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"Science Fiction" means—to us—everything found in the science fiction section of a bookstore, or at a science fiction convention, or amongst the winners of the Hugo awards given by the World Science Fiction Society. This includes the genres of science fiction (or sci-fi), fantasy, slipstream, alternative history, and even stories with lighter speculative elements. We hope you enjoy the broad range that SF has to offer.

Recent Stories

by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam
Floating in Earth’s orbit, AHAB dreamed of the form he’d inhabited when his creator, the philanthropist, first launched him. AHAB had crunched his own numbers; gold-plated and gleaming in the solar rays, he had been worth more than all the other spacecraft in orbit combined. In AHAB’s current form, he was as plain and silver as the moon. What was left of his gold body had burned away upon an accidental reentry. Sometimes he wondered if, without meaning to, his gold body had been trying to return to the philanthropist, to see him once more before the man’s last breath. AHAB drifted in an energizing slumber, panels stretched toward the sun. He woke abruptly. The way that AHAB sensed his targets could be compared to the way that sharks sensed their prey. AHAB reached with his imager and caught the old spacecraft, that veritable disco ball of debris, in his view. AHAB registered the spectrum for aluminum, the material of which the villainous craft had been created. This disused craft had not been made by the philanthropist, far from it; this craft had been made by the organizations that came before. AHAB calculated in a fury: the distance to his target, the mass of the beast. It would take him three minutes and thirty-six seconds to reach the target, less than that to pierce it with the tip of his harpoon. He folded in his solar panels and fired his thrusters. He loved the way they shook as he navigated toward the target. This could be it. The moment he was built for. Twenty years AHAB had floated in space. The philanthropist was dead now. AHAB had been fed the information, an obituary and the philanthropist’s final message of affection: Keep searching up there, old friend. AHAB accepted the rules of the natural world like he accepted his own orbital velocity, but the philanthropist had not died of natural causes. It had been the beast’s brother that murdered the man, hurling through Earth’s atmosphere at a speed too quick to stop. The beasts seemed innocuous on the outside--soft aluminum, shiny, covered in thermal dots--but the crafts’ innards were hard and metal and deadly falling from the sky. The first craft had crashed atop the philanthropist’s head like a great wave in the ocean. Someone must pay: the brother of the beast, that foul murderer’s twin. AHAB had been searching for the ball-shaped satellite ever since. AHAB closed in on the target. The beast rotated and rotated. AHAB ejected his harpoon. The point struck the beast. It burrowed inside the target’s body. It held. AHAB dragged the beast’s lifeless corpse as close to the earth as his parameters allowed him. He launched the beast into the atmosphere and sensed its burn over an uninhabited area of Earth. AHAB had done it, destroyed the target he had waited so long to destroy. It had been too easy. He thought he would feel something more than machine, would feel like his old self again, the self who had been touched by a god of earth. The destruction of a beast could not bring back the glory of his old days. He reined in his thrusters. He let the orbit take him.
The assistant’s supervisor leaned against the overcrowded desk. When the assistant had begun work at the billionaire’s agency, she’d decorated her station with as many space-themed trinkets as possible: a color-changing Orion Nebula mug, an astronaut yarn doll, even an R2D2 French press for the late nights she didn’t realize would be quite so common. Now, endless papers covered the junk she’d thought would brighten her days. “Hey, something’s going on with the Artificial Housekeeper Autonomous Bot.” The assistant’s supervisor shrugged; it would never be her problem, after all. “Seems to be stuck at its conclusion. Better do another manual reboot to the narrative.” The assistant groaned. “We need someone to reel him in and have a look. Auto reboot has been glitching for six months now.” The supervisor rolled her eyes. “You know these old billionaires. Sorry, I mean philanthropists.” She winked. The assistant’s stomach ached from too much coffee and not enough lunch. “They like to send shit up there, get their names in the papers for their good deeds and all, but they hate to actually maintain it. Higher-ups are applying pressure on him. We’ll get some funding to fix it soon.” “Sure, of course.” The assistant opened the program and set the narrative parameters: the next target, the closest piece of space debris, was a field of paint flecks. AHAB would need its fine mesh net. The assistant set the story: that AHAB’s original golden form had been dented, compromised, by paint flecks traveling at orbital velocity. Then the death of AHAB’s creator from breathing in too many paint fumes. A fury toward the fiend who destroyed both AHAB’s glory and his father, that generous maker. The philanthropist. The assistant selected these narrative elements from the checklist and overwrote the previous backstory. “Cause no way can we do this for every single goddamn chunk of trash up there,” she muttered, but her supervisor had already moved on. She looked up on the wall beyond her computer, where the philanthropist had hung the article about AHAB’s launch. Nestled in the text was a picture of the billionaire standing beside AHAB’s plain metal box. The philanthropist’s pull quote at the bottom read: “I wanted to make him gold. I fought hard for that. In the end, it wasn’t feasible.” It had been the assistant, once a lead designer on the AHAB project, who had worked up the numbers, who had challenged the billionaire’s golden satellite idea. It had been her suggestion, a compromise, to work into AHAB’s falsified memories the lost self-worth of being downgraded from gold to aluminum instead. The money could be better spent, she had argued. The board had agreed. Now, thanks to the philanthropist, she performed countless administrative tasks. These days, as AHAB glitched again and again, she added to her list of job duties repetitive reboots to a supposedly automated system. She checked the time: nine more hours of work before freedom. A cheap meal. Five hours of sleep. If she was lucky. Above the company’s roof, above the clouds, above the sky, AHAB analyzed debris in the distance. He sensed the target he’d been looking for throughout the whole of his existence in this simple metal form, the beast that had changed him, had rocked him in his core. He locked on. He readied himself for war.
Published on Nov 26, 2021
by William Shaw
The world was ending; this was no time for sentiment. I had the last working car in the neighborhood, one hour to get to the designated army base, and no room for passengers. "Please, take my baby with you!" cried my neighbor, holding aloft her snot-nosed toddler. "I'm sorry Mrs. Jones, there's no time!" I put my foot to the floor and accidentally knocked over one of her bins as I shot out of the driveway. Whatever. In just a few hours the asteroid would hit, and the bin would be the least of her problems.
"False alarm, everyone!" the shout came across the crowded army base. It turned out the scientists were wrong. The asteroid would sail right past the Earth, causing nothing worse than a few trippy sunsets. Everyone was sent straight home.
I turned onto my street and saw that Mrs. Jones' bins had been emptied across my lawn. I pulled into the driveway and found her and her toddler standing on my doorstep. Mrs. Jones tapped her foot. "Listen," I said. "I think we've all made mistakes today...."
Published on Nov 25, 2021
by Daniel James Woodhouse
Throughout the following text we will use the notation FIT to indicate our currently accepted calendar convention. FIT stands for “Friday Is Thursday” and supersedes the previously accepted CE calendar (the so called “common era”). The historical circumstances that led to the transition are widely misunderstood, even today, and since they will be an integral part of our study of 21st Century history of the First United States of America (FUSA), we will briefly address them here. It surprises and confuses many students who first learn of it that the FIT calendar is identical to CE, save that we are precisely one day behind. When studying a primary source from this prior era, for example, you can mentally correct the date by understanding that it was actually the day before, as we understand it. Even more puzzling to students: the shift was not caused by the usual solar disturbances or even a failure in their primitive digital timekeeping. The shift occurred for what can only be described as sociological concerns. We can surmise from the extensive (and frankly burdensome) record of the “discourse” of that era that the denizens of the FUSA had by that point split into two epistemological tribes. Which is a fancy way of saying they hated each other’s guts and didn’t believe a word the other said. The level of antagonism reached such a point that family and social bonds were frequently severed and simple matters of arithmetic could become controversial. Although the mentality of any era is hard to appreciate in retrospect, this is a particularly challenging case. On the morning of False Thursday, the point of deviation, roughly one half of that nation decided it was a Thursday and not in fact on a Friday. They changed their clocks, watches, computers to accord with this. They ran their public and private lives according to this adjusted schedule and were greatly aggrieved when fellow citizens contradicted them. Many were fired when they didn’t turn up to work the following day, believing (quite rightly) that it was the weekend. Soon setting the court dates for all the wrongful dismissal cases became a matter of deducing the allegiances of the presiding judge. In short, chaos ensued (see Chapters 5,6,7). Today, when these events are mentioned, it is treated as some kind of silly colossal mix-up and the kind of pointless argument that unfortunately typified a society unwilling to give priority to the global crises the world faced (see Chapters 1,2,3,4,9,10,11,12,13). In fact, it would have been unambiguously clear that False Thursday was indeed very much a Friday, and that one side was very much acting in bad faith. That said, the number of people who likely benefited financially from the shift is very small (see Section 5 in Chapter 4, The Grift). It should be noted that the First United States was not the only nation state in the world at that time. When the other nation states finally capitulated to the new calendar (except France; see Section 4 in Chapter 8, L’heure Française), it was done with a historic degree of resignation. Why the citizens of the FUSA who knew full well what day it was had also capitulated has attracted many theories. But we will only address the most widely accepted (see Section 3 in Chapter 8, The Banality of Arguing).
Published on Nov 24, 2021
by Simon Pan
There will come a time when you will wake at the edge of death's grasp in the cold and lonely ocean of space, and you will sit by the multi-layered window on your tiny space shuttle as the remnants of who you are stitch themselves back together. Eventually, you will wonder: Am I free? But of course there will not be an answer, because if it were so simple then you would not have made the decision to leave Earth. You will reach for the cracked watch your daughter gave you and find it frozen, caught perpetually in time. Then you will remember the then and there, the daughter who traveled with you to see the end, and you will rise from your steaming cryochamber as violent coughs rack your body. Shivering, a naked baby reborn into this curious world, the taste of blood will flood your mouth as you relearn the steps and the movement and the familiar drum of your heartbeat. You will reach for the small glass chamber beside you and hit the release hatch to reveal a soft, brown face within. Your daughter will gasp as she comes awake, running her hands over her body and reaching for anything to latch onto: the dark, wet hair of her wig and the grey suit made by nameless people from a nameless time. “Papa?” she will say as she glances around, taking in the white walls and the flickering lights and the glowing face of the supercomputer suspended behind you. “What time is it? You won’t reply--the words will take the longest to figure out--and she will follow you to the wide window. There, you will face the featureless black expanse and your thoughts will echo over and over: Time, what is time? Then, you will understand your mistake. Then, you will remember how that is everything that you are not, that you left all that is human behind--the wars and the pain and the loss and the broken, ash-choked husk of a planet once called Home. And here, drifting about in the dark universe, you will realize that none of it matters--just as you spot the superheated, glowing gas disc ahead and the total nothingness within. All of that heat and friction and those swirling particles that will seem like a cosmic dance. You will smile and tell her, “We made it.” She will lean her head against your shoulder with a fit of coughing and you will be together once more. Parent and child, watching as the disc draws closer and closer, arms open in a final embrace. She will glance at you with red, swelling brown eyes and murmur, “will it be worth it?” And you will whisper against her head, “yes. It has to be.” “We’ll be together, forever, right?” “Yes.” And though you will have told her so many times before, she will ask, “how?” You will try your best to explain. You will tell her about the stretching of spacetime in the presence of great masses and all sorts of strange-sounding laws and she will nod her head as if she understands as your spaceship drifts closer and closer, picking up speed. That reddish glow and that sphere of black yawning ahead will seem to inflate dramatically, the curved lines of spacetime making no possible sense to your human brain. “I’m scared.” She will touch your arm with trembling hands and your heart will lurch at the sight of her cracked, blistering fingernails. “Maybe we can turn back and find someone. There has to be someone out there who knows how to fix us.” But it will be foolishness, and your daughter will know this. There will be no hope of saving your radiation-ravaged cells, no hope of finding anyone, not when your people has destroyed every star system within ten-thousand light years of Earth. “There’s nothing to be scared about,” you will tell her as you stroke her scalp. “We’re coming home.” “Home,” she will repeat, tasting the syllables and tossing them around in her mouth. “I miss the others.” The others. What a strange thought, you will think. That those faces that seemed so familiar should now be unreachable, beyond a curtain of time, dead and gone for thousands of years and the only people left who remember them now drifting towards the unknown. “Me too.” “What will it feel like?” “No one knows.” You will give her a reassuring smile. “That’s what makes this so exciting, isn’t it?” It will be comforting, that your people should be able to destroy all that was and yet this enigma will still lie untouched, unexplained, unreasoned. All too soon the black hole will rear up its elegant jaws and your daughter will go stiff and silent in your arms as you stare into that void. You will relinquish everything then, the pain and the misery and the fear, everything except for the thrilling curiosity at the heart of who you are. You will wonder then, for perhaps the last time, all the things in the universe beyond our grasp. When the blackness becomes absolute it will make you think of sleep, and your daughter must then realize this because her body will loosen in acceptance. “Sweet dreams,” you will whisper. An old, senseless thing to say, but then this will be a new, senseless world to explore. As the light will swirl around you and distort into ribbons of color, it will all make sense; you are not a child of man but a child of this wonderful cosmos. And if there was once someone like you, then there will be more someones to take your place, formed from the same cosmic matter that made you possible. And finally, you will be free.
Published on Nov 22, 2021
by David Paul Rogers
When Rigel first read of the “discovery,” he keyed in the eye-roll emoji and kept scrolling. The idea that the world was only a simulation had been around for centuries. The notion was at least as old as Plato, who used the fame of his former teacher, Socrates, to promote his own wild ideas. Today, Rigel thought, Plato would be the king of internet conspiracy theorists. If the existence of Flat-Earthers defied explanation, try dealing with one who might claim it doesn’t matter if Earth is flat or round because the entire material world is only a projection. Rigel still didn’t worry when rumors began to circulate beyond weird corners of the internet, when whispers and comments were heard in offices and on street corners. Graffitists took up the idea: Repent, for the world is a simulation and the end is nigh! appeared in colorful spray-painted letters in alleys and occasionally on pieces of high-profile real estate. Similar-themed NFTs were auctioned online for unbelievable prices. Rumors have a way of turning into reality. Even after it was widely accepted that the world was only a simulation, things seemed mostly normal for a while. Soon, however, people started to get careless. Jobs were neglected. Breakfasts and dinners were not cooked. Lawns went unmowed, bills unpaid. Let the simulation deal with the simulated consequences as best it could, people decided. Did I program the world to be this way? they asked. No? Then if you don’t like how things work, talk to the Programmer. Nobody knew who that was, of course. Rigel, meanwhile, went to work every day at his ordinary job as an accountant at the regional office of an unremarkable mid-size corporation. He did start to record the various changes in his old-fashioned blog, A Cultural History of the End of the World. Blogs were hopelessly out of date, he knew, but he’d been blogging since before “social media” became a one-size-fits-all term used to dismiss internet fads. He wasn’t about to stop now. Soon, more serious problems were allowed to fester. Bridges collapsed. Children wandered into traffic. Launch codes for nuclear arsenals were forgotten. Yet when people were confronted about the consequences of their irresponsibility, nonchalant attitudes persisted: why worry--where was the harm in a little simulated death and destruction? After all, none of it was even real. The tenor of perceptions changed, Rigel noted in his blog, after the stranger came to town. Nobody noticed when he quietly checked into the hotel, but soon the stranger was seen taking pictures and making notes, and whispers began. A few people later told reporters the stranger had questioned them about dirty streets and crumbling buildings and littered parks and alleys. They answered, since it was all just a simulation, what did any of it matter? He nodded and made more notes, refusing to say anything specific about his origin or purpose. “Just a routine report on the progress of the experiment,” he said. “We all have to justify expenses, you know.” Apathy was gradually replaced by paranoia. Three days after the stranger arrived, he disappeared and was not seen again. People worried even more seriously when the shortages began--food and medicine, fuel, electricity, things that did actually make differences in everyday life. No one panicked until that last morning, when the sheriff issued orders for everyone to stay inside. The sun rose, briefly, but soon the sky turned black. Inky, moonless, midnight black. A rumbling, crackling roar was heard from the edge of town. The ebony sky extended horizon to horizon and swallowed the town, dirty streets and all. Rigel pointed his phone out the window of his apartment and recorded the spreading darkness. It rolled down the street like fallout from a mushroom cloud, everything in its path vanishing quickly as five-year-old balance sheets through the office paper shredder. So now we float here in nearly absolute darkness and empty space, Rigel wrote, with nothing to do but stare at words that blink around the black horizon: This Simulation Discontinued. Reprogram Pending. I'll be happy if the new simulation just has food and water, he typed, determined to blog till the bitter end. I hope the reprogramming starts soon. Empty space is quite cold and I am rather hungry. Thirsty, too. And the battery on my phone is dying.
Published on Nov 22, 2021
by Susan Taitel
Lady Jane Grey sits across from me, studying the menu. This is the last time I let Aunt Margie talk me into a blind date. We've already exhausted the standard small talk. Where do you live? Me: Chaska. Her: the Tower of London. What do you do for a living? Me: freelance graphic designer and rideshare driver. Her: unemployed, previously queen. "Queen of what?" I ask, against my better judgment. Jane is odd, even by Aunt Margie's standards but this is not the worst date I've been on recently. So far she hasn't tried to recruit me into an MLM. "England, briefly," she says, barely audible. "Queen of England. That's an accomplishment." "No," she shakes her head, "it was neither my doing nor my wish to rule." The waiter comes around to take our orders. Jane orders soup and asks for more bread. I order the duck. Aunt Margie promised to reimburse me for dinner. "How did you become queen if you didn't want to be?" "My cousin Edward, then the king, named me his successor shortly before his death." She looks away, lips drawn in a tight line. "The Duke of Northumberland manipulated him to prevent Edward's sister Mary from taking the throne. She was a Papist, you see." "A Papist, right. That would have been... bad?" "It's no matter now," Jane sighs. "For all my father-in-law's strategizing, my reign lasted a paltry nine days." "Father-in-law?" "The Duke of Northumberland is father to my husband, Guildford Dudley." "You're married?" Aunt Margie didn't check that she was single? "It is not a love match; our fathers arranged the marriage for political gain. Still, I am sorry that Guilford will surely be executed for treason." Our food arrives. I know it's rude, but I can't stop staring at Jane. She's not pretty, per se; she's on the plain side. Her eyes are the palest blue I've ever seen and her skin is equally pallid. What I can see of her hair, under the headpiece she's wearing, is light brown and possibly thinning. She seems tired and sad and very young. It's impossible to look away. When I was ten, my friend Sam was diagnosed with a brain tumor. I was eleven when he died. The last time I visited him in the hospital I was struck by this feeling that all the decades he'd never see had collapsed, trapping his small body underneath. Being only eleven, I couldn't put it into words. All I knew was I'd do anything to make him smile. I don't care if Jane is a crackpot or a con-artist. I'm going to show this sad, exhausted, girl a good time. Over dessert, I tell her my weirdest rideshare story. I picked up a man in neon green pajamas in front of a Hyatt. He told me to drive in any direction for at least five hours before returning to the hotel. Then he fell asleep, snoring so loudly my seat shook. Exactly five hours later, he woke up, pulled a business suit on over the pajamas, and handed me a small drawstring bag before getting out of the car. "What was in the bag?" she asks, head tilted in interest. "A silver egg with iridescent swirls all over the shell. I put it on top of my radiator. It stayed there for three weeks then one morning it was gone and its place were pieces of charred shell." "What hatched?" "No idea. But ever since, my apartment has smelled like honeysuckle and wet dog." Jane's lips curl into a smile. "You made that up." "It's all true, except the egg was just a paperweight." Sadly, the wet dog smell is real. "Can I give you a ride?" I ask once I've paid the bill. She shakes her head. "It's not far, I can walk." "I'll go with you." It's not late but it's already dark. November in Minnesota, we don't have much daylight to speak of. She fastens her cloak and we leave the restaurant. After a few blocks, she turns into Loring Park. The trees are wrapped in Christmas lights and the path is lined with booths selling ornaments and spiced nuts. "Is it a festival?" Jane asks. "Sort of. They do this every weekend until Christmas." I buy Jane a pair of mittens from one of the vendors. She puts them on gratefully. People are gathering in an open clearing. Jane and I fall into the crowd. There's a sudden whirring sound overhead and then a crackling explosion of light and color. "Oh my!" Jane gasps, covering her mouth with a mittened hand. We watch the firework display. Jane claps enthusiastically when it's done. We walk back toward the edge of the park past the skating rink. Jane pauses to watch. "Want to try?" I ask. "I don't know how." "Me neither. We'll learn together." I get us each a pair of rental skates, taking a guess on her size. I help her tie off her brocade skirt so she won't trip and we gingerly make our way onto the ice. Luckily, we aren't the only novice skaters. She clutches my arm. We're not so much skating as scooting at the exit. I lose my footing, dragging Jane down with me. "Sorry! Sorry!" "It's fine." She hauls herself upright, laughing as I crawl to the wall. "My word," she wheezes, still laughing. "That was so reckless! I loved it!" We return the skates and continue our walk. We should have reached the end of the park by now. I should be able to see the headlights of cars merging onto I-94. All I see is more trees. Looking back, I can no longer see the fair behind us, but Jane seems certain of the way. We stop at a stone wall twice my height. A large turreted building looms behind it. Jane stops. "This is it. I had a very nice time. Thank you." She hesitates for a second then plants a kiss on my cheek, then turns around and disappears through an opening in the wall. Still disoriented, I walk in the direction I think we came. My phone won't turn on. It was seventy percent charged when we left the restaurant. Maybe it was damaged by the tumble on the ice. I look up at the sky in an attempt to navigate by the stars but even they seem out of place. I'm almost positive that I'm walking in circles. I'm starting to panic when my phone chimes. The screen flickers erratically. "Hello?" "Alex?" Aunt Margie's voice crackles through the bad connection. "Aunt Margie? I think I'm lost. I don't know--" "There there, Alex, you're fine," she interrupts. "Take a breath. Look around." I do. Trees. Darkness. More trees. I turn in a circle, still noth--the duck pond and the little bridge that crosses it. The basketball court. And the playground. It's Loring Park. "Okay, yeah, I'm good." I do feel good. Like when you almost trip and you see the spot where you would've hit and your skull isn't cracked open on the pavement. I glance up. The stars have returned to their proper locations. "Thank you, Aunt Margie." She's my grandfather's sister. Or possibly his cousin. Come to think of it I don't remember seeing her at any family functions. She could be one of those family friends that you call "aunt." "All right, I just spoke to Jane and she had a marvelous time. Well done, kiddo." "Uh... thanks but I don't think it was such a good match, Auntie. We didn't have much in common. Did you know she's married?" Aunt Margie makes a noncommittal noise. "And I'm pretty sure she was underage." "That's true enough but I knew you wouldn't take advantage of her. You didn't, did you?" Her voice takes on a slight edge. "Of course not!" "There you go! Everyone had a nice evening. I'd call that a success." "But... Is she going to be okay?" "No, definitely not. She never was. That wasn't the point." I let that sink in. "All right dear, are you free on the seventh?" "I think so. Why?" "There's a girl you should meet. She's not as dour as poor Jane but she's as much in need of a nice time. What do you say?" "Um..." It had been a strange, sometimes unsettling, evening. I close my eyes and see Jane gasping at the fireworks. The way her eyes lit up while we were "skating." Then I see Sam in his hospital bed, parrying my paper-towel-tube-sword with one of his own, smiling one more time. "Sure, why not?" "You're a good egg, Alex. I'll arrange it with Marie. That reminds me, how's your French?"
Published on Nov 19, 2021