We at Pravic are pleased announce the expansion of our publishing juggernaut into the realm of books, offering for the first time anywhere David Gill's short story collection In Time's Empire They Were All Slaves! Buy 15 spine-tingling science fiction stories for $9.99! Buy here, buy NOW! Science Fiction giant Rudy Rucker says "Nice zap" and "It's a great book"!
This story was on the net tubes for awhile, but unfortunately the published folded, or something, so here you go, a gift from me to you:
In Time’s Empire, They Were All Slaves
by David Gill
Kim wanted to see an old gladiator movie and John didn’t care so long as they were together. They drove in his dark green Duster and parked three rows from the screen which they agreed was the perfect distance for good viewing. One car over, three teenagers in a faded yellow Volkswagen passed a joint around. It was an early summer night, and on the far side of the movie screen, to the east, the mountains climbed snow-kissed into the sky and the air swarmed with insect life.
The movie came on. Kirk Douglas looked a little too clean shaven to be a Thetian slave, and when John told Kim this she laughed and touched his arm. As the scene changed, the pair in the car was lit up by Roman soldiers on horseback filling the screen. Her hand slid down his arm until it grazed the back of his. As Kirk Douglas fought for his life against a black man with a spear, John rolled his hand over hers and presented his own, soft, pink palm up, in her lap. She looked at it and then gently cradled it in both of hers, and they watched while Spartacus leaned against his prison bars.
They were exchanging wet, passionate kisses as Spartacus was mocked by the Roman aristocracy. John ran his hands over Kim’s svelte body, savoring her numinous geometry. With a sigh she lifted her head and made eye contact. He could see down her shirt, and as he peered into that sacred space his vision became blurry with a shimmery, phosphene layer over everything. He saw beneath her faded Rolling Stones t-shirt visions of Earth girded with hundreds of orbiting satellites, whizzing by one another at great speeds; he saw freeways advance and multiply like veins across the surface of the earth; but mostly what he saw in the half-light was white concrete disappearing beneath a silver hood, driving, early in the morning, and he knew from the feel, the concrete was cold, and lethal.
John looked into Kim’s eyes, free for a moment of the vision, as Spartacus dodged spears on-screen. And then beyond them, outside the car, John could see the movie’s Roman empire was now superimposed over everything at the drive-in. And John saw then, how time was like an empire, a shapeless conglomeration of wills, a mindless bureaucracy which grinds, into a fine powder, a grey ash, all but the rarest of aspirations.
When Kim took her pants off, John saw the end of the world, playing like a movie, across the alabaster surface of her legs. There were no great explosions, but a slow dimming out, a dying away of vitality until the Earth as seen on her skin was lifeless, barren, a sterile wasteland.
She reached for him and they made love, there, on the bench seat of the Duster as Spartacus and his fellow slaves took up arms against their masters.
My story, "Hope is a Thing with Rockets," is on Daily Science Fiction today! This is exciting as hell because it's my first pro sale and I've been submitting to them for years. Anyway, in anticipation of some heavier traffic here at Pravic today, I wanted to give you a chance to read some of my other (non-paying) fiction, much of which I actually like better than today's pro sale. So, here are some links to my other work:
I recommend "Touching," "Escape Velocity," and "Bedroom Eyes." I also wrote extensively about Philip K Dick at my old blog totaldickhead.blogspot.com. I'd love to hear from you, if you like what you've read. You can shoot me an email at thetotaldickhead(at)gmail.com. I teacher writing and literature at San Francisco State University. Well, that's about all for now. I appreciate your visit. Pravic is a science fiction zine my partner Nathaniel and I have developed. So far we've produced five issues, featuring writers like Rudy Rucker, Robert Onopa, and Ian Kappos (you may not have heard of him, but you will). We have digital editions of the last couple issues available at the "Magazine" link on the left side of the screen.
Thanks again for reading, I'm also available for birthday parties and brises!
I'm participating in Clarion's Write-a-Thon this summer. Please consider making a donation which would help me join a writing team and increase Pravic's visibility, but will also help fund a fantastic writing program (that I hope one day to be able actually attend). So, here's the deal, make a donation on my behalf and we'll send you a brand spanking new digital copy of Pravic Issue 5. Donate $20 and I'll name a character after you. Donate $50 and I'll name my next born after you (kidding). If you're a writer, I encourage you to join. And I'm pretty sure my partner Nathaniel will be signing up too, so, help us, help them, and with all that help, at least a little bit should rub off on you. Check out my writer's profile here.
At long last, issue 5 is LIVE!
Featuring fiction by Ryu Ando, Ian Kappos, Benjamin Weiner, and David Gill, as well as non-fiction by Nathaniel K. Miller, original illustrations, a fantastic cover illustration by L. Maryanski, and as always, interviews with all of our authors.
Print copies are on the way, but we wanted to get this into your cybernetic clutches with haste!
As issue #5 nears its impending roll-out next week, we've made a few structural changes again. Our vision is a plastic one, and we think change is good - it may be a bit unorthodox in this "business," but that only means we're doing what we set out to do.
First of all: as of issue #6, we will cease offering full, 12-issue-cycle subscriptions. Since we started with zine-style mags - hand-folded and stapled and such -scrounging up (or making!) single issues of those early editions for new subscribers is getting increasingly tricky. So, as of issue #6's launch, subscriptions will be for the second half of the cycle only (issues 7-12). They will also, obviously, cost about half as much. If you need print copies of earlier issues, you can order them individually if they're available. If not (and even if so), we now have digital copies of all back-issues available, and as always, they're a mere buck.
We'll also be limiting our print runs starting with issue #5. There are a hundred-odd boring logistical reasons for doing this, but it amounts to this: only fifty print copies of each issue will be available for individual purchase (i.e., this doesn't include subscribers, bulk orders, etc). So if you really want a print copy, subscribe! Otherwise, get here when we launch and order fast!
Lastly, we have been forced to discontinue international print subscriptions - costs have simply become prohibitive. But remember, digital subs are cheap, and they don't burn up in fires (though your e-reader and most of your other belongings probably will)!
Thank you all for your patience; being a small, DIY SF mag means rolling with the punches, and we are forever indebted to those of you who've stuck by us this far.
-Nathaniel K. Miller
- You can now download issues #1-3 as well as #4, the current issue, in our store.
- You can now read pretty much everything David and I have published on our respective "about" pages.
- Design and layout are wrapping up on issue #5 - here's another little preview - my back-cover variant based on excellent cover art by L. Maryanski.
Issue 5 layout/design and final details are in the works this very moment.
To keep you sated until we roll it out, here's a preview image by N.K. Miller for Ryu Ando's story Kumori-Cloud & the Memento Mori.
etails as they come.
"The transrealist writes about immediate perceptions in a fantastic way. Any literature which is not about actual reality is weak and enervated. But the genre of straight realism is burnt out. The tools of SF offer a means to thicken and intensify realistic fiction, introducing power chords that are symbolic of archetypal modes of perception. Thus, time travel is memory, flight is enlightenment, and telepathy stands for the ability to communicate fully..."
Well, that's Rudy Rucker enunciating my thought on the current state of SF (in 1983!). Rucker's bringing back some classic novels via Kickstarter - get in on it!
There's an article by Eileen Gunn on The Smithsonian's website making the rounds today. It's worth talking about in some detail. She sure quotes the heavies. What say you, Ursula LeGuin?:
"Writers may find the future appealing precisely because it can’t be known, a black box where “anything at all can be said to happen without fear of contradiction from a native,” says the renowned novelist and poet Ursula K. Le Guin. “The future is a safe, sterile laboratory for trying out ideas in,” she tells Smithsonian, “a means of thinking about reality, a method.”"
Ursula, whom we love very much, uses an unfortunate choice of words as "sterility" in the art world tends to mean cut off from emotion. But I think there are two important aspects to what she says: a laboratory has two two distinct qualities 1) effort has been taken to eliminate contaminating factors and 2) the lab is set up so that several different environments and circumstances can be replicated.
SF has both of these. The sterility is imparted because future fiction most often omits the narrative events that bridge the fictional future with our nominal present, or if these events are included they are summarized. In any events these intervening events are imagined and as such the SF writer is free to create any future they want. One cool thing about the genre is that sometimes these futures don't have to make sense, they can be like dreams - illogical, but firing at an emotional register that makes us stand up and take notice. So the sterility is provided by future fiction's isolation from the present. And since writers are free to imagine any kind of intervening event (from nuclear war, to environmental apocalypse, to resource-scare overcrowding, to a galaxy's slow heat death) they are likewise free to create any future, which, of course, is the product of the intervening events and humanity's reaction to the events. So, we are free to wonder, what if mankind becomes increasingly competitive? What if machines make us obsolete? What if everything changes, but somehow being a human stays basically the same (this is what my money's riding on)?
What say you, Cory Doctorow?:
“I really like design fiction or prototyping fiction,” says novelist Cory Doctorow, whose clients have included Disney and Tesco. “There is nothing weird about a company doing this—commissioning a story about people using a technology to decide if the technology is worth following through on. It’s like an architect creating a virtual fly-through of a building.” Doctorow, who worked in the software industry, has seen both sides of the development process. “I’ve been in engineering discussions in which the argument turned on what it would be like to use the product, and fiction can be a way of getting at that experience.”
OK. Now we're getting into disputed lands. While, technically, Doctorow is right, there's nothing "weird" about a company hiring an artist to see if more money can be fleeced from the public in some novel way or another, there's certainly nothing to be proud of here, either. I mean a company that has to look outside itself (to SF writers!) for ideas about the future is not a company I'd take stock in. And an artist who uses his art to advance commerce is a hack (not that I'd turn down the offer to write a space opera for Kellogg's or Google). There's no art here, and, in fact, a quick search reveals the word "art" is conspicuously absent from the article.
Kim Stanley Robinson has the correctly pessimistic (and suitably pissed off) take on the subject:
“Science fiction represents how people in the present feel about the future,” Robinson says. “That’s why ‘big ideas’ were prevalent in the 1930s, ’40s and partly in the ’50s. People felt the future would be better, one way or another. Now it doesn’t feel that way. Rich people take nine-tenths of everything and force the rest of us to fight over the remaining tenth, and if we object to that, we are told we are espousing class warfare and are crushed. They toy with us for their entertainment, and they live in ridiculous luxury while we starve and fight each other. This is what The Hunger Games embodies in a narrative, and so the response to it has been tremendous, as it should be.”
We get this from future pants himself, Bill Gibson:
“I’ve only ever wanted to be naturalistic,” he says. “I assumed I was being less than dystopian in the 1980s, because I was writing about a world that had gotten out of the cold war intact. That actually seemed unrealistic to many intelligent people at the time.”
Stylized naturalism, you seem to be forgetting how important style is to your whole schtick, Bill.
Which brings us to Neal Stephenson:
"In 2012, Stephenson partnered with the Center for Science and the Imagination (CSI) at Arizona State University to create Project Hieroglyph, a web-based project that provides, in its words, “a space for writers, scientists, artists and engineers to collaborate on creative, ambitious visions of our near future.” The first fruit will be an anthology, Hieroglyph: Stories and Blueprints for a Better Future, to be published this September by HarperCollins. It will include stories by both established and newer writers who have been encouraged to “step outside their comfort zone,” as Ed Finn, the director of CSI, puts it. The same goes for readers. Finn sees the core audience for Hieroglyph as people who have never thought about the issues these authors address. “I want them to place themselves in these futures,” he says."
Perhaps potential scientists aren't inspired by science because science is engaged in a pissing match (seriously, a steel tower?!) while very real, human needs are going unmet (you know, like hunger, poverty, and the wealth gap...).
Samuel Delaney closes out the article with a great quote:
“The variety of worlds science fiction accustoms us to, through imagination, is training for thinking about the actual changes—sometimes catastrophic, often confusing—that the real world funnels at us year after year. It helps us avoid feeling quite so gob-smacked.”
This gets to the core of the discussion. Delaney's not saying that when they finally invent the empathy box that we'll say, "Oh, I remember those from a science fiction novel" and that this will somehow banish our fear and trepidation. But rather that SF works internally, that by running lots of different scenarios, one after the other, each with its own rules, ethical ramifications, and authority systems, SF prepares us to deal with change.
But the emphasis of the article tells me we're still on the wrong track. Art is not charged with changing the outside world, but instead changing (hopefully improving) the inside world. Think about how fondly our culture thinks about the early astronauts, and how we as a culture often disparage the works of the pioneers who traveled inwards (Freud, McKenna, etc etc). I think that tells you everything you need to know about our failures.
Here's Rudy Rucker reading at the Pravic Science Fiction Extravaganza II: Electric Boogaloo, April 12, 2014. Brainwash Cafe, San Francisco, California. Stay tuned for more video, and be sure to watch this one, Rudy kills it! BTW - that's me and my buddy making bleepy noises at the beginning.
Rudy Rucker, our zine's patron saint, has generously posted his most recent book The Big Aha (along with a ton of other stuff) for free on his website. Free! And it's a free novel, man! Free in the sense that Rudy is unencumbered by the patterns and tropes of genre. He stands on their shoulders like Iggy in his prime, standing on the audience.
In The Big Aha everything is alive; all design involves gene-hacking (no, not Gene Hackman), and along comes quantum wetware. It gets you off, but if you stay out there too long giant mouths appear from another dimension and devour you.
I've read two novels this year (I read a lot of student essays) and it was the better of the two. But that's not really high enough praise. It's worth your time, and it's free, check it out.
Darko Suvin writes: "Whether island or valley, whether in space or (from the industrial and bourgeois revolutions on) in time, the new framework is correlative to the new inhabitants. The aliens -- utopians, monsters, or simply differing strangers -- are a mirror to man just as the differing country is a mirror for this world. But the mirror is not only a reflecting one, it is also a transforming one, virgin womb and alchemical dynamo: the mirror as crucible."
Suvin seems to be saying that Science Fiction, like so much of popular culture, both reflects and directs the zeitgeist of what's going on. But there's some interesting play with language and the subtle suggestion that we can learn something about ourselves by pondering on the nature of our speculations: What is it that we want to find? What does a future we might call utopian even look like? What do our utopian yearnings say about us?
Also embedded in Suvin's thought is the notion that Science Fiction is at least partly akin to the act of psychoanalysis, that speculating on the nature of our speculations yields something productive. I would argue whatever is gleamed from this introspection is far more valuable than anything we might guess correctly about the future.
I can trace my own interest in Science Fiction to an early fascination with the future. I was excited as child of eight, nine, ten, eleven, to think about robots, to imagine myself piloting a spaceship, cruising the galaxy the way I rode my BMX bike around the neighborhood.
"Today’s science fiction, he argues, is fixated on nihilism and apocalyptic scenarios—think recent films such as The Road and TV series like “The Walking Dead.” Gone are the hopeful visions prevalent in the mid-20th century. That’s a problem, says Stephenson, author of modern sci-fi classics such as Snow Crash. He fears that no one will be inspired to build the next great space vessel or find a way to completely end dependence on fossil fuels when our stories about the future promise a shattered world."
I'd argue that SF has always been pretty pessimistic and that this perceived optimism owes more to these childish future dreams than it does to the genre. Look at Frankenstein, 1984, and Brave New World, arguably the most literary of all SF, not a ray of sunshine among them. How about, hmmm, Slaughter House Five and Scanner Darkly? Nope... Even Asimov's utopian stories were about aberrations, glitches in the system, rather than on how smoothly everything is working in the future.
There are two separate processes at work here: one is art, which needs conflict and drama in order to be compelling. The other is a composite, an amalgam of naive hope for the future coupled with the understanding that humankind is on an upward march and things are slowly getting better, the universe slowly coming into focus. Neil DeGrasse Tyson didn't need SF to inspire him to think that the solar system is cool. I think we can all agree that the solar system is super cool. But you can't get any art out of the solar system until you start talking about how much it seems to hate us, lobbing asteroids at us, bathing us in radiation, dooming us with a slow march towards absolute entropy.
Two things: 1) SF nostalgia is not really a product of Science Fiction as a genre at all. 2) Thinking about the nature of our wonder, pondering the boundaries of our imagination is useful and productive psychological self-reflection. We need more of that. Less futurism. As I wrote in Nathaniel's newsfeed:
"If SF is analogous to those ancient stories of magical islands or magical locations one valley over, then futurism is akin to people who have never been anywhere, imagining what they will find when they travel to that island or that valley. That kind of speculation rarely produces much accuracy."
I, for one, welcome our new Ben Loory overlords!
Beautiful language, pretty cool dystopia, loads of cognitive estrangement, disappointing ending - full review to come!
I'm getting ready to teach a Survey of Science Fiction Course in the Fall. Gotta start at the beginning. Did you know Melville wrote SF? Maybe you didn't because it's so stilted as to be unreadable: "In the south of Europe, nigh a once frescoed capital, now with dank mould cankering its bloom, central in a plain, stands what, at distance, seems the black mossed stump of some immeasurable pine, fallen, in forgotten days, with Anak and the Titan."
Afro-Future Females! Due to the fact that my knowledge of SF is confined almost entirely to dead white guys.
Saturday night witnessed the second Pravic Science Fiction Extravaganza and it was awesome. We made some new friends, heard some people read some awesome SF, talked esoteric weirdness with Erik Davis and the future with David Pescovitz. The highlight of the evening was Rudy Rucker reading his rant (no alliteration intended). We've got video we'll be posting in the next couple days, along with photos and stuff. Stay tuned, we're super inspired and will be scheduling more events in the near future.
I'm going to take this opportunity to talk about a couple of seemingly unrelated ideas and see if I can't develop some connections.
First off is this pretty great review column by Ballard. You don't want to be around when we shift from living in a PKD novel to living in a Ballardian one, but it's coming. Ballard writes (in 1965):
"Once it gets off the ground into space all science fiction is fantasy, and the more serious it tries to be, the more naturalistic, the greater its failure, since it completely lacks the moral authority and conviction of a literature won from experience."
He makes a good point. Interesting that Joseph Campbell makes the precisely opposite point in discussing Star Wars:
"One of the wonderful things, I think, about this adventure into space, is that the narrator, the artist, the one thinking up the story, is in a field that is not covered by our own knowledge."
Perhaps it's my own bias against swords and orcs that posits derision in Ballard's assertion. I mean isn't SF the ideal vehicle for writers to use to step outside their own experience. Can't a writer write with "authority" and even "experience" about places within the realm of the imagination?
An interesting perspective on this debate is offered, inadvertently, in the new film Jodorowsky's Dune a very entertaining documentary about the Argentine surrealist's failed attempt to bring Frank Herbert's Dune to the big screen. Jodo is bigger than life, and the perfect spokesman for where SF now has to go as our technology catches up to tech featured in the old pulps. SF must now travel inward. Jodo's already there, man, a spiritual warrior determined to change the world with a film. Jodo's Dune would have been stunning with work from Moebius and Giger, music by Pink Floyd and Magma, and appearances by Orson Welles, Mick Jagger, and Salvador Dali.
Ultimately it was too much film, too audacious for Hollywood - this was a few years before Star Wars.
Jodo is a powerful archetype for this new era of Science Fiction: passionate, animated, driven, filled with a kind of naive arrogance that is increasingly rare. He is permanently outside the boundaries. Where we should all be. In the end Science Fiction, as a genre, is akin to a set of strictures we see in forms like the Haiku. The more we can loose ourselves from these restrictions the more the genre will open to genuine artistic expression, which can never be mere genre.
And likewise, Jodo's Dune is a perfect cypher for the current state of SF, which in our opinion is bloated, risk-averse, and in a rut. To exit this rut we must follow our personal vision for things, eschewing the standard tropes, the tired iconography. We must head inward.
"On the other hand has emerged a more speculative form of science fiction, one that is crossing the horizon of general fiction at an increasing number of points. Where the older science fiction has been most involved with outer space, this new offshoot is concerned with "inner space," the surrealists' "landscapes of the soul," and in creating images where the outer world of reality and the inner world of the psyche meet and fuse. Indeed, for those writers science serves much the same role as did psychoanalysis for the surrealists - a standpoint rather than a subject matter."
I have to wonder if this new form of SF evaporated before it even hit the ground as rain. The current SF market does not seem particularly concerned with inner space, as it does with a kind of neo-liberal outerspace, you know where asteroids are just resources we haven't exploited yet. But there is work at the periphery and we'll continue to toil at the edge of the radar screen.
Hey Gentle Readers, things are percolating over here at Pravic headquarters. We've got this event, our second Science Fiction Extravaganza scheduled for Saturday. You can even read about it on boingboing. We've selected our final story for issue five which we'll begin putting together in coming days. We're really stoked to run another piece by Ian Kappos, a young buck from Sacramento who I think is going to go far in the writing world. You'll remember Ian's story, "Scoring for Ridnour Before High Tide" which ran in issue three - awesome. So subscribers, start salivating; issue five is coming soon. And if you're not a subscriber, you should be. Buy a single issue, check us out, we're the future of future fiction.
I love this cover from Galaxy Magazine, in fact I'm a fan of the whole look of the magazine which was less lurid, while still being a little lurid. I mean you had to grab readers somehow. What's great about this image is the way it works: you begin by challenging yourself, what shocking alien proclivity would shock the imagination? The most shocking thing an alien can be is familiar - that flips the script, as it were. This cover makes it very clear, the aliens in SF do not live in a distant galaxy, they are us. Now granted, there's probably a racial component here as well that I'm choosing to ignore. But isn't nice to see the idea made explicit: the aliens are us - in the sense that we often don't know ourselves, or that what we think we know of ourselves we learned from myth and stereotype rather than self-reflection.
I'll bet this cover is by the same artist. Same idea.
And I wanted to include this image, just because it's badass: