Category Archives: Science fiction

Friday Fictioneers: Dreams Come True

Another interesting photo from Madison Woods to inspire us with ideas for more supershort fiction. This time I’m being just a little futuristic and science fictiony…

Dreams Come True

I always wanted to fly. So when I heard about BodyMod I signed up right away, and guess what, I qualified!

It took a long time, but I was ready for that. Surgery, prosthetics, genetic tweaking – you need a real fast metabolism to power those new wing muscles. And after that, months and months of physical therapy to learn to walk with your new off-balance body, and the special workouts where Grounders try their best to train you to move your wings.

The coolest part, though, was the vision mods. Somebody thought we should soar on updrafts, so they spliced in genes that let us see the new infrared colors. I’ll never forget the first time I saw air columns in glowing shades of mell, blending with cooler freng at the sides and tops. Even right after the surgeries when everything hurt, I was so happy all through the prep months. And now, here I am, cleared for takeoff, on a perfect day for flying.

And I’m scared to leave the ground.
* * *

As usual, I’d love to hear your opinion!

Friday Fictioneers – Outpost

This week, I’m afraid I ended up with 188 words. I just couldn’t cut enough to reach 100 words without removing too much information for the background situation to make sense. Well, failed experiments provide data too – in this case, that complex backstories take longer to explain. Who’d’a thunk it?

Feedback would be appreciated! Here’s the current Friday Fictioneers photo:

Outpost

I look out at Mars. Cold, dry, barren. Milewski climbs up into Observation from Mainstation underground. “Any tumbleweeds today?”

“I’m on duty, Milewski.”

“Okay. Whatever.” Milewski doesn’t understand discipline. “Man, I’m sick of being cooped up. I say we trash the experiment.”

“There’s no provision for a retrieval mission yet.”

“Retrieval mission? From where?”

“Mars, of course.”

“Jim, you’ve cracked. That’s Arizona out there. Earth. All we have to do is open the door and walk out. Sure, it aborts the self-contained environment, but failure’s an experimental result too. You don’t really think we’re on Mars, do you?” She crosses to the door. I have to stop her.

“Milewski, look!” I hold the protocols shoulder-high, release. “Would earth gravity let things fall that slow?”

“It’s paper, Jim. Air resistance.” She’s at the air lock, entering codes. She’s opening the door.

“If you’re suicidal, at least spare the rest of us!” She shakes her head sadly, but seals the inner door. Sirens. She’s out in the killing oxygen-free cold.

It’s been two days. I keep hallucinating that Milewski and a bunch of cops are outside the viewport, grinning and beckoning.

* * *

(My story for today was inspired by experiments in self-sustaining closed ecologies like Biosphere-2.)

What’s human? What’s not?

Review: Lilith’s Brood by Octavia E. Butler

A keeper? I have to think about that some more.

For the first two parts, this was one of those books I wanted to read fast to find out what happens, and also wanted to read slow so I could think about the ideas. The last part – well, let’s set the stage before we talk about the last part. (Note: Lilith’s Brood is really a trilogy – Dawn, Adulthood Rites, and Imago – republished as a single book.)

If it weren’t for the Oankali, human beings would be extinct a few centuries before the beginning of this story.

Who are the Oankali? That’s what Lilith Iyapo wants to know as the saga begins. Somebody has shut her up in a very strange doorless room; somebody she never sees or hears. Her last memories are of hiking in the Andes, trying to forget her dead husband and son, when the final nuclear war broke out. She should be dead; she seems to be alive.

Eventually, an Oankali joins Lilith in her room. She’s horrified. He’s hideous, with no eyes and little tentacles all over his head. But she adjusts. She’s more or less adopted by his family and turned over to his ooloi child Nikanj to learn about the Oankali and what has happened to people. (The ooloi are the third sex among the Oankali. As the story goes on, we learn just how important they are, in a self-effacing way.) It seems that the humans who could be rescued have been healed (the Oankali are master genetic manipulators) and, mostly, kept sedated until the earth had been coaxed into supporting life again.

Much, much more happens. (Lilith’s Brood is almost 750 pages long.) The Oankali give Lilith the job of training groups of humans to recolonize earth (with Oankali partners, whether the humans like it or not). Fastforward – oh, maybe a century – and many humans, including Lilith, are back on earth. A large fraction of the humans – the Resisters – refuse to have anything to do with the Oankali, and have been made sterile. And the Resisters’ despair at being the last of their kind leads to all sorts of problems, including kidnapping young hybrids. Hybrids?

The fertile humans are the ones who have joined Oankali families to produce human-Oankali hybrid children, each with five parents – two humans and three Oankali. We follow one of Lilith’s part-Oankali sons as he grows up, develops ties to some Resisters, and fights to talk the Oankali into terraforming Mars for the Resisters. His dream is to let Mars become an independent human world where they will be allowed pure-human children. (Why not give the Resisters earth? Because, in time, the Oankali and their humans will use most of the planet as raw material for several starships and go seeking new life and new civilizations to assimilate. There won’t be enough left of earth to make a decent moon.)

So far, we have an exciting story with some meaty science fiction ideas – what does it mean to be human? Who is human? Is homo sapiens genetically doomed? (The Oankali certainly think so.) How far can you go in exploring and accepting another culture (or species) without betraying your own people?

Then comes the third section. Another century or thereabouts has passed, and another of Lilith’s children is growing up (the other parents are Tino, a human man, the male Oankali Dichaan, the female Oankali Ahajas, and the ooloi Nikanj – the same Nikanj Lilith has known since it was a child). The hybrids don’t know what sex they will be until they’re twenty or thirty years old – but everyone is surprised when this child, Jodahs, realizes it’s becoming an ooloi.

As Jodahs matures and tells its story, we realize just how powerful the ooloi really are. In human-Oankali families, it’s the ooloi who selects what genes will go into the next embryo, from which parents. They manipulate genes to change the bodies of full-grown adults – always for good, we’re told. They inject biochemical tranquilizers to soothe anyone who objects to what they are doing.

In effect, both the humans and the male and female Oankali have been domesticated, like dogs or cows, by their ooloi. And the ooloi can’t stop. Their own biochemical urges force them to tinker with everybody around them. I suppose I’ve read too much history; I can’t swallow this level of control as Officially Good, no matter what the manipulators believe they’re doing. With this last section in which we hear Jodahs’ story, Lilith’s Brood changed from thought-provoking science fiction to quiet horror.

52 books / 52 weeks – The Nowhere Hunt

Review – The Nowhere Hunt, Jo Clayton

A keeper? Ugh, no

And it started so well.

This week’s project for 52 Books in 52 Weeks was The Nowhere Hunt (Book Six of the Diadem), by Jo Clayton – a prolific science fiction author back in the eighties and nineties.

But Back In The Day, I loved her Skeen Trilogy – Skeen’s Leap; Skeen’s Return; and, to a lesser degree, Skeen’s Search – the adventures of an interstellar adventurer who gets herself stranded on a strange world which may not be exactly in our universe. So I bought a lot of other Claytons, including this one, and I’m finally reading it.

As I say, it begins well. A dying intelligent insect makes a pathetic plea for help, and Aleytys – the series’ heroine – agrees to take on a complex rescue mission. We’re solidly enmeshed in the tropes of habitual interstellar travel, multiple intelligent species interacting, and competent, daring women, all of which I enjoy.

Then suddenly we’re in a confusing story about primitive people who don’t seem to be exactly human on a hallucinogenic world, seen through the bloodthirsty eyes of their young oracle Roha. Eventually Aleytys turns up on the same planet and things become more understandable, but by that time I no longer cared. Roha’s tribe harasses mysterious demons from Outside, getting many of their brave warriors killed by “demons” in the process. Aleytys is captured by a bloodthirsty criminal and endures a forced march to the insects’ wrecked starship, getting many of the subordinate criminals killed by Roha’s tribe on the way. The insects endure a forced march back to base . . .and so on.

It was all very boring.

Why? I think the split focus was a major problem; I never understood the Primitive Natives well enough to empathize with their goals, and they kept pulling my attention away from Aleytys and her goals. Maybe Clayton was still learning her way back in 1981.

Never mind inventing FTL

What I want is a Tardis.

Whaddaya mean, you never heard of a Tardis? Go watch some Doctor Who, okay? Oh, it’s not shown in your area? All right, quick explanation. Doctor Who is an insanely long-lived British television series focusing on the adventures of the Doctor, an impressively humanoid alien being – he looks just like a British actor! – who travels through time and space in an old-fashioned British police box called the Tardis. (When the series started, these police boxes were an ordinary part of London scenery, I’m told.)

Now, I don’t insist on a fancy working model of a Tardis. I’ll accept a second hand, slightly defective model that doesn’t travel anywhere. Because the Tardis has a special feature that makes it the finest spaceship design ever, even when out of warranty and nonmobile.

It’s bigger inside than outside.

You want one too now, don’t you? Just imagine having all the storage space you could ever want, and then taking a second look inside the coat closet and realizing that there’s a seventy-three bedroom mansion inside. And inside that, Yellowstone Park. And inside that, the Great Wall of China and all the pyramids of Egypt. And inside that…..

Oh, I want one. I’ll even let you use part of it – you can have the linen closet. And all the infinite space it contains. Okay?

BTW – If you read this far with no idea of what FTL means –

  1. Congratulations, you are admirably persistent!

  2. FTL is an abbreviation for “faster than light”, as in the ability of spaceships in science fiction stories – think Star Trek or Star Wars – to travel from one star to another in a matter of a few days or weeks instead of a few years or centuries.

    Unfortunately, physicists agree that we can’t do that. 186,000 miles a second; it’s not just a good idea, it’s the law.

Come to think of it – if you can have infinite space parked next to your house, what do you need FTL for?

Oh yeah. Traveling faster than anything really can might come in handy when you’re trying to get out of the Tardis again, right?