“In Roaring She Shall Rise”

I’m thrilled to announce that my 500-word flash science fiction story, “In Roaring She Shall Rise,” won second place in the 2020 Escape Pod Flash Fiction contest! It’s a particular thrill to be published by a podcast. Hearing one’s words performed–in this case by Cast of Wonders editor Katherine Inskip–is a rare treat.

Please enjoy “In Roaring She Shall Rise” on Escape Pod.

Short fiction review-maestro Charles Payseur has some lovely things to say about this story and its Escape Pod peers in his Quick Sip Reviews.

Author’s Notes

How cool are cephalopods? Very cool. They’re intelligent problem-solvers. They have unnerving camouflage skills. Their genetics are different enough from any other sequenced creature as to be nigh-alien. And some species can edit their own RNA–the expression of their genes–to adapt in a way that takes other animals generations. There were so many things I wanted to include in this story, but couldn’t in the mere 500 word limit. I highly recommend reading Sy Montgomery’s zoological memoir The Soul of an Octopus for a dive into how strange and remarkable these animals are.

A couple of years ago, my friend Libby and I were swapping article links on the cool attributes of cephalapods when Atlas Obscura sent out a call for the invention of “climate change monsters.” I figured if anything was going to capitalize on global upheaval, it would be the smart, ever-adaptive octopus. My piece was too long for Atlas Obscura, but it became the perfect story seed for my entry into Escape Pod‘s Flash Fiction contest.

The title is a riff on a line from one of my favorite apocalyptic poems:

Below the thunders of the upper deep,
Far, far beneath in the abysmal sea,
His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep
The Kraken sleepeth: faintest sunlights flee
About his shadowy sides; above him swell
Huge sponges of millennial growth and height;
And far away into the sickly light,
From many a wondrous grot and secret cell
Unnumbered and enormous polypi
Winnow with giant arms the slumbering green.
There hath he lain for ages, and will lie
Battening upon huge sea worms in his sleep,
Until the latter fire shall heat the deep;
Then once by man and angels to be seen,
In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.

“The Kraken” by Alfred Lord Tennyson

While Tennyson’s cephalopod rose to die, perhaps the plucky octopus of this story has the ambition to inherit. Or to conquer. And if not her, perhaps her descendants. The ocean would always reclaim the land, eventually.

The Evolution of the Content Engine (Case Study: Cat Pictures)

  1. Cat pictures” returns a list of popular web pages featuring the words “cat” and “pictures.
  2. Cat pictures” returns a list of cat pictures from websites like the ones you frequent.
  3. Cat pictures” returns pictures auto-curated to your taste in cats, including ones you’ve taken.
  4. Cat pictures” generates pictures of customized cats based on others you’ve clicked in the past.
  5. Cat pictures” generates interactive cat simulations tailored to your tastes.
  6. Cat pictures” 3-D prints photorealistic models of your favorite simulated cats.
  7. Cat pictures” 3-D prints interactive models of simulated cats to suit your detected mood.
  8. Cat pictures” 3-D prints biological cats to your specifications, with tutorials for their care.
  9. Cat pictures” grants 3 wishes for cats, excluding wishes for more cat wishes.
  10. Cat pictures” grants unlimited wishes for cats.

“Remember the Ifrit”

I sold my second story, and the thrill is just as strong as the first. The Cast of Wonders podcast called for Young Adult science fiction/fantasy stories that evoke a sense of wonder — in 500 words or less. And since this is a podcast, I got to hear my words read by a professional voice actor (and Hugo award-winning author), which is pretty cool.

This is a short one. I hope you enjoy “Remember the Ifrit.” (If you’re in a hurry, my story starts around the 6:00 mark on the audio.)


Writer’s Endnotes

An image that stuck with me from childhood was from an episode of Cosmos, where Carl Sagan hypothesized what kind of life might exist in the atmosphere of a gas giant planet like Jupiter. (I’m pleased to see that the segment clip is up on YouTube.) It was only after I’d written the first draft of “Ifrit” that I realized I was stealing from Carl Sagan. Let’s call it a tribute, instead.


When the family went on a whale-watching cruise off Whidbey Island in Washington State, I resolved to experience it with my daughter, directly, with no camera involved. But my resolve faltered when the Humpback we’d been following began speeding just under the water’s surface. I had gotten my phone out of my pocket and started taking a video when she breached out of the water and then fell with a tremendous SPLASH. I never got her in frame — I wanted to see it with my naked eye — but in the audio, one can hear the family shouting and whooping, and mine was the loudest voice on the boat. That cruise, and sharing the experience with my daughter, was the first thing I thought of when I began considering topics of a story with a “sense of wonder.”

My cousin-in-law did manage to take a perfect picture of the whale, so I got the direct experience and a memento. I think it’s interesting that it’s not the photo that best recalls that sense of wonder for me, but the audio. The picture represents what I saw; the audio captures how I felt. For the story, I felt that both the experience and its recollection were important, along with the curious modern impulse to interpose devices between ourselves and a wonder in hopes of being able to re-experience it at will. And, of course, the power of an experience shared was the most important of all.



Star Wars: Who Is The Last Jedi?

Now we know that Star Wars Episode VIII will be called The Last Jedi. So who is the last Jedi? Let’s not belabor it. It’s Luke. The Last Jedi is Luke Skywalker.

I’ve laid out what the prophecy of “bringing balance to the Force” means in terms of Star Wars’ ring cycle. [In Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the Answers Hide In Plain Sight] It bears repeating that in Episodes I-III, we see Anakin Skywalker turned to the Sith — the dark polar end of the Force. In Episodes IV-VI, we see him brought back to the light polar end — the return of Anakin the Jedi. Structurally, it makes sense that the final ring in the saga will be the emergence of the prophesied balance between dark and light.

Luke Skywalker figured it out. He wouldn’t have saved his father in Episode VI had he not tapped the strength of the Dark Side to physically defeat Vader, but then brought himself back under control to spare Vader, once beaten. Luke was never indoctrinated into the Jedi’s pitiless stance against forsaking duty to rescue loved ones. Guided by his compassion instead of Jedi dogma, he was able to do what Obi-Wan and Yoda could not.

By Episode VII, Luke has suffered a disastrous failure trying to be a Jedi Master, and his students are dead by the hand of his Dark-seduced nephew. So he fled to an ancient and lost Jedi Temple, to learn something that neither Obi-Wan nor Yoda had taught him. It’s not a stretch to guess that, spurred by his experience with Darth Vader, he was in search of the true nature of the Force, one that neither Jedi nor Sith had mastered. He has learned about the Balance.

Now Rey has come to him, a Force-strong young woman in need of training. Luke won’t repeat the mistakes of the past. He will remain the last Jedi. The purple light that bathed Rey’s and Kylo Ren’s faces as their blue and red lightsabers clashed was no accident. When Luke trains Rey in the Balanced Force, she will become something new, requiring a new name. And after the Revenge of the Sith and the Return of the Jedi, I’m confident that the new name will figure into the title of Episode IX.


The non-English movie posters have revealed that “Jedi” in the title is  being used as the plural. So it’s not just Luke. But no matter how many there are, the fact that they’re the last is what’s significant. The reasoning stands. After this set, Force practitioners will be something else.

Oddly, the French translation of Return of the Jedi was Le Retour Du Jedi — singular. Which rather minimizes the impact of Luke’s journey.


I take the last line from the teaser trailer for The Last Jedi as confirmation of all the above.




No Two-State Solution On the Planet Of the Apes

The Hawk who dreamed of being a Dove


Why do they fight? What’s the real reason, beyond the circumstances of the moment, or the doctrines used to sell violence to those who would otherwise have peace? When the news and social feeds are filled with stories of escalating conflict, this is the only question that matters over the long term. The reasons have to be addressed.

When I try to understand the real reasons, I find myself getting lost in the current talking point meta-war between Israel and Palestine. So I turn to the buffer and distance offered by science fiction. Science fiction can provide a metaphor to understand conflict, and the “confrontation with the Inhuman Other” has been fertile soil for the genre. And in the unexpectedly satisfying Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, science fiction transcends metaphor to build a myth, an illustration of a truth both timeless and bleak.

Though a sequel of a remake, the movie is a standalone piece, leading with an efficient bit of narration to establish that civilization has crumbled, there is a history of mutual blame between human and intelligent ape, and the two races have no reason or desire to interact. This is the story of what happens when they do. This is a “clash of civilizations” myth about why there is no two-state solution on the Planet of the Apes.

There are no straw men either. Both humans and apes have leaders with an interest in peace and an understanding of politics. The hawkish factions of both tribes have legitimate reasons not to trust. As viewers, we believe in the legitimacy of both civilizations’ right to exist. The movie’s plot is a catalog of earnest attempts at bridge-building and how they fail, with theoretically rational decisions paving the road to disaster:

  • Can we trust their offer of peace when we know they’re preparing for war?
  • Should we help them become strong, if that strength could be used against us?
  • Does offering forgiveness show us as weak? And does it betray those who were harmed by what is being forgiven?
  • Do instances of aid erase transgressions against us?

The answers hinge on basic presumptions about your own people, and theirs. Actions taken out of hope can sometimes create connections, but actions motivated by fear always end up justifying that fear. And as a rallying cry, fear is far more effective. When the survival of one’s people is the perceived stake, the risk of trust becomes too high for a rational leader to embrace. War becomes inevitable, a fact realized even by those who worked for peace.

Why do they fight? Because they can neither trust nor forgive. Because they fear, and nothing short of domination of the other tribe can erase that fear. On their planet and ours.