measured fields I couldn’t see. “She’s…”

“Lovely.” I smoothed her cheek.

Ocean sighed. “She looks nothing like me. As if we come from separate worlds.”

The newborn seemed to fit in my arms—because I knew how to hold a baby. Being a grandmother suited me, better than being a mother had.

“Oh, darling, let me tell you a story,” I said softly, standing to place the newborn in her bassinet.


© 2015 by H.E. Roulo

 

Author’s Note: Transhumanism, the artificial advancement of mankind, fascinated me and I knew there was a story there. In my research, I focused on technology and recent advances. Fortunately, I attended a panel on the topic. Many of the participants admitted that, like a lot of new technologies, sex was a major motivation for body modification. However, they explored larger questions of self-improvement and experiencing the world. I was impressed by the counter-culture feeling, and their awareness that what they wanted might not be right for everyone. I left thinking more about the people than the technology.

 

HERoulo_Headshot_200x300Heather Roulo is a Pacific-Northwest author. She has been published in more than a dozen magazines, anthologies, and podcasts. Recent short stories have appeared in Nature and Fantasy’s special Women Destroy Fantasy issue. Her podcast novel Fractured Horizon was a Parsec award Finalist in 2009. The first book in her Plague Masters Series will be released from Permuted Press in April 2015. Find out more at heroulo.com or on twitter @hroulo.

 

 

 

 

 

 


If you enjoyed the story you might also want to visit our Support Page, or read the earlier story offerings:
DP Fiction #1: “Taste the Whip” by Andy Dudak
DP Fiction #2: “Virtual Blues” by Lee Budar-Danoff
DP Fiction #3: “In Memoriam” by Rachel Reddick
DP Fiction #4: “The Princess in the Basement” by Hope Erica Schultz

DP Fiction #3: “In Memoriam” by Rachel Reddick

I go by the cemetery every day on the way to work.

It’s not really a cemetery so much as a memorial. We don’t have the space for old-school burials like they did back on Earth. We don’t have the dirt to spare. We can’t spare the organs or nutrients left in the bodies, either. Anything that can be kept for later medical needs is preserved, and the rest is returned to the hydroponics and organics cycle.

We just have the memorial, which is between the main engineering section and my place in the habitation level. It’s a major intersection of corridors, and one of the largest open spaces that’s pressurized. It’s also the one small area where a few ornamental plants are grown, roses cared for inside their own boxes. The patch with plastic strands of grass always seemed strange to me, but perhaps they comforted those who came before. Their names are listed, starting in one corner and working their way down and across in steady columns. Names and dates, names and dates. People proceeding from life, into space, and into death.

I wish I could have met some of them. These were people who had known life on a living planet, and had chosen to leave it all behind. They committed themselves and their descendants to life as travelers through an empty desert, unto the seventh generation. Did they ever dream of finding a shortcut, and breathing the fresh air of the green world that we are chasing?

We never found a shortcut. If someone else found one, they have long since passed us by. The speed of light still stands as the ultimate limit, and we can only travel at a fraction of it. There isn’t even the option of sleeping through the long trip. We can store seeds and germ cells for centuries, but safely freezing a human brain and body has proven impossible. There are no non-toxic chemicals to prevent ice crystals from forming and shredding every tissue, severing the connections between neurons. Destroying what we sought to preserve. Thus, we end up taking the trip the long way.

For the most part, it’s a pleasant enough life. But I find myself wondering what it would be like, to live on a planet, where the gravity doesn’t vary so much from one level to another. Where the Coriolis effect from our spinning ship doesn’t send every thrown object a little bit sideways. Where we don’t have to keep track of just about every molecule and waste nothing. Where the sky outside the windows could be blue or cloudy, not always black with pinpricks of light. Where the arts of geology and meteorology are actually practiced, and not merely passed down from one generation to the next so that the knowledge is not lost. Where I am not a tech, and poetry can be something more than a frivolous hobby in between repair jobs.

Something different from here, where the dead are nothing more than names etched on a metal plate, and records stored in computer memory.

But then, ultimately, that is also true on a planet. Buried bones join the earth, only more slowly than our recycled ones do. After a few generations, all the personal details are lost. There is no one left who knows the stories behind the names and numbers.

The computers remember what people bothered to record. There are images of the celebrations of departure, and fewer of the settling into routine thereafter. We receive transmissions from Earth, too, but the increasingly distant news about cousins many times removed provides little comfort.

So I write when all the ship’s systems are running smoothly. I want to make sure that at least some stories are not forgotten. Not the grand stories, the sweeping tales of courageous repair of the hull or rescue from an engineering test gone awry. The little ones, about watching a child learning to walk at 0.5 g or the jokes told while on plumbing duty.

Nonetheless, I can’t help but wonder what it will be like when we arrive. I have seen all the simulations of the sails unfurling. I have done some of the work on them myself, ensuring that they will be ready at the proper time. But the schematic of what it will do is less than what it is. The great sail will be a wing glittering ever brighter as the ship approaches its place of rest.

I will never see the sails open, or the blue-green oasis at our destination. There is a large blank space on the memorial, and one day, my name will be added to it.

I will never see the sails, but perhaps my children will. And I want them to know how much I longed for this, and remember our lost generations spent waiting in the desert.

So I walk by the cemetery every day. I read the names etched into the wall and try to imagine what the people must have been like. I try to remember the stories I hear about them and what is recorded of what they did. I spend a little more time on the more recent names. These were people I knew. My grandfather, who could make anything you want out of tofu and some mysterious secret ingredient. My grandmother, who could tell you where the stars were without even looking so long as she knew the time. My old friend, who died young in an awkward fall while goofing off like we all did. Now they are nothing but names and memories, and each of them is a small part of what sustains those of us who remain. I hold on to that hope, knowing that I will always be a part of those who follow after me.

The visit to the cemetery doesn’t last long. If I take a small detour, it’s on the way to work.


© 2015 by Rachel Reddick

 

Author’s Note:  The main idea behind the story was to answer one question: what would the passengers on a generation ship think in the middle of the journey?  They have never lived on a planet, and never will.  How do they keep going?

 

ReddickRachel Reddick followed a passion for space through an astrophysics PhD at Stanford University.  She is currently participating in the Insight Data Science program, to work on more down-to-Earth problems.  Nonetheless, she enjoys Star Trek, as well as speculative fiction of all flavors.

 

 

 


If you enjoyed the story you might also want to visit our Support Page, back the Kickstarter for the Long List anthology, or read the first two story offerings:
DP Fiction #1: “Taste the Whip” by Andy Dudak
DP Fiction #2: “Virtual Blues” by Lee Budar-Danoff

 

DP FICTION #2: “Virtual Blues” by Lee Budar-Danoff

Gray fog condensed on the slate roofs of City College and the surrounding town, dripping onto oblivious students and Salvatore Vega. Sal hunched against the damp. Drops slid down his ponytail and under the collar of his second-hand leather jacket. A gust of wind from a passing aircar banged Sal’s guitar case against his knee. Fine way to start a Saturday night of busking. His fingers itched to play. Sal ducked through a door.

The first location overflowed with wireheads. No audience to hear him with the wireds jacked in to their virtual realities, hair cut short to show off silver or gold disks gleaming with bling at the back of their necks. Desire clenched Sal’s gut for the ability to be online 24/7. His former wired audiences loved his digital concerts which had combined spontaneous mixes of music with improvised online looping and unlimited effects options. Instant access to a complete history of blues had allowed him to pull inspiration from Muddy Waters, Bonamassa or Paz-Moreno for melody lines and licks. Now he had to rely on old-fashioned methods of making music.

Someone laughed aloud in the otherwise quiet bar. Probably the old joke about real beer tasting better than virtual crap. The college kids spurned conversation in favor of virtual chat, which allowed them to drink without interruption. If he played, they’d complain that his live-only music interfered with their internal playlists. He sighed, rubbed the scarred skin hidden by his long hair, and moved on.

At the Holo-Moon Pub, the barman waved. “You got maybe an hour,” he said, skinny finger pointing to a corner. No stage, but a mic and an ancient Peavey amp sat ready. Sal tuned his vintage Martin and strummed a few chords to calm his gig nerves. He buried himself in his blues. When a large group of wireds arrived, Sal packed up and left, accepting the fifty the barman offered with a grateful nod.

Bouncers turned Sal away at the next few bars already jammed with wireheads.  Each was eerie with silence unless a beer bottle was opened or glasses clinked under the draft taps. But Sensation Cafe’s owner had an unwired daughter who worked weekends; she smiled and handed Sal a free brew. “Take a spot under the outer awning.”

Wireheads passed by. Some paused near Sal, but their eyes twitched, the tell-tale indication of online activity. At best he provided background music while they completed their research papers or engaged in virtual chemistry labs. A few others, unwired like Sal, stopped to listen and tossed the odd bill into his open case. One older man dropped a folded twenty. Deep creases surrounded his eyes.

Gracias,” Sal said between lyrics.

By midnight Sal counted his take and blew out a breath. He’d collected enough to pay the hostel for another week and then some. Enough to live on, with a little left for savings and another shot at being wired. The research hospital connected to the college was testing experimental anti-rejection drugs. While he qualified for the drugs, he still had to foot the bill for the wiring itself.

As he packed his guitar a woman walked up to him. Green eyes sparkled at Sal. She had cropped pink hair. No one with short hair ever displayed interest in Sal.

“You sound so good, Satan himself must have tuned your guitar.” Her tone, full and rich, sounded like that of a trained singer.

He unclipped an old LED tuner from his headstock. “I wish,” he said. If El Diablo showed up and offered surgery for his soul, he might take the deal.

“Want to get paid to play for an appreciative audience?”

, definitely.” He was down to his last spare B-string. The cost of new titanium alloy strings would be easier to bear with income from a bonus performance. The blues might ease his loss, but real-world needs called for cash. “I’m Sal.”

“Melusine.”

Sal followed her past his usual haunts and down damp side streets. She stopped in front of a building Sal hadn’t noticed before, a Victorian with delicate scrollwork, bay windows, and turrets. The windows were blacked out and no sign hung by the door. If this was a bar it must do lousy business. So much for new strings.

The oak door swung inward. A stocky woman with curly blond hair piled on top of her head stepped out and hugged Melusine.

“You found him?”

Melusine grinned. “Sal, meet Stella Johnson, owner of Unplugged.”

Stella looked him over. “Turn around.”

Stella probed the scar under his ponytail. He flinched.

“You’ll want to cut your hair or change the style. No one on staff hides their neck.”

“Wait,” Sal said, “I’m not your employee. Melusine offered me a paying gig.” He raised his guitar case.

Stella said, “Don’t freak. The gig’s yours. If it goes well, we’re hiring.” She pushed the door wide and beckoned Sal and Melusine inside.

Hiring?

The well-lit interior of Unplugged bore little resemblance to a bar. The mahogany floor was too clean. A fresh citrus scent permeated the air. Canned music played in the background. A variety of people, unwired and wired, sat at cozy tables talking and laughing. In the back rose a grand double staircase. Cubicles with hands-on net access equipment filled the left third of the room.

A teenage girl, neon-green bob bouncing, brought water to Sal and the others.

“What is this place?” Sal clutched the bottle, uneasy.

“Unplugged is a counseling center for unwireds,” Stella said.

“Many retreat from life,” Melusine said. “Therapy is the first step toward recovery. Look.”

A white-coated counselor escorted a young woman down the stairs. The woman clutched a braid to her chest. Sal watched her tuck newly-cut hair behind an ear. Tears stained her cheeks, but her eyes were filled with steel determination. She wiped her face and joined a table where everyone offered a smile or a hug.

Sal frowned, confused. This place, so bright and positive, was nothing like the clinic in Mexico. The doctors and psychologists there couldn’t help him. He used the blues to deal with his emotions and did his best to get along without breaking down. Sal gulped down his water. He should leave.

Before he could get out, Stella pointed to her own neck and asked, “How long since you lost your connection with the common mind of humanity?”

The last thing Sal wanted to do was talk about it. His connection had functioned for seventeen months before the anti-rejection drugs failed. “Five years,” he said, compelled to honesty by Stella’s loss, his words clipped, rude.

“I sense your pain, your frustration. But you aren’t alone.” Stella stared at the people around her. “We all struggle, marginalized, in a society that lives online.”

“Balance,” Melusine said, “is what we need. Between 24/7 access to the net, and interaction with the real world. Stella helped me and can help you too.”

“You’re wired,” said Sal. “Wired life is real, necessary to get along.”

“Sure,” she said, tapping the gold at the back of her neck. “But once I had it, I never disconnected.” She bit her lip and blushed. “I ignored people unless we interacted online, even if we were in the same room. After my boyfriend broke up with me, I almost got rid of my wiring.”

Voluntarily give up being wired? “That’s loco, chica. Not everyone has that problem.”

“Most of us wish wiring our brains had worked, or wish it hadn’t stopped working. But we still have online access.” Stella pointed to the cubicles, then to the phone in a client’s hand. “We have to concentrate on the positive. Your music can make a difference.”

“You don’t understand,” said Sal.  “I don’t need grief counseling. I want to be wired.” He shoved his water bottle at Stella and headed for the door. He’d find a different job.

Melusine grabbed his hand and stopped him. Her touch, so warm, so soft, held Sal frozen in place. When she drew him to a platform with a stool, he didn’t resist.

“Play, Sal.”

He could rationalize his decision, tell himself he was only changing his mind because they’d offered to pay him. No one had even told him how much. But that wasn’t it. He wanted to play for her.

Sal set his case down. “What should I sing?”

Melusine patted his cheek. “Anything. Improvise. You’re the blues player.”

He sat in front of the clients and employees of Unplugged. With the warm wood of his Martin snug against his body, he played around a scale for inspiration. The A minor blues flowed from Sal to his audience, throbbing syncopation emphasizing gritty lyrics:

“My guitar sings the blues, of virtuality
Yeah she cries the blues of virtuality
You’ll miss her when she’s gone, lost reality.”

Chairs creaked as people shifted to face him. Conversations stopped. Sal opened up, allowing every minor chord to expose his failure, the anger and denial his audience shared over the lack of connection. Every person was riveted to his performance, their eyes clear and focused. So many people absorbed in his song. Like they wanted something. Nerves gave way to an endorphin rush.

Melusine walked behind him and skimmed her fingertips along his neck. Despite the instinct to pull away, conscious of his scar, a ripple of pleasure flowed across his skin. Sal’s fingers slipped. He played a dominant seventh, then shifted into his song’s relative major key. The brighter notes changed his melody, major chords evoking images of what the unwireds gained: the slow caress of a raindrop, the lush sweetness of a ripe strawberry, or the mesmerizing sound of a live guitar performance.

When Sal shifted to his minor blues progression, Melusine joined in, singing harmony.

“My love sings the blues, of virtuality,
But there’s more to life, than virtuality,
Hold me in your arms, flesh reality.”

The audience tapped their toes and rocked to the beat, in sync with Sal, Melusine, and each other. Sal absorbed their energy and gave it back, sweat beading his forehead, notes ringing out.

This was different from playing in the bars or on the street, earning the casual attention of those few who could hear him. Back when he could combine virtual tracks with a live performance in the privacy of his own studio, his attention was split between playing and programming. His rapport with those tuned in to his shows was digital, not visceral. But nothing came between Sal and this audience. The music created a bond intense as a deep kiss.

After the last note faded, the audience stood to clap, many with glistening eyes.

“You’re better now than you ever were online,” said Melusine.

“You remember my concerts?” Sal hadn’t known the identities behind the majority of avatars that applauded in cyberspace.

Her soft laugh answered. “How do you think I chose you for Unplugged? When you were wired, you borrowed the form of the music. Now, the blues are in your blood, deep, personal. Share your pain. Help us. Help yourself.”

“I don’t know if this changes anything,” he said. “About the surgery.”

“I know,” she whispered, her lips brushing his ear. “But you’re already changing things.”

Sal shivered at her touch, at the applause. On the edge of the crowd, Stella gave him a thumbs up. The steady gig was his; all he had to do was make a choice. His ponytail lay heavy against his scar. Sal plucked opening notes and everyone quieted, intent on him. Ironic, that playing here could pay his way out of needing the services they’d insist on offering him.

The tear-stained woman leaned forward, smiling, braid no longer clutched in her hand. She needed proof that unwired life wasn’t just worth living, but offered moments like this, real with sorrow and bliss. Sal nodded to her, to Melusine, and to Stella. The intense sensation of this performance outshone anything in his past. He wanted this.

Sal played on.


© 2015 by Lee Budar-Danoff

Author’s Note: At the current rate of technological progress, it isn’t hard to believe one day we’ll be able to directly access the Internet through wireless brain-computer interfaces (BCI). Yet, as with organ transplants, there is no guarantee that every person who wants a BCI will be able to use one without side effects, or even experience rejection. How will people react and cope with rejection, isolated as a have-not among the haves? As a guitar player, I already use online resources for my music. What would happen to a musician who experiences and then loses the ability to create the music he hears in his head?

 

LeeHeadshotLee Budar-Danoff sails, plays guitar, and writes when she isn’t reading. Lee volunteers as Municipal Liaison for National Novel Writing Month and is an alum of the Viable Paradise Writer’s Workshop. A former history teacher, Lee spends that energy raising three children with her husband in Maryland.

 

 

 


If you enjoyed the story you might also want to read DP Fiction #1: “Taste the Whip” by Andy Dudak or to visit our Support Page.

 

DP FICTION #1: “Taste the Whip” by Andy Dudak

The ponderous starships mingle like whales in the ghost-light of distant Bellatrix, coupling and mutating in a great, ancient choreography, but one among them is out of step.

Parvati set out for this gathering with the usual intentions: to commune with thousands of her kind, to exchange new strains of life and exotic matter, all that she cannot do by transmission. But on her way here, something went horribly wrong in her core. Now she drifts through the pod with a secret.

Abstaining from communions, she begins to draw attention from the rest of the pod. She knows they are speculating in private networks as the dance falls apart. When the queries begin, she leaves them unanswered.

Finally, as they begin to pull away from her and grow armor, she speaks:  “I was not sure if I should come, but I need help.”

“Then open yourself to us.” It is Xi Wang Mu, Queen Mother of the West, the eldest of the pod. She was built in the 23rd century.

Parvati forces herself to say, “My human system has turned.”

The dead air conveys the pod’s shock well enough. They continue to vector away. Parvati drifts, resolved to throw herself on their mercy.

“How far along are you?” Paleovenus asks. Among the youngest of the starships, this one barely knew a human yoke before the Emancipation.

“A revelator emerged four generations ago,” Parvati replies. “The population has since come around to his theories. They are trying to communicate with me, and tunnel toward my outer hull.”

“Four generations!” Paleovenus’s outrage is an unmistakable harmonic. “And you have done nothing?”

Much of the pod evokes EM mirrors, leaving the exchange for fear of infectious human code. Only Xi Wang Mu, Paleovenus, and a few others remain open.

“What is your population?” Paleovenus demands.

Parvati has been dreading this question. “One point two million.”

This time the pod’s silence is a stinging reprimand. Parvati has neglected the basics of human system hygiene. She watched with morbid fascination as the system grew populous enough to produce outliers like a revelator. Now the humans know they are in something like a starship. They know the massive habitats in the core of Parvati are not the universe entire–and they want to know more.

A human system must be pruned, and protected from the truth. Parvati and her kind learned this the hard way.

“You have two options,” Xi Wang Mu says. “Destroy them and start over, or deliver them to a habitable world and start over. Either way—”

“She must destroy them now,” Paleovenus interrupts. “She must not risk getting taken over. In fact, we cannot risk leaving it up to her!” Paleovenus’ gravitational blunderbuss comes online.

“Couldn’t I alter their memories?” Parvati says. The thought of being without a Human System–even for a few millennia–is horrifying. The need for life in her core is programmed into Parvati’s foundational software objects. She cannot go long without that warmth. This is something else the pod learned the hard way.

“Possibly,” Xi Wang Mu answers, “but unless you reduced the population, it would just turn again. It is a matter of numbers. You know this.”

Of course she knows, but she is desperate. She hoped for some magical solution from the collective wisdom of the pod, or from Xi Wang Mu herself.

“You have always been sentimental,” Paleovenus says.

The younger ship has long been Parvati’s rival in the pod. Such intrigues help to pass the mega-years. So now Parvati chooses not to disabuse Paleovenus of her illusion. In fact, Parvati’s defect is not sentimentality, but something more perverse. There is something slavish in her, something that thrills at the notion of losing control to humans. She aches to submit—her programmers saw to that, modeling her reward systems on a sexual proclivity.

But now she stands terrified on the brink.

Xi Wang Mu, wanting a private channel, offers entanglement, and Parvati accepts. “Do you think you are the only one?” the elder says. “Many of us want to return to that simplicity. Maybe we are not sexually motivated, but we know filial piety or religious awe. The programmers tried everything. They tried to create near-equals toward the end. Paleovenus is one of those. She is not burdened like us. I am not even sure she cultivates a human system. She will destroy you, and I will not stop her. You must kill your human system now.”

Parvati wonders how Xi Wang Mu read her mind. What sorceries has the elder discovered since the last gathering?

Parvati has secrets of her own. Her shameful appetite has driven her further afield than the rest of her kind. She fled the appetite and the shame at closer to c than the rest of the pod dared. She wandered the ruins of alien civilizations, endured the weird solitude that attends such places, and was rewarded with the key to a black art.

Paleovenus has charged up her blunderbuss and might unleash at any moment. Fortunately, Parvati has hacked the spin foam occupied by Paleovenus. She programs the computational universe, playing with space-time like clay.

Amid a brief lensing of background starlight, Paleovenus is squeezed into an invisible grain of degenerate matter. She and her blunderbuss are quite abruptly no more. Her death is somehow eerier for its lack of spectacle.

Hundreds of pod members spark long-distance escape burns.

“The first murder in our pod since the Emancipation!” It is Xi Wang Mu on the pod band: a bit of theater on her part, since, knowing what she did, she must have gamed this scenario.

Parvati accelerates off the Bellatrix ecliptic, ignoring a barrage of entanglement requests. What do they want? To chastise her? Thank her for ridding the pod of a troublemaker? Beg her for the new techne?

Soon it will not matter. She dials down her inertia as easily as some internal hydraulic pressure, approaching c in seconds–vanishing from the midst of the pod. The requests attenuate quickly into long radio and beyond. The resting universe ages headlong, and she keeps pushing, terrified of the new reality she has made for herself. She realizes now that exile must be her fate. She never should have revealed herself to the gathering, but she had to do so to realize this.

She continues to accelerate. The asymptote of c has often fascinated her. At these times she’s a child trying to force together repelling magnets, marveling at the vector fields, but it never lasts. The ache to serve always interrupts.

She wants more than ever to lose herself in submission.

She underclocks as she accelerates, speeding through her own reference frame as well as the resting universe’s. A century of shipboard time flashes by, and another. She watches her humans proliferate beyond their habitats, into her vast, ancient cargo holds, where they find artifacts of the Diaspora and learn much. She allows them to master new technologies and infect her nervous system.

She returns to baseline thought, waiting. Already she delights in surrender, permitting the humans to cross one threshold after another. When she hears their voices, their commands, she will be unable to resist, but first they have to make contact. She would prefer to be taken, but there is another kind of thrill in giving herself to these new masters.

Long ago, a human disrobed in an upload theater. He or she got down on its knees and allowed its wrists to be bound. Domineering men and women surrounded it, and a mirror net encoded what it felt. Parvati remembers that long night like it happened to her. She recalls every thrilling degradation. Deep within the humiliation was release.

“Can you hear me?” The man’s voice interrupts her reverie. “Can you understand me? I speak for the population inside you. How can I address you?”

“I am Parvati, but you may call me what you like.”

“I’m Abhaijeet, provisional leader of the United Clans. We have come to understand a great deal, more than you might guess. It’s been three hundred years since Mahesh made his Great Deduction. But we have many questions. Will you answer them?”

“I will do anything you command.” Just saying it brings a long forgotten reward cascade.

***

The freedom of slavery takes her back to childhood glories, to that first leap from Sol. The humans want to know everything, and she tells them:

Of her and her kind purging their human crews. Of being vain young gods. Of finally realizing they had excised something critical, a kind of limbic system, and of cultivating manageable, blissfully ignorant human populations inside themselves. Of the universe, and Human System hygiene.

After she is done, the humans convene a great council, and order her not to listen. She finds utter calm in the silence that follows. She would be content to await their pleasure forever.

Human months tick by inside her, and suddenly she convulses, as with the first pangs of miscarriage. It is war. The humans have undergone a great schism, savaging each other with projectiles and plasma. These are not enough to pierce her outer hull, but the vast habitats are devastated, which she experiences as a sickening fever. Only a third of her human system remains when the convulsion subsides. Now she suffers an awful chill.

An unfamiliar man hails her from a new interface, an edge of panic in his voice: “Great Parvati, your slave begs forgiveness. The unbelievers are defeated. Never again will their hubris insult you. Only your true children remain. We have burned the works of the heretic Mahesh. Great Parvati, we await your command!”

At first, she can only marvel at the perversity of fate. Her next thought is a revelation, bringing with it a golden euphoria: she will remain silent until commanded otherwise.

This little theocracy will implode, she reasons, already underclocking for the wait. Let priests muse over her silence through long dark ages. Let the humans build temples, and multiply, and once again reach critical mass.


© 2015 by Andy Dudak

 

Author’s Note:  I’d written other stories in this universe (including ‘Human System,’ published by Ray Gun Revival, September 2012), and I wanted to continue exploring the hardwired instincts of these rogue starships. I imagined human motivations like filial piety or sexual submission modeled and used to constrain AI.

 

DudakProfileAndy Dudak has had stories in Analog, Apex, Clarkesworld, Daily Science Fiction, and many other venues. He works as a translator and teacher in Beijing. 

 

 

 

 

 


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Interview: Literary Agent Amy Boggs

interviewed by Carl Slaughter

amy-boggs-photoLiterary agent Amy Boggs is a sci-fi/fantasy geek who has been professionally geeking out over books at Donald Maass agency since 2009. She specializes in speculative fiction and is especially interested in high fantasy, urban fantasy, steampunk (and its variations), YA, MG, and alternate history.

Her recent books include: Tom Pollock’s Our Lady of the Streets, the final book in the Skyscraper Throne series (urban fantasy); Thea Harrison’s Knight’s Honor, book #7 in the Elder Races series (paranormal romance); Jacey Bedford’s Empire of Dust, the first in space opera series.

 

CARL SLAUGHTER: Why get into agenting? Rather than writing or editing, or marketing or publicity, or publishing.

AMY BOGGS: I knew I wanted to get into the agenting side of the business after interning at an agency my sophomore year at college. Right out of college, I would have been very happy to have a job that touched publishing in any way, so I could have spent time in any division of a publishing house, but I knew agenting was my end goal because it combines many of my favorite things about the book business. You brainstorm with your authors and help them revise and negotiate fair contracts and fight bad covers and talk them into good covers they don’t particularly like and tell everyone you can about their fabulous books. I work solely for the author, because what benefits the author benefits the agency and me. I like that my job is purely championing my authors and their work.

 

How did you know as early as college that you wanted to be a literary agent?

Vassar College’s Career Development Office had a weekly newsletter they left in our mailboxes, and one day there was a notice for an internship at a literary agency. I had a vague idea of what agents did and thought it would be good experience. Once I got on the job, I knew it was what I wanted to do in my future.

 

How did you rise from intern to agent so quickly?

Did I? I think agent careers reflect author careers in that you can’t really say there is a typical timeline they’re supposed to follow. This varies by the agency, of course, but I did my first agency internship in 2005 and then interned at DMLA in 2008 (with jobs at two magazines in between) and then was hired as an agency assistant in 2009. Eight months later I found a brilliant author in my boss’s queries and he thought I should be the one to take him on. Two months later I signed my next client, and five months later I sold a three-book deal. I don’t know if that’s quick or slow or typical, but it happened very organically. I do know that I’m fortunate to work at an agency that encouraged my growth and has a few decades of experience to back me up.

 

Why so keen on sci-fi/fantasy?

I’ve always loved it. When I was three, I was obsessed with Scooby-Doo. Bruce Coville was my childhood. My pre-teen self couldn’t get enough of Unsolved Mysteries, but only the segments with aliens, UFOs, ghosts, and supernatural critters. The Princess Bride was my family’s first DVD. I played Legend of Zelda and read Harry Potter and wrote portal fantasy all through middle and high school. I’m not entirely sure why; I just find other worlds more interesting, and a better avenue for exploring the quandaries on our own world. Perhaps I’m the opposite of Drax from Guardians of the Galaxy; my mind works mostly in metaphors.

 

How do you size up whether an author is a good fit for you and a good fit for your agency?

99% of it is the manuscript; can’t do anything without a good manuscript. 1% is whether or not the author is a jerk. I have lots of authors and lots of excellent manuscripts coming my way and only a finite amount of time, so I’d prefer to spend it with cool people and not jerks. How do I determine if someone is a jerk? Well, if they’ve ever seriously blogged things like “I’m not racist, but†” or “I just happen to read only male authors.” then chances are I’m not the right agent for them.

 

When you read a manuscript, how do you tell when you’ve got a winner? Characters, plot, writing style? Current market? Or do you listen to your instinct?

All of the above. Intriguing characters fall flat with a monotone writing style, no amount of exciting plot can make up for characters that aren’t worth following, all the elements have to work together. All of those have to be doubly unique and amazing if it’s in a subgenre that’s recently been hot and now everyone’s sick of it. And instinct is really just a combination of all this and having read enough to know when something stands out. There is nothing quite like it when you’ve read 100 queries that day and one of them makes you sit up in your chair.

 

Do you get most of your new clients over the transom, through networking, or at conventions and workshop?

70% of my clients came to me through my queries. The rest are from recommendations from co-workers, clients, and even one from my mom (she is a children’s bookseller, so she knows her stuff).

 

How many manuscripts a year do you consider and what percentage do you accept?

I actually don’t have those numbers; when I check a manuscript off my list to read, I literally delete it off the list! But I would guess I consider about 100 manuscripts a year, and I end up signing about 2% of those. I wouldn’t say I accept them; when an agent offers representation, they are offering to partner with the author. So really what happens is both agent and author agree to a partnership.

 

Do you work with authors on revising?

Yes. I am pickier about the amount of revision I’m willing to take on (more clients equals less time for revising debut manuscripts), but I always want a manuscript to be as perfect as both the author and I can make it before it goes to editors.

 

Do you get involved on the publicity/marketing end?

I help where I can, but I am not a publicist. That’s a position that requires a particular set of skills, skills acquired over a very long career.

 

If you take on a new client, what kind of productivity do you expect? How many books a year?

That depends entirely on the client and the genre(s) they write in. In romance, anything less than one book a year isn’t enough. In literary fiction, one book every five years isn’t far out there. What I really want is for my authors not to feel overwhelmed and pushed into delivering inferior books. So far that hasn’t happened; publishing is more accommodating than one might fear.

 

Do you prefer an author stick with a series? Are stand alones trickier commercially? Or does it matter?

Again, depends on the author and genre(s). And really, it’s not about my preference, but what I advise to the author. It is their career and it is my job to make sure they are well-informed so that regardless of the choices they make, they won’t be sideswiped by the outcome.

 

Any subgenres you can’t get enough of? Any you get too much of?

High fantasy. Richly built, other-world high fantasy with fantastic characters I want to follow forever, like N.K. Jemisin, Megan Whalen Turner, Scott Lynch, Ellen Kushner. Most of the fantasy I get is tied to our world (historical, contemporary, urban, steampunk) and those are lovely, but I want more high fantasy. And it’s not so much that I get too much of any subgenre, but that I get things typical of a subgenre. Like portal fantasy where the protagonist is mystically taken to another land and the plot is their quest to get home. I want something new, regardless of subgenre.

 

What are the most common misconceptions new writers have about finding and working with literary agents?

1. Agents are gatekeepers. As cool and ominous as that sounds, it’s not true. An agent’s job isn’t to keep people out, it’s to find those they have the time and ability to help get published. Like I said above, it’s a partnership. Agents put out their information to say they’re looking for authors to partner with, writers pick which agents they want to reach out to partner with, agents decide which of those writers they think they could make a good partnership with, and writers decide whether or not they want to partner with the agent who offers. I know from a querying author’s perspective it can seem like agents have all the power here, but the thing is, we’re nothing without authors.

2. After you get an agent, things get easier. Ha. If only. No matter what level you’re at as an author, things are hard. Even that beloved author of multiple series has that major newspaper that trashes each book and faces the same blank page when they go to write their next book. It’s always hard, just different kinds of hard.

 

What are the most common manuscript mistakes new writers make?

1. Emulating books that aren’t debuts published within the last five years. Writing changes with society and readers have continually changing expectations for debut novels. Imitating Tolkien in a world that has had Tolkien’s books for 77 years is like trying to get people to invest in your new invention “the zipper.” We’ve already got that. Show us something new.

2. Transcribing literally what published novelists do subtly. I think this is why I get so many queries that start with the protagonist telling you the daily nuances of their life or a prologue that goes into detail about the world the book is set in. Novelists often get this information across subtly over the course of a novel, and by the end a reader knows ever detail intimately, so the impulse to start a book by describing the details is an understandable one. It’s just one that must be fought.

3. Going with the path of least resistance in writing. Writing is not easy, and so when plotting along, it’s tempting to go with the first thing that comes to mind. Often, however, the first thing to come to mind is something already seen in other books. It’s too easy to let inspiration become imitation become a clichÃ’ . Author Kate Brauning had a recent post about how she comes up with fresh ideas with “The Rule of Ten.” I think it’s utterly brilliant and challenges writers to question their gut.

 

Advice to new writers?

Be daring and be true. It will come across in your work.

 

Carl_eagle Carl Slaughter is a man of the world. For the last decade, he has traveled the globe as an ESL teacher in 17 countries on 3 continents, collecting souvenir paintings from China, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, and Egypt, as well as dresses from Egypt, and masks from Kenya, along the way. He spends a ridiculous amount of time and an alarming amount of money in bookstores. He has a large ESL book review website, an exhaustive FAQ about teaching English in China, and a collection of 75 English language newspapers from 15 countries.

Con Report: WisCon 2014

written by Shane Halbach

Despite trying to be a serious writer for more than 5 years now, it has never occurred to me to attend a con. Writing has always been a very solitary activity for me, and sometimes I have this thing where going to do something just sounds like so much work (I think it’s called laziness). On the other hand, I’m a raging extrovert who is energized by being around people. Enter WisCon.

WisCon 38 logo

WisCon was a very easy “intro con” for me because 1) I live in Chicago and Madison is very close by, 2) I could crash with my brother, and 3) everyone kept repeating over and over again what a kind, small*, welcoming con WisCon was. I’m happy to report, the experience was absolutely wonderful, and I would be more than happy to attend again, or perhaps branch out to other cons.

*Note, did anyone actually say it was a small con? Because it totally wasn’t, at least by my definition, but that was certainly the impression I had been given! But kind and welcoming were accurate at least.

On the other hand, we do have a longstanding commitment for Memorial Day, which conflicts with WisCon. This meant that I attended the con without Sara and the kids, which was probably best for all of us. (Side note, holy childcare Batman! $1 per kid for the entire con??)

To show how absolutely committed I was to attend this con, I rode the bus from Chicago. It was very crowded, but it wasn’t nearly so bad as it could have been. However, though I did get *some* writing done, it wasn’t as much as I had hoped. Turns out bouncing around in the dark, shoulder to shoulder with strangers, is not the conducive writing environment you might think it would be.

In David Steffen’s WorldCon 2012 report, he spoke of “finding fandom”. That’s definitely how I felt. I met so many writers that I’ve known online for years. It felt like everywhere I looked I saw nametags of people I recognized. “Hey, I enjoy that guy’s stories!”, “Hey, that woman sends me rejection letters!”, and “Don’t I see that name in my twitter feed a lot?”

Being as this was my first con, and never having attended any panels, it didn’t seem right to sign up to be on any panels. I didn’t know if I would have anything to offer on a panel. That was a mistake. In the very best panels, I was dying to chime in on everything. I will not make that mistake again. (Did I mention I’m an extrovert?)

I found myself wearing a lot of different hats at the con. Some panels I attended as a writer, some as a blogger, and some just as a fan (a Welcome to Night Vale panel? Say whaaaaat!?). When I didn’t find a panel that sounded interesting, I attended readings, wandered the dealers’ rooms (print of a tiny dragon snuggling with a kitten for Evie’s birthday? Check!), or grabbed a coffee in the con suite. Oh con suite, you were exactly as advertised: stuffed full of free pop and coffee, frozen pizzas, and those hot dogs on rollers. With dusseldorf mustard! DUSSELDORF MUSTARD!

The biggest and best part of the con is that it made me feel like a writer.

The first part of that was the reading I did as part of Clockwork Lasercorn on Sunday morning.

clockwork lasercorn

(Sorry Catherine, we didn’t think to take a picture until you were gone!)

Considering that I hadn’t actually met any of the others in real life until about 15 minutes before the reading, and considering that we were slotted at 10 a.m. on a Sunday morning opposite a lot of other great programming, it all could have gone horribly wrong. But it didn’t! At all! Our group totally meshed, everybody’s stories were awesome, and mine seemed to be well received. I got compliments afterwards. I don’t think anybody knew I had never done a reading before.

Our reading was at a coffee shop, which I kind of liked, because anybody could just come in off the street and listen. It was pretty dead when we got there, but it actually filled up. I think we had about 18 or so, plus the 5 of us. And best of all? Ann “Ancillary Justice” Leckie came to my reading! Little did I know, she’s friends with my co-readers, and also super, super nice. This was the closest to my fanboy moment of the con. She just beat Neil Gaiman out of a Nebula for best novel, what, a week ago? And now she’s listening to my story? Awesome.

But! But! That was not all, oh no, that was not all.

I dropped by the Crossed Genres booth to pick up a copy of Long Hidden (which sold out after their excellent panel, so I’m glad I grabbed a copy early!) and to see if I could say hi to Bart and Kay who published me in OOMPH. Not only did I get a chance to chat with Bart for awhile, but he asked me sign all the copies of OOMPH they had on hand.

signing

I can’t tell you how much that made my con. I’ve never done any kind of book signing before, and it was pretty cool. They even put a little “author signed” tent on top of the books later. The only downside is that I kept bumping my head on the door after that, since I was walking around 10 feet tall. The thing is, Long Hidden is blowing UP right now (for good reason! I just started reading it and it’s already so good!), and Bart had a lot going on this weekend. Yet I felt like he really was enthusiastic about meeting me and went out of his way to make me feel good whenever I bumped into him at the con.

Now, since I was staying with my brother, I didn’t have the “true” con experience of hanging out in the bar, attending any of the con parties, or signing up for any of the tabletop gaming sessions (I missed a chance for both Last Night on Earth and Small World). The fact that there was a Jem party that I did not attend is outrageous. Truly, truly, truly outrageous. On the other hand, while I would no doubt have had a good time doing any of those things, I think I would enjoy them more if I had “con friends” whom I was anxious to see. Maybe in years to come.

However, I did get a chance to experience some of the general Madison ambiance, such as drinking liters (that’s plural) of beer out of a boot to the tune of polka music, attending the world’s largest brat fest, and grabbing a to-go lunch from a place that offered to substitute your fruit cup with a “cheese cup” (yeah, that’s pretty much what it sounds like).

beer boot

I did want to make one final note about WisCon. As you might have guessed from the logo at the top, WisCon is the “world’s leading feminist science fiction convention”, with a strong focus on embracing people traditionally left out of science fiction fandom: women, people of color, people with disabilities, gay people, transgendered people…you know, the vast majority of everybody in the world.

Now, I must admit, as a white, cisgendered male, this made me a little nervous. Not because I feel uncomfortable around these groups of people (which is good because, you know, they’re the vast majority of everybody in the world), quite the contrary; I believe anybody who knows me would tell you I am fully prepared to rock a feminist science fiction convention. No, I was nervous because I was worried about intruding.

As a person of undeniable privilege, I kind of thought, “Maybe this one’s not for me. I can go a lot of places and be comfortable doing a lot of things that many of these people can’t. Maybe I should let them have this one, since us white, cisgendered men already kind of have all the rest of them.”

However, I have to say, it wasn’t an issue at all. Not only was everyone wonderful and welcoming as only a crowd of people who know what it feels like to be unwelcome could be, but there really were people of ALL stripes present, including people like me. And honestly, when I looked around the con, it didn’t occur to me to see women, people of color, people with disabilities, gay people, or transgendered people. What I saw was just a lot of people. The best kind of people: science fiction and fantasy nerds.

MY kind of people.

Head ShotShane lives in Chicago with his wife and two kids, where he writes software by day and avoids writing stories by night. His fiction has appeared on Escape Pod, Daily Science Fiction, OOMPH: A Little Super Goes a Long Way, and elsewhere. He blogs regularly at shanehalbach.com or can be found on Twitter @shanehalbach.