Monday, May 31, 2010

"Permanent Fatal Errors" by Jay Lake (Part 4 of 4)

Permanent Fatal Errors
by Jay Lake

[Continued from Part 3]

The chase wasn't really intended for crew transit, but it had to be large enough to admit a human being for inspection and repairs, when the automated systems couldn't handle something. It was a shitty, difficult crawl, but Inclined Plane was only about two hundred meters stem to stern anyway. He passed over several intermediate access hatches -- no point in getting out -- then simply climbed down and out in the passageway when he reached the bridge. Taking control of the exterior weapons systems from within the walls of the ship wasn't going to do him any good. The interior systems concentrated on disaster suppression and anti-hijacking, and were not under his control anyway.

No one was visible when Maduabuchi slipped out from the walls. He wished he had a pistol, or even a good, long-handled wrench, but he couldn't take down any of the rest of these Howards even if he tried. He settled for hitting the bridge touchpad and walking in when the hatch irised open.

Patrice sat in the captain's chair. Chillicothe manned the navigation boards. They both glanced up at him, surprised.

"What are you doing here?" Chillicothe demanded.

"Not being locked in the lounge," he answered, acutely conscious of his utter lack of any plan of action. "Where's Captain Smith?"

"In her cabin," said Patrice without looking up. His voice was a growl, coming from a heavyworld body like a sack of bricks. "Where she'll be staying."


"What did I tell you about questions?" Chillicothe asked softly.

Something cold rested against the hollow spot of skin just behind Maduabuchi's right ear. Paimei's voice whispered close. "Should have listened to the woman. Curiosity killed the cat, you know."

They will never expect it, he thought, and threw an elbow back, spinning to land a punch on Paimei. He never made the hit. Instead he found himself on the deck, her boot against the side of his head.

At least the pistol wasn't in his ear any more.

Maduabuchi laughed at that thought. Such a pathetic rationalization. He opened his eyes to see Chillicothe leaning over.

"What do you think is happening here?" she asked.

He had to spit the words out. "You've taken over the sh-ship. L-locked Captain Smith in her cabin. L-locked me up to k-keep me out of the way."

Chillicothe laughed, her voice harsh and bitter. Patrice growled some warning that Maduabuchi couldn't hear, not with Paimei's boot pressing down on his ear.

"She tried to open a comms channel to something very dangerous. She's been relieved of her command. That's not mutiny, that's self-defense."

"And compliance to regulation," said Paimei, shifting her foot a little so Maduabuchi would be sure to hear her.

"Something's inside that star."

Chillicothe's eyes stirred. "You still haven't learned about questions, have you?"

"I w-want to talk to the captain."

She glanced back toward Patrice, now out of Maduabuchi's very limited line of sight. Whatever look was exchanged resulted in Chillicothe shaking her head. "No. That's not wise. You'd have been fine inside the lounge. A day or two, we could have let you out. We're less than eighty hours-subjective from making threadneedle transit back to Saorsen Station, then this won't matter anymore."

He just couldn't keep his mouth shut. "Why won't it matter?"

Friday, May 28, 2010

"Permanent Fatal Errors" by Jay Lake (Part 3 of 4)

Permanent Fatal Errors
by Jay Lake

[Continued from
Part 2]

The corridor was filled with smoke, though no alarms wailed. He almost ducked back into the Survey Suite, but instead dashed for one of the emergency stations found every ten meters or so and grabbed an oxygen mask. Then he hit the panic button.

That produced a satisfying wail, along with lights strobing at four distinct frequencies. Something was wrong with the gravimetrics, too -- the floor had felt syrupy, then too light, with each step. Where the hell was fire suppression?

The bridge was next. He couldn't imagine that they were under attack -- Inclined Plane was the only ship in the Tiede 1 system so far as any of them knew. And short of some kind of pogrom against Howard immortals, no one had any reason to attack their vessel.

Mutiny, he thought, and wished he had an actual weapon. Though what he'd do with it was not clear. The irony that the lowest-scoring shooter in the history of the Howard training programs was now working as a weapons officer was not lost on him.

He stumbled into the bridge to find Chillicothe Xiang there, laughing her ass off with Paimei Joyner, one of their two scouts -- hard-assed Howards so heavily modded that they could at need tolerate hard vacuum on their bare skin, and routinely worked outside for hours with minimal life support and radiation shielding. The strobes were running in here, but the audible alarm was mercifully muted. Also, whatever was causing the smoke didn't seem to have reached into here yet.

Captain Smith stood at the far end of the bridge, her back to the diamond viewing wall that was normally occluded by a virtual display, though at the moment the actual, empty majesty of Tiede 1 localspace was visible.

Smith was snarling. "…don't care what you thought you were doing, clean up my ship's air! Now, damn it."

The two turned toward the hatch, nearly ran into Maduabuchi in his breathing mask, and renewed their laughter.

"You look like a spaceman," said Chillicothe.

"Moral here," added Paimei. One deep black hand reached out to grasp Maduabuchi's shoulder so hard he winced. "Don't try making a barbecue in the galley."

"We'll be eating con-rats for a week," snapped Captain Smith. "And everyone on this ship will know damned well it's your fault we're chewing our teeth loose."

The two walked out, Paimei shoving Maduabuchi into a bulkhead while Chillicothe leaned close. "Take off the mask," she whispered. "You look stupid in it."

Moments later, Maduabuchi was alone with the captain, the mask dangling in his grasp.

"What was it?" she asked in a quiet, gentle voice that carried more respect than he probably deserved.

"I have…had something," Maduabuchi said. "A sort of, well, hunch. But it's slipped away in all that chaos."

Smith nodded, her face closed and hard. "Idiots built a fire in the galley, just to see if they could."

"Is that possible?"

"If you have sufficient engineering talent, yes," the captain admitted grudgingly. "And are very bored."

"Or want to create a distraction," Maduabuchi said, unthinking.

"Damn it," Smith shouted. She stepped to her command console. "What did we miss out there?"

"No," he said, his hunches suddenly back in play. This was like a flow hangover. "Whatever's out there was out there all along. The green flash. Whatever it is." And didn't that niggle at his thoughts like a cockroach in an airscrubber. "What we missed was in here."

"And when," the captain asked, her voice very slow now, viscous with thought, "did you and I become we as separate from the rest of this crew?"

When you first picked me, ma'am, Maduabuchi thought but did not say. "I don't know. But I was in the Survey Suite, and you were on the bridge. The rest of this crew was somewhere else."

"You can't look at everything, damn it," she muttered. "Some things should just be trusted to match their skin."

Her words pushed Maduabuchi back into his flow state, where the hunch reared up and slammed him in the forebrain with a broad, hairy paw.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

BayCon 2010 Programming Schedule

Baycon touts itself as "the largest science fiction and fantasy convention in the San Francisco Bay Area"; sadly, it is currently the only annual convention in the Bay Area.

In the last 15 or so years, I've only missed a few BayCons. I recall two of those misses in recent years... The convention used to be held at the DoubleTree Hotel (formerly the Red Lion) in San Jose. The first year that the hotel had begun charging for parking, I wasn't scheduled for any panels (my fault: I had changed email addresses in the fall of the previous year, and neglected to contact BayCon with my change of e-address, so they were unable to reach me) -- which turned out to be a very good thing. I arrived at the hotel Saturday morning, and the hotel, in their infinite wisdom, had limited the available parking in their lot; I simply couldn't find a place to park, so, in frustration, I backed the car up (there wasn't even enough open space to drive through/around to the exit), and left; I didn't return to the convention that weekend. Fortunately, the convention site has since changed to the Hyatt Regency in Santa Clara (next to the Santa Clara Convention Center) so parking is no longer an issue. I also missed last year's convention due to a serious illness in my extended family that necessitated a trip to Southern California, so even though I was scheduled to participate at BayCon, I unfortunately had to bail a day or two before the con.1

But this year, assuming all goes well through the remainder of today, as well as tomorrow, I will yet again be participating in BayCon. Here is my schedule for Saturday and Sunday:
4:00 PM Saturday, San Tomas 811:
Publishing Credits: What Matters, What Doesn't, and Why

Not all publishing credits are created equal -- some will boost a career while others will injure it. Which are which and why are they in each category? And how can a career downer become a career booster?

Panelists: Marty Halpern (M), A. Kovacs, Nick Mamatas, Jay Ridler, Scott Sigler, Doug Berry

10:00 AM Sunday, Camino Real 826: Iron Editors

Normally, any "writers’ workshop" is a private, behind-closed-doors affair, inviting rumors on ancient and tribal rites involving Styrofoam, marshmallows, and duct tape. This panel is designed to bring to the public what the process looks and sounds like. Using submissions from the audience members, our panelists will quickly mark up and present a critique. All of our Iron Editors have been published themselves, and have a very good idea of what a story needs to get published. To participate bring up to 2 double-spaced pages of creative writing either to the panel or drop it off in the box at the Info Desk. You must be present to have your submission critiqued! The more -- the merrier!! Also, non-submitting Audience Members are more than welcome.

The Iron Editors: Kent Brewster (M), Marty Halpern, Tom Saidak, Lori White, Doug Berry

2:00 PM Sunday, Alameda 105: Judging a Cover by Its Book

Many book covers are created with little to no information about the story it will be attached to. Can you tell a good book by the cover? And how much of that is the artist's fault? When did an artist’s rendering convince you to buy a book? And how many times did you regret it?

Clare Bell, Marty Halpern, Wanda Kurtcu (M), Lee Moyer, Doug Berry

So, that's my schedule for this weekend; fortunately not a too-busy one. I do plan on pulling together some information, books, and cover art tomorrow, to use as reference material for the three panels. I will also be at the con hotel for at least the first half of Monday, which allows me to relax a bit and meet up with anyone, should the need arise.

I hope to see you at the convention this weekend. Check out any (or all) of my panels if the subject matter interests you, and be sure to stop by, say hello, and introduce yourself.

By the way, though my co-edited anthology Is Anybody Out There? isn't officially released until June 1, I will have copies available for sale at the con. I'm trying to work out a deal to have them available in the dealers room, but if not -- or regardless -- I will personally have copies available.


1 When I missed last year's BayCon, I also missed my meet up for lunch/dinner with author Kage Baker (and her sister Kathleen Bartholomew), which I wrote about previously in my blog post "In the Company of Kage Baker."

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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

"Permanent Fatal Errors" by Jay Lake (Part 2 of 4)

Permanent Fatal Errors
by Jay Lake

[Continued from
Part 1]

He worked an entire half-shift without being disturbed, sifting petabytes of data, until the truth hit him. The color-coding of one spectral analysis matrix was nearly identical to the green flash he thought he'd seen on the surface of Tiede 1.

All the data was a distraction. Her real work had been hidden in the metadata, passing for nothing more than a sorting signifier.

Once Maduabuchi realized that, he unpacked the labeling on the spectral analysis matrix, and opened up an entirely new data environment. Green, it was all about the green.

"I was wondering how long that would take you," said Captain Smith from the opening hatch.

Maduabuchi jumped in his chair, opened his mouth to make some denial, then closed it again. Her eyes didn't look razored this time, and her voice held a tense amusement.

He fell back on that neglected standby, the truth. "Interesting color you have here, ma'am."

"I thought so." Smith stepped inside, cycled the lock shut, then code-locked it with a series of beeps that meant her command override was engaged. "Ship," she said absently, "sensory blackout on this area."

"Acknowledged, Captain," said the ship's puppy-friendly voice.

"What do you think it means, Mr. St. Macaria?"

"Stars don't shine green. Not to the human eye. The blackbody radiation curve just doesn't work that way." He added, "Ma'am."

"Thank you for defining the problem." Her voice was dust-dry again.

Maduabuchi winced. He'd given himself away, as simply as that. But clearly she already knew about the green flashes. "I don't think that's the problem, ma'am."


"If it was, we'd all be lining up like good kids to have a look at the optically impossible brown dwarf."

"Fair enough. Then what is the problem, Mr. St. Macaria?"

He drew a deep breath and chose his next words with care. Peridot Smith was old, old in a way he'd never be, even with her years behind him someday. "I don't know what the problem is, ma'am, but if it's a problem to you, it's a command issue. Politics. And light doesn't have politics."

Much to his surprise, she laughed. "You'd be amazed. But yes. Again, well done."

She hadn't said that before, but he took the compliment. "What kind of command problem, ma'am?"

Captain Smith sucked in a long, noisy breath and eyed him speculatively. A sharp gaze, to be certain. "Someone on this ship is on their own mission. We were jiggered into coming to Tiede 1 to provide cover, and I don't know what for."

"Not me!" Maduabuchi blurted.

"I know that."

The dismissal in her words stung for a moment, but on the whole, he realized he'd rather not be a suspect in this particular witch hunt.

His feelings must have shown in his face, because she smiled and added, "You haven't been around long enough to get sucked into the Howard factions. And you have a rep for being indifferent to the seductive charms of power."

"Uh, yes." Maduabuchi wasn't certain what to say to that.

"Why do you think you're here?" She leaned close, her breath hot on his face. "I needed someone who would reliably not be conspiring against me."

"A useful idiot," he said. "But there's only seven of us. How many could be conspiring? And over a green light?"

"It's Tiede 1," Captain Smith answered. "Someone is here gathering signals. I don't know what for. Or who. Because it could be any of the rest of the crew. Or all of them."

"But this is politics, not mutiny. Right…?"

"Right." She brushed off the concern. "We're not getting hijacked out here. And if someone tries, I am the meanest fighter on this ship by a wide margin. I can take any three of this crew apart."

"Any five of us, though?" he asked softly.

"That's another use for you."

"I don't fight."

"No, but you're a Howard. You're hard enough to kill that you can take it at my back long enough to keep me alive."

"Uh, thanks," Maduabuchi said, very uncertain now.

"You're welcome." Her eyes strayed to the data arrays floating across the screens and in the virtual presentations. "The question is who, what and why."

"Have you compared the observational data to known stellar norms?" he asked.

"Green flashes aren't a known stellar norm."

"No, but we don't know what the green flashes are normal for, either. If we compare Tiede 1 to other brown dwarfs, we might spot further anomalies. Then we triangulate."

"And that is why I brought you." Captain Smith's tone was very satisfied indeed. "I'll leave you to your work."

"Thank you, ma'am." To his surprise, Maduabuchi realized he meant it.

* * *

Monday, May 24, 2010

"Permanent Fatal Errors" by Jay Lake (Part 1 of 4)

Continuing my celebration -- and promotion -- of Is Anybody Out There? (Daw Books) my co-edited anthology with Nick Gevers, to be published on June 1, here is another story from the book.

Though I was already quite familiar with his work, the first time I personally met Jay Lake was at BayCon 2005, May 27-30, in San Jose, California. Jay was the Writer Guest of Honor; I was a lowly panelist. We actually met on Saturday the 28th, at 11:30 a.m., in the Carmel Room of the DoubleTree Hotel, for a panel entitled "Editing an Anthology." Later that day I showed up at another of Jay's panels, this time as a member of the audience, so that I could heckle him from the back of the room (just kidding). That second panel was on "First Novels"; I was still acquiring and editing for Golden Gryphon Press at the time, and thus in the market for first novels.

Just short of a year later, on June 22, 2006, I sent Jay an email to let him know that I would be editing his novel Trial of Flowers (Book 1 in The City Imperishable series) for Night Shade Books. If the "New Weird" subgenre is your cup of tea, so to speak, then you'll find few other books that are more "new weird" than The City Imperishable series. Anyhow, I just did a rough count, and at least 90 emails passed between us from the time I first started working on Jay's manuscript until I turned in the final copyedits for the page proofs and the book cover on September 18. When I first began editing, email was already the standard operating procedure; I don't know how folks did this job in the days before email. Unfortunately, I don't see Jay as often as I would like (I believe the last time, albeit briefly, was the 2009 World Fantasy Convention, again in San Jose), but I look forward to sharing another panel with him in the near future.

Jay's contribution to Is Anybody Out There? is a bit of mystery and a lot of science fiction entitled "Permanent Fatal Errors." About this story, Jay writes: "'Permanent Fatal Errors' is part of the Sunspin cycle, an as-yet-unwritten space opera trilogy I've planned as my next major project after I conclude the Green trilogy. This story explores a critical piece of worldbuilding that is a central plot question in the novels. The story takes place about 1,400 years before the narrative present of the novels, when the lessons learned by Maduabuchi during and after the action of 'Permanent Fatal Errors' have been lost. I remember them, and rediscovering them will be an important aspect of the larger story. It was a pleasure to explore the question of where the aliens have gone as part of Is Anybody Out There?"

Permanent Fatal Errors
by Jay Lake

Maduabuchi St. Macaria had never before traveled with an all-Howard crew. Mostly his kind kept to themselves, even under the empty skies of a planet. Those who did take ship almost always did so in a mixed or all-baseline human crew.

Not here, not aboard the threadneedle starship Inclined Plane. Seven crew including him, captained by a very strange woman who called herself Peridot Smith. All Howard Institute immortals. A new concept in long-range exploration, multi-decade interstellar missions with ageless crew, testbedded in orbit around the brown dwarf Tiede 1. That's what the newsfeeds said, anyway.

His experience was far more akin to a violent soap opera. Howards really weren't meant to be bottled up together. It wasn't in the design templates. Socially well-adjusted people didn't generally self-select to outlive everyone they'd ever known.

Even so, Maduabuchi was impressed by the welcome distraction of Tiede 1. Everyone else was too busy cleaning their weapons and hacking the internal comms and cams to pay attention to their mission objective. Not him.

Inclined Plane boasted an observation lounge. The hatch was coded "Observatory," but everything of scientific significance actually happened within the instrumentation woven into the ship's hull and the diaphanous energy fields stretching for kilometers beyond. The lounge was a folly of naval architecture, a translucent bubble fitted to the hull, consisting of roughly a third of a sphere of optically corrected artificial diamond grown to nanometer symmetry and smoothness in microgravity. Chances were good that in a catastrophe the rest of the ship would be shredded before the bubble would so much as be scratched.

There had been long, heated arguments in the galley, with math and footnotes and thumb breaking, over that exact question.

Maduabuchi liked to sit in the smartgel bodpods and let the ship perform a three-sixty massage while he watched the universe. The rest of the crew were like cats in a sack, too busy stalking the passageways and each other to care what might be outside the window. Here in the lounge one could see creation, witness the birth of stars, observe the death of planets, or listen to the quiet, empty cold of hard vacuum. The silence held a glorious music that echoed inside his head.

Maduabuchi wasn't a complete idiot -- he'd rigged his own cabin with self-powered screamer circuits and an ultrahigh voltage capacitor. That ought to slow down anyone with delusions of traps.

Tiede 1 loomed outside. It seemed to shimmer as he watched, as if a starquake were propagating. The little star belied the ancient label of "brown dwarf." Stepped down by filtering nano that coated the diamond bubble, the surface glowed a dull reddish orange; a coal left too long in a campfire, or a jewel in the velvet setting of night. Only 300,000 kilometers in diameter, and about five percent of a solar mass, it fell in that class of objects ambiguously distributed between planets and stars.

It could be anything, he thought. Anything.

A speck of green tugged at Maduabuchi's eye, straight from the heart of the star.

Green? There were no green emitters in nature.

"Amplification," he whispered. The nano filters living on the outside of the diamond shell obligingly began to self-assemble a lens. He controlled the aiming and focus with eye movements, trying to find whatever it was he had seen. Another ship? Reflection from a piece of rock or debris?

Excitement chilled Maduabuchi despite his best intentions to remain calm. What if this were evidence of the long-rumored but never-located alien civilizations that should have abounded in the Orion Arm of the Milky Way?

He scanned for twenty minutes, quartering Tiede 1's face as minutely as he could without direct access to the instrumentation and sensors carried by Inclined Plane. The ship's AI was friendly and helpful, but outside its narrow and critical competencies in managing the threadneedle drive and localspace navigation, no more intelligent than your average dog, and so essentially useless for such work. He'd need to go to the Survey Suite to do more.

Maduabuchi finally stopped staring at the star and called up a deck schematic. "Ship, plot all weapons discharges or unscheduled energy expenditures within the pressurized cubage."

The schematic winked twice, but nothing was highlighted. Maybe Captain Smith had finally gotten them all to stand down. None of Maduabuchi's screamers had gone off, either, though everyone else had long since realized he didn't play their games.

Trusting that no one had hacked the entire tracking system, he cycled the lock and stepped into the passageway beyond. Glancing back at Tiede 1 as the lock irised shut, Maduabuchi saw another green flash.

He fought back a surge of irritation. The star was not mocking him.

* * *

Friday, May 21, 2010

"The Taste of Night" by Pat Cadigan (Part 3 of 3)

The Taste of Night
by Pat Cadigan

[Continued from
Part 2]

Nell labored toward wakefulness as if she were climbing a rock wall with half a dozen sandbags dangling on long ropes tied around her waist. Her mouth was full of steel wool and sand. She knew that taste -- medication. It would probably take most of a day to spit that out.

She had tried medication in the beginning because Marcus had begged her to. Anti-depressants, anti-anxiety capsules, and finally anti-psychotics -- they had all tasted the same because she hadn't been depressed, anxious, or psychotic. Meanwhile, Marcus had gotten farther and farther away, which, unlike the dry mouth, the weight gain, or the tremors in her hands, was not reversible.

Call-Me-Anne had no idea about that. She kept trying to get Nell to see Marcus, unaware they could barely perceive each other anymore. Marcus didn't realize it either, not the way she did. Marcus thought that was reversible, too.

Pools of colour began to appear behind her heavy eyelids, strange colours that shifted and changed, green to gold, purple to red, blue to aqua, and somewhere between one colour and another was a hue she had never found anywhere else and never would.

Sight. Hearing. Smell. Taste. Touch. __________.


The word was a boulder trying to fit a space made for a pebble smoothed over the course of eons and a distance of lightyears into a precise and elegant thing.

Something can be a million lightyears away and in your eye at the same time.

Sight. Hearing. Smell. Taste. Touch. ___________.




She had a sudden image of herself running around the base of a pyramid, searching for a way to get to the top. While she watched, it was replaced by a new image, of herself running around an elephant and several blind men; she was still looking for a way to get to the top of the pyramid.

The image dissolved and she became aware of how heavy the overhead lights were on her closed eyes. Eye. She sighed; even if she did finally reach understanding -- or it reached her -- how would she ever be able to explain what blind men, an elephant, and a pyramid combined with Columbus's ships meant?

The musty smell of surrender broke in on her thoughts. It was very strong; Call-Me-Anne was still there. After a bit, she heard the sound of a wooden spoon banging on the bottom of a pot. Frustration, but not just any frustration: Marcus's.

She had never felt him so clearly without actually seeing him. Perhaps Call-Me-Anne's surrender worked as an amplifier.

The shifting colours resolved themselves into a new female voice. "…much do either of you know about the brain?"

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

"The Taste of Night" by Pat Cadigan (Part 2 of 3)

The Taste of Night
by Pat Cadigan

[Continued from
Part 1]

"Are you all right?"

The man bent over her, hands just above his knees. Most of his long hair was tied back except for a few long strands that hung forward in a way that suggested punctuation to Nell. Round face, round eyes with hard lines under them.

See. Hear. Smell. Taste. Touch. ________.

Hand over her right eye, she blinked up at him. He repeated the question and the words were little green balls falling from his mouth to bounce away into the night. Nell caught her lower lip between her teeth to keep herself from laughing. He reached down and pulled the hand over her eye to one side. Then he straightened up and pulled a cell phone out of his pocket. "I need an ambulance," he said to it.

She opened her mouth to protest but her voice wouldn't work. Another man was coming over, saying something in thin, tight silver wires.

And then it was all thin, tight silver wires everywhere. Some of the wires turned to needles and they seemed to fight each other for dominance. The pain in her eye flared more intensely and a voice from somewhere far in the past tried to ask a question without morphing into something else but it just wasn't loud enough for her to hear.

Nell rolled over onto her back. Something that was equal parts anxiety and anticipation shuddered through her. Music, she realized; very loud, played live, blaring out of the opening where the men were hanging around. Chords rattled her blood, pulled at her arms and legs. The pain flared again but so did the taste of night. She let herself fall into it. The sense of falling became the desire to sleep but just as she was about to give in, she would slip back to wakefulness, back and forth like a pendulum. Or like she was swooping from the peak of one giant wave, down into the trough and up to the peak of another.

Her right eye was forced open with a sound like a gunshot and bright light filled her mouth with the taste of icicles.

* * *

"Welcome back. Don't take this the wrong way but I'm very sorry to see you here."

Nell discovered only her left eye would open but one eye was enough. Ms Dunwoody, Call-Me-Anne, the social worker. Not the original social worker Marcus had sent after her. That had been Ms. Petersen, Call-Me-Joan, who had been replaced after a while by Mr. Carney, Call-Me-Dwayne. Nell had seen him only twice and the second time he had been one big white knuckle, as if he were holding something back -- tears? hysteria? Whatever it was leaked from him in twisted shapes of shifting colours that left bad tastes in her mouth. Looking away from him didn't help -- the tastes were there whether she saw the colours or not.

It was the best they could do for her, lacking as she was in that sense. At the time, she hadn't understood. All she had known was that the tastes turned her stomach and the colours gave her headaches. Eventually, she had thrown up on the social worker's shoes and he had fled without apology or even so much as a surprised curse, let alone a good-bye. Nell hadn't minded.

Ms. Dunwoody, Call-Me-Anne, was his replacement and she had managed to find Nell more quickly than she had expected. Ms. Dunwoody, Call-Me-Anne, had none of the same kind of tension in her but once in a while she exuded a musty, stale odor of resignation that was very close to total surrender.

Surrender. It took root in Nell's mind but she was slow to understand because she only associated it with Ms. Dunwoody, Call-Me-Anne's unspoken (even to herself) desire to give up. If she'd just had that missing sense, it would have been so obvious right away.

Of course, if she'd had that extra sense, she'd have understood the whole thing right away and everything would be different. Maybe not a whole lot easier, since she would still have had a hard time explaining sight to all the blind people, so to speak, but at least she wouldn't have been floundering around in confusion.

Monday, May 17, 2010

"The Taste of Night" by Pat Cadigan (Part 1 of 3)

I wanted to promote -- and celebrate -- the publication on June 1 of Is Anybody Out There? (Daw Books), my co-edited anthology with Nick Gevers, and what better way to do this than to share with readers some of the fiction contained therein! (By the way, have you read the first review of IAOT? that I posted on May 15?)

I first met
Pat Cadigan at my first ArmadilloCon in Austin, Texas, in 1988, and we've remained friends ever since. I recall writing to Pat prior to that convention, informing her that I was specifically reading some of her fiction ahead of time so that we could chat about it during the con. I was then, and always will be, a fan of her work.

And so, in its entirety (well, actually, in three parts, so check back every couple days) -- and with the kind permission of the author -- is the short story "The Taste of Night" by Pat Cadigan.

About this story Pat writes: "When it comes to the question of why we haven't heard from/seen any aliens, I'm partial to the explanation that we are constantly receiving communication from them but it's so alien, we don't recognize it for what it is. Maybe there's a lot of stuff that's been going right over our heads (pardon the expression, once you read the story) and for a very long time. I can't prove this theory but as far as I know, no one has disproved it, either. Makes for a good story, I think..."

The Taste of Night
by Pat Cadigan

The taste of night rather than the falling temperature woke her. Nell curled up a little more and continued to doze. It would be a while before the damp chill coming up from the ground could get through the layers of heavy cardboard to penetrate the sleeping bag and blanket cocooning her. She was fully dressed and her spare clothes were in the sleeping bag, too -- not much but enough to make good insulation. Sometime in the next twenty-four hours, though, she would have to visit a laundromat because phew.

Phew was one of those things that didn't change; well, not so far, anyway. She hoped it would stay that way. By contrast, the taste of night was one of her secret great pleasures although she still had no idea what it was supposed to mean. Now and then something almost came to her, almost. But when she reached for it either in her mind or by actually touching something, there was nothing at all.

Sight. Hearing. Smell. Taste. Touch. ________.

Memory sprang up in her mind with the feel of pale blue stretched long and tight between her hands.

The blind discover that their other senses, particularly hearing, intensify to compensate for the lack. The deaf can be sharp-eyed but also extra sensitive to vibration, which is what sound is to the rest of us.

However, those who lose their sense of smell find they have lost their sense of taste as well because the two are so close. To lose feeling is usually a symptom of a greater problem. A small number of people feel no pain but this puts them at risk for serious injury and life-threatening illnesses.

That doctor had been such a patient woman. Better yet, she had had no deep well of stored-up suspicion like every other doctor Marcus had taken her to. Nell had been able to examine what the doctor was telling her, touching it all over, feeling the texture. Even with Marcus's impatience splashing her like an incoming tide, she had been able to ask a question.

A sixth sense? Like telepathy or clairvoyance?

The doctor's question had been as honest as her own and Nell did her best to make herself clear.

If there were some kind of extra sense, even a person who had it would have a hard time explaining it. Like you or me trying to explain sight to someone born blind.

Nell had agreed and asked the doctor to consider how the other five senses might try to compensate for the lack.

That was where the memory ended, leaving an aftertaste similar to night, only colder and with a bit of sour.

* * *

Nell sighed, feeling comfortable and irrationally safe. Feeling safe was irrational if you slept rough. Go around feeling safe and you wouldn't last too long. It was just that the indented area she had found at the back of this building -- cinema? auditorium? -- turned out to be as cozy as it had looked. It seemed to have no purpose except as a place where someone could sleep unnoticed for a night or two. More than two would have been pushing it, but that meant nothing to some rough sleepers. They'd camp in a place like this till they wore off all the hidden. Then they'd get seen and kicked out. Next thing you knew, the spot would be fenced off or filled in so no one could ever use it again. One less place to go when there was nowhere to stay.

Nell hated loss, hated the taste: dried-out bitter crossed with salty that could hang on for days, weeks, even longer. Worse, it could come back without warning and for no reason except that, perhaps like rough sleepers, it had nowhere else to go. There were other things that tasted just as bad to her but nothing worse, and nothing that lingered for anywhere nearly as long, not even the moldy-metal tang of disappointment.

* * *

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Is Anybody Out There? -- First Review

From the April 25 edition of the UK's Sunday Times Online: "The aliens are out there and Earth had better watch out" -- or so says Stephen Hawking, a British theoretical physicist, who, in 2009, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States. More from the Times: "[Hawking] has suggested that extraterrestrials are almost certain to exist -- but that instead of seeking them out, humanity should be doing all that it can to avoid any contact." These "suggestions" are from Stephen Hawking's Universe, his new documentary series on the Discovery Channel, which began its broadcast run earlier this month. Hawking goes on to say that making contact with extraterrestrials is "a little too risky. If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans."

So, whereas we're all hoping that our first contact with alien races goes something like E. T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Hawking portends a scenario that is more on the order of Independence Day. As he says elsewhere in this Times article: "We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet. I imagine they might exist in massive ships, having used up all the resources from their home planet. Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonise whatever planets they can reach."

Sort of gives you those warm fuzzies all over, don't it? But, until such time as we actually experience (if ever) that first contact with an alien life form, we can only use the tools available to us to extrapolate (or, best case, guess) as to what that encounter may be like.

Which brings me to the fifteen stories -- from seventeen authors -- included in my forthcoming anthology Is Anybody Out There? (co-edited with Nick Gevers) from Daw Books. The official publication date is June 1, but I hope to have copies available at BayCon, to be held Memorial Day Weekend. And please excuse this shameless self-promotion: If you click on the Is Anybody Out There? book icon on the left, you will be painlessly transported to the realm of, where you may purchase a copy of said book, if you so choose. [End shameless self-promotion.]

In 1950, Enrico Fermi postulated a contradiction (aka paradox): If there are uncountable galaxies within our universe, each containing uncountable planets, and some percentage of those planets are habitable (by our human definition of "habitable"), then why is there no evidence -- at least none that we have found and understood so far -- of alien civilizations? And it is those eleven words that I have set off by em-dashes and placed in italics that are the key to this paradox. The evidence may be out there, but our scientists and researchers simply do not understand it1. The stories in this anthology attempt to answer the Fermi Paradox. Some of these stories utilize current science; others bend and twist that science; and more than one story is pure SWAG2.

In previous blog posts I have waxed poetic on the
genesis of this anthology; on the contents of this anthology; and on the cover and back cover text. And in this blog post I would like to take this opportunity to share with you the first review of Is Anybody Out There?

The review -- by the inestimable
Gardner Dozois -- appears in the May 2010 issue of Locus Magazine. Just on the extremely rare chance that you are not familiar with Mr. Dozois, let me quote a few lines from his entry in Wikipedia: " known as an editor, winning a record 15 Hugo Awards for Best Professional Editor (having won nearly every year between 1988 and his retirement from Asimov's in 2004)....[and] the editor of the anthology series The Year's Best Science Fiction, published annually since 1984."

Sunday, May 2, 2010

April Links & Things

I attempted to watch the live streaming video of the launch of the Air Force's "mystery" unmanned X-37B space plane on Thursday, April 22, on the United Launch Alliance website, but that was a bust: the site initially loaded, but then there was only audio, no video, and when I tried to refresh the browser, the site crashed -- numerous times. Earlier in the month I found a link on tips for proofing one's writing, but the blog post itself had a number of errors, and I disagreed with some of the content. Maybe I've just become more jaded.... Anyhow, this month's Links & Things entries seem to favor numbers -- 4 Danger Signs, 5 Things and yet another 5 Things, 5 Ways, 10 Easy Steps, 10 Ways, and 10 Questions.

Here are my links and such for the month of April. I've listed them here, with additional detail and comment (though no rants this time). You can receive these links in real time by following me on Twitter: @martyhalpern.

  • In my first post this year -- December's Links and Things -- I wrote at length about the border incident in which author Peter Watts was involved. If you are unfamiliar with this particular situation, I strongly urge you to access the link and read up on this. Included in that blog post is a link to a free download of Peter's Hugo Award-nominated novel Blindsight; and links, too, to donate to his cause. Well, Peter has gone to trial, and the case has been resolved; of course, Peter was found guilty but in the infinite wisdom of the judge, Peter was fined, but with NO jail time. Sadly, he still bears a felony conviction and therefore will never be allowed to legally enter the United States. On, Madeline Ashby has posted a lovely, heartfelt account -- "Sometimes, we win" -- of Peter's sentencing; and David Nickle, on his own blog -- appropriately titled The Devil's Exercise Yard -- goes into a bit more detail of the actual sentencing. Between the two blog posts, there are more than 95 Comments. I'm saddened that I won't get to see Peter at another ReaderCon in Boston, that, in fact, he will never be able to visit the United States again; but hopefully he can now get back to living his own life.

  • The Mad Hatter's Bookshelf & Book Review (@MadHatterReview) has a guest post by author Mark Teppo (@MarkTeppo) entitled "On the Spectacle of Magic." Those who read my blog regularly know that I edited Mark's first two titles -- Lightbreaker and Heartland (Night Shade Books, 2009 and 2010 respectively) -- in his Codex of Souls series, which I wrote about extensively here. In this guest post, Mark writes: "We've spent too many years in front row seats, rapt and wide-eyed, at the Joel Silver and Jerry Bruckheimer Theater of Explosive Spectacle. Our entertainment must be thrown up on thirty-foot-tall screens, blasted at us through a bowel-liquefying, discretely separated speaker stack, and filled with the dizzying hyperkineticism of rats on meth. Our sense of wonder is so moribund that it must first be shocked and pummeled back to life before it can be suspended. It's the First Rule of Modern Adventure Entertainment: shit must blow up." If that diatribe from Mark intrigues you, you'll want to read the entire blog post.

  • This past month, the Large Hadron Collider went back online, and lists "5 Things You Didn't Know" about the LHC: a "$10 billion tunnel that runs for 17 circular miles deep underneath the Franco-Swiss border.... that will accelerate two beams of protons in opposite directions, then smash them into each other in the hopes that the results will give [the scientists] a glimpse of the universe less than a billionth of one second after the Big Bang." And those 5 things you didn't know? 1. The LHC is kept colder than outer space; 2. The LHC may be trying to sabotage itself; 3. The LHC could win Stephen Hawking his Nobel Prize; 4. The LHC contained the hottest spot in the solar system; 5. The LHC relies on Einstein's famous equation. For the details behind each of those points, check the link above.

  • According to, Publishers Weekly magazine has been purchased by a newly formed company, PWxyz, LLC, headed by one-time former PW publisher George Slowik. The acquisition includes the website as well as PW Show Daily. "The new company will retain all of PW's editorial, art, and advertising employees and the magazine will remain headquartered in New York City." (via's GalleyCat)

    In a related New York Times article: "In an interview, Mr. Slowik said he planned to digitize Publishers Weekly's archives, combine its print and digital databases to get a more unified view of its readers.... He also plans to use Google's translation tool to begin creating international editions, with humans finessing the machine-translated text." (via @calreid)