by Rajiv Moté (Fantasy-tinged fiction, 3,500 words)
Before we stopped talking, my best friend Davis saved my life three times from the Sirynz. It’s funny that I still call him that. “Best friend” is a concept I put away with other childish things when I left Marysville, but the obligation it carries lingers like a photograph standing in for a memory, a thing twice removed from the original. Still, it’s an idea that has pull. At least I owe him a call. But I keep coming up with excuses.
The first time Davis saved, they weren’t Sirynz yet. Tina, Jacqui, and Kayla had just started playing as a band called The Mantics. That afternoon at the Peony Park pool, they were three girls wearing two-piece bathing suits during a summer of great hormonal awakening. It was one of those summer days between fifth and sixth grade that you remember like a postcard picture: blue-skied, perfectly framed, hot only by implication–without the sweat, sunburn, bug bites, or grit at the bottom of the pool lacerating your bare feet. Idealized memory.
Sajun drew rein at the foot of a hillock, where a footpath switched back and forth up to an unexpectedly ordinary whitewashed cottage. He could imagine Tankrit already standing at the top, her night-black hair and robes waving in an unfelt breeze, expecting him through some arcane prescience. But her kind of magic disappeared from the world, and if the one-time necromancer did live here, he would have to knock on her door. As if she were an ordinary woman.
Sajun knew better. He hadn’t steeled his nerves and ridden these leagues seeking ordinary.
Years after writing his history of the War for the Light, Sajun still felt himself living out a tale, if no longer one that any would care to read. The compelling part was over. Sajun was neither poet nor harper, but he had written the story as he and his remaining companions remembered it, and granted himself liberties only where none alive could say otherwise. He’d tried to be honest about his own small role, with neither false heroism nor modesty. The story had an ending. In the way of tales, the grander movements came full circle. Yet–with heartbreaking exceptions–life went on. The last twenty years felt like a story told too long.
Aryeh Levin picked up the newspaper from his driveway to see how the world would disappoint him today. “Rockets Break Cease-Fire.” Well what else would they do? When your only tool is a sword, every problem looks like a neck. Sarah saw vindication in the headlines, never a sign we ought to do better. But on this side of the world, the morning street was quiet. The big houses lining it were variations of his own, with tidy lawns, shady trees, and gardens dappling the green with a Crayola box of blooms. A summer breeze carried their scents. Here, there was enough room to live and let live. He had resisted moving here. Places like this were walled gardens in a complicated world. He encouraged his students to start their adult lives and careers outside such walls. But Aryeh came to agree with Sarah that this was where Dina should grow up. In this neighborhood, on this block, Dina could learn what civilization could be, before her generation had to rescue it.
Aryeh returned a wave from a neighbor, the father of Dina’s friend, the bossy little one with pigtails. He started climbing the stairs to the porch when something strafed in front of his nose. He jerked back, stumble-hopping down a step. It was a bee. The porch was swarming with them.
Now that I’ve noted what Eternals is not, it’s worth spending some time on what it is. Eternals is a story about the gods of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And about the gods of those gods. And I can’t help but see it as a parable about organizations with layers of management, and how quickly those layers can become disconnected and unaligned. Maybe I’ve just been a middle manager who has gone through one too many reorgs or acquisitions, but hear me out.
In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the godlike Celestials charge the somewhat-godlike Eternals with protecting the nascent humans of Earth from an extraterrestrial predator species, the Deviants. The Eternals are not to interfere in any other conflict. But the Eternals live among the humans, and develop sympathy for them. They roll up their sleeves and work with humans, romance them, and build families with them. They chafe against the injunction against protecting humanity against its worst instincts, and are sometimes horrified by what their non-interference AND their interference produces over the span of millennia. In either case, they become emotionally invested. That is, except the leaders among the Eternals, who commune with the Celestials. These upper rung managers know what the Celestials are doing, and know that it’s best not to get too attached.
Palms slide on palms, knuckles bump. Tail lights turn the corner. The stereo’s thump fades into the city. Bayard stands at the mouth of the dark alley. His smile dies.
The English accented voiceover says the gazelles know there are lions nearby. See how they keep watch. Tense.
Predators hunt here. Shapeshifters: Adze. But after a night of swagger, your friends don’t walk you to your door. “You can’t live in fear,” they say. But they do. Every damn day. The mayor wants more police, but police can’t tell Adze from human beings. Everyone’s a predator. Everyone’s prey.
I’ve been a regular (paid!) columnist for The Wheel of Time fan site, Dragonmount, since 2020. As the site’s crew works through a surge of renewed interest in Robert Jordan’s epic fantasy series in the days leading up to Amazon Prime Video’s TV adaptation (November 19!), I’m expanding my duties to join Dragonmount’s podcast series.
This is so exciting for me. For three decades I’ve delighted in writing and talking about The Wheel of Time, and now I get to do it under the sponsorship of Tor Books and our wonderful supporters on Patreon.
On the eve of the Amazon Prime Video show premier, I want to re-surface my first columns of “Rajiv’s Threads In the Pattern” for folks new to the series–books or television. (These will continue to be catalogued in the “Non-Fiction” section of my Published page.)
Jada wants to take dinner down to her father, so I slap some raw meat from the cutting board onto a tray. It means she’s not afraid anymore, and she’s still a forgiving child. I want to nurture both. But my heart beats faster. My throat and lungs are still raw.
I don’t tell her to be careful. His temper isn’t hers to manage. It was never mine, either, though I’ve formed instincts over the years. The door groans, the stair creaks, and I hear his breathing, the low rumble of an approaching storm. My muscles coil and an answering growl builds painfully in my chest. I listen for the telltales of agitation I’ve learned during our marriage. I’ll always protect you baby, I told my daughter four days ago, holding her head against my belly, her tears soaking through my shirt.
I relax my grip on the knife I’m using to cut onions, green peppers, and chunks of tomato. That’s not the protection that’s needed. That’s not the situation.
by Rajiv Moté (Science fiction fable, 3,800 words)
The voices of dinosaurs filled Casuistry Vale, singing the praises of the Great Accord as they did every Summer Festival, celebrating the Gift of a common dinosaur language and the treaty that ended the war between predator and prey. Among the broad-leafed pavilions dotting the stamped-down plain, the Sauropods trumpeted devotionals and the Pterosaurs circled and wheeled, shrieking their accompaniment. All the herds took up the tune. Participation showed commitment.
Chhronk mouthed along. A bull Triceratops who had endured many Summer Festivals, he understood the power of ritual to bind together different herds. But he had no voice for singing, and he only passably wrangled the Gift language. His mate Chha-chhuk was better; still, he’d have rather listened to her sing an old Ceratopsian chant. Strength. Resolve. Righteousness. But those songs were from before the Accord, before Chhronk was hatched. They had no place in this hard-won peace.
The herds preferred not to mix, even those whose ancestors fought on the same side, but for the Summer Festival they genuflected together. It looked unnatural, but Chhronk knew overcoming their worse natures was the point. Festival was a display of peace-bringing power, like a Ceratopsian bull who made the others in his herd lower their horns. But there was no bull here, only an invisible Accord, mightier than all by simple agreement. It demanded more obeisance than Chhronk ever had when he led his herd.
As a kid, I loved writing short stories. Of course, I also loved sharing them with anyone who’d read them, and basking in their praise. That dual thrill never went away, but as an adult, they started to conflate. Yes, I still loved writing stories, and wished I could do it all the time. But I started to crave real validation. Publication. Praise is cheap; if someone were willing to pay me money for my stories, that would be a level up from family and friends. I got serious. I read books and blogs about craft. I listened to podcasts. I completed two 2-year certificate programs in creative writing at local universities’ night school. I wrote and revised and workshopped. I worked like I had something to prove.
I submitted my first story for publication in 2012. It was rejected. I didn’t try again until 2016 (at the age of 45), with a story I wrote specifically for a themed call. I still remember getting the email that Unlikely Story had accepted my story “Old Customs” at a pro payment rate. Such a rush. I was giddy. I was a paid, published writer. Other publications followed. I learned about The Submission Grinder and started tracking my submissions, searching for new publications, and generally feeling like a “real, working writer.”
I was also refreshing the Submission Grinder page constantly, obsessively watching the response progress of all my submissions, and speculatively searching for the next publication where my stories could fit. I spent a lot of mental energy on that. Eventually, more energy than I spent writing. It got emotional, and not in a good way.
On the eve of the release of Marvel Studios’ The Eternals, I’ll once again indulge in some speculation. I’m usually dead wrong, but in what’s become a tradition since WandaVision, I’ll own it and update this post with everything I missed. (And maybe something I got right?)
UPDATED with spoilers for Eternals
Marvel Comics’ Eternals are not the most memorable characters. They’re godlike, but with less mythic resonance than Thor and Hercules. They’re cosmic, but without the same gravitas as the Silver Surfer. They’re a found family, but without the addictive melodrama of the X-Men. The Eternals’ enemies, the Deviants, are even less interesting in the comics. Their defining trait is their envy of the Eternals.
My interest in the upcoming movie is less about the Eternals themselves, but their connections to the Marvel mythology of the Celestials–and what that means for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. What I’m most excited about can be summarized in one panel.