Category Archives: Fiction

DayBreak Fiction: “Dropped Packets”, v2


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Dropped Packets

Emily Mangan

First of all, I’m very, very sorry for not updating DayBreak Magazine for two months: this story should have gone live on June 25. There were some very urgent developments in my private life and at the day job that needed to be sorted and had top priority. As things seem to have calmed down, I’m trying to catch up on DayBreak and the Shine anthology sites. My sincere apologies to the readers and writers involved.

In the upcoming weeks, I’ll try to catch up by publishing a story every Friday (instead of every second Friday).

So first after the hiatus is “Dropped Packets”: here’s a lyrical and bittersweet look at an India that isn’t, but might yet come to be. In contrast to most of the other DayBreak stories, this one is more about the dream rather than the actuality, the vision preceding the change, the pointer to the way up. And it’s never too late to go up, especially as the messages keep raining down . . .

Suniti grabbed the back of Harisha’s shirt and yanked him down to the grey dust-covered concrete. Harisha launched himself again at the worn cable, but she pulled him back.

Harisha tugged at Suniti’s hand. “Dammit, I wish you went to work today. You’re gonna—”

“You are not leaving!” Suniti continued to hold him to the ground, the filtered light from the layers and layers and layers of cable and wire spanning across the warehouses dancing across them. Continue reading

DayBreak Fiction: “Dropped Packets”


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Dropped Packets

Emily Mangan

First of all, I’m very, very sorry for not updating DayBreak Magazine for two months: this story should have gone live on June 25. There were some very urgent developments in my private life and at the day job that needed to be sorted and had top priority. As things seem to have calmed down, I’m trying to catch up on DayBreak and the Shine anthology sites. My sincere apologies to the readers and writers involved.

In the upcoming weeks, I’ll try to catch up by publishing a story every Friday (instead of every second Friday).

So first after the hiatus is “Dropped Packets”: here’s a lyrical and bittersweet look at an India that isn’t, but might yet come to be. In contrast to most of the other DayBreak stories, this one is more about the dream rather than the actuality, the vision preceding the change, the pointer to the way up. And it’s never too late to go up, especially as the messages keep raining down . . .

Suniti grabbed the back of Harisha’s shirt and yanked him down to the grey dust-covered concrete. Harisha launched himself again at the worn cable, but she pulled him back.

Harisha tugged at Suniti’s hand. “Dammit, I wish you went to work today. You’re gonna—”

“You are not leaving!” Suniti continued to hold him to the ground, the filtered light from the layers and layers and layers of cable and wire spanning across the warehouses dancing across them. Continue reading

DayBreak Fiction: “The Human Factor”, v2


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The Human Factor

Susanne Martin

Sometimes (increasingly, more often than not, I suspect), things do improve for the better, and previously underpriviledged people make a move to improve their lot. This has been happening throughout history, and—as progress accelerates—will continue to happen for the foreseeable future. Slavery has been abolished, women and people of colour have the right to vote and much more. Yes, there are still many racial and other prejudice issues, but we have come a long way, and should get much further.

Also, there seems to be some, let’s call it resistance or reluctance, in letting people in the third world get access to modern technologies. As Nick Mamatas wrote in his SHINE review on SciFi Wire (commenting on Paula R. Stiles’s “Sustainable Development”):

“[...]especially given the social dislocations that often accompany sudden technological changes. (A quick Google of “Yir Yiront” and “stone ax” would have helped.)”

I fully agree that bringing isolated people into contact with modern technology will be highly disturbing for their culture. However, the utmost majority of third world cultures aren’t isolated anymore: this may or may not be a good thing, but it is an inescapable fact. And these non-isolated cultures can and will use modern technologies, to wit:

And many more. Thinking that modern technologies will either disrupt, or are too complicated for the utmost majority of the developing countries is paternalistic at best and oppressive (‘gotta keep these people in their place’) at worst.

Then there is the ‘Girl Effect’: the empowerment of women worldwide. This is already happening through—what some may find counterintuitive—market forces: when I attended a Triodos Bank presentation, I found out that over 90% of the people that received microcredits are women: because they spend the money wisely (don’t squander it on booze and gambling like most of the men).

Now, what would happen if this trend does indeed continue, and develops to its logical conclusion? Susanne Martin portrays a witty ‘what if’, taking “The Human Factor” into account…

Su Lin emerged from her morning mindfulness practice with a smile on her face. She prepared a pot of Jasmine tea taking care to steep it for just the right time, and activated the work terminal by quoting her favourite line of poetry. The moment she faced the screen, she was assaulted by a stream of data that — though noiseless — shattered the serenity of the morning. Su Lin identified the data as results of job applications at SunTech, the firm she worked for. It wasn’t usually her task to review evaluation data; she was one of SunTech’s senior programmers and specialized in algorithms that translated real life data into meaningful numeric correlations. The only reason for the company to feed the read-out to her screen would be a malfunction of ApSel, the program that generated the data, the program Su Lin had designed. She immediately initiated numerous tests and examined the outcomes. She didn’t detect so much as a glitch, let alone a malfunction. With relief and satisfaction, Su Lin picked up her cup of tea.

An unobtrusive chime signaled an incoming call and Peggy Mei’s image filled the screen. Su Lin greeted her superior with a polite bow that went unnoticed as Peggy Mei had started to talk immediately.

“Su Lin,” she said, “I need you to look at the data. SunTech has placed absolute trust in your program. We have, as you’re well aware, eliminated all other selection methods. And this has put us in a difficult situation.” Continue reading

DayBreak Fiction: “The Human Factor”


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The Human Factor

Susanne Martin

Sometimes (increasingly, more often than not, I suspect), things do improve for the better, and previously underpriviledged people make a move to improve their lot. This has been happening throughout history, and—as progress accelerates—will continue to happen for the foreseeable future. Slavery has been abolished, women and people of colour have the right to vote and much more. Yes, there are still many racial and other prejudice issues, but we have come a long way, and should get much further.

Also, there seems to be some, let’s call it resistance or reluctance, in letting people in the third world get access to modern technologies. As Nick Mamatas wrote in his SHINE review on SciFi Wire (commenting on Paula R. Stiles’s “Sustainable Development”):

“[...]especially given the social dislocations that often accompany sudden technological changes. (A quick Google of “Yir Yiront” and “stone ax” would have helped.)”

I fully agree that bringing isolated people into contact with modern technology will be highly disturbing for their culture. However, the utmost majority of third world cultures aren’t isolated anymore: this may or may not be a good thing, but it is an inescapable fact. And these non-isolated cultures can and will use modern technologies, to wit:

And many more. Thinking that modern technologies will either disrupt, or are too complicated for the utmost majority of the developing countries is paternalistic at best and oppressive (‘gotta keep these people in their place’) at worst.

Then there is the ‘Girl Effect’: the empowerment of women worldwide. This is already happening through—what some may find counterintuitive—market forces: when I attended a Triodos Bank presentation, I found out that over 90% of the people that received microcredits are women: because they spend the money wisely (don’t squander it on booze and gambling like most of the men).

Now, what would happen if this trend does indeed continue, and develops to its logical conclusion? Susanne Martin portrays a witty ‘what if’, taking “The Human Factor” into account…

Su Lin emerged from her morning mindfulness practice with a smile on her face. She prepared a pot of Jasmine tea taking care to steep it for just the right time, and activated the work terminal by quoting her favourite line of poetry. The moment she faced the screen, she was assaulted by a stream of data that — though noiseless — shattered the serenity of the morning. Su Lin identified the data as results of job applications at SunTech, the firm she worked for. It wasn’t usually her task to review evaluation data; she was one of SunTech’s senior programmers and specialized in algorithms that translated real life data into meaningful numeric correlations. The only reason for the company to feed the read-out to her screen would be a malfunction of ApSel, the program that generated the data, the program Su Lin had designed. She immediately initiated numerous tests and examined the outcomes. She didn’t detect so much as a glitch, let alone a malfunction. With relief and satisfaction, Su Lin picked up her cup of tea.

An unobtrusive chime signaled an incoming call and Peggy Mei’s image filled the screen. Su Lin greeted her superior with a polite bow that went unnoticed as Peggy Mei had started to talk immediately.

“Su Lin,” she said, “I need you to look at the data. SunTech has placed absolute trust in your program. We have, as you’re well aware, eliminated all other selection methods. And this has put us in a difficult situation.” Continue reading

DayBreak Fiction: “Hindenburg’s Vimana Joyride”, v2

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Hindenburg’s Vimana Joyride

Ernest Hogan

AIs are the aliens of the 21st Century. As both the economics of getting mass out of a gravity well (about $11,000 per kilogram) and the hostile space environment (to which humans simply haven’t evolved…yet) returned space exploration down to near Earth (commercial satellites) after the prestigious — and very expensive — Moon landings, both the interest and the likelihood of aliens dwindled. The fact that the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) hasn’t turned up anything in 50 years hasn’t helped matters, either. Humans are, in general, not very patient (maybe a dose of extreme longevity would come in handy).

So if we can’t find the alien, why not create it? Obviously, in the real world this is already happening (although we’re merely at the very start of a long, ongoing process), and SF has already been speculating on the possible outcomes. Precious little science fiction sees Artificial Intelligence as benign or beneficial, though (long echoes of the Frankenstein complex), and even less SF can see the funny side of it.

Not Ernest Hogan, though: with the gonzo aplomb and Chicano chutzpah that are second nature to him, he depicts the technological singularity not as an unfathomable event, nor as the end of the world as we know it, but rather as “Hindenburg’s Vimana Joyride”.

Enjoy!

“GOD DAMN FUCKING TECHNOLOGY!” Victor Theremin screamed.

Then he crossed his arms, admiring the motel’s pseudo-PreColumbian decor, the nearby hoodooistic mountains, the mural of the giant spider, and the sacred Datura growing by the street. Moab, Utah was a nice town. He always thought of it when writing about colonies on Mars.

“Victor? Victor Theremin?” The door did not open. Continue reading

DayBreak Fiction: “Hindenburg’s Vimana Joyride”

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Hindenburg’s Vimana Joyride

Ernest Hogan

AIs are the aliens of the 21st Century. As both the economics of getting mass out of a gravity well (about $11,000 per kilogram) and the hostile space environment (to which humans simply haven’t evolved…yet) returned space exploration down to near Earth (commercial satellites) after the prestigious — and very expensive — Moon landings, both the interest and the likelihood of aliens dwindled. The fact that the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) hasn’t turned up anything in 50 years hasn’t helped matters, either. Humans are, in general, not very patient (maybe a dose of extreme longevity would come in handy).

So if we can’t find the alien, why not create it? Obviously, in the real world this is already happening (although we’re merely at the very start of a long, ongoing process), and SF has already been speculating on the possible outcomes. Precious little science fiction sees Artificial Intelligence as benign or beneficial, though (long echoes of the Frankenstein complex), and even less SF can see the funny side of it.

Not Ernest Hogan, though: with the gonzo aplomb and Chicano chutzpah that are second nature to him, he depicts the technological singularity not as an unfathomable event, nor as the end of the world as we know it, but rather as “Hindenburg’s Vimana Joyride”.

Enjoy!

“GOD DAMN FUCKING TECHNOLOGY!” Victor Theremin screamed.

Then he crossed his arms, admiring the motel’s pseudo-PreColumbian decor, the nearby hoodooistic mountains, the mural of the giant spider, and the sacred Datura growing by the street. Moab, Utah was a nice town. He always thought of it when writing about colonies on Mars.

“Victor? Victor Theremin?” The door did not open. Continue reading

DayBreak Fiction: “A Mirror to Life”, v2

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A Mirror to Life

Jaine Fenn

I could tell you a few stories about Jaine Fenn (don’t mention the “Sex and the Singularity” panel), but I’ll refrain and concentrate on the story at hand: “A Mirror to Life”.

There are quite a few tentative links between “A Mirror to Life” and a certain story in the SHINE anthology (I’m intentionally being a bit coy: if you read the antho you’ll know which story I mean) that also involves Artificial Intelligences and religion.

In both stories, the Artificial Intelligences seem to have the best with both humanity and the Earth in mind. One major difference being, that while in the SHINE story the AIs wish to prove themselves as benign, in “A Mirror to Life” the AIs supposedly know what’s best for us.

Humanity, though, might disagree…

Syl wiped the vomit from her chin. The face in the mirror had her own grey-green eyes, sharp chin and broad forehead, but the hair was wispy grey, the skin wrinkled and loose. Though she had been prepared for the difference in years, for a moment she felt cheated. Her youth had been taken from her.

She reached for the water in the jug. It trickled through her fingers. She tried again, more slowly, cupping her palm. The water stayed there at first, but when she lifted her hand to her face it slid away and dribbled down the front of the homespun robe.

So this was gravity. It was worse than she had imagined.

Continue reading

DayBreak Fiction: “A Mirror to Life”

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A Mirror to Life

Jaine Fenn

I could tell you a few stories about Jaine Fenn (don’t mention the “Sex and the Singularity” panel), but I’ll refrain and concentrate on the story at hand: “A Mirror to Life”.

There are quite a few tentative links between “A Mirror to Life” and a certain story in the SHINE anthology (I’m intentionally being a bit coy: if you read the antho you’ll know which story I mean) that also involves Artificial Intelligences and religion.

In both stories, the Artificial Intelligences seem to have the best with both humanity and the Earth in mind. One major difference being, that while in the SHINE story the AIs wish to prove themselves as benign, in “A Mirror to Life” the AIs supposedly know what’s best for us.

Humanity, though, might disagree…

Syl wiped the vomit from her chin. The face in the mirror had her own grey-green eyes, sharp chin and broad forehead, but the hair was wispy grey, the skin wrinkled and loose. Though she had been prepared for the difference in years, for a moment she felt cheated. Her youth had been taken from her.

She reached for the water in the jug. It trickled through her fingers. She tried again, more slowly, cupping her palm. The water stayed there at first, but when she lifted her hand to her face it slid away and dribbled down the front of the homespun robe.

So this was gravity. It was worse than she had imagined.

Continue reading

DayBreak Fiction: “Arsonist”, v2

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Arsonist

Jennifer Linnaea

Jennifer Linnaea is somewhat of an old acquaintance in that I lifted her story “Pseudo-Tokyo” from the Interzone e-slushpile, and was quite happy to see it appearing in IZ #214 (and podcasted at Transmissions from Beyond). In “Pseudo-Tokyo”, she travels into a strange culture, then makes it even stranger.

Here, in “Arsonist” she’s also not afraid to venture into another culture. As with all such exercises, the risks are huge while the payoff can be tremendous. Even if they’re wrapped up in a deceptively quiet narrative.

Can we re-educate criminals (even if some say we shouldn’t even try), and prepare them for a return to normal society? The TBS system here in The Netherlands is controversial: on the one hand it has helped reduce the number of inmates so that right now we are actually renting one of our (empty) prisons to Belgium. On the other hand, every recidivist that returns back to crime is weeks-long headline news in all the newspapers (not just the tabloids).

The point is, I suspect, that this is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ type of solution, but an approach that needs to be carefully aimed at each separate person. Almost exactly as it is done in “Arsonist”.

NOTE: Jennifer read this story in full (OK: it’s not that long) at the DayBreak Reading at the last World Fantasy: as I mentioned of other readings, it was an eye- (or should I say ‘ear’-)opening experience.

The first thing that happened was they moved him to a larger room. When they left him there he stood, looking at it, wondering what it meant. The new room was as plain as his old room — a cot, a squat toilet, a recycled plastic chair and a table for writing — but it was … different. It had been freshly whitewashed. The furniture was, not new, but without the quality of neglect that his old had. His new room had a window that looked out on an empty lot. Weeds grew through cracks in the concrete. He lay down on the cot and closed his eyes.

The second thing that happened was the old man. A prisoner like himself, in a prisoner’s green clothing. Green, the prophet’s color, the color to remind them of God, that they might repent. The old man came into the lot one day and gave it a long, hard look. He and the jailer exchanged words — their mouths moved but the sound did not carry.

Beyond the empty lot, a high fence topped with razor wire and punctuated with guard towers. Beyond that, a world that the man, whose name was Jamil, tried to forget about. It had changed. The skyscrapers had been dismantled to reveal the hills beyond. The call to prayer still sounded, but the other noise — the highway into downtown Amman that ran past the prison walls — was less. He wanted to wonder what these things meant, but he did not dare, for to wonder was to care, and to care only led to suffering. Continue reading

DayBreak Fiction: “Arsonist”

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Arsonist

Jennifer Linnaea

Jennifer Linnaea is somewhat of an old acquaintance in that I lifted her story “Pseudo-Tokyo” from the Interzone e-slushpile, and was quite happy to see it appearing in IZ #214 (and podcasted at Transmissions from Beyond). In “Pseudo-Tokyo”, she travels into a strange culture, then makes it even stranger.

Here, in “Arsonist” she’s also not afraid to venture into another culture. As with all such exercises, the risks are huge while the payoff can be tremendous. Even if they’re wrapped up in a deceptively quiet narrative.

Can we re-educate criminals (even if some say we shouldn’t even try), and prepare them for a return to normal society? The TBS system here in The Netherlands is controversial: on the one hand it has helped reduce the number of inmates so that right now we are actually renting one of our (empty) prisons to Belgium. On the other hand, every recidivist that returns back to crime is weeks-long headline news in all the newspapers (not just the tabloids).

The point is, I suspect, that this is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ type of solution, but an approach that needs to be carefully aimed at each separate person. Almost exactly as it is done in “Arsonist”.

NOTE: Jennifer read this story in full (OK: it’s not that long) at the DayBreak Reading at the last World Fantasy: as I mentioned of other readings, it was an eye- (or should I say ‘ear’-)opening experience.

The first thing that happened was they moved him to a larger room. When they left him there he stood, looking at it, wondering what it meant. The new room was as plain as his old room — a cot, a squat toilet, a recycled plastic chair and a table for writing — but it was … different. It had been freshly whitewashed. The furniture was, not new, but without the quality of neglect that his old had. His new room had a window that looked out on an empty lot. Weeds grew through cracks in the concrete. He lay down on the cot and closed his eyes.

The second thing that happened was the old man. A prisoner like himself, in a prisoner’s green clothing. Green, the prophet’s color, the color to remind them of God, that they might repent. The old man came into the lot one day and gave it a long, hard look. He and the jailer exchanged words — their mouths moved but the sound did not carry.

Beyond the empty lot, a high fence topped with razor wire and punctuated with guard towers. Beyond that, a world that the man, whose name was Jamil, tried to forget about. It had changed. The skyscrapers had been dismantled to reveal the hills beyond. The call to prayer still sounded, but the other noise — the highway into downtown Amman that ran past the prison walls — was less. He wanted to wonder what these things meant, but he did not dare, for to wonder was to care, and to care only led to suffering. Continue reading